Posted by Sarah Tuttle-Singer
And the weird thing is, she hated Chinese food.
(“Um, no, whackjob. The weird thing is that you think your dead mom communicates with you using fortune cookies.”)
But seriously. It’s very Sylvia Browne. Only Chinese:
Before she died, my mom promised me that once she was… gone… she would figure out a way to come back and give me a sign that she was still around. Maybe this was meant to dissuade me from smoking weed, hooking or—worse—getting a B- on a final exam, but I’d like to think that she made this promise as a way of comforting me—a way of saying, “even if I’m not with you, I still am.”
Still, her solemn vow—said with such powerful conviction—made me search our house (in vain) for medical marijuana.
But then, a few days after she died, I started looking for signs. Waiting for a breath of wind on my neck. Searching for a morse code message in a flickering candle. Hoping to catch a whiff of Gap Dream and cigarettes in an empty room. Anything.
“But mom, you promised,” I sobbed one afternoon when I was back in Berkeley, missing her so much my skin hurt. “You promised!”
I fell asleep crying, falling hard and fast into wobbly dreams.
When I woke up, sledged with sticky tears and smeared mascara, I saw it: Lying next to me on the pillow was a small strip of paper with the words “You are Loved” written on it in small red typeset.
I picked up the fortune, holding it with trembling fingers. I hadn’t eaten Chinese food in weeks, and I didn’t remember seeing this particular message, and even if I had cracked open a cookie to discover “You are Loved,” what the fuck was it doing on my pillow when it hadn’t been there hours earlier.
My heart tripped, and I got out of bed and checked the door to the studio apartment. Locked.
I looked in the bathroom. Empty.
The kitchen. Clear.
Crouched down, I checked under the bed. No monsters there.
Only the plink plink plink of the faucet dripping in the bathroom played with the stillness in the apartment.
(All horror movies have this sound right before the slutty girl gets gutted.)
Plink plink plink.
But then, just as I was about to call B and ask him to get his ass home, a ray of light pierced the window and illuminated the fortune nestled on the pillow. And in my mind, I heard the words spoken clearly in my mom’s reedy voice “You are Loved.” Slowly, I picked up the fortune again and whispered the words aloud “You are Loved.” I said it again, with more conviction: “You are Loved,” and for the first time since my mom died, I felt safe.
“But mom, you hate Chinese food,” I whispered.
She didn’t answer.
But ever since that afternoon, whenever I’m really struggling with grief, or looking for advice, I head to Hop Li.
After a grueling, grouchy day she gave me this: “He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at.”
When I was wrestling with my thesis, I read: “The secret to success is getting started.”
And when things were rough for a while, she was profound: “The first step to better times is to imagine them.”
She’ll always be just a delivery away.
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December 21, 2010 | 1:01 pm
Posted by Sarah Tuttle-Singer
Before my daughter was born, I assumed that as soon as I held her in my arms for that first magical time, we’d have a Hallmark moment: She would settle down and coo, I would smile like the beatific Earth Mama I’ve always wanted to be, and we would fall in love.
It was supposed to be like meeting someone I had known forever.
See, for 40 weeks and two days, I had cherished the fragile life inside me, thrilling with each nudge, each kick, worrying – always worrying – and imagining the moment when I would hold her in my arms for the first time. But seeing her as she was, purple and slimy and coated in cheese, was a shock to the senses. And, instead of gazing up at me when I held her a few seconds after she was born, my daughter was a writhing squirming, pissed off stranger. I panicked; convinced I’d drop her onto the cold hospital floor. I trusted the nurses to hold her more than I trusted myself, and without my own mom to guide me through the terrifying first few weeks, I was lost.
Every time I changed her clothes, I would tremble, terrified that I’d break her floppy neck, and my husband, B, would say “you’re doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong. Let me do it.” And self-loathing would rise like bile in my throat.
Growing her for 40 weeks and 2 days made me the incubator, but not her mother.
I had hoped nursing would be the bonding experience that
the Bitches of Breastfeeding La Leche League promised it would be, but it wasn’t. Instead, my milk took too long to come in, M couldn’t latch, and she spent hours yelling at my painfully engorged breasts. Once she was able to latch, we embarked on an era of excruciating agony. Now, I’m no stranger to a little light S & M, but the nipple pain was mind-numbing. It was so bad that every nerve in my body twitched, and I wanted to tear her off of me and feed her formula for the rest of her babyhood. It actually made me miss the halcyon days when she couldn’t latch and would scream at me. But, the pressure was on to breastfeed, so, sucking it up, I stuck it out, and eventually, the pain subsided.
Meanwhile, tweaked out on hormones and adrenaline, I refused to sleep, fervently convinced that the only reason this tiny, fragile creature was alive was because I was there to monitor each breath, keeping her alive through sheer force of will.
And then the colic started. Oh the
asshole colic: Four hours of non-stop screaming each and every night like clockwork starting at 8:00 pm, and culminating in a bout of projectile vomiting, after which she’d finally shut up and go to sleep.
Clearly, it was not love at first sight.
Every time someone asked “don’t you just love her?” I wanted to cry.
Still, while I wasn’t feeling the love, I had a neurotic need to protect her — and her pediatrician can attest to this since we practically lived at his office during her first month. I was anxious all the time, convinced that if I held her wrong, I’d break her, sure that every time she sputtered at my boob she would develop Aspiration Pneumonia, afraid every time I’d wipe her bottom that I would tear her crepe-paper skin. M was so utterly foreign to me, so tiny, so fragile, and so new.
Now, I know some of you Mamas were blessed to experience love-at-first-sight. Do me a favor. Don’t rub it in my face or I will hate you. For-evah.
And then, I spiraled down into a nasty-ass depression that lasted for 3 long months. The cocktail of hormones, sleep deprivation, and sheer New Mama terror was almost deadly, and for a very tense few weeks, I thought about killing myself. I had this fantasy of slitting my wrists – “down the street, not across the road” – and taking a bath in my own blood and freshly squeezed breast milk. The only thing that kept me from doing this was the knowledge that I couldn’t pump enough freeze for my daughter and – God Forbid – she had to have formula. Over my dead body! Oh, wait.
But I was supposed to be happy. And so, each morning I got up and put on a smile that never quite reached my eyes, and I faked a new mama glow the way porn stars fake orgasms.
But when I started weeping midway through my postpartum exam – yes, while my legs were in the stirrups – Dr. B gently brought up the topic of Post Partum Depression.
“No, I’m fiinneeeeeeeeeeeee,” I blubbered, using the corner of the drape covering my Lady Business to furtively wipe the snot dripping from my nose. “I just have a case of the Baby Blues. I’ll be ok if I can just get some sleep”
Um, yeah. Only Tom Cruise would believe I didn’t need meds.
Dr. B smiled gently and explained that sometimes the Baby Blues can be more serious. And when this happens, you need more than a good night’s sleep to make it go away. So, he referred me to a shrink, who referred me to Zoloft, and we all lived happily ever after. The End
Ok, so it wasn’t quite that simple, but things did get better. M started to become more like a baby and less like a chicken. I was too exhausted to wake up every hour to check to see if she was breathing, so I accidentally managed to actually sleep when she slept. And then, either the meds kicked in, or the hormones began to even out, or both, but at last, my feelings started to make more sense.
But then, somewhere in the beginning of my second pregnancy, the goblins came back—niggling, little monsters, clawing and scratching at the outside of my sanity. Hungry little fuckers. And while it would probably have been safe to go back on Zoloft, my thoughts were doing the ‘what if’ dance, so I did the next best thing: I started writing.
And I’m still here.
December 17, 2010 | 4:32 pm
Posted by Sarah Tuttle-Singer
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time writing about what a great mama I am… while I conveniently ignore my two children.
While M pulls on my leg and says “Boob Mama? Boob Mama?” and Little Homie beats the shit out of his toy xylephone, and the dishes stay piled high in the sink like a Jenga block tower, Mama of the Year types and types and types, occasionally getting up just long enough to put on M’s favorite movie, Princess and the Frog.
“See Girl Ribbit Princess Frog Mama! Princess Frog! GIRL RIBBIT! RIBBEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!”
“Mama will be right there. Just let me finish this fucking sentence!”
Well, so much for that Regents scholarship at UC Berkeley.
But writing makes me happy.
Right after M was born, someone told me that what’s best for the mama is what’s best for the baby. Alas, at the time I was too wrapped up in the dangerous idea that dark under eye circles, scraggly hair, and spit and shit stained sweats made me a Good Mother. I thought that women who waltzed off for a night out with a friend—or God Forbid—their husbands were selfish bitches.
And in between obsessing about germs and aspiration pneumonia, between counting M’s poops with religious fervor, between pouring boiling water on one of the organic wooden toys made by magical elves in Scandinavia, I realized this:
- Would I die for my child? You bet.
- Would I kill for her? Touch her before washing your hands, and I will cut a bitch.
But, I hated being a mother.
Things changed when I found out about Little Homie chillin in the uterus. I realized that it was do or die time: I couldn’t live the way I had been living any longer and bring another baby into the world, so I took a (very) deep breath and started writing. And wearing a push-up bra.
Maybe it was also a hormonal thing: Maybe growing a teeny tiny penis in my uterus gave me the balls to take myself less seriously.
Regardless, I started to enjoy my kid. And the idea of having another kid.
And this is what I’ve learned: Whether you waltz off to work at an office or stay at home in your jammies, if you do what makes you happy your kids will pick up on that.
And they will be happy.
Before we moved halfway across the world, Blue Cross sent me a pamphlet on postpartum depression - complete with a multiple choice test - as a screening tool.
Anyway, I guess the good news is I took the damn test. And the even better news is, according to the fine minds a Blue Cross
Let me break it down:
—Do I get enjoyment out of the little things? Thanks to my morning double-shot latte and occasional night out off the Kibbutz, yes.
—Do I see the humor in life? Um, when my daughter points to Little Homie’s balls and says “APPLE YUM!” I snort with laughter, so I guess, YES.
—Do I sleep too much? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ahahahahahahaha. Fuckers. I wish I slept too much.
But in all seriousness, according to the Blue Cross screening tool, I’m ok. But I kind of already knew that, because according to my own litmus test—the fact that I actually (almost always) enjoy being a mama—I’m fine.
Or as fine as I can be given my neurotic tendencies.
And so, I guess I’ll continue to do what I do best: I’ll drink my lattes in the morning. I’ll sip my wine at night. And in between, I will—from time to time—happily ignore my babies. Because this is what makes me a Good (enough) Mother.