Thoughts 2 years postpartum

(Warning: TMI to follow)

I posted about my son’s birth five months postpartum. A poem I saw a poem on Facebook the other day that inspired me to revisit the experience now that two years have passed. After all, when I originally posted, I was in the trenches with a colicky baby who still slept in 45-minute to 3-hour stretches, and was adjusting to life as a working mother.

Looking back, however, I still feel as I did right after my baby was born: I never want to do that again.

Now, that doesn’t mean I won’t have another child. Maybe I will decide one day that giving Remy a sibling is worth it. I don’t know. What I do know is that if I ever do that again, I’m getting some kind of painkiller.

This was the biggest smile I could muster.

I realize that the pandemic definitely impacted my birth experience. Like probably all expectant mothers in 2020, my prenatal care was severely limited, and my isolation almost complete. But even without the pandemic, I believe it would have been isolating and traumatic.

The poem resonated deeply with me. It was written by a mother and contrasted the care her newborn received with the lack of care she experienced. Numerous well-baby visits and one, almost perfunctory 8-week check for the mother.

That doesn’t mean that mothers don’t want their babies to have the best care. Of course we do! In fact, it seems like most mothers virtually disappear into their new role, sacrificing themselves for their child. (That, in itself is a problem too, although I don’t have time to go into it right now.)

That’s why it is so disheartening that the medical care new mothers receive mirrors this disappearing.

The United States has a surprising lack of postnatal care. It also has the highest maternal mortality rate of any industrialized country, over half of which occurs postpartum. And that number just keeps growing, especially since 2020, and especially for black and Hispanic women.

Studies have shown that many more mothers sustain undiagnosed injuries during childbirth than previously thought. One study found that, among higher risk women, 29% had undiagnosed pelvic fractures, and 41% had pelvic floor muscle tears. And it took some women up to 8 months to heal. It’s estimated that up to 15% of women experience injuries that never fully heal.

Mostly, women don’t complain, because they figure any discomfort is just normal. Or, if they do, often their concerns are dismissed for the same reason.

Don’t get me wrong: we should definitely recognize pregnancy and birth as a normal part of life. But there’s a difference between a healthy view of birth and minimizing the fact that pregnancy pushes the human body to its limits. And that’s before actually giving birth, which is “arguably the most traumatic event the human body can undergo.”

If we do talk about the blood and tears of birth, we feel the impulse to say, “but it was so worth it,” afterward. As if we cannot hold both extremes in our hands at once—the limits of endurance and the love we have for our babies.

I don’t remember any postnatal care, although I’m certain I had an appointment at some point. I have a vague memory of holding my baby on my stomach so he wouldn’t cry as a nurse briefly examined me.

What I do remember is the 4 months it took for my tear to fully heal. The restless leg so bad my limbs would thrash out against my will. The awful sweating in the days following my son’s birth as my body shed excess water weight.

Being unable to walk without help for 4 days afterward. Breastfeeding through the pain for two years until my son finally weaned himself. Crying in the shower as memories of the birth flooded my mind. Crying because I felt like I didn’t matter, like it shouldn’t affect me this much. After all, birth and motherhood are “normal.”

Over a year after the birth of my son, I had a regular checkup with my doctor. She took one look at my cervix and asked if I had had an unusually fast or traumatic delivery.

“No,” I said, because there had been no complications. It was an 18-hour intense and horrible event, but in a strictly medical sense it had gone quite well. Still, my doctor informed me that my cervix hadn’t quite healed yet from the delivery.

How many women, I wondered, are walking around asking themselves what is wrong with them, why can’t they get “back to normal” like they’re supposed to, when their bodies still hold evidence of birth? Scars where no one can see them, where no one has stopped to check.

The shoulders I stand on

My dad always liked to say that he believes in “generational curses.” When he said it, he was usually referring to divorce. My mom’s parents got divorced soon after my parents were married, and Dad liked to hold that up as an example of a “spirit of divorce” in my mom’s lineage.

It was a threat. A reminder that any thought Mom had of leaving him was because of this “curse” or “spirit” over her family. It wasn’t because of the horrible way he treated her.

But when I look at my mother’s family history, what I see is a lineage of women who were beaten down but kept on surviving. Women who were abused, abandoned, and widowed, and did whatever they could to provide for their children and themselves

My grandma was hit by her father, an amateur boxer. After one incident, she was so dazed that she almost got hit by a train on her walk to school. She only told my mom the story once, and her voice still shook all those years later.

Grandma’s mother moved to the city after eighth grade to work as a maid because her family couldn’t afford to feed her anymore. Somehow, she still managed to graduate high school—one of the first in her family to do so. She went on to become the first female barber in Minnesota.

The barbershop my great grandfather owned is still there, looking much the same as it did then. I stumbled across it by chance a few weeks ago.

My great-great-grandmother’s back was a mess of scars. After her parents died, her grandparents took her and her siblings in, and they beat her whenever any of the children misbehaved.

Another great-great-grandmother did laundry to support her family because her husband refused to work. He took them to California, and then, one day when she was out, packed up all their belongings and the children and went back to Minnesota. She was stranded without enough money to follow them.

Bohemian Flats along the Mississippi river in Minneapolis, Minnesota
source: peoplesriverhistory.us/project/history/

My grandpa’s mother grew up on a houseboat on the Mississippi. They were the lowest of the low-class—even lower than the people living along on the bank. She was the last of thirteen children, two of whom drowned in the river.

The girls ate mush, while their brothers had eggs for breakfast, because the boys had to work all day doing whatever they could to support the family. Her twice-widowed mother scrubbed floors to provide for her children.

source: peoplesriverhistory.us/project/history/

It makes sense then, that when my great-grandmother got married, she told her soon-to-be-husband that her widowed mother was coming with her. That was the deal. He agreed, and he honored that promise. For the rest of her life, my great-great-grandmother had enough to eat and her own room in their house.

If my great-grandmother hadn’t married a good man who worked his way up from errand boy to vice president of a bank. If my other great-grandmother hadn’t sacrificed so much to help her daughter be the first generation to go to college. If another hadn’t sailed from Germany by herself at sixteen. If another hadn’t married the farm hand out of necessity after her husband was dragged to death by their horses. If they hadn’t scrubbed floors, hauled laundry, gone without food, worked as a maid, not given up on their education, and fought to survive horrendous abuse…

If going back and back to stories and women I’ve never even heard of… I wouldn’t exist.

Three Ages of Woman by Gustav Klimt

More than that, I wouldn’t have the life I have now. I wouldn’t have been able to go to college. I wouldn’t be able to sit here writing this in my little townhouse in a safe part of town. I wouldn’t know what it is to have enough food to eat, to not worry about my child’s basic needs.

I wouldn’t have a mother who, in the spirit of the women of her lineage, fought to survive through horrible abuse, fought for a better life for her children. And somehow didn’t lose the core of her being in the process.

So, Dad, if I could tell you one thing now, I would say you were right, but you were wrong. When I look at Mom’s family, I do see a “generational curse” of sorts, but it is one of abusive men, neglect, and poverty. All the trauma that has been passed down from mothers to daughters and sons. The things that were so painful they were seldom spoken aloud.

The only “spirit” I see is one of endurance and survival, of mothers fighting to leave a better inheritance for their children.

source: Novelicious on Twitter

I stand on the shoulders of the women who came before me. And it makes me think of what I will pass to my child, to his children, and to theirs.

One day, no one will remember me, but the steps I take will lead to theirs. I want those steps to go past survival and into healing. I want to fight for a different kind of life, one that is not defined by the abuse of the past.

It ends here.

It begins here.

This book should be burned

In principle, I don’t approve of book burning. But in this case, get the matches.

I found where it came from! The person who said that if you feel self-hatred, that only proves how much you love yourself.  I found it right there in a thin book on one of my shelves.

Someone had given me To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl when I was pregnant with my son. A few weeks ago, I picked it up on a whim to see if I should keep it or throw it away. I flipped to a random page, and there it was: the teaching that had haunted my childhood.

After finishing that section, I started at the beginning. As I read, my horror grew. I grabbed a highlighter, pen, and sticky notes, and proceeded to cram every page with notes. (Note for all booklovers: don’t worry, this is NOT normal behavior for me.)

This is not a fringe book. It was (and is) wildly popular among many Christians. Many fundamentalists hold it up as the only biblical way to parent. Since its publication in 1994, it has sold over 1.2 million copies in 12 different languages.

That’s why I think it’s important for us to think critically about what this book is teaching. Even if you’ve never heard of this book, it has almost definitely affected someone in your life.

Even more, if you are someone who grew up with a No Greater Joy Ministries magazine on your coffee table and faithfully followed their teachings with your children, please hear me out. You don’t have to agree with everything I’m going to say. I just ask that you consider it.

All right, now that we have that out of the way, here we go. (I’m going to try to keep it succinct, but there are SO MANY issues!)

Summary: This book is abusive in its very nature. It sets children up to have an incredibly damaged view of God, its teachings are enough to drive children into depression, anxiety, and self-harming behaviors, and opens the door for them to end up in abusive relationships as adults.

From the beginning, it sets up a false dichotomy where only two kinds of parenting exist: permissive and “biblical” (a.k.a. the Pearl’s way).

  1. Training versus discipline: Both use a switch.

Michael Pearl loves to talk about training versus discipline. If you train a child, then you won’t have to discipline them much. But the lines between the two are blurry.

For training, you use a switch. For a spanking, you use a switch. So, what’s the difference? I found myself asking this question in every chapter.

In chapter 9, he gives an example of what he calls “not discipline, but training.” In the example, a mother is visiting the Pearls with her two-year-old. The toddler hits Debi Pearl with a plastic toy wrench, and Debi hits him back “almost without diverting her eyes from the mother, and with no change of expression” (p. 56).

Pearl describes the toddler looking to his mother for help the first time Debi fe hits him. He praises the mother for not intervening, and then praises the toddler for attempting to smile through his pain. Pearl literally says: the toddler was “being taught that there were others who could give it out better than he. Most little bullies are cured by meeting a bigger bully” (p. 57).

16 blows (you read that right, SIXTEEN) are given to the toddler, each one getting harder. Michael Pearl describes his wife’s last blow as follows: “her bottom came off the couch as she drew back to return the blow; and I heard a little karate like wheeze come from somewhere deep inside” (p. 56).

 Yet Pearl insists that this is simply training, not discipline. He states that the toddler wasn’t being “angry or mean. Had that been the case, his medicine would have been the rod [discipline]” (p. 57). But the child is being hit (hard), and is probably confused. Pearl even admits, “I think he was puzzled…” (p.56).

You think?

So tell me, how is this NOT punishment? Is “discipline” simply a more intense spanking? More intense than hitting a two-year-old very hard 16 times?

The only difference I could discern is the attitude of the parent. If the parent tells a child that they are being spanked, then it’s punishment. If a parent is spanking them in order to condition the child, then it’s training.

But how are those two experienced any differently by the child?

  • Excessive discipline is bad, but…

In the first chapter, Pearl says that discipline “can become excessive and oppressive when the tool of training is set aside and one depends on discipline alone to do the training” (p. 9). (Again, how are these two things different if both use spanking?)

I’m scared to know what his definition of “excessive” would be (something he never provides), since all his examples seem incredibly excessive to me.

According to the Pearls, parents should use a foot long, one-eighth-inch diameter willow branch for babies under a year (p. 9 and 47). For older children, he prescribes “a belt or larger tree branch” (p.47).

He instructs parents to “use whatever force is necessary to bring [a rebellious child] to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered…. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise” (p.46).

If “the licks are not forceful enough, the child may still be rebellious. If this occurs, take time to instruct and then continue the spanking…until the child is surrendered” (p. 46). Later, he says that a mother should spank her child until “he is totally broken” (p. 59).

And what is rebellion? Obedience that is not instant, having anything other than a cheerful attitude in response to a command, feeling anger, moving while being spanked, or trying to defend oneself.

He tells parents to spank babies who cry when you put them down in their crib, calling them a “little grouch” (p. 60). He describes switching babies as young as four months old and pulling a nursing infant’s hair to make them stop biting. If a baby cries after being given a command or has a meltdown, then the parent should spank the BABY (p. 62).

He compares children to dogs running around an enclosure until they accept there is no way of escape (p. 79).

If that is not excessive (abusive), then I don’t know what is.

Important side note: Pearl has a paragraph addressed to mothers who think their husband is being “too forceful” with their children. He does not advise the woman to speak to her husband about her concerns (you know, like a partner in a marriage relationship would). He also does not tell her to educate herself on what abuse looks like to be able to tell the difference.

Instead, he tells her to discipline her children more, so that, when their father gets home, he won’t have a reason to.

If you’ve read any of the Pearls’ other work, you can see their hierarchical view of marriage underlying this advice.

  • Abuse defined: spanking in anger

Pearl does address abuse. Kind of.

Most of the time the word “abuse” is used, it is incredibly inappropriate. He mocks mothers as “emotionally weak” who think their husband is abusing the children. Pearl calls the previously mentioned two-year-old abusive for hitting his mother (even though the toddler is only curious). He also calls mothers who don’t spank abusive, because they are putting the child’s eternal soul in jeopardy.

Once, he acknowledges that there “are always some who act in the extreme” (p.47). He has a 3-paragraph section on “forms of abuse,” where he pretty much defines abuse as any spanking done in anger. He says that where “the child’s good is not the supreme motivation, there will be problems” (p. 48).

There are so many problems here, but I will restrain myself and name only a few.

First, the idea that abuse is about anger is a common myth. Abuse is about power and control, not anger. An abuser might use anger as a weapon to assert control over their victims (and they often do), but it is not the real problem. In fact, most abusers can turn their rage on and off at will to control and manipulate.

That is why people outside the relationship often have no idea that the person is an abuser. They see the false image he wants them to see, not the person he is to his wife and children.

And this book is all about control. Control down to a child’s very emotions (more on that later).

These few paragraphs are a weak caveat. If someone says, “of course abuse is wrong,” but then the rest of their teachings are abusive, then all their teachings are abusive. I don’t care who they are. They are not a safe person, and they should definitely not be giving parenting advice.

  • Spanking in love.

The book is very clear: parents must spank their children in love. You’re supposed to tell them what they did wrong, spank them, and then comfort them, usually with a hug.

But really, how is that any better?

The person they love and trust the most is hurting them, and they are doing it because they love them. It teaches children that love hurts. It teaches them to believe a future abuser when they tell them, “I love you so much. That’s why I had to hurt you. It’s for your own good.”

Not only that, but some children who are spanked in this way go on to experience sexual arousal issues. (I’m not going to go into that, but if you want to read more about it, check out Sheila Gregoire’s blog To Love Honor and Vacuum.com\Bare Marriage podcast. You can find the specific blog post here).

  • Self-loathing as self-love (trigger warning: self-harm)

Here it is:

“The more one loves himself, the deeper the self-loathing…. When a child is self-loathing, he is damning himself for known violations of conscience and failure to live up to his own standards.

Again, the guilt demonstrates that by nature the child innately knows he deserves punishment for his moral failure…. A spanking (whipping, paddling, switching, belting) is indispensable to the removal of guilt in your child. His very conscience (nature) demands punishment” (p. 41-42).

If you read my previous post, you already know the damaging effects of this teaching. At the time, however, I didn’t realize the extent of this madness.

Pearl goes on to say that this is why some children engage in self-harming behavior. They “intuitively know that wrongdoing deserves and can expect punishment” (p. 42). Just like self-loathing, his cure for self-harm is spanking. He claims it will “absolve the child of guilt” and give him “confidence that all indebtedness is paid” (p.43-44).

If you don’t feel right about this advice, he warns you not to listen to that intuition: Do “not let their crying cause you to lighten up on the intensity or duration of the spanking. A parent’s emotion can stand in the way of a thorough cleansing” (p. 44).

Later, Pearl says that parents should not comfort their children when they get hurt. And if they suffer an injustice from anyone else, whether adult or child, you should not defend them or express sympathy. He warns that if you do, you might “produce a teenager, and ultimately an adult, who hurts himself when he needs attention…. I know an adult who hurts herself every time she is emotionally disturbed” (p. 86).

It is “more pleasant,” he says, “to live with a child or teenager who is not a ‘crybaby.’ Also, your daughter’s future husband will appreciate you having trained her” (p. 86).

Yes, I’m sure he will appreciate it, if he’s an abuser and doesn’t want her telling anyone how he hurts her.

I cannot express how horribly dangerous this is.

I. Cannot. Express it.

Note: There are many more instances of this horribly degrading view of women throughout the rest of the book. But this review is already overly long, so I won’t go into them.

I also am not going to go into why I do not agree that “instant obedience” should be the goal of parenting.

  • So much more, but not enough time (or emotional energy)

There is so much more to say, but I feel like I’ve hit the highlights (or rather, black holes). I know this was a looong review, but I wanted to show anyone who is willing to listen why, although I am against book burning in principle, I think every copy of this book should be heaped into a pile and lit on fire.

Note: All quotes are from the 1994 edition of To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl

When Father’s Day hurts

The first Father’s Day after I went no contact with my dad (the first time), someone at work asked me what my plans were. When I told him my husband and I would be celebrating our second anniversary, he was shocked.

“What? So, you’re just going to leave your dad alone of Father’s Day?” he asked, slightly joking, but mostly serious. “You’re not going to do anything for him at all?”

The last time I’d talked to my dad he’d told me, among many, many other things, that I was self-righteous and a bully. He’d told me God wouldn’t forgive me unless I started acting more “forgiving” toward him. The conversation had left me shaking, nauseated, lightheaded, and crying in the bathroom. Meanwhile, my dad had ended the conversation by saying he it was too painful for him to talk to me any longer right then.

But I couldn’t tell my coworker all that. Instead, I tried to laugh it off and provide some kind of explanation for why I wasn’t celebrating my dad without lying. I felt like I might puke right there into the tiny waste basket under my desk.

That weekend, Josh brought me to a tearoom. We got scones with jam, lemon curd, and Devonshire cream, and several pots of tea, as well as three types of loose-leaf tea from the gift shop to bring home. That man definitely knows the way to my heart.

While we were sitting there, I noticed a father having high tea with his daughter a couple tables over. They had those little tea sandwiches, and she had on a pretty dress. I squealed under my breath to Josh about how cute they were, because if I didn’t, I’d start crying right there in public.

If you’re like me, and Father’s Day can be triggering, remember you’re not alone. And please, do something meaningful for yourself today.

  1. Talk to someone you trust about the feelings today brings up for you.
  2. Stay off social media. I know for me it can be really hard to see people celebrating their dads, even though I am happy for them.
  3. Write a letter to your dad, telling him what you wish you could say to him. Then put the letter away somewhere (or burn it if you’re feeling super symbolic).
  4. Get out in nature. Take a walk and focus on what you can hear, see, smell, and feel. Be mindful of the heat though! Bring a water bottle and lather on that sunblock!
  5. Journal. Writing about your thoughts, feelings, and memories helps integrate the different parts of your brain.
  6. Do something that has good memories associated with it. Rewatch your favorite movie, go to your favorite place, or do your favorite hobby.
  7. Most of all, be compassionate with yourself and make room for your grief/anger/regrets. Don’t just ignore them. It won’t make them go away.

Or you could write a blog post about how Father’s Day is hard and things people can do to help themselves cope!

The stranger in my eyes

“I hate myself,” she said matter-of-factly. It was righteous self-hatred she explained. She was a sinner, and so she scorned and hated her flesh. After all, the Bible says that even the good things we do are as dirty rags.

My pastor and his wife had invited me over after church to eat with two of their friends. I now sat across the table from them, emersed in an intense theological discussion. Usually a fairly quiet and passive person, such a debate was far from ordinary for me. But this felt too important to be silent.

I don’t remember exactly how we got to this point in the conversation, only that I’d mentioned self-hatred as something to be avoided. I had not expected the woman to respond with an argument in its favor.

I told her I couldn’t agree. “I don’t God ever wants us to hate ourselves,” I said. “Because I know where it leads.” And I told them this story.

When I was a child, I was taught that it is impossible to hate yourself. If you think you hate yourself, that only shows how much you actually love yourself.

The first time I heard this, I was thirteen and already deeply depressed. For a moment, I felt a flash of anger. I wanted to yell at someone, to lash out against the weight of yet more condemnation. But then the flash was over. In less than a second, I’d sunk into resignation. There was no point in fighting.

There was no way out.

And so, my self-hatred grew. My mind churned criticism until I felt beaten up from the inside out and then despised myself for feeling that way. Sometimes, in the isolation of my basement bedroom, the hateful words would come spewing out of me.

That’s what happened one night when I was sixteen.

I remember sitting on my hands on the edge of my bed, enumerating my many failures. I was a coward. I was selfish. I was a disappointment to God.

“I’m disgusted with you.” I hissed the words into the night.

I couldn’t keep still anymore. I began to pace the floor, spitting accusations at myself until the angry part of me, the part that hated, consumed the sad part of me. It was strong. Stronger than anything I’d ever felt before.

I turned, stomped toward my dresser, and hit my right wrist against its edge. Hard, harder, relishing the sting of it. The hatred was a force. It was alive, snapping like white-hot fire. I was no longer me. I was something “other,” something that needed to be punished.

I imagined myself hurt, killed even, and felt a strange kind of justice in that thought, as if only then would I have gotten what I truly deserved.

It was then that I looked up into the mirror. My reflection stared back at me, and it was as if I was looking at a stranger.

It was not me looking out of my eyes.

I let out a whimper and fell cowering to the floor. “God! Help me!” My voice was hoarse. All the self-hatred was gone. In its place was terror of what I’d seen, what I’d felt. I knew, suddenly, that all hatred was wrong, even if it was directed at oneself. And it wasn’t because it was secretly “self-love” as that teacher had claimed.

The hatred I had just experienced could not in any way, shape, or form ever be from God. God is love.

How had I forgotten that?

I cried, sitting with my knees pulled tightly to my chest. I promised God, promised myself, that I would never allow this to happen again.

“Take the hate away. Fill me with your love instead,” I repeated over and over. I decided that every time I felt anger at myself, I would repeat this prayer.

Outside, the light from my bedroom windows made rectangles that stretched across the lawn, banishing everything outside their edges into blackness. I flipped my light switch off, and immediately moonlight flooded everything.

I knelt at my window. I could see the feathery branches of the tree that marked where the lawn gave way to untamed grass. Beyond that, the wind rolled over the woods, swaying the trees so they looked as if they were one being. Above, stars softly ribboned the sky. And it seemed to me as if all of it was alive and singing.

That was the night I realized that it was good—and necessary—to fight the angry voice inside my head. For so long, I had internalized a false god who stared down in judgement and disgust. And always, when I pictured this god, I also pictured my ultra-spiritual father sleeping at the other end of the house. Undoubtedly, this god was pleased with him. But not with me.

The more I tried to satiate this god, the more self-loathing I felt. Even my pain was an affront to him.

So no, I don’t think God wants us to have some kind of “righteous self-hatred.” And I don’t think he condemns us for feeling that way either. I think he says, “Look in the mirror. This isn’t who I meant you to be.”

That time my dad poisoned me

What happens when you find out that the “medicine” your dad gave you when you were 14 was poison? You start going into shock. At least, that’s what I did.

My limbs grew cold and weak, my face became ashen, and my pupils dilated. All I wanted to do was curl under a blanket and not open my eyes for a long, long time. Thankfully, by the time my husband got our baby ready to get in the car and take me to the ER, the color had started coming back to my face.

Instead, we went on a walk—a very slow and shuffling walk. My limbs were still too heavy to lift all the way. Josh held my hand firmly and warmly, and I sucked in the new spring air. This is reality now. I am safe now.

Here’s what happened: When I was fourteen, my dad took me aside to tell me of a miracle cure for everything from cancer to autism to the common cold. Apparently, some guy had discovered it while prospecting for gold in South America. He used water purification drops to cure first his guides, then whole villages, of malaria.

“The pharmaceutical companies hated him!” My dad said it like a badge of honor. “They couldn’t monetize it, so they bribed local doctors to silence him. They wouldn’t let him in the country.”

There was that familiar gleam in his eyes—the power of secret knowledge. He explained to me that I was going to start taking MMS (Miracle Mineral Supplement). I’d start with one drop a day. When my body got used to it, then I’d up the dose until I reached six drops every day.

He ordered the stuff online. I don’t know where it came from, but I remember the green and blue labels on the bottles. There were two: one was the MMS and one was the “activator” that was supposed to unleash its amazing oxidating qualities.

The worst part might have been the smell: overpowering chlorine. Or it might have been the involuntary gag that always came as I forced the stuff down my throat.

All I remember about the following week was the sickness. Nausea so overwhelming it weakened my limbs. The effort it took to hold up my head. How all I could think about was taking my next breath, then the next. Trying to focus on anything else but my roiling insides (essentially trying to dissociate).

I never actually threw up, but I did ask Dad to pull the car over so I could dry heave on the side of the road several times. Finally, Mom convinced him that it wasn’t doing any good, only making me sick.

“If it smelled like chlorine, it probably was chlorine,” Josh said when I told him about it.

“No,” I said. “It couldn’t have been. Dad wouldn’t have done anything that crazy.”

I don’t know why it took so long for me to look up what MMS actually was. It was last week—over ten years later—that I finally googled the strange medicine.

As I read, I felt the blood draining from behind my eyes.

The second hit was a warning issued by the FDA: when activated, “the mixture becomes chlorine dioxide, a powerful bleaching agent.”

Warnings from medical sites and government agencies around the world told the same story. MMS (or WPS or CD, as it is also called) can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, life-threatened drop in blood pressure, and liver failure. At least seven people have died from it.

I could have died.

I could have died. I could have died. I could have died.

I was shaking by the time I dropped my phone on our kitchen table and went to the nursery where Josh was playing on the floor with our son. I held my elbows and pressed my arms protectively into my ribcage.

“Josh,” I whispered. “You were right. It smelled like chlorine because it was chlorine.” And I started crying.

This was far more than the apricot seeds he’d wanted us to eat (he said the cyanide would kill cancer). It was more than him leaving me in his truck alone for hours when I was three years old. Somehow, this felt more invasive and harmful than any of it.

My dad sacrificed me on the altar of his conspiracy theories. He took away my bodily autonomy and forced me to ingest poison. I knew I had no choice. I could not ask for the misery to stop. Even though the gold prospector story sounded suspicious to me, I could not question.

It is no wonder to me now that I began restricting my calorie intake not long after. If my body had to suffer, at least I would be the one making it suffer.

Photo by miki takahashi on behance

I still don’t know how to process this new revelation. (Why, after all this time, does anything surprise me?) But I expect it will look like everything else: work on staying grounded, hold my boundaries, remind myself I am safe, enjoy the good things I have in my life now, and feel the grief so I can move past it.

I don’t want to feel the grief. I don’t think anybody does. But I know it is the best thing for me. It’s the best thing for all of us.

Oh, and before you ingest any miracle cures, google them.

FDA MMS articel: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/danger-dont-drink-miracle-mineral-solution-or-similar-products

Signs of emotional abuse: 1 they never take responsibility

The abusive person doesn’t take responsibility for their behavior.

It’s not just a once in a while thing. It’s an all the time thing. He (I’m going to use a male pronoun for simplicity’s sake) NEVER takes responsibility for his behavior.

It might be obvious: It’s your fault, you’re the one who wanted to come here/do this/had to open your big mouth, if you hadn’t (fill in the blank) then I wouldn’t be yelling at you

He might accuse you of always assuming the worst in people, not giving him the benefit of the doubt, being unforgiving, unloving, untrusting, etc.

Or, it could be far more subtle. He might deny that the event you’re referring to ever happened: “I don’t remember that.” Or he might use a diversion tactic. For instance, he might point out something you did wrong, to deflect the conversation in a new direction. (That one can be especially tricky to spot.)

He might even apologize sometimes for messing up. But when you think about it later, he never said specifically what he did wrong. Instead, the apology was laced with phrases like “I’m sorry for offending you,” or “if you were a boy it wouldn’t have mattered,” or “I just don’t know how to communicate to you how much I love you.” Now, maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but look at the implications. All those phrases turn it back on you. It’s your fault you feel this way. You’re too easily offended, girls are just overly sensitive, or you are difficult to communicate with. That’s why you feel hurt and unloved.

It’s not because he is treating you badly.

If you try to explain this to other people, they might think you’re reading too much into things. That is NOT true. It’s not just that his words subtly imply that everything is your fault, it’s that that belief permeates his whole attitude toward you. He lives his life as if he is never at fault. He firmly believes that if you just understood him better, were tougher, less “type A,” or less “easily offended,” then you would have a great relationship.

In other words, he’s in complete denial. He’s creating his own reality, in which he is the victim of overly sensitive females. Not only that, but he wants you to agree that his version of reality is the only reality.

But you’re not crazy! You’re just dealing with an abusive person.

To all those who said birth is beautiful

I want to say you’re either a liar or delusional… but that wouldn’t be very nice. And it’s (probably) not true. I’m sure for some bringing their baby boy or girl into the world was, in a way, beautiful.

But that just begs the question: What’s wrong with me?

The last word I would use to describe my birth is beautiful. Excruciating. Long. Isolating. Definitely not beautiful.

Other mothers have described an overwhelming feeling of love once they hold their baby in their arms, or said it was so worth it, they would do it a thousand times over. I had none of those feelings. There was no all-consuming love that washed all the pain away. The strongest feeling I had was astonishment. For some reason I was still shocked to find that there had actually been a baby inside me! Other than that, I was too exhausted after eighteen hours of contractions a minute and a half to five minutes apart to feel much of anything except relief that it was over.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my baby boy. I didn’t want to put him down for even a moment for the first two months of his life. I laugh in delight when he smiles, makes funny faces, and trills his enjoyment of the world. I hold him close and breathe in his scent and tell him mommy will always, always love him.

But still, there was no moment of “I didn’t know I could love this much!” after he was placed, slimy and wet, on my stomach, the cord still connecting us to each other. If there was a rush of endorphins to help me forget the pain of childbirth, I couldn’t tell. The second night, when the baby wasn’t screaming, the memory of the pain kept me awake crying. The memory of a pain that sent chills and heat washing over my whole body until I felt like I was going to pass out, a pain that made me not care that I was crying out or that strangers were seeing me naked. The memory of the way my body took over and pushed without my permission—out of control. The “ring of fire” that just kept getting worse, and worse, and worse until I didn’t even feel my skin rip apart because everywhere else hurt so badly. A pain that made me turn to my husband once it was all over and I was holding my baby against my chest and say, “I don’t ever want to go through that again.”

Four months later, I still don’t think I ever want to go through that again.

But then women have given birth every day for thousands of years. It’s a normal part of life. I didn’t even have any complications or anything to make it extra difficult.

So what’s wrong with me?

The question haunts me every time I get a moment to think, which (thankfully?) is infrequent since Remy was born.

I remember the videos we watched in birthing class. The women laboring hard and long, but without cries of pain—with cries of joy when they saw their baby for the first time. One of them was actually walking from the toilet to the bed when the baby came sliding out into her astonished hands. All of them were able to get up after a few minutes and take a walk with their newborn down the hospital corridor. There is NO WAY I could’ve been standing when he came out, let alone strolled down any corridors afterward. For three days, I could barely make the few feet from the bed to the bathroom. I had to lean on my husband and pause after each step to breathe heavily, feeling like my lungs couldn’t get any oxygen no matter how much I gasped for it.

There was nothing beautiful about it.

In fact, it seemed like a cruel joke. You go through the equivalent of running 6 marathons, through excruciating pain, and then you have to try to recover from this event with barely enough sleep to keep you alive! Four months later, I’m still lucky if I get three consecutive hours of sleep at night.

But again, that’s just what moms have to go through. We wear the scars on our bodies, and it’s normal. My experience is not unusual. Not like the woman who labored 30 hours and whose baby broke her tailbone. Not like the woman who labored 32 hours and passed out afterward. Not like the women who have multiple children (how?!).

So why can’t I let it go?

What is wrong with me?

When Christmas Hurts

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My family had a strange Christmas tradition when I was growing up.  Christmas Day was hectic, my mom’s side in the morning and my dad’s in the afternoon. So, every Christmas Eve we would roast hot dogs over the fire and eat them with baked beans and Caesar salad while the same 1993 Reba Mcentire Christmas album played on repeat in the background. It might be odd, but it was magical to us.

This is the first year that won’t be happening. At least, not in the same way.

You see, it’s been three months since I told my dad I can’t talk to him anymore. And I’ve noticed the difference. I feel healthier emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and even physically without him in my life. But that also means no family gathered around my parents’ fireplace.

Don’t get me wrong; Christmas wasn’t all roses. I remember Dad getting angry if he didn’t get what he considered a “fair portion” of the food, which was especially difficult when times were tight. I remember trying with every fiber of my ten-year-old being to anticipate his every desire, jumping up to fetch ketchup or milk from the kitchen in hopes I would earn his love. Most of all, I remember him sitting off by himself watching something “spiritual” or political on his phone, refusing to participate in Christmas with us.

But still, the fireplace, the music, the elaborate ways my future-engineer brother found to deliver his gifts, the excitement of seeing my sisters finally open the horse or cat stickers I got for them, Mom and siblings huddled around the Christmas puzzle… It was the only time home seemed homey.

This year, I already skipped Thanksgiving. My husband and I spent the day moving into our new house—no turkey or board games or cousins. And now Christmas looms empty on the calendar. There will be no Reba Mcentire Christmas Eve, not when my 15-year-old sister is in Florida to get away from the chaos of home, my mom is leaving my dad, and I can’t have him in my life. There will be no house full of seventeen cousins, aunts, uncles, and lefse on Christmas Day. I won’t even be done unpacking my house, which means no decorations.

Even though the blank space on the calendar makes me sad, I know it’s the right choice.

Sometimes choosing to be healthy hurts. Choosing to not lower your standards, to say, “no, you are not allowed to manipulate and shame me,” will mean giving up how life was, and it might be harder than you think. Because the unhealthy can feel familiar and sometimes it doesn’t feel unhealthy at all. To fight against the lies of shame, fear, and sadness, you can’t just get rid of them. You have to fill the blank spaces with new things, with truth.

And sometimes, you have to make new traditions. I don’t know what mine will be yet, or when I will have the strength to begin them, but I know that—finally—I value myself enough to choose health.

And that is the right choice.

A Good Father

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Recently, my husband and I started the process of buying our first home. It freaked me out. Big time. So much money, so much responsibility, so many things to break and cost even more money… So, I asked God not to just shut the door if it was the wrong move, but to SLAM it in our faces. Instead, he opened the door even wider.

And his goodness stunned me. Again.

You see, like a lot of people, I never expected God to give me good things. Or, if he did, I expected him to snatch them away again the next second. Because that’s how my life has always gone. When I was a teenager I said that life is like drowning in the ocean. You get some breaths between the waves, but only enough to make sure you keep surviving—a cruel punishment.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized God wasn’t the one sending the waves. It was my dad. God was there, looking at me with compassion and love the whole time. He was waiting for the perfect moment to deliver me and show me all the goodness my dad had been keeping from me. He knew I needed to be ready to face the truth. He knew I needed to have the support of a loving husband. He knew he needed to work in my mom, sister, and brother’s hearts as well.

The whole time I was drowning, he was preparing me for freedom. And now, he is showing me what the Bible means when it calls him Father.

People say that a lot. When you have a toxic dad, they tell you to cling to God as your Father. The problem is, if all you have is a bad example, that’s pretty much impossible. You see God through the lens of the abuser’s manipulation. You try to be perfect so God won’t be disappointed. As many times as you hear he loves you, you still can’t believe it. Not really.

But now, for the first time, I’m starting to be able to see God as a good Father. Naming what happened to me gave me the ability to reject my dad’s lens. God isn’t on the side of the abuser. He doesn’t look like spiritual abuse says he does.

He actually has good in store for me, even though I never believed it.