I’ve been feeling like I’m in a rut and really need to change things up so this morning I put extra ice in my coffee and used whole milk instead of skim.
I’ve been feeling like I’m in a rut and really need to change things up so this morning I put extra ice in my coffee and used whole milk instead of skim.
My therapist and I spend one full hour discussing motherhood, and my difficulty in finding balance in my life. We discuss strategies for coping with the mom-related anxiety. We talk about how to feel less overwhelmed by the huge responsibility of raising a child. We come up with a schedule that will allow me to spend quality time with Nora but still be able to do things for myself. We discuss the utter importance of carving out time to write, because writing provides immeasurable benefits to my mental health.
Therapist: “I’m glad we have a plan for you to find more balance. Motherhood can be hard, but you’re doing great. Now before the session ends, is there anything else going on that you think I should know about?”
Me: “Oh, yes– I stopped breastfeeding. So we’ll probably have to keep an eye on that, from a hormonal standpoint.”
Therapist: “Yes, definitely. And I think with stopping the breastfeeding, you’ll find you have a lot more time to do things for yourself, which will be wonderful.”
Therapist: “Is that why you decided to stop?”
Me: “Well, no, not exactly. It’s more that with all the crazy hormones that go along with breastfeeding, I really just wanted to get my body regulated again and back to baseline…”
Therapist: “I think that’s a great decision.”
Me: “…so we can have another kid.”
That moment when you come across your therapist’s Facebook profile, and realize she has a life outside of your sessions.
Me: “Be honest, I’m the funniest patient you have, right?”
Therapist: “I can’t answer that.”
Me: “Oh COME ON. Just admit it.”
Therapist: “Ok, ok. Fine.”
Therapist: “You’re not.”
P.S. The end of my sentence WAS “anxiety.”
My therapist and I discuss the experience of depressive episodes now that I’m a mom.
Me: “I’ve only experienced one depressive episode since having Nora, and luckily it was brief, but I’d say it was still miserable, just with a different twist. Like I always feel an immense amount of guilt when I’m depressed, but this time the guilt was mom-focused. I wasn’t able to really engage with Nora in the same way, and that made me feel like a terrible mother.”
Therapist: “When you say you couldn’t engage, what do you mean?”
Me: “Well like for example, she was just starting to roll over for the first time, and I couldn’t really connect with the experience in the way I wanted to. Like she was doing it and I was there witnessing it, but I just wasn’t…interested.”
Therapist: “Well, to be fair– that’s not interesting.”
Therapist: “So you haven’t really been blogging?”
Me: “No, not much since Nora was born.”
Therapist: “Well, it’s worth remembering that writing and blogging is your emotional and creative outlet. So that might explain why you’re feeling a bit stuck right now.”
Me: “Yeah. I know. I guess I’m just kind of waiting.”
Therapist: “Waiting for what?”
Me: “Like…waiting to feel like myself again. My normal self. Waiting to get my old groove back after having had a kid.”
Therapist: “I see….”
(10 second silence)
Therapist: “That won’t happen until you die, you know.”
To preface (because I love a good long-winded preface), the purpose of this post is two-fold.
1. To express and work through the emotions and anxiety I have as a new mom processing and managing her child’s medical issue. Even if you feel these emotions are insanely out of proportion to the issue, they are MY emotions AND I’M ALLOWED TO HAVE THEM, GOD DAMNIT. (Ching! That’s the sound of my therapist earning the $500000000000000000000000000+ my family has paid her over the past 12 years). Plus, writing about my anxiety always helps to relieve it. And sometimes, it even helps someone else going through something similar– bonus!
2. People have already noticed and asked about the issue, because it is physical and perceptible. It doesn’t bother me that people ask (meh, not totally accurate– depends who it is. Friend? Fine. Guy in elevator? Fuck off.), but I want to use this platform to educate, inform, and perhaps just not have to repeat myself and explain the situation to everyone I know in the future (because saying things in person is hard and I hate it). Generally though, I feel it’s always best just to put things out there rather than have people wonder about it or make assumptions.
I know, that was only the preface and you’re already exhausted. I’m sorry. Not all my posts fit on twitter.
Here we go.
In the first few days after Nora was born, she did not open her right eye. At all.
Eric and I thought this was a bit bizarre, but also recognized that she had just been through a trauma of epic proportions (ask Eric what it’s like to watch a C-section– his face goes pale and he makes multiple references to the movie Alien). So we tried not to obsess. But when the pediatrician checked her over in the hospital on Day 2, we made a point to ask about it.
Us: “So, is it weird that she hasn’t opened this eye at all?”
Pediatrician: “Nope. Totally normal. Don’t worry– she does have an eyeball under there. I checked.”
We all had a good chuckle and I tried not to interpret her remark as slightly condescending. The concern, clearly, was not about a missing eyeball (mainly because it didn’t occur to me that that was even a thing. IS that a thing?!) The concern was about her ability to open the eye. But we were assured that newborns often take days to open both eyes (which, to be fair, is true), and she was fine. So we joked that she was just giving us the stink eye for having so brutally evicted her from her cozy uterus-home, nicknamed her “One Eyed Willie,” and tried to call it a day.
But internally*, I obsessed.
(*in this context, “internally” means saying things out loud to Eric every 2-6 seconds for weeks on end.)
I knew something was off. I think they refer to this as “mother’s intuition,” and maybe there was a bit of that going on, but I believe it was really more just a product of my
textbook anxious-paranoid-obsessive-compulsive tortured existence personality.
At her 3-week pediatrician appointment I brought it up again. At this point, the right eye was opening, but not nearly as wide as the left. Unfortunately, the doctor could not really assess this, as Nora slept though the entire appointment, ignoring any and all attempts to wake her. She had no problem laying there, unclothed and comatose in a freezing cold room, snoozing soundly. Like this, but stark naked:
Clearly my kid.
So at her 8 week appointment, I brought it up once again. This time Nora decided to be awake, probably because we stupidly booked the appointment for 6pm, in the midst of her witching hour. Rookie new parent mistake. She was pissed and tired and hungry and glaring at me with “wtf Ma!?” face.
But the plus side was that the doctor was able to get a good look at her (murderous) eyes.
And she didn’t love what she saw.
“At this point, I’d expect to see both eyes opening to the same degree.”
I wanted to shout I KNEW FROM DAY 1 THAT SOMETHING WAS WRONG, DICK! But instead I smiled politely and said “Mmm hmm,” because society.
She referred us to a pediatric ophthalmologist, who confirmed a diagnosis of Congenital Ptosis (the p is silent, FYI. We learned that the hard way). Ptosis is a fancy way of saying “droopy eyelid.” Without getting too technical (I have warned you all repeatedly that this is NOT a medical blog, and most of my info comes from Wikipedia, what I’m able to decipher of my frantically-jotted doctor’s appointment notes, and what I heard from “someone I know who knows someone”)– in congenital ptosis, babies are born with a damaged levator muscle, the one that is in charge of lifting the eyelid. Unfortunately, since the muscle is damaged (not simply “underdeveloped”), there is not much that can be done to strengthen it and improve the droop– treatment is instead focused on maintaining vision in the affected eye. In severe ptosis, the eyelid covers the pupil and restricts a child’s vision, which can lead to all kinds of eye problems such as lazy eye, astigmatism, or amblyopia (google it. Or don’t. I don’t care, I just don’t want to get too medically complex here. I like to think this blog is a safe space where people don’t have to learn/think too much). When that is the case, surgery is recommended ASAP to prevent these conditions from developing.
Luckily, for now, Nora’s case seems to be fairly mild (fingers crossed– we’ll know more after her appointment next week). Her lid does not cover her pupil unless she is extremely tired, so thus far, her vision seems fine and is developing normally. We will have regular checkups with the ophthalmologist to ensure that this remains the case, and if anywhere down the line her vision becomes affected, we will do the (very routine, relatively simple, and not too invasive) surgery. Otherwise, surgery is a future option simply for cosmetic reasons. Yes, Forrest Whittaker (thank you, “celebrities with ptosis” google search) has rocked his droopy eye all the way to the bank, but the droop life isn’t necessarily for everyone. Depending on how it looks when she’s a toddler, we will consider the surgery just to even things out and not have to worry about the vision aspect anymore.
I know what you’re thinking (no I don’t, but I know what the critical voices inside my head are thinking, so I’ll go ahead and address those relentless bastards)– cosmetic surgery for a toddler?! But let’s call a fig a fig**, people– kids can be cruel. The world can be cruel. I’m totally cool with Nora’s eye looking a little wonky. Maybe even she’d be cool with it (likely, as at zero years old, she’s already showing signs of being a way cooler person than I am). But other kids, and society in general, might not be cool about it. There are going to be a million challenges in this world that Nora will have to overcome, and I will be unable to control most of them (*takes deep breath, pops Prozac*). But if this is one hardship that we as parents can help alleviate, and we can prevent a lifetime of her having to explain her face (that no, she’s not tired, or sick, or skeptical, or giving the stink eye), then damnit we’re probably going to step in and do something.
Plus, Nora comes from a long line of cosmetically-enhanced women (three generations of nose jobs, praise be 🙌 ). I wouldn’t want her to feel left out.
Let me also assure you that, droop or no droop, vision issue or 20/20, I think my daughter is the height of amazingness. She is adorable, beautiful, sweet and already showing all the signs of being extremely social, happy, smart, strong, and even funny (those first slew of adjectives are all Eric, but I’m claiming the sense of humor and taking it to my grave). Her endearing personality is emerging more and more each day, and it’s incredible to watch. She is my everything, and I couldn’t possibly love her more or be more unabashedly obsessed with her (my instagram deserves a rating of 5 vomit emojis. I wasted no time becoming that mom). To use a trite phrase that I can now appreciate, she truly is perfect in my eyes (but check with me again when she’s 13 and calling me a bitch).
So in the meantime, we are putting an eyepatch on her for 30 minutes a day to ensure she uses the affected eye, and that her vision remains intact.
Clearly, this is where the nickname “Nora Left Eye Lopes” comes in– and if you don’t get that TLC reference, then may god have mercy on your un-pop-cultured soul (or maybe you’re just too young to get, in which case, fuck you). We bought some cute, stylish patches to rock, attempted to find a Lisa Left Eye Lopes Halloween costume that wasn’t slutty (doesn’t exist) and for now, as the ophthalmologist instructed, we are just “keeping an eye on it– no pun intended!”
I’ve been asked if ptosis is something Nora will “outgrow.” The short answer is no. The muscle is damaged, and it will never work properly without surgery. However, some babies with congenital ptosis “grow into it,” in that the droop becomes less noticeable as they get older, their features grow, and they learn some compensation strategies (such as lifting their eyebrow to raise the lid– which Nora already does (below), and it’s amazing because it creates this “Are you fucking serious?” look on her face that makes me laugh every time):
Although the raised eyebrow in THIS photo is more specifically “Are you fucking serious with this headband, Ma?”. Ugh, I don’t know Nora, I was trying a thing.
Now I also just want to take a moment to acknowledge that I am extremely aware of the fact that Nora’s ptosis is, in the grand scheme of things, a minor issue to have. Please know that I know this. Please don’t remind me that things could be a million times worse. I am well aware, and my heart aches for parents having to deal with far more terrifying and complex medical issues. Ptosis is diagnosable, and there is a pretty straightforward protocol for treatment. It is not at all life-threatening (assuming it’s not the symptom of a more serious neurological issue, which it appears not to be), and, as long as we continue to monitor it, it likely won’t ever affect her growth and development (HARD knock on wood). We are very lucky. Beyond lucky.
But when any kind of issue arises with your kid– well, it’s scary. Really fucking scary. To pretend otherwise, and to say that I immediately recognized (or have even now fully recognized) this is not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things, would be, I think, disingenuous to the experience of parenting (and to the general experience of being human, I would venture to say). Plus, I’m new at this. Nora was barely in the world for an hour before I noticed something was off. There’s no handbook for this shit. There’s no way to stop your mind from going to the deepest depths of worst-case scenarios– what if it stunts her vision? What if it’s a symptom of a more serious, underlying illness? Or what if it IS just cosmetic, but causes kids to pick on her? Laugh at her? Call her horribly mean names? (This last one, I suppose, is not REALLY a concern, as Nora will wear a hidden camera at all times throughout her entire life, which I will monitor, and should any kid even LOOK at her funny, I will kill them.)
No no, relax guys, I’m kidding.
Eric will kill them.
So how did Nora develop congenital ptosis? Well, the doctors say it’s just something that happens sometimes. No real reason.
But I blame myself. Obviously. Because hi 👋 .
Slowly, I am starting to accept the medical (non)explanation, and my therapist’s insistence that nothing I did during pregnancy caused this, but I still can’t fully shake the crippling fear and guilt that this is somehow my fault. Here’s a list of questions I asked myself in the wake of Nora’s diagnosis:
As you can see, the guilt has become increasingly irrational.
My intellectual side (mostly) knows this is not my fault, but my heart aches at the nagging, persistent thought that my actions might have caused this. The mere idea of my daughter having to face any kind of hardship makes me want to just crawl up and die– to think I might have caused that hardship makes me want to die even faster and more violently.
But apparently, that’s motherhood. It’s incredible and beautiful, but it’s tortured. This is the first challenge Nora has faced, and it won’t be her last. This one may or may not be my fault, but I’m sure future ones will be. This time I might be able to step in and minimize the effects, but that will not continue to be the case as she grows older.
There will be a time when I look away for a second and she falls flat on her face. There will be a time when I can’t make it to her event, and she feels neglected. There will be a time when she discovers this blog and, mortified, hires a lawyer to request emancipation. There will be a time when she is a young adult, telling her therapist how I am the root of all her problems (and referencing printed-out excerpts of this blog as evidence). It’s the circle of Jewish life.
In the meantime, like all moms, I’m just doing the best I can not to fuck it all up. I’m accepting (gulp) that I can’t control it all. I’m managing my anxiety and working through my guilt. And in the meantime, I’m doing everything I can to ensure Nora knows that Mom will steadfastly love and support her throughout her life, through any and all challenges she might face.
Will it be enough?
(Get it? Ptosis? We’ll SEE? Ugh I hate myself.)
No I can’t end this on a bad pun. Here, this instead:
(** I recently learned that my go-to expression, “Let’s call a spade a spade” has racist undertones. I was clearly blissfully unaware of this, but am nevertheless horrified that I was walking around spewing this expression left and right. Unfortunately, I have yet to come up with a good replacement expression. “Let’s call a corgi a corgi,” is Eric-approved, but I’m not sure it has universal appeal. Some quick research led me to the discovery that the original expression was actually “Let’s call a fig a fig.” So that’s my temporary fill in. It’s not great, but it’s not racist, so priorities. Feel free to use it. #themoreyouknow)
Therapist: “I know you’re overwhelmed and it’s a lot of change. But having a kid is the absolute best lesson in learning how to let go of control. You’ve had many opportunities for this lesson in the past, and it’s always been scary at first but beneficial in the end.”
Me: “Right. Well, I guess with those lessons, there was always kind of an end point. I feel like this time there is no end. Like the second I become ok and comfortable with something, she’s going to change.”
Therapist: “Correct. The lesson is ongoing. It ends when you die.”
Therapist: “K so here’s your August invoice! See you next week!”
(Note: This post was written while still pregnant, lest you think I just shot a kid out of my baby-cannon and now have any ability to construct a coherent sentence, much less a mini-memoir.)
Yes, a mouse.
But stay with me. We have a rational reason for doing so. Well, maybe not a rational reason (not sure how anyone can expect me to be rational right now, as I am currently in month 9 of having two vaginas), but a reason that will at least provide some context for my desire to name our child after an animal that most people try to kill with strategically placed snap-traps.
Ten years ago, I suffered a deep, terrifying, paralyzing depression. I’ve written about it and referenced it many times on this blog so I won’t re-hash the details in this post, but needles to say, it was my darkest hour. What I haven’t mentioned before is a somewhat interesting (and now extremely relevant) aspect of this terrible time in my life– my obsession with mouse-kid Noisy Nora.
Yes, I’ll explain (because who? And huh?).
In the months I spent depressed living in my parents’ home at age 26, I was unable to do virtually anything. One day, while robotically eating breakfast and staring blankly at the Honey Nut Cheerios box, my mother put a pencil in my hand and suggested I draw something. Not only did I think this was pointless, as EVERYTHING was pointless, but I thought it was extra ridiculous given that, a mild talent for photography aside, I had never at any point in my life shown any kind of visual-arts ability or interest.
But I had nothing to lose (and nothing to do), so I grabbed the pencil and started drawing what I saw on the cereal box in front of me.
Looking at it now, I think “Not a bad little Cheerios bee!” At the time, however, all I could manage was, “Well this drawing sucks.” Because, you know. Everything sucked. But what I did notice was that for the brief time I was immersed in the sketching process, I wasn’t, for once, writhing in despair and wondering how the minutes of life could possibly be ticking by so slowly. I was able to escape my agony for a short, precious time, and that alone was enough reason to keep drawing.
So I did. Basically, I stuck to sketching images that were on the boxes of the food I was eating:
As you can see, I was really into carbs.
Then one day, in a further desperate attempt to pass the interminable minutes, I began sorting through mountains of crap in my parents’ storage room. To my delight (delight is a strong word– I hated everything) I stumbled upon a box of my most beloved childhood books. They were all there: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Where the Wild Things Are, Doctor De Soto, The Snowy Day and, finally, at the very bottom of the box– Noisy Nora.
GOD how I loved that book as a kid. It’s about a very endearing yet insufferable little mouse-kid who is jealous of the time her parents spend with her siblings, and therefore seeks attention by being a destructive little pain in the ass. I adored her, because I was her. No one could yell, stomp, and slam a door (then open it and re-slam it) for NO GOOD REASON like kid-me (and, ok, teenager-me. Adult-me…).
And for reasons I could not articulate, I suddenly became OBSESSED with drawing Nora. So obsessed, in fact, that I purchased a separate sketch pad solely for Nora drawings, where I could practice sketching her over and over again until I had her every tiny little detail perfected. (Side note: This genius separate-notebook idea backfired, as somewhere in the five times I’ve moved residencies since then, it got misplaced, while my notebook full of meaningless cereal box characters has somehow stood the test of time ).
I sketched these Nora drawings in the privacy of my own bedroom, and kept the special Nora notepad under the bed where no one would find it. Unlike my Cheerios bee and Keebler elves, I was very protective of my Nora sketches and did not want to show them to anyone, even my mother, who was always so delighted and impressed by my cartoon drawings– so impressed, in fact, that she suggested I pursue a career in comic-strip writing (she was pretty desperate to give me purpose. She was also, understandably, drinking a LOT of wine during that time).
Nora was my little secret. I was never really able to articulate or explain to myself why I was so obsessed with her. Sure, I loved the book as a kid, but I loved lots of books and characters and wasn’t obsessing over any of THEM. At the time, the infatuation made no sense. But then again, nothing made sense, so I didn’t spend too much time or energy trying to figure it out.
Eventually, with copious medical interventions and the unwavering support of family and friends, I began to heal in early 2009, and life restarted again. I moved back to NYC, got a teaching job, found my marbles, and was functioning like the human I had forgotten I was capable of being.
And in the process, I let Nora go. Not completely and not forever– after all, she was there with me for those lonely, agonizing months and got me through a truly hopeless time– but now that I was able to participate in life again, the inexplicable obsession subsided and found a cozy spot in the back recesses of my mind, rather than in the fixated forefront.
Fast forward 9 years and I’m pregnant. As soon as we learned we were having a girl, out of (seemingly) nowhere, the name Nora came to my mind. I casually mentioned it to Eric as a name I liked, and he agreed it was nice, but suggested we keep thinking. He liked it but didn’t necessarily LOVE it, and maybe there was something out there we’d both LOVE. That was fine with me– I wasn’t even sure in that moment why I liked it so much, or why it came to me so suddenly, so I agreed to keep thinking. We looked through list after list and flirted with other names, many of which I did really like. But at the end of each day when I put my head to my pillow, I kept coming back to Nora.
And slowly, I began to realize why. Now, bear with me here– I’m not typically a hokey, whimsical or overly-spiritual person. But I am a big believer in things happening for a reason, and I do think “the universe,” however one might define that, plays a role in the direction our lives take. And in that time when I felt I truly had nothing to live for, I feel that maybe, just maybe, the Nora obsession was the universe’s way of saying “Do not give up, Emily. This darkness is temporary, and light awaits. There’s something big coming, and you’re going to want to be around to see it.”
Now I don’t want anyone to interpret this as me thinking that having a child is the only, or the ultimate, thing to live for. It has been 10 years since that depressive episode and my life has been beyond full of reasons to live– from big reasons (family, friends, major accomplishments both personal and professional, fabulous travel, discovery of new talents and interests) to all those little moments that make up a full, meaningful life (a burst of uncontrolled laughter, hearing Journey’s “Faithfully” and remembering every single lyric to your camp alma mater, a post-run nap in a shaded hammock, the satisfaction of finally killing the pesky fly that’s been occupying your apartment for a week– sorry, that last one just happened like 5 minutes ago and DAMN it felt good! Anyway, we all have our things.)
There are trillions of reasons to live, big and small, but when you’re severely depressed, you can’t access any of them. So I think this Nora obsession, for which I had no explanation at the time, only an intense and seemingly primal NEED to draw her, was the universe desperately trying to shove hope in my face– to tell me that if I could just hold on and get through this time, I would rediscover all the reasons to be here, and come to see that I still have so much important work left to do in this life, including (but certainly not limited to) becoming a mom.
So I kept coming back to the name Nora, and although Eric liked it, he still wasn’t totally sold. I wanted to disclose the reason I was so attached to it, but I also worried he might think I was nuts (not sure why I still occasionally fear this. The guy has witnessed some pretty emotionally ape-shit moments and he’s still here, inexplicably, with bells on). For months, I kept pressing the name on him, with no explanation other than, “I just really like it,” only to get a non-committal, “I like it too, but let’s keep thinking,” in response.
So eventually, on a particularly hormonal day, I explained my reasoning. With tears in my eyes, I cautiously relayed the story of my Noisy Nora fixation, and how in hindsight I think it might have been the universe giving me a reason to hold on.
“Oh,” Eric said. “Well then that’s it. That’s her name. Why didn’t you just tell me that? Of course that’s her name. And now I love it.”
And that is why I married him.
And why we named our daughter after a rodent.