I asked for stories when I arrived. They told me a whole history passed through photo albums and anecdotes. Mixed in these were the stories of alcoholism. Over and over, the mean drunks beat their wives or spent the family grocery money or died early, everyone a little relieved.
Recently, a friend who had a baby last week reached out to me with some concerns that I recognized all too well from my own postpartum experiences. It got me thinking about how key facts of the first week postpartum hadn’t made it onto my radar before I had Eleanor, and how much of a relief it was to read articles like this and this and realize that I was totally normal and not alone.
I am telling the story of Nikki, and in Nikki's story she sews gorgeous hand-dyed clothes for her children and listens to NPR and does yoga at 6:00 AM every morning and relishes every second of it. That's a nice story, isn't it?
In story, we can cast ourselves as victims, nihilists, cynics, always on the sidelines with a critique. Or, we can choose the lead role, the heroic, or maybe even the quiet kindness that slowly progresses us forward to a better place. Introvert me, this quiet kindness is my favorite.
My niece, bless her, said to me recently that when she thinks of the perfect couple, she thinks of me and my husband. Morg's 12 and her parents are going through a divorce, so she should be forgiven for this erroneous perception of relationships. She has a long time ahead watching me and her Uncle Fester and thinking, "Holy shitballs, please don't let me turn out like them."
The exact moment that I became aware that my actions had a direct effect on the environment occurred on or around Earth Day 1996, when my fourth-grade teacher had us this PSA video about water conservation, which shows a little boy letting the faucet run while he brushes his teeth on the right side of the screen and a pond rapidly draining on the left, threatening to beach the fish that lives there until he calls the boy on the phone and tells him to maybe stop being such a thoughtless asshat and turn the water off.
Hi, I'm Jamie, and I'm a fixer. No, like a fixer. I will insert myself into every aspect of your decision-making process to tell you how you should do something even if you're not even thinking about how what you're doing might need to be done a different way. For years, I called this "helping." Because who doesn't feel super motivated when her mother nags her in that condescending, know-it-all voice?
To all of this work, both personal and professional, I brought a Puritanical belief that I was creating spiritual value for myself through labor. It became my primary love language--I showed God love by being the first to volunteer at the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving. I showed my roommate love by doing her half of the dishes without being asked. I showed my boyfriend love through elaborate handmade gifts. And when people complimented my work or told me I did a good job, I felt love in return.
[My] guilt was compounded by the fact that, not only was I a woman, but I was a cavernously hungry one. Voraciously, consumingly hungry. For food, for sex, for attention, for everything. My needs felt overwhelming, and my body was suddenly terrifying to me in both its existence and its want. My body had become a problem to be solved.
I am a grass is greener kind of woman. My husband, who will generally sing my praises as long as it's not about money, will tell you that this is my fatal character flaw. You and I can both order dinner a restaurant known for its delicious tacos, and I will look at your tacos and wish that they were my tacos.