Monday, June 13, 2016

Why I Climb

Spring of 2016 has been one of the most difficult and dark times of my life besides my battle with postpartum mental illness in summer/fall 2014. One of the few beacons of light during these months has been co-leading Climb out of the Darkness with my dear friend, Cheryl Hart, and the anticipation of sharing this event with other mamas and families.

The climb will be strenuous but with great reward in the end (in the form of food, drink and reuniting with our partners), not unlike the battle through mental illness. There was much that I needed to learn about myself in the world as I became a mother and started on this journey. Although I would never have chosen to suffer as I did, every day I am grateful about what I have gained from this experience. One of the reasons that I want to take part in the climb is to have a physical representation of my voyage through treacherous waters. To feel myself sweat and the burn of my muscles propelling me to the finish. To celebrate at the end because the journey is complete for the day, although recovery is not a simple path and may never be completely finished for the rest of my life.

I also climb to have the joy of other spirits beside me; those who are just starting their own battles with mental illness, those who feel that they have left the darkness down in the valley and those who are just lost and don't know yet what phase of the pilgrimage they are traveling. Never did I feel more alone than when I did not yet understand what was happening to me...that I was sick and would need to learn how to take care of myself in a whole new way. I looked at social media and saw only pictures of happy babies and moms. I read books on parenting and sleep and saw only ways that I was failing. I turned to friends and family and was told that I was strong, that I needed to get used to things-to "move on" and "not let anyone talk me into seeing one of those psychiatrists", that my baby was a "helpless, sweet little worm" who needed me to hold and breastfeed him all the time. I made myself walk around the neighborhood with my baby every day, looking at all the closed doors and windows, thinking that surely someone must be home, that surely I wasn't as lonely as I felt. Some days I sobbed in the sunlight park, many times I panicked in the quiet of our cool house.

But I was never truly by myself. 20% of moms were suffering right along with me, and many dads, too. Eventually I found them. Slowly, I kept searching for answers and information, and eventually I found specialists in mood disorders and the Postpartum Progress community. I decided that someone had to start ending stigma, and it might as well be me. I found that even in speaking out, I was not alone, and if I am not afraid of my own story, it helps others be less afraid of theirs.

This brings me to the last part of why I climb-to support my fellow Warrior Mom Ambassadors and all of the amazing work that Postpartum Progress does. From a friend who is a midwife and got most of her family to donate, to one of my employers, who surprised me with a donation at the end of our performance season, to the families of our community who have responded to my climb promotion with relief and excitement-being part of this inspiring event will pay forward the healing and love that I have experienced in so many ways. The more of us who climb and who support organizations like Postpartum Progress, the more of us will know find the love and support we need during the most difficult of times. If you aren't climbing with us already, check here to find out where you can:

http://postpartumprogress.org/climb-out-of-the-darkness/find-a-climb/


#ClimbOut #WhyIClimb



Thursday, February 11, 2016

It's go time!

Today is an important day for women and especially moms-a day to raise awareness about two important bills that make up the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act of 2015. More details can be found about it here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/loveanothermother-on-febr…
My fellow ‪#‎warriormoms‬ and I are letting our local senate and house representatives know that this act could make a huge difference in so many women's lives. 1 in 4 will suffer from some type of mood disorder and so many cases go unnoticed or untreated because women are ashamed and feel guilty. Many health care professionals are not trained in recognizing and treating these illnesses and screenings are not given often enough. 
When I think back on my own experience, it's astounding that I was under the care of a therapist, midwife and doula, but none of them recognized what was happening, despite the fact that I had many high risk factors going into my pregnancy and many symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD after my son's birth. I know I'm not alone, as I've read so many similar stories, and I am very lucky that I was eventually screened by a nurse. This act would start to change this trend, both by increasing screenings for pregnant and new moms and increasing training for caregivers. 
Today I'm going to contact Congresswoman Anna E. Eshoo and our California senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. The more of us who reach out, the more of a difference we can make. Let's do this! ‪#‎LoveAnotherMother‬‪#‎MomsMatter‬

Thursday, January 21, 2016

You are my baby

One of the few books I bought for my son before he was born is a board book called "You are my Baby". Each page has a large adorable animal and a smaller version of itself below. You can flip through the parent pages separately from the little baby pages. On each page, the parent says "you are my baby, little squid" or "you are my baby, little whale" and so forth. I thought nautical animals would be friendly to him because of his bathtub spout protector whale.

Now that I am no longer my naive, anticipatory pregnant self, the post-PPD me sees this book totally differently. It's gone from harmless cuteness to prophetic truthfulness. Because my baby is growing up so fast and he really is a mini version of me (and, ok, my husband too) and he very well may be my only baby. Yes, there, I said it. Almost every day as I'm reading him one of the many books he brings to me, I hug him close, smell his light lavender scented soft hair and whisper "you are my baby". I count and kiss his little toes and his soft belly and repeat it in disbelief to myself a little softer, "you are my baby".

It's so inexplicably amazing to look into his eyes and see the shape of mine or remember the moment that we noticed that how one of his ears sticks out at a different angle than the other, just like his dad's. But at the same time it breaks my heart because I don't think I'll ever be able to say this phrase to anyone else again: "you are my baby". Soon he will grow completely into a toddler and I will miss having him fit on the changing pad or be able to rest his whole body on my chest. I don't know how to face the disappointment of myself and my husband since we always thought we'd have two or three kids. Isn't is sad to leave our little one without a sibling? Won't he be spoiled? Isn't the hardest part over pretty quickly anyway? Couldn't we just be more prepared this time?

I remember the day that a good friend who had been pregnant with her first when I was preggo with my son told me that she was expecting a second child. I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. My son was not even one yet and I was still reeling from having recently put the pieces of my life gingerly back together. How could it be possible that she was ready to do this so soon when I couldn't imagine it at all? Somehow I felt competitive although I'm well aware that this is no contest. Was I just not tough enough? What kind of mom am I if I don't want to become a mom again? I somehow managed to congratulate her and went into a funk for a few days. I definitely knew I wasn't ready, but why would it bother me that she was?

Finally I just learned to live with this little demon sitting on my shoulder, comparing me to other moms and other people and pointing out that they seem to have it all together more than I do. I try to remember that having another baby at the risk of my mental health and relationship with my husband would not stop that monster. There will always be something to compare, some way to criticize. And sometimes I even think of becoming a foster parent or finding an open adoption. I wonder whether the love I would have for those little ones would be the same. I feel like I would have more energy to give without having gone through a pregnancy and another possibly  traumatic birth. Even if we didn't share the same traits or hair or even skin color, maybe I could still remind them "you are my baby" each and every night and day. And maybe I would be ready for it to be true.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

7 Reasons Why I'm Thankful for PPD

With Thanksgiving approaching and thankfulness practically in the air, it seems to be time for reflection. For me, this month is a reminder that a year ago I was just coming out of the biggest struggle of my life. Although I’d never say that I’m glad I had PPD, I have realized many times over that I am very grateful for what it taught me. Here are seven reasons why:

1) I learned who my village is.

As they wisely all say, it takes a village to raise a child. Amen, a million times over, to that. When I was alone with my son, I had this overwhelming, devastating conviction that I was a complete failure. When someone was there, I held it together a little better and logistically I needed someone to help keep me nourished, since I couldn’t concentrate enough to cook and was losing weight like crazy. I’ll never forget my little brother taking me to find a breast-feeding support group at the hospital and holding me while I sobbed because we were late and nobody could give us the correct directions to find it. Or my older brother stroking my hair after I failed again to get baby down for a nap. My mother-in-law telling me that the first moment she met me she knew I’d be a great mother to her grandchildren. My dad opening up to me about his own struggles as I sat huddled on the bleachers at the park. My friend telling me about her intrusive thoughts. For pretty much the first three and a half months of my son’s life, we had family staying with us on a rotating basis. This is my village and I’ll never again forget that it’s there.

2) It forced me to face my demons.

There were chapters of my childhood that I thought had been worked through and put nicely away, but they jumped right off the pages of my history and came back to life. My sweet little boy somehow represented for me the death of all things beautiful and safe in my life. His neediness and our physical closeness reminded me of being molested and controlled by a man when I was a little girl. It felt like I was really trapped this time with nowhere to go, because my son was going to need me for the next 18 years, right? I couldn’t figure out how I was going to survive this time. 

But giving up wasn’t an option, and I was ready to kick my past to the curb. With the moral support of several moms who had been through similar struggles, a knowledgeable psychiatrist and the guidance of my therapist, I delved back into the past to connect the dots with my current struggles.With many tears and difficult sessions, I slowly was able to really understand what had happened and how my feelings and fears were mostly manifestations of stored memories and behavior. It was time to let them go.


3) It changed the way I see the world.

Once I started to recover and understood what depression is, with all its facets and manifestations, I felt like my eyes had been opened to a whole new dimension of the human experience. It’s a depth that is not easy to see, but it’s always been there. When I think now of war and those whom it affects, I now have a small inkling of what the soldiers on the front lines or those who are imprisoned must go through. What the mind can do is amazing but also terrible and so very difficult to see when you are in the thick of it. I’m thankful to be able to understand that experience more personally, even though it hurts.

4) My marriage became more healthy.

Although PPD seemed at times like it would tear us apart, and there were many times that the rift between us was wide, in the end it strengthened our relationship. I wasn’t aware of it but I was very codependent on my husband. At the height of my illness I couldn’t understand that he and I were different people. I spent so much time wrapped up in how he might be doing, what he might be thinking, whether he was happy with me, etc. This obsession was really fed by the paranoid state I fell into. Since I couldn’t concentrate enough to read or write, I drew. My journal is full of circles and bubbles that to me represented our souls. Some part of me knew that I needed to just take care of me and see myself as a separate being and that he could take care of himself just fine. Over time I learned to let go of these worries.

Although he was my cheerleader and never lost faith in me as a woman or a mother, as the months went by and I continued to get worse and talk about the same obsessive thoughts over and over, he withdrew into himself and we started fighting. He was very against medication and therefore so was I, but after four months and reaching a level where I was barely functioning, it was time to give it a try. Because we both had such strong feelings about this and had been fighting, we had a lot of work to do in repairing our relationship. Couples therapy was really helpful and we also have learned to make time to talk to each other heart to heart and remember what our relationship is about. It’s hard as parents, but so very important. We’re getting there.

5) I learned the power of meditation and mantras.

With my mood changing at any given time and panic threatening to rise up at a moment’s notice, I needed something to hold onto. My mind was full of so much turmoil and negativity. I started with belly breaths when I felt anxious-to keep my focus, I counted them. Meditation for me in the early days consisted of lying down with baby on my chest and counting 100 belly breaths. Sometimes it seemed so hard to find time for that but I always felt better afterward, even if just a little bit. To focus my flailing mind, I spelled words of kindness to myself. Forgiveness was a good one because I needed a lot of it and it has a lot of letters, so it occupied me for a while. F.O.R.G.I.V.E.N.E.S.S. L.O.V.E. F.A.I.T.H. If I caught myself worrying about stuff that was out of my control I’d ask myself “what are you doing right now?” and just observe what was happening in my environment without judgement. Over the two month wait for the antidepressants to help me, I found that I was even able to improve my mood with these thoughts. These are skills I’ll use for the rest of my life.

6) I grew some cojones.

First of all, there’s something about having felt like you are going to die or will never really be happy again that really puts the rest of the lesser problems in your life into perspective. On top of that, knowing that I am the one who pulled myself out of it for the most part really made me realize what a strong woman I am. After a lot of practice and hard work, I no longer really care very much about what other people think about me, because that was not something there was room for in my life anymore. Some examples from my life recently include teaching a music class to a room full of wily and restless high school students and kicking butt at an audition but not getting the job. Either one of these things would have likely reduced me to a quaking puddle on the floor before PPD, but now-I have faith in myself and know if people don’t like me, I don’t need them in my life.

7) It’s made me a better mom.

Because I had to learn how to take very good care of myself, not only am I now ok to take care of my son, but I can also teach him how to be independent too. One of the hardest things for me in the past was dealing with other people’s strong emotions. As a child I was told that everything was my fault and I often had to deal with negative consequences . But as a grown-up I’ve had to unlearn this and accept that others will be upset, with themselves and even with me, and that’s valid and OK. Letting my son have feelings and let them out without me overreacting will not always be easy but well worth it. 

It took me a long while to get here. For a long time I was just angry and still very, very sad. If this is you, I get it. Go with that and stay with it as long as you need to. Please don’t feel guilty or strange about it-we moms have enough guilt-trips as it is! But maybe you’ll find someday that you are grateful. My wish for you is for it to become a list too. 






Sunday, November 22, 2015

La cucaracha

One of the more entertaining things about motherhood is the songs I find stuck in my head at random times. Often it's something I was just singing to my son, like the lullaby I made up for nap time and find myself singing downstairs after I've put him down. Or his favorites, like "the itsy bitsy spider". But another song is a bit more incidental-"la cucaracha", which I often find stuck in my head and although it sometimes takes a bit for my memory to rewind back to the moment of its origin, there's a good reason for it.

You see, back a few months ago, I was picking baby up at daycare and the owner started a sentence with "you know, you should be careful when you put on his shoes because..." I was expecting something like "they're too small" or "you bent his toe backwards" but instead she picked up his little blue leather moccasin and showed me the cockroach that was pretty much dead beside it and I didn't hear the rest of the explanation because I was too busy being extremely embarrassed and sure that she was judging me and my (surely) filthy, dirty, cockroach infested house. Beyond horrified, I stammered something about seeing one in the garage (true!) and shuddered; reliving what it might have felt like for this 16 month old to feel something wriggling in his shoe. 


From that moment on, I have checked his and my shoes for cockroaches every time we get ready to leave the house, and when I start to wonder why I have that song in my head, I just shake my head and think of this, one of surely many future moments in which I will feel that I am slowly losing my dignity and finding more reasons to feel guilty. But I'm smiling, too. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

This grief

I never realized before PPD that one could mourn an experience, even  an experience that one is very grateful to have left behind. Maybe mourn isn't the right word, but what happens to me once in a while is just this incredibly deep sadness and disbelief as I flash through certain memories. Even now, when I feel like those days are so far from the life I have now, it shakes me to my core just the same. 

Sometimes it shocks me too, when I think about the incredible, indescribably love I have for my son, and how I can't imagine my life without him, yet I can't reconcile that with the darkness and fear I went through in the first few months after he was born. It seems so raw, scary and actually even disturbing to think of these two things being related in any way. How can they have come to fruition at the same time?

Back to grief-I think I've suddenly realized what I am grieving for. It's for that girl who loved to teach kids music and couldn't wait to have kids of her own. For that pregnant lady who felt that being preggo was so much more fun than she had expected and had no idea what was coming her way. For that woman who thought that she had put her childhood behind her and was ready to become a mother. It's for the new mom who was terrified of the pain and exposure of the natural birth she had planned and hoped for. For the daughter who couldn't speak to her own mom after this birth because she was horrified at the realization that she hadn't been looked after by those who were supposed to love her the most. For the little girl that this mom reverted to in her inner self, and just curled up into a trembling ball of fear and sadness. To all of these parts of me, I   see you, there. Until you're ready to go, I will comfort you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Today

It's finally here; this day in which I finally have the chance to start this project that has been jiggling around in my head for months. My watch is off, my phone turned over. Just me and this cursor. 

Today was a tough day, made lighter by a good friend with a lot of laughter and tears to share with me. There are a lot of things I want to share, both from my history as a mama and back into my life in that direction and also from my dreams and wishes for my life going forward. 


But what is beating out of my chest today is a lot of loneliness and this big wish. Here I am up on this mountain where everyone said I would be. I made it. I'm so incredibly grateful. I feel the wind in my hair and it's so exhilarating. I can look back down at where I've been and know that the journey was worth it and that my pack is so much lighter now. There's love all around me and I'm helping it grow. But my partner, my sherpa, he's not here yet and I can't share this moment with him. He's making that climb now. All I can do is wish him godspeed. I can't go back down that path and I need to make sure I don't. Just trying to hold back the clouds so he can see his way. And remind him that baby and I are here waiting at the top.