Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Some women have perfect pregnancies. They glow as if they’ve swallowed one of those will o’ the wisps from the movie Brave, go for long, smug walks, and eat mixing bowls full of salad while laughing.
And then there are pregnancies like mine. After two miscarriages I thought I was a pro at handling the morning sickness, having puked my guts out for three months solid both times. But while my little sea monkey blessedly did not make a dramatic exit at the end of the first trimester the third time around, neither did the nausea. It did get a bit more manageable over time – less surprise puking in public, more eating saltines in bed and not giving a fuck about the crumbs – but it never really left.
Some women in their third trimester look like they are trying to shoplift a large melon. I looked like Humpty Dumpty, having gained 70 pounds despite all the puking. Still not sure how I pulled that one off.
Some women have beautiful home births that feel like orgasms. I’ve seen the videos. I had every intention of having one of these and even had a birthing tub set up in the living room. But then my little gymnast surprised us all by turning herself breech after 36 hours of labor. So we rushed off to the hospital in the middle of Seattle SeaFair traffic (not recommended, BTW) for an emergency c-section.
So I’m not sure what gave me the idea that, after all of that, breastfeeding would be a walk in the park. I thought Aria would just smell the milk, squirm her adorable, tiny body over to my ridiculously enormous nipple (seriously, those things looked like thumbs right about then), latch on perfectly and get all the nutrients she needed to grow and prosper.
Instead, we descended together into an infernal abyss of mutual misery in which she screamed incessantly from hunger and frustration, and I cried and pumped and pumped and cried, desperately trying to make enough milk to meet her needs. Eventually, we were rescued by an angel named Hannah with much milkier mammaries than mine who generously donated bags of precious white gold to supplement my own.
But in the interim I experienced some of my darkest days to date, sitting on the couch and pumping for hours on end, with just a few minutes’ rest in between. I looked, and felt, like a milk cow. A pathetically underproducing milk cow.
To keep myself from diving off the deep end of sanity, I did what I do best: I wrote. I set up a Tumblr account, and created a character who was the polar opposite of how I felt at that time: A fearlessly sassy, delightfully insouciant individualist with a razor-sharp wit. And I called her Mrs. Fishbaum.
Mrs. Fishbaum was more than just a much-needed distraction. She became a sort of talisman (I won’t say spirit animal because that’s incredibly disrespectful to the Native American religions that hold them sacred. But I digress.), an imaginary frenemy through whom I could live vicariously, joyfully flipping off the world with one hand and holding a giant glass of chardonnay in the other. In fact, I dressed up as Mrs. Fishbaum for Halloween when Aria was just a few months old. I found a gold lame jumpsuit at Value Village, and the rest of the outfit fell into place quite naturally. Behold.
And you thought I was kidding
The Tumblr still lives, for now, so feel free to go experience The Misadventures of Mrs. Fishbaum in their natural habitat. But for the sake of posterity, I’m reprinting a curated selection here. Please enjoy them in perpetuity, and may Mrs. Fishbaum save your sanity as she did mine.
At first, Mrs. Fishbaum thought she was taking advantage of the “no-questions-asked money back guarantee” on sheer principle, not because she was in any way unsatisfied. But as she was removing the UPC symbol from the package, that picture of the well-muscled, flannel shirt-clad Brawny Man grinned out at her with a competence that bordered on the erotic, when suddenly she realized just how unsatisfied she really was.
Ritzing it up
As far as anyone could tell, Mrs. Fishbaum had thrown the party for the sole purpose of trying out the suggestions as to how one might “RITZ IT UP!” on the back of the box. The Cheesy Tuna and Tomato melts weren’t so bad, but the Zesty Roast Beef Bites were a veritable crime against nature.
The Doctor’s Note
The conversation had barely begun when Mrs. Montgomery launched headfirst into a rant about The Whore Who Had The Nerve To Show Up In That Skirt.
Wasting no time, Mrs. Fishbaum reached into her faux suede handbag, pulled out a thrice-folded sheet of institutional-looking stationary, and handed it to Mrs. Montgomery.
Curiosity having won out over annoyance, Mrs. Montgomery unfolded and read:
“To Whom it May Concern,
Elle Fishbaum suffers from an underdeveloped gossip gland. Please excuse her from this conversation.”
For a moment, Mrs. Montgomery simply opened and closed her mouth, like a deeply offended goldfish. Then she offered her objection.
“This is signed ‘Dr. Who’!“
But Mrs. Fishbaum was already walking away.
A dog named Sue
Sue the shih tzu was not, as Mrs. Fishbaum liked to pretend, an artifact from an ill-fated previous marriage. She purchased the shaggy little terror herself in hopes that it would keep her kitchen floor clean. By the time she realized that “mop dog” was simply a derogatory nickname for the breed, it was too late. She was stuck with the yappy little rat.
The Wrong Idea
“I would do the dishes,“ thought Mrs. Fishbaum, “but that might give my husband the wrong idea.”
Winnie T. Poole?
From the expectant look on Gloria’s face, Mrs. Fishbaum gathered that she was expected to ooh and aah over the freshly decorated nursery. Instead, she mused aloud, “Winnie the Pooh really ought to have taken a stage name.”
Gloria retaliated with her extraordinarily well-practiced Grin of Thinly Veiled Hostility, thinking as loudly and obnoxiously as possible, “Look who’s talking, Fish Bomb.”
“No thank you,” Gloria replied, louder than was necessary, “I’m on a new diet. No ‘vehicle foods.’” Mrs. Larson retracted the tray of potato skins with an expression that Gloria was able to translate into an invitation to expound, “You know, foods that are only vehicles for other foods. Potato skins: vehicle for sour cream and chives. Artichoke: vehicle for melted butter…”
“Vodka,” Mrs. Fishbaum interrupted, sloshing a bit of her Cosmo onto the carpet on its way up into the universal “toast” position, “vehicle for NOBODY GIVES A FUCK.”
Mrs. Fishbaum was about to hit “Snooze” for the third time when she remembered what day it was. “Thursday!” she thought, sitting bolt upright, “Recycling day!”
She was still zipping up her favorite pink tracksuit as she tumbled out the back door into the alley. Success! The truck hadn’t come yet.
Still catching her breath, she looked left and right, tip-toed over to the neighbor’s recycling bin, and fished out last month’s issues of Cosmo (for the perfume samples), People (for the gossip), and Martha Stuart Weddings (just because it was there).
The Name Game
“Ladies,” Gloria grinned, holding up Mrs. Fishbaum’s purse (left unattended on a rare solo trip to the powder room) as a man would a 4-foot carp, “place your bets!”
Although it was widely agreed that “Elle,” as Mrs. F was given to introduce herself, was not her given name, theories abounded.
“Estelle,” said Mrs. Larson, laying a crisp $20 bill on the table.
“Penelope,” barked Louise, slamming her money down.
“Emily,” Gloria winked, explaining, “I once overheard her husband slip up and call her ‘Em’!”
But once the wallet came out, there was no winner. And privately, not one of them could come up with a better nickname for “Muriel.”
It wasn’t just that Mrs. Fishbaum’s dress was a hideous hybrid of the scarlet crinoline nightmare Lydia Deetz wore at her wedding to Beetlejuice and the lacy pink potato sack Andie Walsh wore to the prom in Pretty in Pink. She had worn worse. Yes, even to a funeral. The main issue was the length. Poor Reverend Walters! Every time he said “Eulogy” it came out “You-leggy.”
”They can’t all be masterpieces,“ declared Mrs. Fishbaum. It was unclear whether this statement was in reference to the pot roast she had just served, or the dryer-shrunken sweater she had repurposed into a jaggedly cut skirt and droopy arm warmers. Either way, Mr. Fishbaum offered no protest.
Sinking into the fragrant, slippery suds, Mrs. Fishbaum couldn’t help striking a melodramatic pose and thinking, “Calgon, take me away!”
But then she immediately amended it to, “Actually, Calgon you can leave me right here. Just give me a couple million dollars. I can take care of the rest.”
If you asked Mr. Fishbaum (as nobody had ever bothered to do), he would tell you that Mrs. Fishbaum lived her life by this simple motto: If at first you don’t succeed, cry, cry like Miss America being tiara-nated until someone else does it for you
“The last thing I want to do is upset you,” Mrs. Fishbaum told Gloria, “but it’s still on my list.”
The Biddies Who Brunch
The mane issue
The first thing most people noticed about Mrs. Fishbaum was her hair. An unnerving combination of uneven finger waves and self-propelled mass of Bozo-esque frizz, it looked as though it must surely have been the result of a terrible accident involving a crimping iron, an entire bottle of home perm solution, a fork, and a light socket. There was even some speculation among the Biddies as to whether or not there were small animals nesting in her ‘do. But it did make her easy to locate in a crowd.
The blame game
“I didn’t say it was your fault!” Mrs. Fishbaum yelled in the general direction of her indignant husband, “I said: I blame you!”
Ex marks the bald spot
“Isn’t that your ex-husband?” Mrs. Fishbaum asked Louise in a scandalized stage whisper, apparently referring to the balding, bespectacled Jew who was awkwardly exiting a hot pink VW “New Beetle” outside the window.
Louise rolled her eyes. “Wait til you meet his girlfriend. She’s so young, she thinks ‘farfegnugen’ is German for ‘imported Fig Newton.’ ”
Mr. Fishbaum considered for a brief moment the option of attempting to talk his wife out of this, her most recent ridiculous notion. But having long since retired from that occupation on the advice of his doctor, he bobbed his head in a well-rehearsed cadence and forced his mouth to pronounce the words “Great color for a bathroom, pink.”
Mrs. Fishbaum handed him the can of paint triumphantly.
“Soothing,” he went on, “Like Pepto Bismol for the eyes.”
“Enough, Frank,” Mrs. Fishbaum frowned.
And, with a small and private smile, Frank silently agreed that it was enough. It was just exactly enough.
There were days when Mrs. Fishbaum was utterly convinced that her life was, in actual point of fact, a series of farcical vignettes, strung together without much rhyme or reason by a bored and benignly sadistic writer somewhere. Today, however, was not one of those days.<