Afterbirth: Stories You Won't Read in a Parenting Magazine

Afterbirth: Stories You Won't Read in a Parenting Magazine

by Dani Klein Modisett

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Afterbirth is about what parenting is really like: full of inappropriate impulses, unbelievable frustrations, and idiotic situations. It's about how life for some parents changes for the worse after their kids are born. Or so it feels. It's about how not every threeyear- old is charming and delightful and about how sometimes when your kid is having a tantrum, you have to stifle the impulse to round-house him. And Afterbirth is funny—the participants are some of the best comic writers and performers today, turning their attention very close to home and sparing no one, particularly themselves. The thirty-five pieces include:

• Caroline Aaron on what it feels like when the kid moves out of the house ("The New Parenting Paradigm")
• Christie Mellor on why it's dangerous to tell people what you really think about being a mommy ("Yahooey")
• Joan Rater on parenting the unexpected ("Attachment Adoption")
• Neil Pollack on unforeseeable and unreasonable parental rage ("The Tennis Pro")
• Matt Weiner on trying not to parent violently like his father did ("Go Easy on the Old Man")

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429938129
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/27/2010
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
File size: 296 KB

About the Author

DANI KLEIN MODISETT is the creator/producer/director of the live show "Afterbirth," which runs twelve times a year in Los Angeles and New York City. She is also an actress and comic who contributes to, and has taught comedy at UCLA for ten years. She lives in Los Angeles, with her husband and two sons.

Dani Klein Modisett is the author of Afterbirth and creator/producer/director of the live show "Afterbirth," which runs twelve times a year in Los Angeles and New York City. She is also an actress and comic who contributes to, and has taught comedy at UCLA for ten years. She lives in Los Angeles, with her husband and two sons.

Read an Excerpt


Stories You Won't Read in a Parenting Magazine

By Dani Klein Modisett

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Dani Klein Modisett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3812-9



Marta Ravin

I'M STANDING IN MY KITCHEN at two in the morning trying to make a bottle to soothe my wailing three-month-old. In my sleep-deprived haze I spill a large cup full of formula onto the shiny granite countertop. As I begin to wipe up the mess, I am struck by the fact that the last time I was looking at a mound of white powder on a shiny surface, it was definitely cocaine.

It wasn't like I ever had a "drug problem" per se; I was pretty much just a recreational user. I enjoyed drinking and smoking pot as much as the next gal ... only more. Cocaine was strictly for parties, to enhance my Tae Bo workout, to motivate me to clean my apartment, and occasionally to snort off a stripper's ass during a threesome — whatever, it was the '90s. Anyway, after I got married, I slowed down the drug use quite a bit exceptfor the rare bender over Yom Kippur. (How else could I be expected to not eat or drink for twenty-four hours?) But once I got pregnant, it was a no-brainer; I would be completely clean and sober for nine months.

It wasn't a physical struggle for me to give up those vices when I was pregnant, but it definitely was a mental one. There are some women who pride themselves on not changing their social lives when they are pregnant. They still go out to parties and bars, proudly balancing a glass of seltzer and lime on their big bellies. I was not one of them. By my second month I realized that without the help of alcohol or drugs I'm shy, and not really good at small talk. Who knew? But I didn't mind. Ever since I had gotten married I didn't enjoy going out that much anyway. After all, what was the point of going to a bar if you couldn't make out with strangers?

Although I didn't drink or do drugs during my pregnancy, I still felt the need to rebel in some way. Unlike some of my other pregnant friends who wouldn't put a piece of cheese in their mouth without calling Louis Pasteur to make sure it was legit, I happily indulged in many pregnancy taboos. I ate tuna fish more than two times a week. I drank coffee daily. And I got my hair colored — all three trimesters! I just didn't think any of these small pleasures could be such a big deal. I mean, think about all the crack moms living in gutters who give birth to perfectly healthy four-pound babies. What was a little tuna on whole wheat going to do to my kid?

But there was one thing I did (or rather, didn't do) while I was pregnant that was truly risqué: I didn't take my prenatal vitamins. At first it was because they made my already brutal morning sickness unbearable. Yes, the same woman who could down a Xanax with a shot of tequila couldn't handle those stupid little pills. Even when they stopped making me sick, I still didn't take them. In my warped head, not taking the vitamins was my way of saying "Fuck you!" to everyone who told me life as I knew it was about to change. All those books about what to expect when you're expecting. Expect this, Dr. Spock! I didn't even tell my gynecologist the truth. She'd ask if I was taking the vitamins and I'd give my usual uh-huh. It was the same uh-huh I gave her when I was single and she asked if I was practicing safe sex. Lying to this woman was a natural reflex.

Cut to my fifth month. Other pregnant friends of mine were constantly remarking how their babies were "kicking up a storm," but I wasn't feeling anything. The baby never kicked. I started to think that maybe not taking those vitamins wasn't the best idea. I went to the doctor almost every week and told her the baby wasn't kicking, and she would hook me up to a sonogram machine and say, "Oh no, he looks fine. His heartbeat's strong. Nothing to worry about." Even though I was scared, I still didn't take the vitamins. I'm an instant gratification person; when I take a pill I expect something to happen immediately. I take a Tylenol, no more headache; Motrin, no more cramps; ecstasy, and I make out with a 350pound bald bouncer named Lenny. His head was so soft. I just really didn't believe that those pills did anything but make me sick. But as each kickless month passed, I became paralyzed by my dirty little secret.

In my last few weeks I fessed up to my mother. Usually when I talked about pregnancy with my mom she would say something like, "I drank and smoked through both pregnancies, and you and your deaf, cross-eyed brother turned out fine." So I told her about the vitamins, making a joke about how they probably didn't even have vitamins back in her day. She just turned to me and grimly said, "No, Marta, we had vitamins, and I took them every day." Uh-oh. I guess 1972 wasn't as backward as my parents' orange Formica kitchen would suggest.

I started having major panic attacks. There was a constant lump in my throat, my stomach was in knots, and the waistband on my Liz Lange cords was getting tighter and tighter every day. I called my best friend, knowing she would agree with my "If crack moms can have healthy babies, so can I" theory. Even though she humored me and said I would be fine, deep down I was petrified.

Cut to the delivery room. I had a relatively easy birth (drug-assisted, of course). I had been looking forward to that epidural like a cold glass of chardonnay on a summer's day. My mom arrived right before the big event assuming she would be part of the birthing process. She carefully removed her jewelry and "scrubbed in," approaching the bed with her clean hands raised as she had seen Dr. Addison Montgomery-Shepherd do so many times on Grey's Anatomy. She was only slightly insulted when my doctor asked her to take a seat. Of course, she stayed involved on her cell phone, giving a play-by-play to my father, who was on the way. "Marta's pushing very hard. Max's holding her legs. I can sort of see the head. How is Marta? She seems fine. Her hair looks nice, and I think she got a pedicure."

Jonah Lazer Leinwand was born at 7:33 A.M. on March 6, 2007. He was seven pounds six ounces and perfect in every way ... except for his foot. It was bent up and backward toward his leg. The doctor and nurses assured us it was probably nothing, but to make sure they would send an orthopedist to check it out.

The next day, after a sleepless night, two orthopedic assistants showed up to look at Jonah's foot. My husband had gone home to take a quick shower, but my mom was with me in the room when they came. The assistants started whispering to each other as they examined Jonah, then turned around to speak to us with grave looks in their eyes. The bigger one, whom I called Boris even though that was not his name, said, "The foot seems to be deformed and will most likely be that way for the rest of his life, unless he has surgery." In truth, I can't remember exactly what Boris said. But what I heard was, "You didn't take your prenatal vitamins, and now Jonah will be deformed forever!" My wild, selfish ways had finally caught up with me. The girl who tempted fate during her single years, mixing substances and fluids with wild abandon, then laughed at the "rules" of pregnancy, had finally gotten her comeuppance. I started to cry.

"Mom, is his foot deformed because I didn't take the vitamins?"

"No, of course not," she said. But her eyes were saying, "Yes."

They took Jonah away for X-rays. By the time my husband came back, I was a complete mess. Up until that moment I had never really made the connection that this thing I had been carrying around for months, feeding it mercury-filled tuna and depriving it of nutritious vitamins, was actually going to be a person: a little, helpless person I had already failed.

We eventually saw a specialist who told us that Jonah's foot was not "deformed." It was slightly bent but would probably straighten out on its own without surgery. Jonah's foot had been trapped under his other leg in my womb, which was why I never felt any kicking. It had nothing to do with not taking the vitamins.

That was seventeen months ago. I am happy to say that Jonah's foot is almost completely healed, and he is walking like a pro. I feel very lucky that his funky foot is the only medical problem Jonah has had so far. I actually feel lucky and blessed for many reasons. I have a loving husband who pretends that I have lost all my baby weight. A mother, who although she was horrified by the thought of breast-feeding me, offered to give a crying Jonah her own nipple one night while she was babysitting. "What? He might enjoy it!" And a father, who, although his idea of toys for me was a yellow legal pad and some Post-its, never forgets to buy Jonah a present before he sees him. I am blessed with love and family, and my life feels more important now than it ever did when I was single. These are the best reasons I have found for making sure the only white powder you'll find on my kitchen counter will be formula ... or maybe a little heroin — but only for playdates.



Dana Gould

WE HAVE TWO DAUGHTERS, THREE years old and fifteen months. They are both from China. When we first announced to our friends that we were adopting from China, one person asked, "Are you going to teach her English?"

The question hung in the air like a day-old balloon before I cleared my throat and calmly answered, "No."

I didn't mean it, obviously. But, as I've gotten older, I've picked up a neat little trick. In the old days, before I was a parent, if someone said something so obviously ill conceived, I would frown, feign ignorance, and, Matlock-style, pepper them with questions designed to force a confrontation with the folly of their verbal flatulence. Then I would smile benevolently and escort them back into the sunshine of my thinking.

But now I'm too busy. Now, when someone drops a dumbbomb, I calculate how much time it will take to disagree and argue with that person, then agree with them and use that time later in the day to treat myself to an ice cream sandwich.

We adopted from China for several reasons. As you probably know, there exists in China the so-called One Child Policy, whereby, to stem the tide of overpopulation, all families are limited to one child. For cultural reasons, male children are favored over female children, and as a result, many, many young girls are discarded.

The One Child Policy is a great idea in the long run, if your goal is to have an entire generation of men who can't meet a girl but do have access to nuclear weapons. For this reason, I am investing all of my money in the new Las Vegas–Beijing Hooker Channel. Look for our slogan: "Sending sex workers through the Earth's core to give you one more sunrise."

(Understand the details, ramifications, and my genuine feelings about this policy have no place in a comedic essay, so let's just check our inner-NPR-ness here and continue on with that in mind.)

Here's another mind-boggling question I'm asked way too much. People walk up and ask me, point-blank, "Why did you adopt your baby?" They ask me this even if I don't know them, even if I am holding the baby in question.

It's a phenomenally personal question, but I get it all the time. I don't understand this. I don't walk up to people with biological children and ask, "So, what happened here? Did your husband come home drunk and stuff his junk in your business? Did he have a couple too many and dump a load of tot nog in the baby bunker? Did you make that small human in your guts?"

That said, perhaps I'm obligated to answer the question. After all, I left the house. Let's see. Why did I adopt? Let me look at my side of the family. There's the guy who still lives in the basement, the girl with that tattooed back, biker, boozer, dead tooth, too many cats, the guy who talks to his truck ... Hmmmm.

Maybe I adopted because, genetically, my balls are full of poison. I hate myself enough; I don't want to watch a little version of me shit his pants.

Clearly, though I protest, I obviously protest too much. I tease my father, but am in so many ways a miniature version of him. Like my father, I have two basic emotions, rage and suppressed rage.

My father was born during the Depression, and, like many working-class men who came of age in the segregated world of midcentury America, he is, by today's standards, often viewed as intemperate and racist.

That said, many of his accusers aren't white.

To my father's credit, he does not restrict his bigotry to the big three or four. He spreads it around. Often, you can hear him in the other room, watching the news, coming up with racial hatreds you didn't know were racial hatreds. I can hear him now, his voice thundering through our half of the duplex, "Oh, Jesus. There go the Belgians again. They're worse than the Burmese. The Belgians are just like Burmese with hangovers."

Do I approve? Heavens no. Have I ever brought it up? Heavens, heavens no. You see, the Goulds are not a close-knit group. Our family crest shows five lions watching television not speaking to each other, withMOVE YOUR HEAD written on a banner in Latin.

But now I have kids, and as I've gotten a taste of what my parents were up against, it has made it much more difficult to blame my mom and dad for everything negative that's ever happened to me. That's a shame, too, because it came in so handy. When I was in my twenties, I'd go to a party, not get laid, and blame my parents. It certainly couldn't be my fault — just because I talk too loud, don't go to the gym, and am built like a condom full of walnuts. "Thanks a lot, Dad."

My parents had six kids, back to back, with no additional help, and I was surprised they enjoyed a drink now and then. I have two kids, a nanny, and a housekeeper, and I'm about as relaxed as a hummingbird on a coke binge.

The fact of the matter is, my parents did the best they could.

There is no way to explain to people the seismic changes your life undergoes when you become a parent, from your daily schedule to your perspective on the world. In my case, it has totally ruined porn. Now I watch a movie with a nice girl and two or three guys, and all I think is, Oh, Jesus, did her parents screw up.

I have started seeing people not just as people, but as other people's children. And when I sneak quietly into the curtained back room of my local video store, all I can think is Look at all these DVDs, starring someone's daughter!!! And look! Someone else's daughter! Look at this blazing someone's-daughter on someone-else's-daughter action!

No thanks. "I've changed," I mutter, as I rent a nice comedy with Dennis Quaid that I won't watch and will return late. Welcome to the world of new perspectives and compromise.

Lots and lots of compromise.

We got our kids baptized into the Catholic faith. Not that I believe in it. I can't see how a medieval water-based ritual can affect a child's existential guilt. My parents believe in it. And my wife's parents believe in it. So off we went. I stood by smiling as a strange old man in a King Arthur costume dunked my daughter's head into a bucket, ensuring to the universe that when she died, she would be allowed to live atop a cloud in an invisible castle.

We felt pretty good about our decision to go along. Our parents were happy, and let's be honest, somewhere in the back of our minds we did think, What if they're right? What if there is a God and He's exactly as described? He created you, He loves you, and He's created a world of molten agony to eternally punish you if you cross Him.

Seriously. Just because I can't conceive of a thing does not mean it can't exist. My dog can't conceive of my computer, but they're both real. "Let's just go ahead and play it safe," we said to each other. "If there is a God, and these are His rules, then you know He's going to be a dick about enforcing them."

Now granted, some things are just too impossible to swallow. I mean, I can still take a stand when I have to. For instance, when I was a child, I was taught, by adults, that when I died, I had to stand in front of all of my relatives who were in heaven and say out loud all of the terrible things I had ever thought and done.


I can assure you, that is not true. If anything, I believe that when I die, I will have to stand in front of all the children who went to bed hungry while I was on earth and read aloud a list of my eBay purchases. I shudder to think of it. Explaining to a poor child with a swollen belly why I didn't give his village fifty cents a week but spent twenty-seven dollars in a bidding war for a Mars Attacks coffee cup.

Next week. Next week I'm signing up for that feed-a-village thing. I promise. Like my parents before me ... I'm doing the best I can.


Excerpted from Afterbirth by Dani Klein Modisett. Copyright © 2009 Dani Klein Modisett. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1 Baby Powder | Marta Ravin,
2 The Best I Can | Dana Gould,
3 Have I Got a Trip for You | Merrin Dungey,
4 Mom Redefined | Moon Unit Zappa,
5 Family Vacation | Kell Cahoon,
6 Here Comes the Son | Mimi Friedman,
7 The Gay Straight Dad | Mark Hudis,
8 Beforeskin and After | Christy Callahan,
9 Spoiled Milk | Johanna Stein,
10 The Other One | Eric Weinberg,
11 We're Having a Maybe! | Cindy Chupack,
12 Ten Months In | Jason Nash,
13 Smile! | Julie Rottenberg,
14 Boys Don't Cry | Mike Sikowitz,
15 Sweet Dreams | Caroline Bicks,
16 A Neighborly Day for a Beauty | Peter Horton,
17 Disco Fever | Melanie Hutsell,
18 No Hovering | Tom Shillue,
19 Your Loudmouth Lesbian Friend | Marcia Wilkie,
20 A Girl, a Dad, a Gorilla Head:,
21 A Cautionary Tale | Christopher Noxon,
22 Hitler's Love Child | Deborah Copaken Kogan,
23 Aunt Cuckoo | Dan Bucatinsky,
24 The Long Hug | Joan Rater,
25 Oliver's Pink Bicycle | James Braly,
26 Yahooey! | Christie Mellor,
27 The Bugaboo | Andrew McCarthy,
28 The Family Bed | Rick Cleveland,
29 What Grown-ups Do | Brett Paesel,
30 The Sacrifice | Lew Schneider,
31 I Yelled | Mo Gaffney,
32 Go Easy On the Old Man | Matthew Weiner,
33 Stop Licking the Wall | Beth Harbison,
34 The Tennis Pro | Neal Pollack,
35 Reading Her Journal | Anonymous,
36 I Finally Swore at My Daughter | Todd Waring,
37 My Almost Man | Caroline Aaron,
38 Not Enough Good Old Days | Dani Klein Modisett,
39 About the Contributors,

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