I used to attend meetings once a week and divulge my inner most secrets to a group of strangers. I wasn’t hitting up AA meetings at a local church. My psychiatrist hadn’t recommended group therapy. Nope, after seven weeks at home with a newborn, I joined a breast feeding support group.
It is strange to be reminded of that group tonight, as I obsessively refresh npr.org every half hour or so to see if our country will elect its first female president. I was reminded of the strange journey I took through the campaign season, first a Hillary supporter, because, duh, I’m a feminist. Then feeling my feminism called into question when I vocally supported Bernie Sanders. Then the oh so apt turn when I began to call out other women for voting for Donald Trump in the general (I’m sorry, but I still have a hard time with this one.) Being a woman sometimes feels like being part of a clique, where I’m supposed to feel comfortable talking about my period (I don’t), complain about my husband for being a “man,” and boldly wear t-shirts with words like “bitch” emblazoned on them. I would really love for Hillary to be elected just to move another step forward past the man vs.woman battle, and get on to being people. It is fitting that on this night, I was reminded by a book about the singular beauty and struggle that are uniquely part of being female.
Today, I finished reading a book titled “Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Pscyh ER,” by Julie Holland. The title should pretty much give you the gist of the book. I’ve been on a brain binge lately, fascinated by the mind and the various ways it develops and atrophies. Prior to this book I read “Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside” by Katrina Firlik and “The Reason Why I Jump” by Naoki Higashida. Higashida was just thirteen years old at the time he wrote the book answering some of the most common questions about his autism. My reading material is forcing me inward, examining what makes me “Kat” and what experiences forced that person into being.
Upon finishing “Bellevue,” by trusted friend, Kindle, recommended another book by Holland, “Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy.” As a forty something psychiatric drug addict and self proclaimed crazy woman, how was I not going to read this book?
I am only in the early chapters, but already my brain is churning. Holland starts off by detailing some of the hormonal, physical and neurological differences between the human male and female bodies, and how these differences play out in our emotions and interactions. The thing that intrigues me the most is how we often as a society see female characteristics as negatives (she’s too moody, she cries too much, etc), and seek ways to change them (such as when Holland sites medical reviews consistently showing doctors being more likely to prescribe psychiatric medications to women, especially women between the ages of 35-64).
One item I found particularly interesting was in Holland’s explanation of how the hormone Oxytocin affects the body:
“Oxytocin, the hormone released in women after orgasm and during cuddling or nursing, encourages prosocial, trusting behavior, while testosterone tends to fuel aggressive, competitive, behavior. Oxytocin’s release affects women more powerfully than men, helping us to be more generous and connected. …….Girls flock together and keep social harmony, often through language. Staying connected via gossip and verbal intimacy leads to a rush of dopamine, one of the brain’s pleasure chemicals, and oxytocin…..Whereas women tend to discuss troublesome issues with peers, men tend to process their troubles alone, non-verbally.”
It was at this point I was reminded of the breast feeding group I started attending over seven years ago. I went to the group with what I imagined were staples among the usual concerns (increasing milk supply, proper latch techniques), but the group had a profound experience on my life, extending well beyond talks of feeding covers and nursing bras.
What made the group such a unique experience was the total freedom that comes along with being at the end of your rope and looking over to find someone else dangling along beside you. I don’t have the facts to back it up, but anecdotal experience tells me that a good majority of the women cried on their first visit. Most of their questions had no direct relation to breastfeeding. Rather it was a place to voice our inner most fears and to feel lifted as our peers offered advice, passed tissues in support, and just plain “got it.”
When our babies were little, we rolled as a mommy entourage. We met weekly in our conference room at the hospital. Insecure tears gave way to hugs and waves hello. We’d gab for an hour and head out to lunch, first with babies in slings and swaddles, followed by tables lined with high chairs every other seat. On non-group days, we met at each other’s houses to snack, nurse our kids, and watch them begin to explore playing together. We celebrated holidays and milestones. As our children’s birthdays rolled around, you could be sure to expect a thoughtful present purchased as a group. Never in my life have I experienced such fierce camaraderie. I became reliant on it, dependent. Even addicted.
Over the years, the group has dwindled, as has some of its magic. Many moms returned to work. Differing schedules and schools pulled us in different directions. No longer were we free to meet to confide in each other and ease the stress of new motherhood. We were largely on our own to deal with our struggles, and I think our Oxytocin and Dopamine levels took notice.
Recently, I returned to work. I kidded myself into believing “It’s only a part time job. I’ll have plenty of time to do all the things I normally do.” No. Absolutely no. I have no idea how full-time working moms do it. I imagined myself still making it to play dates after I picked up the boys from after school care. Nope. There is homework, and grocery shopping that now gets done after work, and reading calendars, and dinner. Who can squeeze in a play date?
A friend confided in my recently that she felt lonely since I returned to work. She’s still on the stay at home mom schedule, which has quickly become distorted as “tons of free time” in my mind. But when I truly think about it, I remember those days. I didn’t have free time- I had time to fill. Providing entertainment, educational opportunities, nutrition, and activity for children under five is no easy task. But there were the endless considerations, the speed bumps to the day- If the kids are in the house too long, they become bored and start to fight. But they can only handle going one or two places before being in danger of a meltdown. But if I go to those places too early, I will have to come up with things to do at home in the afternoon. If I go too late, they’ll fall asleep on the ride home and throw off the schedule for the whole night, and possibly many nights. But we’re also potty training, so we have to be near bathrooms. And don’t forget that you are the one staying home, not bringing in an income, so do your part by keeping the house clean and dinner on the table, even though your husband doesn’t really demand it, but you have some sort of strange guilt about needing to do it to be deserving of the privilege of staying home with your kids. Whew. Yeah. All of that.
As I reminisced about the group, I began to wonder, Could I form a new group? How hard could it be? I know women like to commiserate. Who cares if we don’t have kids attached at the boob anymore! So what if we don’t have a dismal, gray conference room to meet in! What if I just put it out there to some women: Come! Meet! Talk!
Would they come? Would they talk? Would we all feel better?
I don’t think it works like that. My first thought went to people will think I’m some crazy free loving hippie. I imagined my one or two closest friends coming, as a show of solidarity, perhaps bringing snacks, definitely bringing booze to take the edge off, and the experiment quickly fizzling out after two sessions. More than that, I channeled the instant dread I would feel as soon as I sent the invitation. Why did I do that? Couldn’t I just have watched something REALLY good on Netflix?
But I love this idea of sisterhood. Ok, pushing forward. If I invite just enough people, the right people, it could work. But who are the right people? The people who will come? The people who will get along? The people who will understand me? I begin to ponder all that has happened since our children were babies. Friends falling out, bitter discussions ending communications, sides being taken.
Maybe it would work if I just invited a few of my closest friends, who would in turn invite their closest friends- an exercise in trust. But my anxiety almost immediately began to froth. With strangers, I could say anything. Yes, we became friends, but prior to that, they didn’t know me from Beverly Sills. I could make the worst scene, walk out, and never know if they said two words about it again. In this new scenario, I imagined my closest friends talking with their closest friends, discussing what I psycho I am, what I need to do to get it together. I imagined revealing just enough to seem like a participant, but not enough to let them know what is really bothering me. What’s the point in that?
It’s strange how so much in our biology says we need one another, and so much in our society deems that need a weakness. It can be really fucking hard to get along.
Now I sit wondering about the fate of this presidency. I saw a friend wore a shirt to vote today emblazoned with the words “sisters unite.” Are we a sisterhood? Could this presidency be a symbol that old ideals are crumbling, and we are free to embrace the strengths of being female?
Maybe. If only I had a group to talk to and flesh out these ideas. Until then, I guess I’ll keep on blogging to myself.