there’s good news and there’s bad news

Four beautiful words.  “You have recovered well.”  Spoken by my therapist to me on Monday night. I let out a huge, deep breath that I didn’t even know I was holding in.  I had felt that this was true, but I needed to hear someone else say it, someone who knows what she’s talking about.

And she did.  Four months after I started going to therapy for PPD/anxiety, I was told I have recovered well.  Four months ago I wouldn’t have believed anyone if they said I could be this person again.  I felt so unhappy, so desperate, so undecidedly not me, that I couldn’t imagine things getting any better.  You know when you have a really terrible cold, and your head is all foggy, and you see people who are well and you can’t remember what it feels like not to be sick?  I had forgotten how good it feels to be me. To be happy.

She let this sink in, giving me an encouraging smile, before she dropped the bomb.  “I think we can start weaning you off sessions until you go back to work.  Because that may trigger your depression and anxiety again.”

My initial, free-association thought was that “weaning” takes on a whole other meaning once you become a mom and you really can’t go back to using the word in a discussion that doesn’t involve infant sleep or breastfeeding.  But my second thought was a cold, hard realization:  this will never be over.

I sat there, a little stunned and a lot frustrated.  I have recovered well.  Remember?  I’m done with this.  But the rational part of me was there whispering that I had known this all along.  Depression and anxiety is something I can overcome.  It is something I can defeat.  But it will always be a war that I have to fight. This was just the first battle.

And once I stopped being mad at the messenger, I realized that if I was being honest with myself, going back to work is already triggering my depression and anxiety. 

You haven’t seen a post from me in a while.  That’s because I’m in the throes of writing my thesis for my Master’s degree and preparing to teach a brand new course in the fall. And if I’m not working on one of those two things or on mommy duty, I am so overwhelmed by trying to find balance in my new life that I shut down and can’t accomplish anything.  Did I really think it would get easier come September?

I have recovered well.  And part of recovering well is realizing that I have to make the choice every day to not give in to my anxious thoughts.  To not let “working mom guilt” overtake me.  To be happy.  To get help when I need it.  To be honest with myself and those who love me about what I’m feeling.  To make decisions that are right for me, my husband, and our daughter.  To hold on to the me that I have recaptured and to fight for her every day. 


turning the switch

I’m just going to say the thing you’re not supposed to say (thanks, Samantha Jones): I didn’t want to be pregnant.  Maybe that’s why I had to take all nine pregnancy tests before I could finally force myself into believing it.  In fact, in addition to the throwing up all day (morning sickness must have been termed by a guy), needing a nap after walking up the steps, and subsisting on Saltines, ginger ale, and donuts (which I ate maybe twice in my life before I got pregnant), I spent the majority of my first trimester feeling bitter, resentful, and sorry for myself.

All the plans I had for myself went out the window.  I had to put my Master’s degree on hold when I was so close to finishing.  I had to stop running because of a cyst.  There went the trip to Paris we had been planning for next summer.

I missed long, scalding hot showers and nitrate-filled hot dogs and iced chai tea lattes.  I missed my flat stomach (because everyone loves hearing the doctor say at your very first appointment, “Whoa, you’re gaining too much weight.  You need to slow down”).  I missed seafood and margaritas and having energy.  All I could focus on was what I had lost.

This continued after I gave birth.  I felt trapped. I felt like I had lost all sense of who I used to be.  I felt sad, angry, bitter, resentful, and sorry for myself.

At my last therapy session, I told my therapist that I dreaded pumping in the evenings because all I did was watch the bags and get upset over how little was coming out.  She said I needed to turn the switch.  To have a mind of gratitude.

Instead of thinking, Oh, I barely got anything, I am to say, “I am so grateful for every ounce of milk that I can give my daughter to make her strong and healthy.”  Instead of thinking how much I want to punch the construction workers who are working on our house in the face every time their muddy boots leave stains on my carpet, or they break something, or they don’t come back to work after their lunch break, I am to say, “I am so grateful we can afford to make these improvements and for how much we will enjoy our home when they are done.”  You see what she did there?  She turned all my losses into gains.  All my negatives into positives.  Her glass is perpetually half full.

I tried doing this when I got home. It felt fake. Forced. Completely inauthentic.  And then the news broke about the Oklahoma tornadoes.  Of the homes lost, of the lives lost, of the hope and happiness and security lost.  I looked at my home, and I was grateful.  I looked at my husband, and I was grateful.  I looked at my daughter, bouncing happily away in her Jumperoo, smiling and cooing and talking, blissfully unaware of the pain and sadness and loss that accompanies life, and I was grateful.  I was so aware of how much I have, of how much I’ve gained, of how much what I have and what I’ve gained trumps what I had and what I’ve lost.  I turned the switch. 


that guy

I am married to that guy.  Oh, you know the one I mean, because most of you have secretly wished your husband was more like him and the rest of you have not-so-secretly spoken that wish out loud to me.  You have lusted over him at children’s birthday parties and when you see him at the mall picking out a present for me “just because.”

When I was pregnant, he indulged almost every craving (in his defense, I kind of set him up for failure when I requested an almond croissant from that off-the-beaten-path pasticceria we found in Florence – but that didn’t stop him from driving to five different bakeries to find a close alternative) and he gave me massages every night when I developed sciatica.

At my nephew’s birthday party, he played laser tag with fifteen nine-year-olds and they were all calling him “Uncle” by the end.  He lets my niece dress him up in silly outfits and grins from ear to ear when it makes her giggle uncontrollably.

He is a magnet for small children, all dogs, and little old ladies in the grocery store who need a big, strong man to reach something off the top shelf.

And our daughter.  I’ve never seen more mutual adoration.  When I was pregnant, I had dreams that since I was carrying her, there would finally be someone who liked me more than they like my husband.  No such luck.  It’s like they have their own little world, and they could stare into each other’s eyes all day and both be perfectly content.  He gets up with her in the middle of the night, rushes home to see her after work, and doesn’t care who hears him when he talks to her in a high-pitched baby voice.

He takes beautiful pictures, has single-handedly put in hardwood floor or tile in every room in our house, can make a killer balloon animal, loves to cook, and is the first to volunteer his time whenever anybody needs anything.

He watches Downton Abbey with me.  When I’m having a bad day, he makes me an appointment for a massage, or calls my best friends and arranges a girls night, or brings home my favorite cupcakes.  He tells me I’m beautiful every day, multiple times when he knows I don’t believe him, and makes me breakfast before he leaves in the morning because he knows that might be the only time I eat that day.

Last Friday, he emailed all of his clients and told them that he would not be available all weekend because it was my first Mother’s Day and he wanted to make it as special as possible.

And he’s gorgeous.  Not just in the “he’s my husband” biased way, but in the majority agrees upon way.  In fact, when he was in high school, he was approached by Abercrombie to model for them (and if you’ve been keeping up with the news lately, you know how picky they are).  He’s also good looking enough that he knew to turn them down.

With his gentle but persistent pushing and encouragement, I sought treatment for PPD and started this blog.

I’m not gloating, and I’m not trying to make you jealous.  Really. I’m trying to tell you that sometimes it sucks being married to that guy.  Why?  Because I am automatically THAT girl.  How could she be depressed?  Doesn’t she know how lucky she is?  What does she have to be sad about?  Most husbands don’t help out a percentage of how much her husband helps out.  He works for himself, and can be home more than most husbands.  She has so much support.  She should never complain about anything. She doesn’t know how good she has it. Why can’t she handle this?  Whether these questions are real in the minds of people who know me, or I imagine them because of my own insecurities, they are certainly questions I have asked of myself.  When it became quite clear that the crying and mood swings and utter despair went way beyond the baby blues, I berated myself. There are women who do this all on their own.  There are women who do this with two other kids at home and who have to go back to work after twelve weeks.  You’re married to Mr. Perfect.  What is your problem?  It goes further.  He should have married someone else.  He would be so much happier if he weren’t married to such a mess.

Just once, I want to be that girl instead of THAT girl.

After meeting my husband, people always tell me how lucky I am.  And they’re right.  I am blessed beyond belief.  I am fully aware of that and am not saying anything to the contrary.  And him being so wonderful isn’t his problem; it’s mine.  I wish I could see myself through his eyes.  Someone like him chose to be with someone like me.  That counts for something. So until I can figure out a way to be that girl, I’m just going to keep thanking God that I’m married to that guy.


the importance of being showered

When I was 32 weeks pregnant, I was put on modified bed rest.  My little drama queen had already attempted the great escape twice, and the doctors wanted me to keep her in for at least another two weeks.  Since my bed rest coincided with Christmas and only lasted three weeks before my daughter was born, I remember very little from that time except that I sucked at bed rest (I took sanity trips to Target daily under my husband’s watchful and disapproving eye) and I became obsessed with Homeland.

I do, however, remember a phone conversation I had with one of my best friends. I was complaining about how much I hated bed rest (I know, what was I thinking?  The grass is always greener though), and this very wise friend told me to take lots of long showers because I would miss them when the baby was born. 

At first I thought she was crazy.  Tired I was expecting.  Milk machine I was prepared for.  But not showering?  I love showers.  Especially really hot ones that leave my skin all red and splotchy. And being clean is important. Why would having a baby make me become savage and uncivilized?  Oh, how I wish I could tell my pregnant self a thing or two.

My sister told me that when my water broke, I would have plenty of time to get to the hospital, so I should definitely shower first because I didn’t know how long I would be in labor.  I thought this was great advice.  It would keep my mind off what was about to happen to my poor body, and I would be all ready to meet my daughter.

It didn’t go down like that.  At 35 weeks, I woke up in the middle of the night sweating and feeling sick.  I threw up, called the doctor, woke up my husband, and we left for the hospital.  No shower.  It turns out I had preeclampsia and needed to be induced.  For anyone who was preeclamptic, the words “magnesium sulfate” probably still make you shudder.  They are the drugs I got after I delivered my baby, but I didn’t even remember that I had given birth because of said drugs.  Which is probably a good thing because my daughter was apparently whisked away to the NICU.  At least that’s what they tell me. 

Two days after I gave birth, I started to come out of my drug-induced state.  I had to be carried to the bathroom by my husband and had to pee with the door open so someone could keep an eye on me at all times.  Not really showering conditions.  Then I got discharged, but my baby had to stay in the hospital for a few more days.  Since I was technically no longer a patient, we were moved into a “courtesy room” that was the size of Harry Potter’s under the stairs room and had no windows.  Still not showering conditions.

On Monday, five days after we had arrived at the hospital, my husband convinced me to go home for one hour to shower and get fresh clothes.  What he didn’t say, because he is really nice and I was very fragile, was that I stunk.  Like the boys from Lord of the Flies before they were rescued stunk. 

So, after much coaxing, I went home.  I showered.  And I felt like a new person.  Being clean physically cleansed me emotionally and I was able to return to the hospital and make it through two more excruciatingly long, worrisome, scary days. 

My friend was right.  A lot of days I don’t have time to shower.  But I make it a priority. Not only is it a kindness I pay to my husband and others who are forced to be around me, but it rejuvenates me.  It makes me feel alive and human. I recognize the person I see in the mirror afterwards.  I am refreshed and ready to face whatever the day holds. And even though I am usually covered in drool and spit up and crusty milk within ten minutes, for those ten minutes I get to be me. 

Showers have additional benefits.  For one, the shower drowns out whatever noises are coming from the rest of the house.  Which is why I usually take them right after I put my daughter down for a nap. That means no screaming, no crying, just the sound of my own thoughts.  My husband likes that I take showers so much too.  Once I get in there, I don’t want to come out, and my legs have never been smoother. 

Maybe you don’t have the same need for showers as I do.  But you do have a need to be refreshed, to be alone, to collect yourself.  Whatever helps you do that, (showers, walking, reading), find time for it.  Make it a priority.  Make it sacred. I’m a better mom when I’m showered. 


worried sick

A lot of people ask me how I knew that I had postpartum depression and not just the baby blues that every new mother typically experiences.  At first, I didn’t know.  I thought the crying (mine this time, not my baby’s) was just hormones and exhaustion.  I thought the feelings of despair and hopelessness would simply subside.  When my daughter got better, I would too, right?  I kept thinking, When the weather gets better, so will I, or, I’m just tired, or, It’s not like I’m suicidal or anything.  But then my daughter turned three months old and things still weren’t better. I felt lost and unhappy and guilty.  But by far my worst symptom was and continues to be anxiety.  I worry.  A LOT.  I know, I know, all new moms worry, so let me explain. 

What do I worry about?  When the doctor said my daughter’s head circumference was in the second percentile (not a typo), I worried that her head would never grow. Did you ever take the heads off your Barbie dolls when you were little and all that was left at the top of her neck was that small plastic ball that had held the head on?  That’s what I envisioned my daughter looking like when she was a teenager. 

I worry that all the time spent in the baby swing will cause issues with her spinal development.  I worry that all her crying and screaming will leave her with a voice like Emma Stone, but that she won’t be famous enough for it to be cool.  I worry that letting her cry it out will cause her to feel abandoned and the cortisol levels in her brain will remain high and cause emotional issues when she is a teenager.  I worry that she doesn’t sleep enough and it will prevent her brain from developing properly.

I worry that because I was less than thrilled about finding out that I was pregnant, I made her this way.  I worry that she is unhappy. I worry that my worry is prolonging her colic.  I worry that she will end up like me and be an anxious adult who can’t fully relax and enjoy life.

I worry that my husband isn’t able to fully enjoy the joys of parenthood, which he has wanted all his life.  I worry that he will resent me for being so dependent on him. 

When my daughter goes to nurse and right before she latches she sticks her fingers in her mouth and seems to expect milk to come out, I worry that not only is she not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she’s pretty much a spoon.

I spend the night worrying what the next day will hold and the day worrying about what the night will bring.  I worry when she cries at night. I worry when she doesn’t cry at night. I worry about the fact that I wake up in the middle of the night thinking I hear her crying and that she has been for hours when she is really fast asleep.  I worry when her nap is only 30 minutes long.  I worry when her nap is two and a half hours long. I worry she will die of SIDS. 

I worry that if she is an only child that she will grow up and never get married and my husband and I will die and she will be all alone in the world.  I worry that she won’t be an only child and I will have to do this all over again.

I worry that I don’t play enough with her.  I worry that I don’t read enough to her.  I worry that I hold her too much or not enough.

I worry that I am worrying away her babyhood.  I worry that this time will go too fast.  I worry that it won’t go fast enough. 

I worry that all my crying makes her feel unloved.  I worry that I am a bad mom.  I worry that I am messing up the only childhood she will ever have.

I worry that this is the person I am now – that my life will always be consumed with worry and fear and guilt. 

These are not simply fleeting thoughts.  They are the constant chatter in my mind, drowning out any rational logic that threatens to invade. And I make myself sick.  Literally. My breaths become shallow and it feels as if my heart is being squeezed.  I have headaches from clenching my jaw and back pain from tensing my body.  My stomach is constantly in a tight knot and I am nauseous most of the day.  I am continuously exhausted, but cannot sleep.  I cry without warning and despite my best efforts not to.  I either don’t eat because my stomach hurts so badly, or I have a junk food nosh fest.  Routine decisions like what to have for dinner or what card to buy for a friend’s birthday are overwhelming. I snap at my husband, my inner monologue is a repetitive cycle of negative thoughts, and I have no energy for things I used to love.

While some of this might sound familiar to you, I hope most of it does not.  I hope that you are not burdened and dragged down by the weight of worry.  But if you are, I hope that you know you are not alone.  And that the best thing you can do for yourself is to say it out loud.  Get help.  Because this really isn’t the way it should be.


one step forward…

Life with PPD is the epitome of the saying, “One step forward, two steps back.” I had a great weekend.  My daughter took great naps during which I was able to run, write, shower, and eat. We even took her to a party on Sunday where she took a whole half hour nap!  In someone else’s swing! Life was looking up.  I felt human again. I felt like me. I thought I had made a turn.

Then Monday came.  It was also the day of the dreaded four month check-up.  That means shots.  Four of them.  Since the last time the doctor gave her shots, he turned her into the red-faced screaming demon she now is (really NOT a result of the shots, but the coincidence gives me an easy target to blame), I had understandably been worrying over this appointment for weeks.

It started out great.  My daughter was smiling and cooing and charming the whole waiting room.  Her head is now in the tenth percentile!  She is three inches longer!  And even though those things have absolutely nothing to do with me, I was a proud momma. I had to be doing something right.  Look at how my baby was growing. 

And then they weighed her.  Between her two month and four month check-up, she gained…a pound.  Just the one. My husband and I looked at each other in shock. Look at those chunky thighs!  Listen to her guzzle when she eats!  And although we were surprised, we weren’t concerned.

Until the doctor came in.  She asked if we had any questions, and I immediately pulled out the notes I had taken on my phone with a dozen or so questions. Most of them had to do with her sleep.  The doctor’s response?  Her feeding was the problem.  She wasn’t eating enough, which is why she only gained one pound, and which is also why she’s having so much trouble sleeping.

My heart sank.  I was doing something wrong.  I did this.  My baby girl was hungry every time she woke up at night and I didn’t always feed her because I thought she was just mad we wouldn’t give her the pacifier.  The one area in which I thought I was actually doing pretty well, nursing, was essentially causing all of our problems.  It’s my fault.

And then she dropped the other bomb.  No more sleeping in the swing.  Not safe.  Crib only.  Just when I had gotten my arms back and a couple of hours every day free, she was taking it away from me.  My daughter doesn’t nap in the crib.  She was barely napping in the moving swing.

The world that had seemed to be getting a bit bigger with each passing day shrunk back.  The tears I had been so good at holding back the past couple of weeks came pouring out.  I had just started to recognize glimpses of my old self again, and I felt that this doctor had taken that all away from me.

The whole ride home I was wracked with guilt.  My poor girl just wanted to eat and I’ve been depriving her.  I am not fit to be a mom.

When we got home, my daughter was clearly exhausted from the shots and the dose of Tylenol we gave her.  My husband took her upstairs, swaddled her, and laid her in her crib.  She cried for a few minutes, but then she fell asleep.  I stupidly allowed myself to hope.  Maybe this can work.  Maybe she can do this.  Maybe I can too.

Exactly one half hour later, she woke up wailing.  I knew I had to go upstairs and try to get her back down.  She’s clearly tired, and a half hour nap is not going to cut it.  I had to go into her room and get her to fall back asleep.

But I couldn’t.  I couldn’t get myself off the couch.  Even though she was screaming, even though I knew she needed me, I couldn’t do it.  I felt so overwhelmed with guilt, fear, worry, and despair that the thought of actually taking care of my daughter felt like too much.  I wasn’t up to the task.  My husband graciously took over.  The rest of the day I spent in bed, crying, sleeping, unable to make a decision about even the smallest things. 

I was in mourning.  Taking that one step forward made those two steps back so much harder.  I mourned the loss of my confidence.  I mourned the loss of a baby who woke up from naps happy and smiling. I mourned the loss of finally feeling like maybe I could manage this whole mom thing. I mourned the few days I felt like a real person again.  I mourned for my life pre-baby when I felt like I knew who I was and what I was doing.

But I am a mom now.  And being a mom means that I am no longer the most important person in my life.  I have a daughter who needs me.  Whose very existence depends on me.  So I will get up.  Because my depression?  It isn’t me.  I will not let it win.  I will not let it prevent me from the most important job I have ever had: being a mom. If I need to cry, I will cry.  If I need to rest, I will rest.  But I will keep moving forward.  I will keep taking baby steps.  I will keep my eyes on the woman I know I really am.  I saw her last week; I will see her again.


accept and embrace

We didn’t know how good we had it.  On our daughter’s three week birthday, she started sleeping a six hour stretch at night.  She would wake up then to eat and then go back to sleep for a few hours.  Parental nirvana.  People commented on how well-rested my husband and I looked.  They were jealous.  We were blissfully unaware that it doesn’t usually go down like that, and loving all the sleep.

And then she turned two months.  And my beautiful, angelic, sleeping infant morphed into a screaming, red-faced demon.  She stopped sleeping.  I could no longer put her in the vibrating chair for a few minutes while I did necessary things like eat for the first time in 20 hours or go to the bathroom without her wailing.  What happened to my baby?  I would think.  Something must be wrong with her.  What are we doing wrong?

At that two month mark, we entered what I refer to as “the dark period.” I’ll let you know when we see the light. At first I thought she was just having a rough couple of days because sadistic doctors think six shots at one time is totally fine to do to an eight week old baby.  And then a couple of weeks went by.  And my ability to handle this new phase of babydom quickly disintegrated as there didn’t seem to be an end in sight.

I’ve done everything.  I’ve hired a sleep specialist and a postpartum doula.  The receptionist at the pediatrician’s office is rapidly becoming my best friend.  I ask them all, “What is wrong with her? What are we doing wrong?”  And they throw words at me like, “high-alert,” “extreme fussiness,” “extra sensitive,” “non-medicated colic,” “difficult temperament.”  All these labels and you know what they’re really saying?  We have no idea why your baby turned into a screaming, red-faced demon, but hopefully these labels will make it easier for you to accept.  In my worst moments, I’ve come up with a few labels for her myself, but I’m trying to keep this blog PG.

And then at my last session, my wonderfully gentle and loving therapist recommended something.  She said next time my daughter was having a “moment,” that I hold her and say, “I accept you for who you are.  I embrace this part of you.”  I realized in that moment, for the first time (I can be a little slow), that it wasn’t just me going through this phase.  My girl is going through it too.  And she can’t think this is fun either.  I’m sure she doesn’t want to have to shriek at the top of her lungs for exactly 17 minutes every time she goes to sleep.  She probably wishes she could be one of those babies that just peacefully drift off too.  She probably doesn’t want to spend the twilight hours of each day crying with her eyes closed tight and her gums exposed to the world.  She would probably love to take naps that last longer than 42 minutes since she wakes up cranky and still tired.  Instead of needing to explain her behavior, I need to acknowledge that this is who my daughter is.  Nothing wrong with her.  Nothing we are doing wrong.

And so, my dear girl, I accept you for who you are.  You are a spirited, persistent soul who knows what she wants when she wants it.  And loving you means loving all parts of you.  Not just the parts that are easy to love.  It’s okay that you have trouble sleeping.  It’s okay that you spend the majority of your day crying. I embrace those parts of you.  Who knows?  Your rejection of Sophie and all teething rings and everything else that babies are supposed to want to chew on because what you really want is my index finger may mean you will become someone who never accepts less than what she wants and deserves.  Your refusal to stay in your vibrating chair for five seconds so I can prevent myself from peeing in my pants because you would rather practice sitting up and rolling over may mean you will become a woman who believes in hard work and has the drive and resolve to do whatever she puts her mind to.  The truth is, you are going to encounter many people in your life who try to tell you that who you are isn’t good enough or try to change you.  I don’t want to be one of those people.  You are perfect as you are.  Those parts of you that seem hard now will probably end up being the things I admire most about you later.   I accept you for who you are.  I embrace those parts of you.