IMG_5406It has been fun writing for That Girl Who Reads Books, but I decided to create a new blog, Polarized Parenting. What does this mean for That Girl? I’ll keep the site up until the end of the year, but I’m not sure how much posting I’ll be able to do. Please follow my other blog at PolarizedParenting.com. There’s a dropdown menu in the right hand corner where you can type in your E-mail address. The new blog is a funny take on parenting and mental illness. I’m going to re-blog a couple posts from That Girl, too.

I know it’s pretty anti-climatic, but thanks for reading and commenting. Hope to see you on Polarized Parenting.

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ISBN: 987-1-4424-0893-7

IMG_5130I loved this book.

I don’t know that I’ve ever started a blog post with that. Maybe my writing style is transitioning to soft and sentimental. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, has both a movie script and a journal quality. The short paragraphs and dialogue between Dante and Aristotle move the story forward at a rapid pace, which is contradictory to the glacial pace of the fifteen year-old narrator’s depression. His morning lament, “As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was,” is a powerful arm tug—strong enough to yank someone out of bed.

Only this book isn’t about depression. It’s about love and shame and a type of uncertainty that is certainty. I piece through the story in my mind, trying to figure out what it is I want to say about the characters while avoiding divulging the plot or honing in on the popular “we need diverse characters” hash tag.

Three hundred and fifty-nine pages encapsulate over a year of Ari’s life with milestones that move him from that depressed fifteen year old to someone who truly does understand the secrets of his universe.

Which is more than I can say for me. I’m not even sure where avocados come from. The universe? I can tackle that in my next blog post.

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ISBN: 0-8050-6986-0



Last weekend at the farm, there were gun shells and dead flies on the windowsill. Sounds depressing, huh?

I’ve been thinking a lot about depression. How it’s different for everyone. How for some it lasts moments and others days, months, years, even a lifetime. Depression for me comes and goes. Some days there are just little doubts and insecurities about myself—mistakes I’ve made in the past that I have a hard time forgiving myself for and anticipating the worst-case scenario of the future.

When I started this blog, I never intended it to be about mental illness. I just thought it would be a space to open conversations about books I’ve read, so to be clear, I am honest about my experiences with mental illness, and while it may seem like every day I’m charging forward at this spectacular clip—always remembering to take things a day at a time, to use DBT skills, to use talk therapy, to never forget a dose of medication—I have slip ups. I have had times where, yes, I contemplated suicide.

The important thing is that I’ve always been able to pull myself back from that dark place with the help of friends and doctors. My depression peaked during my pregnancy, but Husband and my OB, Dr. S, kept me on track. I understand the warning signs and reach out to others so that they can help me untangle what really bothers me and how to address those problems, instead of speeding ahead at that fast clip in the wrong direction, an early end to a beautiful life.

This is easy to write when you’re in a good place. Right now it’s easy for me to remember how much I have to be thankful for—Husband, new Baby, family, friends. A career I love. A home I adore. And then there are happy moments, small ones that are easy to overlook in a busy day.

A few weeks ago, I made the conscious effort to reflect on my day and pull out two moments that make me happy and grateful. One was watching Baby touch snow for the first time. Last night, it was falling asleep in Husband’s arms. The shift in thinking helps combat depression so much that I decided to turn the happy moments into a life letter. When talking about depression, and the darkest part of it, all everyone ever mentions is a suicide letter. But why write that? Why not talk about pulling yourself out of that dark place with love and happiness?

Now I try to talk to Husband and Baby each day, sharing the best moments. At first I started with just two thoughts. Then, gradually, I got more. If you stop to think of your day chances are you can find way more than two happy thoughts. You can find as many as you want to look for, and get lost in a beautiful life, one that you would never, ever want to leave.

Happy thoughts: Parties. Slow dancing, barefoot. A phone conversation with a good friend. A hug from someone you love. Sitting in a patch of warm sunlight. The smell of wood settling into ash in a fireplace. The smell of rain after a storm, how the world is slick and silver. Clouds that roll over the parries. Sliding across the floor in new socks. Kissing your baby’s hand. Flickering candles, and the smell of pinecones and pine needles, and cut grass. Why not circle in these times and use them like a ladder to climb out of depression?

The only true cure to depression is a commitment to life.

All of this fits perfectly with Robert Frost’s collection of poetry because it reminds me of his most famous poem, The Road Not Taken. I like to think about life as having two roads, one that is happiness and one that is depression. I commit to the happiest path, looking beyond the windowsill and out into the yard where hay bales and snow lie.



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ISBN: 987-1-59474-597-3




The Baby Owner’s Manual Operating Instructions, Trouble-shooting tips, and Advice on First-year Maintenance By Lousi Borgenicht, M.D. and Joe Borgenicht D.A.D.

The Baby Owner’s Manual Operating Instructions, Trouble-shooting tips, and Advice on First-year Maintenance
By Lousi Borgenicht, M.D. and Joe Borgenicht D.A.D.


Newborns for the most part poop, eat, and sleep. In between, they snuggle and cry. The snuggling part is Mother Nature’s evil trick of making you think procreation isn’t such a bad idea, and obviously the crying part is because Mother Nature is a bitch. Don’t believe me? Watch one of those nature shows where a gazelle gets ripped to shreds by a lion. Total bitchface.

My life these days:


IS IT POOP? (checks diaper)


HUNGRY? (shoves boob/bottle in mouth)

<<BAH>> (sound of Baby spitting food out)


Rock? Rock Baby. Bounce? Bounce Baby.


Distract? Blow in Baby’s face.

<<Baby takes a breath>> (Yes. Yes. Yes. It worked…) WWWWAAAAHHHHHHHH


Read Baby a book?

(Baby pushes book away with freakish Baby strength) WWWALAAAHAHHWWHWH

For those who don’t know, new humans need food every two to three hours. A feeding can last upwards of a half hour. Then the Baby needs clean diapers. Sometimes twice because if you keep the diaper off too long Baby will pee/poop all over and you have to start again. Diaper changing can take around fifteen minutes. And then…




Resume bouncing and sweet-talking and rocking, until finally Baby drifts off for an hour. Yes, that’s right, new parents probably will have to get up every hour (or half hour if Baby is fussy or never if Baby decides to scream through that hour) to attend to Baby’s needs. Somewhere in there, parents will want to eat or sleep. My therapist once told me people torture prisoners of war with sleep deprivation. I now know why.





Before Baby was born, I had a long conversation about the cost of baby items. Gliders, hundred dollars. Swings, two hundred dollars. Strollers, three hundred dollars. Bouncers, seventy up to one-fifty. Colic reducing bottles, about ten each, less if bought in a bundle. Case of diapers, thirty-five. (Baby goes through about 3,000 diapers in a year, which is why I’m going to attempt cloth diapers. I’ll let you know how that goes.) Sound soothers, fifty…

Essentially, baby stuff is over priced unless you have more than one kiddo. Even then yikes! And still…

You would pay anything to make your baby stop crying.

Seven hundred dollars for a little plush tiger baby likes to chew? What’s another month late on the rent? Twenty-nine thousand dollars to download a song that puts baby to sleep? Defaulting on my student loans over here.

An infant crying is the most disturbing sound known to wo(man). For this reason alone baby humans need to come with a manual. Not that I could imagine pushing one out after Baby and the placenta.

Thankfully, The Baby Owner’s Manual Operating Instructions, Trouble-shooting tips, and Advice on First-year Maintenance exists. Louis Borgenich, M.D. and Joe Borgenicht, D.A.D. wrote it.

Apparently, Baby does more than poop, eat, sleep, snuggle, and cry. Baby gets constipated. Baby gets hair in their eyes. Baby needs burping. Baby farts and sharts. Baby gets insect bites. Baby gets cradle cap – WTH is cradle cap?! Baby can get a flat head and then Baby needs a Baby helmet. Baby can choke. Baby spits up.

Baby wants the cradle hold.

Baby changes little Baby mind. Baby now wants football hold.

One-second later, Baby wants shoulder hold.

Three seconds later, Baby wants Boba hold. (Parent quickly attempts to wrap eighty-foot swatch of cloth around their body without choking out and trying not to laugh at stage of wrap where parent looks like a Jedi in training whilst balancing Baby on lap.)

Baby wants swaddling.


Baby doesn’t want swaddling.

Baby wants pacifier. Is Baby too hot? (remove clothes) Is Baby too cold? (add clothes) Does Baby want a toy? If breastfeeding: did I eat something bad? Does Baby have Baby heartburn or Baby gas? If formula feeding: does Baby not like this stuff? (switches brands nine times) Baby likes the first formula best.

Baby gets ear infections. Baby gets eye infections.

Baby gets a stuffy nose. (What do I do? Humidifier? Pull buggers out with squeeze bulb? With tissue? With my giant finger? With the odd Nosefrida contraption?)

Baby can claw their face off with their little sharp Baby talons if not properly trimmed.

Baby needs washing.

Baby vomits. Baby gets hiccups. Baby gets bumps and bruises and acne and rashes.

Getting Baby into Baby’s car seat is the seventh circle of hell, and Baby’s wails would make Beelzebub cringe.

Engraving at bottom of mirror: WE LOVE YOU

Engraving at bottom of mirror: WE LOVE YOU

I used to wear makeup. Now I wear spit-up, compression socks to avoid varicose veins, and what I like to call ‘the exo-skeleton’  a three-part brace of sorts meant to tuck your body back to it’s normal place. Whoever said ‘they’re not stretch marks. I’m a tiger who earned her stripes’ was more mental than me. It looks like Freddy Kruger tried to claw his way out of my abdomen. And thighs. And breasts. And calves. Yes, calves. So yeah, my body is completely ruined, but Baby’s birth was a breeze. I slept through half of it. Yeah-ya. Epidural all the way. Plus last week I huffed and I puffed and I pulled myself into my pre-pregnancy jeans. So that’s a win.

I wrote this one-handed, eating oatmeal like a cave woman with my free hand while Baby slept on my chest . But hey, Baby wasn’t crying. At least not for now.

Yes, I said these photos would be all strong women, but then I realized Baby may not identify with women. Maybe Baby wants to be genderless when Baby gets older or maybe Baby wants to be male.

Yes, I said these photos would be all strong women, but then I realized Baby may not identify with women. Maybe Baby wants to be genderless when Baby gets older or maybe Baby wants to be male.

Baby slept through the night for the first time yesterday. At six weeks. Total win. My trick? The owner’s manual.



PS – In photos: Flannery O’ Connor , Dr. Michio Kaku , the Obamas, Amelia Earhart, John Forbes Nash, Jr., Einstein, J.K. Rowling, Maria Bueno, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa.

PSS – Each year for Baby’s birthday we will switch the photos until Baby gets old enough to pick her own inspirational friends.

PSSS -If you want to do the project in your Baby’s room, I got the frames at Goodwill for about $1 or $2 each and painted them with little sample cans for about $3 dollars. The engraving was about $10 and I had the mirror. The most expensive part of the project was the 8 x 10 photos. Luckily, Walgreens had a photo sale for nearly a third the normal price.  You could also use 5 x 7’s or 4 x 6’s, get a paint package with multiple colors,  and paint your own message instead of engraving one.

PSSSS – Blogging will resume to a trickle. Between Baby and novel-writing and short story writing I had to prioritize homey.

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Filed under Books, Children, Children's Books, Funny, humor, Life, Love, Parenting, Random

ISBN: 978-0-9571859-9-9

winter/windows by Shana Youngdahl & MIEL press

winter/windows by Shana Youngdahl & MIEL press

I always make fun of poets. First of all it’s easy. How dare those sentimental bastards walk around this world making us think about really deep stuff? Like this chick, Shana Youngdahl  and her chapbook winter/windows published by MIEL press.

Maybe I shouldn’t joke about poets because so very many of them know where I live. Sometimes I imagine them sneaking around my house in spy regalia, peering into windows, waiting like cats for the perfect moment to strike…

That’s when I know it’s time to get going on a new short story wherein I make fun of poets. I guess you could say my personal brand of humor always stems from a place of respect. They can say in less than ten words what it takes me to say in 140,000. They capture the smallest of moments that pierce your heart the way a photograph or song or painting can. Instantly.

Sometimes when I think of writers, I think of the stages we go through. First being that overly sentimental, overly wrought, angst driven, stage one where everything we write is heartfelt and dear. Second stage: experimentation. We get caught in the craft, the tinkering, upping the pen with new techniques and tricks. We cut and edit over half or more of the hard, close to our heart sentences and try to leave readers with a ghost of what we felt, so that it may haunt them as it haunts us. Third stage: releasing work into the wild. Here is where the heart and earnestness has a danger of getting edited out altogether, driven by a market that perhaps wants a faster paced novel or scandalous scenes or something more trendy and salable. If writers aren’t careful they can lose sight of their young unknowing self in this stage, that place where passion and need drove the work. Paying bills is not the same as emptying a heart.

In winter/windows, SY finds a perfect blend of each stage of the writer, paying homage to the beginning writer, balanced with technique, and getting it into a beautiful package by MIEL publishing.

As SY writes it best in an excerpt from the poem windows:



when you pass through the glass


and into the darkness beyond my sight

don’t forget the thumbprints

you left on me.”


Who wouldn’t be jealous of lines like that? She deserves to be made fun of in at least twelve stories. And it made it into the salable world, not by being compromised, but by being made even more beautiful in a limited edition hand-made book and a sweet talking editor at AWP.

I’m a fan of small presses because rarely do they change an artist’s vision. It seems like these houses always try their hardest to rally behind your work with as much love and enthusiasm as you had for it when it was a first draft. MIEL’s mission statement is a testament to this, “to publish difficult, interesting, intelligent, deeply felt work by writers and artists, with a focus on work by women.”

Can I get a hell yeah?

This book, and those damn poets in general, got me to thinking about the small things, the overlooked things. I’m in the nesting phase of pregnancy, already past my due date, scrambling around the house organizing cabinets, writing thank yous for all the love and support of friends and family, finishing the touches on the nursery, picking out going home outfits, and preparing ‘en general.’

Part of the preparations includes thinking about adult matters. Unfun matters none of us like to think of: healthcare, insurance, and wills.

First on my docket, was updating my Health Care Directive (HCD) should anything happen to me.

Everyone ought to have a HCD. They spare family members and friends from having to make those hard moral and ethical decisions in a time where all anyone wants is for you to get back to normal. Stress runs high in these critical times; it’s guaranteed the people in your life may not agree with decisions made upon your behalf.

During my first reality juncture, Husband had to fight extremely hard to convince doctors of a medication regimen that I would approve of if I were of a sound mind. He also had to face relatives that wanted notification of my condition sooner, but due to stigmas surrounding the topic, chose to wait for me to make that decision when I was of sound mind. He came through like a champ, thinking and acting exactly as I would have, and still took the sound advice of friends on when to admit I needed to go to the ER.

All of this was done on the fly, without my wishes in writing, and I thought, it’s bad enough for my family to go through reality junctures, why not take away as much of the problem as I can when I’m “sane.”

Even if you aren’t mentally ill, a HCD is a good idea. It covers the basics: when to pull the plug, how you’d want surgeries to go down if you were clean out of it. Anyone can get into a car wreck. Anyone can find themselves with cancer.

This is a link to the Minnesota Advanced Psychiatric Directive And Health Care Directive.

I recommend filling one out and updating it periodically. These legal documents are different depending on where you live. If you aren’t a Minnesota resident, a simple Google search (Advance Psychiatric Care Directive + residential state) can turn up the right form for you. In Minnesota, law requires that you + 2 witnesses sign the document. If you have the money, contacting a lawyer is an option to get it official and all legal like.

Maybe I’m an overachiever when it comes to this stuff, but I also like this form  (download from top left hand corner of page) by Mary Ellen Copland.

I don’t intend on this form being legal – I like it because it offers me the chance to task my personal support group (friends and family) with the little things, “can someone bring me a puzzle with kittens playing with string with jumbo sized pieces when I’m in recovery and can barely read or comprehend a sentence?” Or more importantly, signs to look for that can help me avoid getting into a crisis to begin with.

I E-mailed my support group the forms and then directed them to where I keep legal copies. As a writer, I made them as funny as possible, because well, they’re not fun to read. It’s important to me to give my supporters hope and remind them that I won’t always believe radio-active monkeys are coming to get me in my sleep.

Throughout the process, I kept thinking about how fortunate I am to have such a large support group. This is not always the case for those dealing with mental health issues. I kept thinking of someone like my mom, who has a kind partner to take care of her, but if she were on her own, she’d likely not have a huge group of friends or coworkers because she is on disability.

What if you’re a bit of a shut in? What if you’ve had a falling out with family or never had much family to begin with? What then?

Your doctor’s office may keep these forms for you on file. If you don’t have a regular doctor or are in-between doctors, (sometimes it happens) hopefully you’re still getting the medication you need. If you have a relationship with your pharmacist, it’s worth asking if they can keep it on hand for you. Be considerate to the person you’re asking to hold the form. Community pharmacists are busy – they’re the only health care professional you can see without an appointment. I think people often forget they hold a doctorate degree. Try to stop by during a non-rush hour time. Have a landlord? Tell them where you keep the document, should crisis arise. They likely go into your apartment for repairs from time to time. Maybe they wouldn’t mind retrieving the forms for you should you need them.

Perhaps part of your crisis plan is to stop in at your local police station to ask them to note somewhere in your file that you have a mental illness. I don’t know if they’d be interested in holding your form unless maybe you have a criminal record and you kindly explain you’re trying to get your life together. Letting them have the heads up on your situation if, unfortunately, they’re called to your residence, is a good thing. Mental illness symptoms can often be mistaken for substance abuse symptoms, and more and more officers are being trained to know how to respond to a mental health call. Perhaps they’d dispatch an officer with more experience for the situation.

All of these things are suggestions. It’s important to keep in mind that community members are busy, busy folk. Restrictions might keep them from holding records or making notes due to bizarre policies in your area. Don’t get discouraged. The point is you are in control of your health care, and more often than not, people want to help you with that.

Writing the HCD got me thinking about what would happen to my creative work should I happen to expire. It’s a realistic thought, seeing how depression can be a fatal disease and the world, heck your body, is full of ways to end you.

No one wants to think this stuff. No one except, Neil Gaiman. He posted a compelling article on his blog why a writer or any creative type may want to have a will made with special attentions going to their work. This article is found here.

And the downloadable sample will here .

I don’t have hundreds of books (yet), but what I did create is important to me. I want it taken care of properly when I’m gone. This way there’ll be no squabbling over who gets to sell the rights to my epic life movie! (We all know I’ll be famous someday…)

Okay, okay. Enough with all this Debbie Downer adult business. Now on to something more uplifting: I finally have an ISBN to call my own.

That’s right.

I published with Red Bird Chapbooks.

It’s titled, Tree In Winter, and was a visual collaboration with an amazing painter and friend of mine, Susan Solomon. One fine summer afternoon, she and I had lunch and the topic of her painting some of my stories came up. I love her work, so it was a no brainer to collaborate with her. She suggested Red Bird Chapbooks as a possible home for the book and knowing their objective: “to showcase the art and writing of as many people as possible,” I was down. I took a month and pounded out a story for her with Red Bird in mind. Soon into the first draft, it became clear to me that the story was more than just another story: it was a gift.

All proceeds go to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Purchased the book here.

Even if you don’t want to buy my super-amazing-most-fantastic-creation made for a worthy cause, spin around their website. There’s plenty of other super-amazing-most-fantastic writers on there. Plus, they sell pretty broadsides and pamphlets by more sentimental bastards.

So, like any good bird, I’m off to do more nesting. The next time I’m back I’ll have hatched a mechanical human of my own.

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Life, Literature, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Parenting, Poetry, pregnancy, Writing

PART V OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3


The double standard of tears:

If a woman cries in public and has a fat stomach people instantly get it. They warm up to her and insist on sharing how Hallmark cards and commercials get them weepy, too. They are all too understanding of her out of control hormones. Our society thinks it’s cute to poke fun at pregnant women and their seemingly irrational tears.

But mental illness? It’s suddenly not cute or okay if you spontaneously leak for no reason. When that happens, you’re told you’re not normal and you need more medication.

Well, with this pregnancy I am prone to leaking. For no reason at all! I was walking down a long Chicago block, admiring Lincoln Park’s architecture (Is that a gargoyle or a grotesque?) when the tears came. Architecture doesn’t make me sad. And it’s not like it moves me with utter beauty. Later, writing a short story in a coffee shop and hitting the perfect ending the tears came again. WTF?

Crying in public is never gonna get any easier. But I will admit, it’s nice to have an excuse people understand. It’s nice to not be chastised for not trying hard enough or be made to feel like you could suddenly turn the leaky faucet off.

Before I left for Chicago, I stopped off to see my jeweler at the antique mall. My wedding ring stopped fitting me and I needed a replacement band. I consider the jeweler a friend, so I told her I was pregnant immediately following up with how I felt unsure about it. She did not miss a beat.

C: When I found out I was pregnant I hid it for a long time. I wanted to work on my career and I couldn’t accept it. It’s okay to feel the way you do.

Later, after I left the store she sent me a text: It was good to see you. Congratulations on finishing your book.

Yes! Finally! Thank you! Someone who knows I am still me and not just pregnant. Someone who doesn’t look at me with pity or anger. Someone who got it.

It terrified me to tell another good friend about the situation, being that she was undergoing IVF treatments to have her own children and the process had been rough. I felt absolutely criminal to have this fetus and consider giving it away when she wanted one so badly for her own. But she was one of the people who unexpectedly touched my stomach and sent me bursting into tears, so we had to talk about it.

She was real and upfront about parenthood as her first child has Downs. She was the first person to tell me that motherhood was complex, that while she loved her child, she didn’t love the Downs, and did that mean she didn’t love him wholly and fully for who he was because without Downs he would be someone else? Motherhood wasn’t easy.

She’s a therapist. So, she has some holy type of understanding of others, some strange ability to put her feelings and situation aside and give clear facts based on experience. She also reads a lot of childhood development books.

After that horrible fight with my best friend,* I got the chance to spend another long afternoon lunch with one of my New Age aunts. Her hundred pound Rottweiler rescue dog greeted me at the door, and before I made it to the kitchen, she told the story of all seventeen million stray cats that lived in her yard, which the community banded together and had neutered. She named them all and fed them regularly…

When it came time for salad, I readied myself for the pregnancy topic. We had a really good conversation, one that gave me a lot of depth and insight into my childhood. Although, I couldn’t ask everything I wanted to ask, she told me just what I needed to hear.

NAA: Char, you aren’t going to know what to do until the baby comes. I believe everything happens for a reason. And these choices that you make now might not be clear to you until much later. But there’s a reason you chose to have this child if it’s clear to you now or not. However it goes, try not to worry until it’s here. Make your choice then.

It’s hard to remind myself to take this one day at a time. Once, when I was in the heat of a full-blown depression episode I called my mother, crying. I try so hard to not call her when I’m not feeling right. I don’t know how much she can handle.

ME: (sobbing) I feel like this million dollar race horse that everyone bet on who just decided to stand next to the track mid-race and eat the grass!

MOM: Honey! That’s what horses do! They eat grass!

I want to be the type of mom that always knows the right thing to say because in that moment, all the things my mom ever did wrong by raising me didn’t matter. It was just what I needed to hear.

My Tough-Take-No-Shit-From-Anyone-Level-Headed-Airforce-Physican’s-Assistant-Friend and I had a long talk when I was home about the situation, too. I sat on her bed and laid it all out, pretty much all five installments of this blog while she listened patiently.

TTNSFALHAFAF: I have to admit when I got the news I was livid. I thought, how could she let this happen?! How do you bring a child into this world that you don’t want? It has no choice in the matter; it didn’t ask to be in the situation. But after listening to you, I better understand it now.

ME: I’m afraid you know? I’m afraid to want it…I have some plans, like, instead of plastering Disney Princess on the wall I want to hang up pictures of really strong women, like Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Obama…women from all over the world…and in the center of that wall I want to put a mirror for her to look in, so she can see herself up there next to all these strong women. But tomorrow? Tomorrow I might be scared again. Afraid that photographs on a wall aren’t going to be enough…

I had to think long and hard about being this open and honest about my struggles on a public forum. These are controversial topics that involve people who are still alive. My brand of humor can sometimes get mistaken for meanness or passive aggressiveness. And people, well, people like to judge.**

Plus, my family likes its secrets. Generations before me feel strongly about not “airing all your dirty laundry.” There’s something uncivilized about it, some fear that it will show ill breeding or low-class. For a long time I agreed with that philosophy, but living in a make-believe world where my family and life are perfect, wasn’t solving any problems. It created more. It made me feel lonely, isolated, and outrageously insecure about myself. Growing up, adults kept secrets from me to protect me. The idea being that there are things children shouldn’t know.

I’d hate for my child to read this essay at too young of an age, but when or if she does, I’ll give her a hug, make us Shirley Temples, with extra grenadine, because we all know the pinker the better, and explain to her that I love her, and these were my fears of having a child, not her in particular—I didn’t even know her yet—but a child before I was ready. If she’s anything like me, she will understand. I won’t end the conversation before she does or before she’s asked all her questions.

I choose to write this essay to open a conversation about mental illness, parenting fears, neglect, and abuse, not for the average person who finds pregnancy amazeballs, but for the outliers who are made to feel like they are inadequate by societal stigmas. By opening the conversation, I realize how vulnerable I make myself to complete strangers. I also open myself up to criticism. To this I say:

Come at me with your hate. My love is stronger than it. I’m a writer, getting my licks in the trenches; it’s my job to see past hate for what it really is: misunderstanding.

What I’m most afraid of, is if my child gets bullied at school for having a ‘crazy’ mom or, god forbid, being ‘crazy’ herself. She should not suffer the judgments made of ignorance by people with either a lot of privilege or no clue about the real world because I didn’t do my best to open those hard conversations for her. But her knowing the truth? No. I’m not afraid of that.

Does that make me a bad parent? Agai—No. No it doesn’t.

My copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting is an old, tattered, worn, possibly out of date thrift store copy. I have to admit, as much as the pregnancy bible helps me, it also scares the shizz out of me. There’s absolutely no effing way I’m gonna read the delivery chapter. In the introduction, Heidi Murkoff says she wrote the book to help ease the worries of mothers and fathers so they could better enjoy the pregnancy and celebrate it. I respect the courage it takes to recognize that the world needs a book like this and the dedication Murkoff and co-authors, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway, had to pull it off.

Every pregnancy is different. No book out there will ever genuinely capture the fear, uncertainty, love, and sometimes loss that accompanies this time. If there were, I’d sure read it, if only not to feel so alone sometimes. While there are some things you can expect when you’re expecting, I’ve learned that you can’t prepare for it all.

During those nine months there will inevitably be arguments with friends and spouses, disapproval of family over your choices or inability to make choices. You got to change the diaper this way! Strangers who want to tell you their whole pregnancy from conception to delivery—look at my stretch marks! And while it’s good to talk about it because talking helps others, it’s also good to set those boundaries—I’d rather not look at them thank you, I just had lunch. And most importantly, not to judge yourself in the process. Whether you are fourteen or forty, keeping the fetus, aborting, or giving up for adoption don’t beat yourself up for your choice. Take my New Aged Aunt’s advice, you made that choice for a reason if it’s clear to you now or not. And know if you feel totally misunderstood or worried over the matter, I get it.

Yesterday I received a text from a good friend about the baby and I had the strength to reply:

F: It’s a girl? That’s great! You’ll be best friends.

ME: I hope not.

F: You’re going to be the slightly older guardian soul to look out for her new earth soul?

ME: I want to be sure her molecules are safe and experiencing as many other molecules as possible. The soul part is up for debate when she turns fourteen.

Do I care that Husband will roll his eyes at my molecule idea and both our mothers will be falling over themselves with worry if the child is not baptized in the Catholic church before it’s a month old because GOD FORBID it dies before the original sin of Adam and Eve can be removed? Everyone knows God sends babies to hell if you can’t get them to the church fast enough…

No. I don’t care about that today. That can be brought up in marriage therapy.

Today, I have a healthy baby girl growing inside of me. And the hassle over miracles or molecules is not one I have time for.

I used to have nightmares about a train. Sometimes I’d be on the track and it would come barreling down at me and I couldn’t move. Other times I’d be riding it and the track would end, dropping me over a cliff. I’d wake up, sweaty and shaking, startled at my brain’s ability to make me afraid of something I love.

Because, yes, I love trains. I cannot get enough of their low whistles. There were train tracks in my South Side neighborhood that I often played on, so unsafe I know, but I had a pretty sweet collection of squashed pennies… and there was this bar, long closed, called I think, Traxx, that I used to imagine buying and re-opening as an original station that sold candy and fountain soda. For like three years, I was sure I would spend my adulthood as the proprietor of this store, and I would somehow convince Chicago to re-open a passenger train that took people into the city for sightseeing. Those childhood dreams now make me laugh, but every time I hear the sound of a train, I feel twelve again, but in the best sense.

One doesn’t have to be Freud to attribute my train nightmares to my life stress and make it into this huge symbol, but one wouldn’t have all the facts. Currently, a ghost train runs through our neighborhood, ghost because I have absolutely no idea where this thing’s tracks are, but I can often hear its low, lonesome whistle at one or two in the morning when I’m still awake. I think my brain occasionally interprets that whistle as something else when I sleep. And that’s all, because as soon as I wake up, I’m like, oh, it was just a train. I love trains.

Last week, however, I had a different type of nightmare. In this one, I went into premature labor and the baby came out smashed, black and blue, and dead.

I woke up, shaking, for a moment sure it was real, certain that I had lost this baby. Husband asked me what was wrong, and I told him. He pulled me close and told me it was all right. He reassured me that it was a scary dream, but now I was safe. The baby was safe. He pulled me close and brushed my hair behind my ear.

HUSBAND: (whispering) I love you.

When I try to imagine my baby girl’s cry, high and long at two in the morning, like a train speeding right at me, I realize my deepest fear: losing her.  The beautiful thing about nightmares is that you wake up from them with a deeper appreciation for life.

Now you can throw all the confetti you want. Baby girl is due June 3rd, 2015




*We are still best friends. I love her to death. Who else could you have that type of conversation with and then watch a JLo movie like, it’s cool, dawg?),

** Isn’t that why the sales of celebrity gossip magazines are so high?

***Oh, and if you want to touch my stomach the next time you see me—be warned. I have a new rule. If you touch my stomach, I’m touching your boob. That’s right. I’m gonna get a good handful in, too.


Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Growing up, Life, Love, Marriage, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Parenting, pregnancy, Writing

PART IV OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway



Oddly enough my world tends to revolve around food in pregnancy. I wouldn’t say I went on a diet when I first found out about the fetus, but I did make a conscious effort to eliminate sugar and fast food if I could help it. Getting the correct servings of vegetables and fruit when possible became important to me, and I stopped skipping meals. My mom shipped me a Nutri-Bullet juicer for Christmas. Although I think kitchen gadgets are total crap, I love this one. I use it every day.

One of the first questions people ask me is, do you have any cravings?

Oranges. Couldn’t get enough of them. Orange juice. Tangerines. I swear I could eat a whole box of Cuties in one sitting. One time I really wanted a Little Debbie Cosmic Brownie, but I attribute that to me just wanting a brownie because it was nothing like the oranges fiasco. And water. I couldn’t hold it down. Unless it was from a bottle or filtered, I gagged on it. Solution? Add limes and lemons and oranges. Voilà. Two birds one stone. These days I’m guzzling lemonade.

I don’t take well to being told no, and the dietary restrictions that came with pregnancy were no exception. First, you’re not supposed to eat any unpasteurized products, soft cheeses, hot dogs, or lunch meat as they are all known to possibly carry Listeria, a bacteria that can cause premature birth and illness in fetuses. I wanted to know more about the risks of getting Listeria so I did a little Google research. Yes, that’s right, Google research, so take the following few paragraphs, as you will.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 1,700 people contract Listeria annually. Of these, 260 cases are fatal, and pregnant woman are 20 times more likely to contract it than a healthy adult. America’s population is 318.9 million. So, the average Joe has a 17 in 3,189,000 chance of getting Listeria. Twenty times that is what, 340 in 3,189, 000? I’m not good at math. I write for a living.

According to the National Safety Council*, 1 out of 112  people will die of a car accident annually. Why don’t doctors advise pregnant women not to drive in cars?

Before people jump down my throat about my logic, the American Pregnancy Association also says that 17% of pregnant women contract Listeria. I’ve never, ever heard of someone getting it, so to me, that number seems inflated. But what would I know? It’s avoidable, why risk it?

Then I found out Listeria contamination also occurred in caramel apples, cantaloupe, etcetera. Really? Apples and cantaloupe? Should I avoid them, too?

Ooooohhhhhh scandal. I occasionally eat blue cheese on a salad and don’t beat myself up over it. I don’t drink caffeine and avoid artificial sweeteners. I still eat sushi—in moderation. Only recently I should avoid herbal teas. And I was like seriously? Seriously? What can a pregnant woman eat???

More recently I wanted steak. When I get steak, I order it black and blue. Or as a friend once said, “so rare that a good veterinarian could bring it back to life.” Since steak is not a thing I regularly eat, I compromised: medium-rare.

Over Christmas Husband’s family made homemade ice cream, which included one or two raw eggs.

HUSBAND’S FAMILY: (Holding the bowl particularly close to my face…) Oh, this has raw eggs. You probably shouldn’t eat it…

ME: The HELL I shouldn’t. What’s in there?? Like two eggs split up in three gallons? GIVE ME SECONDS.

RANDOM MEMBER OF HUSBAND’S FAMILY DURING ANOTHER EATING ENCOUNTER WHEN I MENTIONED I STILL EAT SUSHI: (Pained disapproving look) I guess this stuff is easier to give up when you’re excited about the pregnancy.

ME: (In my head: This is why I set boundaries.)

But people don’t always respect boundaries, which is what I found out the hard way when I went back to Chicago earlier this month. Before going out for dinner on one of the first nights, I texted a friend and asked her to take down a Facebook post that referred to my pregnancy. I also asked her not to bring the pregnancy up at dinner. The response?

EMOTIONLESS TEXT MESSAGE: I took it down, but I just don’t understand why someone who sends out baby announcements doesn’t want to talk about pregnancy.

MY EMOTIONLESS TEXT MESSAGE: Thank you for being a kind and understanding friend.

Well, in short, I didn’t want to talk about itchy nipples over mahimahi. And another, very understanding, pregnant friend happened to come to dinner that night, too. Making the meal a little awkward, because I knew she absolutely would have loved to talk about her pregnancy. While I didn’t want to begrudge her that, I still wasn’t ready to cry over my asparagus. I paid a two-dollar up charge for it.

I was starting to feel like a giant Russian nesting doll, like any minute I’d be unscrewed and this small version of me would come out. It would have been nice to talk about that, but I genuinely wanted to hear about my friends’ vacations and love stories and horoscopes. I wanted to be me. Happy.

Tongues were clicking behind my back. Some friends were genuinely concerned: What will we talk to her about?

This is what I’m talking about. Once you’re pregnant, you ARE pregnant. Everything else in your life is null. What can we talk about? Maybe that long saga I’ve been working on for five years and just started editing? The agents I’m researching? The books I’m reading? The concerts I’ve been to? The movies I’ve seen? The upcoming publication of a chapbook I’m working on? Hell I’ve got three cats…time travel?

It’s like people haven’t known me for the last twenty years.

Did my Sassy-Chain-Smoking-Polish-Best-Friend understand it any better?

SCSPBF: What do you expect from people? This is a joyous occasion in the lives of normal people. They want to talk about it. Just like you have feelings that you want people to respect you need to respect theirs. And you can’t be mad at them for feeling the way they feel. By not giving people any explanation of what is going on, you’re expecting way too much of them.

It wasn’t like I didn’t know boundary setting was hard. Telling someone, “No,” is extremely difficult. I realized this from the great Nutty Bar encounter of Christmas 2014, when I saw a four-year old have a wicked melt down over being told they couldn’t have the chocolate covered peanut butter deliciousness. Punches were thrown. Nap time ensued only to be fought against by a little one running out the bedroom and screaming. I mean talk about birth control. Was this what I was in for?

My New Age aunts sure as hell weren’t going to respect boundaries. No, they were going to talk about their pregnancies over lunch and tell me how there was a life growing inside of me that needed nurturing and love. Because I had never thought of that. Oh my God! You are so right! This is the very first time I even considered that I ought to love this fetus!!

Again. The voice of depression. When you set boundaries, you’ll find that you have to firmly and continually keep setting them. You have to interrupt people and get real blunt, “I said I don’t want to talk about this.” You have to have the courage to get up, to walk out, and be willing for that relationship to end, if you are that bound to the new boundary you are setting. For me? I didn’t remind the aunts of my boundaries. I just ignored it, ate cookies, and tried nervously not to look at the security camera of the restaurant. They’re recording me.

In the past, I’ve been railroaded by a lack of boundaries. I did what maybe seventy percent of the population does: I lied. If I got pushed into talking about something I didn’t want to answer, I made something up. On bad days, I’d give in and tell the truth and then end up feeling bad, like I had shared too much or left myself too vulnerable to people who didn’t respect that vulnerability.

SCSBF had a point. I was burning my friends out. I knew my frequent texts and phone calls about depression and suicide over the last two months had been hard on them. My hormones were out of control, and I wasn’t doing anything productive about it, like getting in to see my psychologist. My friends deserved to know where I was coming from. But I didn’t even know where I was coming from. They were distancing themselves. Not sharing as much about their lives as they used to. They shielded me from their problems.

The conversation with SCSBF did not end there. She had a lot more to say about the subject, particularly when I brought up the idea of having a baby shower. Just as when you’re insane and have to do things others tell you to do because that’s what it means to live in their reality, like taking multivitamins or going for ultrasounds, I desperately felt like I had to do everything I could to be normal.

What she had to say got really hard to listen to. It was stuff that I particularly wanted to avoid when I was working on happiness, the stuff that I had already destroyed myself thinking about. But it was I who brought up the topic of boundaries and baby showers.

SCSBF: Did you or did you not let him impregnate you?

ME: Yeah, I went off of birth control, but it wasn’t planned. There was supposed to be more time. I didn’t think…

SCSBF: You’re acting like a victim. This was your choice. Your child does not have a choice in the matter.

ME: (crying) You seem to treat our other friend and her pregnancy so much differently. You seem to understand and not judge her or her choices.

SCSBF: Because she sucked it up. She didn’t complain about it or feel sorry for herself. Do you think she wanted to be pregnant at that moment in her life? She was just dumped, living at home, and jobless. But she committed to her choice and didn’t turn back. She loves her child. People don’t have sympathy for those who don’t.

ME: (crying) I don’t want sympathy. I just don’t know what I want to do.

SCSBF: It’s exhausting. You won’t do anything. You’ll just stay where you are with the life you have and not leave your Husband and keep the child. In the meantime, you’ll choose to stay miserable instead of appreciate the good things you have in life.

ME: (crying, as if none of this hasn’t occurred to me, as if I hadn’t already labeled myself a feminist’s nightmare.)

SCSBF: One minute you’re sending out baby announcements and talking about a baby shower and the next wondering if you’ll keep it. I can’t just stand by and watch you pretend to want this or go through the motions. A baby shower is a celebration. You shouldn’t have one. I just think someone needs to tell you this. I love you, but I can’t talk about this anymore.

ME: Okay.

Even though I had so much more to say and ask, the ended conversation there. I respected her boundary. I understood where she was coming from. What I felt, but couldn’t say, was that even if I decided not to keep the child, I still felt it had the right to a stroller or a pack of onesies. It deserved that page in its baby book. And just because it was clear to her what my life choices were going to be, didn’t mean it was easy or clear to me.

When you watch a horror movie unfold and the protagonist goes into the room where the killer is lurking, instead of say, calling the cops or fleeing, you instinctively shout at the screen, “NO BITCH DON’T DO IT.” But always, always, you have more information and insight and distance with the scenario than the protagonist. You know the killer is there. You think, in that situation you’d make a different choice. You think you’d be better. And maybe you would be. But a killer is not chasing you. You’re safe on your couch.

I had to talk to my therapist about the disagreement. The fight shook me. It was why I incited my boundaries to begin with. Personally, I’m no saint. I’ve said my fair share of brutally honest things at inappropriate times, but with this situation, I needed direction.

ME: I just don’t understand the where the anger comes from. I wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t think what I was asking was unreasonable. My friends could talk about the pregnancy all they wanted among themselves. They were entitled to their feelings. I had a lot of the same feelings. I still struggle with all those thoughts myself. I was just asking them to not share them with me at the moment. I know boundaries are hard. I don’t like them myself. They have burned me, but always—I always respect them. If someone asks me to leave their house or never talk to them again, I do it. I don’t ask the person why. I don’t contact them again. I respect that they set that in place and it is their responsibility to come to me when they are ready.

THERAPIST: Your friends aren’t used to you having boundaries. They may not have boundaries of their own. Why do you think your friend said you were acting like a victim?

ME: I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know. Because I was crying? So I looked weak? I didn’t want sympathy. I wasn’t complaining; I set boundaries not to talk about it. Victims don’t have choices. I realize that. I’m past the choice I ultimately made to get pregnant. What I’m concerned with are the upcoming repercussions of that choice. What I’m upset over are my choices moving forward.

THERAPIST: What do you want?

ME: Understanding. Maybe I can’t talk about this with anyone but you? Maybe I should keep all this inside?

THERAPIST: It doesn’t feel good when you’re vulnerable and trust someone and they hurt you does it? I think it’s good to talk about this with friends you know will able to talk about it. I don’t think this means you cut out people out of your life who love you just because they don’t understand the situation. In life, friends help us when they can, and sometimes different friends step up and others fall back. That doesn’t mean they can’t come back into your life later and the relationship can’t be good again.

ME: I know. I know and I’ve done a lot of understanding and forgiving over the past year. Not just with others, but with myself, too. And it’s been a long tough process.

THERAPIST: You are getting better.

Am I?

Victim [vik-tim] noun

  1. a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency: a victim of an automobile accident.
  2. a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency: a victim of misplaced confidence; the victim of a swindler; a victim of an optical illusion.
  3. a person or animal sacrificed or regarded as sacrificed: war victims.
  4. a living creature sacrificed in religious rites.


The thing I love most about SCSBF is she is honest. That’s why she’s my best friend, she tells it exactly like it is. And she was right—I did need to let people know what was going on with me. That conversation is what solidified me creating this string of blog posts.

But victim? No.

Fear [feer] noun

  1. a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.
  1. a specific instance of or propensity for such a feeling: an abnormal fear of heights.
  1. concern or anxiety; solicitude: a fear for someone’s safety.
  2. reverential awe, especially toward God: the fear of God.
  1. something that causes feelings of dread or apprehension; something a person is afraid of: Cancer is a common fear.
  2. anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur: Having grown up during the Great Depression, he had a constant fear of running out of money.


Afraid? Scared? Yes.

Parent [pair-uh nt, par-] noun

  1. a father or a mother.
  2. an ancestor, precursor, or progenitor.
  3. a source, origin, or cause.
  4. a protector or guardian.
  5. Biology. any organism that produces or generates another.
  6. Physics. the first nuclide in a radioactive series. adjective
  7. being the original source: a parent organization.
  8. Biology. pertaining to an organism, cell, or complex molecular structure that generates or produces another: parent cell; parent DNA.


Can I do this? Again. Can I do this right? Again. Can I do this and keep my shit together? Again. Can I handle loss if loss comes? Nothing is guaranteed. Again. Can I change? Again. I still eat blue cheese. Again. I still eat homemade ice cream with raw eggs. Again. I still eat sushi. Again. I eat my steak medium rare. Again. I drink herbal tea. Again. Will this child hate me? Again. What will it think when it reads these blogs? Again. Again. Again. Again. Again.


(I will post the last installment of this five-part conversation tomorrow.)



*Maybe best death chart I’ve read all year. Aside from this one: http://www.besthealthdegrees.com/health-risks/

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Life, Literature, Love, Marriage, Memoir, Mental Disorders, Parenting, Writing