Forward

The last few days have rocked the Maternal Mental Health community. The dissolution of Postpartum Progress came as a shock, even to many of us who were calling for change. I’m not going to get into the story behind what happened. If you do not already know, it is all there, mostly in public forums of Facebook, for you to piece together.

That said, I want to make sure my position on the matter is clear.

I stand with people of color. I stand behind them when they say they have been harmed. I stand behind them when they tell me what they need, and I add the volume of my voice to their own. I am learning every day about the ways in which my own whiteness,  privilege and utilization of systems of oppression, even when done so unintentionally, harms people of color. I am learning because I am listening and researching and being curious. We are not perfect. I am certainly not perfect, but if I screw up the roof when I’m building a house, I fix the roof… not burn the whole thing down.

It was not my house, though.

So, now we are here and the best thing we can do is look forward. Many of us used PPI as our primary resource, both in our own battles with PPMDs and in the support we offered to people who crossed our paths. As I understand it, the blog and resources online will remain. The online peer support forum Facebook groups are being retained, but will be re-named/re-branded. Really, the community under the PPI name is what has been dissolved.

What I want you to know, more than anything, is this-

WE are not going anywhere.

WE, the advocates, the survivors, the volunteers, the fighters, WE are still here. WE are more than our formal affiliations. WE are more than a name, a brand, an umbrella. WE were here before PPI and WE are going no where.

I am still here for you, Mamas. I am still a resource, a source of support, an advocate, a safe place. I am still loving on you and cheering for you. Do not flee back into the darkness simply because an organization is bowing out. The light is still here, and we are all still in it.

I have been working hard the last few days to determine where to align my work and volunteerism so that it can best support you and the Mamas who haven’t found us yet. Several of us, who met through PPI, have been putting our heads together on this. We are working while we grieve. We are working hard.

On a personal level, I am ramping up my live storytelling. Many of you first connected with me through that space, and so, as I sit here thinking about how I can be of service to a community who now feels abandoned, I hear that call once again. I will tell you when/where as shows are scheduled. My plan is to get back on stage as soon and as frequently as possible in order to continue the stigma smashing, encouragement giving and community creating work that I love. A work which I do best by standing in front of a room full of strangers, baring my soul and giving them space to say, “Me Too.”

WE are going to be just fine.

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What We Keep In The Corners

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Tonight my oldest son and my husband went to the Bull’s game, so I did what any person with an ill-formed sense of judgment would do, and took my four-year-old to Chuck E Cheese’s.

In all seriousness, we had a lovely time. I watched Silas kick a much older child’s ass at a snowmobile racing game. The older boy spent the first half of the race taunting my sweet-hearted 4-year-old… and the second half of the game chewing through his bottom lip as my angel formed the older child’s taunts into a laser beam of drive and ambition with which he would calmly destroy all that the older child had ever held dear.

When he emerged, victorious, he simply looked at his nemesis the older child, pure innocence beaming from his little aura, and said “Fanks! That was fun!

Oh yes, he is my child. *evil grin*

ANYWAYS. Before we went to Chuck E Cheese, I took my little date out for dinner to Noodles and Company (his fave). Over pasta, we discussed the various ways that apples can be sliced and the way we like them best (thin slices, but not too thin). We discussed the many merits of Chapstick. We talked about Super Why and Eye of the Tiger. It was during a short discourse on Survivor that he, rather loudly and distinctly, interrupted me by saying, “Mom, it’s sad that my baby sister died.”

You could have heard a noodle drop.

I recovered myself from the land of montage music and replied that yes, it was sad and that it’s okay to feel sad about it. I wasn’t sure what else to say. It isn’t the first time that he has randomly brought up Clara, and it’s evident to me that he’s still working it all out. What struck me, though, was his okayness with the topic. Of course, he is simply too young to know that it is taboo. Too young to consider that talking about it might upset me, but I don’t see this as problematic. Instead, I am in awe of the way he lives his life completely out in the open. There are no dark corners where he hides things deemed too painful to discuss.

I love this about him. I am certainly not known for my lack of candor, but even I have a tendency to hold things close when I think they’re too messy for the world to see. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this and people should never disclose more than makes them comfortable, but I’ve always found comfort in communicating pretty much all. Once you learn to live with the vulnerability which is inevitable with this way of being, it’s pretty damn freeing.

What’s more, I’m proud AF of the fact that we have handled Clara’s loss in a way that Silas feels comfortable bringing it up over buttered noodles in a very public forum. That tells me that despite our unimaginable grief, we have kept our experience with losing Clara from being pushed into the corners. It is not a taboo subject in our home. This not only feels like the healthiest way to handle it with our children, but it feels like the best way to honor her.

We will talk about her. She is part of our family. And, just like I told Silas tonight, it’s totally normal to feel sad about her not being here.

I feel sad about it every day.

But, I also feel happy every single day about having him, and Daddy, and Caiden in my life.

Life is dark and light. It is gains and losses, gratitude and regret.

And while tact and timing are social lessons that he will need to learn, I hope that he can continue to live a life with no dark and dusty corners.

…I also hope he continues to sweetly destroy anyone who tries to knock him down.

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December Reflections, Day 19 – Something I Love

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Shortly after we lost Clara, a dear friend gifted me with Affirmators! Cards. These positive cards are PERFECT for people like me, who enjoy prompt-driven self-reflection but whose anxiety disorders make the usual Tarot deck a little scarier than I feel the practice is worth.

On this past Saturday, I went for a CT scan, ordered by my ENT, so that he can look at my sinuses to determine what has been causing some intermittent ear pain for the last several months. He is suspecting Eustachian tube dysfunction or TMJ, but my symptoms make it difficult to tell which, so he hopes a CT scan will shed some light on things for us. I had been relatively calm about the whole thing, until I set foot into the imaging center on Saturday morning.

This same imaging center is where we found out that Clara was a girl. This same imaging center is the one which alerted my doctor to the fact that something seemed amiss with my darling daughter. It occurred to me, as I lay back on the CT scan table, that the last time one of my doctors received results from this place, it was the beginning of a nightmare. Results from this particular imaging center heralded some of the hardest, most painful days of my life.

My scan was relatively uneventful. The tech was friendly, if reserved and as I was heading out she mentioned to me that the doctor would have my results on Monday. I told her that my follow up appointment would not be until Friday. She said that if something was found that needed to be seen more urgently than that, she had no doubt my doctor would call me. This is probably a very routine and reasonable comment to make, but it immediately set my anxiety tingling. That coupled with my personal history with this imaging center, and it did not take long for my OCD and anxiety to wrap their tentacles around what was turning out to be a very triggering morning. As I drove home from the imaging center, my arms began to tingle. As I entered my house, my chest began to feel tight. I indicated to my husband that, while the scan went without incident, I was beginning to spiral into that familiar territory of fear.

I spent the weekend wresting intrusive thoughts. Doing my best to not follow through the horror filled doors that they incessantly opened for me. I CBTed myself. I CBTed HARD. I weighed the rationality behind my fears, I considered the statistical likelihood of something being seriously wrong. I reminded myself that just because I have been through something rare and tragic, I am not a magnet for such things. In fact, subscribing to the lightening doesn’t strike twice theory, I’m LESS likely to experience something rare and tragic, now that I’ve already been through one such strike.

Finally, today, recognizing the heavy way in which my past experience was directing my current emotional state, I contacted my therapist, who blessedly squeezed me in. I have learned, through doing EMDR with my therapist, to identify when I am connecting my trauma to something generally unrelated or innocuous. I may not always identify it, but today, it was very clear that my fear about what will come from the sinus CT scan was being directly influenced by having received tragic news from a completely unrelated imaging test in the past.

My therapist fit me in and we went straight for EMDR.

During the session, in addition to processing my feelings about that I found myself feeling a lot of negative emotions about myself. At one point I referred to myself as a “stupid little girl” who should have known better than to expect for things to work out well with my pregnancy (yeah, grief does some pretty crazy things to you). I realized that I was holding a lot of anger towards myself that was completely unwarranted. I was, in some ways, blaming myself for having been through tragedy with Clara, and angry with myself for not being able to get control of my mental health now. In short, I was beating up on me.

I came home feeling tired and raw, which is normal for an EMDR session. And, determined to get through the next 3 days of waiting, I went to my Affirmator Cards to find something to focus on. I always shuffle and pull cards at random, and as I flipped over the Beauty card, I grinned. It’s the second time in only 3 weeks that I have pulled this card. Both times after shuffling thoroughly, and both times when going through periods of self doubt and/or melancholy. Clearly a lesson is being gently pushed my way.

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In my case, I don’t read this card as having anything to do with physical beauty. Instead, I’m focusing on the beauty of who I am. Mental illness included. I’m not perfect. I have good days and bad days. I have personality strengths, as well as weaknesses. I have flaws and faults. I have skills and merits. I have happy moments in my past, and sad ones, too. All of this adds up to a life that is rich in experience and beautiful for the variance it displays.

I’m going to do my best to focus on that for the next few days. Or maybe I’ll pull a new card each day this week, and dedicate each day to contemplating a new affirmation.

Needless to say, the Affirmators! cards are something I have very much loved this year, and definitely recommend to anyone some prompts for their self-care or self-reflection.

Not to mention that they’d make an AWESOME stocking stuffer!

Sending love to you all,

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**Full disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate and the links in this post are affiliate links. HOWEVER, I would never recommend a product to you that I have not used myself and which I do not totally love.

The New Family – When Your Mom Comes Out

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I had the GREAT pleasure to spend some time chatting with Brandie Weikle over at The New Family, and my episode went live today! Have a listen on your commute home tonight and remember

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Listen to the podcast directly on the site, or find them on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and various other platforms!

The Anniversary, An Unexpected Adventure

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Dear Clara,

One year ago today, you were taken from my body.

One year ago today, I said the first of many goodbyes to you. I just can’t seem to stop saying goodbye to you, so often are you on my mind.

The last two weeks have been really hard. Like, trudging through quicksand, next level hard. And it’s no wonder. After all, last Labor Day weekend, we found out that you were a girl. Our first daughter, our sweet Clara. Three days later, we got the call that something appeared to be amiss. One week after that, we found ourselves in the office of a specialist, listening to a diagnosis that felt like it must surely be meant for someone else.

Five days later, you were gone.

It all happened so fast.

A fellow Warrior Mom has been reading a book called The Body Keeps the Score, by Dr.Bessel van der Kolk, which discusses the way that traumatic experiences literally reshape our brain, creating a physical record and replay function of the trauma, over which we have little control. It’s a book I intend to read very soon, but even without having read it, I am able to see just why the last couple of weeks have been so hard.

My body remembers.

My body remembers so well, that I spent the last two weeks fretting myself right into a case of bronchitis which landed me in the ER receiving a breathing treatment and a bag of fluids.

I made it to this day, though, and out of respect for the pain and my own grieving process, I decided to take today off of work. I’d be alone, well except for Milo Dog, and would be able to feel my feelings and let my heart guide me towards what activities would serve me best. Perhaps I would knit and send up a heartbeat for you with every turn of the needles. Perhaps I would take a walk in the woods and listen for you in the leaves, rustling crisply as they give over their supple green to the slowly encroaching Autumn hues and textures. Perhaps I would work on clearing the garden for Fall, pushing my hands into the earth and reminding myself of the oneness of it all, you included.

Parenthood had other ideas.

Silas was up half the night complaining of an earache and a headache. Milo needed to have a behavioral evaluation at a local boarder, so that we can board him for a wedding this weekend, and so my “Self-care Day” slowly turned into something else entirely.

First, I took Silas to the doctor this morning. Thankfully the ear ache is not an infection. Just fluid, likely caused by allergies. So we’re going to stick to the Children’s Claritin and try to make it through the rest of ragweed season without anything turning infected.

Milo’s behavioral visit was fine. We’re going to set him up to spend a full day there sometime this week, just so he can really get acquainted with the place before we leave him for an overnight.

By the time Silas and I left the dog boarder, it was lunch time. Since we had Milo with us, I decided to drive over to St. Charles (a little town on the Fox River that Daddy and I both love) and grab some lunch on a dog-friendly patio.

I ordered a beer. +5 self care points?

While we were waiting for our food, Silas informed me that he needed to pee. Just to recap, Silas is 4, cannot take himself to the bathroom, and we were on a patio with a 70lb velcro dog who does not enjoy being left alone.

I told Silas he needed to hold it. He said he could not.

I texted Daddy to see if he had any ideas. He did not.

Then Silas asked me, in the sweetest voice possible, if he could just pee in his pants.

I picked my heart back up off the pavement, slammed it back into my chest and mustered up the courage to ask our waitress if she would mind sitting with our dog for a few minutes while I took Silas to the bathroom. She very sweetly agreed, so I gave her a handful of treats for him and raced off to the bathroom, grateful for her kindness.

We returned to the table and as we waited for our order, I reflected on the way my day was turning out. Not bad, of course. It hasn’t been a bad day by any means. It’s just been so opposite the somber, introspective, grief stricken day that I had imagined it would be. By contrast, it’s been a day filled with so much life. From lingering bronchitis, to thankfully uneventful pediatrician visits, to dog boarders.  From inconvenient potty requests, to kind strangers, to a craft beer enjoyed under the shade of a towering oak tree, a dog snoozing at my feet and Silas zooming cars around the table top. It has been a wonderful, lively day.

There is, of course, a part of me who hurts immeasurably because you aren’t here to enjoy these days. However, as I sat on that patio, watching the dappled sunlight dance through the oak tree and smelling the first hint of dried leaves on the breeze, it felt as though you were telling me something about what today was really for.

Today wasn’t a day for grief. Today was a day for life. Crazy, messy, silly, happy, LIFE.

I left the waitress a hefty tip, along with a note, explaining how her small kindness had meant the world to a random Mom on a sad day. I then threw nap time windows to the wind, and we decided to visit Daddy at work, since it was just down the street. Why the heck not. Silas is napping now (late, and probably not for very long), and I’m sitting in the library, the room that was to be yours. Really, it is yours, I think it might always be. I’m overcome with the kind of peace and relaxation that only seems to find me in this room, and I’m finally doing something I had planned to do today. I’m writing. The words are just very different than what I expected them to be.

On a day which I expected to think only of death, you filled my heart and mind with appreciation for life, be it mundane or exemplary, or some spectacular mix of both.

Thank you for still teaching me, my Little Moon. I hope you always will.

We are all thinking of you, today and every day, and Mommy loves you, my darling girl.

I love you so very, very much.

Mommy

Invisible Warrior

Every single day of my son’s life, I have thought about him dying. Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, I wonder if I will find him in his room, the life already gone from his body. Other times, my mind will be free for a while, until I put face lotion in my hands and notice that the blob of moisturizer resembles a number. In an instant, a little voice inside my head tells me that number is representative of the age at which my son will die. Sometimes I rummage around in the kitchen cabinets, searching for a specific coffee mug, because that same little voice has told me if I don’t use it, my son will die. Other times we will be eating at a restaurant, and I will imagine him choking on whatever morsel he has ordered for himself to enjoy. I can see his face turning blue in my mind’s eye. I push food around my plate and try to will the thought away.

Some days are better than others. Some days I only experience one instance of this type of horrifying intrusive thinking. Other times my days are fraught with them. My mind is under siege by an onslaught of terrifying images, fit for a tear-jerking Lifetime movie, or sometimes a horror film.

I have Anxiety & Obsessive Compulsive disorders, and intrusive thinking is symptomatic of both. There are a couple of things to note about Intrusive Thinking, that may not be apparent for someone who has never experienced them.

The first is that they are completely out of my control. I don’t choose these thoughts any more than you chose your eye color. I didn’t ask for them, and I don’t indulge them. I have a variety of techniques that I’ve learned in therapy which help me to clear them, but they (so far) have never disappeared entirely.

The second thing is that they are every bit as horrific as they sound. I love my son deeply, and my anxiety disorder is centered squarely on the debilitating fear that I will lose him. These intrusive thoughts are representative of my mind obsessing over all the ways that it could happen, in a terribly misguided effort toprevent it. The Intrusive Thoughts are the “Obsessive” part of my OCD. The things they drive me to do (use certain coffee mugs, rewrite lotion numbers on my hand) are the “Compulsions”. The brain is sometimes the most inelegant of organs, and OCD isn’t all flicking light switches and counting things. It can look very different.

The third, and final thing, to point out about Intrusive Thoughts, is that they are invisible. If you saw me at a restaurant, I appear to be just a lady sitting at a table with her beautiful family, enjoying a meal. You might judge me for seeming uptight. You might overhear some of our conversation and think I sound like a real paranoid control freak. You might say something to your friends along the lines of “Oh, great, she’s one of those moms.” You might label me as intense, paranoid, controlling. You might identify me as strict, or overbearing, or bitchy. The label you most likely would not give me, however, is the one that would be the most accurate… ill.

My mental illness isn’t something you can see. Aside from the medication I take every day, the mental work I do to battle my illness is also invisible to you. You might not realize that I had to wage war on my own mind, just to be able to leave the house today, just to get this meal with my family.

So, be careful with the labels you attach to people, or the assumptions you might make about them. So many illnesses are invisible to the majority of us. You never know who might secretly be a Warrior, fighting battles on the inside, while living life on the outside.

April Love, Day 24 – Truth

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Dear Truth,

When I was a little girl, and life hurt too much, I hid from you. My creative mind found solace and relief in fantasy. I read books, wrote songs, wrote poetry. I used words, both mine and those of other people, to escape. Even to this day, my favorite books are the ones that are as far from my daily “truth” as possible. I love fantasy and sci-fi. I love period drama and historical fiction. Much like the little girl who was desperately trying to escape the pain of her own truth, I still love placing myself in someone else’s truth.

The difference is that, even though I still like to escape it from time to time, I now appreciate my own truth. I honor it. When something happens in my life which makes me uncomfortable or causes me pain, I don’t step back from it. I don’t throw my hands up in the air, assume an expression of disgust, and say “Oh, what is THAT?! Who does THAT  belong to?!” I’ve learned that some of my most incredible moments of personal growth, and some of the most powerful connections that I’ve made with other people, have come from owning the messy parts of my life. They have come from boldly owning the messiest parts of my truth.

A funny thing happens too, when you decide to stop pushing away the mess and instead you invite it in for a cuppa. It doesn’t seem so bad. Love is funny like that. When you start to live lovingly, most especially towards yourself, the sharp edges of things seem to soften. Choosing to own your whole truth, even the icky parts, is like choosing to love or at least appreciate it and truly, if you love something, it will change the way it impacts you.

Today, which happens to be my 31st birthday, seems a fitting day to reflect on all the love I have for my truth. I am sitting here at my dining room table, the only one awake in my household, with a cup of coffee and my laptop. The morning sun is warm on my skin, as it pours in through the dining room window. It promises a beautiful day full of truths that will be easy to love. Truths about family, truths about aging, truths about health and happiness and bikes and flowers.

So, my truth, you are one hell of a story to tell. I’m so glad that I get to be the one that tells you. In regards to the low points… well, they’ve hurt. Some of them continue to hurt, even after years have passed. Like ripples on the surface of a still pond, I think they will hurt for a while. These days, however, I’m not hiding from them. Every ripple brings a lesson, and I’m counting them as they pass. Counting them,  learning from them, and wrapping my arms tightly around this beautiful, messy truth of mine.

Love,

Kelly