Bleach It, Bleach It Good

My youngest son has been sick with one thing or another every 1-2 weeks for the last month.

It started with Strep throat, which he apparently had for almost a week before anyone noticed. I swear we aren’t terrible parents. We thought he just had a cold because he wasn’t complaining of a sore throat. He was eating and drinking like normal. It wasn’t until he got a fine, red rash (known as Scarlet Fever), that I decided to take him to the doctor, and he tested positive for Strep. Oops.

Next, less than a week after the Strep diagnosis, he got very congested and started coughing. Cough and congestion are not typical Strep symptoms, so we took him back to the doctor, where they did a Complete Blood Count (CBC) test, to confirm that his immune system was functioning properly, and diagnosed a simple cold virus.

As our doctor was explaining the CBC test to me, and confirming that our son’s immune response looked completely normal, my son was crawling around on the floor of the doctor’s office. Before you judge, we’d been there for a long time, he was restless, and I was trying to be patient and choose my battles. Anyways, our doctor was explaining that viruses are opportunistic and that, since his immune system was down from battling strep, he probably just came into contact with something else and picked it up, too.

As these words departed the mouth of our family pediatrician, we, the doctor and I, looked over at my son and simultaneously witnessed him stand up from the tile floor, and lick his hand. While I stared on, frozen in horror and contemplating the myriad of germs that must exist on the floor of a pediatrician’s office, our doctor chuckled and said “Yep, that’ll do it.”

A week and a half later, on a Sunday afternoon, he woke up from his nap crying hysterically, complaining of a stomach ache and with a fever that read 106.2 on our temporal thermometer. The temporal thermometer almost always reads high, so his fever was more likely at 104 or 105. Still, very high. Since he was upset and we could not seem to calm him down or tell what was going on, we packed off to the ER. They could not find anything wrong with him. After a dose of Motrin and a couple hours, his fever retreated and we went home. The next day, his stomach pain gone, he was lethargic, had chills and was holding himself stiff, as though his muscles hurt. I took him back to the pediatrician where they ran another CBC test (results were normal), diagnosed the Flu and prescribed Tamiflu.

Within 48 hours he was a new kid, healthy and happy and symptom free. This sounds strange to say, but I felt a little better when, a week later, my husband caught the Flu and it looked just the same as it had when our son had it (stomach pain followed by fever, chills and body aches). Seeing him get it, reinforced our pediatrician’s words which had explained that our son isn’t catching or contracting strange mystery illnesses, he is just catching run of the mill viruses back to back, while his immune system is too over-worked to wage a battle. Sorry honey, but thanks for getting the Flu.

Just this past weekend, about 2 weeks after our Flu diagnosis, his nose started running and he started coughing. No fever this time, so it seems to just be another mild cold virus or, with the weather doing crazy Midwestern things, it could even be allergies. Either way, it looks like we’re not done with our run of winter maladies. He was in good spirits all weekend though, and the weather was nice, so we spent some time playing in the driveway with a sensory box full of colored rice. When play time was over, we came inside to wash our hands. I was tidying up in the bathroom as my son stepped up onto his step stool, but I looked over just in time for him to lock eyes with me… and lick his hand.

Send help. And Lysol.

 

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Capture Your Grief, Day 31 – Sunset

Thank you for sticking with me as I spent the last month exploring my grief using these Capture Your Grief prompts. This prompted writing series certainly offered some new perspectives for me, and I look forward to building on the lessons that I uncovered as a result of this exercise.

Today’s post will be very short, but I didn’t want to let the sun set on this series, without telling you that I have lots more planned for this space in the coming months, so stay tuned!

See you back here soon!

Capture Your Grief, Day 30 – Reflection

You might have noticed that I’ve been skipping CYG here and there.  I’d apologize, but I’m not really sorry.  My youngest son has been sick on and off for the last 3 weeks and, in addition to  being busy taking care of him, my anxiety has been nearly unbearable. I’ve been taking it one day at a time, and haven’t had a lot of space in my heart for the vulnerability that comes with writing. It’s temporary, though, as you can see. After all, here I am.

We are finishing up the Capture Your Grief writing prompts. Tomorrow’s will be the last one. I’d like to say that I’ve enjoyed them, but the truth is that I sort of, well… didn’t. However, I do think that this series has been important for me. I’m terrible at feeling my feelings, and grief is an especially icky thing to force oneself to examine, but it is for this reason especially, that I have grown from doing this work. I haven’t had any huge breakthroughs, but these prompts have provided a platform for some small, but important revelations, and it is one of those revelations that I want to talk about today.

Last week, or maybe it was the week before… Hell, it could have been yesterday. When your child is sick, all the days just sort of run together. Anyways, at some point in the recent past, I was reflecting on the Capture Your Grief prompts, and how I spent a lot of them actually writing about anxiety. I felt a little like I messed them up, in that respect. I spent too much time thinking about anxiety, and not enough time thinking about grief. Then, it hit me -my anxiety and my grief are so tightly bound that it would be impossible to explore one, without exploring the other.

For example, I’ve recently been telling my therapist how I have had a hard time planning my youngest son’s 4th birthday party and the two reasons that I can come up with are, in a nutshell, Anxiety and Grief.

The first reason, is that both the intrusive and magical thinking which I experience as symptoms of my anxiety are trying to scare me into thinking that we aren’t going to make it to 4. For those of you who do not have anxiety, I just want you to think about that last sentence for a moment, because for a lot of mothers with PPA, this is a common issue/fear. My (perfectly healthy and strong) son’s 4th birthday is not just a given. I have trouble keeping faith that we will make it. In the words I used with my therapist, it feels cocky to believe that we will make it there. It feels arrogant and naive to believe that my son will do what humans do – that he will grow up. This is not me being “grateful for every day”, or “not taking life for granted”. No, no. Those things are great. This is not great. I am full-on paranoid about planning a party, or buying a larger bed, or buying 1 size up in clothing, because I am terrified that it won’t happen, or that it won’t be necessary. As I understand it, this is a pretty textbook example of intrusive thinking and magical thinking combined. Both are classic anxiety symptoms. Either way, it is every bit as awful as it sounds.

The second reason is related to the first, but has a deeper connection to grief. To put it simply, I am afraid to get my hopes up, because I don’t want to be disappointed. My therapist is the one who connected this to grief, and it was not until she discovered this link that I began to see just how intrinsically connected my anxiety and grief are.

You see, when we got pregnant with Clara, I was recovered from my first bout of PPA. I knew that having another baby meant risking another battle with anxiety, but I felt well supported and prepared. Getting pregnant took a lot of courage, and it also meant that I believed it was safe. I believed that it was safe to have another baby. I believed, truly believed, that things would be fine. I had learned to ignore the anxious voice in my brain until it was no more than a breath of a whisper. Being brave in the face of PPA and pregnant again was like hoisting a trophy over my head. I was radiant with victory.

And then we lost her.

It felt like the Universe was putting me back in my place. The disappointment was all-consuming. I felt ashamed for having hoped. I didn’t know it then, but I had begun to associate hope and planning for the future, with loss and disappointment. I had inadvertently connected hope with pain.

So, thanks to my brilliant goddess of a therapist, when I think about planning my son’s birthday party and feel that deep and guttural fear, I understand why. It hasn’t made the fear stop, but understanding why it is happening is the first step in the process of unraveling that connection. This is a perfect example of why I am such a huge proponent of therapy. I don’t think I ever would have made that connection on my own, but when she pointed it out, I felt a shift happen inside of me. I knew that she was uncovering something important. It wasn’t quite an ah-ha moment, but it was something, for sure.

If you are currently suffering from what you suspect might be anxiety or depression, please, please, see my Resources page (you can navigate to it from the teal colored menu, right under the header), and get started on finding a therapist in your area. Therapy saved me from Postpartum Anxiety once before, and it is, one day at a time, giving me my life back.

I’m looking forward to being able to plan for the future again. I know someday I will not be afraid to hope, and I can’t wait for that day to come.

Peace and love to you, friends.

Resources Super Post!

Hi, friends. I hope you’re doing super excellent today. But in case you’re not, I wanted to compile some resources that you might find helpful. I am initially writing this as a blog post, but a less wordy version of this list will have a permanent home on the blog, in the main navigation menu (the teal bar under the header). So, you can come back to it anytime.

Postpartum Mood Disorders/Maternal Mental Illness

Here is a very comprehensive list of Postpartum Depression, Anxiety & OCD Symptoms, brought to you by the AMAZING people at Postpartum Progress.

I want to just take a moment to talk to you about that link, and what it means to me. I owe my life to the people at Postpartum Progress, because of that list. No joke. There were moments, before I entered therapy for PPA, when I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have the words to express what I was experiencing. I was ashamed. I was terrified. I thought I was alone. All I knew was that I could not go on living like that. In the worst of it, I was barely sleeping, having panic attacks regularly, and only barely functioning as a real life adult woman. I was sure that I was a burden to my husband. I was sure that I was a terrible mother. I was sure that I would somehow lose my youngest son, and I was so afraid of experiencing that loss, and exhausted from living in (and carefully hiding) a constant state of terror, that I thought it might be easier if I just ended my own life. It was that bad.

One day, in a desperate attempt to find an explanation, I stumbled across that link, and it was like it was written about me. A sampling of the symptoms that I experienced, which are also on the Postpartum Progress list:

  • Racing mind. Unable to relax.
  • Always have to be doing something. Cleaning, knitting, washing, working. Doing. Doing. Doing.
  • Always worried. Will the baby wake up? Will the baby grow up? Will the baby get sick? Will the baby be safe?
  • Disturbing thoughts.  I started crying when I read that one. I had been struggling so hard with the horror movies that played in my head every time I walked my baby over a concrete surface, reading that this was a symptom of anxiety was life changing.
  • Pacing. I used to pace in the living room in the middle of the night, like a caged animal, while trying to stave off a panic attack.
  • Insomnia
  • Dread. The constant feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. The nonstop sensation that something horrible is just around the bend.
  • Having to do or say certain things, for fear that if I don’t, something bad will happen.

I had been screened for PPD at our Well Baby check ups, and had passed the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scale every single time, because I didn’t have PPD. I had PPA, and they can look very different. Consistently passing the PPD screenings only reinforced the notion that I was alone, and just sucking at being a mom, rather than experiencing a nearly textbook manifestation of a widely documented mental illness.

That link saved my life. After finding it, I immediately used Postpartum Progress’ list of therapists who specialize in the treatment of postpartum mood disorders, to connect with the therapists that I have now been seeing for the past 2 years. So, when I say that I owe Postpartum Progress my life, I mean it. They made it possible for me to not only understand that my symptoms meant something, but they connected me with the women who have brought me back from the brink. Thank you will never be enough, but it will have to do.

Also from Postpartum Progress, an equally comprehensive description of the symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis.

Please keep in mind that you may not experience all of the symptoms on any of these lists, or you may experience some from each of them. Anxiety and Depression look different for everyone. Also, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms while pregnant, you may have antenatal/pregnancy depression or anxiety. This is also common, and also treatable!

General Depression and Anxiety 

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety and are not a parent, or you just do not feel like the PPD or PPA symptoms resonate with you quite accurately, you may have a more generalized depression or anxiety disorder. There are a ton of resources out there for you to also connect with a therapist.

Does your employer offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? An EAP is not related to medical insurance, and if it is a part of your benefits package, you might be eligible for some free counseling through that program. Most EAPs don’t offer unlimited sessions, but this is a great way to try out therapists for free, while you try to find someone who will be a good long-term fit. Talk with your Human Resources department to ask if this is available to you. If it is, I recommend getting a list of therapists from your EAP and then cross-referencing it with In-Network providers on your health insurance plan (you can get this list from your health insurance company). Use your free EAP appointments only for therapists who are also covered under your medical plan, guaranteeing that if you find someone you like, you’ll be able to stick with them after your EAP benefits run out.

Lastly, there are a ton of resources online that can help you connect with therapists in your area. Spend some time searching and meeting with therapists until you find the right fit for you!

Self-Care

Here are some of my favorite resources for self-care ideas and tips. I will add to this list as I find new things to share, and feel free to share your favorites, too, either in the comments or by sending me a note!

Ellen Bard’s Super Comprehensive Compilation of Self Care Wonderfulness (that’s not her title, but it’s what I have come to call this mammoth piece in my head) I keep coming back to this, and find something new every time.

Mindful.org Learn the ins and outs of Mindfulness and begin a journey towards a more present You.

Stop, Breathe & Think I use this app on my phone almost every day.

Susannah Conway Susannah has a variety of e-courses and workshops that I love. She has such a knack for opening up the connection with oneself through her writing and thoughtful photography. So, rather than link to any of her specific offerings, I’ll just send you right to her homepage – enjoy!

ASMR I’ve talked about ASMR before, so I’m not going to go into a ton of detail explaining just what it is. But I am including it here, because it is a big part of my self-care.  I’m just linking to my favorite ASMR content creator, but a quick YouTube search for ASMR will open up a strange corner of the internet that you never knew existed! Enjoy!

Community

Besides therapy, one of the most helpful things that I have done is to seek out community. Surrounding myself with people who understand maternal mental illness, or who simply share interests similar to my own, has been pivotal in erasing the isolation of Motherhood. Because if we’re all Misfits, no one is. With that in mind, here are a few of the communities of which I am a part. I recommend you seek out Facebook groups which mirror your own interests and hobbies, as well as seek out support groups for people experiencing PPD, PPA, grief, or generalized depression and anxiety disorders.

Motherhood Misfit on Facebook

Postpartum Progress Warrior Moms

The Offbeat Empire

Failure:Lab See the Failure:Lab talk I did here!

Ravelry All my fellow knitters and crocheters – If you’re not already on Ravelry, get signed up, post haste!  Then add me so I can creep on your projects!

You may notice that there are no grief support or parental bereavement communities listed here. I think they can be a wonderful source of comfort for many, but my anxiety disorder and the fact that I am intensely triggered by the loss of children, means that those communities tend to be more upsetting for me than they are helpful. So, I know there are some great resources out there for parents who have experienced loss, but my own anxiety boundaries keep me from being a part of them.

Okay, friends, that’s it for now. Thanks for sticking with me if you made it this far!  As I mentioned 10 years ago, when you started reading this post, a condensed version of it will have a permanent home in the main navigation menu (right below the header), which I will add to as I find new and helpful resources to share!

Capture Your Grief, Day 27 – Self Portrait

IMG_20160216_205219

Life is a series of moments, and this is one of mine.

When I look at this photo, I see an invisible battle being waged.

I am living with an anxiety disorder, and every day, in almost every moment, I am fighting. I am fighting my anxious brain with my intellectual brain. I am fighting the terrifying voice which tells me that I have to use a certain coffee mug every morning, or say a certain phrase at bedtime, or else my child will die. The voice which somehow turns the most benign of tasks into life-altering decisions.

I see a woman falling through life, somehow managing to look like she generally has her shit together. On closer inspection, though, I see the chipped nail polish. I see the breakouts on her skin. I see the bags under her eyes. I know the larger stories these small details tell.

I see eyes which have known great loss, and great fear.

But, I see something else, too.

I see a woman who, despite the daily battle, works hard to advocate for women’s health issues, both mental and reproductive. I see a woman who has decided to own her story, rather than hide from it, because there is a chance that it could help someone. I see a woman who went to work today, who went to therapy today, who adulted pretty damn well on all fronts, despite the endless barrage of triggers that she has experienced in the last 3 weeks. I see a woman who swallowed her pride, and then swallowed her meds, and did her best to get back to the business of living.

I see a mother and wife who loves deeply. A love so deep that, in the darkest moments, it was the only thing that kept her here.

I see the battle. I see the pain. But, one thing I do not see, is shame.

Keep fighting, friends, because every day you are a freakin’ hero.

Don’t Touch Butts.

Over the course of the last few months or so, I have noticed my youngest son beginning to develop an alarming habit.

He’s a butt slapper.

It started as a silly game. I’m not sure where he picked it up *insert raised eyebrow in husband’s direction*, but he would occasionally do a fly by, giggling, butt smack. In the beginning, I was his only victim, but eventually he moved on and began to target the rear ends of his older brother and my husband. Butt smacks were infrequent, innocent and generally met with laughter on our end.

In the recent months however, he has expanded his butt smacking portfolio, by smacking the butts of 2 grandmas, 1 grandpa, and the odd aunt and uncle. Each time, I experienced a momentary flicker of embarrassment, but it disappeared quickly when our laid back family members laughed and rolled with the innocent silliness of it all. If they weren’t bothered by it, it didn’t seem like a problem. However, what started out as the adorable shenanigans of a lovable rascal, had begun to morph into something which merits a conversation.

One afternoon, I was standing at the kitchen counter, working on my laptop, when I heard the familiar pitter-patter of tiny, mischievous feet. Before I knew it, a tiny hand smacked my butt and quickly ran away. This singular drive-by attack was apparently not enough though, because he soon returned and smacked once more, before again retreating down the hallway in a fit of giggles.

I chuckled to myself and then, looking up, met the eyes of my oldest son’s friend. The older boys had had a sleepover the night before, and were sitting at the dining room table, finishing their lunch. In an instant, I realized the error of our ways. If our butts were fair game, and grandmotherly butts were fair game, and the butts of grandpas, aunts and uncles were fair game, it would only be a matter of time before my oldest son’s friends’ butts were fair game, too. Really, who knows how ambitious his butt-smacking goals may be. For all we know, he has plans to expand his territory to strangers in stores, classmates, teachers. Perhaps I’ll take him to the grocery store one day, and he will catch sight of the friendly sample lady at the cheese counter. His already underdeveloped toddler judgement will be further clouded by a heavenly sample of cubed Havarti, gobbled greedily from the end of a toothpick. The friendly sample lady will turn to retrieve another package of water crackers and he will see it, her rear end, bedecked in uniform black Dockers and perfectly topped by the bow of her black, linen apron strings, like a gift under a Gouda wheel Christmas Tree.

No. The butt smacking had to stop.

However, I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his brother’s guest. So, I resolved to wait just a little bit longer, until the next incident, to have the all-important Hands To Ourselves conversation. I did not have to wait long.

Later that same afternoon, while my husband and oldest son were off at basketball, it happened again. This time, I was ready. My youngest son had been up from his nap for only a short amount of time, before the familiar pitter-patter came through the kitchen. He attacked and ran, as I turned and called him back.

Laughing hysterically, his mischievous blue eyes flashed at me, while I tried to settle him down so that he would listen.

“Silas”, I said, “You have to stop smacking people on the butts.”

With a bemused look, he said “But, I wike yo butt.”

Now, I am a 30 year old woman who has been pregnant twice, and I’ll take a rear-end compliment from pretty much anyone these days, but, resolved to my original purpose, I replied “Well, thank you, but you can’t just smack peoples’ butts. Sometimes, people don’t want you to touch their butt.”

This was getting awkward, fast.

“But, it’s funny.”

“Well, you might think it’s funny, but they might not. So it is important for you to keep your hands to yourself, particularly when it comes to butts and penises, and stuff like that.”

Shit. Shit. I said penis. Now we are going to talk about penises, and I am so not ready for that. I am not cut out for this. Where is my husband?!

As I mentally panicked and tried to prepare my next statement, my son seemed to reflect on the word “penis”. Suddenly, as if he was just remembering that he, himself, had a penis, he took the opportunity to pull down his pajama bottoms, whip it out and with a huge grin on his face, say “Like THIS?!”

How did this go so wrong? All I was doing was trying to have a simple Hands To Yourself conversation! These sorts of things weren’t supposed to end with your toddler waving their privates around.  I mean, that’s pretty much the opposite effect that this conversation is meant to have.

It took me a moment of stunned reflection before I realized, he was surveying me. He was measuring my reaction. He had sensed my weakness and he was playing me like a damn fiddle! He knew exactly what I had been trying to explain to him about not touching butts, but rather than acquiesce, he was trying to get a rise out of me by flashing his ding-dong!

Enough is enough. 

Remembering myself, I put on my best Mom Face, adopted my best Mom Voice and sternly said, “Silas, put your penis in your pants. And Don’t. Touch. Butts.

Without looking back, I walked out of the room and breathed a sigh of relief. He got it. He totally got it. I think the lady at the cheese counter is safe.

Boys.

 

Capture Your Grief, Day 23 – Love Letter

sun-heart-autumn-leaf-39379.jpegAn Open Letter to All Parents Who Chose To Terminate a Pregnancy For Medical Reasons:

Since losing Clara, I have often been lumped into support groups or bloggers whose focus is Pregnancy and Infant Loss. This association is one that almost always makes me uncomfortable. I am hesitant because our loss was voluntary… sort of. I mean, our diagnosis meant that Clara would have been very unlikely to survive outside my womb, but still. I sometimes don’t feel comfortable being included among women who have spontaneously lost pregnancies, or who have had stillborn babies. I am often afraid that my presence must be insulting in some way. I am honestly not sure if I am welcome, and I feel like a fraud in their company.

Occasionally, this sensation is so consuming that I find myself being vague about how we lost Clara. Not wanting to offend, I sometimes leave out just enough information for our story to sound like a pregnancy loss, rather than an abortion for medical reasons. Some days I just don’t have the courage to weather the potential judgement. Some days my heart is just too sore.

So, I see you. I know. I know how hard it is. I know how much it sucks. I know the isolation. Among bereaved parents, we are a sort of sub-group, and one that does not get a lot of time in the spotlight. Sometimes, it feels as though we are the murky underbelly of pregnancy loss and parental bereavement. No one really knows where, or if, we belong.

The decision to end a pregnancy, for any reason, is a painful and heavy decision to make. Choosing to end a pregnancy when that baby is wanted, so, so wanted, is a waking nightmare. It is every bit as traumatic as unexpectedly losing a pregnancy or child, but it is different.

Do not let the isolation make you despondent. While we may not have an official awareness month and we might not feel as though we always belong among those Walking to Remember, we still have each other. We are not alone. You are not alone.

I don’t need to know why you ended your pregnancy. You don’t need to justify it to me, or to anyone. I know that, whatever your reason, it was hard, and I am so sorry you were ever in that position. I know that belonging to this particular group is sometimes scary, because it can bring judgement from people who really, truly, do not understand. It can bring angry words and vitriol. Hate and condemnation.

I will do my best to bring balance by telling you this:

I love you. I love you for being brave. I love you for making what felt like an impossible decision because you had the presence of mind to know what was best for you and your family, and then the courage to follow through. I love you for being here, for searching for your community. I love you, because you have found us. We are here. We are not the murky underbelly of pregnancy loss. We are Mothers and Fathers, bereaved. We are humans who, when faced with devastating circumstances, had the courage to make a difficult decision. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, you are still here to tell the tale. You survived. Every new day is a victory. Every new day is an opportunity for more healing, and for more growth. I love you because you are still moving forward. I love you because you inspire me to do the same. I love you because when I feel like I am on an isolated island of loss and pain, you remind me that this place, our little island, is far from empty.

I love you, because you are here.

Stay strong,

Kelly