On Loving Motherhood


One of the phrases I hear a lot from parents who struggle with mental health issues after the birth of a child is that they didn’t feel an instant bond with their child. Or that they did but it was to the nth degree and they obsessed over every little thing that happened to their child, to the point of it interfering with day to day living. Instead of being the parent society leads us to believe every parent should be, they were either detached or over-attached. It’s the Goldilocks syndrome with none of us feeling that “just-right” level of attachment.

One of the most difficult aspects of experiencing a mental health issue after the birth of a child is that in addition to healing ourselves, we must develop a bond with a new person we hardly know and cannot communicate with in the normal manner because they are not yet capable of deep thought and expressive language.

Imagine that you’ve just met an amazing person. You want to get to know them, to give them all you have inside you, but you can’t. You don’t have the energy. So you worry about the effect this will have on the relationship -if they’ll end up hating you because you can’t quite reach out the way they need you too. You wonder how much emphasis they’ll put on the lack of affection from your end. Somehow, though, you manage to muddle through and they miraculously stay. They love you simply because you’re you, something you struggle to comprehend. Then you feel guilty because you haven’t put as much into it as they have (or perceive that you haven’t) and so you overcompensate, which fills you with intense guilt as the days go by. So you read books about what you should be doing. After awhile, it becomes habit but somewhere, deep inside, you always wonder if you’ve done enough. Or if they’ll bring it back up some day when you falter the least bit.

Or you remain detached, thinking that it’s just not worth the work, the stress, the anxiety. Things are the way they are for a reason, right? Why bother? They’ll either stay or go. The choice is theirs in the end.

Parenting can be hell.

It’s the toughest job on the planet, and no matter how much preparation we put into it while expecting a new little one, we’re all thrust into it, suddenly. It’s on-the-job training. When you add a mental health issue, it’s like on-the-job training at the Hoover Dam on a day when it’s sprung a leak. SO much is flung at you.

Every little thing means more than it should.

Bed seems really lovely.

Giving up seems like a fantastic idea.

Walking away – sheer brilliance.

In the past, I envied parents who seem to know exactly what they’re doing or really enjoy their kids. As a survivor of multiple PMAD episodes and issues and a relative introvert, it’s extremely difficult for me to relate to others who want to spend every waking minute with their children. It’s not that I don’t love my kids, I absolutely do. But for me, parenting is traumatic. My start was more of a train wreck with a hurricane thrown in for good measure. I fight for every second of what appears to be “normal” parenting.

What I forget in my battle to be “normal” is that no one is normal. We are all fighting our own battles, they are just a bit different from the battles of those around us. As I have moved toward healing, parenting has become more like breathing for me. Sometimes I still have to fight for breath but most of the time due to the necessity of mindfulness in my own survival, parenting has become easier as the years have gone by. The wounds have healed enough to not feel as if they are torn off with every single negative instance.

To those who are still in the trenches and still fighting for breath as they fight to parent their children and remain sane, (with or without a PMAD), my hat tips to you. To those fighting through a PMAD specifically as you parent your new one (and possibly even older children), I know how it feels to be where you are and I want to tell you that it won’t always be this way.

One day, things will just work. There will always be potholes and bumps as you navigate the road, but if you take the time to just breathe, ask yourself if what you’re about to explode over is really worth it, and then address the issue at hand (or not, depending on the answer to the second step), things will improve. Take time for yourself. See your child as just that – a child – take the time to see the world through their eyes, marvel at the little things right along with them, and let the world hold you close instead of crawling away into a cave. Baby steps.

You may remember all your faults but your baby will not. All your baby needs is you. They are not mini-adults, judging you for not knowing what to do. They aren’t the ones behind the myriad of research which blames parents for all that is wrong with adults. Let it go. We are our own worst critics. If we take the time to just be as humans instead of critiquing every single choice life flows so much better.

Stop judging.

Stop worrying.

Just be. Drink in life, drink in your child. Drink in the sunshine and the joy when you can. Store it up for the days short on both.

You can do this. Even Goldilocks found the right one eventually, didn’t she?

Your just right is out there, I promise. It’s just a bitch to find in the fog.

You are not alone, you will be okay, and your baby will be okay too.

In the interest of all honesty, recovery is not as easy as sitting out in the sunshine and drinking in life. For many, it takes a multitude of visits to a therapist, maybe a few medication changes, and a hell of an effort to reach the point where you CAN sit in the sun and drink in life. It certainly took all of that for me, and more. But the fight is worth it in the end and that fight will make the sunshine even brighter once you’ve evicted the fog.

If you find yourself struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, you can find hope and help through Postpartum Support International or over at Postpartum Progress. If you are feeling down and struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out to Lifeline, the National Suicide Hotline here in the United States.

The Scorpion Tale of Perinatal Mood Disorders


Last night, I had a rather in-depth discussion with Addye over at Butterfly Confessions. We’ve discussed the same topic before and we’re finally doing something about it because we both think there’s not enough out there about this subject. Her blog post went up last night, discussing the role her antenatal depression, postpartum mood disorders, and other mental health struggles have played in her son’s recent diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum. While our children’s diagnoses are different, our story is the same, and it begins with a long hard look at the stinging guilt with which we now carry along our paths of Motherhood.

******************************

It’s taboo, really, more so than admitting you struggled with a Postpartum Mood Disorder. It’s a secret locked in a trunk hidden in a house deep in the woods where no one will find it. It’s the poison-tipped tail of a scorpion, the thing that gets you after the initial reaction of having a scorpion land in front of you. It’s the nagging feeling you get in your throat every damn time you look at your kid and think, even for a brief second, that you did that to them. It’s YOUR fault.

I’ve been there. I still am, sometimes. Not as much as before, but it’s something that I will always carry with me. A small part of my heart will always be tinged with guilt and a depth of sadness I’ll never shake. I’ve learned to accept it instead of fight it, to give it space to just breathe, knowing I’ll never get rid of it as long as I live. Right next to it though, now, is a space that is filled with a peace I’ve worked very hard to achieve – a peace that cancels out that guilt and sadness…as long as the see-saw is working that day, that is.

I struggled with Postpartum OCD after the birth of my first daughter. I’ve made no secret of that. I sought help but was shot down by my OB, an integral part of this story. I had to fight on my own to heal. Looking back, I didn’t do a great job at healing. What I excelled at was shoving all of the darkness down and faking it until I felt like I made it. Only by the time I got there, I was pregnant again and my hormones became the scorpion.

They flowed into my pregnancy, along with severe morning sickness. There were days I had to choose between eating or my prenatal vitamin. I often chose eating because I knew the vitamin would make me vomit whereas I might be able to keep the food down. One day, I lived on just one powdered donut. Other days, less. I couldn’t tolerate food for almost four months, if memory serves correctly.

I remember thinking I didn’t need the prenatal vitamin. I’d be okay, baby would be fine. Or so my hormone rattled brain said so. I didn’t want to get up, I would lay on the couch as our oldest, just a little under a year and a half, begged me to play with her. I couldn’t move or I’d vomit. So she learned to play by herself.

The pregnancy progressed, everything seemed fine, I didn’t have Gestational Diabetes again, the baby measured fine, all was good.

Until my baby shower. I went into labor that evening. I was 35wks and 6 days pregnant. (Women with untreated antenatal depression are more likely to go into labor early….or so says the research). At the time, I didn’t relate the two. I just knew I wasn’t full term and contracting. I labored at home until the next morning when we finally saw the doctor. I was dilated enough for them to send me to the hospital. Baby was on her way. Instead of happy, I was nervous. What was wrong? Why was she coming early? We were close enough to full term, really, less than a week away. But still, she was early.

After 42 hours of grueling labor, my daughter was born. She looked perfect. 10 fingers. 10 toes, screaming, a perfect squishable pink human all mine. I made her. As I tried to latch her to nurse, she wouldn’t latch. Just kept screaming. I didn’t know why. I tried for 30 minutes. Then we called the Lactation Consultant. I knew what I was doing, damn it, I had nursed our first for 16 months. Why wouldn’t she latch?

The Lactation Consultant swept her mouth as soon as she got to our room.

That’s when shit got real.

My darling perfect little squishable baby was rushed away from me, the word “cleft palate” left hanging in the air.

There I lay, in a hospital room, epidural still wearing off, all alone, no staff, no husband, nothing to show for almost 2 full days of labor except for the echoing of my heart shattering, insidious voices flooding my head with the phrase, “It’s your fault.”

I did that to her. She grew inside of me, imperfectly.

I lost it that night, brushed my hair for 10 minutes in front of the mirror. Ugly cried on the phone a lot that week, so much so that my ex-husband couldn’t even understand me at several points. In front of nurses. I cried a LOT. This? Wasn’t the way things were supposed to go. Why had I failed?

She was in the NICU for 21 days, undergoing one major surgery for her jaw at just 9 days old. Seeing your 9 day old infant on apparatus breathing FOR her… yeah.. um… yeah. “I did that to her.”

The kicker? The geneticist at the hospital asked me if I took my prenatal vitamins. I lied. I didn’t need any more guilt. I really didn’t. In my fog, I failed a lot.

People told us if we made it through the first year….we’d be scot-free.

They lied.

She’s seven now. Is one of the bubbliest personalities you could ever hope to meet. She’s perfect in every possible way. But she’s struggled so much and her struggles are far from over. Because of me.

She fights for every word she says. It could be worse, I tell myself. She could have so many other issues kids with her same condition have – texture issues, an additional syndrome, etc. Aside from her Pierre Robin Sequence at birth, she’s fine. She has speech therapy, and has had additional surgeries to help with her speech. Before she was 2, she’d been through three times as many surgeries as I have in my entire life.

I did that to her.

What if I’d taken my prenatals? Would she have been born this way? What if I’d fought harder for myself in seeking help for my depression after the birth of her sister?

Intellectually, I KNOW it’s not my fault. But still, the sting is there, long after the scorpion has faded out of sight.

It’s there, just a tinge of it, every time we talk. Every time I have to decipher what she’s said to me based on the context of the words I am able to understand because I still can’t understand every single thing she says. I recently won $200 headphones. They help me immensely in understanding her when we Skype. The ear-buds I had before just weren’t high enough quality to do so. Even now, I have to make her slow down and repeat what she’s said because she’s seven and well, seven year olds get excited.

She will need a lot of orthodontic work. She has the risk of giving birth to a child with similar issues. Kids will tease her because of the way she talks. She was born a fighter without having a say in the matter. While I know this will serve her well later in life, it is something with which I struggle.

Some mothers have Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, etc, and they heal, with no adverse affect on their children. But there are those out there who experience issues with their children. And because of what we’ve been through, we draw that line from point PPD to point whatever Alphabet Soup DX with our kids. There’s research to back most of it up. There isn’t research (that I’ve found) to back up PPD related to cleft palate but a “Friend” of mine once tried to draw a line to the type of med I may have taken to my daughter’s cleft palate. Punch.IN.THE.GUT.

Moms like me need a gentle hand. We need to be heard, not dismissed. We don’t need to hear that “It’s not your fault” because in our heads? It is. It always will be no matter how much you tell us that it’s not. It just will be. We need you to stand with us, to be there when we need to scream, cry, vent, and shake our fists at the sky. To understand that our truth is a hard truth and sometimes it will break us but we will rebuild, a constant practice in our lives shattered by this spike of unexpected blow-back from our already complex, shame, and stigma-riddled experiences.

We are women made of glass. Under that glass, yes, we are steel, because we have to be, but on the outside, we are glass and we shatter. We need you to be someone who lets us shatter, someone who helps put us back together and take another step forward as we walk toward processing our new truth.

It’s time for us to come out of the darkness and speak up, to be honest about the role we feel we played in the issues affecting our kids, and to find support, REAL support, not dismissive attitudes, in our search for the light both we and our children need to thrive. We seek out the research drawing the lines from Mom to our kid’s issues, whatever they may be. Sometimes, the line tracing back to Mom is real, worth exploring, and worth understanding. Without it, we’re just left wondering why. I, for one, don’t like hanging out in the middle of nowhere with no answers.

Any answer, even a horrible one, is better than no answer at all.

It’s something. A direction in which we can begin to move forward from, a new beginning from which we can start to walk toward solace. Even if we never reach it, walking toward it is often enough. It has to be, right?

 

 

 

Guest post over on Mama’s Comfort Camp


Today, I’m thrilled to have a guest post over on Mama’s Comfort Camp. Yael is an amazing woman, one I am honoured to call friend. When she asked me to write a post to help celebrate the birthday of Mama’s Comfort Camp, I immediately said yes. After a couple of scheduling snafus, the day is finally here.

You can read “The New Village” here.

Go. Read. And discover yet another amazing community of supportive Mamas on the Internet. We’re growing – and you are not alone in your journey along the path of Motherhood. Join us.

About Yael: Yael Saar is a mama on a mission to remove guilt and shame from parenting in order to make room for joy and love. She is the Founder and Keeper of the Mama’s Comfort Camp, a Facebook community that functions as a safe haven and refueling station for hundreds of moms from around the world. This community is free and open to moms of kids of any age, and we share our laughter, tears, and triumphs, all the while normalizing our motherhood struggles and bridging the gap between expectations and reality in a uniquely judgment-free environment.

www.mamascomfortcamp.com

Mawwiage, Mawwiage is what bwings us twogether twoday


This post is part of a week-long celebration of the wedding of a dear friend of mine. I hope you’ll go check out the other celebratory posts too!

“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us twogether twoday…”

This weekend, a dear friend of mine is getting married. A’Driane will tie the knot with her beloved Bert. I’m honoured to call A’Driane friend. She is a force with which to be reckoned. She is passionate, dedicated, and tenacious. She is fierce.

Like me, Addye has faced her own challenges and is vocal about them. She also knows when to pull away and take time for herself. Getting to know Addye has been a blessing. I am truly excited for her this weekend and am wishing both her and Bert all the best. I will be there in spirit.

Marriage is a blessing, a continuance of the journey of two hearts who have found each other and decided to cling to the other as they go through life. It’s not an easy thing, it’s not a simple thing, but when you find the right person, as Addye and Bert have, it is a spectacular thing. It is worth fighting for, worth aching for, worth rejoicing for, and worth celebrating. That’s where the wedding comes in – the ceremony celebrates love and the joining of their hearts.

As you join your hearts together for eternity tomorrow, may both of you be blessed with all the happiness and tenacity the world has to give. May you lose yourselves in the passion you hold for each other and never forget what it was that brought you together in the first place. May you always love as if you are in a state of perpetual youth. May you always face whatever life throws at you with hands held, looking forward and never back. May you both be filled with continuous awe of the precious love you hold for one another.

May you always hold hands, laugh loudly, love deeply, and above all else, cling to each other fiercely even when times get tough – and cling to each other just as fiercely even when times are not so tough.

Congratulations to you both.

Addye Heart

Being Me


Growing up female is tricky business. There’s so much we’re expected to do, expected to say, nod, smile, grin, hide the negative, put on your happy face, kiss ass, kick ass, love this because everyone else does and OH MY GOD don’t do that because it’s not lady like.

I’d like to take a second to thank my parents for not raising me to bow down to those around me but instead taking the time to encourage me to question everything, dig deeper, be strong, to foster my desire and passion for writing, and above all else, raising me to be HAPPY.

Sure there are things they wish I was doing instead of what I am doing right now, a vision they probably had for my life but they have always supported me…or at least made me feel supported in whatever I chose as my path.

So for me, when I’m not happy, I have failed. When I’m not myself, I have failed. I haven’t failed when I don’t kiss someone’s ass just because I should. I haven’t failed because I haven’t achieved some sort of materialistic goal. I haven’t failed because things aren’t in some sort of perfect magical sublime order (although my OCD disagrees vehemently with that statement).

Things could be better, sure. I’d really love to be employed. That would rock. But I’m not. What I am is fulfilled. There’s not a paycheck with that, no, but there is peace, happiness, and a strong sense of self. I am doing, right now, exactly what I am meant to be doing.

What anyone happens to think of that does not matter to me.

It doesn’t matter to me that someone thinks I *should* be getting paid. Or that I *should* be doing this or I should have tried harder at that. Wanna know why? That worry is theirs to bear, not mine. That worry is not on my back.

I’ve survived hell more than a few times. Yes, others have gone through worse hells but this one, this one is mine. Filled with potholes of chronic pain, Postpartum Mood Disorders, loss to cancer, addiction of a spouse, a special needs baby, divorce, and the struggle to redefine myself after living an a hostile environment for so very long – an environment which I allowed to completely turn my sense of self inside out.

I’m writing this in response to a post over at Schmutzie’s place entitled “We Can Become Known”. Go read it. I guarantee you’ll be empowered to write a post of your own. If not, it’ll give you something to think about for a bit.

When I was in therapy, one of the TOUGHEST things my therapist asked me was “Do you know who you are? Really know who you are?” Then she challenged me with this beauty…”I don’t think you’ve ever truly shown your true self to anyone, not even to yourself.”

Wow.

You try sitting across from someone who has just said this to you and stay tear-free as you realize, “Fuck. No. I haven’t. FUCK. Who the hell am I???” Yeah. That session rocked my world.

Do I know who I am now?

Yeah, sorta, kinda, okay, maybe not but sorta…um… what was the question? I’ll be figuring out who I am until the second I take my last breath because I believe every experience, every exchange, changes us to a certain extent. Maybe not to our core (although there are those type of experiences out there – trust me – I’ve had a few) but they change us ever so slightly.

For the first time in years, and I do mean, in YEARS, I am comfortable in my own skin. I am comfortable in my own head, in my own soul. I’ve hit the trifecta and baby, can’t nobody stop the trifecta.

The best part of all of this? I’m with someone now who loves me for ME, supports me, and is happy to just BE himself with me. Seriously, y’all.. this is the hollywood ending. I’m not gonna lie and say it’s not work, because it is – but when it’s honest, compassionate, filled with trust, and adorned with love – it’s a hollywood ending even if there is a lot of behind the scenes work.

All that hell I’ve been through makes it worth that much more.

I’m growing bolder in lifting the veil off the person I’ve become over the past two years, figuring out how to translate it all into words which sit on a page (or the Interwebz). Like a giant glacier, I am thawing in the ever-warming world, water oozing into a waiting and welcoming ocean.

I may not be perfect, but I’m me.

And in the words of Amy Poehler (via Tina Fey via Schmutzie’s blog):

“I don’t fucking care if you don’t like it.”
Because I’m done bending over and making people happy just because that’s what the world expects me to do – I’ve never been very good at it anyway.
Besides.
As Laura Thatcher Ulrich once stated, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”