I Can’t Shake The Fear Of Something Awful Happening To My Kids

When I brought my first child home from the hospital, I either held him all day or he slept right next to me. Those first nine months, his crib touched my side of the bed. When he was four days old, a friend of mine wanted to hold him. I was sitting about a yard away from him, but it was too much for me to bear.

I had to reach over and get him back. 

He napped on my lap, or in his baby carrier which I had on me at all times. 

He wasn’t left with a sitter until he was almost one, and that day I had to cut my date with my husband short because I couldn’t enjoy myself.

I was so overcome with fear something would happen to him, it was all I could think about.

I realized my anxiety wasn’t healthy for either of us but tried to keep my mouth shut about it.

Every time I discussed it with another mom, they didn’t do the things I did or worry the way I’d worry. 

It made me feel ashamed and dumb, and it reinforced what I already knew: I needed to try and break away just a little bit and stop thinking the worst.

The thing was, I was so afraid if I relaxed a bit about it, something horrible would happen to him.

He was one when I moved him into his own room.

That first day, when he fell asleep, I went in about ten times to make sure the window was closed and locked. I kept having visions of someone sneaking in his room and doing horrible things to him — things I don’t even want to say because I don’t know how those thoughts crept into my mind.

That was over 17 years ago. I now have three teenagers and I’ve worked through some of this, but man, that fear has never gone away.

My oldest drives now and I can’t relax until he’s texted me telling me he’s gotten to his destination safely.

If they wake up at night to go to the bathroom or get a drink, I still shoot up in my bed and get up to ask them if they are all right.

There have been days when dropping them off for school has been overwhelming and I wait outside the school, or will do a drive by if I’m out running errands to make sure everything looks normal.

When they were in elementary school, there were days I’d call the main office, claiming I had the wrong number, just to make sure the secretary sounded happy like she always did when I picked the kiddos up. That meant there wasn’t anything bad happening like my mind was telling me there was.

I’ve been called irrational. I’ve been told to “cut the cord.” I lost sleep and was asked why I always think of the worst possible scenario. 

Because of this, I usually keep my fears about something happening to my kids to myself.

Before giving birth, I never worried about bad things happening. In fact, I was always pretty calm, happy and never thought about any of the things that creep into my head now.

This behavior drives my kids bonkers. They say I’m too overprotective and I’ve kept them in a bubble. They didn’t go to preschool, take the bus to school, or ever go to a friend’s house without me until they were teenagers. Even then, I needed to speak with a parent and would count down the minutes until I could come get them.

What if the parents are mean to them?

What if they fall and get hurt because no one is paying attention?

What if they feel uncomfortable and miss me?

What if they are in a horrible situation and no one is there to help them?

None of these things have ever happened in the past seventeen years and yet…

Yet I still go to the bad place so easily and make sure my phone is two inches in front of my face when they are with their dad at night or sleeping at a friend’s house.

I try every single day to try and strike a balance so they aren’t too sheltered and I’m not getting splinters in my feet from pacing the floor because I’m physically sick with worry.

And every day it’s hard. 

I don’t do well with the unknown, and I can’t imagine life without my children in it. They are my world and I feel connected to them in ways I’ve never been connected to anyone.

I know there is an element of selfishness in this. I say really mean things to myself about it and don’t love this part of me.

I want my kids to have a great life. But my desire to keep them safe can make me feel out of control and can rule my days and my mind.

I have to constantly remind myself (in between deep breaths) that I only have control over so much, I can not keep them in my four walls for their entire life, and my parents weren’t like this and I turned out just fine.

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Old Habits Die Hard And Make Sh*t Awkward — Especially After Divorce

My ex-husband dropped off the kids a few months ago and we stood in the driveway talking. It’s something we do every month or so to catch up on things, and I’ve always felt it covers more ground than texting or the rushed phone calls we manage to fit into our circus of a life.

After going over the logistics of how we felt the kids were dealing with not seeing their friends as much, not returning to school, and the zillion hours of the day they were on their cell phones, he said he had to go  he was meeting his friends and was running late.

“Don’t drink too much,” I said, half-aware that I sounded like his wife.

“You know I have the two drink rule then I call it a night,” he said as he walked back to his truck.

We both paused a moment and laughed.

It’s been four years since he moved out. He doesn’t need, or want, me to tell him how to spend a night with his dudes. I mean, he didn’t particularly like it when we were married, but it was in the brochure. He knew I did shit like that and married me anyway.

My point is, old habits are hard to break. Especially after you’ve lived with someone for two decades, they’ve watched a human come out of your vagina three times, and you’ve washed their underwear. At least that’s the excuse I make for myself.

There are no secrets and when you are deep in a relationship there are things you start doing automatically without thinking. Like saying, “I love you” before you hang up the phone or one of you leaves the house. 

I still call my ex “honey” sometimes. It was something I did a lot when we first divorced, even if I was angry with him. It was like a reflex that had a mind of its own and I had no say in the matter.

I had to concentrate really hard when to call him by his name and it still feels strange.

For almost twenty years, to me, he was “honey.”

My kids are over this mistake I make. But I tell them it’s kind of like when I call them by the wrong name. I know what their names are, but everyone is allowed to have a mind-queef every once in a while, for fuck’s sake, and that’s all that “honey” talk is.

He’d called me “Babe” for almost twenty years — and even though he’s been calling me Katie for the past four, it still sounds funny coming out of his mouth.

There are nights when I’m setting the table for me and my three kids and I’ll look down at the stack of five plates I’ve grabbed instead of four.

Last year, I made his favorite Christmas cookies (again) and my kids pointed out that no one likes those but Dad. Also, his girlfriend makes those for him now, so I can stop.

Just like many of us need to be on our phones in order to take a crap (hey, I’m not throwing shade, I’m right there with you) our ex-partners have instilled behavior in us that takes a while to go away. It’s like Pavlov’s dog, if you will.

You still fold the towels a certain way because it’s how they liked it done.

You still have pizza on Friday because it was a tradition you started together.

You still pull the sheets back for them even though you haven’t shared a bed for years.

You still get irritated at them when you’re reminded of something they did a decade ago because dammit, there are people who have that effect on us, and it’s usually a spouse.

I mean, I still turn the thermostat down to 62 degrees upstairs in the winter because he used to insist on it, until I catch myself and realize I answer to no one because I pay the freaking heat bill myself.

And if you really need to feel better about yourself, I’ve called my ex-husband my husband a few times … in front of my boyfriend that I’ve been with for over a year. So, there’s that.

We all get set in our ways and set in our routines. We all have something that can trigger an emotion or memory in us that causes us to call our ex-husbands by their pet name, or to give them an unnecessary lecture because it’s what we did for so long. 

It doesn’t mean you still want them to be your “babe” or “hon.” 

It doesn’t mean you have not moved on.

It doesn’t mean there is a hidden message in there somewhere and you need to go to The Googles to figure what the hell is wrong with you (please don’t do this).

It’s a slip up, it happens to a lot of people, and the only thing you can do is laugh it off in between feeling like an idiot and realizing you have a shit ton of stuff floating around in your brain and you are allowed to make mistakes.

It’s awkward, yes. But it’s also pretty damn funny. And if you think about it, having an “I love you” or a “honey” slip out of your mouth is a hell of a lot better than some of the things I know you’d like to say to your ex.

So, bravo to you for keeping those to yourself. If the most you let out is an accidental “honey,” consider that a win.

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The Questions ‘Old’ Moms Ask Themselves When Considering A Late-In-Life Baby

Becoming an “old new mom” was never part of my plan, but here I am. And while I’m so grateful for my beautiful family, having a child later in life has definitely been a different experience. The path leading to my geriatric pregnancy looked much the same as it does for lots of women. Very career-driven, I spent the better part of my twenties and early thirties in college earning my doctorate and working (as my dad would say, “like a borrowed mule”), so my focus was simply elsewhere. It wasn’t until right around the time that I met my husband at age 34 that I first began to hear the faintest sound of my biological clock ticking.

Over time, as tends to happen, that ticking became louder. When my husband and I got married, I was blessed to become a stepmom to the sweetest boy ever born … but I couldn’t shake the strengthening desire to add to our family. And so, one fall afternoon in my 37th year of life, my husband and I decided that our DNA was worth combining and that we wanted a baby.

A few weeks later, I was staring at two little pink lines that would change my life (and brain) forever. I didn’t know it then, but I would be joining a growing sisterhood of women having babies at an “advanced maternal age”.

As excited as I was about becoming a mother, pregnancy and childbirth were definitely not kind to my aging body. Right before I went in for my scheduled C-section, I remember someone asking me if we would ever have another baby. Practically snorting at the absurdity of that question, I emphatically answered, “HELL NO! WHO ON EARTH WOULD DO THIS TWICE…ON PURPOSE???”

And then it happened.

I woke up in the recovery room and held that sweet little newborn baby in my arms and gazed upon his angelic face for the first time. He had his daddy’s eyes and his mama’s nose. I was captivated, overpowered by a wave of emotion that I still struggle to describe. I literally burst into tears because I couldn’t take how beautiful he was. Without a doubt, I was in love and my former self who didn’t “get” what this motherhood thing was all about was gone … forever.

Fast forward to the present. I am now 40 with a two-year-old, whom I love more and more with each passing day. Our son is a smart, funny, vivacious little firecracker who has been an absolute blessing to our family. Now that he is walking (running), talking (yelling), and potty trained (eh, mostly), our life has started to settle into a nice, comfortable rhythm … which, of course, means that all I can think about for the past eight months is having another baby.

Wait. WHAT?!? I mean, clearly this child has broken something in my brain, right? Seriously … have I lost my ever loving mind?!?

Like any logical person facing this conundrum, I’ve made a list of the pros and cons. The tally is solidly in favor of us being one and done … but all the logic in the world doesn’t stop the thoughts, the questions, and the longing. And, since so many more women are having kids later in life, it has become increasingly clear to me from conversations and online message boards that what I’m experiencing is a very common predicament … paralysis by analysis that places you squarely on the fence. Without a doubt, the emotionally taxing decision of whether to attempt conception amid diminishing opportunities is one that unites older moms because we likely feel some version of the same stress, uncertainty, and pressure.

So, if you’re an old mom on the fence trying to explain this to someone (or married to an old mom on the fence and trying to figure out what the hell is going on in her head), here are a few questions that are likely being considered … about 100 times per day.

Is it worth the risk?

The statistics for pregnancy after 40 are scary, and the risks to both mom and baby are very real. First and foremost, it’s harder to get and stay pregnant. And, if you’re lucky enough to conceive and carry to term, there are a host of other concerns. I could share some of the stress-inducing numbers, but if you’re on the fence with me, you’ve probably been secretly reading them on your phone anyway. And, as if that wasn’t enough, many of us are also having to weigh these risks in 2020. So in addition to just the normal, everyday uncertainties, we also have to consider a global pandemic that puts pregnant women at a higher risk (and older, high risk pregnant women presumably at an even higher risk than that).

Given the variables, it feels ludicrous to even think about having a baby right now. But then you read an article about a lady who had three healthy pregnancies after 40 … or you know a woman who knows a woman who became an old new mom during the pandemic with no problems whatsoever, and you think, see? A seemingly endless number of other women are out there dodging the complications every day … so why not me? And is there really anything worth having that doesn’t come with at least a certain amount of risk?

Am I just too old?

The pregnancy amnesia that comes with motherhood is a force to be reckoned with … it has to be, otherwise the world would be full of only children. But, even looking back through the strongest of rose-colored glasses, I still remember how hard it was growing a baby in this old body. What weighs on me heavily is that I’m 100% certain that pregnancy would be even worse now because I’m almost three years older … and chasing around a perpetually busy two-year-old.

Would I seriously be able to keep up with an energetic three-year-old while pregnant (especially if it’s even harder than the last one)? And forget about pregnancy, will I be able to put myself back together while keeping up with a newborn baby AND a toddler (who still doesn’t consistently sleep through the night)?

Regardless of how sad it makes me feel to admit it, I have to consider the simple fact that maybe I’m just too old to do it again. I mean, sure, lots of other moms do it. In fact, not only do I know a surprising number of women who have had multiple kids later in life, but when I think about them collectively, they all have one thing in common … they all seem much younger than they actually are. Maybe it’s because no one expects to see a member of AARP at back-to-school night … or maybe having kids later in life is actually some weird fountain of youth that keeps you younger out of necessity.

In my quest for statistics related to older mothers, I was surprised to find that the older the new mom, the more likely she is to survive to an unusually old age. In fact, there was one study that found that women who lived to at least age 100 were four times more likely to have had children while in their forties.

It really doesn’t matter how many studies I find, the future and how it will be impacted by my age still fill me with worry (even for our two-year-old). Will my body be able to keep up? Will my kid feel weird about having an old mom? Will I live long enough and be healthy enough to enjoy being a grandmother one day? Clearly there’s no way to answer these questions without a crystal ball, but the uncertainty is stressful.

Why does time seem to be going so FAST?

Seriously? When I was pregnant with my son, time moved so slowly that I was convinced that the secret to eternal life was to be pregnant. Those 10 months felt like 10 years. Since his birth, however, the clock feels like my sworn enemy. At the same time that I’m keenly aware of my fertility slipping away, so are the last moments of my son’s babyhood. It feels silly to be emotional about that because the point of having kids is to watch them grow up, but I can’t help but be overcome with sadness each time I’m forced to pack up clothes or toys he has outgrown.

As I agonize over this decision about whether or not to have another baby, I have also become acutely aware that each of my baby’s firsts is also quite possibly a last for me. There will be a last time I hold him in my arms to feed him, and a last time I rock him to sleep at night. (Even typing those words makes my eyes well up with tears.) Right now, every milestone feels like a bittersweet reminder of my aging ovaries and I find myself clinging to those baby moments in a desperate attempt to keep them from slipping away … and, despite my desperation to hold onto them, I can still feel them leaving my grasp.

At the same time, there is also this intense (albeit self-imposed) pressure to jump off the fence in an effort to beat the clock. If we decide to try for another baby, the longer I wait, the less likely it is to happen (especially since my husband and I decided years ago that measures involving medical intervention just wouldn’t be for us). My guess is that the decision that your family is complete might be a difficult one to make in any situation, but there’s a difference between making that decision on your own and having time make it for you. In a matter of months or, at best, a few short years, there will be no choice to make because these ovaries aren’t going to keep pumping out viable eggs forever, a fact about which I’m reminded at least daily.

Maybe it’s not just my fertility slipping away that I’m mourning. Maybe the impending loss of my fertility is also a reminder of my youth slipping away, as well … a reminder of my own mortality, and of how quickly our time on this Earth really is. Whatever it is, the clock seems to be ticking faster and faster … and the more I want it to slow down, the faster it goes.

Why didn’t I start earlier?

Sometimes my sadness at the possibility of having no choice but to be one-and-done turns into anger, even if for a moment. Why? Why didn’t I start earlier? In my attempt to have it all, did I put myself in this regretful position of having biology plan my family for me?

The truth is, I met my amazing husband later in life, and there’s nothing that could have changed that timeline. Having him as my husband makes me the luckiest woman on Earth, but there are still moments when I feel frustration that I’m in this position of having to weigh the risks and reward of motherhood under such a time crunch. Deep down, I know that if I was 10 years younger, this would be a non-issue.

Obviously there are never guarantees, but at least I’d have time to let our son get a year or two older before having to make this decision. It’s a hard feeling to be on the fence because you don’t want another child yet, but yet might be too late.

What if I regret this decision?

Regret is an unavoidable possibility when you make decisions … it’s just a part of life. But, we’re not talking about the same regret you might feel after having one too many slices of pizza or spending too much on a pair of shoes. No, the regret that might come as a result of this decision might be hard-hitting and could quite possibly last for the rest of my life. (I know that sounds overly dramatic, but these are the thoughts that go through my head!)

To make matters worse, there are several layers of possible regret to consider. What if I decide that I want a second baby and I’ve waited too long? What if we decide to go for it and there are serious complications and, God forbid, one or both of us doesn’t make it? On the flip side, if we decide our family is complete as is … will our two-year-old wish for a sibling to grow up with when he’s in elementary school and his older brother (my stepson) is an adult? Will I send him off to college and feel anguish at the fact that I didn’t have another child when I had the chance?

Courtesy of Suzy Lofton

I know that the weight of caring for two little ones will probably have days where it feels like too much or places temporary stress on our otherwise happy little life, but I struggle to see how I could ever regret adding another little person to our family … but what if the statistics turn out to be true and this decision ends up causing all sorts of unnecessary heartache and stress instead?

Am I just being plain old selfish?

Is my biologically-driven desire to procreate completely ignoring the reality of the impact it will have on my husband, our boys, and the rest of our family? I mean, let’s face it, we’ve already shelved our early retirement plans because we will have a kid in high school. I know we can provide a good life for our sons, including fully-funded college accounts, and still remain financially comfortable. Having another mouth to feed, another college fund to build, and additional daycare expenses (among other things) clearly takes away from the people who are already in this family.

And let’s not forget that my deciding I want to go through another pregnancy and newborn phase would clearly put everyone else in this house in the predicament of having to go through it as well. What about our toddler, who is the textbook example of a mama’s boy … would another baby take away from him and somehow make me a lesser mother? Would either of our boys feel less important or less loved? And then there’s my own aging parents (who, incidentally, had me in their mid thirties) … as the likelihood that they will need additional support increases, can I balance that with also taking care of a house full of little ones?

Am I tempting fate?

To be honest, I lucked out with our son. I got pregnant right away. I had an uneventful (albeit uncomfortable) pregnancy. I had a planned C-section with a skilled doctor and our son’s birth went completely as planned. What if I’m not that lucky this time? What if it isn’t uncomplicated or things don’t go as planned? I won the kid lottery once … should I quit while I’m ahead?

Which should I listen to – my head or my heart?

Look, I’m a smart girl. I know the risks … and the work … and the devastation it will likely cause to my body. I know that we have finally settled into a routine and life is starting to feel a little bit easier. I know another baby means losing the guest room, possibly buying a larger car, and two daycare payments. I know it will mean months (or years) of interrupted sleep, and diapers, and spit up, and crying.

I know all of this. But that doesn’t stop my heart from aching for a sweet, newborn baby, from marveling at our adorable son and wondering what other awesome little person we could create. It doesn’t stop the twinge of jealousy I feel at pregnancy and birth announcements. It doesn’t stop me from picturing our lives 10 years down the road and seeing two kids at home (my stepson will be in college by then). All of the logic and sound judgment in the world can’t stop the wondering and yearning.

There are so many upsides to being an older mom, but this has definitely been one of the unanticipated challenges for me. Make no mistake about it – the seemingly constant internal monologue and almost-daily back-and-forth, being driven by a biological clock that seems to tick louder every day, can feel positively suffocating at times.

In those moments, I have to force myself to stop, breathe, and remember just how grateful I am to have the life I have right now. There’s a picture in our bedroom that says, “I remember the days I prayed for all that I have now” and it’s so true. I can’t let my fence-sitting make me lose sight of how fortunate I already am.

I honestly don’t know how this story ends or on which side of the fence I’ll land. Until then, I’ll keep cramming our closets full of baby clothes and toys until I can decide what to do with them.

No matter the outcome, given the growing sisterhood of old new moms out there who are struggling with this very same decision, I know I’ll be in good company on either side of the fence.

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Why The Pandemic Is Making Me A ‘Backseat Mom’

As a psychotherapist who has treated many mothers over the years, and as a mother myself, I’m fascinated by the history of maternal identity. How do American moms think about their role in raising their children, protecting them from harm, and helping them become well-adjusted adults? I’m seeing signs that the current pandemic is triggering a change in that identity, away from the “helicopter parenting” of the past 25+ years.

First, some context. In the 19th century, parenting was mostly authoritarian. Children were seen and not heard, doing lots of chores, always putting the family’s needs first. Most women didn’t worry about their kids’ emotional health, just their physical survival in a time of rampant child mortality.

The first half of the 20 century brought the Freudian revolution. Freud’s psychoanalytic concepts about adult disturbances and intrapsychic conflict didn’t offer a blueprint for parenting, but they got mothers worrying that they might give their children “a complex” if they did something wrong.

Benjamin Spock’s 1946 bestseller, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, launched an era of more active child-rearing – repudiating rigid toileting practices and feeding schedules in favor of positive experiences that allowed each individual child to lead the way. Over the next few decades, middle class American moms began responding to their children’s cues and parenting in more flexible ways.

By the early 1990s, the rising trend was “helicopter parenting” – a stronger focus on ensuring good grades and college admissions. Mothers worried more than ever about minimizing all kinds of risks, big and small – from drug abuse and teen pregnancies to skinned knees at the playground and heartbreaks at the 8th grade dance.

But in 2020, powerless against the pandemic’s devastating toll, I see mothers losing faith in their ability to shield their kids from any sort of harm – physical, emotional, academic, or social. Many are worrying about hanging onto their own jobs or trying to stay productive while working from home. Some are also feeling stressed out about their food supplies or their own elderly parents. And though it was always difficult to work while raising kids, the new challenges of homeschooling and isolation-induced anxiety have raised the bar dramatically. My patients are reeling from the sudden shift: instead of feeling like they can (and should) fix any problem for their kids, many are feeling like they can’t fix anything.

“COVID makes me feel powerless as a parent,” Colleen said when her daughter, Emily, a college junior, opted to remain halfway across the country, close to campus and her research lab. When Emily began feeling stressed and experiencing chest pains, her mother begged her to see a doctor. But she became angry, saying she was busy and it was hard to get a telemedicine appointment. The more her mother pushed, the more Emily resisted. While her symptoms eventually remitted, stay at home orders made Emily feel isolated, and she began lashing out.

In our sessions, Colleen agonized over whether to helicopter in to relieve her daughter’s misery. She lamented that Emily rejected offers to visit and shot down suggestions about finding ways to socialize. It all came to a head during one especially heated FaceTime exchange, when Colleen pleaded, “You can’t be alone all the time. At least meet friends in a parking lot. Stand six feet apart.” Emily threw her hands up and yelled, “Please stop! You can’t help! You can’t fix this!” When they hung up, Colleen retreated to her bedroom and cried over her helplessness. “It was as if mothering as I’d known it was gone forever.”

These sorts of questions about how involved to get rang true in my own home, where my teens had also been struggling since the onset of the pandemic. I had always prided myself on being helpful – listening, understanding, guiding, and stepping in when necessary. I’d tried not to hover, but had been active and present, seeking tutors or fighting for medical specialists. I encouraged my kids to fight their own battles, to get back up when they stumbled. Whenever they faced something they couldn’t handle and asked for my help, I was there.

But recently, amid closures and cancellations, it has become harder to help my teens cope. My suggestions and empathy often aren’t well received. I can’t protect my kids from a potentially lethal virus, or even fix their disappointments or repair losses they’d suffered. That strikes at the core of my identity as a nurturing and protective mother.

I’ve been worrying lately about the re-opening now underway: Will the virus come steamrolling back, forcing a second round of school and workplace closures? Can our already fragile economy handle this additional stress? How many more lives will be lost to the pandemic? The only certainty right now is uncertainty, which takes its toll on people of all ages.

While my high school-aged son has adapted, taking on household challenges like figuring out to snake a backed-up sink and reboot the WiFi, my daughter has had to deal with mounting losses, including an early return from college and the loss of a coveted summer internship. Despite repeated suggestions of walks, TV time, cooking, and reading material, my every outreach brings an angry smack-down. After each K-O, like a boxer on the ropes, I head back into the ring. My job as a mother is to show I care: survive the attacks and set limits while being present and loving, and help her integrate painful emotions, without rushing in to resolve the difficulties.

Following a particularly charged weekend, I found myself questioning my approach. Feeling terrified that months of disappointment and isolation had taken a permanent toll, I considered arranging a telehealth consultation or booking online meditation classes for my daughter. Would she ever be okay again? Would I?

After we started venturing out, first only for necessities like groceries and doctors’ visits, then for socially distanced visits, I noticed that tensions appeared to be settling. My daughter found a virtual research position, brought home stellar grades, and practiced social distancing without being reminded. When a new challenge arose – her school cancelled all in person classes and on campus engagements – she cried bitterly, and I worried that her already negative outlook could not survive another blow. But within a day she’d contacted friends, taken virtual tours of off-campus apartments, and proposed a plan to use savings to offset rental costs.

It was then I knew that amidst the deprivations, losses, and challenges of the past few months, I’d been given a gift: a unique opportunity to get to know my children in ways that might have eluded me had daily life been as frantic as usual. Seeing my teens on a daily basis, shepherding them through their fears and bleakest moments, I’ve had the privilege of watching them build resilience and strengthen their inner reserves.

Parenting through sadness, fear, and adversity has shown me that I can’t fix everything for my kids, and that’s okay. After watching them in action over the past few months I know that they are equipped to handle whatever comes their way, and I no longer feel a pull to repair every single thing that goes wrong.

Hearing echoes of this same theme from patients, neighbors, and friends, I think we’re starting to see a new version of maternal identity, winding down the era of the overly obsessed helicopter parent. After living through so much loss and disappointment,I can’t imagine seeing moms stressing out nearly as much about excessive screen time, a B on a report card, or too many snacks between meals. Involved mothering won’t go away, of course. We’ll still have huge investments in the health and happiness of our children, and we’re not going to ignore them when they need help. But I think we’ll bring a more balanced perspective to the post-pandemic world. Call us backseat moms.

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Let’s Normalize Doing Whatever The Hell We Want With Our Pubic Hair

My kids are teenagersand after listening to them fight over razors and finding those razors in the bathroom filled with pubic hair, I asked them all what the hell was going on. 

They informed me that everyone shaves their pubic hair (don’t forget the taint) because pubic hair is gross.

“So, this is something you talk about with your friends?” I asked.

Apparently, yes. And according to them, having pubic hair is as dirty as eating your boogers.

I remember in my high school days, if a person with a penis had a foreskin, everyone knew about it even though there were no such things as dick pics and they didn’t spend their free time flashing everyone. 

I’m not saying it was right — it was horrible actually — I’m just reminding us all of the way it was.

It sounds like that’s how it is now if you have pubic hair, which absolutely makes my blood boil. When a thirteen-year-old feels like they have to shave or wax their private parts bald because everyone else is doing it, it’s cause for concern.

I believe if you want hair there, you should have hair there without thinking you are a wild boar who doesn’t know how to take care of themselves. And if you like the way you look better when you are all sleek and trim, well that’s how you should style yourself.

It wasn’t until I divorced and got back into the dating world that I realized no one had pubic hair any longer. I heard it from the men I dated, and I heard it from my single girlfriends.

However, I kept my bush because it didn’t bother me, and I wanted to spend my time doing other things. If the men I was having sex with didn’t like it, I didn’t care — my body, my choice. I also hadn’t seen my naked vagina since I was about eleven and I didn’t really want to see how she’d aged.

Then something happened about a year ago: My landing strip started turning gray, and it really bothered me. After asking my mother about it, she said if I followed in her footsteps, it would all start falling out soon anyway. WTF.

So, I decided to fire my pubic hair before it quit me. I took my pink razor to it one morning in the shower while my deep conditioner was taming my frizzy locks.

I didn’t do this to fit in. I didn’t do it because my friends told me my orgasms would be more intense. (Well, not fully anyway, but that might have crossed my mind while lathering up my bearded clam.)

I did it because frankly, I didn’t want bald patches between my legs. There are enough things about my body I’m not in love with, so why add another to the list? Again, my body, my choice.

Anyway, my point is we need to normalize doing what we want with our pubic hair. Women shouldn’t be made to feel like they aren’t beautiful or clean because they don’t want to shave their lips and assholes.

As Sandhya Ganesh notes in Medium, body hair — just like every other thing about women’s looks — goes through style phases that have changed throughout the years. These days, “With the advent of easily available porn, where women expose body hair-free bodies, men were misguided into thinking this is the sign of beauty and sex appeal. Playboy magazines are also popular, displaying nude, hairless women promoting negative body image.”

Is this where our teens are getting the idea that shaving your pubic hair is a must? From porn? God, I hope not, but let’s be real — it probably is, and we need to fix it.

In listening to my kids talk, it seems to be highly associated with how you feel about, and how you take care of, yourself.

I’ve told them a few times that pubic hair should be just like everything else in your life: you don’t follow a crowd when it comes to this kind of hygiene. You do what you want with your private area, and it’s your business, and that needs to come before other people’s opinions of you. Even a sexual partner.

The idea that women have to get rid of all their hair and always walk around bare is old news. It’s 2020 and we should do what we want with our bodies and if someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to, period. If your partner has an objection, maybe it’s time to remind them that there are other people out there who don’t mind a garden with a little more greenery.

The fact that our teenagers feel like they have to shave in order to be cool, or clean, or whatever, is just another sign we need to normalize pubic hair in the same way we need to normalize wearing whatever you want, or being proud of your size even if it falls outside the “conventionally attractive” norm.

We need to remind them, and ourselves, that just because “everyone else is doing it” is not a good enough reason.

We have to be happy with how we are treating our bodies. After all, we’re the ones who have to live in them. And whether we prefer a plush carpet, or a hardwood floor, is up to us.

The post Let’s Normalize Doing Whatever The Hell We Want With Our Pubic Hair appeared first on Scary Mommy.

The Lesser Known Physical Symptoms of Complex PTSD

“You’ve got past trauma stored up in your body, and even your mind may not be completely aware of it all.” 

I looked back at the behavioral health technician with a mixture of shock and grief. These were the words she was communicating to me to help explain why I was back at the emergency room again. This was apparently the reason I had been frozen stuck to my couch a dozen times that weekend, with no clue as to why my limbs had randomly decided to stop moving properly. 

As my husband and I drove home from the hospital, tears filled my eyes and I placed my tired head in my hands. Yet again, the complex PTSD I had been diagnosed with back in 2018 was invading my life in the messiest and most confusing of ways. I had basically gotten used to the sporadic panic attacks that wreaked havoc on my nervous system. I’d made peace with the years of trauma-induced self-harm I’d been unconsciously engaging in. I was even becoming quite fond of the weekly therapy sessions I’m privileged to have access to, as uncomfortable and emotionally taxing as they are to show up for. 

But nothing, not a damn thing, could have prepared me for the surprising physical symptoms of my disorder that revealed themselves to me last year. And more importantly, no one even thought to try. 

Back in early 2019, my body started shaking uncontrollably whenever I was in severe distress. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stop the movement from taking up my entire personal space and running its natural course. My arms would spastically flail about in the air, my mouth would forcibly shape into a frown, my eyelids would blink at warp speed, and my legs would not stop shaking. As you can imagine, this was absolutely terrifying to experience.

When one particularly volatile series of muscle tremors flooded my body last fall and then remained active for two painful hours, I went to the emergency room and followed up with my first ever visit to a psychiatrist. Through counseling, I was diagnosed with suicidal ideation, which I had been quietly struggling with ever since discovering that I’d been unknowingly living with a trauma-based mental health disorder for much of my life. A plan was made to help me get on the track of recovery, and it included antidepressants and more ongoing therapy. To my great relief, the panic attacks largely subsided and my muscle spasms became less frequent as the medication made its way through my system. My treatment was working, and I felt like I could finally breathe again. 

When I had that initial visit with my doctor, he explained that the involuntary shaking I’d been experiencing was called somatization, which is essentially what happens when a mental state transmutes into a physical one. Basically, my C-PTSD was manifesting in physical responses, and it was a lesser known but completely expected side effect of trauma recovery and healing. This realization floored me, as I was left wondering why the hell I’d never learned about every potential aspect of my condition before. I was also curious to know if anyone around me would ever be able to relate to what I was going through. 

Things were becoming progressively easier to manage after my ER visit, and I started feeling hope that maybe I was just moving through a passing phase in my disorder. That is, until COVID-19 spread across our country and my family was placed on lockdown at home. Every possible trauma trigger was showing back up in my life because my nervous system was totally shot to shit. I was home 24/7 with my kids, couldn’t manage the time or energy for my job, felt increasingly afraid to go outside, and ended up diving right back down into a well of complex emotions, thought patterns, and harmful coping behaviors. 

And that’s when the temporary paralysis began taking over my life. 

I was lying down on my couch one evening and zoning out on my phone when I suddenly noticed that I couldn’t lift myself back to standing. I couldn’t even wriggle out of the position I was in. My body was frozen, my mind was overcome with panic, and the only thing that seemed to get me out of it all was my husband Matt. He was the one who lifted up my legs and moved them mechanically around while he cracked way too many fucking jokes that had my paralyzed face managing a tiny grin. Once he helped me up to standing, I had to go through another round of physical reminders and cues that I can only liken to a car being given a jump start. It felt as if I had completely forgotten how to walk on a few occasions, with Matt gently explaining step by step how to place one foot in front of the other and gain momentum. 

After a second trip to the ER to figure out what the hell was going on, my psychiatrist prescribed me anti-seizure medication that relaxed my body into movement again. A couple months passed without a single bout of temporary paralysis. And then it hit again like a ton of bricks. For ten straight days, every single part of me would freeze up, and I’d need a lot of support to spring back into action. On a few occasions, I lost the ability to produce words and could only manage to slowly stutter my way back into speaking. In traditionally anxious mom fashion, I googled the shit out of my symptoms to find out if something worse was going on with me. Three hours later, all I had were a few links to articles that explained trauma-based somatization in dense medical jargon. I couldn’t find a single resource that spoke to what I was experiencing in an easily digestible way.  

I called my doctor to arrange a last-minute session. Once I rattled off everything I could think of to give him the full picture of what was happening to me, my psychiatrist shared a few things that completely blew my mind. He told me that the market for trauma-based mental health disorder solutions is very small, mostly because a lot of people don’t realize they have one or they feel too stigmatized to reveal the past events of abuse, assault, or neglect that could lead to a proper diagnosis. Because of this, many of us just don’t know that you can live with regular physical symptoms that are somatic manifestations of a disorder that primarily impacts the brain and nervous system. Because my paralysis and spasms weren’t components of a more traditionally diagnosable illness or disease, getting clarity through medical scans most likely wouldn’t be possible.

Bottom line, my body was finally releasing years of painful trauma and was doing so without an ounce of concern about appearances. 

Everything makes sense now that I know what I know. But at the time, I was majorly ticked off and confused. How could I be the only one I knew who uncontrollably shook or froze up because childhood trauma had been laying dormant in my body? And why did it take so damn long to have someone reveal the full scope of my disorder? If I had gained some understanding of how irregular, but totally natural, my symptoms could potentially be, it may have helped ease my mind as I encountered each one. And it almost certainly would have helped me feel more aware of my condition, rather than grasping around in the dark for reasons why I was struggling.

I don’t fault my therapists or doctors for waiting to acknowledge the physical symptoms of my mental health disorder until I was actually experiencing them. They’ve simply been responding to the individual demands of those in their care, and the majority of people with conditions like mine seem not to feel safe or conscious enough to visit a doctor.

I honestly think that the bulk of the responsibility falls on a culture that treats our mental health as somehow less important and valid than our physical well being. In an ideal world, these issues would be prioritized, with more funding and efforts going towards the necessary resources and solutions to recognizing and treating trauma-based disorders. This is especially critical in areas where behavioral health access is all but nonexistent. 

We need to do better, so that we can know better. And it starts with the public and widespread acknowledgement of the long-term, detrimental impact that abuse and trauma can have on a human being.

We don’t yet live in this world that I envision, but I hope that sharing my personal story can be a part of the change I wish to see around me

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16 Reasons RBG Was The F*cking GOAT

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has carved out a permanent place in all of our hearts, for so many reasons, not least of which was her lifelong championing of women’s rights. She was a living, breathing testament to the power of grit, tenacity, and compassion. Here are just a few reasons she truly was the ultimate GOAT, the greatest of all time.

1. She was the first person, male or female, to serve as editor at both the Harvard and Columbia law reviews.

It was rare enough in the 1950s that a woman even be granted entry into either of these prestigious universities. Yale and Princeton still did not admit women at the time. So, that Ruth Bader Ginsburg served on each of these famous student-run journals of legal scholarship is a testament to her brilliance, determination, and general badassery.

2. When people told her she couldn’t do something because she was a woman, she went ahead and did it anyway.

Ginsburg didn’t take no for an answer. She not only fought for herself, but she cleared a path for other women too. While she was at Harvard, the dean asked Ginsburg to justify her presence at the school since she’d taken a man’s place. Later, when one of her professors recommended her to serve as a clerk for supreme court justice Felix Frankfurter, Frankfurter said he wasn’t “ready” to hire a woman.

At the time, each of these instances were perfectly legal. Not only did Ginsburg scrape and claw to push past every “no” for herself, but it is largely due to her work that the sexism she personally experienced is no longer legal. Regardless of anyone’s politics, women in the United States owe her a massive debt of gratitude.

3. RBG had a voracious, competitive appetite for academic excellence, and wasn’t afraid to own it.

She graduated first in her class from Columbia Law School. According to the ACLU, Ginsburg said she didn’t originally attend law school expecting to champion women’s rights. She said she went to law school for “personal, selfish reasons. I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other.” Well, she wasn’t wrong.

4. Again and again, RBG came up against sexism in her career, and she stood up to it every time.

While at Cornell, one of her professors offered her the answers for an exam in exchange for sex. At the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where the documentary RBG premiered, she relayed her reaction: “I went to his office and I said, ‘How dare you! How dare you do this!’ and that was the end of that.”
Ginsburg often had to fight for entry and then had to fight once again for equal pay. At Rutgers Law School, where she was only the second female law professor, Ginsburg and other female employees filed a complaint under the brand new Equal Pay Act of 1963, and they won.

5. RBG co-founded the very first women’s rights law journal, the Women’s Rights Law Reporter.

At Rutgers, Ginsburg had begun teaching seminars on women and the law. Her students’ interest in the subject furthered her own, and with Elizabeth Langer, she founded and became a faculty advisor to the first journal on women’s rights, which continues to be published today at Rutgers Law School.

6. RBG co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU.

Ginsburg was a founding director of the Women’s Rights Project, created in 1972, an ongoing project that even to this day fights discrimination against women.

7. RBG became the first tenured female law professor at Columbia.

In 1972, the same year she was founding the Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg became the first female tenured Columbia Law School professor.

8. RBG fought for all women, regardless of socioeconomic class.

While teaching at Columbia, Ginsburg learned that the school was laying off female maids but not male janitors. She complained, an injunction was filed against Columbia and supported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and eventually, as Ginsburg told NPR in 2018, “Columbia decided they didn’t really have to lay off anyone.”

9. RBG won five out of six cases that she argued before the Supreme Court, setting precedent after precedent for defending women’s rights.

Katherine Franke, Columbia Law School professor and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, said of Ginsburg, “RBG’s signature approach to combating sexism was bringing lawsuits on behalf of men who were being treated unequally because of their sex. Her thinking was that male judges would appreciate the injustice in a case where men were the victims, and in winning those cases she was building the scaffolding for addressing the sexism women suffered.”

In Duren v. Missouri, Ginsburg argued that a male convict’s right to “a jury chosen from a fair cross-section of his community was violated because it didn’t include women, whose jury duty was voluntary.” By protecting men from sexism, Ginsburg was quietly laying the groundwork for precedence that would protect women from sexism too. She truly was a legal genius.

10. RBG was the first female Jewish Supreme Court justice.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to the Supreme Court. Ginsburg was only the second female justice ever to serve (Sandra Day O’Connor was the first), the first Jewish person to serve since 1969, and the first female Jewish Supreme Court justice in history.

11. RBG delivered a brilliant burn like nobody’s business.

“When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” — The Notorious RBG

12. RBG’s dissents were absolutely epic.

In Supreme Court-speak, a dissent is an opinion that goes against the majority. Ginsburg became famous for her powerful dissents, which she would read aloud and which were written in normal everyday language rather than unintelligible legalese. “I like to think most of my dissents will be the law someday,” Ginsburg said in 2015 at a conversation at the University of Michigan.

13. RBG was the first justice to officiate a same-sex marriage.

In 2013, Ginsburg officiated the wedding of Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser to economist John Roberts in Washington, DC, making her the first Supreme Court member to officiate a same-sex marriage.

14. RBG did pushups and planks clear into her 80s.

20 pushups every day, and 30-second planks, to be precise. It was part of her daily routine, she said at a 2016 event at the Temple Emanu-El Skirball Center in New York City

15. RBG made being a Supreme Court Justice cool.

She is popularly known as “Notorious RBG.” Need we say more?

16. Even on her deathbed, Ruth Bader Ginsburg worried about the future of the United States of America.

While on her deathbed, she reportedly told her granddaughter that her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” She worried about our democracy as she was actively dying. The GOP can go ahead and stop claiming a monopoly on patriotism.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of diminutive physical stature but with the heart of a giant, moved mountains of granite and sparked hope where hope seemed pointless. It is our responsibility, our duty, to continue her work in her stead. We cannot — and will not — let her down.

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‘Wouldn’t That Be Great?’: How 4 Simple Words Changed My Tween Son

The storm gathered quickly, erupting from the clouds and shocking me with its rage. No clouds dotted the horizon. No warnings sounded in the distance.

That’s not exactly true, actually. If I had paid attention, I would have seen the changing barometer of his face. I would have noticed the frustration and the building pressure, threatening to burst. But this phase of life is new; I’ve never been the mother of a tween before.

Today, he is angry and hurt because I don’t support his dream of being a gamer and/or YouTuber. It’s almost funny, typing that, except that to him it’s not. His best friend has a strong affinity for the apps that kids love to play currently, and the best friend’s father shares his love for them as well. My son sees them playing together and he envies that.

To our son’s chagrin, neither I nor his father are gamers. I did have an Atari console when I was a kid, but Pong hardly held my attention the way games do now. So the idea of him becoming someone who spends hours in an online world and not pursuing something else … anything else, practically … is something I can’t fathom. And so the conversation goes like this:

“I want to be a gamer when I grow up,” he says.

“You’re not going to be a gamer,” I say. And then I lay out the reasons why he needs to get offline more often.

My son and I have had talks about puberty and hormones and his changing body, for a few years now. I bought him a book called “Guy Stuff” by the makers of the American Girl doll because I had given my oldest niece a similar one for girls when she turned 13. We’ve talked through mood swings and the ways his body will change and I tried to prepare him. I remember the confusion and bewilderment of his age and how rapid the transformation from kid to young adult felt to me.

Courtesy of Kristin Shaw

Tonight, though, the emotions are overwhelming to both of us.

Tears stream down his face as he struggles with the feeling of loneliness that accompanies feeling misunderstood. And he surely feels betrayal as one of the people he loves and trusts most has just told him that his ideas are invalid. He hears me say that his dreams, in a word, are garbage. To him, I have just said that he, by extension, is garbage. Now that I can see that in my rear-view mirror, I am heartbroken by my callous and flippant response.

So I did what many moms have done for eons: I asked for advice from my friends. Explaining that I am opposed to the idea of my son locking himself to a game console for hours on end because I don’t want to encourage this pursuit, I laid out the situation. My mom friends, as they often do, offered real talk about how to process this hurdle. First of all, they said, he’s 10. His windshield to the world is partially obscured; he’s still figuring out his place and expanding the view every day.

My friend Leigh Ann has three girls with daydreams of their own, and when they bring up an idea that seems preposterous to adults or a silly notion, at best, she says four little words that validate them, shows that she is listening to them, and stops to imagine that with them for a moment. All this, without telling them that their desire to be an animal trainer for bearded dragons or a trapeze artist or even Batman is impossible.

“Wouldn’t that be great?” she says.

Think about that for a second. What did you dream about becoming when you were a child? At one point I wanted to be a child psychologist. Then I wanted to be an artist. Then I was sure I’d be a fashion designer. No one ever said to me, “That’s ridiculous.” Or “That’s impossible.” Maybe I got a neutral “Mmm-hmmm” from my mom when she was distracted.

By telling my son that he could not be a gamer, I was telling him that his hopes and reveries don’t matter. I’m supposed to be the one who lifts him up and tells him that not even the sky is the limit. That he can be anything and anyone he wants.

I started to take Leigh Ann’s advice and started saying, “Wouldn’t that be great?” when he daydreams aloud. And I found something remarkable started to happen: he daydreamed even more. He built a roller coaster for his stuffed animals in our living room. He designed a whole theme park on paper. He and my husband created a game with wood and power tools. It’s as if he started to bloom again, nurtured by rain and rich soil and someone to bathe him in sunlight instead of putting a blanket over him. These four words have kicked open the door to possibility. And not a second too soon.

I could beat myself up for being insensitive and obtuse, but instead I’m going to give myself a little grace. I’ve never been the mother of a 10-year-old boy before, and I want to be the ideal mother who never wants to make any mistakes ever again.

Wouldn’t that be great?

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The Simple Trick That Helps Me When Things Feel Out Of Control

When I was younger, I battled anorexia and binge eating. My therapist told me it was a result of trauma from being sexually abused as a child and my family’s reaction to what happened. The situation made me feel helpless and like I had no control. But my eating, counting calories, and excessive exercise was something I could control, so I threw myself into it.

She explained that’s why I stopped going out to eat with my friends and became addicted to counting every calorie that went into my body. If I did venture out and went to a friend’s house, they might want to do something like order pizza and I couldn’t handle that. I could, however, control my life if I stayed at home all the time, so that’s what I did.

It was unhealthy for me, and took a big hit on my self esteem and mental health.

I’ve always struggled with control issues. I tend to spiral when there are things that are out of my hands. I get really stressed out and feel like I need something that will take that feeling away. This has been a big reason why I lived small for a really long time. 

I didn’t take risks or speak up or really go out of my comfort zone for a long time. I never wanted to feel that scary sensation like I did as a child when I felt helpless and alone. I kept my life in a tight little cocoon without even really realizing it.

Then, I got a divorce. 

It made me realize really quickly that life isn’t something you can control. I was scared shitless; everything was about to change, and I knew it.

I couldn’t keep myself, my feelings, or my kids in a neat little package any longer.

I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do: control it all. It was too big and heavy and I was exhausted.

A few weeks after my ex-husband moved out, I woke up one morning and felt so low, I wasn’t sure if I could get out of bed. Then I told myself I could have a bad day in bed thinking about everything falling apart around me, or I could get up and do what I’d been doing for a few years: go for a run before my kids got up, then take a shower.

I peeled myself out of bed and on that run I gave myself a talk about really trying to let the things I couldn’t control go, but taking advantage of the things I could control.

Like planning something fun to do with my kids later on that afternoon when I saw them (we went to get ice cream).

I also decided to order some curtains I’d been drooling over that my ex-husband hated.

Then I got home, and while showering I realized how much better I felt because I’d focused on some things I could do to make myself feel better, instead of honing in on all the things that could go wrong, which was my usual trick that kept me living in my cocoon.

I am not a therapist or a mental health expert by any means. I am, however, a woman who has had to practice telling myself I can only control certain things, and I have to let go of the rest every day since then. 

Fast forward almost four years later, and I’m so glad I started practicing that. Loosening my grip around the things I have no control over, and focusing on what I can do, actually feels freeing. It’s made me a happier person.

Every minute of every day I say things like: I can’t control the fact the world is a dumpster fire, but I can turn off the news and clean my kitchen –– something that instantly makes me feel better.

I take one look around me as we are in the midst of this pandemic and I have to be very conscious about my life and my choices, or I would be in a really bad place right now. 

It’s so easy to sit and manifest all the bad things that can happen with COVID-19, my kids growing up and leaving soon, the upcoming election, the fact that I’m a single mom trying to keep up with it all. I can get sucked down the tunnel of doom really fast, and have a tendency to think about all the bad and scary things that can happen. 

But it helps an incredible amount for me to stick to my routine, get the things done I need to in order to feel organized and prepared. Something as simple as making a grocery list and trying new meals is enough of a distraction to get me moving in the right direction.

Then, I look forward to cooking for my family and having a good meal.

I’m not saying there aren’t days when I can’t get out of my own way and I start thinking (okay, worrying) about all that could go wrong. I’m human, and it seems we are all in a state of low-key panic these days.

Nothing has helped me more than looking at the things I do have a hand in — the state of my home, spending time with my children, working really hard, doing my nails, reaching out to a friend.

Those are all little things I can do that will bring positivity into my day that I have a say in.

And we all know, it truly is the little things in life that make all the difference. I take my kids to lunch every Saturday, and I look forward to it all week. There have been bad days, and the thought of having this to do later in the week helps pull me out of the sadness.

If you are struggling right now (and let’s face it, we all are in some way), I’m begging you to give this a try. Think about a positive thing that you can do which will brighten your day, whether it’s donating to a good cause, learning a new hobby, or going for a walk. Then, make a habit out of being proactive over the things you have a hand in when you feel like you are out of control. 

My life has changed and I feel stronger, more resilient, and capable because of it.

I’m confident you will too. 

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My Against-The-Odds Pregnancy Losses Impacted The Way I Think About Luck

Here’s what nobody told me about pregnancy loss: It stays with you even after giving birth to a healthy child. I had my daughter in 2017 after four pregnancy losses and, here we are, in 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, and I’m right back in my grief.

My employer recently announced that staff should return to the office starting next week. My reaction: Panic. For the past six months, I have spent most of my time at home. I do not run errands or visit with friends. I am privileged to be able to shop online and get groceries delivered. I have been holding my breath, operating under the assumption that I am going to get this virus and, when I do, I will be one of the people who ends up in the hospital with acute respiratory distress syndrome. And if I survive, I will be one of the people who has long-lasting, life-changing symptoms.

Why do I assume this? Because I have a deeply rooted belief in my own unluckiness.

***

My company has a short list of people who are exempt from returning to work—people who have certain medical conditions, people who are caretakers to others in high-risk categories. There is no category for people who have posttraumatic stress from pregnancy loss that is manifesting as health anxiety. There is no category for people who simply don’t feel safe. In this new world, safety is not a right; it is a privilege.

In 2015, I experienced the first of what would become four pregnancy losses. It was ectopic, the embryo hopelessly stuck in my fallopian tube. After emergency surgery to end the embryo’s life and save mine, I was told that this event was relatively rare, occurring in just 2% of pregnancies. My friend’s husband, an OB-GYN, assured me, “I’ve never seen a woman have two ectopics.”

Except I did. But not before losing two more pregnancies first.

My second loss was a miscarriage. “It’s very common,” I was told. These words were supposed to comfort me. The doctor gave me pills to help “expel the embryo,” but the pills did not work (something that happens for about 20% of women). It took more than a month—of bleeding and waiting and crying—before I could pee on a stick and not see a positive result.

When my third pregnancy went past the first trimester, I thought I was in the clear. This is what I’d been told. Google assured me that only 1.6% of pregnancies end after a heartbeat is confirmed. We saw and heard more than a heartbeat. We saw our son—we named him Miles—dancing across the ultrasound screen several times before his heart stopped at 17 weeks. I was told I could give birth to him or have a dilation and evacuation (D&E). I chose the surgery, and it’s a decision I’m unsure of to this day.

My second ectopic happened a few months after we lost Miles. My doctor described this ectopic as “strange,” which is not the word anyone wants their doctor to use. He could not see on ultrasound where the embryo had implanted. I’d already had one fallopian tube removed, and he couldn’t see anything amiss in the other tube. It was possible the embryo had taken up residence in my stomach cavity, a rarity within a rarity. I was given a shot of a drug that’s commonly used for cancer (“it’s a good cell-killer,” the doctor said) and monitored with blood testing several times over the course of two months.

Yes, it was two months before I was officially unpregnant.

***

Google tells me that only 1.7% of COVID-19 deaths are in my age group (I’m 40). I know this is supposed to calm my fears and make me feel capable of doing things like return to the workplace, but as Elizabeth McCracken says in her memoir, “Once you’ve been on the losing side of great odds, you never find statistics comforting again.”

Since my pregnancy losses, most of which were unexplained and all of which were described as “incredibly unlucky,” I have had ongoing health anxiety. I am convinced there is something inherently wrong with me, something that explains the loss of my babies and possibly foretells other medical sagas to come.

My doctor must roll her eyes every time she gets a message from me requesting a blood test to check for the latest ailment on my mind. For a while, I was obsessed with my fasting glucose levels (something that was brought to my attention as being high when I was pregnant). I went as far as to read an entire book on metabolic disorders and consult with a specialist before deciding that the results of my four (yes, four) blood tests were good enough for me to stop worrying (for now). I’ve gotten a C-reactive protein test to assess inflammation in my body (I don’t have much). I’ve gotten a complement C3 test because I read it can be a good indication of immune function (honestly, I don’t even know how to interpret the results). I did a complete nutrition panel, which revealed that my body does not make glutathione, something that a naturopathic medicine doctor told me was “very odd.” Glutathione is a major antioxidant so not having any has led me to think I’m destined to get cancer. And on and on.

This was all before COVID-19.

While writing my book, All the Love: Healing Your Heart and Finding Meaning After Pregnancy Loss, my co-authors, Meredith Resnick, a licensed clinical social worker, and Dr. Huong Diep, a board-certified psychologist, made me aware of the long-lasting effects of pregnancy loss on the psyche. One study found that symptoms of anxiety and depression can persist for up to three years following a miscarriage. I would say it could be even longer. I would say post-traumatic stress from loss can be long-term.

As Meredith writes in the book, “Post-traumatic stress is a reaction that occurs after the trauma itself is over. It’s like vapor that rises from the trauma itself.” The vapor, for me, is this health anxiety, this belief that I am medically doomed, that I will be the 1.7% of 40-somethings who dies of COVID-19.

Until COVID came along, I didn’t realize that my losses had imprinted on me this belief in my medical unluckiness. I didn’t realize how much fear was bubbling under the surface of my life. In a way, COVID has put me back in touch with my grief, which is a good thing. Residual grief is, after all, evidence of residual love—for the babies I lost, for the people they never got to be.

I will carry this grief with me always, and when it’s masked (pun intended) as something else, I can dare to remove the mask, confront the underlying fears, and allow my losses to continue to help me grow.

The post My Against-The-Odds Pregnancy Losses Impacted The Way I Think About Luck appeared first on Scary Mommy.