The Second City

Chicago

*Bottom left photo, by Christine Brizendine of Dabble Me This Photography

We just came back from a spectacular family vacation in Chicago.  We had a such a wonderful time, I already want to go back. We had planned to go back to Paris initially, but my husband was wary of traveling two six-hour flights there and back, with an infant on our laps. It made sense, it wasn’t going to be very comfortable for any of us. Since we had never been to Chicago and had said that we needed to check the city out, we decided to jump on the chance this summer.

And what a great surprise and gem Chicago has turned out to be!
We started our adventure with open minds and keen curiosity, and it was the greatest way to be. The people were so warm and friendly, even during the soggiest of rainy days.  My husband and I had planned on doing solo outings that we both enjoyed while the other stayed in the hotel during the baby’s bedtime. He had an opportunity to go to a nearby jazz club and indulge in his love of the genre; he even met a great few people who invited him to sit along at their table. The next morning, he thanked me for his time alone – it was exactly what he needed. He’d been working non-stop and the fall harvest is about to start in a few weeks, I think that time for him came at the perfect moment.

Photo by K. Armstrong

Photo by K. Armstrong

Photo by K. Armstrong

Photo by K. Armstrong

My solo outings (apart from my morning runs along the river) were a little more fortuitous… I had posted a picture of our rainy morning trek to the Art Institute of Chicago on my instagram account and Jill Marzion, who is a co-founder and moderator of the #my_365 daily photochallenge community happened to see it and asked if I was going to the instameet happening that Saturday in Chicago.  What were the chances that I’d be in the city for this? So I said YES! After all, I had communicated with these women online and had built a rapport, it would be great to meet some of them in person.

Rainy Day Museum trek

Rainy Day Museum trek

It was one of the best things I have done spontaneously in ages! We were to meet in Oak Street Beach – and as I got there, the Chicago skies turned grey, the air was so thick it stuck to your skin as mist in the extreme humidity.  I was starting to doubt myself for going to meet people I didn’t know from axe murderers and worst, how the hell was I supposed to find them in a place I’ve never been to before? I spotted the beach bar and started heading over when the sky opened and huge gobs of water started dousing me and people everywhere. I barely made it to the first cabana of the beach bar when the rain aggressively charged the earth. Rain was going sideways, and everyone was soaked! It was exhilarating and scary at the same time.  I had asked a group of women if they were there for the instameet, and they kind of looked at me like I had two heads… “Wha???” “Nevermind, I’m looking for my ‘friends'” – right.

At Oak Street Beach, in the middle of a torrential downpour

At Oak Street Beach, in the middle of a torrential downpour.

It dawned on me to message them on Instagram (took me long enough, I know) and to my delight, Jill responded that they were at the bar! I headed over there and instantly recognized Jill – she is famous on the internets after all. I couldn’t contain my excitement and might have squealed in glee for finding them! It was so much fun – I met vivacious Heather, her little boy Corey and sweet dear Frances.  We were waiting for a few more people but with the crazy Chicago weather and traffic, it seems like it was going to be a small group. But nonetheless, I felt so free and happy that very moment. There were lots of laughs, great mojitos… until after about an hour, the bartenders not-so-subtly told us we needed to exit stage left as they were closing for the day because of the downpour.

Mojitos on the beach, during a monsoon. Photo by Jill Marzion

Mojitos on the beach, during a monsoon.
Photo by Jill Marzion

They were nice enough to give us garbage bags to use as make-shift rain coats just so we could leave.  It was a sight to behold. I had my little dinky $3 umbrella from CVS drugstore that could barely fit my large head and massive tote. It’s a good thing that the rain abated as we were heading out. Another Mama, Hannah showed up at the end with her two littles – who were such troopers, all huddled in their tandem strollers. For a brief couple of hours, I was there as myself, Aggie, who didn’t have to rely on my husband, my daughter or anyone to break the ice with new people.  And for somebody who has been going through anxiety over any little thing, that was a huge milestone for me.  I felt like my old self – pre-miscarriage woes and postpartum depression and anxiety. And the best part of it was meeting someone whom I connected with and felt like I’ve known forever.

With the beautiful and talented, Jill Marzion.  Black hoodie by Gar Bahj

Soaking wet and cold, but incredibly happy with the beautiful and talented, Jill Marzion.
*Black hoodie by Gar Bahj

 

Instagram photo by @franbal

Coming out of the Oak Street Beach tunnel.  Instagram photo by @franbal

Because the mother guilt pangs started brewing in my stomach, I had to say goodbye to everyone, but arranged to meet up with Jill again for drinks after the little one had gone to sleep.  At first, I pulled the old anxious way of thinking – “We have a family photo shoot tomorrow and I don’t want to leave my husband again with the baby…” And then, I snapped out of it – just when I told my new friend I couldn’t make it, I messaged her again and told her that I will meet her for a drink or two after all.  I mean, how often does a serendipitous event like this happen? Go dive in, Aggie!
And what happens? Another stellar person to add to my roster of new old-friends: Caroline. A sassy, gorgeous Brit, whip smart and funny as hell who is engaged to a smouldering handsome American hipster, errr… I mean director, Brett. I couldn’t thank Jill enough for introducing me to more cool people I had tremendous fun and riveting conversations with. So how do I thank her? I accidentally spill red wine all over her iPhone and her striped black and white tote… because, fuck, that’s just how I roll.

All shits and giggles with the hilariously smart, Caroline.  All the action caught by Jill

All shits and giggles with the hilariously smart and gorgeous, Caroline.
All the action caught by Jill

Impromptu photoshoot at DrumBar

Impromptu photoshoot at DrumBar

So happy I found someone in the US who spelled 'favourite', 'colour', 'neighbour' with a "U"! iPhone photo by Jill Marzion

So happy I found someone in the USA who spelled ‘favourite’, ‘colour’, ‘neighbour’ with a “U”!
iPhone photo by Jill Marzion

Ending the night with a family photo.

Ending the night with a family photo. Thanks for the shaky hands, random stranger.

At any rate, after all the embarrassing barrage of apologies, riveting conversation and hearty laughs, we parted ways at the end of the night professing undying love for each other.

Another great instameet happened that weekend, this time it was a family affair. I met Leyla with her little boy and her husband.  It was such a great time, even our little ones and husbands hit it off. I had messaged Leyla before to give me insider tips about Chicago, and being the accommodating and friendly Chicago native that she was, she obliged.  She helped me discover a little Parisian nook in the heart of Chicago – which was such a great treat. We are so happy to have found a great family to keep in touch with and meet again when we go back to the city!

Luke and Lainey

Luke and Eleanor

Meeting a fellow Asian Francophile was a treat! Leyla was as hilarious and fun as I imagined her to be!

Meeting a fellow Asian Francophile was a treat! Leyla was as hilarious and fun as I imagined her to be! Planning a trip to Paris together, next. ;)

The great feature of this trip was that the three of us each had great moments for ourselves. We couldn’t be any prouder of our little girl who was such a great little traveler. She’s proved to us how warm and friendly she is to people; what a patient little trooper she is, who’s been lugged everywhere by her Mama and Daddy. See for yourself with the adorable pics she’s featured in while at The Bean and the Crown Fountain. She had the best time!

The Cloud Gate Sculpture by sculptors Anish Kapoor

The Cloud Gate Sculpture by  Anish Kapoor

The Crown Fountain

Pure bliss

Pure bliss

And the best part of it all – I had hired photographer, Christine Brizendine of Dabble Me This Photography to document our time away, just because I wanted to be part of the pictures in a proper way. She had just posted sneak peeks of our session and I am swooning at the posted pictures. If you ever get the chance, Christine is very patient and has mad skills in getting little ones to be calm and ham it up for the camera.  I would also like to thank the amazing (anonymous) runner couple, who stopped and held their beautiful dog right behind Christine so that our little one had something to focus on and smile at. Didn’t I tell you that Chicagoans are unbelievably nice people? I wasn’t exaggerating!

Photo credit: Christine Brizendine of Dabble Me This Photography

Photo credit: Christine Brizendine of Dabble Me This Photography

Photo credit: Christine Brizendine of Dabble Me This Photography

Photo credit: Christine Brizendine of Dabble Me This Photography

Thank you Chicago, for your stellar architecture, compelling history and gracious denizens; for our special new family memories, impressive new friends, and for a well-needed rediscovery of self.

PS – Why is Chicago considered to be in the midwest of the USA? It is neither mid nor west of the country.  We just couldn’t figure it out. Anybody know the answer to this?

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Follow these great photographers on their websites and instagram: (Click on names for their websites where available)

Jill M.@jillmarz
Caroline H. – @thewandering_eye
Chantel C. – @chantelcheah
Frances B. - @franbal
Hannah@happilyeverlyafter
Leyla T. – @secondcitymom
Heather M. – @concorexhappiness2x
Christine B.@dabblemethis

Carpe Diem

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the sad news of Robin Williams’ death. We found out late last night, as my husband was going through Twitter. We wanted it to be a hoax but alas, the news of Mr. Williams’ taking his own life was true.

Right away, I was brought back to my 16-17 year old self, when I saw the movie Dead Poets’ Society. That movie had such a profound impact on me, validating my love for the written word, and my quest to find out who I wanted to be. And here today, words fail me as I try to imagine how much pain he had to be in to capitulate to his inner demons.
My friend Amy, sent me a quote a few weeks ago, as she encouraged me to publicize my blog post about my postpartum depression; and it seems very proper to share at this time:

“People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don’t need help” – Glennon Melton.

May this horrible loss highlight mental health, bring forth continued dialogue about it and end the stigma so people can get the help they desperately need.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning
(~Walt Whitman)

 

Thank you, Mr. Williams – for your prolific life as an actor; for leaving us with your extended reel of films that made us laugh and cry; as escape and inspiration. May you finally find the peace that so eluded you in life.

 

For those needing help:
Kidshelphone.ca 1-800-668-6868
Mental Help Helpline Canada 1-866-531-2600

My case of postpartum depression

Chaos © Aggie Armstrong (Cablearms), 2011
You know when someone tells you they’re going through some issue in their life, and although you can try to relate or imagine what they’re trying to convey, you just can’t seem to understand it for the reason that you haven’t experienced what they have? That’s motherhood for me, in a nutshell. Friends and family may have told me stories about their experiences but I could only muster a smile or a polite comment until I’ve come across the playing field myself. Then, I become an active participant versus an at arms’ length spectator.

You may already be familiar with my story: I tried to get pregnant for three years, I had problems and had three miscarriages. Just when I thought I’d never be a biological parent after numerous fertility procedures, I get pregnant on my own. It seems all simplistic and black and white when I put it down like so, but the struggle to get pregnant, although difficult and frustrating, seems like a world away now.  But I haven’t forgotten. Nor will I.

It is evident by my daily successes and challenges in raising my beautiful little daughter, who just turned 16 months.  It’s cliche´, but nothing ever prepares you for your birth story, much less motherhood. Nothing. I went ahead and read the books, had my birth plan, made a playlist for my delivery – made with such earnest choices of which Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, or Bon Iver songs to include. So how naive and ignorant was I to face motherhood like it was going to be a mere peak and valley challenge like a setting on the treadmill? Incredibly. It’s more survival of the fittest. The faint of heart need not take part.

I was always wary about postpartum depression as I’ve had episodes of depressed states in my twenties. In the first few months after giving birth, I was always on guard of how I was feeling – I was in a soupy mixture of sleep deprivation fog and haze of bliss. I do remember having a big fight with my husband within the first 6-8 weeks at three in the morning. Looking back, the was the first time we had that big a fight in our marriage. I chucked it up to hormones and severe lack of sleep, which was the obvious thing to do.  I hadn’t really felt like I was out of control until another fight, close to a year ago. It came out of nowhere.  I was giving proclamations of my love for my little family one minute, and then all of a sudden, my kid was crying, the cat was whining to go outside and all the dishes from breakfast were coming at me and my mind was full of loud noise and chaos.  I felt cornered and had nowhere to go for a quiet respite, and I lost it, 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave for a day out.  The rage I felt was so real and so strong, that it even scared me.  My husband, in his attempt to calm me down and shepherd all of us out of the house and into the car, came towards me to seemingly give me a hug to tell me it’s ok. But I swatted his hand so hard, it sounded like I slapped him in the face. That was also the first time I ever told to get the fuck away from me. The look in his eyes – it was pure devastation and confusion.  He couldn’t understand how one minute I was fine and then a raging lunatic after.  I couldn’t either. I started hyper-ventilating and had to go upstairs to try to collect myself and figure out what the hell just happened. Since then, I had incredible fits of rage on and off. Then I’d feel incredibly guilty for it. Couple that with growing anxiety for my baby’s safety at all times.  I had visions of her getting really sick and hurt, that it would keep me up at night even when she would sleep right through.

I had been going on like this and was thinking that it may just be my new norm – always worrying about her state, and yet was short on patience with her; she was getting more vocal after all, not in a talking state, but she was developing her personality and had her ways of being heard. I loved her immensely but I noticed myself feeling a bit detached from her; caring for her as a duty but short with compassion and patience. I also grew a bit more jealous when she preferred her dad over me; I was beginning to take it personally.  The whining was something I couldn’t stand. It made my head spin. My mind seemed like it was on overdrive most of the time and adding ‘one more thing’ was like cutting the last thin string holding everything together. As the moon would wax and wane, my fits of rage would ebb and flow, only to increase in intensity the next time it came about.  I’ve also noticed that the dormant stages became less and less, as I would find myself very quick to anger more often.  I’ve always had a temper, but this was different – anything could set me off, and it took me a while to get my composure back.  I would seethe and feel my whole body heat up and shake in such rage. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, with all the struggle to keep my wits about me.  Running did little to help. The reprieve was only temporary and because of my decrease in energy, I wasn’t running as often as I should have to garner any effects of exercise endorphins.

This went on all through the dreariest winter we had and not until my fifth anniversary this past week did I realize that I really needed to get some help.  I’d been so sluggish after my sister and niece visited for two weeks, and I woke up still groggy from a difficult sleep the night before, with my husband, greeting me with a sleepy smile and an anniversary card as he handed me a cup of coffee.  I’d forgotten our wedding anniversary, and to top it off, I’d been such an insufferable bitch to him leading up to that morning.  To be honest, he had been living with an insufferable asshole for the last year – and who wants to be around an asshole all the time? I made an appointment that day with my GP, got in and as soon as the doctor went in to see me, I burst out in tears because I had been trying to keep my wits about me until I felt safe for some release.  She made me take the Personal Health Questionnaire Depression Scale (PHQ-9) to which I scored a 21; meaning I had severe major depression.

I know that this doesn’t excuse my outbursts, but it was such a relief to know that there was a reason, and I wasn’t just a crotchety, mean asshole especially to the people I loved the most. Having been diagnosed with postpartum depression, I was prescribed Cipralex to help me feel more like myself again.  Studies say that this drug takes about 2-4 weeks efficacy and I’ve only been taking it for a short while but placebo or not, I feel like it was almost instant relief; I’ve been given something to take the edge off.  I don’t feel agitated or annoyed; nor do I feel dull or hazy. I feel stable. I feel clear. There’s a lot less teeth gritting and heavy and deep sighing the last few days.  I can curb my instinct to shut my daughter down with a mean “NO!” right away. I look at her with less annoyance, but with more wonderment and awe again.  I never wanted to be a mother who relied on her offspring for validation, nor do I want to be a mother who was resentful and angry all the time. I was starting to be that kind. And it really gutted me, that this early in the game, I was already telling myself that I wasn’t cut out for this when only a couple of years ago, I was in such despair for not being able to maintain a pregnancy for more than two-three months.

As a (self-diagnosed) type A personality, it is incredibly difficult for me to ask for help so figuring out for myself that I did indeed, have to take medication didn’t come so easy.  In fact, I didn’t want to, because I wanted to do it all on my own. Clearly, that wasn’t working for me, so here I am.  I’m not a paid spokesperson for any drug company, and it is very early on yet for me to say for sure that this is the medication that works best for me. But I will take giving a more patient pause and reaction than a curt negative response; or a tender contact than a rough dismissal for my family any day. They deserve better. And more importantly, I deserve better too.

© Aggie Armstrong (Cablearms), 2014

If you suspect you have postpartum depression and want more information about it, read up on it here, here and here. It would also be helpful to contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to get you the help that you need. You deserve it.

Three Hundred and Sixty-four

ECA

364. That’s the number of days my life has been changed forever, as of today. That’s how many days I’ve been graced by her presence. The number of days that I’ve been responsible for somebody, other than myself. Tomorrow, she turns one and she has become more and more confident and self-assured. Thank you for the best (and most challenging) 364 days, my dear beautiful, sweet Eleanor Claire. I just want to remember this last day of your infancy. Thank you, you have made me a mama.

 

Choice

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Unravelling the Year Ahead by: Susannah Conway

Happy New Year! Five days into 2014… how has yours been so far?
Before we completely let go of 2013, let me quickly take stock of the year that was.

2013 was a gift. The first quarter was about anticipation. The better part of the spring and summer were about diving in the deep end, whilst hazy with sleep deprivation, coming up for fits of air only to find out that you’d have to start all over again with getting used to a new score of routines.  This in essence, was my life with my newborn.  I was a blissful, anxious, ecstatic, paranoid and haggard hot mess. It sounds a bit psychotic – and it is.  This is the beautiful roller coaster that my life has become, and I am nothing but better for it. I felt so fortunate for this experience.

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2013 was also a year of humility and digging deep.  Eleanor has opened me up so much to unconditional love and daily forgiveness – of others, and especially of oneself.  There were so many times that I beat up myself for not knowing what to do, but how could I have when she is my first child? I needn’t be the perfect mom and Stepford wife. As long as my child is happy and healthy, and my husband feels loved and appreciated, I have done my daily job.  I know this will prove to be difficult mantra all the time, but when this is what i see at the end of the day – then I am happy:

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2014 is the year I start to purposely choose for myself.  I choose JOY. I choose LOVE. I choose FUN. I choose FORGIVENESS.  The CHOICE is mine and I will practice it. The choices I make will not only impact me, but my child, my family.  My choice is to live life to the fullest and show my daughter by example that life is beautiful, especially because I have her in in mine.

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Always Choose Joy

The Distance Between Us

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This space seems so distant (and neglected) to me these days. It’s not a matter of not having anything to say… there are so many blog posts waiting to happen. There just doesn’t seem to be any time to do so.
How do mothers with more than one child do this – this whole balance thing? How do they manage to keep everything together and still find time to do their make-up before they leave the house? And to you single moms, I take my hat off and worship the ground you walk on.

Tonight, with the babe asleep and my husband away at a work conference, I find myself in front of my computer, in a relatively familiar space yet seemingly peculiar surroundings.  Does that make sense? I liken it to coming back to my apartment that has been on sublet to someone else.  I know the space is mine, but I almost feel like I’m encroaching on somebody’s territory.

It seems like most women who’ve had the same experience as myself – having gone through some emotional turmoil with (in)fertility and using their blog as a ‘haven’ to air grievances, then find themselves successfully pregnant, have the baby and all of a sudden feel detached from the very place they used to call home.
Part of it is the “now what” plane. It seems like all my past efforts were solely dedicated to becoming a mother; it feels rather hypocritical to now divulge the new trials and tribulations of this new phase.  It would be rude and ungrateful, knowing that there are still women left out in the trenches, to write about sleep deprivation and the emotional highs and lows of watching a little bean grow and thrive to be a gorgeous little human.

I have received great love and support when I announced that my husband and I were having a baby.  What I didn’t mention was the one comment that I received from Ms. Anonymous about how I should now shut this blog down and that I should stop all affiliations/links with the ALI community. I promptly deleted that comment because I get it. It hurts to see or know that someone else came through to the other side while you’re still wondering if you are even going to get your turn.  But to be fair, I have been there too. Shouldn’t I have a go at this new stage in my own little space that I’ve carved in this vast internet?

Unfollowing is inevitable. It’s par for the course. I get it; go and un-follow; stop reading; move onto the next. It’s okay. I’m getting used to it.
I’ve had real-time friends who’ve seemed to unfollow me once the baby was born. I don’t understand what I did or why, but it seems like they’ve disappeared into thin air. Not a word, not even a peek at the baby and then poof! All that I was left with was a cloud of smoke.
It bugs me, but what can I do? People leave, it’s nothing new. I just hate it when they’re so adamant about being there for you during shitty times, so it’s utterly discombobulating when they disappear when something good actually happens. It’s almost as if they only like being around when you’re sad and miserable. That, I don’t get. But to each his own…

Point is — this is a new phase.  And I’ll have to learn to navigate it, with the new challenges and accomplishments that it brings. It would be amazing to have you along for the ride, but I would be alright if you decided to step back and take a different route.

To you who do stick around. Thank you, you are awesome. There will be some shifting, updating and wardrobe changes; but it’s still the same Cablearms… maybe just a bit sluggish and delayed in with the retorts, as 85% of my brain capacity is dedicated to keeping another human alive but trust — this bitch ain’t going anywhere.