Climbing Out of the Darkness

I used to feel shame. Now, I just know that I am being brave.

Just like the thousands of other mothers across the country who are participating in this year's PostPartum Progress Climb Out of the Darkness walk on June 18. I'll be climbing with my dear friend, Susan Petcher, in Boston. Eliana will be coming with me. I couldn't be more excited.

Only recently, and thanks to Susan's gentle prodding, I shared my own experience with postpartum depression. Not on my blog, I think, because I needed to share it elsewhere first, but I did share. Baby steps. Shaky, tentative baby steps. This is a big thing, this self-identifying as a survivor of postpartum depression. In a world where so many shy away from labels not already attached to jam jars, stepping up and saying I EXPERIENCED THIS...it's a big thing. It's a brave thing. 

I'm being brave. I know that now. So many mothers before me are leading the way. Postpartum Progress founder, Kathryn Stone, is leading the way. I'm grateful for this.

The thing about mental illness is that so many of us say that there is no shame...but there is. There shouldn't be...but there is. I'm no less a mother now than I was before sharing my experience. But it's almost easier for me to say these words now than it was for me to push for help when Eliana was a tiny baby and I sat up nights crying, convinced that the only safe place to break down was in the dark. I wish I had been braver, stronger...but it is what it is and I focus on today and the power of a community of warrior moms advocating for awareness, education, and services. 

I'm working with a therapist. Things aren't exactly roses right now inside of my head. ADHD, depression, anxiety...it's all still a very real part of my reality. So much so, in fact, that I'm now on crunch time to raise funds for the climb! I'll be back tomorrow with an update and a few items in my etsy shop that I am posting specifically to raise funds for my team, but for now, here's the link to my crowdrise page.  

How will your donation help? 

  • $10 helps Postpartum Progress keep current (and continue to grow) our referral list of more than 400 specialist providers in maternal mental health.
  • $20 Provides one set of free patient education materials, including Hugs Cards and our New Mom Checklist for Maternal Mental Health Help, to a clinician or other provider who serves pregnant and new moms.
  • http://postpartumprogress.org/tools/awareness-materials-order-form/
  • $30 Provides an entire year of support via the Postpartum Progress Private Forum to a mother who otherwise has no access to support groups
  • $50 Provides one mother with Daily Hope. Postpartum Progress’ daily email service created to provide messages of support and encouragement for moms with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, for a full year. 
  • $150 Provides a culturally relevant, medically correct translation of our patient education and support materials into another language. 
  • $200 Provides for one week of our award-winning educational website PostpartumProgress.com, reaching a minimum of 30,00 page views.

A little goes a long way and more goes even farther. Every step of the way, you are making a difference for a mother in need of services.

My name is Pauline Campos, and I am a survivor or postpartum depression. 

No shame in that. Not anymore. 

 

Because Your Mama's Worth a Buck

At least, I would assume she is. I know I am. I even asked The Husband I was worth a buck and after his face stopped contorting itself into inexplicably pained expressions, he totally gave me the thumbs up.

I figure that means he was too overcome with emotion to say the actual words, but awkward silences and dirty jokes are our love language, so I am confident in telling you that his thumbs up meant "Yes, my love, I would certainly buy you your book for 99 cents on Amazon as it is currently on sale through May 9 for 99 cents if your book was not, in fact, your book." And then he would pause, look into my eyes lovingly while trying not to laugh, and say "You are totally worth a buck. I'd give you a buck all day long."

Isn't he romantic? This is exactly why I said yes to becoming Mrs. The Husband fourteen years ago. He's a keeper, this guy.

To celebrate Mother's Day and the BabyFat sale, I'm going to have a little fun. I have a 24-hour giveaway on Amazon for ten winners to get a kindle copy of my book. No purchase is necessary, but you can't win the book if you already own it. (I might even run another contest before the sale is over just for fun!) 

How else can you be amazing and support me and this crazy writing dream?

If  you just wanna be awesome and help me claw my way to a spot on the Amazon bestseller list, you are more than welcome to gift Babyfat to everybody you have an email address for. Your mother-in-law, wife, girlfriend, sister, best friend forever, and that mom you made eye contact with at the last PTA meeting would be very grateful for your consideration and very impressed with your taste in books. Because really, BabyFat is like six degrees of separation from Neil Gaiman because Jenny Lawson blurbed the book and I tweeted Neil asking if I could send him and his wife, Amanda Palmer, a copy of BabyFat and he actually wrote back and said yes and...

Wait. That's only three degrees and now possibly a PPO, so it's probably a good thing I screen-shot that tweet so I have something to hold on to. Did I have a point here? Oh yes...BabyFat is on sale, I want to know how many mamas you know that you think are worth a buck, and I love you. 

Don't forget to enter that contest

The end. 

One of my favorite features in the book is that each chapter starts with a social media update from friends and followers. 

One of my favorite features in the book is that each chapter starts with a social media update from friends and followers. 

Servin' Up a Sample: BabyFat Excerpt, Chapter Two

Yes, I know the book launched in October of 2015. I'm also Mexican and have ADHD so, by my calculations, I'm showing up for this party right on time.

You're Welcome. 

I've been asked a few times where readers can find an easily accessible book excerpt from BabyFat: Adventures in Motherhood, Muffin Tops, & Trying to Stay Sane, so I figured the easiest place to make that happen was right on the blog. I'm sharing chapter two with you, Internet. Click here for the Amazon link if you like what you read enough to buy the book! 

Cover design by Michelle Fairbanks. Find her on twitter at @freshdesign_BC

Cover design by Michelle Fairbanks. Find her on twitter at @freshdesign_BC


Chapter 2: Gimme an F! Gimme a U!


@FreshDesign_BC: Just fished a towel out of the toilet and had to tell toddler to stop licking the walls. Seriously.


July 28 

Ever have one of those days that starts out with unicorns and rainbows and then somehow magically warps itself into someone pissing in your Cheerios? 

While youre trying to eat them?

For me, that’s today. Mom, Pati, and I decided last night to skip Eliana’s gymnastics class for once and venture into town for our first look at the Tucson Mall. The Husband and I moved here from the East Coast in March for his new job. Because my father passed away just a few weeks before my thirtieth birthday, Mom joined us on our move cross-country. It’s all part of a deal my father struck with The Husband that said we’d look after her after he died. Pati must have stowed away in my mother’s suitcase because she wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal. 

Pati showed up six months after my mother. I’m sure it had to do with Pati needing to be near my mother after losing our dad. She’s the baby of the family, so I bitched and moaned about Eliana losing her playroom and then drove to the airport to pick her up. 

Anyway, the plan had been to be out of the house by 9:15 a.m. to arrive at the mall by 10 o’clock. With a forty-five minute drive to sales and civilization, I wanted to make sure we got the biggest bang for our buck when it came to gas and mileage by spending the whole day there. We all figured we’d be fine since Eliana’s woken up at the crack of dawn since we moved here thanks to her internal clock still being stuck on Eastern Time. Good for me since having my mother and sister in the house makes it so easy to revert to family habits like sleeping in until noon. So I didn’t bother setting an alarm.

That was my first mistake.

I’m cocooned in bed, still thanking God and all of creation for my all-weather Ikea quilt. It might be 100 degrees, but I have an innate desire to be wrapped up in all things snuggly. If Ikea didn’t exist, I’d be sweating my ass off with one leg hanging off the bed for ventilation like The Husband does. 

I can hear Eliana laughing and talking in the kitchen with my mother, who graciously takes the morning shift so I can recover from my vampire-friendly writing routine. Figuring I’m two hours ahead of schedule, I roll back over and pass out for a few more precious moments of sleep. Staying up until 4 a.m. has earned me the right to more than three hours of sleep, and I’m estimating it’s about 6 a.m. I’ve got time to kill, right? 

My cell phone vibrates loud enough to shake me out of my haze and I reach for it, still groggy, to Tweet whoever it was that tagged me. It isn’t until I’m already bending over the sink to wash my face and hastily yanking on a pair of Lane Bryant crops that I realize it’s already ten minutes later than we had planned on leaving. 

Shit! 

I barrel downstairs, fully dressed and expecting my mother to be ready with diaper bag in hand, Eliana dressed, and choosing the “baby” she wants to bring (baby Elmo almost always wins) with Pati cranking the air on the minivan so we don’t melt en route to the mall. 

“Mama!” squeals out my fuzzy-haired, diaper-clad Eliana as I run into the kitchen. “I LOVE you!” She emphasizes the word “love” like Elmo does in the theme song to his own show. 

My mother, still in her pajamas, laughs at Eliana’s reaction.

“What’s so funny?” asks Pati. She is still sporting the bra-less PJ look that tells me we are not getting out of the house any time soon. 

“Funny!” Eliana repeats with a mouthful of waffle. 

“Nothing is funny, baby girl. We’re running late, so let’s get moving,” I say, hurriedly calculating my breakfast points and shoveling three-fourths of a cup of Chex into my mouth while Pati runs upstairs to get dressed in the ten-minute window I’ve just allotted her. Drill sergeant-ish? Perhaps. But I know my family. Either I light a fire under their asses now (and keep myself focused in the process) or we won’t be leaving until well past lunch. 

“Aren’t you coming?” I ask my mother, who has made no move to change out of her pajamas. 

“You guys go ahead,” she says. “It’s too hot to leave the dogs outside and I don’t want to crate them all day.” She nods at the couch where our dogs, Finnigan, a border terrier mix, Catherine (Cat) the Great, a Rottweiler, and Francis, our street mutt, are all lounging. The first two are mine. Francis belongs to my mother.

“Damn it!” I hiss when I stub my toe on a chair in my rush to stock the diaper bag full of cloth diapers, wipes, a spare outfit, and a snack. Pati rushes back down and follows me out to the minivan, her desire to shop clearly stronger than the desire to spend forty-five minutes running up my water bill while showering.

“Damn it!” Eliana is on a roll. She does a killer parrot impersonation and keeps the show going while I strap her into her car seat and head out of our subdivision. I don’t mean to brag, but this little girl has always been pretty far ahead of the game when it comes to verbal skills. This is great when at pediatric well checks. Not so great when you happen to have a penchant for dropping more “f-bombs” in conversations than most convicted felons. 

Finally, we are on the freeway heading for civilization.

I’m still pissy from running late, so Pati shifts her attention between her iPod and answering Eliana’s occasional questions about why the airplanes in the sky are going back to their families or where the caballo-horsies are. My Spanish skills call me out as a hyphenated American to the family members who are on permanent visas (and any Mexican with a regional accent), but I’ve been trying to teach some of what I remember to Eliana. The result is usually an adorable mix of baby-voiced Spanglish. 

I concentrate on staying calm while navigating one-lane roads behind a long line of drivers content to coast along ten miles under the posted speed limit. Let me just put this out there: I’m from Detroit. Motown and Big Beaver, exit 69, baby. Seventy-five means eighty and stay the hell out of the left lane if you weren’t prepared to drive like a maniac. Needless to say, it’s been a little difficult adjusting to driving down here in the land of desert and tumbleweed. Then again, my sisters like to say that riding shotgun with Mama Leadfoot and her potty mouth has always been a fantastic form of free entertainment. 

“We’re almost there,” I finally announce, after checking the GPS. Thank God. I need some real food and I can’t wait to…

Dammit!” 

My sister is too busy focusing on my barely contained rage to stop and laugh at the chipmunk-voiced profanities being repeated from the car seat as I continue to throw them out. “What’s wrong? Are we out of gas or something?”

“I wish,” I sigh, pulling into the very same emergency vet clinic I was at two days before with an injured poodle I found wandering my subdivision. This was the last destination I’d entered into my GPS, of course. In my haste this morning I hadn’t thought to enter the address of the mall. Angrily chewing on a baby carrot (zero points!), I Google map the Tucson Mall on my iPhone. The last forty-five minutes have been a total waste of time and gas and my perfectly laid plans for a long and relaxing day strolling the air-conditioned mall are continuing to blow up in my face. I silently thank God The Husband wasn’t with us. He’d be the first person to point out that I and my crazy self like to make my own life more difficult by rushing everything and then ending up surprised when I find I’ve done something stupid.

I consider turning around and going home. I’m tired, cranky, and need to eat. Carrot sticks and cucumber slices only work for so long. But I promised Eliana a surprise and staring at the flashing “Open” sign in the veterinarian’s window from her car seat doesn’t quite cut it. I hastily plug the correct address into the GPS and breathe a sigh of relief. We’re just twenty minutes away. 

Thankfully, Eliana’s a pretty patient kid. I reach back with one of those snack trap cups filled with dried cereal to tide her over and head back onto the road. I’ve got a sea of pizza and Chinese takeout to navigate in that food court just to get to my low-point cold-cut sub. 


***


Poundage Peepers Journal

Subway six-inch turkey and ham with cheese and veggies: six points

Baked Lays, one bag: two points

Diet Coke: zero points


***


Awesome. I survive the mall with its giant and soft pretzels, with only an eight-point dent in my daily allotment. My wallet? Yeah, that took a hit. 


***


Maybe for you it’s balancing kids and a job or rocking the Soccer Mom thing. Or maybe after grocery shopping and getting the kids from school and making a dinner they won’t eat because the crusts aren’t cut off, you move the clocks up an hour without telling them and sit down with a glass of wine after the house is quiet instead of digging the elliptical out from under the pile of winter jackets. Maybe then you channel your inner Orphan Annie and focus on the fact that the sun will come out tomorrow and then you can try again. 

Maybe it’s that. Or maybe it’s my hypoactive thyroid or my insulin resistance or my PCOS, which I like to refer to as The Trifecta of Excuses for a Fat Ass. I’m one of the lucky ones who can claim a reason for my muffin top. It might be easier to blame the doctors who have, for the most part, left me on my own to figure out what works and what doesn’t. After all, they like to say things like “eat less, exercise more” while throwing prescriptions at me as they move on to their next patient, leaving me to run back to Dr. Google to research diets and lifestyle changes and fix myself. 

But now that I’m finally back on the right medications and working on my diet, I’m finally realizing a very important distinction: My medical conditions are just medical conditions. They are not reasons to stay fat. And under no circumstances are they ever to become reasons to stop trying to lose weight

That, my friends, is where I screwed the pooch. I let my body become its own excuse. 

Why bother when nothing I do seems to work, right? 

“You’re so lucky,” I’d gush to new mom friends who were trim and fit and rockin’ their MILF status like a shiny new engagement ring. “I wish I could have lost just a few pounds! And here you’ve already lost it all and then some!”

They’d smile brightly (but not too brightly so as to not hurt my feelings), always rushing to make me feel better with a, “Yeah, but look how good you look considering…”

Considering. The Trifecta of Excuses implied but not named. 

So consider I did. Eventually I considered myself lucky to only have gained the weight that I did. Then I considered myself resigned to my fate. I began to consider eating peanut butter from the jar with chocolate chips sprinkled across the top as a pick-me-up snack. Then I woke up one morning feeling like crap and wishing I could feel as good as I did before I started considering, so I decided to do something about it.

That’s when I joined Poundage Peepers.


July 31

The Husband is thirty-six today and I’m having fun reminding him that I was just a little eighth-grader when he was walking across the stage to receive his high school diploma. He counters by reminding me that he is regularly confused for a twenty-something while the last time I got carded was before I became a Mrs.

His eyes disappear into a smile.

So far, everything is going great. We have a small group of friends over and our shindig consists of good food and plenty of booze. I’m enjoying the fruit plate I prepared for myself and doing a mental tally of the points I’ve saved up for this very splurge. 

Thanks to some very careful working of the system with plenty of veggies and fruit that barely put a dent in my daily points allotment, I can have a few more glasses of wine before I even have to worry. 

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Eliana blinks up at me, her fork poised over the plate. She’s waiting for the signal to strike. “Now, Mama?” She looks hopeful. 

“Now,” I say, kissing her face before it’s covered in frosting.

“Birthday cake!” she squeals, her brown eyes crinkling in a smile just like her dad’s, and dives in with the delightfully carefree outlook of a child unaware of the complexities that come with fat grams, cellulite, or calories in versus calories out. I’m jealous, but plan to make sure cake remains a magical part of her childhood—like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy—for as long as I can.

I’m proud of myself, considering I chose a really bad week to jump on the weight-loss bandwagon. First we had the mall food court full of Bad Food the day after our first meeting. I even behaved at The Husband’s birthday dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack last night. It was his suggestion, and I promised him naughty things for choosing a place where I could truly enjoy myself. Shellfish is my favorite food group in the whole world, and minus the butter you can eat a shitload of the stuff without breaking the calorie bank. 

“It’s good stuff, isn’t it?” a little girl asked me from the next table, her mouth formed into a silent “O” as she watched me suck a crab leg dry with all the gusto of a porn star wannabe. Jenna Jameson, eat your heart out.

“Yes, thank you,” I said indignantly as I cracked into another leg, stopping only to gobble up a shrimp. I’m not sure if she was amused or horrified, so I smiled and took a breather. Her mother told her to stop staring and I can bet I was the topic of conversation on the way home. 

But I can’t help it. Ever since I was a kid and made trips to Red Lobster for shrimp cocktail and raw oysters on my birthday, seafood has been the ultimate escape for me. Normally I behave with a bit more decorum, but I had starved myself all day to allow for a nice splurge with some wine and baked potato. All bets are off and I was attacking those crab legs like a death row inmate enjoying her last meal.

“If this had been our first date,” The Husband said fighting laughter, “you do understand that I probably would not have called you for a second, right?” 

I shot him a death glare as I finished up. 

“Oh fuck off, sweetie. I love you, too.” 


***


August 2

While there are a few lucky ones, most of us are still not fitting into our pre-pregnancy jeans anytime before the baby’s first birthday. More likely, we are leaving the maternity ward looking like we still belong there. 

“When are you due?” ask kind strangers as they reach for our still swollen bellies. Maybe our children are with Daddy, or perhaps we have left them with the sitter for some much-needed “me” time. Either way, there is no outward evidence to match up with the baby belly we’re sporting. We raise an eyebrow, defensive. Where the hell does this asshole get off? 

“I’m not pregnant,” we respond stiffly. “In fact, I gave birth six months ago.”

Or maybe it was six years. In any case, our bodies were irrevocably changed the moment we crossed into the second trimester and there really was no turning back. The world no longer revolves around us. Our needs are not foremost in our minds. The role of mother (what baby/toddler/child/teenager needs) now comes first. Who has time to devote to a regular workout schedule when trying to juggle diaper changes, playdates, laundry, soccer games, parent/teacher conferences, and that precious little thing called sanity? 

But, well, there are those who are living proof that balancing Motherhood and Self—while only slightly easier than impossible—can be done. And to be perfectly blunt, I think it needs to be done, or we chance losing ourselves to the motherhood role. I’m not saying to let the kids go feral and start roaming the neighborhood in packs just so Mommy can get a few precious moments to herself, but it is necessary to refocus our lives to keep ourselves somewhere at the top of our own priority lists. Because if we lose ourselves in the effort to be all that we can be to our kids, what are we really giving them? 

So it’s time to get busy and find my body; the one I lost when I pushed a baby out and let myself go to hell. Just let me change this diaper first.

Beautiful in Black & White: My Experience with the 4th Trimester Bodies Project

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

It started with a request to sign a copy of my book. She'd be in the same state, after all, and seeing as how I only live four hours north, maybe I could meet up and we could take a few selfies together to prove we'd inhabited the same physical space after years of conversations in 140 characters and status updates. 

"Of course," was my response. No matter that I would be the one driving the four hours. When you're this far north, hotel rooms and rest stops are just real life if you want to maintain contact with real life. Besides, Target and Starbucks don't exist where I live. If I want you to like me in person, I'm not about to ask you to make a first impression while navigating around Amish buggies and breaking for moose standing in the middle of the roadway. If I had stopped there, if nothing more had come out of my mouth, maybe signing a book and laughing over bad camera angles would be all that had happened. But I didn't. I kept talking. "Maybe I should get naked for you, too."

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos/ Book by Ashlee Wells Jackson.  Click here to purchase.  

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos/ Book by Ashlee Wells Jackson. Click here to purchase. 

There was a chuckle in response. Or, I think there was one. I'm a writer. I hear the rhythm of the voice writing the words that would be spoken if the conversation was a spoken one. I fill in the blanks with facial expressions, uuhhhmmm's and ahhhh's, and the blinks that take up the space around the words I hear in my mind. She chuckled when she read my sentence about getting naked; eyes twinkling, probably. She knows my sense of humor. We've known each other a few years now, at least. "Maybe not naked," she said. "Just down to your bra and panties." 

"Only if you buy me dinner first," I shot back. And she chuckled again and I laughed out loud because I actually did Laugh.Out. Loud. I detest the LOL acronym. I know for a fact my sister never LOL's even though every single text she sends indicates otherwise. When I Laugh.Out.Loud, I actually am. Otherwise, I am merely SWMWME (Smirking While Smiling with my Eyes) or LIMH (Laughing Inside My Head). LOL is like the push up bra of the Facebook world. We all know you're selling us more than you've actually got, so let's drop the act and just call it what it is, okay?

 

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

It was all in fun. No commitment. Just banter. But then she said "YES" and I knew the yes wasn't about the dinner joke but about the me getting down to my 'chonis thing because, it turns out, my friend, the famed Ashlee Wells Jackson of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project, had an opening for her Portland, Maine, shoot, and she was sending me a contract to sign and ... and ... 

Holy...

Shit. 

 

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

This is what happens when you make a habit of pushing your own boundaries using thinly-veiled sarcasm. There's really no commitment because a No in response to your Maybe I could can be brushed off as a joke and no one gets their feelings hurt. A Yes still comes with an automatic Out because I was Totally Kidding and can quip about how I never let a date get to third base before the third date, at least, because I have fucking STANDARDS. There's alway a moment of pause when the Yes happens. The window of opportunity to wrap my arms around the Thing I Probably Really Want to Do But am Totally Terrified Of is small. Generally, it's understood that I am verbally agreeing, all semblance of general smartassery lost, because Shit Just Got Serious, y'all. 

I'm signing the contract before I have had a chance to process the ramifications, not because I'm an idiot, mind you, but because posing for a shoot in your well-endowed bra and Lane Bryant panties is scary shit, indeed, even for an outspoken body image activist like myself. If I even stop to think, just for a moment, I'm going to Come to my Senses and say But I was Joking and tell the Ashlee's in my life that they'd better give that  open slot to someone else cuz I'm not about to put All of THIS on the internet -- not when my every day is Spanxed and layered and carefully pieced together so as to maintain some semblance of containment and purposeful form. 

Photo credit: Laura Weetzie Wilson

Photo credit: Laura Weetzie Wilson

 

Even after signing the contract, though, I toyed with the idea of backing out. Eliana didn't know it yet, because I needed to come to terms with the Actual Doing before I got her all jazzed up about a mother/daughter photo shoot with a famous and celebrated photographer, but she would be there, with me, celebrating herself as she is next to the mama hoping she was brave enough to do the same. I wrote a book about accepting the bodies we have right here and right now, the scale and Other People's Expectations be Damned. I have a website celebrating our bodies and ourselves in every possible way (which I suck at keeping updated because the aforementioned book takes a lot of time to write and edit and promote upon publication). I am outspoken about my struggles with mental illness - anxiety, depression, ADHD - and my eating disordered past and ever-present body image issues. Once it's a part of your story, it always will be. But until now, I've been able to hide myself behind words and stories that painted pictures for readers to relate to and see themselves in. 

I’m not important enough for media coverage. No need to find the most flattering dress for my shape to talk about my work on daytime TV. No magazine spreads to hope the PhotoShop Fairy I usually hate sprinkles her fairy dust over to maybe make a few bulges here and a few inches there smooth out and disappear. 

 

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

This is real. Black and white. No tummy-controlling undergaments. No bullshit. 

Period. 

It’s everything I stand for and nothing I’ve been brave enough to make happen. 

Until now.

Before packing up the overnight duffle and looking for a hotel, I told The Husband about the shoot and asked him to check out the 4th Trimester Bodies Project site, and waited for his response. I wasn’t looking for permission, mind you, but maybe I’d been hoping for an excuse to say no. “My Husband is being a giant asshole about this whole thing and I’d just rather not deal with the drama” is way easier to say than “Yeah, I know this is exactly what I stand for, but let’s pass on this round because I’m scared shitless that I won’t see myself as beautiful, okay?” But he only waited for me to tell him why I had directed him to the site to begin with because he knows me and simply nodded when I told him I had been invited to participate in the project. “You know I’d never stop you from doing something like this,” is what he said. So I was left with no way out but through my fear and self-judgement, booked the hotel room, gassed up the truck, told the excited little chingona-in-training what we were doing and why, and listened to her sing Eliana Mercedes Originals all the way to Portland about celebrating our bodies and loving who we are.

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

As we stood in the dressing room at Lane Bryant (because I’m not about to drop my pants for the world unless it’s in brand new undies, my friends), Eliana joked with me about third boobs and very solemnly pointed out the styles of panties and bras she thought fit best and so those are the ones I bought. I mentally patted myself on the back for taking the emotion out of the dressing room and replacing it with logic and reason. My audience was watching my every move and I wasn’t about to taint every future dressing room experience with tears and squished face disgust at what perceived flaws. My todays are building the foundation for her tomorrows, after all, and while I may be far from perfect, I’m working with what I’ve got. 

“Mama,” she asked me while trying on her black leotard at our last stop before we checked in for the night in Portland, “What’s so hard about celebrating our bodies? All we have to do is appreciate what we have.”

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

These are the words I remembered and held onto that night, because I didn't sleep. They are the words I remembered when I stood before Ashlee in nothing but a bra and panties the next day. The words I held onto when she pointed the camera at me and asked me why I was there during the pre-shoot interview. 

“What made you want to participate in this project?” she asked me.

I looked at Eliana, waiting patiently to join me for the session. She smiled at me because she knows I am not as brave as I say I am, and that’s okay. 

 

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jacskon

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jacskon

Looking into my daughter’s eyes, I responded. “Because perfection is photo-shopped. Because self-acceptance is reserved for the finish line. Because you can’t step on the winner’s podium until after you’ve proven your worth until after you’ve stepped on the scale. Every day, I wake up ready to teach myself love the me that I see again. Because this little girl is my reset button. 

Because there was no reason that wasn’t an excuse to say no and every reason that matters to say yes.”

And then we did it. We smiled and we laughed and we posed and celebrated our way through every shot and then again while working with Ashlee to select the image used for the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. There was a headshot. There was a safe image. And then there was the one where I wasn’t shielding myself with my daughter’s body because I’m the one that’s supposed to be on the frontline helping her find her way, dammit. That’s what you see. This is who I am.

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson

We signed books for each other at the end, as planned. We hugged and smiled and selfies and hash-tagged because we don’t know when we will see each other again. I didn’t even make her buy me dinner. 

Later that night, after hours on the road in between errands on the way home, I saw the status update in my Facebook stream indicating that Ashlee had tagged me on her fan page. There were no tears. No self-deprecating tearing apart of the self I saw standing next to the future I am raising. “Look, Eliana! It’s us!”

“We’re beautiful, mama!” She squealed with pride. She beamed. She looked into my eyes, waiting for me to answer the question she would never dare to ask.

“Yes, baby,” I smiled back and met her eyes because I know this will be one of the moments she look back on as she grows and I need her to see that I believed the words I was saying are true. “Yes we are.” 

It's a Slow Day on the Internet

Okay so not really. I have about 47-Eleventy-nine and a half bazillion photos to sort through and still edit from both BlogHer15 and BloggerBash NYC and #BabyFat is so close to being an Actual Book I can almost FEEL IT. And then I got a #Dimelo question for my Latina magazine advice column asking if it's okay for married men to go to strip clubs with their single friends. 

I'll tell you the story about the time I worked in a strip club once, but it's gonna have to wait until I have five minutes AT THE SAME TIME, so that's totally not right now. Keep your shorts on, people, I was as a fully-clothed waitress with a penchant for losing $300 in tips in my cleavage until I got home and took off my bra. But I can't tell you THAT story until after I tell you about the boob reduction I had at age 24 to take me from somehwere north of 38GGG and land me right in DDD territory AND time to tell you about why I really don't give a shit when The Husband happens to be pegged for DD duty when a buddy wants to go out because you can't just lose that kind of cash in a training bra. (FYI for the new kids in class - the first group of D's is my boobs. The second is for Designated Driver. You're *Welcome*). Strippers are in it for the cash. It's a job. My husband is a cheap-ass, so the fact that he's ridiculous on the Good-Looking-O-Meter really doesn't give him any ground to stand on next to the nerdiest, goofiest looking buck-toothed bald man with a wad of singles in his hand. 

Basically, I got more play at the gay bar with my GBF in college than The Husband EVER will in a strip club. Also? Thanks to Kelly Wickham for my new and forever answer whenever I get this question sent my way again. 

Ladies? Should you let your husband off his leash to go see naked ladies dancing in tiny G-strings? Ummm... depends on how interesting you find this video tutorial on how to get the perfect sloppy hair bun.

Pra quem me pediu muito, mais coque no cabelo. Dá pra aprender, né?!Sigam no Snap: ricocarmoInstagram: @ricocarmo

Posted by Rico Carmo on Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Any questions?

On Truth and Drumsticks: The Reboot

I wrote this four or five years ago. I'm sharing it today because I'm still trying to get to the point where All of This is moved to the Past Tense portion of my writing repertoire. But I'm human. Just like you. And the one thing we are good at is making mistakes. At least, maybe, the lessons we learn from the mistakes we keep making are meant for more than just me and you. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. 

Crying Girl in Black and White by Pauline Campos

Crying Girl in Black and White by Pauline Campos

"It's time to exercise, baby," I call to Eliana. "Did you want to play or workout with Mama?"' She's in the playroom she has dubbed her "magical land," but immediately joins me at my side and waits for the DVD to cue up. "Are we going to get healthy and strong?"

I smile. "Exactly."

***

When I was a baby, my thighs were so chubby that one of my aunts used to pretend to eat them like drumsticks. It's a story I heard often when I was growing up, usually told with the requisite giggles from my mother and a pinch on my legs from whoever else was within reach. I thinned out as I grew, but I never thought myself skinny. Instead, "big" was how I classified my body. "Big" as in I was five feet one inch tall at eight years old. The same height as my mother and almost every other adult woman in my family. "Big" as in not dainty with curves that snuck up on my when I was 12 and muscle definition that would have put me in the "athletic" category. But that word didn't exist in the Spanglish craziness my family resided in. Instead, children were scolded for not finishing what was on their plate and reprimanded for needing to watch what they were eating, usually in the same breath.

I remember very clearly the day my father notices my new set of hips. I weighed 156 pounds and stood 5'6'' tall. I wore a size 10 and only now realize I only thought that was a bad thing because my mother never shut up about the size 6 she could still squeeze into after five kids. If I could wake up with that body today?

A'ye, M'ijita.

My father, who stood no taller than me, pinched the curve of my hip.

"You need to lose some weight."

***

I started making myself throw up after watching a news special about a woman caring for eating disordered girls in her revolutionary treatment center. The point of the special was to enlighten and educate on the dangers of easting disorders and the needs of those suffering. I took it as a how-to manual.

Sometimes I wonder if my actions are the cause of the body I see in the mirror today. The hypoactive thryroid. The polycystic ovarian syndrome. The number on the scale. I was skinny before when I thought I was fat. Just because I was the only set of ethnic hips in the sea of curve-less white wonders I went to school with, I thought that meant I needed to better control what I was eating. And because I had failed at being an anorexic previously, the consolation prize was closet bulimia. If I didn't have the control to not eat, I could at least force my body to get rid of the evidence.

I should have just opened my eyes.

***

My daughter is three and often confused for a five-year-old. She's built like her father's side of the family; tall and lean. My nickname for her is "Little." And I skip the word "fat" when it's included in any of the books I read to her.

""She's so big for her age," strangers often say when they realize how young she actually is. I always smile and gently correct them, whether or not she is paying attention.

"Yes," I say, "She's very tall."

***

We eat clean; no processed sugar, no processed foods, and are gluten free, to boot. For dessert she'll choose watermelon over an ice cream sundae. (At least for now.) And because I can't control what the rest of the world says or what she will hear, I try to side step any of the emotional triggers adults verbalized when I was a kid.

If she refuses to eat a meal after two bites of food, instead of force feeding, I simply ask if she would like a cookie. If she says yes, I tell her that she has room for more of her meal if she has room for a cookie. If she says no, I believe her and take her plate away. I never criticize my own body in front of her. And I never diet. Instead, we all eat what's best for out bodies.

And exercise?

Maybe the truth behind the sweat and the time commitment is that I would like to lose a few more pounds and firm up my muffin-top belly. Maybe I'd like to feel as beautiful as The Husband tells me I am (and sometimes, I do.)  But I'll be damned if I say any of that out loud to a three-year-old who thinks it's funny to arch her back and stick her belly out after a good meal.

We are exercising to get healthy and strong.

And one of these days, after saying it enough to her, maybe I will believe that myself.

On Censorship of Reality: The 4th Trimester Bodies Project

 

Does this image offend you?

It shouldn't. But for some inexplicable reason, it seems that Facebook, instagram, and related social media outlets don't like images depicting the beauty and reality of motherhood. Facebook has been censoring the project page and even has gone so far as to remove images and lock photographer Ashlee Wells Jackson and her team out of their page and personal accounts. It's worth noting that not a single image violates Facebook's terms of service.

So, what is the 4th Trimester Bodies Project?  The following is a brief description taken from their website:

The  4th Trimester Bodies Project is an ongoing photo documentary created by photographer and mother Ashlee Wells Jackson. This project is dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought to our bodies by motherhood, childbirth and breastfeeding.

Sounds harmless enough. Sounds downright liberating, to be honest. I'm a champion of body image issues because my eating disordered past is not a future I wish for my own daughter. With that realization, I founded Girl Body Pride and work daily to change how I see myself and my own body, always conscious of the fact that what I say and what I do will be internalized. So when I find others working to bring greater awareness to the reality and beauty of our bodies as they are --- as opposed to the photoshopped and over-sexed images commonly found in mainstream media -- I'm all about celebrating and supporting.

In this case, I'm also dusting off my soapbox, standing tall and proud, and asking Facebook what the hell their justification is for censoring reality. Jenni Chiu first brought the controversy and her post is a brilliant commentary on the extreme double standard in Facebook's censorship of this particular project when images of sexy half-naked women in tiny bikinis don't seem to be an issue. Click the link. I'll wait for you to come back.

Read it yet? Good. Are you as mad as I am?

Make some noise. Write about it. Share the story on your Facebook stream. Sign the 4th Trimester Bodies Project petition on Change.org. I just did. My complex feels smaller already.

The Christian Mama's Guide meets Aspiring Mama

IMG_1613.JPG I was recently approached to review a copy of The Christian Mama's Guide to Having a Baby: Everything You Need to Know to Survive (and Love) Your Pregnancy by Erin MacPherson. My first question to the PR rep was if the author has ever seen my tweet stream or is aware that I have a potty mouth category in my blog post tags. I might not be pregnant and I might not go to church often enough (make that only for events with invitations and religious holidays involving rabbits and chocolate), but I had taken a peek at Erin's blog, liked her style, and figured my ability to say The Lord's Prayer in two languages qualified me to give my opinion on this book.

First, let's get the fine print out of the way. Again. Yes, I received the book for free. In fact, I didn't pay for it. And? There was no monetary exchange involved. But maybe more importantly, my blog belongs to me and so do the opinions expressed within. That being said?

This book is awesome.

With a bit of sass, a lot of humor, and a great blend of expert with a dash of girlfriend thrown in, Erin MacPherson covers pregnancy from the obsessive days of peeing on a stick to, "Holy Wow-the baby has to come out where?" While it might not be a necessary read for experienced mamas, I would definitely recommend to first-timers who are searching for a pregnancy book with a  practical and sweetly-stated spiritual side.

But enough with the pleasantries. It's time to talk. Read on for a fun interview with the author.

***

AM: Let's get down to brass tacks: I only see the inside of my church on Easter and for baptisms, I swear, take the Lord's name in vain on a (pretty) regular basis, and am fairly sure I would not have picked up your book had I not been contacted for a review. That being said, it's fantastic! I love how you focus on pregnancy and motherhood with tips on developing a closer spiritual relationship with God. Who do you see picking up The Christian Mama's Guide at the book stores? And what do you say to those (read: me) who may have strayed a bit from their faith?

Erin: I'm so grateful that you picked up my book even though it didn't exactly "fit" into your current mindset.  I appreciate you reading it and giving your honest feedback even if you didn't agree with everything I said.  My goal in writing the book was to create a comprehensive pregnancy guide for women that told them exactly what to expect and what not to expect-- all while pointing them towards Christ.  I do see Christian moms as my primary audience but I pray that my book would speak to any pregnant mom.

AM: I liked your book. Will you like to me and tell me you like my blog? Feel free to lie if this is your first time here.

Erin: Ha!  It IS my first time visiting your blog but I DO like it.  There aren't many blogs out there for writers AND moms and you've done a brilliant job of combining two totally unrelated themes.

AM: Piggy-backing off of #2, you *do* know I swear on my blog, right? Related: I promise to behave for this interview. Response?

Erin: I did NOT know that.  Girl, I have friends from all over the world and blogosphere and while I choose not to swear on MY blog, I definitely have friends who do.  I make it a point to act like a "Christian" on my blog and in life because I want women to know of my love for Christ, but I'm also not one to judge.  If I holed up in a corner and only associated with people who did the things that I did, it'd be a very lonely existence, wouldn't it?

AM: Fact or fiction: praying really, really hard will make all labor pains magically disappear.

Erin: Fiction.  Well, I don't want to put God in a box so I'm going to go ahead and say that God COULD take my labor pains away if he wanted to, but so far, no matter how much I prayed and moaned and groaned, labor still really hurt for me.  And, similarly, I've been praying and moaning for two weeks now that God would make my water break or put me into labor again and I'm still huge and pregnant... so that's not working so well either.

AM: You talk about pretty much every aspect of pregnancy, labor, and the first few days after baby arrives in The Christian Mama's Guide. And you do it with adorable sass and an authoritative but encouraging manner. So my question is: Can we go shoe shopping together?

Erin: Yes.  Please.  My feet have been swollen for weeks and I really want to wear something other than these flip flops.  I need someone to help me find something hip and fun like Gladiator sandals or wedges... and I'm just not hip enough to be able to tell the tacky duds from the up-and-coming trends.  But if you're looking for someone to help you, let me warn you ahead of time... I'm not the best at doling out shoe advice but I will definitely buy you an iced coffee and chat with you while you try on a million pairs.

AM: My favorite part of pregnancy was the part that involved getting pregnant. The resulting nine months are not exactly on my list of things I want to do again (read: hyperemisis gravidarum, three hospitalizations for dehydration, crippling sciatic pain, and feet that got too fat for anything but flip flops. And yet, after reading The Christian Mama's Guide, I kinda, sorta, almost want to get pregnant again. This makes me think you would make a kick-a...I mean, kick-butt hypnotist. Have you ever considered that as a second career choice?

Erin: I hate hate hate hate hate (did I mention HATE) being pregnant.   I've been hospitalized for hyperemesis gravidarum EIGHT times during this pregnancy (and over the course of my three pregnancies, it's been something like 17 times.  And, I swear, I answered the last question about my feet being too swollen for anything but flip flops before I read this one... so, basically, you've read my mind.  BUT, I wrote the book when I was NOT pregnant and it turns out pregnancy memories turn awfully sweet once you're holding a precious baby in your arms, dont' they?  Anyway, I don't want be be enticing anyone to go through torture again, but I do have to say that in the end, it's always (always) worth it.  In fact, ask me in three weeks after this baby is born and I bet I'll be telling you how wonderful pregnancy is.

AM: You asked for potty training advice (on your blog). As the proud mama of a recently potty-trained almost four-year-old, allow me to shed some light on the subject: pray for patience. It will happen when they are da..uh..darned good and ready. But turnabout is fair play, so I'd like some advice, too. Please explain how I might avoid gaining 45 pounds the next time around...

Erin: Thank you for this.  I have a friend who just potty trained her one-and-a-half-year-old and she's just ranting about how EASY it was and how it just takes patience and dedication and well, darnit, I don't have patience and dedication and it took me almost a year to potty train my second.  And, she peed her pants yesterday while we were at Target.  I think you're right, they must be darned good and ready or you're going to end up with a lot of wet panties to clean.  As far as the 45 pounds, I can't help you.  I'm not sure how much weight I've gained this time (I conveniently avert my eyes at the doctor's office) but I'm sure it's not pretty.

AM: *Running out of material* *Thumbs through book again for more questions* *Lightbulb* *A-Ha!* What do you mean I was acting psychotic while I was pregnant? Have you been talking to The Husband? And if so, nothing he says is true.

Erin: Well, I certainly haven't acted psychotic at ALL during this pregnancy (Case in point:  I did NOT wake my husband up at 3 am this morning to tell him that he was "breathing too close to my pregnancy pillow")... but apparently a lot of women (not me, of course) get all hormonal and cranky when they're pregnant.  Who knew that being 50 pounds overweight and throwing up every 10 minutes could do that to you?!

AM: Let's just pretend I was maybe considering possibly thinking about trying for another baby. With me? Great. Now talk me out of it but not really.

Erin: I'm 38 and a half weeks pregnant so I'm not really in the place to be talking about the glories of pregnancy.  But, I do know that with both of my other kids I swore up and down that I'd never (ever ever ever) get pregnant again and then did it anyway.  And, I can also say that I've never (ever ever ever) regretted my second pregnancy since the day I held my daughter.  And, again, email me in two weeks and I bet I'll say the same thing about my third.  Plus, I have to say that maternity clothes and flip flops are SO much cuter these days than they were six years ago when I was pregnant with #1.  That might be my imagination, but if that's not incentive to get knocked up, I don't know what is.

AM: Will there be a Christian Mama's Guide to Not Going Crazy the First Time Your Kid has a Public Tantrum in the Toy Section at Target? 'Cuz I would totally buy that.

Erin: I've been scheming The Christian Mama's Guide to the Terrible One-and-a-Halfs but perhaps your idea is better.  And, if you want my advice, get an iced vanilla latte at the Starbucks at the front of Target and when your kid starts throwing a fit, turn across the aisle to the electronics section and yell "Hey, someone's kid is really losing it over here?  Does anyone know where his mom is?!"  Then stand back and enjoy your latte.  Works like a charm until your kid is old enough to say something like "Mommy?!  I don't see anyone ELSE throwing a fit!"

AM: Number three is on the way. Any new pregnancy insight to share with the world? Or does Fudge Ripple still reign supreme for cravings?

Erin: Insight, insight... let's see here.  Okay, so, I've gotten so huge that my maternity clothes don't really fit anymore but my husband's gym  shorts and shirts are perfect.  So, I've taken to running around in them.  But, apparently, my husband packs his gym bag the night before for his 5:30 am trek to the gym each morning (which kinda makes me wonder why he can't be that responsible about anything else?!)...and, apparently, husbands who arrive at the gym to find their gym bags scavenged at 5:30 am aren't super happy.  So, word to the wise:  Go ahead and steal your hubby's clothes but you might want to pre-warn him before you do.

And, pregnancy craving #1 at this moment:  Coconut Frappucinos.  They're new at Starbucks and so, so yummy.  And, they're coffee-free so they don't mess with my coffee aversion. BUT, word to the wise, if you have kids, it's NOT a good idea to share your coconut frap with them or you'll end up with a sugar-fueled meltdown (see question #9) which is NEVER fun when you're nine months pregnant.  Just sayin'.

***

It's giveaway time, people. Up for grabs is one copy of Erin's book. All you have to do is follow Erin on Twitter or stop by her Facebook page and click the like button. Stop back here and leave me a comment and boom.

Done.

Entries will be accepted through midnight, EST, on May 20.

Also? Good luck, Erin. That baby you're baking is almost here! And if you want my opinion, Daddy Mac is an entirely feasible baby name choice.

How My Children (and blogging) Saved My Writing

Welcome to Day 2 of Pauline's Stationary Blog Hop. Today's post is from Denise M. Swank, a busy mom and aspiring novelist.

P.S: I will resume regular programming next Monday. Until then, enjoy the specials on the menu. May I take your order?

I used to smart. I used to have ten gazillion brain cells. I used to do cross word puzzles, follow politics, KNOW THE ANSWERS ON JEOPARY. Yeah, I was a brainiac.

And then I had kids.

I used to think it was the actual giving birth that sucked the knowledge out of your head, but I have three biological and three adopted children. (yes, that’s six kids for those of you who struggle with simple math.) I continued to lose my mind exponentially with each addition.  I became a LOST addict, arguing theories and plausiblities because it stretched my mind. It made me think. For once, I had something to use my limited mental capacities on other than whether to buy Huggies or Pampers.

I also used to write. My life goal was to write a novel. I tried multiple times.  I had an issue with a thing called plot. Minor thing, right?  Eons ago, I started a historical romance. I lived in Joplin, Missouri so I researched the origins of the town (I found it quite fascinating) (Those of you familiar with Joplin, Missouri can stop snickering.) I was full of facts about the mining and city parks, a layout of the original town, etc. I had a  feisty dreamer for a heroine and a dashing rake for the hero (can anyone say cliché?) And I set them up, started writing (long hand, oh yeah Old School Rulz) and after awhile they stood around in the story asking me “WTF are we supposed to do now?”  Good question. I knew I needed conflict but I couldn’t figure it out. Everything I came up with sucked. I tried multiple attempts with other stories, some just in my own head some on paper, but always faced the same issue. Plot.

In 2007, I discovered blogging. My blog was a magic door to the world of writing. I had an immediate  audience, even if the audience happened to be about seven followers. But a funny thing happened when I blogged. I learned how to tell a story.

I wrote about my kids, naturally. My blog is titled There’s Always Room for One More because I had four children and was in the process of adopting my fifth. My children provided a plethora of fodder for posts but I couldn't just write “Jenna did the cutest thing.” I realized my post had to have a begging a middle and a end.

Duh, Sesame Street  already told me that.

(Apparently, I’m a slow learner. I blame my children and the massive brain cell massacre.)

The writing in my early posts needs some work, but I started grasping how to structure the stories -- how to set it up, tell what happened and wrap it up at the end.  I learned the art of self editing a post, how some thoughts or sentences slowed the story down and no matter how cute, needed to go (kill you're darlings.)  I learned there needed to not only be a story, but conflict and conflict resolution. 

About a year later, I found myself with over two hundred followers, people who loved to hear the stories about my kids. I loved writing my blog and entertaining readers with my wacky family but all that writing stirred my deep seated desire to write a novel.

So I did.

And guess what? I finished it.

Okay, so my first novel sucks. At least I know that, right? But I learned so much about writing with that first book that I don't consider it a waste of time. It was a stepping stone to getting better.  It also unlocked a flood gate of other stories of my own, none of which involved my kids.

I consider myself a full-time writer now. I’m currently writing my fifth manuscript since I started that first one fifteen months ago. Two have been edited and are currently under consideration by agents. (crossing fingers)(and toes) If I keep growing and writing, at some point I believe I will be published.

My blog is much neglected these days. Old readers occasionally email or Facebook me to say how much they miss it and honestly, sometimes I do too.  It was like a scrap book of memories, only I shared it with the world. But one thing I know, I will always be grateful for what it taught  me, the lasting memories of my kids and the connection I felt to people because of it. And just because she likes to get around, (*cough* internet whore *cough*) she has a website too:   Denise Grover Swank is an aspiring novelist who is currently at work on a young adult science fiction manuscript when not caring for the five children who still live at home. (Rumor has it the sixth ran off with the circus.) She occasionally, although very rarely, posts on her family blog There’s Always Room for One More  , but writes status updates about her kids’ exploits on Facebook (Denise Grover Swank) and stirs up frivolity and mayhem on Twitter. @DeniseMSwank  And just because she likes to get around, (*cough* internet whore *cough*) she has a website too:  http://www.denisegroverswank.com/