A Simple Dream


A mum in the UK recently took her own life. Fellow PPD blogger Ivy Shih Leung wrote a very long and insightful piece about it here.

While I have not read anything beyond Ivy’s piece, I want to address one of the issues Ivy touches on in her post. For me, it is one of the primary reasons women who struggle with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder still fight so desperately with reaching out for help and then with actually receiving the proper help.

Our battle has multiple levels. Were PMAD’s a video game, we would have to survive level after harrowing level before finally reaching a properly educated doctor or therapist. Some of us may be lucky enough to skip all these harrowing levels but for most of us, we are destined to fight with all we have while we don’t have much just to get by in a world expecting us to be super mom while we are at it.

First, we have to fight with ourselves to acknowledge that there is a problem.

Then, we fight with loved ones for help with every day tasks and with reaching out for help.  We fight the argument that we are “faking” or “pretending” just to get out of housework or parenting. We are, some of us, told to suck it up and get over it. Move on. We’ll fall in love with our children eventually. Worse yet, some of us are told depression is some sort of luxury the former generations did not have time with which to deal.

Next, we fight with the front desk folks at the doctor’s office who may tell us such things as “If you’re not suicidal, don’t call us until you are.” (And yes, shamefully, that DOES happen in real life).

We then level up to arguing with a doctor who may brilliantly tell us that our hormones should be back in order by now so of course it can’t be Postpartum Depression despite the fact that we just admitted several high risk symptoms to them. So we are referred to the therapist who calls and reschedules until we are exhausted and cancel altogether.

So we suck it up and try to make do on our own until the next baby when we completely fall apart and start the entire routine all over again. Only this time around, there is a little less resistance from family members and friends because they have seen you go through this before and realize that maybe, just maybe, she isn’t making it up this time around.

But we have to stay off the Internet because it’s a dangerous place for a woman with a PMAD to be – we will be judged for breastfeeding while taking medication or for giving formula because we have to medicate. We didn’t try hard enough to protect ourselves, there is something wrong with us. Damn straight there is something wrong with us – it’s an illness, it’s real, and it is hell.

Psychiatric stigma is bullshit. The divisiveness motherhood brings to a woman’s life is bullshit. Hell, sometimes just being a woman altogether is bullshit. Why we judge each other so harshly for our choices is so beyond me I don’t even know how to begin to understand why we do this. I’m serious – I truly do not understand the in-fighting or bickering.

It comes down to understanding one simple truth:

Each mother needs to do what is best for HER and for HER family. As long as she is doing just that, we do not need to judge, we do not need to place blame, stigma, guilt, or any other negative blanket upon her or her family.

The Internet can be a fabulous place for support if you end up surrounded by the right people and ignore the wrong people. It’s finding the wonderful people that is the challenge.

I have a simple dream, in closing. It’s a dream that one day, mothers of all sort of different beliefs, will be able to have a discussion about parenting without inadvertently reducing each other to panic attacks and/or tears because they’ve judged someone for doing something outside the realm of *their* comfort zone.

One day, right?

Why Stigma is Not Like a Band-Aid


Stigma sucks.

So does Stigmata but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

Thing is, band-aids would do a better job of healing stigmata, as horrific as it is, than it they would to heal the misconceptions about mental illness.

For centuries, people have developed their own fears and prejudices in regards to those of us who struggle with mental illness.

We’re scary.

We’re violent.

We’re stupid.

We can’t function.

We should be locked away.

We are to be feared.

We are to be hidden.

We are to be whispered about.

We are not to be talked about at all.

We are to hide our illness the best we can.

We are an embarrassment to our families.

We can’t have friends.

We can’t have children.

We can make our illness go away.

We choose to be crazy, nuts, insane, loco.

We use mental illness as an excuse to not contribute to society.

We are lazy.

Meet stigma.

Stigma is a heavy blanket which covers all of us who struggle with mental illness. Not only do we fight against whatever illness it is we are diagnosed with, but we fight the blanket too. It’s a thick and heavy blanket society has flung over us to hide us as we try to function within their world. It’s hiding us. Just as a band-aid hides a wound.

Band-aids don’t always heal wounds. Sometimes a wound needs to breathe, to gulp in fresh air, scab over, and continue to grow new skin in order to heal. Fresh air is the equivalent of open conversation of mental illness not laced with stigma. Until we, as a society, are able to sit down at a table together to discuss mental illness without resorting to judging or stigmatizing those who struggle with it, we will never heal.

Stigma is not something which can be pulled off quickly like a band-aid either.

It requires a slow removal because stigma is a wound which has been festering for eons. Lots of tender care is required in order to aid in the wound reaching fresh air. Several layers need to be removed, slowly and carefully. Bold conversations, intense honesty, patience, compassion, and a dedicated desire to convey the truth about mental health are requirements.

It is possible to peel back the layers and allow the wounds to heal. Start with one person and you might be surprised where your ripple of truth ends up. But if you never start that conversation? Stigma will continue to thrive. Don’t hesitate to do something because you believe just one voice doesn’t make a difference. Because your voice, no matter how small, matters.

Postpartum voice of the Week: Mommy Guilt Starts Early


Today’s Postpartum Voice of the Week post is shared with us by a dear friend of mine from way back. Kim and I “met” at iVillage when we were pregnant with our first kids back in 2003. Her second child was born around the same time as my second daughter. iVillage was the first place I found a community of support and the first place to encourage me to seek help for Postpartum Depression with my first daughter. Kim and I have stayed in touch and evolved to FB friends these days. We still have to meet in person but she truly is a friend. She’s hilarious, tenacious, and just all around awesome. The piece below is something she emailed me a few weeks ago. She wasn’t sure what to do with it. I asked her to consider thinking about sharing it with my readers as it left me in complete awe. When she emailed me to let me know I could indeed share it, I squealed with delight. Kim’s words capture what so many of us have experienced and they capture it exceedingly well. May her words mean as much to you as they have to her, to me, and I hope you share them with others who may need to read them.

Mommy Guilt Starts Early

I never would have thought that one of the happiest days of my life would involve peeing on a stick and waiting, breathlessly, to see how many lines appeared in the window. It also would be the beginning of a journey so wrought with pitfalls that left me battle scarred both inside and out.

My pregnancy was not a blissful, glowing and euphoric time in my life. It was amazing, yes, but I was so sick and miserable that the “mommy guilt” started before I even gave birth. I should have been radiant. I should have been mesmerized and enchanted by the little things that make growing a human such a miracle. I should have been breathless with anticipation of becoming a Mommy, the greatest profession ever. But, I wasn’t.

The Best Laid Plans

We had planned a natural birth. We had a doula, we took Bradley classes, we were ready. Baby had other ideas. Eight days after his due date, I was induced. I won’t go into the nitty gritty details, because scaring other ladies about childbirth is not my goal, but suffice it to say nothing went as planned. Not the pregnancy, nor the birth, and not even the first few hours and days after he arrived.

I was completely overwhelmed. I chalked it up to not knowing what to do having not really been around babies before. I attributed it to not getting enough sleep, the pain meds, and to the fact that he was a fussy baby. At night, I would awake in the midst of a panic attack and bolt upright (not an easy or comfortable feat after a C-section) to check on him. He would cry and my anxiety would go through the roof. Sitting in the dark, rocking and nursing him, should have been soothing but my skin would crawl and I just wanted to run away. In the dark, he wasn’t my baby. In the dark, he was the reason for the internal battle that raged inside me; the darkness that ate at me and consumed me. I cried. A lot. We both cried. A lot.

He grew and thrived and I swallowed my anxiety. We went for walks and play dates and splashed in the puddles. He was sleeping better at night and we enjoyed each other. He still wouldn’t be left with anyone else and had the random crying fit but, in general, life became a comfortable place. That’s when we decided to give A a brother or sister. As before, my husband barely breathed on me and I was pregnant.

This pregnancy wasn’t any easier and I was even sicker than the time before. The doubts started creeping in and I was finally able to verbalize a small part of what I’d gone through before. My OB mentioned post-partum depression and offered Zoloft for the end of my pregnancy. I felt fine. I refused and said we’d keep an eye on it. Baby N arrived and things went better. I chalked it up to knowing what to expect the second time around.

Little A was a good big brother. The first year was a blur of trying to balance the baby’s needs and those of his big brother. As the boys approached their birthdays (A turning 3 and N turning 1), life began to get more complicated. Little A began really acting out. I mean, the 2’s had been hard enough but the 3’s were looking like they were going to be the biggest challenge yet. The mommy guilt came hard and fast and I felt completely ill equipped to handle these toddlers. Little A became more and more angry and belligerent. He began to hit his brother when he was angry. I visited a therapist and she made me feel like it was my fault. He was just a little boy.

He wasn’t intentionally hitting my buttons and it was my inadequacies that caused the escalation in behavior. I tried talking to the pediatrician and was told that it was normal behavior on the part of a 3 year old. The darkness started coming back. I cried. A lot. I felt like a complete failure as a mother. We hadn’t bonded. I had un-diagnosed, un-treated PPD that held me back from bonding with my son and he was showing this to us. That’s what I thought; what I felt in my heart. That same heart was broken.

My heart was broken as was my kid. *I* had broken my kid. My son. My beautiful boy who had depended upon me for his very well being had suffered because of my inability to be the mom he deserved.

After the birth of our third child, I could no longer deny that I was depressed. I was having anxiety attacks frequently and for days on end I would start every day by sitting in the shower and sob big, body-wracking, sobs. Finally, I spoke up and my doctor listened.

No longer was I viewing my son through guilt-riddled lenses and I began to see other things that I had missed. It became clear that the things I felt had been my fault were not. I was suffering from a chemical imbalance, as was he. The rages, the meltdowns, the complete irrationality were not, in fact, due to my own parental failings but a chemical reaction within his brain coupled with the fact that my son is gifted. Put those two together and it became a whirlwind of emotion, both high and low, and instead of seeing this objectively, I took the blame.

Shoot, I didn’t just take it, I doled it out in big giant steaming heaps. I have been my own worst enemy. I saw fault where there was none. I suffered guilt when it was there was no need.

I did not break my child. Whew. I did not break my child.

Those of us who hold the platinum award for Mommy Guilt could easily find guilt in missing out on so much pleasure from his childhood because of all of this. But I won’t. I refuse. I did not break my child. I did not ask, nor cause, myself to suffer from Postpartum Depression. My son and I ARE bonded and I adore him; madly, completely, and without question. Because of me (ok, and his daddy too!) Little A is crazy smart, he’s sweet, and funny, creative, athletic and loving.

My son is whole. I did not break him.

Confessions of a Cleft Palate Mama


As an active blogger and Social Media participant, I choose to live my life out loud. In choosing to live my life in this manner, I open myself and my life up for comments and questions. Sometimes, these comments and questions hurt. Sometimes they are meant to cut. Other times, they are not meant to hurt but are instead posed with the best of intentions. The latter often catch me off guard. Such a situation occurred this past week. Instead of dashing off a quick and angry response, I called a friend and nearly ended up in tears as I described the situation to him. I let it sit over night as I thought about the best way to respond. Then I took to Twitter to vent about the situation. Once I took to Twitter, I realized I was not alone in my very justified reaction to the inquiry. Instead of a private response, I choose to handle this in a public manner. There are many other mothers of children with birth defects in this world and all of us battle the same thing deep down inside. All of us are consumed by guilt.

The birth of my second daughter at 35 weeks and 5 days occurred 42 hours after my first contraction. I pushed twice and her screams filled the air of the delivery room instantly as she emerged into my nurse’s waiting arms. Placed on my chest, she continued to scream and writhe about as most newborns do. At first glance, she appeared healthy. All fingers, all toes, you know, the important stuff. When she screamed however, her mouth gaped at the top where her palate should have been. I blinked and tried to check but blamed it on exhaustion. I tried to latch her onto my breast to nurse but it didn’t work. After several tries, on and off, her screaming, me almost in tears, we requested the Lactation Consultant.

The Lactation consultant came in, slipped on gloves, and swiped our 30 minute old daughter’s mouth. “She’s got a cleft.” A swarm of activity buzzed about our room and suddenly there I was, alone, in bed, freshly delivered and still numb from the epidural. No one to talk to, no one to explain to me what was going on. The thoughts started. I knew of a cleft. I knew it meant something was missing. But I didn’t know the cause. I didn’t know why. Then I thought. I thought some more. What had I done wrong?

Early in my pregnancy, I was unable to take prenatal vitamins because they induced severe nausea. Forced to choose between taking the vitamins or not eating, I chose to not take the vitamins. I even tried taking them at night but it was a no go. My depression from the birth of our first daughter also played into the decision to not discuss this nausea at length with my OB. Nausea continued well into the 6th month of my pregnancies. By the 6th month, though, I still was not taking my prenatals. In my depression delusional mind, I even wondered if it would truly affect my growing child’s well-being.

At six months pregnant, however, even if I HAD taken my prenatals, it wouldn’t have mattered. Most clefts form between 4-6 weeks, well before a woman is even aware of her pregnancy. Many clefts are even impossible to link to a specific cause. Our daughter’s specific cleft, a bilateral complete cleft of both hard and soft palate (meaning essentially, she had NO PALATE whatsover), was associated with a condition called Pierre Robin Sequence (pronounced Pea-air Roh-ban). Her jaw was also recessed, her tiny tongue was floppy, and her airway was narrow. In the 1920’s, PRS babies had a slim chance of survival. Today, however, the rate of survival is very high and surgery is available to correct these issues.

I was asked, several times, by several doctors, if I had taken my prenatal vitamins. I lied. Yes, I know I shouldn’t have lied. I should have been honest. But between depression, PTSD, and the guilt now whirring around in my head, rational behaviour escaped me. My partner didn’t even know I hadn’t taken my prenatals until I confessed while in labor with our son. (Hell of a time to confess, huh?)

Bottom line: I BLAMED MYSELF FOR MY DAUGHTER’S CLEFT.

Yes, rationally I know now I am not to blame. There is no family history of cleft. No associated genetic syndrome along with her PRS. It formed well before I could have done anything about it and even Mothers who take folic acid religiously still have a risk of giving birth to a child with a cleft. I know clefts are nearly impossible to see on a standard u/s unless you are looking for them specifically. Intellectually, rationally, I know all of this. and yet, the guilt consumes me. She grew inside me. She grew imperfectly. Logically I am to blame. If she is imperfect, there is something wrong with me. I failed my daughter before she was even born. I failed at motherhood a second time before I even held her. I FAILED.

Mothers of children with birth defects, with special needs know what I am talking about. We feel this every day. We fight like hell to not let this guilt eat at us. We fight against stigma, misinformation, judgment, and ignorance. We live with the stares, with the internal guilt which threatens to rip us apart every second of the day. We ferociously fight for our children so they may have a chance to live a normal life. A life of which they are completely worthy.

My daughter is nearly 6 years old now. She is beautiful. She is intelligent. She is determined, obstinate, and full of perseverance. She is happy. She is thriving. She is PERFECT. She is LOVED.

It doesn’t matter what I did or didn’t do all those years ago. I cannot go back in time to change anything which happened. Even if I could, I would not want to go back in time to do so. Because if I did, I wouldn’t have a daughter who has taught me more than anyone else in my life about the importance of hanging in there, fighting for even the simplest things (like speech, breathing, and eating), or that the most important thing in life is to be happy and keep others laughing right along with you.

Just Talkin’ Tuesday 01.25.11: Buried under Mama Guilt


 

Original Graphic by Lauren Hale, Author, MPV

Mama Guilt.

What does this mean to you?

In your life, right now, what invokes this emotion within you?

Is it when you work? Is it because you don’t work outside the home?

When you do something just for YOU?

When something goes wrong? When you lose control? Fail at perfection? Compare yourself to another mom who is perfectly wrapped and coiffed?

Yelling at your kids instead of gently guiding them toward the desired behavior?

Sleeping when you should be up at the crack of dawn because it’s just not motherhood unless you throw yourself under the bus every second of every day?

Wondering if your child is missing milestones because of something you did or didn’t do?

Are you enrolling them in enough extracurricular activities? Engaging them?

Or are you sitting on your computer chatting on Twitter, reading blogs, commenting at blogs? Judging other moms?

Chiding your husband? Wishing you could stay home with the kids instead of going to work?

Doing ANYTHING without your kids?

Loving bedtime?

Loving naptime?

Mama Guilt.

Dangerous ground, this emotion.

This week’s Just Talking Tuesday isn’t really a conversation starter. Perhaps it is – but I want to issue a challenge along with it.

This week? Pick ONE thing which causes you the most Mama Guilt. Write it down on a piece of paper. BURN THE PIECE OF PAPER. TEAR IT UP. DESTROY IT. LET.IT.GO.

Then Post here. Tell us what you destroyed, how you destroyed it, and why. Let us know how we can help you keep moving away from your guilt. Alone, we are powerless. But together? Unstoppable.

Let’s do this.