Category Archives: Vulnerability

Beauty and the Beast (Part II)


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Continued from Beauty and the Beast (Part I)

Less than 12 hours after giving birth to my beautiful baby girl we were back at home and I was so grateful and relieved. I felt immensely blessed to have this sweet little being who insisted on sleeping in a bundle on my chest.

Yet underneath it all there was a familiar and unwelcome feeling. Like the evil fairy that we “forgot” to invite to the party. It surfaced as a tightness that constricted my breathing and felt like a giant lump in my throat. I forced myself to swallow hard and I tried to push it away but it had taken root and the more that I stuffed it down and tried to ignore it the bigger and more powerful it became.

It was fear. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to love both of my children the way that they deserved to be loved. Fear that I would fail one or the both of them. Fear that I wasn’t patient enough or kind enough or resourceful enough. Fear that in the end, I wasn’t enough.

The insomnia returned and sleep deprivation made me weepy and detached. I was anxious and irritable and all of these things only reinforced my personal myth of failure and unworthiness.

My little girl was only happy when I held her or carried her so I wore her in a carrier constantly. This was supposed to be calming for both of us but instead of being this beautiful bonding activity it made me feel over-touched and over-taxed. I felt like I was suffocating or drowning, I needed to breathe but couldn’t get any air.

Then the guilt of wanting to get away from my baby weighed me down even more. My older boy, not much more than a baby himself clung to me more than ever, he needed reinforcement of my love, reassurance that everything was okay. I worried that my connection with him would suffer so I did everything that I could possibly do to maintain his routines and to continue to be there for him. But in all of my caring for my children I completely neglected to care for myself and suffered for it.

The fear and the guilt led to panic attacks. At my best I was tense and anxious and worried, at my worst I was afraid to leave the house. It got to the point that even going as far as the backyard was a panic inducing event.

When my daughter was 4 months old, my grandmother, my mom’s mom, passed away and I was unable to go to the memorial service. I could barely make it to the mailbox so getting on an airplane was a feat beyond comprehension. I was so devastated by not being able to go that I finally broke down and sought help.

It took 30 months. Two and a half years of living with some degree of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety before I finally reached out and said, “I need help.”

I had been stubborn but mostly I had been deeply ashamed.  It was like admitting that all of my fears were true. Admitting that I needed help felt like a confirmation, “I’m not good enough.” The truth is though that asking for help when you need it isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s an act of strength and courage. Getting help didn’t mean that I wasn’t good enough, it meant that I was good enough.

At first I didn’t want to take medication but I felt like I was falling down a dark and scary chasm and I needed a way to find my footing so I reversed my long-held belief about not taking meds and agreed to start on anti-depressants.

I hated taking them yet in many ways I feel that I owe my life to them. They provided me with a net. They caught me in my fall.

I didn’t feel like me again yet but I was finally able to get my feet back under me. I sought counseling; I improved my nutrition and started on a variety of different vitamins. I started doing yoga again and learned to meditate.  Then I started weaning back off of the medication. It was hard. One of the hardest things that I’ve ever done but I wanted to be me again, I wanted to feel again. I wanted to let the pain back in, to feel it and let it wash over me and know that it was okay. I was okay.

By my daughter’s 2nd Birthday I was completely off of  medication and celebrated my birth as much as hers.

I wasn’t perfect. I was messy and raw and some days were definitely better than others.  I discovered that it’s okay to be a beautiful mess. I learned that I was both the beauty and the beast and neither needed to win or defeat the other. I embraced both aspects of myself and learned true self-love.

Note:

I am publishing this story on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, in solidarity with the brave warriors at Postpartum Progress as they climb out of the darkness from shame to pride.

In the courageous words of Glennon Doyle Melton from Momastery, to all of those celebrating having overcome postpartum depression or anxiety or any other profound personal struggle and to all of those still fighting to overcome whatever battle it is that you fight, “carry on warrior!”

By the way, if you haven’t seen Glennon’s  Ted Talk about coming out of hiding to tell the truth about being a messy, honest, fully human being, it is so worth your time! 

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Beauty and the Beast (Part I)

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“Having kids is going to change everything,” a co-worker said to me with a warm smile.

“I know” I replied, absent-mindedly stirring clumps of powdered creamer into my half cup of decaf coffee. Then I uttered the biggest lie of my life, “I’m ready.”

Fast forward about 4 weeks; I was lying awkwardly in bed trying to roll over to my other side. I reached down and scooped my gigantic belly up with my arm like a spatula; about mid-roll I felt a warm gush as my water broke. 20 minutes later I was in a full blown panic chanting, “Oh my god I’m not ready!!!”

I had 18 hours to get ready.  I won’t share the entire birth story here, that’s a telling for another time. Suffice it to say that labor earned its name and that we experienced some rather traumatic complications by the end of which left me feeling exhausted, battered and bruised.

That first night in the hospital, I remember looking at my face in the bathroom mirror and literally not recognizing my reflection. This was not the image of new motherhood that I had envisioned. I had postpartum edema (swelling) from all the IV fluids so my face looked like I had suddenly gained 50 lbs, my eyes were framed by deep, dark circles and my cheeks, neck & upper shoulders were covered with little red spots from broken blood vessels caused by pushing for over 3 hours. I went to bed, my new baby boy isolated in NICU, I was exhausted and desperately wanting to sleep but all I could do was cry. I cried the entire night. And the next night, and the next night.

At 3 weeks postpartum I called my midwife and told her that I couldn’t stop crying. She asked how much sleep I was getting, I told her not much. I had insomnia so I couldn’t sleep when the baby slept; and besides, he hardly ever slept. My little boy had moments of calm, quiet contemplation; he would stare out at the world with these knowing eyes that seemed to take in all of existence. The rest of the time he screamed as if someone was forcibly extracting his toenails.

We described him as a “highly sensitive child” this is the nice way of saying that he spent every night screaming for hours until he eventually passed out from exhaustion. Colic is mean. It tortured my baby and completely undermined my confidence as a mother. I was convinced that he hated me. I was inept. What kind of mother can’t comfort her own child!? Apparently a lot of them, but at the time I didn’t know that – I thought some mysterious maternal instinct was supposed to be bestowed upon me that would suddenly make me a ‘good’ mother. I figured I had gotten in the wrong line.

I was determined that I could get through it. Asking for help felt like admitting that I was a failure. If I let someone else hold him and he quieted down for them it made my soul ache, so I rarely let anyone else hold him. I was his mother and this was my job and I was going to figure it out. I had an amazing support group and I pushed them all away except for my husband. I latched onto him like he was a single buoy afloat in a vast ocean of nothingness. He was my lifeline. And when he was gone I was terrified. I was afraid to be left alone with my son.

After my husband left for work I would collapse to the floor and sob hysterically. I wanted to run. I fantasized about leaving. I wanted to get in the car and drive and drive until I ran out of gas and then walk to the nearest motel and never come home.

I wasn’t bonding with my baby, I loved him but it was like he wasn’t mine. It felt like any day his real mother; his competent mother would show up and claim him.

I continued to pull my way through my days. Every minute, every moment a personal victory. And it slowly got better, more tolerable. I had days when I didn’t even cry. But I didn’t feel like me anymore either, I was impatient and irritable. Even on the good days I felt a darkness buried deep in my belly, pushed down out of sight but always there threatening to take over.

Over time and as my son’s colic ebbed and we both started to sleep better I was able to convince myself that I was okay. I had felt my way through the murky waters and arrived at the other end armed with solace and beauty. I felt empowered and finally began to even feel like a good mother.

I felt good enough that I even wanted to have another baby. I was terrified to give birth again but rationalized that all the struggles that I had postpartum were simply a result of a difficult birth experience and having a baby with colic.

I sought therapy to help me finally process and come to terms with the birth and to prepare me to enter the arena again, this time on MY terms.

26 months after the birth of our first child we delivered our second, a beautiful baby girl whose birth was peaceful and perfect. I felt like a warrior, I had slain the demon, confronted my fears and arrived victorious! I was no longer a first time mom floundering about not knowing my way around a newborn. I was a seasoned professional, I had this shit down!! Hear me roar!!!

Imagine my surprise when I once again found myself staring down the face of the beast.

Continued in Beauty and the Beast Part II


Let Go and Let Love

Girl with the Red Balloon by Bansky

Girl with the Red Balloon by Bansky

Note:

This post was written back in February but it felt disjointed so I didn’t publish it. Re-reading it now, it still feels disjointed, but I like the idea of letting go of fear and choosing love.

Actually though, I think I just really like this amazing picture which is taken from a piece of graffiti art in London. To the right of this piece it says simply, “There is always hope.”

 

 

In my last post I wrote about embarking on a journey to raise my words and not my voice. As it turns out, losing my temper and yelling at my kids hasn’t been an issue for me lately.  Maybe because I clearly set the intention, but really, I think it’s because on December 14th, 2012 they came home from school. Such a simple thing.

On that day the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary happened. It left many of us with a feeling that something has to change but our opinions about what needed to change were as varied as we are as a nation. I don’t have the answers, but for me, it starts with choosing love, compassion, and connection.

I remember that dropping my kids off at school that next day was crazy hard. I wanted to keep them home with me forever, to never let them out of my sight or out of my grasp. I wanted to protect them. But I knew that I couldn’t, that I can’t. I can try to do my best to keep them safe but ultimately I am not the one in control. And that scares the crap out of me. But I refuse to let that fear dictate my life, or theirs. I am letting go of it.

One of my biggest personal challenges has been belief in my own self-worth. I tend to doubt myself and my contribution to the world. But there is one thing that I know that I am capable of beyond any self-doubt and that is love.

Love is easy when times are good and things are going well but we need to also love each other through the awkward and the hurt as well. It’s time to connect with each other. Not just through liking someone’s status on Facebook and not just with our family and friends.  It’s time to reach out to the sullen and the broken, to look one another in the eye and smile, to ask “how are you?” and stop and listen for the answer.

What if by doing so we can change someone’s day? Their life? What if by doing so we can save someone’s life?

I’m not good at talking to people that I don’t know, I’m not good at knowing what to say. I tend to retreat when things get hard. But I’m no longer using that as an excuse to hide. Because I know that I can make a difference. We all can.

So I’m making a commitment to let go of fear, of anger, and of the illusion of control and to let love be the force that drives me.


Have a bad day

I think it’s important to embrace our imperfections. I also think it’s important to embrace a bad day.

There’s a movement about the power of positive thinking and it’s great and I get it, I really do. Not only do I think it’s great, I practice it. I believe in the law of attraction and I believe that we can choose our mood and make our own happiness. I am all about looking for the positive and changing our perspective. Practicing gratitude has gotten me through some really difficult times.

But here’s the thing. While it’s good to look on the bright side of things, it’s also okay to have a bad day. It’s okay to get mad. It’s okay to be grumpy, to feel down and depressed, to lose your temper. It’s okay to be tired, and it’s okay to break down into a broken pile on the floor and cry.

And we shouldn’t kick ourselves for it or feel guilty or self-indulgent.

There’s a certain amount of pressure that trying to maintain a constantly positive attitude creates. Being happy all the time isn’t necessarily some enlightened goal that we should all be striving to reach. It’s not authentic.  Happiness is not the only legitimate emotion; we have a range of emotions for a reason.

Down days are impetuses for change. That’s why they are good. We need to face our feelings, all of them, especially the ones that make us uncomfortable. It’s on these days that we can give ourselves a chance to internalize, to go inside and check for internal damage then come back out and realize that we’re still whole.

Many of us have a tendency to fear negative emotions. Perhaps we’re afraid that they’ll take over. But trying to bury these emotions and pretend that they don’t exist only lends them power. They thrive in the darkness. We feed them fear and they devour it and they grow.

Empowerment comes in recognizing that they’re just emotions. They are normal human reactions. They aren’t bad or good. They don’t need to be judged or assigned values. Let them be.  Bring them to the surface and allow yourself to feel them. They aren’t going to take over. Let them come and then let them go.

Allow yourself to have a bad day. Then get up tomorrow and have a better one.