If the dress fits: Or, learning to love my post-miscarriage body

As if the grief of miscarriage hasn’t been enough to tackle, I’ve also had to face some fierce body-image goblins on this journey.

Failure.

That has been my over-arching view of my own body over the past year. It’s been an unfortunate theme that has proven a powerful adjunct to grief.

Oh, body, how have you failed me? Let me count the ways…

Failure to grow a small human. (Isn’t that what my body is built for?! … At least in part…) Failure to recognize a non-viable pregnancy & evict. (Twice!) Failure stop pretending I’m pregnant. (Waking to pee in the middle of the night isn’t fun… It’s even less fun when you’re not pregnant & end up an anxious insomniac…) Failure to return to normal. (I swear those jeans fit me last month!)

For me, the grief over my first pregnancy loss morphed into a strange & painful hatred of my own body. My body felt empty & yet it loomed large in my psyche. Every day my body reminded me that I wasn’t pregnant. Mostly, because I didn’t fit in my regular clothes anymore.

My belly popped right before my loss, which was fine when I was pregnant. But it didn’t seem to want to pop back in when that pregnancy was over.

Also, I had simply gained weight. When I’m pregnant, I get the brand of morning sickness that demands regular snacks. (Counterintuitively, when I’m hungry, I feel nauseous.) And, of course, I can’t forget all the comfort food & drink I consumed in my post-miscarriage depression.

And voilà, none of my pre-pregnancy/pre-miscarriage clothes fit. Every time I attempted to squeeze into a pair of jeans I was reminded of the multiple ways my body was disappointing me.

I felt I didn’t fit my body, both mentally & physically. My brain said my body should be doing one thing (building a small person) but it refused & rebelled, to boot.

In fact, I think I’ve experienced all five stages of grief, but directed at my body: denial, anger, bargaining, depression & acceptance.

How to get to acceptance? That’s been my struggle. The denial, anger, bargaining & depression? … I’ve got those covered.

No matter what my body does or does not do, I’m stuck with it. This body that is repeatedly fucking up the whole baby-making thing. This body that has made me angry. This body that has seemed so inadequate lately.

So how do I return to homeostasis in terms of body acceptance after multiple miscarriages?

To be honest, I didn’t learn to love my body after my first miscarriage. And it’s still a work in progress, though I am getting there.

Once we were going to try again to get pregnant after that first miscarriage, I went through the motions. I took my prenatal vitamin & other “healthy” supplements. I ate a healthful diet. I exercised, though not often, and definitely not fast or hard enough to make a difference. I cut back on alcohol, caffeine & chocolate, all of which I indulged in heavily after miscarriage #1.

But I hated my body. We were not on speaking terms.

It had betrayed me & the only way it could make things right was to sustain a healthy pregnancy.

Then came the next pregnancy. I tried to be cautious but I was gleeful. Still, I didn’t feel I could completely trust my body. I kept my distance.

Heartbeat. No heartbeat. That was the end of that.

More frustration. More weight. More. That miscarriage was just more.

It was a serious physical recovery, that one. I felt helpless & weak & defeated.

But I was also more aware of my grief & what I needed. And I realized I needed to get my body & my mind back together.

I was meditating often. MFA Dad slowly encouraged me to return to yoga, which I was practicing regularly when I was pregnant but dropped like a hot potato when I miscarried.

The local yoga studio does not run a yoga for miscarriage class. (Though they totally should & I think I will suggest it. It would be amazing & beautiful!) So, naturally, I turned to the Internet. I found a lot of “yoga for fertility,” which was not what I needed at the moment, though I wanted nothing more. I needed to heal first. Me. Just me.

Then I discovered Erin McDonald. And she basically changed my life. Seriously, if you’re reading this & you’ve recently miscarried & you’re at all inclined to yoga, check out this woman’s sweet yoga sequence & loving voice.

With Erin’s help (I feel like I’m on a first-name basis with her because she helped me so much when I was recovering from miscarriage #2…) I sat quietly with my body for some weeks. It wasn’t a fast or magical cure-all, but I slowly reconnected with my body.

And I didn’t hate it nearly as much.

After all, my body had miscarried naturally twice, at home. I needed no interventions. I knew that was no small thing. My body carried on its grievous task with dignity. It knew what to do.

There’s also the fact that, if I’m brutally honest, my body saved me & my family future heartache. Something was wrong with those pregnancies & instead of sustaining a non-viable pregnancy, my body hit the eject button (albeit too slowly).

I was finally able to thank my body for all that.

Even if I had needed some intervention, the fact that our bodies recover at all is gratitude-worthy.

And the rest? Well, there’s something to be said for learning to live with our bodies no matter what they decide to do or not do.

They’re not really us after all. In the human body, microorganisms outnumber human cells by 10 to 1. Though microorganisms are smaller than most human cells, this means that the overwhelming majority of cells in our bodies are not us. Plus, all those cells are stardust.

I am more than just my body. Or maybe I am more with my body. Whatever it is, apparently we’re stuck together for this lifetime. Whether or not my body ever produces another human, it is a miracle …  I’ve got to learn to live with it … it is a miracle!

Besides, it’s not as if I sincerely believe that having babies is my bodies sole function. (Hello! I have a career. I have a full life. Heck! I was really happy with just one child for several years!) So, even if having another baby has been my sole obsession for almost two years, I have to try to remember all the other cool stuff my body is up to.

After miscarriage #2, I let my mom take me shopping. I resisted at first. I dislike shopping on a good day & these were not good days. But it was actually really important for my healing.

It was nothing special or exciting. Just a chain discount store. Just a few pieces.

Except these clothes fit. They were made of happy colors. I looked good.

And when I got home, I started clearing my closet & drawers, purging the clothes that no longer fit. I’m not the same person, so why pretend?

Well, I’m still me… Just not quite me!

P.S. What helped you reconnect with your body following miscarriage(s)? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or at momjdblog at gmail. And if you’ve been down this unfortunate road or are going through it right now, I’m so very sorry. I would like to hear more about how my posts on miscarriage can be supportive!

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Filed under Feminism, Living, Miscarriage

Take time to be a … today!

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I’m not going to be a total Negative Nelly here because (a) the picture is cute & (b) the truth is some men still struggle with their roles as fathers.

But so do some women.

Yet, can you imagine the backlash if the government posted an ad with a woman playing catch (or engaged in any stereotypically male gendered activity) with her son with the slogan “Take time to be a mom today”?!

Some of us would react by charging that’s what we do most days already! Some (most?) would cry that we are stretched so thin & do what we can when we can. Some would throw up their hands because life can be hard.

Still… As hard as I work as a mother I can use this sort of message every now & again. And seeing a non-gendered version of this ad would be welcome, especially as I wait for my train home after work & prepare to shift into family mode.

Because what is really important to my son is that I engage in his activities every so often. Not my idea of how we should spend our time together. And I know it doesn’t take much. Even just a few minutes, a few times a week to build or play actively together is really important to him. It’s also really hard for me, especially right after work.

As much as our society thinks women (specifically mothers) are nature’s caregivers, even we need a reminder now & then.

At least I do!

“Mom, let’s build Legos.” “Mom, let’s play Star Wars.” “Mom, let’s play soccer.” Etc. 

I wish I could say it always sounds fun, but that shit is hard after commuting-working-commuting. It’s hard without a long commute or long hours, as MFA Dad can attest.

Which brings me to the more troubling gendered aspect of this ad. 

I’ve been projecting my own positive spin on this up until now… To me the image tells me to take time to play with my child today.

But really, the words say to be a dad. Period. No one reminds women to be moms, even in the most basic sense.

Yet here we are in 2015, reminding dads to be dads

I think the ad is aimed at a different demographic (this guy is a WWF fighter/actor/performer…) & unfortunately there are plenty of dads (& moms) who need to be prompted to be parents & to not harm their children by abusing, abandoning, neglecting, or otherwise shirking their parental duties.
But even in my own cohort (where dads tend to be more present in their children’s lives) I often encounter the idea that dads are foolish oafs & that mother knows best. The subtext to this thinking & the ad is that a father parenting is the exception rather than the rule. 

Not only is it not true, it sets us back about 60 years. Language matters, folks, & we should know better.

I see posts about “daddy daycare” on Facebook. I hear comments about fathers “babysitting.” Moms joke that dad almost got it right but just doesn’t have that motherly je ne sais quoi.

Guess what? That thing some call “daycare” or “babysitting” is actually just parenting when performed by a father. Daycare professionals, nannies & babysitters are awesome, important people, but those terms refer to people who provide care to children for money. They do not refer to parents, who are legally obligated to care for their children & who we generally like to think have bonds closer than money or the law can create.

And dads are awesome at this whole parenting thing when given the opportunity. When we moms don’t denigrate their efforts. When we give them space to develop their skills. When we support them when they fear they’re messing it up.

Sure, one person in a co-parenting couple may do more of the hands-on parenting work over time, but that doesn’t change the fact that both co-parents parent. It’s not a full-time or a part-time thing. It’s not a creeper or a hobby. When mom or dad is at work, they’re still parenting. When mom or dad is engaged in childcare duties, it’s just parenting.

By designating dad as “the babysitter,” we undersell the role & reinforce gender stereotypes. We manipulate & limit expectations. And I believe this has real consequences for our families, our relationships & our communities.

When dads don’t have to be parents, moms continue to take on an unfair share of parenting duties. When dads are occasional babysitters, moms drop out of the workforce.  When daddy daycare is all we expect, women (& men) are deprived of real choices regarding family life.

It sounds cute, but these descriptors of fatherhood stifle the conversations around more equal parenting & work-life balance. They end up shaping our realities whether we mean them to or not.

Not to mention the fact that all this gendered talk is particularly obnoxious to families with less conventional configurations. For families where mom is the primary breadwinner, for families with two dads, for single dads, this is cringe-worthy talk that keeps dads awkwardly on the sidelines at the playground or at parent-school associations.

When dads are just parents, they don’t need to be reminded to be dads (even if, just like moms, they might need to be reminded to engage in imaginative play every once in a while). And moms don’t need to make excuses for them or belittle them. 

If we can change the conversation, we might just be able to change attitudes toward parenthood. This requires not judging our co-parenting partners (if we have them). And it requires changing the way we talk about parenting.

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Filed under Feminism, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Working

Third time’s a charm… until it’s not…

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Small impromptu family shrine featuring Jizo Bidhisattva, guardian of children & travellers

(Warning: This post contains swearing. It’s also depressing. And maybe there’s some inappropriate humor. Or irreverent dealing with grief. Oh, and you might be grossed out. Did I mention it’s sad & depressing? Ok, you’ve been warned.)

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to write about the challenges we’ve faced in the last year & I just can’t figure out the perfect “angle”… But it’s pretty much occupied my mind & I need to write about it… So I’ll just out with it…

As of this this May, I have been pregnant three times in the past 365 days. As of this May, I have miscarried just as many times.

When I started writing this post, I was newly pregnant again… But now I’m not.

So… MFA Dad & I appear to be on some maddening, never-ending quest… or in a horror movie where the idiot poor victims-to-be get themselves cornered in a house they could have fled from earlier but now can’t escape.

Unlike the never-ending quest, I know that one day this chapter in our lives will end. Unlike the bad horror movie, I don’t know how it will end. I can, however, narrow the possibilities. Our story will most likely end in one of three ways: (1) with another child (yippee!), (2) without another child we decide to quit this game of heartache roulette (gee, I really hope not!), or (3) I hit menopause (kind of joking…).

Which is to say that this is not a post where I wax poetic about my difficult path with one hand while cradling my miracle baby in the other. Of course, there is reason to be (guardedly) hopeful: At least one study has shown that around 70% of women who have had between 3 & 13 miscarriages eventually carry to term, even with no interventions. (Taken from page 48 of the amazing book, Coming to Term: Uncovering the Truth About Miscarriage, by Jon Cohen.)

But for now, percentages are meaningless the more I seem to defy the majority & I don’t know into which camp I will ultimately fall (the 30% or the 70%). So, just as the first signs of a possible miscarriage (a bit of blood, an absence of those annoying yet reassuring symptoms of pregnancy) ushered in a time of uncertainty (will I miscarry or won’t I?), the actual miscarriages have simply ushered in a new set of questions (will I get pregnant again or is this my new fate?). That second uncertainty typically isn’t so quickly resolved as the first.

And so in some sense the only logical response: What the fuck?!

Seriously! Why is this shit happening to me?! Why does it happen to anyone?!

Honestly, it feels weird to be writing this… But I feel miscarriage is an important topic still shrouded in taboo. Plus, this is a blog about parenting & the honest truth is that despite our best efforts & our deepest (if irrational) desires, not every positive pregnancy test means that we will be parenting a new little person nine months later.

Having been through the pain of miscarriage thrice now, I feel I have some perspective on the experience of pregnancy loss (though through my own journey I have encountered women who have endured many more losses or losses at times during pregnancy that are much more heartbreaking or losses that are life threatening… I’m weirdly lucky that my losses were all in the first trimester & none of them needed medical intervention).

And yet, despite the Groundhog Day-like disappointments I’ve been living this past year, I don’t have any answers or advice. Miscarriage is, at its core, a deeply unsettling & confusing experience. So many women experience it. And we endure it quietly. Oftentimes, we endure it alone.

The funny thing is that we are not alone. There are so many of us. We can connect if we are only willing to be a little bit brave. Brave enough to tell the truth. Every time I go to one of my appointments at a recurrent loss clinic (yes, these places exist!), the waiting room is busy. When I’m there, I want to hug every woman in the waiting room… I don’t know what prevents me from doing it. We are all there for the same thing: answers to an intractable problem that is as old as humankind & that typically does not give up answers easily.

And when I’m brave enough to tell mere acquaintances & perfect strangers that I’ve suffered through multiple miscarriages (often times in response to an inappropriately personal question) I feel as if I have performed a public service. If we don’t talk about it, no one will.

And, mostly, my bravery has been rewarded. Friends bring me soup & chocolate. A good friend texts me randomly to remind me of my strength. Loved ones stop by to fill my house with love & tears. Stories, long buried, rise up in empathetic echoes of past pain. My sister-in-law & I commiserate over our sick & twisted race to see who can have the most miscarriages.

And having had plenty of time to sit with my sadness in the past year, I’ve also realized what so many realize at times of grief or distress–the world keeps going. It doesn’t stop for my loss. The work keeps coming in. The deadlines draw closer. The laundry piles up. My child’s birthday approaches. Everyone seems to move on; everyone seems to forget… except me.

Yet, even I move on in my own way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still damned confused as to why this is happening & how I can process it all.

But I’ve also put on my big girl pants & learned a ton of shit about myself, some of which I didn’t want to know. Like how patient I can be after finding out a fetus has died but refuses to eject itself. Like how I can still smile (though not often) during the weeks of waiting with that stubborn dead fetus before miscarrying. Like how even my partner can seem to forget what my body won’t let me forget: “Hello! Still walking around with a dead baby, remember?!” Like how miscarrying after that long wait can bring a fleeting but meaningful peace to my mind & body.

Like my need for physical closure. Like how long I can live with a dead fetus in my freezer until I figure out the whole physical closure thing (burials are meaningful for a reason!). Like how I never imagined in moving to our new house (with space for that child that wouldn’t be) that we’d be picking a spot for our miniature family plot in the yard.

Like how calmly I can calculate & gauge my own blood loss. Like how satisfying it is to catch & touch that minute life form whose heart beat, even if only fleetingly, in my uterus. Like how my son’s soft, downy cheeks are something I can never take for granted.

Like how I can ask my partner for support, even when words are impossible. Like how reassuring my partner’s arms are, when they’re wrapped around my sobbing & heaving body. Like how his hands mingled with mine can be so calming.

Like how grief somehow has taught me that presence in this moment can make the rest tolerable. Like how laughing reminds me of joy, even when I’m deeply sad. Like how love & all the good stuff goes on & I just have to be open to it.

Which isn’t to say I’m happy or present in every moment. I was so disengaged from my last pregnancy it seemed hardly a blip on my radar. And yet the grief is there. Grief that biology & time may no longer be on my side. Grief that I didn’t enjoy that pregnancy at all.

Yet, right along side that grief, I feel lucky. Lucky to have gotten pregnant at all. Lucky that my body is actually (in its own painful & inconvenient way) working. Lucky that I was able to experience unbridled & naïve happiness of expectant new life at least once, during my pregnancy with my son.

I now know that that sweet, pregnant happiness is something that, though not rare, is far from universal. And while I don’t wish miscarriage on anyone, I have to admit that I am a more compassionate person because of my own losses. I like to think that I’m generally a kind person, but perspective is everything. And, boy, has my perspective shifted in the past year.

Right now I’m still fucking confused & want the miscarriages to end. It’s damned hard to write about this (not to mention press the “publish” button, which I’ve been avoiding for days now…). But I feel it’s important work, too (personally & publicly). I’ve come to a new appreciation for the fact that life is unfair & even our own bodies treat us unfairly. And with that appreciation comes a new smallness & a new sort of peace.

Life is delicate. We are all miracles.

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iPad vs. child

For years now I’ve been exploring, questioning & writing about children & screens, especially around the time of Screen Free Week. Again, Screen Free Week is upon us (it actually started today–we’ll start tomorrow, promise)! What a better way to welcome the (slowly) improving weather than by putting down our devices for a bit & exploring life beyond our screens! In celebration (& hopefully to offer some inspiration), I thought I’d reflect on how my family’s interaction with technology has changed over the years & share a parenting fail that provided me with a wake-up call…

Things have drastically changed in my house since T’s arrival in this world. When T was born, we had a desktop computer & I had a laptop for law school. We had a TV. We did not have cable. We did not have smartphones. We did not have handheld devices aside from our not-so-smart, basic mobile phones.

So as I started learning about babies & screen time, it was an easy enough parenting choice. The TV stayed mostly shut up in its cabinet. There were no apps to tempt us.

When we moved halfway across the country, we ditched our old tube TV. (No, this was not the 90’s… this was 2011!) The old desktop stopped more or less working.

But what we lost in size I gained in handheld power. We had recently upgraded the laptop so I could avoid having to take the bar exam on paper… Seriously, terrifying thought! With law school & the bar exam behind me, MFA Dad took over. I acquired an iPhone. Eventually I got an iPad, too.

T was older, and as he exited the toddler years, we loosened up a bit. We now allow some videos: a mix of Netflix cartoons, documentaries, a few movies (everything from Frozen to Lego Movie to Episode IV of Star Wars to Sponge Bob in 3D, which is a story unto itself).

We haven’t yet had to set time limits. When T was younger & we were more strict, he never saw a screen he didn’t like, no matter what was on it. Now that the mystery is gone, it’s a bit easier to quietly manage his access. I don’t anticipate this will last, though… We haven’t yet entered the world of video games…

What I’ve learned is that my use of technology will prove to be heavily influential in how T views & uses technology in the future… And let’s just say I have a lot of room for improvement…

T & I had a quiet night together while MFA Dad had a rare Friday night out with one of his best buddies. I was looking forward to spending the evening with T. I meditated on the train ride home & prepared myself for parenting with awareness & compassion (as opposed to parenting under duress, which is how parenting after work sometimes oftentimes feels…). I was feeling relaxed, focused & ready for an enjoyable evening with my energetic little guy. 

And things were going well. We had a lovely dinner together. He sat mostly still & ate all of the chicken taco salad I had quickly thrown together (with the help of some tortilla chips). T then made himself dessert: a mash-up of frozen blueberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, plain yogurt & cinnamon. We were chatting & laughing. It was one of those (rare) magical parenting moments.

He was so cooperative. I thought, why not get get a jump on the weekend chores & get his help planning meals for the week ahead. (I like trying to include him in the planning as a way to get him invested in this family activity, hoping we’ll be able to more easily cajole home into helping with food prep & eating. It sometimes works, but usually it makes no difference. Oh well, I keep at it…)

We use Plan to Eat for meal planning, so I grabbed my iPad. Things continue to go swimmingly & I get some input for meals & snacks.

But then things start to turn…

T asks me (very sincerely), “Why are you such buddies with your iPad?”

Shit…

But he doesn’t stop there… Oh, no…

“I think you’re better buddies with your iPad than with me.”

Heart, in pieces.

Young children are astute. T recognizes that I have a relationship with my iPad. He also recognizes (& painfully pointed out) that my interactions with my device interfere with my relationship with him.

If I’m completely honest, I use my iPad a lot. It’s the way I connect with people (via email, messaging, Facebook, FaceTime, etc.). It’s the way I connect with myself (through meditation timer & apps, yoga videos, journaling & blogging). It’s the way I take care of household chores (meal planning, cooking, finances, shopping). And it provides entertainment (Netflix, PBS, etc.).

T, who can’t yet read, has no idea what I’m doing on my iPad unless it involves looking up a Jangbricks Lego review for him to watch. (Strangely entertaining, by the way.) Our lives are so intertwined with technology & it is so difficult to create & keep to boundaries when, really, we use our devices to manage everything from birthday parties to grocery lists. Not to mention our jobs! 

Since that fateful Friday night when T schooled me, I’ve meal planned in his presence again. I told myself I’d do it on pencil & paper, but, nope, iPad… It’s just so darn efficient when time is at such a premium.

So what is the appropriate way for us to use technology in the presence of our children? I don’t have an answer & I fail daily. I think eye contact is a start. I’m trying really hard to put down the device & make eye contact when T (or anyone) is talking. It’s kinda lame that I have to remind myself of that, but it’s the hard truth. 

This Screen-Free Week, I’m aiming low… Take my cue from T, who likes to do stuff with his hands, like IRL. Maybe play Uno. Make eye contact with my boy.

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Filed under Blogging, Gentle Discipline, Mothering, Parenting, Screens, Simplicity, Working

Mother-birthday (Or, these boots were made for carrying, chasing, working, running…)

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T was due six years ago today. Today, two weeks before his sixth birthday, I am wearing the same boots that I bought that winter when I was pregnant with him (…when my feet were just a bit wider than they had been previously…).

Since that time, I have carried him in these boots. Walked hand-in-hand with him in these boots. In these boots, I have watched him run & laugh. I’ve chased him in these boots. We’ve had adventures in at least two states in these boots.

I have rushed to school in these boots. I have rushed home from moot court practice to T in these boots. I passed the bar in these boots. In their better (less scuffy) days, I sat in the courtroom in these boots. I met with clients in these boots. I now rush to work & back (always trying to maximize my time with T) in these boots.

At least, I’ve done & do all these things in the late winter/early spring, a short window when it’s not too cold or warm for wearing my boots. It’s a time of uncertainty, really. When will the ice melt…the snow stop…the rain start…the temperature tick upward..the plants go in the ground…?

The two weeks after my due date was a time of uncertainty in a season of uncertainty. I know so much more now. Today T is a person with a fun sense of humor & a kind personality.

But I still like to commemorate that time of uncertainty. I like to marvel at my good luck & laugh at how green I was. But this year, especially, I need to remind myself that in times of uncertainty we can be strong (as I was during the waiting & then the long labor) & adapt (as I did with a newborn T in the house). The truth is, it’s been a really trying 12 months, with highs & deep lows. T has brought me much light, but it’s still been difficult.

So this due date anniversary is my little celebration. An empowering reminder of how I was before T came screaming into our world & how far I’ve come. It’s my mother-birthday. I will continue to be strong & adapt.

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Parenting, School, Snapshots, Working

Five years of parenting (& living!)…

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Five years ago, I was over-pregnant (almost 2 weeks past my due date) & our labor was just beginning. I went to an acupuncturist for the first time, desperate to get things started after trying just about everything I thought might help or at least wouldn’t hurt.

I was afraid.

Afraid of labor. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of the changes to come.

I was also probably afraid that I’d never sleep again (thankfully I was wrong on that front, though I didn’t sleep for a long while & sleep still isn’t the same…).

Labor was amazing (afterward, hormones coursing through my veins like a wonder drug, I told my mother it didn’t hurt a bit) & amazingly difficult (it lasted days, not hours, & did involve a fair amount of pain).

But all that seems like a long time ago now.

My now four-year-old, soon-to-be five-year-old, has changed me in so many ways. Really, he’s thrown my life into a tailspin.

And yet, not.

I’ve managed to maintain my identity in the ways that matter most to me. I still pursue my work with passion & integrity.

But, despite the technical difficulties involved in achieving “work-life balance,” I feel more… well… balanced. As I’ve been working on my next post on self care (coming soon… promise!) I realize that balance is about more than leaving work at a particular time or having scheduled family time on the weekends. It’s also a mental game.

There are work stressors & home stressors. In the past 5 years, life with T has taught me that managing those stressors is really a key in finding life balance. If I can leave home stressors at home, I can be more productive at work. If I can leave work stressors at work, I can be a better parent & partner & person.

I wasn’t always able to separate out these two stressors (& I still fail a lot). I’m a focused person, so it’s always been easy to fall down a rabbit hole of activity & stress. I didn’t exactly feel like I was living at those times & I was less than healthful & a poor partner.

Law school (especially 1L) will make just about anyone crazy & I jumped down that rabbit hole (more like a worm hole) quicker than my partner could say “why did I move across the country to be abandoned by my law school wife?” (Sorry sweetie!) Then T came along & suddenly I was wondering why I was trudging down a path I didn’t create (journal, advocacy group, research assistant, moot court, clinic, etc.). Did I really need to do all this stuff? I decided I didn’t. I chose two activities & threw myself into them to the extent one can with a newborn. I gave myself (most) weekends off for the first time in my life. I had a home life! (Note: This is not career advice for current law students! I have trouble contemplating the tough market you are facing right now!)

T (or life with T) has helped me to prioritize & compartmentalize in a way that has been liberating. Even though I have more responsibility & the stakes are higher, I am more relaxed. I feel like I am living in a way that is abundantly more fulfilling.

Thank you, T. And happy almost birthday.

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Filed under Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Studying, Working

The Problem with “Me Time”

Does a cup of chai, a good Russian novel, and a cozy blanket constitute "me time" or true self care?

Does a cup of chai, a good Russian novel, and a cozy blanket constitute “me time” or true self care?

Happy (Very Belated) New Year! I thought now is as good a time as ever to try to get back into the blogging “habit.”

I never imagined when I embarked on my journey toward better self care (see my last post, way down toward the end) that blogging would take the hardest hit.

Focusing on self care has led me down other paths & now (maybe? hopefully?) back to blogging. I have been thinking about self care a lot & I feel I finally have something to share here in a series of posts about how we (anybody, but specifically mothers & even more specifically, outside jobbing mamas) can take better care of our individual selves.

So what is this “self care” I am blathering about? I did not I invent the term, but I’ve discovered it recently & it seems to describe perfectly the journey I am on right now.

Self care is, in short, my attempt to create a less ego-centered version of “me time.” Call it a cheap word trick if you want, but it’s working for me as a way to reframe the concept in a way that I need it to be reframed.

I have consistently resisted the culture that glorifies “me time” … especially the innocent-seeming-but-really-insidious version: “mommy me time.” I hinted at my dislike of “me time” a little here, but I wasn’t able to truly articulate my feelings because, well, I hadn’t given the topic enough thought. I’ve also tried to make “me time” work for … me… but it didn’t stick. What can I say, the term & the concept just rub me the wrong way. (I’m sure I’m in the minority here, so please share your thoughts on “me time” in the comments!)

After spending a couple months mired in trying to figure it out, I can now say this: I think the ego-driven competition (& it IS a competition) for “me time” is consumerist in nature & results in an unhealthy division of the self that drive us away from those that are closest to us, namely our children & partners.

Whoa… That’s a hefty sentence, so let me start to unpack my thoughts a bit.

When I say “me time” is an ego-driven competition, I mean that I two ways. There’s the more literal meaning: Our culture (& more specifically, the world imagined by advertisers) is competitive, pitting one Lululemon-see-through-yoga-pants-wearing mom against another. Who has the time (& money) to eat at the trendiest restaurants? To have nails & hair done stylishly? To be decked out in the hippest wardrobe?

“Me time” is this sort of fungible good that we all want more of (even if we can’t quite define precisely what we want or need as unique individuals). We’re trained to desire the time (& money… but that’s a post for another day) to pursue what makes us feel good now. What makes me “happy” in the moment. What distracts me from my real life & responsibilities.

And because “me time” is fungible, we get this idea that we can swap or “buy” (more of) it with time we might otherwise spend on other activities (including sleeping). And because we want more “me time” we might start to resent activities (playing trains on the floor, cooking, working, etc.) that really aren’t fungible.

Parents, of course, are typically in the red when it come to time, so it’s no wonder that the idea (or dream) of “me time” has a certain cache among moms (& dads). Thus, even subconsciously, we start to compare our toil-a-day lives with others… others who often seem more put together than ourselves:

So-and-so friend (or worse yet, “so-and-so blogger”) always seems to find time for “me time”! What gives? I can’t even shower before I head off to work, let alone go to a yoga class, go out to eat with my girlfriends, get my hair cut or even run a comb through my damned hair!! WTF! There must be something wrong with me! No, it’s that my partner is unsupportive! Yes, and my child is a monster who has destroyed every last semblance of my individual being!!! Argh!!!

You get the picture.

And, yes, I have experienced some version of all of the above.

… Not pretty.

Ok, so that’s the literal, keeping up with Ms. Jones, competition. It gets me nowhere really fast & I’m guessing it’s not really helpful for anyone.

But there’s another way the search for “me time” is a “competition.” And it’s an internal competitions of sorts.

Think about what “me time” really is… Ok, duh, it’s time for “me,” but who or what is “me”? It seems to me (ha!) that the “me” in “me time” is an abstract ego that is really nobody at all.

Yikes!! (I can’t believe I’m actually writing about ego… I hate Freud!)

Seriously, that mythical “me” searching for some equally mythical “me time” is not me. I actually don’t know who she is. I don’t even know what she wants to do with her hypothetical “me time.” But guess what? Who ever she is, the minute I start thinking about finding or creating “me time,” she starts vying for my attention & tries to dominate my sense of self.

In other words, the ego-centered “me” is competing with my partnered-self, my mother-self, my daughter-, sister-, granddaughter-, friend-self. My worker-bee-self, my homemaker-self & my bookmaker-self.

Wow! I have a lot of selves!

And in a sense, they’re all competing for my attention & time in any given moment. But there’s no denying that these are the selves that make me who I am. And there are probably others… some a bit buried (like my music-making-self).

It’s difficult… ok, it’s impossible to be all of these things at once. I need help managing all these selves in a way that works for me & those in my little circle. What I don’t need is some new-gal-self in town trying to push the others aside in a quest to push her own superficial agenda.

I need a self-manager-self, not another self trying to dominate the others. Plus, this “me time”-grabbing self seems kinda selfish. She never wants to do anything with my son or spouse. Sometimes she wants to hang out with a girlfriend or two, but usually she wants to engage in solitary activities & spend money. She cares more about how I look than who I’m with or what I’m actually doing.

And sometimes, when she’s around & not getting her way, she starts complaining about my son & spouse. She complains about having to work. She gets jealous easily. She tries to turn me (us?) against them.

Frankly, she’s a bitch.

I don’t need the drama & so I’ve decided I don’t need “me time.”

So there you have it, why I’m anti-“me time.” In my next post I’ll tackle why & how self care is radically different from “me time” & is eminently superior (in my not-so-humble opinion). Plus, I’ll share how & why I have MFA Dad to thank for my self care epiphany.

How about you? Have you ever questioned our society’s elevation of “me time” above many other kinds of “time”? Or do you love the idea of “me time” & does this post want to make you scream?

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