Aug 6 2014
I am 5 years old. I am learning to spell my last name. N as in Nancy. A. U. M as in Mary. B U R G. No, that’s B U R G. I decide that when I grow up, I am going to change my last name to Whitney, like my best friend Elizabeth who lives next door. I’m not sure why her name seems so much better than mine, but it does.
I am 8 years old. I start learning about the Holocaust in school. My egocentric child’s mind becomes hyper-focused on figuring out whether or not I would have survived. I know that my father’s family were all German Jews (I wouldn’t come close to the truth of my mother’s family for years), but I have the blue eyes, light skin, and straight blonde hair that was the Aryan ideal. I tell myself that my looks would have saved me.
I am 14 years old. I am going to Spain for the summer on a student trip. I find my fellow travelers in the international terminal of Kennedy airport. I introduce myself; they respond with confused looks. “Naumburg? You’re Carla Naumburg? That’s funny. You don’t look Jewish.” Apparently they had been studying the roster for the trip, trying to decide who was Jewish and who wasn’t. I didn’t know how to respond. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 21 2014
Since the moment I found out I was pregnant for the first time, I have been terrified of stairs. My anxiety about falling down a flight of stairs peaked after my first daughter was born, and looking back, I see now that it was just one symptom of the post-partum anxiety I didn’t realize I was suffering at the time.
In the mental health world we refer to them as “intrusive thoughts”–those upsetting or disturbing images that seem to come out of nowhere. They’re a hallmark of depression and anxiety, and in the weeks and months after each of my daughters were born, they came on fast and furious. Most of the intrusive images involved one of my girls dying; I wrote them off as yet another symptom of becoming a neurotic Jewish mother. But I just couldn’t escape my fear of the wooden staircase inside our house. I was terrified of falling down it while holding one of the girls; I obsessively donned a pair of thick cotton socks with rubber grips on the soles each time I had to walk downstairs, even in the heat of summer in a house without air-conditioning. I would walk slowly and carefully, taking each stair as if it was covered in ice.
It’s been four years since my second daughter was born, and the anxiety has dwindled down to average Jewish mother levels, on the high end of neurotic. But I’m still scared of the stairs. I still walk slowly down them, and I can’t stop myself from reminding the girls to slow down, look ahead, and pay attention each time they step off the top step. I always feel ridiculous for doing it, of course, and I try to tell myself to calm down and stop nagging, but I just can’t seem to keep my mouth shut. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 2 2014
Our son’s last day of Jewish preschool has come and gone, and there are still times I cry, but not for the reasons you may think.
I wasn’t one of those moms posting on Facebook about my son’s first day at preschool and my overflowing tears and anxieties. We took a picture of him outside with his backpack–which was posted on Facebook–and drove on, knowing he was going to have a great time. This mom wasn’t sad or worried, not one bit.
Deciding to send our son to preschool was fueled by a couple of factors: our son’s need for more activity and my history with Postpartum Depression (PPD). We were expecting our second child in the fall, and a difficult pregnancy kept my son home with little opportunity for active play, which he desperately needed. I also felt it was important to prepare for the possibility I may experience PPD again; being proactive was important to me. Read the rest of this entry →
May 20 2014
My children are watching TV and I am huddled on the kitchen floor. Let’s be honest, I am hiding. I don’t want to get them another drink. I don’t want to get them something else to eat. I don’t want to get them something yummy.
Who knew the job that would prepare me the most for my future as a mother was being a waitress?
To tell you the truth, I have no more patience for my two children. I love them tremendously–of course I do! I am just exhausted. I am tired of giving so much of myself for their every need. And I’ve been doing it for six years. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 25 2014
Bedbugs began to invade my imagination two months after my daughter was born. I was readying to attend a conference when a friend casually mentioned the hotel was featured on the Bedbug Registry. Bedbug Registry? What was that? I headed to the website and started rooting around. I researched bedbugs. And that was when life would be divided in half–before my daughter was born when bedbugs did not exist for me and after the birth of my daughter when bedbugs were everywhere.
Granted, I was poised for calamity. As a hypochondriac daughter of a doctor, I have been anticipating diseases since I was 8 years old when decided I had cystic fibrosis. (That would be followed by brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, mad cow disease, and schizophrenia). All that pent-up anxiety was lying patiently dormant until I gave birth to my daughter in the dead of winter. And then, as if a portal had been opened, all the fears seeped out at once.
Typical Google searches while breastfeeding in the middle of the night: “SIDS,” “suffocation,” “lice,” “preference of daddy over mommy,” “eczema,” “attachment disorder,” “arsenic in drinking water.” And then, after a quick perusal of the Bedbug Registry, I added “bedbugs” to the list. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 7 2014
This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a mother. This Shabbat we read Parashat Tetzaveh. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
I’d like to say that I’m the kind of woman who’s never given much thought to clothing and what I wear. I’d like to say that I’ve always just sort of thrown something on, and effortlessly, look pulled together all the time, or don’t, but either way, no matter. I’d like to remember my child-self as one who didn’t think tights were scratchy, who didn’t notice if her undershirt was tucked in, who didn’t have an obsessive penchant for the colors purple and orange, who didn’t mind wearing headbands, two-piece bathing suits, or ankle socks.
I’d like to say that I was and still am highly unselfconscious.
Except I am totally self-conscious, and have always been a bit of a nut when it comes to clothes. I’m not talking in a clotheshorse kind of way, where I’m off spending money on labels and status pieces. No, I’m talking about the much more existential and far less useful ways in which I obsess about how I look. I’ve never worn a bikini, I don’t really enjoy being photographed, and often notice myself fidgeting–with my clothing, my hair, whatever. While my neuroses are (mostly) in check, a healthy dose of anxiety runs through my bloodstream at all times, just to keep me on my toes. And often, this delightful kind of crazy rears its ugly head as I try and dress myself on any given day. Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 30 2014
Depression and motherhood do not mix. Before I was married I was aware that my offspring could possibly carry the same genetic predisposition that I have for depression. I don’t mean the “blues” or feeling sad for a couple of days; what I do mean is months of feeling hopeless, helpless, sleeping in excess, and feeling completely alone.
Unfortunately for me, I produce a low amount of serotonin which is needed to maintain a cheery outlook, and to just feel balanced. Add some generalized anxiety to this and you’ve got what has been my life for the past 20 years. I have learned great skills in dealing with it and know when I need to re-group. I also have very supportive family and wonderful friends. I am actually lucky as I have only dealt with a few instances of clinical depression and have come out the other side each time. What works for me is talking and medication. There it is…no stigma.
2. My Daughter
My daughter is one of the happiest people I know. I constantly watch her in amazement. I see her easy-going demeanor and I wonder, where the hell did you come from? My husband is not exactly laid back and I bring the depressive/anxious traits into the mix, so how did we end up with this happy, sparkly child? It baffles me on a daily basis. She is not overly dramatic when something does not go her way and accepts things in a positive way. She is by no means perfect, but I can’t imagine her ever being sad for a long period of time. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 4 2013
What’s the worst that could happen?
It’s my mother’s favorite hypothetical, though she means it literally. And while the answers remain unspoken, the preemptive nervous energy abounds.
I’d remained oblivious to her anxiety in my coddled childhood, and dodged it after college when I lived alone in midtown Manhattan, accepting drinks from strangers and letting potential serial killers escort me home. But as soon as I got married to a nice Jewish boy, priming my womb for babies, Mom began finding solutions to “the worst” before I even perceived a problem. Sketchy first apartment? Better move to a nicer block. Leftover Chinese food? Better not eat it. It’s a boy? Better hire a baby nurse to care for the circumcision wound. Can’t be too careful…it could get infected. Our family had moved within 10 minutes of my parents before my baby was 6 months old. With my mother’s vigilance and diligence, my own reflexive panic began to show.
So it was no surprise that I didn’t know how to deal with a standard carpool request: another work-at-home parent offered to alternate days at preschool pick-up. Everyone did it, I assured my mother. (All the cool parents did it–just like the cool kids in junior high smoked cigarettes at the Exxon station before the first bell.) Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 24 2013
It was, as they say, a dark and stormy night. The power had gone out hours ago, and we’d put the kids to bed on the early side with flashlights and tiny battery-powered votive candles. That was when it was just a heavy rain.
But just a few hours later, the noise outside was cacophonous. Rain slapped the windows with a fury. Trees snapped like twigs, as gusts of wind pounded our old house and sent broken telephone poles like toothpicks scattered into the street. The dark sky lit up over and over with jagged lines of lightning, and an odd green luminosity that we later learned was produced by exploding electrical generators.
Among the many miracles of that Superstorm Sandy night a year ago: our old house remained standing and intact, and our children, including our week and a half old baby, O, slept through the night unperturbed. I, on the other hand, huddled under my husband’s arm as though he could protect me if a tree fell into our house. Submerged in exhaustion, fear and postpartum stress, I cried. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 21 2013
My father died when I was just shy of 5 and my mom struggled with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. My extended family vacillated between heroic and toxic. To feel safe, I made wishes in the form of books, writing stories from age 5 about intact families and kids who went to Disney World instead of the child shrink’s office. And I played God, too. At age 7, I remember telling myself that if I could make it home on my bike in four minutes or less, I would be safe for 24 hours.
Years later, as an adult who had carved out a life for herself and largely rid herself of the toxicity associated with family (I don’t have the secret but boy, moving to a new continent helped!), I was happy, feeling distant from the incessant fear and anxiety of my childhood.
And then I saw the two pink lines on my pregnancy test. Read the rest of this entry →