Tag Archives: suffering

A letter to a loved one

I know this is going to be hard to hear. Because you are hurting. Because the crazy voices in your head (and they are of you, yes, and you are you-with-them, but they are not you) are so loud, so much louder than my quiet voice. Forgive me if I yell sometimes. I’m only trying to speak above them, so you can hear me, because I know how hard they work to drown out everything else.

You are strong. You are so strong, though I know you are only human, and you can bend and break and bleed as well. You don’t want to speak your truth because you’re afraid others will hear a lie, don’t want show your wounds because you think they mean you are weak, but you will survive them, you are surviving them, and that means you are so strong, so amazing. You are dealing with so much, so much ugliness, so much fuckupitude, so much batshit — from inside and out — and you are surviving. Do you know how amazing that is?

If you don’t, if you can’t, it’s because your head is filled with the craziness, and your body is surrounded by kyriarchy, and they conspire to keep you sick, they require that you stay sick so they can exist. They tell you this illness isn’t real, that it’s a character flaw, that it’s inside you and so you are somehow damaged. They lie. If this were a physical illness, if you had cancer and it was your own cells, measurable, that were dividing and multiplying and spreading and filling your self with wrongness, with illness, people (mostly) would get it, would recognize and honor you for fighting for your life, would cheer for you, would run fucking marathons for you, and you would deserve it. You DO deserve it, and so much more, and fuck the kyriarchy for denying you that, for making your fight for your life silent, obscured, supposedly shameful when it is a badge you should wear with pride, a flag you should wave for all it’s worth because you are worth so much, you are doing so much, and pride is justified, would be recognized as your right if our society were right and just.

That you are still here at all, that you are trying, that you are fighting, struggling for breath, struggling for sleep and sanity, struggling to survive, any way you can: you are amazing. I am amazed by you. You are awesome. I am in awe of you. I won’t place you on a pedestal because I know you’re going to slip sometimes, and I can’t do this for you no matter how much I would wish to, but I am here, I will always be here, cheering you on, holding you when you fall, walking with you as much as I can, telling you I know it gets easier, it gets better, there is light at the end, that you can do it, that you are doing it, that I am so, so proud of you.

Fuck everything else. Fuck the kyriarchy, fuck those whose perception is deadened by kyriarchy, fuck the crazy and its endless what-ifs, its concern over what they think, how they’ll react. If they are worth caring about, they’ll care about you. If they are worth paying attention to, they’ll pay attention to you. If they’re worth living for, they’ll want you to live.

I wish I could just wrap sanity and security and stability and self-confidence and the support you need in a bright shiny package, and take it to your house, and watch you pull the bow and have it unfold in your mind, in your soul, in your life, settling over you and comforting you like a hand-made quilt, each stitch worked a blessing for your well-being. I wish I could tell you there were any way out of this hell except through. But I can’t. I can’t, and I’m so sorry I can’t.

I can tell you I am proud of you, and I know you can do it, are doing it, and it doesn’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be perfect, and I know it’s so hard and it hurts so much. I know. But it’s OK. You’re OK. You’re amazing, with all your flaws, with all the crazy inhabiting your thinking right now, with all the ugliness you are struggling with. You are beautiful. And I love you.

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As I write it to her, I think — maybe, a little — I can hear it myself. If the God/dess speaks through me, s/he speaks to me, and I am humbled.

The personal and the political

What do I mean when I say “…getting sucked into attacks and defenses of individual “choices is not only missing the point, it is supporting the patriarchy”?

It is certainly understandable when faced with the task of changing one’s whole culture all in one go to feel overwhelmed, as reader Rachel bemoans: “I think that’s what I find daunting about your posts–you address the larger cultural, societal issues that I feel are out of my control. … But my whole culture. That seems impossible.”

And as Jeremy Adam Smith points out over at Daddy Dialectic, there is a trap on the other side, for those who believe “only after the revolution can our piddling interpersonal relationships be lastingly altered” to use this as an excuse to “neglect their family responsibilities, especially the guys.” After all, if equality in individual lives is impossible to achieve, no point trying, right?

Neither of those are what I’m hoping to advocate.

When Rachel says “I can control (as much as anyone I think) what goes on in my family”, she is right. When Jeremy asserts “how vital and immediate it is for heterosexual couples to [establish] a domestic division of labor that makes both parties happy”, he is right. It is only ever in ourselves, for ourselves, that we can choose. It is only ever our own actions and choices over which we have direct, though not complete, control. And it is so vitally important that in our own, personal lives that we work to implement our ideals and values.

That is the personal.

As for the political: we are social creatures. Society is only and simply the gestalt of thousands and millions of individuals. And that makes us – each individual – powerful, for we are society, and each of us has the potential to influence all the dozens and hundreds and thousands of persons in our lives, and through them dozens and hundreds and thousands more.

The personal is political, and the political is personal. Decisions are made by the ones who show up, the ones who speak out, the ones who write letters and raise funds and cast votes and serve dinners and volunteer at clinics; sexism and racism and other facets of the kyriarchy are eliminated by those who demand better, of ourselves and of our kith and kin and coworkers. It is by making connections at the individual level – with your family, your friends, your blog readers, your neighbours, your shops’ owners, your company’s executives, your government representatives – that we can enact political, societal change.

What does not work, however, and what I speak out against, is the attempt to control those around us, especially through shaming. There may be a fine line between offering influence and attempting control, but it is an important one, and when we are speaking of mothers, who are already a highly persecuted class, already so put-upon and guilt-ridden, maintaining that distinction is even more imperative.

I do not say this because I believe women are fragile, dainty things who cannot take criticism: to the contrary, I am continually amazed by just how much we can take and take on and still do all the work that keeps our families and societies running. But our burdens are already so over-heavy that I decline to add what may be the proverbial straw to any woman’s back.

Further, each of us lives in the society we all create, and that society is kyriarchal, actively antagonistic to us living joyful, unconstrained, interdependent, fully human lives. Each of us has our choices constrained if not outright dictated by the circumstances and intersections of our lives – each of which combinations is unique, but all similar for making us less than fully able to live as we would in a saner society.

How, then, can we help change society without hurting our sister sufferers? We can encourage; we must not order. We can offer a shoulder; we must not sit in judgment. We can support; we must not shame. We can influence those around us by example, by sharing our stories, by offering information and support; but they must be open to it. We cannot attempt to control those around us through browbeating or shame or force – or we can, but it is a violation of our values as well as almost inevitably ineffective.

We cannot avoid offending those who are determine to be offended, but we can, and we must, watch our own words and actions to avoid allowing the kyriarchy’s voice to speak through our throats: that means, in part, declining to partake in the mommy wars in any of its permutations. That means opposing crying-it-out without attacking those who do it. That means defending breastfeeding without insulting those who weren’t able to or chose not to. That means promoting natural family living while acknowledging that all of us have a harmful impact on the planet. That means disagreeing and debating and disputing and refuting each other in a way that respects each side’s inherent humanity and dignity, because the only real enemy, the only true evil, is the kyriarchy.

So speak out, yes: live your ideals as best you can, and tell your truth as honestly as possible. I cannot say it any better than it has been said before, so forgive me for ending on what is almost cliched; nevertheless I believe it true: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

On breastfeeding and things we don’t talk about

Just in case there was any question, let me state emphatically that I am a breastfeeding supporter, a hard-core breastfeeding advocate, a lactivist (but not a “breastfeeding nazi“, please and thank you):

I’m down with child-led weaning. I call nursing for 2+ years “full-term”, and anything less than that “abbreviated” or “short” or “premature weaning”, and I can’t think of anything I would call “extended breastfeeding”, except maybe being latched on for 8 hours non-stop.

I think feminists must support breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public (and pumping, and pumping at work and in public), else they fail at one of the fundamental precepts of feminism.

I believe women have the moral right and must have the legal right to expose however much of their breast they and their child deem necessary, for however long they deem necessary, incidental to the act of breastfeeding, and that a woman has the moral right and must have the legal right to breastfeed or pump anywhere she otherwise has the right to be.

I’ve nursed my kid in the dark, at the park, in a plane, on a train, in a car, and over a jar (we did EC), and yes, I pull it down and whip it out and no you don’t have a right not to see it, though you’re more than welcome to avert your gaze.

I’ve never kept track of how many times the Boychick nursed throughout the day or over the course of a night, because he nursed when he was hungry, or thirsty, or tired, or hurt, or bored, or just because, and all of those are perfectly legitimate reasons to breastfeed in my mind.

When asked when I was going to wean, I say that WHO recommends a minimum of 2 years, but I was pretty sure he’d be done before college. I trust Dettwyler’s research showing the natural age of human weaning to be between 2.5-7 years. I told my mom to be prepared for her grandson nursing well into kindergarten, if that’s what he wants, and that I would fight to keep nursing for 2 years, with a minimum goal of 2.5

Yes, I am one of those women.

I tell you this, present to you my lactivist credentials so to speak, because when I say that I hate nursing, I want you to have some idea of what it means. So that when I say I hate nursing, and my 28 month old seems to be coming to an end of breastfeeding, you’ll maybe get it when I say it makes me cry.

I never know how to describe my problematic feelings about breastfeeding. It isn’t the idea of it, obviously. It isn’t a matter of getting “touched out”: I’m a hugely touchy-feely person, and had no problems having the Boychick on or next to my person most of the day (and on his dad’s body the rest of the time). It isn’t a matter of dysphoric milk ejection reflex, it’s not a history of abuse, and it isn’t a chronically painful latch. It’s definitely not a matter of being uncomfortable in my own skin, or disliking the animal nature of it. And it’s obviously nothing so bad that I was unable to continue, or chose to stop, but it’s probably contributing to this (to us) relatively early weaning.

No, it’s that for all the lactivist protestations to the contrary, breastfeeding is sexual, at least for me. Whether through biology or socialization (and I’m inclined, as I often am, to say “both”), feeling the child suckling on my breast — and I should clarify here, it’s primarily dry nursing, or comfort nursing, or the lag between the start of nursing and milk ejection, when there’s little or no milk being transferred — often feels sexual to me. And I really don’t like it.

I usually use words like “uncomfortable” (because it is), or say it drives me crazy (because it does). I usually don’t say I dislike it because it makes my cunt swell and start to throb, because there are all kinds of social stigmas associated with that, above and beyond the usual ignorant bitching about breastfeeding in the first place. Plus, there are people who like that feeling, and not in a pervy “I’m gonna nurse my kids to get my kicks” kind of way (I have met thousands of full-term nursing women, and never, ever have I met one who thought of nursing like that), but just in a happy “hey, this makes my body feel good” kind of way. And I think that’s great, and totally normal and healthy. Actually, I’m envious as hell of those women: I’d do anything to have that kind of feeling about the feelings nursing causes.

But no, breastfeeding feels sexual, and it feels uncomfortable, and it makes me want to take a cheese grater to my nipples, or cut off my breasts, or crawl out of my skin, or get up and run away and claw my eyes out. And I have resorted to pain as a coping mechanism: biting my hand or pulling my hair or digging nails into my flesh, anything, anything to distract me long enough for him to finish, to calm down, to fall asleep, to get a letdown going, whatever he needs. But I can’t always manage it, and it’s leading to a downward spiral, where I have less milk, so I can’t nurse him as much, so I have less milk, so… And on and on, until he’s falling asleep to The Man reading to him and snuggling him in bed, and I’m out in the livingroom crying because I can’t be the woman I want to be, can’t do the thing I want to do.

I hate breastfeeding, and I hate that I hate it. I hate that, as much as I love the idea of comfort nursing, it is anything but comfortable for me. I hate that the way I want to mother, with breastfeeding a wholly holy joy and there for him whenever he needs or wants it, is not possible for me. I hate that there have been nights both he and I have cried to sleep because I just. couldn’t. do it anymore. I hate that it’s causing our nursing relationship to come to an end so soon. And I hate, I hate, that talking about it like this will make some people think “then what the hell are you still doing it for?”

I’m “still” doing it because I love it. I love snuggling him close to me while his eyes stutter close and roll back in bliss. I love playing stinky feet and having him try not to laugh so he doesn’t delatch. I love the twenty extra minutes I can buy myself in the morning for lounging under the covers and scrolling through Google Reader. I love how he asks to nurse after he gets really hurt because “it makes me better”. I love knowing he’s getting immunological and nutritional substances he wouldn’t get anywhere else. I love everything about breastfeeding — except, more and more though still not always, the actual physical act.

Our nursing relationship is going to come to an end someday, likely sooner rather than later. This is normal, and natural, and has to happen sometime. And almost everyone I know speaks about weaning with ambivalence, so my experience is hardly unique in that respect. But this — being a lactivist who often hates the experience of breastfeeding, mourning an early weaning at 28 months — isn’t something I see talked about much, if ever.

There are so many forces telling me not to publish this post: there’s the patriarchy saying that nursing a 2yo is disgusting, that having genital sensations during breastfeeding is perverted, that nursing should be perfect and lovely and angelic, not messy and complicated and human. There’s lactivism saying I’m just giving fuel to anti-breastfeeders, I shouldn’t talk about the bad times, the hard times, that I’m going to scare people off. There’s feminism saying I should make it all about the kyriarchy (when the truth is I’m too tired and too hurting to think that big right now), and that this is all so much middle class privileged white woman mommy blogging whining, and I should be using my platform to spotlight those with real problems. The lactivism and feminism sides even have good points.

But ultimately, I’m sharing this because I can’t be the only one. I’m not so special or so unique that no one else feels this way. I’m sharing this because women’s stories are important: not just our beautiful stories, not just our predictable stories, not just our uncomplicated damn-the-patriarchy moralistic stories, but all of them, messy and complicated and contradictory and nuanced and ugly and difficult and mundane and human and boring and silly. And it is through sharing our stories and connecting with others leading complicated-human-nuanced lives that we become strong.

And I need strength right now. I needed strength when the Boychick was a mewling newborn, who only knew that suckling was comfort and love and safety and peace, and didn’t know it was discomfort and ugly and painful and hard for me, and I need strength now that he is recognizing I sometimes grimace and pull away and push him away when he seeks the comfort he knows at my breast, and is preempting that pain for both of us by turning elsewhere for his needs.

We’re not meant to do this alone. I don’t regret a moment I’ve spent nursing my child, not even the moments I was crying and hurting myself to cope. But I regret doing it in isolation, with no one to tell me I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t abnormal, and I wasn’t wrong for doing it anyway.

Share your stories. Even your ugly stories, even your hard ones. Someone out there is going through it too, and they need to hear from you. I surely did.

The ways I make my child cry

I drive away to class while he’s begging for me to take him in my arms and stay with him.

I hold him down while he screams so someone can torture him with medical adhesive or blood drawing syringes.

I place out of his reach really interesting toys like sharp knives and broken glass.

I make him put away the cart after he’s run with it around in the store for 10 minutes after I’m done shopping.

I fail to make the water fountain not be turned off for winter.

I tell him he cannot have a third green banana.

I don’t make the world soft and bouncy and have rounded corners, and I allow him to get hurt, and sometimes it leaves scars.

I yell at him for no reason other than I am having a hard day.

There is no real point to this post, just a catalogue of some of the ways I fail in my child’s eyes. No matter how consensually we try to live, I cannot and will not let him have his way every time. Sometimes he gets hurt, and I can’t instantly make it better. Sometimes I am just cruel because I cannot cope any longer. It breaks my heart — a phrase I did not truly understand until having him — every time and yet I would not deny him all hurts even if I could. It would deny him the ability to empathize, deny him the ability to sympathize, deny him any chance to grow, deny him the experience of life. I will never willingly inflict pain on him for no purpose other than to suffer, but I cannot entirely regret that he will, sometimes outside of my control and sometimes with my collusion, know suffering.