Defense against the darkness

“Welcome, everyone,” the instructor said, her legs folded into a neat lotus position, her face beaming a peaceful, earth-mother glow. “Let’s start by going around the room and sharing what brings you joy.”

It was my second day at postpartum yoga, one of countless mommy & me activities I’d joined shortly after Mac was born, and I was the first of 15 or so new moms, sitting in a semi-circle of yoga mats, to take up the question.

Mac takes yoga class very seriously.

I’ve never been comfortable with public speaking, even in an environment as safe as this one, where half the audience didn’t speak English yet, and the other half was consumed with the newborn beetling on a blanket in front of them. So I was relieved that this, at least, was an easy question, one that I’d developed a stock answer to years ago.

So much easier than last week’s “What has motherhood brought into your life?” (My answer: uh, a baby?)

“I love to swim in the ocean,” I said confidently, keeping one hand on four-week old Mac as though she might suddenly decide to get up and run away, “especially when the water is warm and there are beautiful fish to look at.”

Nailed it, I thought, relieved that I’d redeemed last week’s poor performance.

Mom #2: “My daughter’s laugh just lights up my world.”

Mom #3: “Getting to share in my son’s learning experience.”

As the sharing rippled around the room, my anxiety ratcheted up. Every other mom in that room shared something about her child as her source of joy. I was the only one who said anything even remotely unrelated to family.

Dammit. Another F in the grade book of motherhood.

The first time I saw Mac in the NICU—really, the first time I saw her, save a few blurry seconds on my chest right after her birth—I remember a feeling of utter detachment. Foreignness, not familiarity.

When we brought her home, I knew I was supposed to talk to her, to find joy in this new life in my charge. I knew I was supposed to sing and cuddle and nest, but my nonsense songs sounded phoned in, my narration of our daily activities forced. I wasn’t quite sure to make of this creature whose arrival had shattered the sense of self I’d spent over 30 years cultivating. I felt reduced to cracked nipples, a deflated belly, and various traumatized body parts to be poked, measured, stitched, consumed.

All around me, I heard my peers singing the joys of motherhood.

Parenting a newborn bored me out of my mind.

They reveled in the gifts of maternity leave.

I itched to sneak back into my inbox.

They spoke in rapture of the unmatched love they felt for these squishy new lives.

The strongest feeling I could muster was ambivalence.

As soon as I was able to leave the house, I found myself taking long walks with Mac in the stroller. I didn’t know what else to do with her, or with myself. We walked against the darkness and against my raw emotional state and through the long still hours of the day.

I had nothing left that was mine, and, I believed, nothing to give. All around me, the darkness closed in, and it left me ragged and brittle. I couldn’t summon the reserves to return calls from loved ones and perform the happy new mom dance. The red badge tallying up new voicemails from friends inched upward, unchecked. At least once a day I’d dissolve into tears for no apparent reason. Over and over, I counted down the minutes of each monotonous cycle of nurse-nap-now what?

I was sure I could muscle my way through it, through sheer force of will. I signed up for every mommy & me group I could find. I went to postpartum depression support groups. Postpartum anxiety groups. Homebirth* and babywearing and stroller fitness classes. I set a record for answering icebreaker questions wrong. I kept adding more and more activities to my calendar, all the while hoping I’d uncover a diagnosis for my disinterest.

If I could name it, maybe I could find a way to cross that threshold into feeling like a mom.

They say the first three months—the fourth trimester—are the uphill battle. I’d say eight months is closer to when I began feeling like I might come out the other side of this reasonably intact.

There has been no watershed moment, just a series of small cracks in the darkness. The moment when I hear Mac and Nathan playing in the next room, and I find myself thinking, spontaneously, “That sounds like fun,” and wish I were in there. The moment when her happy shrieks make me laugh harder than I have in months.

I wish I could say that I wasn’t still emotionally raw. There are still jagged, brittle days, when my resilience is whisper-thin and the darkness closes in over my head. There are still mornings when the prospect of leaving the house or checking even one item off my to-do list leaves me feeling defeated.

I’ve found no salve, no drug, no practice, no magic cure. It’s just time. Time that I’m still taking. It’s finding my mom tribe, whose company helps me feel less broken. It’s getting creative with making space for myself. It’s letting Mac’s smiles and babbles start to knit together a defense against the darkness.

I’m 16 months postpartum and I’m still finding my way through.  

*Luckily for me, just intending to have a home birth means you’re welcome at these groups. So I got my cake epidural and ate it too. 😉


You know what you need?

You know what hasn’t changed since Mac has been born? The things that make me happy.

If you’re surfing (drowning in?) the postpartum emotional riptide, you know what you need?*

The same stuff you always need.

If bliss to you is a bubble bath, take as many bubble baths as your pruny toes can handle. Binge reading YA lit? Find a way to escape into a fantasy land made for 12 year olds.

For me, the things that reliably turn my frown upside down are exercise and time with my oldest and dearest friends. The ones who always lift you up and give you energy, even if you’re an introvert and generally have diminished capacities for social interactions.

I got a LOT of that over a visit to Tahoe for my aunt’s milestone birthday and some quality Jamie time.

We spent time outside playing in the snow with the Surge and the Kamagon: two pieces of equipment that customize the weight on by filling with water. The water sloshing around inside means you get a lot of stability work, too. Between the snow and the lake and the water sloshing around in our equipment, there was water, water everywhere!

Jamie always makes me work out, but she is nice about it: for example, her Kamagon ball is WAY heavier than mine. Mine was practically empty. That’s one of the things I think are so great about water-based equipment: if you’re shy about how much weight you’re working with, nobody will know how full or empty your Surge or Kamagon are.

The equipment meets you where you are, and you can be all stealth about how hardcore (or not) you are.

prAna hoodie, #sweatpink laces, pink Kamagon.

The difference in our resistance reminds me of a time that we took a HIIT class while traveling in New York. I forget where the class was, but I DO remember it started at 6am and we’d been out til 3am the night before.

It was a ROUGH class. I could smell the adventures from the night before coming out of my pores and the room seemed to spin on its axis every time I stood up from a squat or a plank. Burpees were a sick, sick joke.

The best part about it, though, was that the instructor switched our names. So when I was dropping to my knees for pushups or dragging myself too slowly from one exercise to the next, he was yelling at “Jamie” to pick up those knees or hustle. The real Jamie, of course, was doing everything perfectly, while I snickered secretly at his mistake and tried not to throw up.

Anyway, I was in much better shape for this workout with the Surge and the Kamagon while my awesome dad braved the cold and the wind to take pictures.


prAna hoodie, pink Kamagon, Canada mittens from Susie!

And hooray for exercise. The time when you don’t want to do it is the best time to actually make it happen.

And then we took Mac snowshoeing for the very first time. She loved it.

Also, I love babies in snowsuits. SO MUCH.

And the thing that makes me happiest, hands down?  Snuggle time with furry friends. <3 you, Abbie.

Stay sweaty, stay happy, my friends.

*I don’t actually know what you need. I’m not a professional. This is just a guess. 


In 2017, I will

2016 started on such a high note, with the birth of my daughter and the opening of Flex & Flow.

2016 wound down to a devastating close. It was the year that showed us that the glass ceiling is disinclined to break, but will take advantage of your proximity by stabbing you in the back and grabbing your lady parts.

I took a break from the internet, from the news and social media, for a few weeks in December. I had to break free of the masochistic tendency to open up the comments section on any news article (why? WHY?) and to step away from the trolls that sank me into a major depression about how much our country hates women.

Anyway, I digress. The whole point of this was to step away, to recenter, to come back with renewed energy.

To stop feeding the trolls with my attention.

The last week of the year is typically easy on my inbox—thank god for small mercies—and it’s a time I typically use to step back and plan and power through some projects that hadn’t been given the attention they deserved earlier in the year. This year, this week, I’ve been focused on how to change my mindset from this dark shitstorm that closed out 2016 to one of empowerment and action.

Our theme for 2017 is #IAmEmpowered. The community will be rallying around positive action, and I’m so eager to see my community lift up inspiration and inclusiveness after a hateful, divisive year.

I’m tacking on to that my word for 2017, which is actually two words, because #IAmEmpowered to make it so, dammit.

Begin again. 

Did I mention this has been a brittle, tough year? My resilience is beaten down. It’s saggier, less springy, and it has dark circles under its eyes. In the moments when bouncing back feels too fucking hard, I repeat these words to myself, again and again, until they lose their meaning and become pure sound.

Begin again. Begin again. Begin again. Begin again. Begin again. 

In 2017, I refuse to let anyone strip me of my power. I refuse to give up. I will make change and I will stand up for what I believe is right and I will keep hammering at that fucking ceiling.

In 2017, I will not let little setbacks add up and become insurmountable. I will begin again.

Bring it, 2017.






Mackenzie: 15, Alyse: 0

So this whole mom-ing thing is kind of a mind fuck. Each time you think you’ve got it down, you’ve got it locked and loaded, you have a plan and a system and you’re going to WIN the the whole “I can have it all!” myth, the baby just so casually changes her mind.

With no notice whatsoever. 

And then all that carefully laid groundwork just goes to … crap. Down the drain. And then you understand that that cute toothless grin and the “Braaaahbabagah gah gah” actually means “Nice try, sucker!”

mac in ergo pumpkin hat

I thought I had this whole thing figured out. Okay, not actually this whole thing, but I had at least found a solution to consistently getting exercise and feeling human after yet another night during which no chunk of sleep dared cross the threshold of more-than-two-hours.

I had our routine buttoned up tight. At night, I prepped the stroller with the 10 million things you can’t leave the house without. I laid out my running clothes so there would be NO EXCUSES. In the morning, I’d get up, change the baby,  brush my teeth, and go for a run. I bought the stroller, I committed to leaving the house without brushing my hair, and I even committed to running.


Which, as y’all know, is a sign of desperate times.

Need more proof? I even waited until AFTER the run to drink coffee.

And then. THEN.

Mackenzie decided she hates the stroller.

She screams bloody murder whenever I put her in it. And no matter how high I crank up the volume on my headphones, I can still hear her.

bob stroller wine in cupholder
Yes, there is a bottle of wine in the cupholder. Now you know the best feature of the BOB.

And even if I couldn’t hear her, and just kept my gaze up and on the road ahead, the concerned looks on fellow morning runners’ faces was evidence enough of the baby torture ensuing below. I’ll have a big heaping pile of mom guilt for breakfast, k thx.

I can’t tell you how many ‘runs’ have ended up with me carrying the baby in one hand, pushing the stroller with the other, and overall feeling like a not-even-sweaty chump.

So, clearly, Mackenzie doesn’t want me to run. And I gotta say, I secretly love her for it.

However, that does take me back to … not working out. At all. (Yeah, don’t believe what my Instagram tells you).

It’s insane to me that my whole job is about healthy living, and I can barely make a workout happen once a week. Yep, this week, I managed one actual workout. Yoga on Sunday morning, which perfectly coincided with Mac’s nap. And also Nathan wanted to take a nap. So I snuck away from my sleepy family for a quick hit of power vinyasa.

yoga elevator selfie
This Instagram post actually told the truth. I really did go to yoga. I swear.

Where does that leave other women who have regular office, non-fitness jobs? How do they do it?

The thing is, I know all the information. I know that exercising makes me better at my business and a better mom, wife, etc. I know that it’s all about priorities. I know that failing to plan means planning to fail. I know to crank out a few squats while she pulls up to standing and to plank while she “reorganizes” her bookshelf. I know all those things, and I still can’t get ‘er done.

The truth is, when I have time without the baby, I prioritize work. Without fail. (Except that one time I collapsed on the couch and read gossip blogs for about 30 seconds before falling asleep, hard. That was a weird day).


The outline I started this post with ended with a neat little kicker. Here’s how I planned to wrap up this stream-of-consciousness white flag of despair:

I overcame my lack of exercise by doing X and Y to work out with my baby! After finished working out with this pumpkin, I transformed it into local organic baby food, and did I mention I’m crushing it at work?! #MomLife #WIN #LEANINBITCHES

I also intended this post to be a sponsored one, but all these feelings I didn’t realize I had derailed the whole plan. So after I finished venting my feelings here, I also wrote this sunnier post, with cuter clothes.

The truth is, there’s no nicely packaged little lesson I can tie a pretty bow on. This shit is hard. And I only have one kid, and a supportive partner. FUCK.


The one thing I keep coming back to is a little mantra a former yoga instructor used to tell us in class:

It’s never too late to start from scratch. 

She’d say that in pretty much every class, usually while holding us hostage for at least 15 minutes. Sometimes her classes would run 30 or 45 minutes over. I used to resent how late she’d go—didn’t she know we all had somewhere to be?—but now I’m grateful that I COULD stay late in yoga, and for that nugget of wisdom that I might not have remembered otherwise.

I feel like I’m starting from scratch, every single day. So there you have it.

mac mirror laughing

Or as Mac would say, “Braaaahbabagah gah gah.”

How to get the death glare

2015-06-01 10.14.41

There are a few tried and true ways of getting a death glare from a pregnant lady.

Want a death glare from me? It’s really very simple to get one.

Make a comment, any comment at all, about what I’m eating. For example:

“You’re eating cereal.” —> Death glare.

“Are we out of potato chips?” –> Death glare.

“I thought your doctor said …” –> Death glare.

“Have you been drinking enough water?” –> Death glare.

There you go. Any of those will work, or you can get creative and come up with your own.