The Gift of Protest

This Saturday, January 21st, I will join hundreds of thousands of women marching all over the country in protest of our soon-to-be president, Donald Trump.

Like everyone else, I have my own reasons for marching.

It is interesting that the march should fall on the date that it does, because January 21st has very special meaning to me. January 21 was Clara’s due date. Of course, babies can be born many days before or after their due date, but since Clara was not born, I have come to think of January 21st as her birthday.

This year, on January 21st, my daughter would be one year old.

My daughter who died.

My wonderful daughter who died because she was diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly.

My loved and wanted daughter who died because her diagnosis gave us only two options:

Birth her and watch her die

-or-

Undergo a medical procedure known as abortion in order to end the pregnancy (and pain).

We chose the medical procedure.

Trump’s campaign, administration and mere presence in the public spotlight is a threat to women.

Just the other day a man who holds political office, claimed he was “inspired by Trump” and sexually assaulted a woman, grabbing her by the vagina and telling her no one would believe her. Fortunately for the victim, the assault was caught on surveillance video.

Trump, and everything he stands for, is a threat to the rights and well-being of women.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

Trump, and everything he stands for, is a threat to many more than just women. He and his cronies are a threat to people of color, to immigrants, to the LGBTQ community, to our economy, our national security, our healthcare, our rights… you get the idea.

I’m marching on Saturday because Donald Trump is

NOT

MY

PRESIDENT

I do not acknowledge him. I do not hold an ounce of respect for the office while he is in it.

I will resist.

I march because if Donald Trump and his cronies had their way, I would have been forced into a healthcare situation that not only held dangers for me, but which could easily be classified as cruel and unusual punishment.

I march because I will not go quietly back to “when America was great”.

I march because I, the daughter of lesbians, will fight for the right to love.

I march because I have educated myself on our country’s history, I am listening to people of color and I will resist, with my dying breath, the politics and employment of white supremacy that continues to degrade, defile and dispatch the lives of black people.

I march for her.

For Clara.

Happy Day, my darling girl.

Mommy loves you so, so much.

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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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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

April Love, Day 6 – Books

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 Books,

GAH. I love you. You have made possible the exploration of time and the redefinition of reality. You make me smarter. You make me wiser. You entertain. On top of it all, you very often provide a metaphorical refuge, a safe place, when things in life are hard. You let my mind escape the every day.

You provided a literal safe place, after we lost Clara. In those long and empty days, after we said goodbye, my heart broke every single time I passed the room that was to be hers. One day, however, things changed. One day, I looked into that room and didn’t see an unfinished nursery. I looked into that room and I didn’t see my own empty womb. Instead, I saw a library, waiting to be filled. I noticed the perfect way that the morning sun came in through the window, and I thought how sweet a little chair would look tucked into that corner, a place to sit and feel the breeze. My eyes wandered over the wooden floors and trim, across to the solid wooden door and realized that bookshelves, wrapping around the room in a similar tone of wood, would be absolutely intoxicating to my eyes, which so prefer natural, untouched finishes. I imagined filling the room with stories, true and untrue; with history, remembered and revered. I imagined all of my favorite characters coming together in one space, wizards and ladies in waiting, Queens and adventurers. I imagined all of the life that could be poured into that sad little room, by simply filling it with books.

It did not take long before we did just that. A lifelong hoarder of books, I filled the shelves easily after the furniture was purchased. However, the library is not just for me, and so we all brought in our books. Residents of the library are not just the likes of Elizabeth Bennett, Aragorn and Harry Potter, but the Cat in the Hat and Greg Heffley. We’ve got construction truck counting primers, hungry caterpillars and anthropomorphic warrior cats. We have comic books and compendiums, covering everything from The Beatles to Batman.

It is a lively room, indeed.

So, thank you, books. Thank you for being my teacher. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for giving my mind a place to go, while challenging it to be more, do more, see more, and say more. Thank you for bringing life back into a room where I once only saw death.

I will be forever grateful,

Kelly

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!