A Different Breed


She sighs, in the dark, as her baby snuggles closer to her neck, his chubby fists opening and closing as he exhales and relaxes his body with a small whimper. She waits, supporting him, waiting for that moment when the weight of sleep brings a random tingle or two to her forearm. Stands up slowly, using muscles in her thighs to lift her upper body as she does so, careful to not a muscle touching her now sleeping infant. Eyes flutter shut as she puts one foot in front of the other, heading for the crib. Baby shifts, stutter sighs, and moves, nuzzling further into her neck. She moves her hand to the back of his head, rubbing it softly as she hums their song.

She manages to lay him down and leave the room. As she crawls into bed, her calves sink into the mattress first, then the exhaustion surges upward until her eyes slam shut until morning, all of an hour and a half away when she will wake up to a hungry baby, a dog with a full bladder, and a toddler who has probably strewn cheerios over half the house because she needed to feed the dog.

Motherhood.

It changes us.

Mentally.

Physically.

For some, motherhood is a warm field on a sunny day filled with laughter, babbling brooks, playful deer, and an intoxicating joy.

For others, motherhood is a dark room in the bottom of the keep, covered with bars, the key well beyond our reach. We fight, we scream, we rage against the thick door but it won’t budge. We see the warm field in the sun from the window a the top of our room and long for it – long to talk walks with our little ones as the sun beats down upon our faces and a smile spreads across our face but instead, we are trapped inside our own special hell.

Motherhood without a mental illness is not the easiest road to tread, either. Heck, life in general requires some level of tenacity. One of the most frustrating things I am faced with is not discounting the struggles that each of us go through – respecting the journey of every single mother without demeaning the journey of another. And yet, it’s my goal.

Over the past several years, I have been privileged enough to meet some of the most amazing and resilient parents. Parents who fight for themselves, for their children, for their relationships, for life. Parents who work through even deeper hells than I can even imagine and still manage to parent their kids, all the while, worrying about how their experience will affect their kids, their marriage, their jobs, their lives. Yet, every morning, they wake, get out of bed, and take another step forward toward healing, even if they are absolutely exhausted.

A friend of mine posted on FB a quip about hockey players being a different breed. He was commenting on Rich Peverly’s alleged desire to get back into the game despite having experienced a cardiac event on the bench. Any other sport and the player wouldn’t be thinking about getting back in the game, right?

The same is true of mothers battling against mental illness, whatever form it may take for them. We want to get back in the game. We want to play, we want to laugh. We want to be free to just…be…without the burden or restraint of our mental health on our souls. This is why we cherish the good days and wade through the bad ones. Why we hold on so tightly to every single glimmer of hope crossing our hearts.

We are a different breed.

We aren’t worse.

We aren’t better.

We’re just different and we want to be loved for who we are, not what you think we should be or could be.

We just are.

Love us anyway?

A Postpartum Valentine


February.

A sparkly, shiny, red month filled with nearly naked flying toddlers armed with arrows.

What’s not to love?

Sure, there are regular every day people who moan about Valentine’s Day because they won’t have anyone with whom to celebrate.

rottenecard_33445963_b54n9nhfv8But then there are those of us who do have someone to celebrate with –or are single moms with children old enough to celebrate plus a new baby –and a Postpartum Mood Disorder.

Ugh.

Who has time to put energy into telling someone you love them just because Hallmark says we have to do so? Why this day instead of that day? Just…ugh.

With a new baby in the house, chances are both of you are exhausted. Nobody is sleeping, you want to scream at the world or are worried about everything BUT pulling an awesome Valentine’s Day off. Because let’s face it, when the nearly naked toddler in your life is busy screaming about needing to eat or refusing to cooperate with potty training, the last thing you want to do is make a gazillion Valentine’s with glitter because it will get all over ALL THE THINGS.

I think Susan over at Learned Happiness nailed it in her post for today.

They’ve been celebrating it all month.

Then she points out the bonus of 50% off candy on February 15th.

What’s happier than half-price chocolate? (Okay, half-price wine but I digress).

Today, I want you to give yourself a Valentine.

Do something, anything, little or big, whatever is in your budget, for yourself.

Because today, you matter too and you shouldn’t have to wait today (or any day) for someone to show you how much you matter or are loved.

It starts inside you.

Your Valentine to yourself might just be the pick-me-up you need right now. Plus, you know yourself better than anyone.

Or…wait until tomorrow.

Because you know, all the good stuff will be on sale, as Susan so deftly pointed out.

That’s really winning.

Postpartum Voice of the Week: Love, marriage, depression, survival


When I first fell into the rabbit hole of Postpartum Mood Disorders nearly 8 years ago, I never imagined it would lead to me sitting in front of a tiny computer attempting to compile the journey of a Syrian woman now living in Austria who has also struggled through her own issues with Postpartum Mood Disorders. At a time when so many in Syria are struggling for survival, it is truly an honour to share the story of a woman who grew up in their world and has fought her own battles to survive. Nadia is still fighting but her determination to win is enviable and because of that, she has already gained a victory. What follows below is a rewrite of a timeline Nadia sent me. With her approval, I am thrilled to be sharing it with you now.

I was born in Damascus, Syria, single child to Syrian parents who were cousins. My father studied Atomic Sciences in Russia but was not allowed to work in his specialization for security reasons. My mother was analphabetic, raised in a small village in the north of Syria where a woman doesn’t have the right to decide anything. She had five sisters. Two of them were married and then divorced after they had children. They suffered from depressions and psychological illness but I am not sure exactly what. I do know her family history involved depression.

My parents divorced after a marriage full of fights. My father beat my mother as a result of losing his temper. My Uncles, my mother’s brothers, threatened her, telling her she was not allowed to ask to see her daughter. They held her responsible for destroying the marriage by getting divorced which brought shame to their family. I was automatically given to my father.

Shortly after my parent’s divorce, my father married an Austrian woman who worked for the Austrian Embassy in Damascus. She couldn’t get pregnant due to cancer which caused doctors to remove her uterus. I visited my mum in the summer holidays only for short visits. My mother fell into a deep depression.

Three years later, I moved from Syria with my step-mother and father to Libya where my step-mother worked for the Austrian Embassy in Tripoli. I lost contact with my mother. My father’s temper flared. He beat me and his relationship with my step-mother began to fail. Within the next few years, my father was badly burned in a fire accident at home when our washing machine exploded. After three months in the hospital, he passed away.

After my father’s death, I was given the choice to stay with my step-mother or go back to Syria to my mother. I stayed with my step-mother because I was afraid if I returned to Syria the family may force me to marry or nobody would want to care for me. I moved to Austria with my step-mother because I knew it was the only way to help my mother. As I approached puberty, my step-mother and I did not get along very well. I was sent to a boarding school and she left Austria to work for the embassy in Turkey.

A short year later, I found myself longing for Arabic food, company, tradition, and language. I opened the phone book and searched for an Arabic restaurant. I went to eat there with a friend of mine. I met my husband at this restaurant. He was and still is my great love.

Two years later, after working very hard through summer holiday, my husband and I traveled to Syria to fulfill our dream of getting married. Our families both attended and our wedding was amazing. We returned to Austria, managing to get a one room flat. For five months, we didn’t have a bed to sleep on due to tight finances. But our love was more than enough to live on and we were sure things would improve.

In 2002, the same year we were married, I became pregnant. My pregnancy interrupted my schooling but I wasn’t concerned because here in Austria, when you give birth, the government pays you a monthly income for two years so finances were not a concern.

Our first son was born in 2003 when I was 19 years old. He cried without ceasing after birth. I was so sad as well. I did not know at the time of Postpartum Depression. It disappeared by itself although I still struggled with sadness and sometimes crying as my husband worked as a waiter all night long and I was alone with the baby quite often.

Three years later, we had a daughter, desired very much by my husband and myself. I struggled psychologically during pregnancy and was again crying and sad after giving birth but less than after my son. Again, I was still unaware of Postpartum Depression and thought this crying and sadness after giving birth was normal for me. I got Austrian citizenship and this allowed my husband to have working papers. He began working two jobs as a waiter and I was again alone at home for long periods of time.

In 2008, doctors discovered through blood tests my thyroid was hyperactive. They told me this might have caused my sadness during and after pregnancy. My thyroid was removed a year later and I began to take hormones. My mother had also had issues with thyroid and hers was removed as well. I knew I did not want to become pregnant again even though my husband always wanted to have four kids. I wanted to do something for me such as a job or return to school.

With both kids in school, I began taking courses in ICDL and secretary classes. I got a great offer for a job at the Embassy with a good salary. My boss and colleagues showed a lot of appreciation for me and for the first time, I had a feeling of success. My life felt so nice.

In November of the same year as finally starting my job, I found out that despite my copper IUD, abnormal thyroid results, and no desire to be pregnant, I was pregnant. My husband was very happy and offered to leave his job when I gave birth to stay with the baby so I could stay at my job. I was still sad because I knew I would experience yet another difficult psychological situation. But abortion was not an option.

This pregnancy however, proved to be one filled with additional difficulties.

In January of 2011, discovered my mother had Leukemia. In February, I went for one week to Syria to visit her. In March of 2011, my mother died in Syria. I was unable to go due to work, pregnancy, and the political situation in Syria.

My third child was born in August of 2011. He spent a month at the hospital due to jaundice. The doctors searched and searched for a reason. We were told at one time he didn’t have bile to get rid of the bilirubin. Then they suggested perhaps I was infected with Hepatitis in Syria when I visited my mother and the infection transferred to him. After the doctors confronted me with these suspicions, they discovered our son was a carrier of a disease called Alpha 1 Antitrypsin deficiency. He will not be able to drink alcohol or smoke when he is an adult as a result. Apha 1 Antitrypsin deficiency is genetic and perhaps my husband or I are carriers as well. We have both smoked for 10 years at this point.

Once my youngest son was home for two weeks, my older son’s eyelid began to twitch. The doctors again jumped to conclusions and stated it might be a facial paralysis. I became terrified and anxious about my son. He was treated with magnet resonance but all tests pointed to simple sinusitis. He was given antibiotics and healed just fine.

One week later, my husband traveled to Syria for his sister’s wedding. During the week he was gone, my daughter got worms again, went into the hospital, was given medication, and was able to come back home. Two days before my husband returned home, I felt as if I didn’t need to sleep. I couldn’t sit still. Adrenaline took over my body as I worried for no reason at all. I began to think this was because I was alone and tired.

My husband returned home and I did not get better. It got worse. Panic attack after panic attack hit me. No sleep, no food, just coffee and cigarettes. I finally sought help at the hospital and was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. I have been on medication since November. My panic attacks have disappeared. I am working again and it’s been better since starting Psychotherapy and attending a support group here in Vienna as well. I’ve been in touch with the wonderful Wendy Davis, whom I highly appreciate and love, at Postpartum Support International as well. I have been reading this blog (My Postpartum Voice) and have greatly appreciated your help for other Mums and feel like you wrote what I always needed to be reassured that it goes away. Your words moved something inside of me and I decided to write to you.

Personal statement from Nadia:

I am a 28 year old mother of three kids, I’m proud of myself and my family and what I reached in my life. I’m living with terrible thoughts. They come and go. Once I have cancer in the kidney, once I start thinking my daughter has Leukemia because she looks so white in her face and so on. They thoughts almost disappeared. On a scale from 1-10 they were a 12 but now they are at a 3 but 3 is still making me anxious when they come. They start to convince me my daughter or son don’t look well, maybe they have this sickness, maybe I should do a blood test but I don’t even manage to do a blood test for them because the fear doesn’t want me to do it because the result might be really bad. I know it will get better. I know now what Postpartum Depression is and that I have it and I swear to god should I ever come out of this illness, I am going to start a project in the Arabic world to help any woman who gets involved with this illness.

اكتئاب ما بعد الولادة PostPartum Depression is the Facebook Page Nadia has created to support Arabic families struggling with Postpartum Mood Disorders. Please visit it and add it to your list of resources.

Talking Postpartum Depression with Shari Criso


Tomorrow night at 9:00pm EST, I’ll be live with Shari Criso on her show, “My Baby Experts” discussing Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders.

From Shari’s page:

Together we will be discussing this very difficult and serious issue!!
  • Causes of Postpartum Depression
  • Signs & Symptoms, onset, typical recovery, etc…
  • Dads & Postpartum depression after birth
  • Talking to your doctor
  • Peer support
  • and as always…much, much, more!!

I hope you’ll hop over to Shari’s page for more information and participate tomorrow night! I’m looking forward to chatting with Shari about my story and educating her listeners about Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders! Hope you’ll be there!

A Father’s Insight


What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails
That’s what little boys are made of !”
What are little girls made of?
“Sugar and spice and all things nice
That’s what little girls are made of!

Snips and snails, and puppy dog tails grow up to be stoic and fearless, handymen expected to fix everything. At least that’s the hole into which society attempts to place men and has for some time now. Men are our rocks. Our shelter in the midst of the storm. Our protectors. As such, emotions are off the table for them. No tears. No anxiety. No fear. Fixers of all.

Men are human too. Capable of emotion. Sure, they may not process it out loud as we women so often do but they are capable of emotion in the face of life’s events. Men love. Men suffer heartbreak. Men hurt. Many may be silent about their loss or their pain. But every so often a man exposes his heart and offers invaluable insight into a man’s emotional world. When this happens, it’s important to pay attention.

I recently met Jeremy on Twitter. He blogs over at 2 Baby Dad about life as “An Expectant, Already Dad’s Blog.” His wife suffered a miscarriage. As we chatted, I asked if he would be willing to write about his view of his wife’s miscarriage. He agreed and posted his insight today after emailing it to me so I could read it over.

Jeremy’s account is raw, insightful, powerful, and honest. As I read through it, I felt the emotion building. By the time I finished, there were tears and my heart felt full as I exhaled. His words, the rhythm, the way he opens and then closes his experience embraces so vibrantly the experience of a father when it comes to fatherhood. There are emotions, even if “concealed by a wall” as Jeremy says.

I strongly urge you to go read Jeremy’s piece entitled “A Father, His Wife’s Miscarriage, and a Lost Unborn Child.” Share it with the men in your life. With the women in your life. Communication is key between husband and wife in the midst of any crisis. The better we understand where the other party is coming from, the better our communication with them will be when crisis hits. Please read this and pass it on to as many as you can.