I am an emotional shamwow

I’m a little brain fried today. We’ve had a few days of battling some illnesses and my body and brain are tired from logistics of a slightly under the weather baby, husband, and self. But, I’ve been getting a lot of private messages and texts asking about how am.

And we all know I love to talk about myself, so here’s an update.

Things are…ok. Stable-ish.

Andy is coming to the end of the second round of chemo. We’ve found a rhythm. Ronan and I are back in the swing of coworking and grandparent daycare and hanging out together.

I no longer have to lay down for all of Ronan’s nap time to feel human again. I actually got everything lined up for my business taxes, which is a pretty sizable undertaking.

The fog of grief and depression are lifting and things feel…normal. Breakfast, activities, lunch, nap time, errands, dinner, bed. The rhythm has emerged again.

But I still get slammed regularly by a reminder of the non-normality of it all. Andy has a pump on and can’t turn easily in his sleep. Ronan is being a baby and kicks Andy in the chest and Andy’s immobilized with pain because Ronan, of course, found his chest port. A list of everything we need for chemo day for ourselves and Ronan sits on the kitchen table. The cards and presents from loved ones sit in our living room as a reminder that we are loved and that love is coming in strong, hard waves because of something as devastating as Stage IV cancer. Someone posts in a Facebook caregiving group about how their loved one had a symptom like Andy and it turned out to be even worse cancer than they thought. Someone has entered hospice care. Someone has died.

Those ones are particularly hard to read and I usually have to walk away from that part of Facebook for a few days.

But never Facebook as a whole because sometimes reading about other people’s stuff is the only way I feel connected.

Also, y’all are good fodder for blogs for Willhelm Consulting. I can take a societal temperature via social media.

I’m still sometimes overwhelmed with the concern about how to pay our bills. Or more accurately, how to buy groceries, gas, diapers, and the crazy non-essentials like a take out meal when our baby has fallen asleep in the back of the car and we want to keep driving so he gets a decent nap. I’ve been told over and over that help will come and people won’t let us go without help. And yet, there is no structure or rules around how and when to ask for money in these situations. And, call me crazy, but out of all the things I’m managing, finding the courage to ASK for money is not something I’m really going to work up the energy for. The human brain can only handle so many open loops and some are bigger than others. My brain hit its capacity 58 enormous loops ago.

At some point I’ll update the GoFundMe with a new amount if Andy is out of work during the HIPEC procedure (God willing that happens. I’m so superstitious about it.), but for now I’ll just check into Mint every day and be very, very judicious about how and where I buy groceries.

You know, the fun stuff that a family in existential crisis should be dealing with.

And even if I wanted a full time job (I don’t) it’s not like the offers are rolling in. That’s not true, exactly. I did get an offer for a slightly less than part time job that comes with childcare for a company I care deeply about. It’s not consulting work (yet), but I can do my back end stuff if things are quiet, so that’s a positive development I need to keep in mind. The start date is fuzzy, which is why I’m not treating it like a done deal yet. A lot can change.

I’m using some consulting dollars to hire a resume coach to help, but I’m sort of mad that I have to do that.

I’m just mad a lot right now.

I’m mad that people can’t keep their shit together or get help so their crazy doesn’t spill out sideways.

I’m mad that the richest country in the world has no safety net for those of us managing serious illness or caretaking those who do.

I’m mad that a group of very wealthy people thought donning black designer dresses would be helpful to those of us who can’t pay for health insurance AND still deal with discrimination and harassment. Or maybe they weren’t thinking about us. Thoughts for another time.

I’m mad that I’m highly educated and smart, sensitive, compassionate, and funny as a banana peel, but I can’t find a way to make a living at 31 that can sustain my family. It’s just not what I had pictured at this age.

I’m mad, so so so mad that our lawmakers don’t just make single payer healthcare a thing. It’s fucking inevitable, let’s just do it now.

And I’m still mad at all the usual stuff like our President and mansplaining and fatphobia and the diet industry playing on new mom’s tenderness to make a buck and a lack of affordable, cute shoes in size 12.

So, yeah, the initial fog is gone and I still feel wildly helpless. Andy still has cancer, we are still stuck in this shitty shitty situation with not a lot of options or ideas beside the course we’ve been set on.

I wake up every day scared that I’m about to lose him. It sucks to go to bed on New Year’s Eve and wonder if this is the last time you will see the calendar change over together.

Will Ronan grow up without a father? Will I have to raise a teenager on my own? Were we poised to raise a well-adjusted, happy, healthy, adaptable boy who could actually be a part of the change in our culture we desperately need, but now that will all fall apart because he won’t have his papa?

Fuck.

It’s probably because I’m tired and listening to music that is making me sad, but I still can’t quite see the light. I still can’t plan more than 4 days in advance. Some days I can’t think about more than what Andy and Ronan need in the moment and completely forget my own needs until I’m dehydrated or hungry or have a bladder that’s about to burst. My body aches all the time from a lack of good movement. It just all sucks.

The shining light in all of this is that Ronan is still a smiley, happy baby and Andy seems to be managing everything very, very well. These Willhelm boys are mighty resilient and I hope that this resilience is working its way through the mucousal membranes of Andy’s body to kick the shit out of cancer.

I am their emotional shamwow and after all of this I’ll need someone to wring me out.

 

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Where does intersectional feminism fit in with a cancer family?

Before Andy got a touch of the cancer, we were a family that was actively working to dismantle the patriarchy and systems of oppression. I wrote on my blog for my consulting business about identifying internal racial biases. We talked regularly about feminism, intersectionality, and how to be more aware of privilege.

We were a good liberal family. Living a joyful life and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones with regularity.

Andy was largely on the receiving end of education. He embraced the concept of centering marginalized voices and even when it was uncomfortable or required unlearning, he would work hard to be an active participant in this crusade so Ronan would have a slightly less oppressive worldview.

Then…well, you know.

A week or so after Andy had come home, I found myself wiped from all the work of caregiving. My head was constantly buzzing with lists, people, tasks, baby, ideas, tracking, baby, work, chores, Andy, cancer, grief, cancer, Andy, cancer, cancer, cancer, and I had a tiny meltdown. One of many I have and will have. I’ve already lost track of them.

After I had a good cry, I went on to Facebook to check in with the world and was presented with another really good article about mental load. One of the comments struck me: “What makes people think we are genetically predisposed to make dentist appointments is beyond me.”

And I got a little uppity.

YES. I HAVE SO MUCH ON MY PLATE RIGHT NOW! I AM THE ONE MAKING ALL THE APPOINTMENTS IN ALL OF THIS! AND WRITING GROCERY LISTS! AND MANAGING CHILDCARE! AND I HAVEN’T GOTTEN A DECENT NIGHT’S SLEEP IN WEEKS! WHY CAN’T ANDY DO SOMETH…oh, wait. Right. 

See, normally, I would have gone to him and said, Hey, it’s all too much right now. I need some help. And he would have totally picked up slack somewhere, taken on dishes, vacuuming, childcare, something.

But this time, I couldn’t offload this to him.

I had help during the day. Ronan went to my in-laws or to friends, or we had someone come over and entertain him while I did chores or paid bills. But, it was amazing how the workload more than doubled because not only was I picking up the tasks that Andy couldn’t do, but I was also managing grief around this whole situation, which is a motherfucker.

Soon after I had a talk with Andy.

“I’m overwhelmed and I don’t know where talking about mental load and feminism fits into our lives anymore.”

In my head I pictured Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how “Dismantling the Patriarchy” is probably higher up on the pyramid. We were solidly still in the bottom, trying to recuperate physiologically.

Now the immediate crisis is at a low point, though we know it’s going to keep coming back as we continue on this path. But, I still wrestle with how to talk to my husband, who is fighting Stage IV cancer, about intersectional feminism. It’s obviously a huge value to us, but where do you fit it in when most days we can both barely get out of bed? (I’m writing this from my bed.)

We settled on a compromise of sorts: Bring it up and be aware of impact. We are a partnership and me internalizing all the bullshit in hopes of relieving some of the load from him undercuts the whole “marriage” thing. Marriage is not 50/50. Sometimes it’s 80/20 or 20/80. The least he can do is listen to me complain even if he can’t actually do anything. And truthfully the complaining helps.

And me taking on all the work of managing appointments and childcare and household management and not talking about the impact on me to my partner, well that just perpetuates the idea that women are somehow better at this than men and therefore men don’t have to try to do any of that stuff because biology.

I had a funny Facebook interaction a few week ago where someone (a dude) tried to tell me that men were better at compartmentalizing than women. This is one of the most thoroughly debunked myths of “biology” that turned out to be cultural training. But, if we needed personal anecdotes, my ability to compartmentalize right now has never been better. My crazy gets put into a box and is locked up and then the key goes in my butt and the box is buried deep.

(There is always time for a Pitch Perfect clip.)

Back to the matter at hand: Biology or culture isn’t so much what we talk about these days, mostly we have a very active, ongoing conversation about how to relieve the load form each other within the limitations we currently have. We both prioritize Ronan first and then each other (though I think we’re getting better at actually prioritizing ourselves). By knowing that we have clear priorities (happy, healthy, adaptable kid first), we can address the rest because the way how we are living our lives in this current paradigm is inherently about non-oppression. Because at the root is compassion, empathy, and love.

We don’t have the energy for broader impact. We don’t have the ability to be a more active ally than being a friend and taking care of ourselves so we can return to the fight. But, we can continue to do the work inside our own home and in our own hearts of having an equitable marriage in hopes that some day (soon?) we can be soldiers on the front lines again.

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NO I’M NOT ON MY PERIOD

Y’all don’t need me to tell you this, but imma say it anyway for those who need it repeated: misogyny is just everywhere.

The most prominent way I’ve seen it lately is blaming women’s intuition about themselves on “hormones.”

I’ve been going down a bit of a black hole on hormones lately. Postpartum hormones are no fucking joke and now that I’m almost 13 months postpartum, I figured it was time to do something about the hormonal symptoms I was experiencing.

Some examples of legitimate hormonal symptoms (courtesy of the book Woman Code): insomnia, waking up during sleep, headaches, low libido, facial/body hair, hyperthyroidism, metabolic syndrome, oily skin, bloating and water retention, acne, eczema, constipation, diarrhea, body odor, night sweats, mood swings, PMS, irregular cycle, ovarian cysts, breast tenderness, PCOS, unexplained infertility, cramps, heavy periods, painful periods, missing periods, migraines, and depression.

Things that are not a product of hormones: Clinical depression or anxiety, divorce, seizures, stress, a desire to be treated well, aversions to sexual harassment, mental load.

And yet, in the last year I’ve heard all of these things be blamed on “hormones.”

When I went in for my 6 week postpartum appointment, the one where they give you the clearance to start exercising again (ha…hahahaha), I mentioned feeling “off.” Andy pointed out to my doctor that I felt angry sometimes, and while this was true, this was not what I was referring to. I felt overwhelmed, out of control, or on the verge of tears all the time. My sanity felt like a very precariously balanced thing and I did my best to describe this. But, I was told it was likely postpartum hormones and to give myself some time to recover.

I went to my therapist and said the same thing and she echoed the sentiment that motherhood was hard and not getting enough sleep was hard. Yeah…but it was something else.

My second visit to my therapist was where shit got real and I used the D word: depression. I ultimately was diagnosed with mild PPD, but the amount of convincing it took that Something Was Up was kind of insane.

I have a dear friend who regaled my mommy support group with the tale of how she was having eclamptic seizures a few days postpartum. When she called 911, the paramedics arrived and took her pulse and blood pressure, both of which were really high, and instead of treating her for, you know, a medical condition, told her “Being a new mom is hard.” This woman is a nurse and she was like “yah, no shit, now get me to a hospital.” They got her there and after more patronizing and gas lighting from male doctors, she was eventually seen by an OB who knew immediately what was going on and got her treated immediately.

Yesterday a mom in one of my mom FB groups posted about how she has felt distant from her husband for over a year and really wants to ask for a divorce. But, every time she tries to get some support in the process of leaving him from a friend or family member, she gets told that it’s just her hormones that are making her feel off about him and that eventually she’ll like him again.  When I said it’s not hormones this is what it feels like to have legitimate and scary feelings, she explained, “But I’m breastfeeding.” Sure. Pregnancy hormones and postpartum hormones are fucking insane. But they make you want to get a burrito (and a muffin and a smoothie and an ice cream sundae and a block of cheese…you eat a lot while breastfeeding), not a divorce.

This systemic gas lighting of women and their experiences is ridiculous. When someone says covertly or overtly that what they’re experiencing is a product of woman-ness, aka hormones, instability because of hormones, or a lack of mental clarity bc hormones, it’s misogyny.

Let’s try on something new and just believe women when they say something that involves a fair bit of intuition and soul-searching. It is likely because of our ability to be deeply intuitive thanks to our hormones that has helped us to draw this conclusion. Ok so yeah it’s because of hormones, but it’s not because HORMONES. Our biology is something to be celebrated, not in the least because we produce literal life, but also because it is precisely our ability to find deep meaning and connection in tough moments and tough decisions that helps the world keep from being a burning pile of garbage.

I’m sure I’ll have more of these stories and more rage about the way women are treated. I promise my rage is not because I’m PMSing. I’m just mad.

Claiming Stay-at-Home-Momhood

I went to my therapist a few weeks ago for a check in. I had scheduled the appointment after my emergency session following my termination thinking I would need additional tuning up a few weeks later. Turns out I had managed to emerge from the hole relatively well and was in less acute crisis.

One thing came out of our conversation that I think is worth sharing.

I called myself a Stay at Home Mom for the first time.

In our country, being a Stay at Home Mom is a wildly polarizing thing. Women write whole treatises defending their Stay at Home Momness. They describe how tough of a job it is, how thankless it is, how people assume they sit all day at home watching TV and have no fucking clue what happens in the day-to-day life of raising children. And all of that is true.

Unless you are a mother, you do not understand the profound loneliness of motherhood. You have a little person with you all day, but you never have a real conversation, never get to be fully who you are, and are constantly keeping tabs on this other being to the point that even when you are asleep and they are asleep you sort of have one eye open waiting for a cry to tell you to spring into action.

I quit being a stage manager largely because of this constant vigilance. You have to be on always and even in the moments of down time, you are not truly down. You’re always at a low hum. Mothers are exhausted because of how they are always having to monitor, run a program in the background, taking up CPU and RAM. I call it the iMommy app refreshing in the background.

One thing I can say with confidence is that when I go to work, I don’t have this program running in the background. When my baby is with my in-laws or my husband, iMommy turns off and I feel palpable relief at not having to track Ronan.

Work for me is about 9 hours a week over Wednesday-Friday while he’s at Grandparent Daycare.

As a Stay at Home Mom, I am always tracking him, always monitoring his mood, his reactions, his feelings, his hunger, his diaper, his everything. Everything. I am the subject matter expert on my son and he is a constant equation of input (food, stimulation, sleep) and output (poop, temperament, health). I know all if it always and adjust the equation every day to fine tune how to keep his output as pleasant and palatable to the rest of the world as possible.

Some people have a predisposition to doing this well and with relatively low impact on their CPU and RAM. I do not have this predisposition. Or maybe I did at some point, but it was used up when I had to track the mood/temperament/input/output of my parents and their own pathology. So not only do I not particularly like this constant tracking, but it’s also a little psychologically triggering for certain parts of me.

I resisted the title of Stay at Home Mom until this point because, in our country, these women are patronized in the worst way. On a thread about equal pay for equal work, a man went off on a tangent to explain how being a mom is The Most Important Job in the World. It’s a common refrain I hear from women defending their Stay at Home Momness or from men or women trying make Stay at Home Moms feel better about staying at home.

Parenting is viewed as inherently feminine work. It’s something that is undervalued as evidenced by the fact that we don’t have standard paid parental leave and women take financial and career hits when we have families.

Of course, I also keep hearing we “choose” this, as if for everyone it is an option. For our family, we can’t afford traditional daycare or a nanny with my business still in the early phases of growing. So I stay with our son instead of paying for daycare. You can be damn sure if I could afford daycare he would be there. I don’t believe in the nonsense about how daycare is outsourcing parenting or any other ridiculous reason people cite for why children should not be in daycare. Fuck that. As if working parents need another reason to be shamed for their choices.

And again, as if it’s a choice! Parents who work mostly do it because they HAVE to. But also, so what if they want to? I love to work. If I could have Andy and I work part or three-quarter time we would do it in an instant. But that’s not how the world, and particularly the theatre world, works.

So saying I’m a Stay at Home Mom felt big because I was taking on all the crap that people throw at women who are staying home with their children. The stereotypes include that I’m lazy and poor and have no skills I can work with and, thus, will have to join the legions of women who rigorously defend themselves about staying home.

And.

This one feels the biggest.

Am I living up to my full potential?

My mother was a flipping rocket scientist at NASA and worked in the male dominated field of software engineering. With a legacy like that, how can I stay home and not take advantage of the work she did to pave that pathway for me?

I know my mom would never agree with this assessment. She would say that being a parent was the best part of her life and that working was a means to the end of providing for her children.

But as the end of that, it feels like I am too smart, too resourceful, too sensitive, too educated to let my Master’s degree collect dust while I plan naps and make baby food and take walks and clean up poopy diapers and do a lot of laundry.

Which is why I was resistant to claiming the role I’m already living.

I recognize that I am part of a newer type of woman. The one who is a work from home/stay at home mom. Some of us are part of those Multi-level Marketing companies that sell you essential oils and shakes and supplements. Some of us are professionals like lawyers, accountants, and consultants.

I think that being a stay at home/work from home mom is no more or less crazy-making than any other type of mothering. Of course, I will never live another lifetime like this and therefore have no way to compare it to something else. All moms are struggling in whatever their circumstances are. I am grateful that my circumstances mean I get to wear yoga pants more often than not, but I wish it didn’t come with societal stigma that tells me I should be grateful. But, as I have learned, all moms are told they should be grateful, regardless of their level of satisfaction with their circumstances. Which is a topic for another day.

Sunday Fun 2.12.17

Things that I was into this week!

Fun gifts for your feminist friend/girlfriend/wife.

This article has all sorts of resources about the general approach I am taking to food now.

“…it is very convenient for us.” I am dying.

How I respond to people who talk to me in a crowded party when I can’t hear them.

Great. Because regular alligators weren’t creepy enough.

Literally Just 100 Funny Tweets That Sum Up Parenting

This Baby Will Win Your Heart With Her Cute Transformations

Not for our sons, either

This ad is perfection. I think it perfectly sums up why I’m voting the way I’m voting this election.

The ad ends by asking “Is this the president we want for our daughters?”

I would argue this is also not the president I want for our sons. As a feminist mother raising a son, I don’t want role models like this for him. I don’t want leader and behavioral norms for our country to be set by someone who speaks this way about women. Our president, being the leader of our country, sets the norms for the highest aspirations our country can achieve. I don’t want Ronan to be capped at someone who is so blatantly misogynistic. Even my best efforts couldn’t overcome the culture this would set up for him since culture overshadows any other personal growth efforts one tries to take on.

So, to answer your question, Hillary campaign: No. And also not for our sons, either.