An Argument for Self-Care

Isn’t it amazing that we only engage in self-care when we have to, when it’s absolutely necessary.  When we’ve reached such critical mass we’re about to blow apart.

That’s usually when I get a humdinger of a sinus infection.  Agony.  Aches and pains.  Congestion.  Fever,  Chills.  As horrible as it is, it forces me down for the count.  To the couch.  To bed early.  To forcing fluids and taking it easy.  Would I think to dial things down when the first symptoms show up?  Heck, no.  Push on through.

This morning I happily scrolled through the WordPress Reader, checking in on some of my favorite blogs.  Catching up.  Touching base.  Doing what bloggers do.  When the hormones of early pregnancy unleashed a horrible churning in my stomach.  I tried to ignore it, but finally had to shove a snack down my gullet before breakfast came up.  Self-care had become an interruption, an annoyance.

Arriving home from my brisk walk to the bus stop, I grabbed a glass of water.  One would think the neutral taste would be good for someone trying to avoid the aforementioned ‘upping-of-the-gullet’.  Un-unh.  It just reminded me that hardly anything tastes good anymore – and that my long-overdue to-do of buying lemons or limes to slice up and put in my water may actually help.  Why should it take utter disgust to push me to finally make this small treat a reality?

What is it about humans – and women in particular – that makes self-care always an afterthought?  Guilt?  A Puritan ethic?  Not wanting to be self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish?  Lack of time?  Money?

I’m sure it’s all of the above.  But I’d venture a guess that it’s most likely a feeling that we’re not worth it.  We don’t deserve a reward – no matter how small.  Especially when there are others in the world who have so little; who suffer so much.

That last point makes an especially compelling argument.  However, there’s a reason flight attendants tell us to put our oxygen masks on first before assisting those next to us.  Mothers, care givers, partners, aid workers, samaritans, humans – none of us are good to those who need us if we’re laid out, dog tired, dead sick.  We can enact great waves of tenderness and care in the world if we start in our own little atmosphere.

Not PPMADetermined

Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PPMADs) rob mothers of so many things, but perhaps the cruelest thing they take is the joy. The joy – which makes the overwhelming job of motherhood worth it – is replaced by fear.

Fear that you’ve made a terrible choice in having a child
Fear that you don’t deserve this child
Fear that someone may take this child from you
Fear that you may do something to hurt this child
Fear that you won’t survive another day without hurting yourself

The fears of the early days will pass – through time, gentle care, therapy, medical intervention. You will be able to envision a bright future for you and your child

Even still, there are some things PPMADs may steal that can never be replaced. The memory of the pain and anguish, the trauma linger on. There is no peace to ever be associated with that time in a mother’s life. So much so, that she will never, ever attempt it again. Women who dreamed of large families stop at one child, not because they are bad mothers or lack the desire, but because their pospartum experience was so bad.

There are the women who achieve pregnancy fully armed with the warning signs and therapeutic tools available to them, should PPMAD strike again, yet are paralyzed by the anxiety that it could happen again.

There are women who must face the scrutiny of others who deem them crazy for even attempting pregnancy after their previous experience. They second-guess their own intuition and self-knowledge and the fact that they’ve come out the other side beat-up, but stronger – all because of the well-meaning souls who give critical advisories for mothers’ own good. Well-meaning souls who have never inhabited the dark spaces of these mothers’ individual hells, who have not fought the daily internal battles it takes to stay out of them, and who don’t realize that every negative comment saps one more drop of the mothers’ resolve.

PPMADs are an insidious band of thieves. They take without provocation, without discrimination, without consideration. They come under cover of dark; they aren’t cloaked because they’re faceless. But with help and support, mothers can choose to face them. And take back what is rightfully theirs: their own vision of motherhood.

Bigger in her Head

“When we first lost our house, I told Reba, ‘I just want things to go back to normal.  When is that going to happen?’

‘Soon,’ she promised.

Soon seems awfully far away.

‘Your mom’s on medication that makes her tired,’ Dana Wood explains.

‘What’s wrong with her?  She’s never been like this.’  I’m trying to get a breath.  I feel sick to my stomach all of a sudden.

‘The early diagnosis is that she had something called a severe depressive incident.  That can happen when people are very stressed and then something tough happens and they can’t bounce back.’

I sit down.  ‘Like not getting the job she was counting on?’

‘Exactly.  It was the last straw, and she shut down.’

‘She made it bigger in her head than it really was.’

‘That happens often, Sugar.’

‘But it’s not normal, right?  Normal mothers don’t do this!’

‘What I can tell you is that most people sometime in their lives make something bigger in their heads than it really is.’

‘But they don’t end up in the hospital!’  I’m trying to breathe normally, but it’s hard.

‘Sugar, the doctors and nurses here know how to help.’

That doesn’t tell me anything.  ‘How long does she have to be here?’

‘A week, probably.’

‘Then what?’

‘We’re not sure yet, Sugar.’

I’m getting tired of this.  ‘I want to talk to somebody’s who’s sure.’

‘I’d feel the same way if I were you, but right now, no one’s sure.’

I have another question, but I’m not going to ask it.

Could this shutting-down thing happen to me?

almost home— from Almost Home  by Joan Bauer

Blowing Up Eggs All Over the Place

Egg and cheese on a bagel.



This has been one of my comfort foods since I learned how to make one at my first job, schlepping bagels at a local shop. Ironically, I didn’t particularly like the job (people get really cranky if you mess up their cup of joe or bagel proclivities), yet this sandwich remains unscathed by any negative associations. Its positive connotations could come from the fact that it gave me a niche in my kitchen at home. No one could slice, butter, peel back melted cheese from the two waiting bagel halves to insert the egg like I could. Or it could just be the crunchy shell encasing the squishy gluten sandwiching the ooey gooey cheese melded with the fluffy egg.

The only drawback to this soul-satisfying ritual is exploding the egg in the microwave.

We used to have the perfectly shaped Tupperware container, molding the egg into a precise bagel-sized perimeter. If the lid was fitted on slightly askew, the steam would escape, the egg would cook, and you’d be good to go. However, close the gap too much, the steam could not escape; too little, egg splatters would escape. Such a quandry. Sometimes even with that perfect Tupperware and certainly with the smaller glass dish I’ve replaced it with, the steam blasts the lid clear off and sprays egg schrapnel all over the inside of the microwave.

Such was the case this morning.

As my crisp toast gently warmed my swiss cheese by osmosis, I cleaned the inside of the microwave. I gathered the flaccid little bits of egg that hung forlornly in my fingertips – because have you ever tried to wipe a bit of egg? – all while wishing I was already sinking my teeth into its tender gooiness.

And I thought, as my microwave approached its cleanest state in months, I’ve been blowing up eggs all over the place lately. In every sense of the word. See, the only reason I’ve reinitiated this comfort food ritual as a second breakfast in true hobbit fashion as of late is because of the fertilized egg growing inside me. I’ve returned to the prenatal craving of carbs and all things yellow/beige. I get two-thirds of the way through this delicious carb/protein fest and lament that it cannot last forever. I truly think I’d make another sandwich right away if I didn’t mean cleaning the microwave again.

The build up of steam and fire power inside that little Tupperware and the resultant shock of the pop as the lid flies loose is not unlike the advent of this pregnancy. It makes our life a little bit messier than it was already with three children. But I have the feeling it’ll be clean and smooth when all is said and done. There will be ooey gooey comfort and warm feelings way down inside. It will be as satisfying as finally sinking my teeth into that crispy yet soft soul food sandwich.

An explosion can change all matter involved. It can forever alter the blast site. It can also clear the way for new and wonderful things.

Both Sides Now

There are two sides to me.

One side,
so dedicated to hope and wanting to believe in its existence.
In life.
The opportunity for joy at every corner
despite the struggles.
In the goodness of humanity.

The side that must be so strong
it survives
in spite of

the other side.

A dark pessimism,
the cloud of depression
that tells me it won’t work,
you won’t find joy.
You will constantly struggle and be weighted down by me.

I am the first side.
The second side haunts me like a shadow.
It won’t win, but it makes things a hell of a lot harder.

* thanks to Joni Mitchell for title inspiration ;-)

The True Meaning of Motherhood

What is a mother anyway?

What does it truly mean to be a mother?

In its simplest form, I suppose a woman becomes one through the act of birthing – but even that isn’t completely accurate. There are other roads and other roles women play to become mother.

The act of caring. The act of doing. Laundering. Ferrying. Carrying. Remembering. Reminding. Feeding. Bathing. Nursing.

Yes, but littles don’t even notice when we do these things. Maybe if we don’t.

Is it the arts and crafts, then? The activities? The culturally enriching experiences?

Our tremendous aplomb at managing the tightrope of work and home life? Or the cutting-edge at-home preschool curriculum we’ve essentially created to validate our exit from the working world?

Motherhood, at its core, is this.

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

The gentle, yet firm embrace of a mother’s arms around her child. The child, no matter the age, wrapped in a ball to crawl into that embrace. Precious little head tucked in the hollow between mother’s chin and shoulder. The child inhaling the indescribable comfort of laundry detergent mixed with bath oil and mom’s own musk; Mother inhaling the memory of sweet baby down. A kiss planted on top of that now full head of hair.

When we think of motherhood in its purest form, we can all do this. We can all excel and revel in this most revered of roles.

If we remember what is at its core:


MILFing isn’t for everyone

I have been a stay at home mom for eight years.

When I stopped to calculate that number, I surprised even myself.

Nearly a decade of childrearing.  Holy milf, indeed.

When I made the decision to stay at home, I was not in love with my job, but was in love with my babies.  Simple, right?

Add a third baby, physical trauma, and postpartum depression into the mix and ‘stay at home’ was not as blissful as Leave It to Beaver would have you believe.

The other day I watched Mindy Kaling’s take on ‘Stay at Home Milf’dom in her sitcom episode of the same name.  Facing the end of maternity leave with her newborn and the start of a work relationship with an obnoxious new colleague, Mindy quits her job, telling Danny she’ll be the best MILF there ever was.  As always in the show, the irony is rich as Mindy follows the directives of a website called ‘Modern Mominista’, cooking and cleaning while looking perfectly fashionable.  Not completely sold on her decision in the first place and enduring a rough week at home, Mindy trades places with Danny for a day.  She feels alive with triumph after successfully completing a surgery.  Her victory is short lived, however, when she arrives home to Danny’s gourmet meal.  It looks as if he’s excelled at stay-at-home daddydom.  As she confesses her true feelings to the baby – how she loves him so much, but feels as if practicing as a doctor is the only thing she’s really good at – she discovers the secret to Danny’s success: his mom’s help.  Mom and Dad come to an understanding of how hard staying at home all day with baby really is.

from The Mindy Project, Season 4, Episode 5

from The Mindy Project, Season 4, Episode 5

The idea of this episode was not to vilify fathers as clueless with unreasonable expectations – though I was upset when it looked as if Danny was going to show her up (The plot redeemed itself with equal frustration ;-) ).  It was an honest – if humorous – look at all facets to the decisions of parenthood and childcare.  Mindy’s reticence at telling Danny how she really feels gets to the heart of all dilemmas surrounding motherhood – where the circles of self and mother intersect.

I didn’t want anyone else caring for my children as infants.  While that decision was fueled by love – it was followed with the close seconds of my need for control and my ambivalence toward my career.  Do women who view their careers as vocation love their children any less?  And what of women, like me, who stand by their decision to stay home, but struggle with the day-to-day carrying out of it?  Who are driven to anxiety and depression by the stimuli and stressful responsibility of it?

There is no clear-cut answer – as evidenced by Mindy’s confession to an empty room that she’s actually happy to go back to work.

The Simple Things ARE the Things

A toasty bagel oozing cream cheese

A crinkly wrapper compressed solidly in your fist

Sun light streaming

Fears, panic, stress receding

From a simple soul baring followed by an authentic affirmation

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

The joy and light of crisp fall leaves all around me

Radiance enters my soul and sings

Driving Blind But in the Moment

[Writing is] like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
– E.L. Doctorow

A few summers ago, I sat in a writing workshop with the inimitable Kelly Easton that unexpectedly turned into a therapy session – perhaps most unexpectedly for her.

We’d been given an exercise to write a scene from our work in progress from the point of view of a secondary character rather than our protagonist. I love Ant. He’s so fun to write. His humorous and outrageous comments flow from a place that’s cheesy and cathartic at the same time. So he was my target voice.

When I read back my piece to Kelly and the others for feedback, she said she loved the energy and spontaneity of the beginning, but that lessened as it went on. It was, she said, as if I didn’t trust his voice, myself; that rather than letting the story go where it would, I clicked on that control switch, molding the plot to the overall plan I had in mind. That I was afraid to relinquish control.

The critique hit me like a ton of bricks. Not because she was wrong. Not because I can’t take criticism (at least from a trusted source ;-) ). But because Kelly’s critique applied to my entire life – not just my work in progress.

How often do we follow some preordained plan rather than functioning within and through the essence of our being? How often do we tick off the to-dos to achieve a goal rather than burning and glowing with the initial desire for it? How often do we rein ourselves in rather than galloping exuberantly forward?

For what?

Unless we’re acting recklessly, we will not crash. There’s a fair distance between joy and mania. Why are we so afraid to inhabit our joy? Are we afraid to feel it in advance of our perceived loss of it?

What’s the worst that could have happened in my story? Anthony would’ve surprised me? Would’ve taken the plot in a new and exciting direction? The writer me could’ve certainly looped him back around to my original story – or marvelled at an even-better blossoming of the plot.

The same applies to life. Long ago, a wise friend reminded me that when your dreams haven’t come true or prayers answered, perhaps it is because God has something even better in store for you. We need not see further than our headlights illuminate. Stubborn human nature makes us want to, but it’s not necessary to survival and success – and certainly not to our happiness.

To It and Through It

Many straws.

There were oh so many straws that bowed my back the last few weeks.

I could list them. My mind right now is tempted to spool back through the memories, the agitations. But the feeling associated with them is gone.

It took one major freak out, an unepected text message leading me to a chapel, and suddenly, there was peace.

I had been so busy fighting. Without really knowing against what. Working so hard to: Control? Perfect? Protect? All it did was make me miserable.

I lamented how tired I was, of fighting, of doing battle every day. And suddenly this space inside me opened up.

I didn’t have to.

I could trust in God. I could trust that He had everything under control. I could let Him handle everything, worry about everything.

I just had to turn to Him for peace, for strength.

And then the craziest thing happened.

While a cascade of little things finally helped me open the door, God answered with one huge thing. A life altering contract of trust.

He may be serious as a sunburn, but I can’t help but see a little of George Burns’ portrayal in God’s divine providence. He certainly has a sense of humor. He is a master of irony.

But while He asks a great amount, He will always be right there to see me through it.

image from diaryofamormongirl

image from diaryofamormongirl


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