‘One day, not so long ago, my oldest daughter asked em if I was glad that I had children. ‘Of course!’ I responded instantly and with a hint of indignation. There is no question that my childrensaturate my life with laughter, joy, and pride. They are the best part of my life. But there is a ‘however,’ and it comes in right about now,” says Yardley resident Anne M. Smollon, author of “Missing in Action: How Mothers Lose, Grieve, and Retrieve Their Sense of Self.”
The mother of three, Smollon was a grief counselor for the Visiting Nurse Association of the Delaware Valley and a neuro-linquistic programming practitioner before her decision to stay at home (“there is plenty to do here”) while her children are young: Leigh Ann is 11; Laura will be 10 on November 27; and Daniel is 6. Her husband, Jim Smollon, is a foreclosure workout specialist for Home Solutions Direct in Trenton.
According to her website, www.missinginaction.online, the “however” that Smollon refers to above is, simply, “that I am more than Mommy, and I need more than being a mommy in order to satisfy the many aspects of me. I realized long ago that I missed using my clinical skills as a social worker/ grief counselor to help people face the grand chalenges that accompany loss, grief, and bereavement. I also missed the powerful effect of my neuro-linguistic programming skills, which had once served to help those looking to expand their lives through better communication skills, identifying their core values and goals. I suppose I started writing ‘Missing in Action’ as an outlet for my feelings and my need to understand the complexities of motherhood.”
Smollon holds booksignings at three locations this month: Saturday, November 24, Classics Used and Rare Books in Trenton; Tuesday, November 27 at Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence; and Wednesday, November 28, at Alphabet Soup Books in Lawrenceville.
Smollon grew up in Rockland County, NJ. Her father was a graphic designer for General Foods and mother stayed at home while her children were young and then served as a Rockland County court clerk for many years. She finished the NLP practitioner program at the New York Training Instiute for Neuro-Linguistic Programming in 1991, followed by bachelors in psychology from SUNY at Old Westbury in 1992. She also completed the academic and professional writing curriculum at uthe University of Chicago in 1994 and then earned a masters of social work from Rutgers in 2000.
“Missing in Action” deals with issues that women face months — sometimes years — after childbirth. Smollon says these “symptoms” usually appear after the child is two years old and are not to be confused with post-partum depression (PPD), which, when it occurs, usually appears while the child is still an infant. Smollon puts a spin on the acronym MIA, and refers to it as Maternal Intrapersonal Anxiety (MIA), describing, according to a press statement, “an often unrecognized and unacknowledged form of grief experienced by women when they struggle to adapt to the many changes associated with motherhood.”
“Early on, I think I made a big mistake by anticipating ‘the hardest job in the world’ (a la Oprah) by only visualizing the physical demands of childcare, and not how motherhood would affect me emotionally, psychologically, mentally, socially, spiritually, sexually, and financially. In my worst moments, I was seriously affected and suffered terribly. I was having what I referred to as DBBs (daily breakdown breaks); I lost interest in sex, hobbies, and my friendships; my self-esteem plummeted; and I became paralyzed by my ‘condition.’ I actually considered packing my bags and running away from home, but I never left.”
Instead Smollon began talking about her feelings with other mothers and was surprised by the number of women who felt the same way she did. Looking for common denominators, she conducted informal research over three years, interviewing mothers, holding focus groups, and recording their symptoms and private thoughts. What she discovered was something, she says, that “society would rather deny. And that is, grief finds its way to mothers when they lose touch with valuable aspects of their former lives and selves. With this finding, I recognized the need for a book like ‘Missing in Action’ in the public domain, and my mission began to inform and educate mothers, their families, and the health care professionals who provide services to them.”
In the book Smollon highlights the changes women usually experience when they become mothers, how they perceive those changes (often unconsciously), and how they respond to change when it is perceived as loss, i.e., how grief functions in their lives. She also defines MIA in depth, explains the need for and creation of personal boundaries, and suggest these ten goals that function to “reclaim a sense of self gone astray.”
1. Identify your values.
2. Create boundaries to secure your values.
3. Acknowledge change/loss associated with motherhood.
4. Express emotions related to your experience of motherhood and feelings of loss.
5. Modify relationships into what’s realistic.
6. Identify and recover what is still viable from your former self and lifestyle.
7. Regain capacities impaired by stress.
8. Recognize the dissonance that exists between life before and after children.
9. Relearn the world (in the context of what the world means to you as a woman with children).
10. Relearn your self; re-establish your sense of self.
Although “Missing in Action” is self-published through iUniverse.com, Smollon says the book is now “taking on a life of its own.” A former Penguin PR rep in Canada, now a family doctor who delivers babies and does post-partem care, read the book and contacted Smollon to tell her she feels there is an immense market for this book and is assisting her with finding a mainstream publisher in the U.S. Smollon says Alison Hargraves, a freelance copyeditor for Putnam who lives in Lawrenceville and is the mother of an 11-year-old and 15-year-old, offered to edit the final manuscript; after she gave it back to Smollon she was so moved by the book she ripped up Smollon’s check, saying “I can’t justify taking money for this.”
Smollon is currently working on two new projects: a companion workbook for “Missing in Action” and a Page-a-Day calendar, 365 ways to create a strong sense of self.