Dear Mamas…

Dear Mamas,
You are not alone. Ever.
Love,
Me, and all of Us
PostpartumProgress.org

Dear Donald…

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Dear Donald,
This is my 4 year old son, Silas. I’m raising him to respect women and to treat them the way he wants to be treated (crazy, I know). You guys have so much in common. Sometimes I ask him for a bedtime kiss… oh wait, let me just explain that “ask” thing real quick. You see, as humans we get to enjoy this thing called Bodily Autonomy, which basically means that our bodies belong to us and no one can touch or manipulate them without our consent. It’s the reason rape is a definite no-no, and also why I can’t harvest your organs to save the lives of people who need them, and let’s face it, who are probably a lot nicer than you are. Anyways, sometimes I ask my son for a bedtime kiss and he says “Ewwww! Nasty!” Just thought you’d enjoy hearing from someone else who occasionally thinks women are nasty… my 4 year old.

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

Warrior Mom Conference, 2016 – Atlanta, Georgia

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Alrighty, it’s been made public by Postpartum Progress now, so I am finally free to announce what I have been positively giddy to announce to you guys – I AM SPEAKING AT THE WARRIOR MOM CONFERENCE!!!!!!!

Remember waaaayyyy back in December when I announced my not-so-secret Secret Wish for 2016? It was then that I shared that I was applying for a speaker slot at Postpartum Progress’ 2nd Annual Warrior Mom Conference. It was a total whim, to be honest. It’s no secret that I am a total Postpartum Progress fan-girl, and I wanted to attend the conference no matter what, but I love speaking to moms. I really do. That might sound strange coming from someone who battles an anxiety disorder, but I feel at home on a stage talking to my tribe, and Mothers, well… they are my tribe. Especially Warrior Moms. I had an idea to explore and give a talk about the unique way that Mothers experience the Impostor Phenomenon (something I’m calling being a Mompostor), and I’m thrilled to be getting to do just that. I’ll be discussing what it feels like to be a Mompostor, what contributes to and perpetuates the phenomenon, and how to stop questioning your authenticity and worth, both as a mother and as a person.

So, my not-so-secret Secret Wish for 2016, is happening and I am beyond excited for the opportunity!

The conference is already sold out, BUT there is a waiting list if you’re interested in attending! If you’ve already snagged a ticket and you’re going, let me know! I’d love to look out for you there!

As we march towards the second half of 2016, I hope that your own secret wishes are being fulfilled, but most of all I just hope that you are wishing, because dreams and wishes are the ether into which our lives take flight.

Love to you all.

Why I Climb

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Next Saturday, June 18th, I will join over 3,000 people across the world (for real, y’all, there’s even a climb in Israel!) to shed light on Maternal Mental Illness by Climbing Out of the Darkness. The majority of these people are women, many joined by their families and loved ones, and they are survivors. They are Warriors. They are My Tribe. We may come from different backgrounds and different places, and many of us speak different languages, but there is one tongue with which we are all familiar, and it is the devastating fear and isolation of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. We have all experienced Maternal Mental Illness, and while our personal stories, diagnosis and recoveries look different, a single thread knits us together. We are forever woven into each others lives.

We each have our own reasons for climbing, and I thought I’d take a moment to share with you what will be driving each step I take on June 18, and indeed what drives many of the steps I take every single day of the year.

I climb because Postpartum Progress saved my life. Helping them continue their work is the least that I can do.

I climb because my fellow Warrior Moms need for me to squeeze their hand and know that I am here with them, still.

I climb because my children need to know how strong their Mama really is. They need to know that I fought for them. They need to know that Mama doesn’t go down without a fight. They need to know that my battle with mental illness is neither their fault, nor is it representative of my feelings for them, or my worth as a mother.

I climb because my husband needs to know that there is fight left in me. He, who has seen me in my worst, most desperate state, needs to be reminded that the woman he married is still here, still vibrant, still ferociously living.

I climb because the public needs to know that we exist. Women, across the world, need better access to mental health care. They need legislators on their side. They need doctors on their side. They need humans on their side. Women need to be warned about PPMDs. They need to be screened, every single one of them. They need to be prepared. They need support from the people and representatives who are responsible for putting healthcare systems in place, and those representatives need to hear us demand that support.

I climb because there are women who have lost their lives to Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. I climb to remember them. I climb to honor them. I climb to grieve them.

I climb because there are women who need our help. There are women out there, right now, who are battling Maternal Mental Illness and have not yet been diagnosed. Or perhaps they know or suspect what they’re dealing with, but are too afraid or stigmatized to receive the proper treatment. They need us. They need us to climb out of the darkness and shout from the highest peaks that we see them, we can help them, and they are not alone. They need us to reach down into the darkness, and pull them out.

For these reasons and more, I Climb.

If you’re interested in joining a climb near you, head over here to see where the closest one is. If there isn’t one nearby, why not host one yourself?! You CAN do it!

If you can’t climb, but you still want to help, I’d be eternally grateful if you’d donate to my fundraiser.

However you choose to show your support, know that I am grateful to you for it. I say all the time that Postpartum Progress saved my life, and they did, but so did you, and anyone else in the history of forever who has supported their mission. I owe my life to you. Thank you.

Now, let’s go save some more lives.

Climb Out Of The Darkness

Did you know…

Each year, MORE women will experience Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMD) than people will have strokes. MORE women will experience PPMDs in a year, than people will experience a sprained ankle.

Shocking, isn’t it?

1 in 7 women will face a postpartum mood disorder, like Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety/OCD or Postpartum Psychosis, and yet they still fly under the radar, receiving too little research, screening and funding.

But here’s the real shocker, only 15% of those women will receive treatment. FIFTEEN PERCENT!!! That means millions of women go undiagnosed. They suffer in silence. Even worse, their children suffer, too. Research has shown that untreated maternal mental illness affects the development of children, and puts them at a higher risk of future psychiatric illness themselves. On top of that, untreated maternal mental illness causes far too many Mamas to leave this world too soon.

My battle with Postpartum Anxiety & OCD began the moment that Silas was placed into my arms. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the information that I needed in order to get help. I believed that everyone cried all the time, thought obsessively about all the terrible things that could happen to their children and had to say a specific sentence to their baby every night or else they wouldn’t wake up in the morning. Well, sort of. I knew SOMETHING didn’t feel right, but I was too scared and uninformed to be able to do anything about it. What’s more, I trusted in our medical care providers and, since I was passing the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression screening repeatedly at well baby check ups, I assumed that I must be normal. Turns out I didn’t have Postpartum Depression, but rather Postpartum Anxiety and OCD, so the PPD screening was not sufficient to raise any red flags. (This is why more research needs to be done in order to develop more thorough and accurate screening methodologies!)

Thankfully, I have an incredible husband who, after watching me suffer for 2 years, kept on pushing me to find help, until I finally did. Finding a therapist who understood what I was experiencing, put a name to it, and, even better, lifted me out of the darkness, was like breathing fresh air again after being locked underground.

The reason I was able to get that help? Postpartum Progress.

This organization provided me the tools I needed to understand what I was experiencing and the resources I needed to get help. I owe more than my gratitude to them. It was so bad, and I was so exhausted and defeated that, had I not found help when I did, I would not be writing this to you today. It is because of them that I am still alive. Gratitude will never be enough. I owe them my life.

So, here we come to the point of this little pow wow. I’m asking for you to make a donation. On June 18, 2016, I will be joining women all over the country to Climb Out Of The Darkness. This annual fundraiser, created by Postpartum Progress is so much more than a way to raise money, though. It shines light on an oft invisible illness. It brings women together who have suffered uniquely, and who in turn, understand each other uniquely.

Your donation helps Postpartum Progress to continue the important advocacy work that they do. Your donation helps Postpartum Progress save more women and children. Women and children like me and Silas. I hope that you will make a contribution. Even better, if you’re local, feel free to come walk with me (you must register first)! This event is not just for survivors of PPMD, but for their loved ones and support networks, too! All the information you need, whether for donating or registering, can be found at the link below, or by clicking here.

Lastly, I love you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for supporting me as I continue to battle maternal mental illness. Postpartum Progress brought me out of the darkness, but YOU, all of you, are the light that shines on me, day after day.

All my love.

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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.