April Love, Day 14 – Courage

This April, I am participating in Susannah Conway’s April Love, a month of love letters. Using her predetermined prompts, I’ll be writing a love letter to an aspect of my life every day (well, maybe) in the month of April. Thanks for tagging along!

Dear Courage,

I don’t allow myself enough credit for knowing you. In fact, someone told me just a few weeks ago, that she thought I was the most courageous person she had ever met, but it felt like she was talking to someone else. I felt thin. It felt as though someone stronger and more deserving must surely be standing behind me, and I was just the veil through which her compliment was passing.

I think it’s normal for people to not give themselves enough credit for feats of courage and strength. After all, when you are living through terrible things, nothing you do feels particularly impressive. You are just doing what needs to be done.

However, when I spend some time thinking about it, I realize that I know you quite well. Don’t I? I’ve called upon you many times. You were at my side, decades ago, when I shut a toxic family member out of my life, choosing instead to live with a smaller family circle, but one that was consistently loving and supportive. You were by my side when I finally, after years of silence, opened up about having been raped. You were with me when I battled a health scare. When I stepped into my role as Stepmom. When I delivered my first baby.

I called on you as I battled Postpartum Anxiety and OCD. It was you, courage, who kept me searching for answers when I knew something was wrong. It was you who gave me the strength needed to dial the number of a therapist. You moved my body to her office, one step at a time. You pushed my voice out of my mouth and shaped the words which formed a confession, revealing the truth of my emotional and mental state. You paved the path to healing.

I felt you again, when we learned about Clara. I felt you squeezed between the palm of my hand and that of my husband. We called on you together then, our hands grasped tightly, clinging to each other as we clung to you. We shared you. You helped us through the days.

I feel you now. It seems silly to say, but when you are grieving and battling mental illness, even the most mundane things require an element of courage. Things like going to bed, or waking up and starting a new day. Nothing is a given, and I need you every day.

Courage, thank you. Thank you for being here when I need you. Thank you for never leaving. Thank you for making me the kind of person that someone else finds encouraging.  Thank you for making me the kind of person that someone feels compelled to call courageous. I still feel wildly undeserving of that honor… but I’m working on it.

 

Love,

Kelly

 

April Love, Day 12 – Future Me

Dear Future Me,

 

I just told Past Us that it’s all going to be worth it.

 

…don’t make me eat my words.

Love,

Kelly

April Love, Day 8 – Younger Me

This April, I am participating in Susannah Conway’s April Love, a month of love letters. Using her predetermined prompts, I’ll be writing a love letter to an aspect of my life every day (well, maybe) in the month of April. Thanks for tagging along!

Dear Younger Me,

Shit, girl. Where do I begin? I mean, I’d act like some sage guru, but the truth is I don’t fucking get any of this shit anymore than you do! Ahem, sorry. As you can see, the years have not eroded our love of vocabulary intensifiers. Seriously though, I’m still kind of just flailing through life, one day at a time. However, one thing that I think the passage of time has brought to me, is that I don’t care so much about understanding it all. Time seems to have gifted me the trust that things will unfold properly.

Life very often feels like a puzzle with a perpetually missing corner piece. It’s frustrating, but somewhere along the way you learn to see the rest of the picture for what it is, missing piece be damned.

If I had to tell you one thing, it would be that the sooner you can stop looking for that missing piece, the faster life will feel whole.

That, and dump the idiots, because the best one just ends up falling in your lap without you even looking for him, you lucky girl. So just sit back and be patient, he’s so worth it. It’s ALL worth it.

Love you,

Kelly

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April Love, Day One – Love

This April, I am participating in Susannah Conway’s April Love, a month of love letters. Using her predetermined prompts, I’ll be writing a love letter to an aspect of my life every day (well, maybe) in the month of April. Thanks for tagging along!

Dear Love,

You always seem to find me. Even when I’m too busy to find you. Sometimes it feels like you have an elaborate alert system set up, and whenever I’m running on empty, some buzzer somewhere starts up. When that buzzer goes off, you spring into action to throw yourself into my path. You are a full-service station for my heart. I arrive empty, but I do not leave that way.

This very writing series is a perfect example of your alert system at work. I have been running on empty lately. I have been working hard on my heart. I have been healing the wounds of losing Clara, and working through the anxiety which clings to me like freshly spun web. I have been active and vocal, and as a result, I have been tired. My engine begins to sputter and groan. It’s no surprise then, that an email about this writing series would find itself in my inbox. I knew immediately that it would be what my heart needs. A chance to reflect and be grateful. A chance to press pause on the hard work and remember just what it is that I’m working towards.

What is incredible, is that I’m beginning to trust that you will find me. It has happened so many times thus far, that we seem to have entered into an unspoken agreement. I know you will be there when I need you. I know when the darkness creeps in, you will find a way to me. You always do.

So, thank you, Love. Thank you for finding me, most especially when I cannot find you.

Kelly

I Accidentally Sleep Trained My Son… and He’s Fine.

One night, when my youngest son was around 6 months old, I sat down on the couch and sobbed. I actually did that a lot, but I want to talk about one time in particular. On this specific night, I was white-knuckle-gripping a baby monitor, as it vibrated in my hand with the grating sound of my baby crying. Don’t worry, my baby was fine. It wasn’t a distressed cry. It was a defiant cry. A cry with a tone that said, “COME BACK HERE, WOMAN, AND BRING THINE BOOBIES!!” You see, we were accidentally sleep training.

Accidentally sleep training?

Yep, accidentally sleep training.

I never wanted to sleep train. I was going to attachment parent. I was going to baby wear, breastfeed, gentle parent, make my own baby food, and teach my baby to read auras. Just kidding, well… sort of. None of those things are bad or silly (except the infant aura reading, obviously), but what most new mothers don’t take into account is that we can’t do it all, and we can’t anticipate it all. New moms don’t say, “When I have my baby, I am going to ask for help, so that I can get a full night’s sleep at every opportunity. I am going to communicate my needs, so that my support network knows how to best help me. Most importantly though, when I have my baby, I’m going to be fluid in my expectations, because I don’t want to over-burden myself during a time that I already know will be overwhelming.” Ahhhh, if only.  One of the first lessons that new parents are forced to learn, is the subtle art of letting go of expectations.

We hadn’t planned to sleep train. Unfortunately, my son was developing a flat spot on the back of his head, due to the fact that he had been sleeping exclusively in his Rock N’ Play sleeper. That thing was a lifesaver, until the flat spot, that is. Our son hated sleeping flat on his back from the moment he was born, so the gentle incline of the Rock N’ Play was perfect. However, it didn’t allow him to turn his head, so after several months of sleeping  in it, and despite the fact that we were doing regular tummy time, he started to develop a flat spot on the back of his head. On top of that, I was nursing my son to sleep every night, which was, unbeknownst to me, creating a tiny, little boob monster who could not fall asleep without nursing. I loved nursing him to sleep, though. It was comforting for us both. I would cradle him in my arms and feed him, riding that oxytocin highway, until his long, beautiful eyelashes would slowly begin to flutter and close. His sucking would become irregular, and eventually, full bellied and safe in my arms, he would fall asleep. This was our nightly ritual and I was loathe to let it go, however, when our doctor directed us to start putting our son to sleep in a crib, in order to correct his flat spot, I also mentioned that he couldn’t fall asleep unless I nursed him. Our pediatrician replied, with only a gentle hint of accusation in his tone, “Well, that’s because you don’t let him go to sleep without nursing him.”

Touché, doc

Our doctor recommended that, since our son was already going to have to learn to sleep in a crib, we might as well teach him to fall asleep without nursing while we were at it. So basically – sleep training. It was either that, or allow him to develop a flat spot on the back of his head and require a corrective helmet.

So we, the wanna-be Attachment Parents, “Ferberized” our baby. In case you are unfamiliar, “ferberization” is a sleep training technique developed by Dr. Richard Ferber. It is a version of “cry it out”, but one that does not, despite common misconception, just encourage you to abandon your baby to cry themselves to sleep or cry until they make themselves sick (cuz seriously – no). I’m not going to explain it in detail here, but I do want to take a moment to say that you should discuss all choices like this with your pediatrician and make an informed decision which is in the best interest of your child, and you. For us, a version of the Ferber method was it (I say a version, because I don’t think we followed his recommendations to a T). It took us about 1 week, and I don’t think we ever had to let our son cry for more than 5 minutes, if even that. But, those tiny accumulations of seconds, were the most awful, most excruciating minutes of my life, at the time. I felt like my heart was being crushed, slowly. A battle waged in my mind between my motherly instincts and the advice of our pediatrician. My mind screamed “Go to him, GO TO HIM!”, while the advice of our doctor rang counter-point in my head, “Failing to correct his sleeping position will result in a flat head, he is old enough to fall asleep on his own and you will BOTH be better off, and more rested, by teaching him to do so.” That last point was perhaps the most important, and one that I did not realize the gravity of until much later. At the time, my Postpartum Anxiety was un-diagnosed, but running full throttle. I wasn’t sleeping well, or occasionally, at all. I was having panic attacks. I was barely functioning. Having a 6 month old baby who was incapable of even the tiniest nap without first using me as a pacifier, did not help matters. While our pediatrician did not realize it at the time, he was actually giving me some of the most helpful advice I had received to date, in terms of prioritizing my self-care as a tool to manage my anxiety disorder. Teach him to sleep, so you can sleep.

Thanks, doc.

This accidental sleep training was my first lesson in making decisions that benefited my son in an indirect manner. Our decision to sleep train not only allowed his flat head to correct itself, but it made way for me to get more rest, which meant I was more stable and available to mother him. It was also my first lesson in expectation adjustment. I did not set out to be a parent that sleep-trains. I never judged parents who chose that path, I just didn’t feel like it fit with the parental identity that I had designed for myself. What I’m learning though, as I get further along in my parenting journey, is that my identity as a parent is not so much a precise recipe that I’m following, with exact measurements and temperature settings. Instead, it’s more like a blank coloring page. The lines are there, but I’m choosing the colors as I go. So far, it’s turning out beautifully.

Peace, love, and vibrant color choices to you, friends.

 

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.