Dear readers—I wonder, what have you been thinking about lately? What is on your mind, what are the questions you keep coming back to? What are the situations you can’t solve? Who are the people you’re loving? Do you find yourself pondering different questions in the darkness of winter?
I’ve been trying to write a post to follow up on my recent Facebook post, in which I confessed to a) weeping at the DMV, and b) struggling mightily. I’ve wanted to tell my friends that I am okay, that things are better—but I can’t wrap words around what I was going through then in a way that adequately communicates it. I’ve tried, though, believe me. I spent three hours sobbing at a cafe one afternoon in November, trying to write it, but I was still in it and couldn’t find any perspective, only pain. A few days on the other side of it I tried again, at a different cafe, and cried a lot less but still couldn’t get to it. So maybe it’s not supposed to be a whole post and a whole thing, maybe I’m just supposed to tell you about it in passing as I tell you about other things.
After seven-and-a-half years of being pregnant or nursing every single day of my life, I weaned Zoë. Wait, let me back up. In the weeks before I weaned Zoë, I started to come to terms with my dad’s death; I started to have some persistent and difficult thoughts about mothering and my place in my own life; I visited my mother in the grey, bleak midwest in November after she’d had a couple surgeries, and the day I flew to see her was the last day I nursed my little girl, the last day I would nurse any of my babies. In the midst of this maelstrom my hormones did whatever it is hormones do when a woman stops nursing (after seven years! seven straight years of nursing tiny human creatures!) and I went off a very deep end into a very dark hole. I got lost in there for a while.
I felt really awful about myself. I felt like a monster, at least to my children (I mean, I was a monster to my children at the time). And then one night, the night of the worst day I’d had, the night I spent 20 minutes sobbing in my car after going to the gym because I couldn’t bear the thought of going home to my family, I realized I had to pull myself out of it. A friend had mentioned that weaning affects hormones, so I searched “weaning hormone changes” after the kids went to bed that night and almost jumped off the couch with relief and wonder when I read the dozens of headlines linking weaning, anxiety, and depression (my favorite title: I Stopped Breastfeeding and Something Snapped Inside Me). I read one wickedly funny essay I could have, and wish I had, written myself. I immediately felt less like a monster and more like a normal, suffering human being.
So, for all of you who read that Facebook post and reached out via phone, email, and text, thank you. I’m better now! Your love and support in those days meant the world to me, even if I didn’t write or call back. (I still believe that Facebook can have a great power to connect us). Also, can we all start talking about the link between weaning and depression now? It’s a real thing, and it’s a scary thing, and we all need to know about it.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about how we love each other and who we are to each other. It was a question in my last post, and it’s showed up here many times before, but I suppose I’ll always be rather obsessed with the question. I guess it’s the theme in life I’m most concerned with: how we bond with each other, how we love each other, what we mean to each other. What it looks like to love each other day-after-day and decade-after-decade.
As we settle into our beloved community of friends in Corvallis, and I make new friends the bonds with whom are instant and immensely gratifying, and I watch my children grow and become new people, I think about this. I started writing this post on a plane to San Francisco to visit my dearest friend Sabrina (yes, that one!), and I think of the ways that she and I have loved each other in the 15+ years we’ve known each other. It hasn't been without struggle, and it's mostly been from a distance. I saw another friend while there, and I think about the odd path our friendship has taken—mostly involving tacos, cocktails, and long-winded emails, and very little time actually spent together—yet there's a fulfilling emotional intimacy in that relationship.
The people who fill our lives do so in such different ways. We give and receive love, companionship, shelter, in ways we don’t realize, in ways that break us open, in ways that set the world right. I've created and deepened connections with friends old and new lately by acknowledging the weight that I'm carrying—that we're all carrying—and being honest about my struggles. I've cried a lot in front of people, and I've been met only with care and compassion. I've been incredibly vulnerable in a number of conversations, and woken up with more than one vulnerability hangover, but each time felt that what I'd risked was worth it for the human connection it created. We're all struggling here, folks; I find it makes the burden more bearable to do it in the open, together, bearing witness to each other.
Years ago, walking the country roads by the Baltic Sea near our home in Sweden, I listened to Krista Tippett interview Alain de Botton for her podcast On Being. It was shortly after his book, The Course of Love, came out, and also shortly after Tippett’s own divorce. I was moved by this part of their conversation:
Ms. Tippett: I’m single right now and have been for a few years, and it’s actually been a great joy. Not that I think I will be single forever or want to be single forever. Although, actually, I think I would be alright if I were, which is a real watershed. And also what this part of — this chapter of life has taught me to really enjoy more deeply and take more seriously are all the many forms of love in life aside from just romantic love or being coupled. Do people talk to you about that?
Mr. de Botton: Well, it’s funny because just as you were saying, “I’m single,” I was about to say, “You’re not.” Because we have to look at what this idea of singlehood is. We’ve got this word “single” which captures somebody who’s not got a long-term relationship.
Ms. Tippett: But I have so much love in my life.
Mr. de Botton: That’s right. And another way of looking at love is connection. We’re all the time, we are hardwired to seek connections with others. And that is, in a sense, at a kind of granular level, what love is. Love is connection.
Yes, yes, I thought. As someone who enjoyed being single, and who takes great pleasure in friendships and non-romantic relationships, this resonated with me. Not that I don’t want a partner or spouse, but that if only we can see it and call it what it is and be open to the idea of being loved in wholly satisfactory, non-romantic ways, our lives are fuller than we think.
I’ve been reading this every day, which I found via James Clear’s newsletter:
John Gardner, a politician and a recipient of the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom, on how to live a meaningful life:
"Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”
Source: Personal Renewal— I highly recommend reading the transcript of the speech.
I started this more than a week ago and thought I'd post it immediately; a week later I'm still tinkering with it and trying to get the feelings right, deciding which tangents to go on and nuances to include, but if I don't publish it now it'll never go out. Forgive my half-thoughts. If any of this resonates with you, leave a comment! And let me know what you're thinking about, I'm curious.
Photos not of me nursing or pregnant by Pratik Gupta and Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash. Others by James.
I'm not sure how I missed all of this, but I feel so badly that I did. I had several bouts of depression during and after pregnancy, and it hurts so much, regardless of which stage of the mothering hormones cause the plunge. Thank you for sharing this.
Relate to so much. Too tired to write more! ❤️
I already responded elsewhere about weaning and depression, but I want to respond to something else here as well. Kristin and I have been talking a bit recently about friendships, specifically I guess what we each feel we need or want from friends at this stage in our lives, what we're looking for, what feels truly meaningful and signifies someone being a true friend, and what kinds of choices disappoint us and why. I'm sure there's so much of that wrapped up in personality type and love languages and the like (Kristin and I seek some very different things in some cases). I think it's something I'm still trying to sort out, why some people feel so easy to connect with and others less so (to some extent regardless of time spent), why some know how to show up or show support and others don't know or don't choose to. I'm sure I've been on the failure end of that equation more than once, but the whole thing is difficult to sort out, and as we continue to deepen relationships here that are still somewhat new, it's a question I visit often. Also, I think you're right about vulnerability forging connection in the same way that going through something harrowing together forges connection. I recently talked to someone about Harry Potter and how battling a mountain troll together binds you. I would imagine it's the same for battling nearly anything with another.