A Year of Aggressive Absence: A Letter to my Mom on the First Anniversary of Her Death


Holy shit, time flies. But also, it doesn’t. This last year has seemed like five minutes and also 100 years. I have felt like the world is spinning so quickly that we might all be ripped apart and also as though I have been suspended in Jello at the same time. Similarly, the last year has been full of so many contradictions: grief and joy, hope and despair, progress and retreat.

Harlan is such a great kid, Mom. He says the funniest stuff and is so sassy that I want to pull my hair out sometimes. He is a brick shithouse and like you, he does each task with a different hand; he throws and bats right but writes left. Can you believe he will be starting kindergarten soon? We talk about you a lot. Sometimes he likes to ambush me and ask if you are ashes in a box at Papa’s house or say things like, “everyone has a mom but you, mom.” Other times he is quick to remind me that you are in our hearts when I talk about how much I miss you. I will never let him forget about his Gubby.

Speaking of Harlan, Derek is still killing this dad gig. He continues to be the best dad to your grandson and husband to me. More importantly, he will now cook with and eat onions and garlic. This is shocking news, I realize, but I thought you should be one of the first to know.

Jon and Jessica’s wedding was absolutely stunning and so many people came to celebrate. It was exactly the kind of party that you loved. You would have hated the table with your picture on it because you would have hated feeling like you were sullying their day at all, but there was no way that any of us could bear the thought of leaving you out of it. I know you got to see them get married, but I wish more than anything that you could have been there for the big day. Jon still has his beard. Actually, I think it’s bigger now. I actually kind of like it, so please do not think that I am going to pick up your crusade of trying to get him to shave it.

We finally bought a house! It’s brand new. You would love the kitchen and the back yard. I know you were intimidated by the gas stove we had in the first house we live in here, but it is seriously amazing. Everything cooks so evenly, much unlike that temperamental asshole of a stove you had. It is a true testament to your skill in the kitchen that you were able to create such masterpieces with it. Seriously…do the dials and settings even have meaning on that thing? I need you to come to me in a dream and answer this. Dad always tells me, “your mom never complained about it.” Anyway, the house is right behind where Harlan will attend elementary school and there are a ton of kids here. It’s nice to feel like this is where we were meant to end up.

People love to tell me what you would want me to do in any given situation. To this point, I haven’t had the heart to tell them that you would want them to write their opinion about my life down on a piece of paper and shove it up their own asses. It is weird to me that people try to leverage my dead mom as a way to relieve their discomfort at bearing witness to my grief, but you never tried to control me, especially with regard to matters of the heart. Truthfully, it can be disheartening to hear people indirectly tell me that the way that I am grieving is a disappointment to you. It very well may be; I know that my big feelings often made you uncomfortable. But those people don’t know you and they don’t know that you never wanted me to do things a certain way just because it made you feel better. And they don’t know me well enough to know that I wouldn’t have done something just because you wanted me to, anyway.

There are so many things that I wish we could have talked about in those last few weeks, and I wish you would have been more open to having those conversations, especially the ones about what life looks like afterward. What do you want us to do with your ashes? How do you make elk stew? How the fuck am I supposed to do life without you here?

Why didn’t you go to the doctor sooner? Why didn’t you tell us sooner? Why did you wait? What did those two or three weeks gain you? Would you make the same choice again? I know you said you truly thought it was “just a back problem” but I still don’t believe this.

I really could have used your insight on how to get through this, Mom. I guess I don’t know a ton of people who lost a parent in the same stage of life that I am in. How did you do it with two small kids dragging you through grief? I don’t remember seeing you cry when grandpa died. Maybe you made it a point to not cry in front of us. I am working on letting the tears come when they need to, even when Harlan is around, because I want him to see that feeling sad is as normal and okay as feeling any other emotion. I know that my sadness and anticipatory grief during your illness made you uncomfortable. I haven’t decided if I am sorry about that or not, but it’s also something that I wish I had never been told and may be one of the last pieces of those six weeks that eats me up inside. The other is not spending every minute of those last six weeks in Clatskanie, but we were hoping for months. Hindsight is 20/20, as it were.

I am sorry that I spent so much of the last year thinking that if I were easier to love, maybe you would have wanted to stick around. It was never about me. Thank you for staying as long as you did. I am sorry for the demons you carried that made you feel the way you felt; that prevented you from feeling like you could give up what killed you.

I am sorry that I fed you RSO with a spoonful of vanilla yogurt. Flavored yogurt would have been much more appropriate. You should probably never forgive me for this.

I am sorry that the one thing you were afraid of in all this – chemo – is what killed you. I wish you had gone to the doctor much sooner. Your body may have tolerated treatment better. You might still be here.

I am sorry that I was not a stronger, louder advocate for you.

I know that you would have hated how profoundly sad I have been about things, even the sadness or the unruly parts of grief that I keep to myself, but I can’t and I won’t apologize for that.

There is something in my life that I want to do differently from you, though, Mom: I want to care for myself. I already do a lot of the hard self-care: therapy, doctor appointments, boundaries. God knows I have worked tirelessly to come to terms with your absence. But I want to make it a point to do nice things for myself, like get my hair done, take hot baths, buy new clothes on occasion, and get massages. I have decided that I am going to honor both of us on this day every year by doing just that, because I want to change for me one thing I wish I could have changed for you.

I want to say thank you, too. Thank you for believing in me with reckless abandon and for never trying to hold me back. I can’t imagine how excruciatingly painful it is to watch your children become adults who leave you and start their own lives and their own families. Thank you for never letting that pain make decisions about how you treated me. Thank you for always being there to cheer with me in my successes.

Thank you for sending me Swingtown when you think I need to hear it. You are always right.

Thank you for being the kind of mom who has allowed me to be resolute in the knowledge that if you wanted me to do anything in all of this, you would want me to laugh and find moments of joy in the midst of my grief. If I didn’t know that about you, I am not sure I would be able to do it.

I cannot argue with the fact that this has been the most transformative 12 months of my life, but I also know that I would trade all of that growth to have you back without thinking twice. I think I know what I am supposed to do with everything this year has taught and will continue to teach me, and I hope that you will be proud of me for trusting my gut and putting myself out there and following the path that your departure from this earth has helped to lay out for me.

In love and sadness,


But Here We Are

New name, who dis?

Since I last bared my soul to you, my life has been turned on its head, lit on fire, and burned to a stunning heap of ashes.

This is what I intend to grow from the ashes: writing. stories. solidarity. support. authenticity. integrity. connection. bravery. vulnerability. strength.

The last two years saw a return to therapy (January ‘18), an adjustment to going back to work full time (April ‘18), a second critical psychiatric diagnosis (September ‘18), three weeks of partial hospitalization to resuscitate/stabilize my mental health (October ‘18), my son deciding to sleep like an infant again (November ‘18 – January ‘19), my mom’s cancer diagnosis (May ‘19) and her death at the age of 59 (July ‘19).

Basically, you could sum the last two years up as a bunch of shitty events stacked on top of each other and wearing a trench coat.

There certainly were more mundane things, and even some really good things (I met Roxane Gay AND Cheryl Strayed!).

All of that is to say that the foundational mission of my words is the same as it has always been: break stigmas and make people feel less alone. The last two years have given me so many new ways to do that. I hated not writing in a way that could be read by others, but it was so much more important for me to be more engaged in other aspects of my life. So: I will continue on my mission of creating a springboard for open conversations around mental health, parenthood, and all of the other shit that life throws at us. If there is anything you’d like to see me write about, comment here or reach out on social media!
Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me to write again or asked when I would get back to posting or has taken my words and formed them into the courage they need to share their own stories. You have, in turn, reminded me to lean into my own pain so that I could survive these last two years but also make the pain useful to me. They say that what doesn’t kill you only makes your book longer. Truthfully, I would pick a shorter book if you asked me right now, but here we are.


Aw, Nuts

Hey all – I am so excited to have my amazing friend Kim posting on the blog today about her sweet daughter’s nut allergy. I know so many of you can relate, and I hope you find some comfort and solidarity in Kim’s story!


I need to apologize. I plead ignorance, but that isn’t good enough. I’m sorry that I didn’t take your child’s food allergies seriously. I’m not going to make any excuses, I’m writing this in hopes that others, who aren’t affected, or who just aren’t affected yet, may realize that it IS a big deal. And it can happen to anyone.

My husband and I grew up rural. And when I say rural I mean it. Less than 200 people populate my home town. His was slightly larger, but he grew up the same way. Farm kids didn’t have food allergies. Or any allergies to speak of. We had dogs and cats and we ate dirt and played in cow paddies. We ate blackberries off the vine. Bees stung us. We lived in hay fields in the grass seed capital of the world. Or the US. Or something like that anyway. Our kids would be just like us. We have good genes.

WRONG. A week ago my three year old was diagnosed with a tree nut allergy. Today I picked up her epi pens. Have you seen an epi pen? I hadn’t. They look similar to the insulin auto injectors my diabetic father uses. For my three year old. My three year old has to travel with pens full of medicine that may potentially save her life. My three year old.


Talk about feeling helpless. Talk about mom guilt. It took us three years to realize that this might be a nut allergy. She could have died because we assumed our kids wouldn’t have allergies. It didn’t happen how it was supposed to. She didn’t have difficulty breathing. She didn’t have hives or swelling. She just threw up. For a kid who never got sick it was unusual. So we avoided walnuts for a while after the first instance. Maybe she is sensitive. Then we forgot to warn people and she had banana nut bread at a relative’s house and threw up again. We had been eating Oat Nut bread for YEARS with no issues then one day she had two bites and threw up. She ate a raw cashew and immediately threw up everything she had eaten that day. This time she complained that her throat felt funny. So I called and made an appointment. They stabbed her nine times in the back with a little plastic toothpick while I held her in my arms, and now we carry epi pens. Now we have to train everyone she spends time with how to use them. We have to explain what foods are the most dangerous. A week ago I didn’t read food labels. Today I read them all. Today I worry that a nut is going to kill my child. Is that dramatic? Probably. In a world where our children practice active shooter drills at school. When you can’t watch the local news without hearing a story about pedophiles, child abuse, or bullying. Or the trifecta. Now I have to protect my kid from nuts too. WORRYING IS A FULLTIME JOB, Y’ALL!

I’m sorry I didn’t take your child’s nut allergy seriously. I’m sorry I once shared a meme that downplayed the risk of bringing a peanut butter sandwich to school. I’m sorry you have to worry about this too. I’m sorry you have to carry an epi pen. I’m sorry there are assholes out there that don’t give a shit because they don’t understand. Now I do.

K. Voelz

On Weight Loss (or not) and Loving Yourself

If you follow me on Instagram you’ve probably seen my occasional gym posts or humble brags about weight loss. Every time I post these I am wracked with anxiety and guilt (surprise!), so I wanted to take some time to touch on loving yourself, weight loss, diet culture, and fat shaming (This post isn’t particularly political, so take a deep breath and keep reading).

It’s really not a big secret that we are done having kids. Becoming pregnant and having a baby are literally the worst possible thing that I could do for myself and my family, so we decided long ago that it was off the table. Our family is complete and our hearts are full. Related: please don’t ask “what about when you die?” because I am one more of any iteration of that question away from losing. my. shit. on someone. At my annual appointment earlier this year, I told my doctor that I would like to explore my options for sterilization, and she gave me the answer that I figured I would get: she would be happy to do it but I had to bring my BMI down nine points; I had to lose 65 lbs.

Challenge accepted.

I had tried to lose weight previously with little success. But this time was different. This time I no longer looked at myself and my body with disgust and pity. I have the gall to look a fat-hating society in the eye and say FUCK YOU and accept myself where I was and where I am now. I truly believe that this is the key to successful fitness and weight loss journeys, but also – and more importantly – to a happy life. Nothing is truly accomplished by hating ourselves and treating ourselves with resentment. Truthfully, I was awesome 35 pounds ago, I am awesome now, and I will be awesome when I lose 30 more pounds because the awesomeness of no person is dependent upon their weight.

That is the thing that keeps me up at night when it comes to sharing my weight loss and fitness journey with the world: I am not losing weight because I hate myself or feel any measure of disgust or disappointment with myself, and I don’t want anyone, especially another person who is my size, to feel that they must lose weight to love themselves. The number on the scale does not any way indicate the amount of love and respect that we deserve. Being thin (or pretty, or looking any certain way) is not the tax that we pay society to exist in this world. We are allowed to take up space in every way: physically, emotionally, verbally. It is not our job to shrink ourselves in any capacity to comfort shitty and unrealistic social “standards.” So much of the current diet culture is rooted in preying upon people and their insecurities. “If only you lost some weight and looked like this, you could maybe start to be okay with yourself.” What a an ass-backwards way of doing things, and what a colossal lie we are being told.

You have permission and the right to love yourself right now, wherever you are, however much you weigh, whatever your dress size. You don’t need to change a damn thing to be good to yourself.

So far, my journey has been successful. I’ve lost 35 lbs and my BMI is down five points. I decided that this was not going to be a journey loaded with anxiety and guilt. I still eat donuts and cheeseburgers because I believe that, short of medical indications, there are no bad foods. I prioritize health over fitness and I don’t beat myself up if I go “too long” without a visit to the gym. But long before all of that, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to wait one more second to love myself and give myself the same compassion that I give to others.

And you shouldn’t either.

I am still here!

Wow, life has been incredibly busy since the last time I posted. H turned two, I started a new job, I had the privilege of serving as the Matron of Honor in my beautiful cousin Candy’s wedding, experienced some political heartbreak, was diagnosed with a chronic illness, H started a new daycare and has been running through the normal course of related germs, and I am sure I am forgetting a few things but let’s just say that there has been no shortage of excitement around here!

WordPress emailed me because it was time to renew the domain and I thought…I really need to get back to writing more regularly. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, it’s that due to the aforementioned chronic illness, I struggle with finding both the motivation and the mental clarity to do so in a way that is personally fulfilling and philosophically meaningful as far as the message that I want to be putting out there. I have a few things swirling around in my head that I’ll be posting about soon, so stay tuned.


A Reflection

The amount of love and support I have received after my posts has been absolutely overwhelming. So many people shared both their words of encouragement and relief in the realization that someone they know has put a voice to the struggle that so many women face. 

Honestly, it was a little uncomfortable sometimes, but that’s part of the journey, isn’t it? Growing requires us to leave our comfort zones. Growing is so many different things at different times, at least, that’s been my experience. In this case, it was extremely painful for me and required much introspection and reflection. I am on the other side of it now, but looking back at it isn’t easy, and while I have generally come to terms with my experience, there are still times where I would kill to have the first five month’s of my son’s life back. But I can also say that the intensity and weight of that feeling has greatly diminished. 

Writing my story down had a very profound impact on me. It was one thing to quietly reflect on those days, weeks, and months, but another thing entirely to put it out there and share it with other people. It felt (and still feels) so…permanent? It was a huge risk but one that absolutely had to be taken in order to accomplish what I want, which is for no woman to ever suffer alone.

It was also very difficult. It felt like ripping my heart out over and over and over. Many conversations happened between me and D where he learned pieces of my journey that I shared and didn’t share. It really opened up a dialogue about so much of what I went through and what it was like for me and I feel like it has deepened our relationship. 

Many of my friends also reached out and said they had no idea and they were sorry they weren’t there for me. Please know that I do not fault anyone for not knowing AT ALL. One of the lies that PPD tells us is that we are alone, that no one cares, that what we are thinking/feeling is so bad and so wrong that we can’t share it with anyone. I believed that lie and I felt (at the time) that I was protecting myself by not reaching out sooner and to more people. A few said they had no idea that’s what it was like, and even more said “that is exactly how I felt, I wish I knew that I wasn’t crazy.” 

None of us are crazy. We all have our own journeys. Some of them are dark and heavy and hard, but they are ours. Knowing that I made other moms feel less alone in their experience means that all of the pain and discomfort of putting myself out there is and will absolutely be worth it. 

The Darkness: Part Two

This post contains triggers. If you are someone who is experiencing intrusive thoughts or someone who is triggered by them, please practice self-care when deciding whether or not to read this post. If you or someone you know needs support, please call the Postpartum Support International warm line at 18009444773 or the National Suicide Prevention Life Line at 18002738255.

The conversations about mental health began around mid-way through my pregnancy. Anxiety and depression have been struggles of mine off and on since I was about 13, but it had been well managed in the year or two prior to becoming pregnant. Still, I knew that my history increased my chances of facing postpartum depression, and truthfully, I was not managing my anxiety very well during pregnancy anyway. I knew the signs, and Derek knew the signs. But still, it snuck up on us.

One night, when D had gone to bed and I was up with H for what felt like the thousandth night in a row, I suddenly had this vivid scene in my head of throwing him against a wall. When I say vivid, I mean in excruciating detail. I immediately started crying. I grabbed H and held him close. How could I ever even THINK something so awful? Only monsters think those sorts of things and I am not a monster. Right? Maybe I am. Maybe I am that horrible of a mother.

It’s hard for me to say if it was the initial thought or the harsh reaction I had to it, but things really started to get dicey around this time. I had that same thought many times each day. Or I would think about leaving him on the street or in a dumpster somewhere. This would have been early to mid January. H was fed and taken care of. I on the other hand was effectively unable to function in any way that did not meet a basic need of my child. H had also decided that sleep was not a thing that he was in to anymore, so I was completely wiped out. And the intrusive thoughts really escalated to a terrifying point.

One day we were driving and I imagined in vivid detail what a relief it would be to just wrap the car around a light pole. Or drive it in to a river or oncoming traffic. This same intrusive thought crept in to my mind many times over the course of my journey. It eventually just became a normal thing that I felt decreasingly bad about. I also had fantasies (for lack of a better term) about leaving town.

“I will never be a good mom. I will get on a plane, and go to Albuquerque where I don’t know a single soul and I can start over. D can get remarried to someone who can be the mom that H deserves.”

“I can go to the airport and leave right now and both D and H will be so much better off without me. H is young enough that he won’t even know the difference. His new mom will be much better for him.”

“D can find a new wife who isn’t a nutcase and a terrible mother to his son. They will both be better that way.”

“I want a new life…one where I cannot fuck this kid up any more than I have.”

Again, these were things I never shared with anyone. I wanted this baby, was so excited to have him, so this was part of that, right? I was just tired. I was just hormonal. I was just being too hard on myself about breast feeding. I was just not cut out to be a mom. This is just how it is when you have a new baby.

Except it wasn’t, and the smallest piece of me knew that. I had had conversations during the early part of my pregnancy with someone who had also experience PPD that manifested itself in this exact way: a fantasy of leaving and starting over. I knew that this wasn’t part of the deal.

During this time I was existing in the echo chamber of my mind. I was a bad mom. He deserved better. D deserved better. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I want a different life. This was all a mistake. That was my mind all day, every day.

Then, one night, it was almost an epiphany: I didn’t have to do this.

I could get the gun and kill myself.

I imagined doing it in each room of my house. The living room? No. too messy. Our bedroom? No. How could D continue to sleep there? Our bathroom? No. D would need to use that too. I couldn’t do it in H’s room or in his bathroom where he took his baths that he loved so much.

So I decided that I would get the gun and I would kill myself in the laundry room.

And I clung to this for a week or so. This was my light at the end of the miserable fucking tunnel. H would get a new mom and D would not have to put up with his pathetic wife and they would all be better off. D was a great and attentive father and he would know how to take care of H, and probably do it better than I could, seeing as I was fucking awful at it. It was oddly relieving and surreal.

I didn’t get the gun. One night I called my parents at two in the morning and sobbed hysterically on the phone for 45 minutes. No one said anything. I just cried and cried and cried to the point where I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t even have any tears left.

The next day I called my OB’s office and asked them I if I could get in ASAP because things were just not going well. She was able to get me in the same day. I remember being in the waiting room and messaging a friend that I knew she was going to have me committed and have my baby taken away and that I should leave. “No, stay. They won’t take your baby away.” And before I could even make a decision about what I was going to do, they called me back.

“I hate this. I hate all of it and I can’t do it anymore. I have been thinking about hurting myself and I can’t stop and now I am absolutely terrified that you are going to have me committed and have H placed in foster care.” Because PPD is a liar, among other things, killing myself was certainly a preferable alternative to inpatient mental health treatment.

Obviously, she didn’t have me committed. In fact, it might have been one of the most candid and productive discussions I’ve had regarding my feelings at that time. I told her that I was really struggling and thinking of hurting myself.

“Have you just been thinking about suicide, or do you actually have a plan?”

“Oh, no, I don’t have a plan, I just think about it a lot. And about hurting myself.”

I lied. I felt that I had to, but I’ll address that more later.

We talked a bit more. We devised a plan that would allow me to get some sleep: I would go to bed after dinner and sleep for at least four hours and then get up and handle the overnights. She also gave me a pamphlet for a local organization that helps pregnant and postpartum moms. I don’t remember a lot of the other details but I remember her telling me that I would get through it and to call if I needed anything.

I went home. I wasn’t feeling a lot better, but I wasn’t feeling a lot worse. We went ahead with the plan that allowed me to get some more sleep and being assured of those four hours a day was immensely helpful. I also started attending weekly meetings facilitated by Baby Blues Connection. Those two things, in addition to meds and occasional therapy, were absolutely critical to my recovery. Attending the groups was great time for me to get out alone but also to connect with other moms who completely understood where I was coming from in a way that was profoundly meaningful. My OB’s office called me once or twice a week to check in on me and make sure things weren’t getting worse.

I refer to the time after this as “the fog.” I no longer wanted to hurt myself or the baby, but I wasn’t really enjoying myself either. I was going through the motions but really felt like I was living in a haze, but haze is much more manageable than the oppressive weight of the darkness. Every week that passed, things got better. I started to make plans with friends and leaving the house with H. 2015 was a really intense year: Derek was in an accident that totaled our car, I had a stomach virus and food poisoning a few weeks apart, we moved in May, I went back to work, D got a new job, we moved again in September to accommodate that.

One night in early November, with H’s first birthday quickly approaching, I was laying in bed reflecting on the past year, and that moment that I was certain I would never feel was upon me: I was so overwhelmed with love for my son and wonderment at our crazy journey since he had come earth side that I cried. Almost a year later, I was in love with my son and with being his mom.

And almost as quickly as it had arrived, the darkness was gone.

The Darkness

This post is the first in a series chronicling my battle with postpartum depression.



There are two reasons that I am writing this:

  1. So much of my journey was spent judging myself for the way I was feeling and for the things that I did when I wasn’t myself, and being absolutely sure that no one could relate to what I was going through. That isn’t true. No woman should ever suffer silently or alone.
  2. I need to forgive myself. As I write this, there is nothing in the world that I want more than to have the first four months of H’s life back so that I can do it differently. This is an entirely fruitless endeavor, and the only way forward is through, so through it I go.


This post contains triggers. If you are someone who is experiencing intrusive thoughts or someone who is triggered by them, please practice self-care when deciding whether or not to read this post. If you or someone you know needs support, please call the Postpartum Support International warm line at 18009444773 or the National Suicide Prevention Life Line at 18002738255.



It’s hard to remember when exactly it all started. A few moments stick out in my mind, but postpartum depression crept in and before I realized it, it had settled, as is the way of darkness.

“Normal” isn’t really a thing with a new baby, especially if it’s your first. For the first few weeks I just assumed that everything was as it was supposed to be because having a baby is fucking hard. It’s a total shock to the system. But in my determination to breast feed H, I went to meet up with yet another lactation consultant. My anxiety was high because it really hadn’t been working out and he would always eat great when we were with a professional but then we would struggle at home. The first impression I got from this particular LC was not great, and while she was typing some notes in H’s chart I looked at Derek and mouthed that I wanted go. Then I started uncontrollably crying. The LC tried to reassure me that it was normal, hormones are crazy at that time, and it’s all really stressful.  Maybe some baby blues? Maybe. Why don’t you call your doctor’s office? So I called and left them a message. Apparently the LC was actually very concerned because she sent a message to them and then I got a phone call to check up on me.

From the day he was born I struggled to sleep. The first night was restless, largely due to our care team coming in to check on us. The second night I walked in to the hallway and started hysterically crying to my nurse because I was so tired and hadn’t slept much in the three days I had been there. Once we were home and settling in, H slept great, but I could not sleep. No matter how exhausted I was, I laid awake and would maybe doze off just in time for him to wake up and eat again. The worst part was the phantom crying. Most new parents know what I am talking about! You are sure that your baby is in hysterics but once you get to them they are sleeping peacefully. Second to this was the obsessive worry that he would die suddenly in his sleep, and my anxiety about attempting to breast feed him upon his awakening.

Evenings were the hardest, especially once D went to bed. It started slowly.

“This is not at all what I thought it would be.”

“I kind of regret having a baby. This was a terrible idea.”

Maybe those sorts of thoughts are normal? I don’t really know.  It’s not something that I ever talked to anyone about because I was certain that regretting your newborn was one of the worst possible things a new mom could do. How could I feel that way about something we so badly wanted? So the days ticked by with those thoughts in my mind at varying degrees of intensity. They were especially intense surrounding attempting to feed H. Breastfeeding was a constant struggle and it turns out that when you hinge your worth as a mother and human on feeding a crabby newborn from your breast you can be unduly hard on yourself. Waking up every three hours to pump and feed a baby simultaneously was wearing me down.

One night, after a particularly hard day, H was crying as I was attempting to swaddle him for the tenth time. I looked at D and said “I really hate this. I really hate being a mom.” This was shortly before Christmas, if I remember correctly. From that point forward the thoughts started getting worse in both intensity and content.

“I am a failure as a mom.”

“He deserves a better mom.”

“I fucking hate all of this and wish we wouldn’t have had a baby.”

“I hate this baby.”

The last one still hurts to type, but postpartum depression makes you think and do things that are not yourself. I wish I could say that this was the worst of it – rock bottom, if you will – but it wasn’t. My battle was not close to over.




“You’ll get so much farther in life if you learn to just be quiet.”

Nearly my entire life people have told me that being more compliant, more agreeable, and quieter would allow me to experience greater success than being, well, myself. This has always bothered me. But, it bothers me even more now that I have a loud, opinionated, and determined child of my own.

Motherhood has taught me that there is a term for these children: spirited. They are children who are “more.” More intense, more sensitive, more pissed off that you didn’t get their banana fast enough. I recently started reading Raising Your Spirited Child and it has given me great insight, both with Harlan and with myself.

A big part of this journey is accepting that my child is not who I thought he would be. Sounds silly, right? Some babies are snuggly and affectionate. They have very mild temperaments and go with the flow. That has never been H! When he was just a few hours old the nurses and hospital staff were commenting on how “awake” he was. It was at that point that I realized that we were “in for it” for lack of a better term. We tried bedsharing to get some sleep but it turns out that being near mom and dad just means it’s time to wake up and check things out. As a newborn, he was in a hurry to become mobile. He didn’t stop moving when he was awake. He was picking his giant head up from the beginning. Rolling started around four months, crawling at five and a half, walking at just over nine. This. Kid. Doesn’t. Stop.

Having a spirited child (or a “sparkler” as a friend and fellow mother of a spirited child calls it) is frustrating. It’s exhausting. It’s hard to not try to “change” my child. During those times, I have to remind myself: I, too, am a spirited child. I am chaotic, emotional, sensitive. I am loud and opinionated. I have spent most of my life dealing with people who have desperately wanted me to be something I am not. And because of that, my “strong personality” is easily my biggest insecurity. I cannot overstate how badly I do not want this to be the case for my son.

Sparklers can’t be changed. They are who they are and I need to embrace that, starting with myself and starting with my son. The world needs all kinds of people, including determined and driven spirited ones. Parenting a spirited child is hard, but worth it, because they make a difference. They push boundaries, they challenge the status quo, they think outside the box. They make stuff happen. Being spirited – or any of the adjectives that go along with it – is not inherently bad. Many of those traits are desirable: driven, determined, intuitive, sensitive, persistent, passionate. But, they can be hard to see in a positive light when learning to parent a child that exhibits them.

Some days raising a spirited sparkler feels like an exercise in futility. But on those days I have to remind myself that he won’t always be standing on the seat of his trike, or trying to pick all of the rock fragments out of the pavement when we cross the street, or yelling at strangers in Target. Some day he will be a mover and a shaker. Some day my spirited little guy will be an awesome adult and he will change the world.



A Birth Story

This post contains birth words and terms that may make some people feel uncomfortable.

Let me start off by saying that pregnancy sucked. I threw up three to five times a day for the first 20 weeks, and it slowly decreased to about once or twice a week by the end of pregnancy. It was sort of like a twisted game of bingo: how many random places can I puke? (The answer is “a lot” if you were wondering.) At some point during the joyous time of growing a tiny human I developed high blood pressure. Despite the multiple weekly appointments to harass the baby in to moving around and pretending to breathe, we succeeded in not finding out the sex of the little one until birth.

On Halloween I found out that our baby would be coming early. Because mom guilt starts during pregnancy, I cried and cried because I felt I had failed my baby. Derek was unable to make it to that appointment because of work commitments, so I settled on a hug from my OB. She told me that every week from there on out would be a bonus, and she also put me on modified bed rest. (This is a fancy term for “don’t do anything that stresses you out.”) At this point I also stopped working. I spent the next three weeks mostly at home folding baby laundry, binge watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and crying about having to sell our amazing Fleetwood Mac Tickets to an internet stranger.

My induction was scheduled for November 24. At the last appointment before eviction we discovered that my cervix was high and tight and therefore completely unfavorable. Because of this the date was bumped back to Sunday night to give some extra time to get my lady bits in gear. We were to arrive at Good Sam on Sunday, November 23, at 7p.m.

We were late. Turns out that Trans-Siberian Orchestra was playing two shows at the Rose Garden and traffic was backed up. And really, it wouldn’t be our life if something like this didn’t happen. When we finally arrived at L&D, Deb, the charge nurse was waiting for us and showed us to our room. Our nurse for the evening, Ashley, had a difficult time starting my IV, so Deb came back and got that going. I made sure to request that they cover it because there was no way I could have looked at that thing coming out of my arm for any length of time. After the IV was in they hooked me up to the monitors and put in the Cervidil. Then we waited. I didn’t get much rest because the baby wouldn’t stay on the monitor (unsurprising), and the baby has to be on the monitor or they must remove the Cervidil. Thankfully, the night before we went in I had the best night’s sleep of my entire pregnancy.

The next morning – Monday – the nurses checked me and while my cervix was a bit softer, there was not much progress. I was SO discouraged, likely because I don’t handle a lack of sleep well. After that, my mom showed up. When my OB came back I told her that I was done and wanted a c-section. Thankfully, she is awesome and told me that she didn’t think that is what I actually wanted but would put me on the schedule for Tuesday morning and that we would try something else first. The decision was made to try prostaglandin gel near my cervix and start a very low Pitocin drip. Derek had gone out to get Starbucks, but about halfway through my drink and sandwich, I ran to the bathroom and threw all of that up. I started to feel definite contractions a few hours later. Early that afternoon I was crampy, and when I went to the restroom I noticed that I had lost my mucus plug. YAY! Progress! My OB checked my cervix again before she headed home for the day and I was at a one, which was better than nothing but still a little disheartening. I was still scheduled for a c-section the next morning and told that I could not drink much, if anything, after midnight. She told me they may want to break my water that evening, told me she would see me tomorrow, told me to eat dinner, and left. Derek and I were chatting and she came back to let me know that the “favorite” anesthesiologist was on duty that night and that if I wanted an epidural I should get one before he left at 7am. Around 10pm I called my awesome overnight nurse, Megan, and she put in the call to anesthesiology. I signed a bunch of paperwork and the anesthesiologist was up a bit later. He made sure and double sure and sure one more time that Derek was okay staying in the room with me. Apparently some partners/support people actually faint while the epidural is being placed and catching them is not the job of the doctors or hospital staff. Derek, always unflappable, stayed right there with me. The position you have to assume to get an epi placed is uncomfortable and the feeling of the needle in my spine was a bit too much. After about 20 seconds I started to feel cool and clammy like I might pass out, and I asked Megan to blow on my face, which surprisingly helped.

Then it was over. The bed was lowered, and a bad choice invariably followed. On a scale of one to invading Russia in the winter, allowing a pregnant woman with a just-placed epidural to stand on her own is pretty high up there. But it happened. And yes, I fell. I knew it was coming so I curled forward because FOR THE LOVE OF TOM CRUISE I WAS NOT RIPPING THAT EPIDURAL OUT. Derek and Megan freaked out, and I laughed. They helped me back in to the bed. Not long after that I began vomiting uncontrollably. I learned then that an epidural can cause your blood pressure to drop rapidly, and the fact that I was on meds to lower my blood pressure already did not help that. So, up came the dinner that my mom and doctor insisted that I eat. Megan then said they thought breaking my water would help get things going along, and also allow me to rest because they could monitor baby internally. I politely declined, because I know that once your water is broken you’re on the clock, and I wanted to see if I dilated a bit more.

Monday night was slightly more restful, but still not amazing. Obstinate baby was still running away from the monitors as it had for the 37 weeks leading up to that time. I was having somewhat regular contractions at this time but I could only tell because I could see it on the monitor or notice my belly was tight. Tuesday morning Dr. Miles came back and checked my cervix again. I was at a three! YES! She then told me she thought that breaking my water would help get things going. Since my body finally seemed to understand what was happening, I agreed. If you have never had your water broken, it feels like mountains of jello are pouring out of you and it. is. disgusting. They put the monitors on the baby and my uterus, and we chilled out for a while. Amber, the nurse who would be there for the birth, brought me cups upon cups of cold apple juice and even held my hand when I needed her. I am and will forever be immensely grateful for her calming and helpful presence during that time.

As the morning and early afternoon went on, I became increasingly uncomfortable. Derek and my mom had left to go on a walk and grab some food but right as I was going to call him and ask him to come back, they walked in the door. Around 2pm I was checked again, this time I was at an EIGHT. I had gone from a two to an eight in less than six hours. At this point I also fully recognized that my epidural was not working. Anesthesiology came up and they gave me a boost of some good stuff, but it wasn’t long before that wore off.

The rest of labor is a little blurry. I remember being on my right side with my leg up around an exercise ball that was shaped like a jelly bean. During this, my mom walked in and I screamed at her to get out. (Sorry mom!) My face began to tingle and that is when my awesome nurse informed me that it’s because I was hyperventilating. It’s amazing how few pain management techniques I remembered from child birthing class when the time came. She coached me through my breathing. At another point I remember telling the nurses that “the baby is going to come out of my asshole!” They assured me that the baby wouldn’t but the feeling was normal and was a good sign that it was almost time to push. I stayed that way for a bit and labored down for a bit and then it happened: every single fiber of my being needed to push. It was an instinct that was incredibly primal and hard to describe, but I knew it was time. Thankfully, my OB rushed in right as I was saying “I need to push, oh my god, I need to pushhhhhhh nowwwww.”

Now, I always thought that women were full of shit when they said that pushing feels better. But for those of you who don’t have kids, let me tell you, they are absolutely and 100% correct. I rolled on to my back and my doctor checked me really quick. I think she mentioned that there was still a little cervix in the way but that there would be time for that to change. She gave me a rundown of how pushing worked: when a contraction starts, will every muscle in your body to force that baby out of my vagina to a count of ten. If I was still contracting, start again. Relax between contractions (she must have a side gig as a comedian because that was just the most HILARIOUS thing I had ever heard).

I think I started pushing around 4:30. I remember a nurse sticking their head in about a patient of another physician in her practice being there for observation. Dr. Miles looked back at her and said she would be 45 minutes to an hour. I looked at the clock. It was 5pm. So she figured by six, this baby would be out. During most contractions I got three pushes to the count of ten. The break in between them was incredibly short…maybe 10 to 15 seconds before the next one came barreling on. I only spoke a handful of times: either “how’s baby?” or “I CAN’T.” Everyone assured me that I could. The nurses and my doctor were very encouraging. Every “I can’t” was met with a “you can and you are doing a great job.” This was awesome until they started with the “We can see the head! The head is right there!” This baby had a gigantic head, which we knew from the litany of ultrasounds and scans, but this was also confirmed by the worst part of birth: the ring of fire. I knew precisely where his head was because I felt that my vagina and anus would just morph in to one large hole from which my bobble-headed bundle of joy would emerge. All I could think was “tell me when you can see the damn toes!” but I couldn’t find it within me to get the words out.

I was exhausted in a way that I had never experienced before. The baby was not out. I was still pushing. And sweating. And pushing some more. Derek was counting to ten and I wanted to kill him. Then I pushed again, and the head was out! Now, my understanding is that there was some maneuvering involved to get the baby turned in a way that would permit safe passage of the shoulders, but at this point I was not opening my eyes at all so I can’t be 100% sure.  I pushed a few more times and out came the rest of the baby. His time of birth was 5:44pm so my doctor was correct in her estimate. I opened my eyes to see my doctor hold the baby up with his butt to me, then I laid back down and closed my eyes. She turned the baby so that Derek could see and let me know the news.

“It’s a BOY!” Derek said. “We have a boy!”

“Boy…Is he a Harlan? Is that his name?”

Derek just nodded at me with tears in his eyes.

I rested for a moment again while they cut his cord and then they placed the baby on me. There was some difficulty removing the monitor from his head (he has a good scar there). The feeling of having this little person in my arms after hours of pushing and days of laboring and weeks of vomiting and months of worrying about everything that could go wrong with him and me and us…it was absolutely incredible. Then, out came the placenta which felt even more disgusting than having my water broken, which is funny because it’s really a pretty magical organ. (As an aside, despite the high blood pressure, my placenta was extremely healthy.) I realized that something was going on with my frankengina because my doctor kept wiping and needing the light closer. There was a lot of blood and she was having a difficult time determining the source. I believe at this time I asked her if I was going to die, which made no sense because there was no great sense of urgency with what she was doing, but having just given birth I got a pass at logic, okay? She located a massive internal laceration and stitched it up, in addition to the external tears in both directions. Birth is so glamorous.

Once that was done, they were cleaning up the room so that we could relax a bit as a family. Derek ran out to let them know that baby was here and we were all okay, and that we would have them back in a bit. It was during this time that they dropped the bag that had been hanging on the end of the bed. This bag catches the gamut of fluids that come out during child birth. I was completely oblivious to all of this happening because I was holding my son! I DID IT! The room cleared out and we waited for the baby nurse. Derek got to hold his son for the first time while we waited to have him looked at. We waited a long time because it turns out the baby born three minutes after H in the next room had some issues (but was okay!). They weighed him (8lbs 5oz), measured him (21.5 inches), took footprints, and did all of the other things that they do to newborns. Then Derek went out and got my parents. It is worth mentioning that my parents are the PERFECT visitors after giving birth. I offered to let them hold the baby and the declined. They took a few pictures, swore their secrecy, and headed home after about 30 minutes.

We spent a bit more time as a family, notified a few close relatives and friends of his birth, and then Derek did what any amazing and supportive husband would do: he went to the closest 24 Subway at midnight and got food. I had observed the “no lunchmeat” rule during pregnancy but craved Subway. I was starving after delivery and never has any food ever tasted so good or been so appreciated. Then my first post partum nurse, Nikki, came in to check on me. She took out my catheter and let me walk around. I went in to the bathroom where she gave me a sponge bath and I was so incredibly humbled and grateful for her help. While we were doing this they brought in a recovery bed which was significantly more comfortable than the labor bed. She helped Derek change his first diaper and tried to show us both how to swaddle multiple times which was ultimately an exercise in futility. She also calmed us when H started coughing and gagging. There was some leftover amniotic fluid that he was struggling to get out but she assured us that it was normal and made us feel at ease. I got a few spurts of rest that night but nothing significant.

I didn’t sleep much between when we went in and Wednesday night. My nurse on Wednesday evening was great; her name was Amanda. She made it so that I was finally able to get my IV out and shower like a regular human! Around midnight I was laying wide awake while Derek and H were happily asleep. I went in to the hallway right as she happened to be walking by and burst in to tears because I was so exhausted and couldn’t sleep. She brought some ambien and then offered to take H to the nursery so they could do his hearing test and snuggle him while I got a little rest. The brought him back in around 4:30am. That morning we got our things together and prepared to leave the hospital. In all of this excitement I had forgotten to eat since an early dinner on Wednesday night and I was very light headed, so they brought me some juice and two protein bars. We put a onesie on our little guy, buckled him safely in to his seat for the first time, put our bags on the cart, and they wheeled me out. The whole time I was thinking “holy crap, they’re going to just let us take him home like this!”

And that, my friends, is how my crazy, spirited, hilarious little boy came earthside.