#47 ~ Without a Map

November 11, 2007 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Adoption, Beach, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Inspiration, LIfe, Memoir, Parenting Dilemmas, Post-Partum Depression, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity, Writing | 2 Comments
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Without a Map: A Memoir by Meredith Hall

I am angry. Correction. I am pissed. Really, I’m f*cking pissed off after reading this book. I am angry and hurt for Meredith in specific and for all women in general. That one woman should have lived through a teenage pregnancy is horrific to me. That this is by no means an isolated incident makes this even worse.

Meredith Hall became pregnant, at the age of 17. This happened after a non-conventional summer romance that ended with one sexual encounter on the beach before Anthony, five years her senior, returned to college. Meredith’s mother, who had been left to raise her three children as a single mother, also found love that summer with a hippy. After spending so many years using negative pressure to keep Meredith a virgin, she began staying out until all hours of the night herself. She, in fact, left Meredith alone at the beach most days while she worked with her new lover. Going from suffocating boundaries to nearly none at all made that summer confusing for Meredith. She ended up paying dearly for it.

Meredith’s family was seen as an upstanding family in their small New Hampshire town. After her father left, Meredith’s mother became extremely involved in her local Protestant church. Once it was discovered that she was pregnant, Meredith was permanently expelled from her school. She was then abandoned immediately by her church and her mother. When Meredith’s father asked what they were going to do about the pregnancy, her mother simply replied, “She can’t stay here.” Meredith went to live with her father and step-mother, but being forced to stay alone in the house (and mainly in her upstairs room) for the remainder of her pregnancy was of no comfort. There was no one for her to cry with. There was no one to explain what was happening to her body. She was not allowed to take an active role in the decision to place her unborn son for adoption – except she was forced to set up a meeting with the baby’s father by herself and get him to sign the adoption papers. I will not even get into the verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of the obstetrician who allowed an abusive family adopt the baby.

I read this portion of the book on the plane from Atlanta to Denver last week. It was enough to make me want to lash out at society. Sex is a shame that is only worn by women, and most especially when they get pregnant outside of socially acceptable settings. There was no shame for Meredith’s father when he left his family with almost nothing to settle down with another woman. Yet, no one could speak to or about Meredith because her unplanned pregnancy was so shameful. I could scream.

So, Meredith was told either directly or indirectly by everyone who was supposed to love her that she was a dirty, shameful person. One sexual act and your life is judged as unworthy of any respect. You are shunned by the rest of society. She was not even allowed to have a roommate at the alternative school she graduated from after the birth of her son. No one wanted her to have the opportunity to even share her experiences with another girl for fear of “infecting” the others. Yes, because this was all working out so well for Meredith, right? Wouldn’t every young woman want to sign herself up for a complete societal shunning? So, alone in her grief and full of shame, Meredith did a lot of wandering after she graduated. The relationships she became involved with were not (in my opinion) good enough for her. They were only good enough for a woman who thought she was tarnished and trash. The reactions to her pregnancy became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is what happens when people and institutions only use principles to guide their choices and reactions instead of love.

I have the greatest respect for Meredith Hall. She ultimately discovered her own self-worth. She has raised two exceptional sons and has established a warm and familial relationship with her first son. Due to circumstances, she was not able to ever confront her parents about how they abandoned her when she needed them the most. Her mother developed MS. When she needed her children the most, Meredith did not abandon her. Although it was painful for her never to get the opportunity to even tell her mother how the shunning impacted her life, she was an ever faithful daughter. Even though her brother and sister’s families were always invited to her father’s house, Meredith was not allowed because of an argument with her step-mother. Still, she made a point of meeting with her father before he died to tell him that she loved him.

This memoir stirred up many personal things in my heart. I can only hope that I can forgive as Meredith did. She was able to do for her parents the very thing that they and her church failed to teach her by example.

Meredith, thank you for sharing your story.

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To buy this book, click here.

#42 ~ The Madonnas of Leningrad

November 5, 2007 at 4:17 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Post-Partum Depression | Leave a comment
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The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

What happens to the elderly people while they are experiencing dementia or suffering from Alzheimer’s disease? Debra Dean explores this question in her debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad. It tells the story of Marina, an elderly woman who emigrated to the United States from Russia after World War II, and her family as they deal with her declining mental capacity. While honestly portraying the difficulties of caring for such a loved one, it is a novel full of beauty, solace, and hope.

When Marina slips away from her family in the present, she relives a significant time in her youth. Her early adulthood coincided with World War II. She lived in Leningrad during the long winter within which Germany’s offensive left her city in rubble without an adequate amount of food. Bombings left her apartment building partially destroyed. She lived with her Aunt and Uncle in the basement of the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad’s great art museum. This is where Marina goes – back to a time filled with art in the midst of starvation and death.

It is interesting how the people in Leningrad, including Marina, coped with the isolation, cold, and starvation – they obsessed about one thing. For Marina, it was memorizing the Hermitage as it was before they took all of the paintings down and shipped them to (supposed) safety. As part of her mental tour of the museum, Marina also memorizes paintings – mostly of Madonnas – that had been hidden prior to Marina’s arrival.

I have by no means experienced the physical and mental suffering that those people must have experienced, but when I am in a place in my life where I am having difficulty coping, I turn to those same types of obsessive thoughts. When I was in the midst of PPD, I would constantly relive Allison’s birth – most specifically replaying it in my head to identify those things that I could have done differently (read better). I would be interested to know how prevalent it is to revert inward like that.

It was also interesting to read this book from the perspective of Marina’s husband and daughter. How difficult it must be to have to care for a grown adult as if she were a toddler. If that weren’t bad enough, to have this woman whom you have loved with all your heart not even recognize you. The scene at the wedding reception was especially heartbreaking. My Uncle Ryan, my father’s oldest brother, is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. I remember him as being young, intelligent, and vibrant. Now he seems even more feeble in many ways than his 90-year-old father. I hope that he can find a place somewhere in his soul to bring him comfort as he slips further away from us. This is the hope that Dean’s book has brought to me.

The Madonna’s of Leningrad is a poignant book about the life of the mind. Still also, it is a book about art and the meaning it brings. I believe the human elements of this story make this book a worthwhile read for everyone. If you love art and architecture, the descriptions of the Hermitage Museum and the art is contained will be an added bonus.

If I Had a Hammer

September 13, 2007 at 4:18 pm | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, LIfe, Memoir, Post-Partum Depression | 1 Comment

I like Rosie O’Donnell.  I used to watch her talk show frequently and it was sure to make me laugh.  She made A League of Their Own for me.  I may not always agree with her politics, but I tune out when celebrities talk about that for the most part anyway.  I don’t personally turn to entertainers when that topic comes up.  I heard about her fight with Tom Selleck on her talk show way back in the day as well as her blow-out with Elizabeth Hassellback earlier this year.  I didn’t watch or read the exchange.  I know all about that kind of drama in the work place in my own reality.  The last thing I need is to revisit it on my own time.  I’m hoping that Rosie’s recent trend toward the serious ends soon.  I miss her comedy.

The reason I bring this is up is because I caught a headline on People about some of the contents of her upcoming book, Celebrity Detox.  In it, she apparently goes into detail about her proclivity to break her own bones.  This really saddens me one more than one level.  First, that her home life was such a disfunctional place that she would get to a point where breaking her own bones seemed good or logical to her.  Mostly, maybe, it saddens me that she is being so public about all of this.  I’m not saying to hide this in shame.  No way!  But does a person have to reveal every single detail of an abusive situation to be honest?  I’m wondering if being this open about everything in her life isn’t just another manifestation of her self-destructiveness.  It makes me feel all the more sad for Rosie as a child.  Not only did she suffer, but now the intimate details of all that suffering are being laid naked under the spotlight.  Why?

On another blog I was very frank about some of the things that I experienced during my battle with post-partum depression.  It felt good to know that I was – in that medium – about to explain exactly how I saw things and how they felt.  They weren’t pretty.  There was one post, though, that went over “the Rosie edge” so to speak.  I wrote it later in the afternoon and posted it.  By 2 or 3 the following morning, I removed it.  It felt good to write it out, but it wasn’t meant for public consumption.  It was sacred to every part of me and it needed to be kept that way.  Removing that post did not in any way say that it was something I should continue to feel ashamed about.  Removing it honored my experience even more than writing about it.  My deepest pains should be treasured for what they are and what they mean to me.  The more I thought about that post being “out there,” the more I felt that I was exploiting and even prostituting that part of me.  I found that it was time for me to be kind to myself both in the past and in the present.  Doing so was then being kind to my future.

I have no idea who, if anyone, read that post before I took it down.  For that, I am thankful.  Rosie is not going to have that luxury, especially once the book is published.

Rosie, I beg you to go back.

#23 ~ I Am Charlotte Simmons

May 18, 2007 at 6:31 pm | Posted in Books, College Life, LIfe, Post-Partum Depression, Reading | Leave a comment
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I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

Have you ever read a book like mad just to get the darn thing over with? That’s what I’m doing right now. It’s not that I Am Charlotte Simmons is a bad book. It’s not. Tom Wolfe is a wonderful author. Reading this book is like getting a second hand look at the thought processes I had when I was in the midst of the worst two years of my life suffering from PPD. Charlotte’s situation and neurosis are very different from mine, but it all stems from “perfection anxiety” that is entirely focused on the body. I recognized this pretty quickly after the first time I found myself yelling inside my head, “If she thinks about that again I’m going to throw this book against the wall.” If Tom Wolfe were to write a novel about me, Charlotte would do the same thing. “Get over it already!”

While I’m determined to finish every book I start this year, it is tempting to skip over some of those page and a half long paragraphs. I just can’t wait to finish this book. It’s painful to get such a close-up look at how crazy things were in my head while I thought I was thinking and reacting in a perfectly rational way.

Tom Wolfe accurately paints a portrait of someone whose unrealistic expectations for herself and her body morph into a deep depression and anxiety when experiences related to those expectations head south. That isn’t all that is included in this book. It’s a pretty interesting look at modern college life. I Am Charlotte Simmons is different from anything I’ve read thus far. I don’t regret reading the book, but I’ll be very happy when Charlotte and my experiences with PPD are put someplace on a shelf and get lost in the dust.

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