Monday, June 16, 2014

Mother Shame

There is nothing that brings me more joy and more shame, than being a mother.  For nearly a year I’ve been indulgently angry at my circumstances. I’ve selfishly raised my fist to the heavens and blamed everyone but myself for my troubles. Rape survivors are never to blame. I am not even minorly at fault for being raped—true. But I am not a spotless little lamb, tossed about by life’s rough hand either.

Surviving trauma, particularly sexual trauma, severely warped my perspective. When I was in the hospital after being raped, I couldn’t accurately read the facial expressions of the doctors, nurses and police officers around me. For weeks it took me a second to correctly assess the emotions of people around me—especially men. At first glance, everyone looked angry, like they were going to hurt me. I was wrong. My mind didn’t understand things the way it should. That PTSD symptom has faded, but I still cannot accurately see myself.

Being raped made me feel indescribably dirty. It has made me feel deeply afraid, angry and weak. But I can almost always rationalize myself out of the deepest clutches of self-loathing, by reminding myself that I did nothing wrong. It wasn’t my fault. I was a good person that was unjustly wrecked by someone else.  

But a different shade of shame has started to color my heart. A shame that can only come from personal shortcomings. A mother shame.

Maybe I’m the only one, but I feel completely overjoyed and simultaneously horrified that this perfect little human is in my care. My care. It seems like a sick joke that somebody trusted me with his sweet little life. Somebody goofed. My very bones ache to be everything he needs. I long to perfectly care for him, love him and protect him every second of every day—but I don’t. I am not even close. That shame is paralyzing. Nothing can break my spirit more than a mother mistake. I put him to sleep, go downstairs and forget to turn the monitor on? His late discovered cries rip through my heart.

He’s not even three months old and I’ve made more stupid, silly, outstanding mistakes than I ever thought possible. The shame started creeping in slowly and then sucker punched me in the stomach this weekend. My poor husband has had to live with zombie, sad Emily for days. I have been so deliciously bitter toward my rapist. I wallowed and seethed at circumstance. I could even blissfully blame Gabriel or family for some hardships. I was purposefully outward focused, but caring for Theodore has painfully flipped the mirror back at me, and it is a nightmare. I used to believe I was a pleasantly self-reflective person. I knew myself well. How na├»ve! I didn’t realize how short I fell until staring into the perfectly innocent eyes of my son.

I don’t mean to be self-deprecating in hopes of raking in compliments. (Seriously—if you only knew.) I’m simply aware for the first time how truly ugly some parts of me are. I will not go so far as to say everything about me is ugly, even if it feels that way. I know there are some redemptive elements of my person hidden in the garbage. I’m hoping God will use this new awareness to rid me of some selfishness. I don’t want to get swallowed up by this shame either. I know that is toxic. But it’s here. I’m wading through it, desperately praying to land in a place with more grace. I adore my son. I wish I could be better for him. Only by God’s grace will I ever be able to be the mom he needs.

Photo Credit: http: Rachel Joy Baransi

Saturday, June 7, 2014


I want to smoke.

When Gabriel and I lived in Chicago we smoked cigarettes at an alarming rate, and we felt very cool. I would sit on our front stoop and chain smoke as I wrote poems, read plays and drank coffee. It was very romantic, very mysterious and artistic. We met our fun Irish neighbors while sitting out front smoking. One of our roommates also smoked, and it became our own “watering hole.” We’d gather on the front steps, light cigarettes, and talk for hours. I knew it was horrible for my health, but I didn’t feel it. I felt untouchable. I felt high and important and strong. Those feelings were ripped right out of my chest on July 8, 2013. Instead of feeling high and mighty, I felt an all consuming smallness. Weakness replaced my confidence.

Gabriel quit smoking that day as well, in solidarity. Pregnant women aren’t supposed to smoke, and I didn’t feel very cool anymore. After Theo was born a new fire was lit in my chest. I was starting to look like my old self again. I would pass by a mirror and double take—surprised not to see the huge belly, swollen face and frankly appalling lack of self care. Having Theodore made me feel a bit more independent and I was aching for more. So, Gabriel and I started smoking again—just every so often at first, and only at night after Theo was asleep. We wanted adult time, just the two of us. It was a space free of spit up, diaper changes and shushing. We could talk freely and laugh like we used to.

But putting the cigarette to my lips didn’t feel the same. It didn’t sit right with Gabriel anymore either.

“I feel irresponsible now,” he said, “Before I didn’t care about my body. Theodore makes me want to care.”

I didn’t quite feel the same way. I was more concerned about looking trashy. It’s one thing to smoke as a 21-year-old. It’s another thing entirely to smoke as a 21-year-old mother. I’m discovering I have a disgusting obsession with how people perceive me. We kept our late night smoke sessions a secret from our roommates and neighbors for as long as we could.

Where Gabriel felt more physically vulnerable when he smoked, I could taste invincibility again for a few blissful moments with a cigarette in my hand. I have learned the brutal fragility of my own life. It has taken many months, countless counseling sessions and thousands of tears since feeling the life being choked out of me—but I could finally feel young and strong again—when I smoked. I could reclaim that feeling of cool and calm that I had sitting on the front steps of our old apartment building. I felt untouchable—however silly and dangerous that feeling may be.

I know smoking is incredibly bad for me. I feel it in my lungs. And I do care about my body (to some extent), so Gabriel and I finished our last pack last night and it’s already hard. It’s not necessarily hard not to put a cigarette to my lips, but I am grieving the loss of that feeling—the loss of that moment that Gabriel and I shared every night. We’ve tried to quit in the past and replace our night smokes with night time tea drinking and it’s just not the same. Sipping a cup of Throat Coat doesn’t exactly give me the same buzz of cool that dragging on a cigarette does.

I’m trying to be a more honest person. For someone who posts an incredible amount of highly sensitive personal information on the internet, I’m actually an extremely private person and that can lead to dishonesty. It’s hard for me to share my true feelings and thoughts with my husband and family. I wanted to hide the fact that I loved smoking cigarettes because I didn’t want people to see that ugly, immature part of me. I would love to look like a clean, put together, innocent survivor, but alas, my life has never quite looked the way I wanted it to. I quit smoking because I want to be able to honestly tell my son not to smoke because he should respect his body. I suppose I need to learn that lesson as well.

        But I really would love a cigarette.