Monday, May 21, 2018

Under the Dome [Part 6]: The dome.

Trigger warning: The following blog posts are heavy with describing details of Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum OCD, also including suicidal ideation, intrusive thoughts and various medical procedures/complications during pregnancy and delivery. Please use caution while reading Under the Dome posts if they might trigger you.

Motherhood is so beautiful.
I have this very vivid memory that I locked away for safe keeping. It's 7am and my brand new baby is a few months old. My son was the first to wake up and the baby followed shortly after. I changed my son and opened his blinds and then went to change the baby.

The squishy new baby is flailing her arms and legs watching me as I sing song good morning and I look over to see her brother playing Lion Guard in his fleece zip up jammies. I love them. With everything I am and I think, how is this my life? How did I get so lucky to witness and feel such pure joy and happiness through my children?

That moment may seem simple, but it's the simple that is so beautiful.
Maternal mental illness takes that away from mothers. It makes everything feel like overwhelming panic. The simplest thing feels like too much and we aren't able to soak in such simplicity.

I smelled my newborn and felt happiness and for the first time ever I whispered "stay little".
I had never before wanted that. I never before was able to cherish the days and weeks of the first months or even first year at times. I memorize her tiny features and stare at her in awe instead of fear. My kids all crowd around me on the couch and I feel immense love instead of suffocation.

I am in this moment.
I am grateful.
And the only thing bringing me down is the fact that now that I know "normal", there are 2 new things breaking my heart:
1. This "normal" is what hinders people from fathoming what maternal mental illness feels like. Now I know why people who had never experienced maternal mental illness would look at me with confusion and wonder when I was overwhelmed and in a panic and unable to do seamlessly easy daily tasks.
2. Those who only experience maternal mental health problems will never know this beauty.

It feels backwards, but now, with three kids and a clear mind I feel like superwoman. I can have the house tidy and dinner on the table by the time my husband comes home. I organize, plan, and I even leave the house with all three in tow.

My therapist and prescribing doctor ward off wanting to know the "why" of this normalcy. We don't delve into it as if figuring out will make it go away. People ask me how it's possible... and I can't answer them. Medication.... lack of stressors.... lack of unnecessary responsibility? Maybe?

At my 3 month visit, it is discussed and decided that I start to wean down to a lower dose of my depression and anxiety medication. I will eventually cut the dose in half. I don't feel the need to be on such an unnecessary high dose if I don't have to be since there are withdrawal symptoms at this dosage if I don't take the medication at the exact time daily.

I am no longer locked in that dreadful, cold, dark cellar - just a shell of who I once was. I am now out in the open and it is beauty and sunshine and warmth and my children are with me... all of me.
I am happy and everything is new again. I can love the things I used to love because I am whole. I sing along to music that I had previously had no interest in.

I am whole.

60 mg.

Then a thunderous crack is heard overhead.
I look up at the sky in confusion because this is the first sign of any storm thusfar. I shrug it off. Skies can't always be perfect I suppose.
I watch the storm roll in.

It begins to rain. Faint at first, so I barely notice.
Then a large crack of lightning and thunder rumbles deep.

Except... it is not the storm that is rumbling... it's my own voice.
Uncontrollably angry.
Anxiety spreading like wildfire through my veins.
And once more, my brain screams just run.

I am lost and confused and scared.
I drop to the ground and beg the sun to come back and once more shed light and warmth on us.
I look up to the sky and cry out...
...and that's when I see it.
There is a large crack in the sky.
But... it's not the sky that is cracked.

I look all around me and now I can see.
How could I have been so foolish to not notice this before?
I am under a dome.
A 120mg dome of protection from the storm. I brought down the dosage and weakened it. I let the storm back in.

I took a small moment to mourn the loss of what I thought was regular "normalcy". This is my normal. I can accept that. I am grateful. I take a deep breath and send a message to my doctor letting her know that the drop in medication wasn't happening anymore and that I would be going back to my full dose for the rest of the year.

Nothing is perfect anymore... that crack is still there and my dome now leaks periodically. Stress brings on a storm that I can't always shield myself from but I now know to be careful and not do more than I can handle.

So now when they ask "HOW did you do it?!" I know the answer.
The right doctors.
A supportive maternal mental health community.
And this beautiful dome. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Under the Dome [Part 5]: Unbroken

Trigger warning: The following blog posts are heavy with describing details of Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum OCD, also including suicidal ideation, intrusive thoughts and various medical procedures/complications during pregnancy and delivery. Please use caution while reading Under the Dome posts if they might trigger you. 

I always wanted 3 kids.
Well, always since right after high school when I lost a friend in a car crash and I felt horrible that his sister was suddenly without him. Without any siblings. I swore to myself that I would have three.

After the experience with maternal mental illness following my son I knew that any further attempt at having children would surely kill me. I was absolutely sure of it. I had been dangled from the edge of that cliff and if I was ever in that position again I feared that the postpartum illness would stand at the edge, bend down and hand me a scissors to cut the rope I held onto.

Life following my dad's death wasn't easy. Simultaneously dealing with my brother's new fate of a felony charge that landed him in prison on top of that wasn't easy. Feeling lost and out of place was even harder. My previous career was no longer attainable to a person with PTSD who had gone through what I had with my brother's addiction so now what? It was bad enough that the maternal mental illness had stolen who I was but on top of that everything I had previously worked so many years to achieve was near useless.

My therapist challenged me to just be.
My previous years had been so consumed with helping everyone else that I didn't realize it was ok to just sit back and enjoy being a mom.

So, I did.
And I enjoyed it. I was a mom and that was enough. I loved watching my children play and bond and that boy who I had struggled with the first few months of his life had become the love of my life. Then, just like that, one day - I realized that I wasn't done. I wanted that third baby and I would figure out how to combat my maternal mental illnesses.

I thought my plan was foolproof.
I had the following things in place (which I thought to be 100% necessary for success):
A good maternal mental health therapist
A good maternal mental health prescriber
A clinic and doctor who understood maternal mental health
A support system

I got pregnant and some of those things fell apart.
Within the first trimester my prescriber moved to a new clinic that wouldn't be able to take me on as a patient. The clinic she had been part of had not one person who wanted to take me on as a patient since I was pregnant. Thankfully I was immediately accepted into the Periscope Project which I had coincidentally previously been on a panel for at the medical college. I was immediately connected with an amazing doctor for medication management.
I had switched clinics in the beginning of my pregnancy but by mid 2nd trimester I wasn't feeling comfortable and didn't feel heard so I switched back to one closer to home. This time, I wasn't afraid to let my voice be heard. I recounted all of the previous bad experiences that I had and with the help of the doctor in the periscope project, a list of my concerns and needs were in my charts.

Despite my previous experiences, this pregnancy was the first time that I understood that I was suffering from perinatal anxiety and depression. I battled demons the whole time I was pregnant and at one point was in my therapist's office once more with the overwhelming fear that I would not make it out of this pregnancy/postpartum period alive. I felt ignorant and foolish for believing, once more, that I could keep my maternal mental health under control.

In the last trimester my anxiety suffocated me. Perinatal OCD evolved in the form of obsessive cleaning and organizing in order to calm my anxieties and shut down my brain from any intrusive thoughts.
I did what I had to.
I rid myself of unnecessary responsibilities (most that didn't really even belong to me) and distanced myself from unhealthy relationships. I succumbed to the fact that my pre-children friends circle was never going to be the same because we all now lived in different worlds that were defined by the ages of our children.
During those months I did what I had to in order to turn my house into a home during the third trimester. Day in and day out I strived off of routine and order. Then, just like the two pregnancies before, a large stressor sent me into preterm labor. At that point they finally diagnosed me with Irritable Uterus (which they then realized I had the previous two pregnancies as well) which caused me to experience frequent contractions that could not be calmed by medication or rest. If they got out of control they would trigger actual labor.

My daughter was born a few days before the new year. By then I was miserable due to higher than normal levels of fluid and regular contractions from my IU.
If there was one postitive thing that I focused on during my pregnancy it was that I would get one last "first time". That magical moment where all of the pain and agony peeked and your new baby was handed to you right after being thrown into the world.
A crying, wiggling, wet bundle of joy to prove that this was all worth every ounce of pain.

But I didn't get that moment.
After "here's the head" the midwife's face suddenly fell and she frantically asked for a scissors. My baby was entering the world with her cord around her neck. As soon as she was freed from her cord I gave one last panicked push.

There was no sound.
I didn't see her.
I didn't feel her on my chest.
Her arms and legs fell limp as they rushed her to the warming bed.
Doctors and nurses rushed into the room and the only thing I remember was staring hard at her as they tried to bring life back into her and the deafening silence that waited to be broken by her cries.

I don't know how long those actual moments lasted.
And she never did cry, not until days afterwards.
I remember thinking, "If the one thing I was looking forward to had gone wrong.... then what would I be up against this time?"
Once I finally had her with me I was afraid to move her in order to look at her. She stay attached to machines but eventually got to be skin to skin with me. Her brother and sister would come soon after and this is the moment that had scarred me with my previous two.

But this time... this time they absolutely loved their new sibling.
My daughter was proud. My son was kind and gentle and in love with the brand new baby.

And then... then I waited.
Forecast called for a wicked storm to follow in the way of maternal mental health but all I felt was happiness. My new baby was perfect. She rarely cried, she nursed perfectly without any effort from either of us, and everyone loved her even through the small struggle finding a balance in our new life as a family of five.

Someone opened the cellar doors that had entrapped me for 1,614 days.
Light filled the dark space that I had previously inhabited... but I did not crawl out. Not yet.
Instead, I waited.
and waited.
and waited.
I sat with my face to the sun, soaking in the warmth, but I hesitated. I knew that the doors could slam back in my face at any moment. Time passed, the sun stayed shining and no one closed me back in.

My dearest baby girl you're here, now I'm unbroken.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Under the Dome [Part 4]: The beginning of the end.

Trigger warning: The following blog posts are heavy with describing details of Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum OCD, also including suicidal ideation, intrusive thoughts and various medical procedures/complications during pregnancy and delivery. Please use caution while reading Under the Dome posts if they might trigger you. 

I want to say that the time between the last post and this one are that of mere typical "motherhood"... and in part, that's true. The other "part" is that this one... this one is the hard one to put "out" there. Truth is truth... and if I can make one person feel less afraid and less alone, I will do whatever it takes. 

My second child grew inside of me as the cancer grew inside of my dad. That fact coupled with my brother's addiction (which was worsening as well) is why I can't say for sure if I had a perinatal anxiety or depression. My stressors all ran into each other and blended in an overwhelming mess. The one thing that I was for sure of was this: since I was medicated, I had the upper hand on postpartum anxiety. I was medicated therefore I would not get it a second time. I was so wrong. 

The only memory I have of my pregnancy now, is that I didn't feel very connected to the new baby that was growing inside of me. I did what I could to change that... I found out gender, I gave him a name that was important to me... and that helped, but only minimally. As his due date grew nearer, we were still dealing with a lot of harsh medical things in regards to my dad's cancer and the only thing ever on my mind was that I wanted my dad to be able to meet my baby. I worried that I was playing chicken with an aggressive cancer. Thankfully, my dad was here to meet Emmett and watch him grow for 7 months following. 

My son was born...
and all I felt like doing was running. Running from every change that occurred.
I welcomed him with a burst of emotions. I loved him... but unlike with his sister, I wasn't madly in love with him. I remember nursing him after some skin to skin time while nurses were in and out of my room after his birth and I finally just asked one of them to take him. I didn't want him on me anymore, I just wanted some space. Later, a nurse would overhear me tell my husband that I was starting to like my son but only because he sometimes reminded me of our daughter. She didn't say anything. 

Then came the moment that everything turned... 
My in-laws brought my daughter to meet her new brother... and she absolutely hated it.
I have this photo of the three of us on my bed, where she looks at him and gives a faint smile that was mostly left over from seeing me first... the photo makes it look like we are happy but I know the truth. I know that it's the moment before she was flooded with disdain and distrust toward me. The moment before she then climbed off the bed and would not acknowledge me for the next week. 

I was absolutely crushed. The night after she met him I asked my nurses if it was at all possible to discharge me early so I could go home and be with her and come back the next day for my son. The nurse smiled at me uncomfortably and never answered. I knew it was a stretch, but I was really asking. 
That night, when I asked for my medications that I had been taking previously, my nurse told me that she didn't think that I was allowed them and I needed to focus on being a mom now. 
I didn't sleep. 
I didn't sleep for days after that either. 
I stayed awake and stared at walls and pondered my decision to expand my family. 

No. I didn't ponder it. That's sugar coating. 
I felt like I made a mistake. 

I cared for my son. I took good care of him.
I needed breaks... but none came. No one ever wanted to take over my motherly duties. 

Unwarranted hatred grew inside of me and I grew resentful and angry towards anyone I was around that wouldn't give me the break that I needed. I convinced myself my husband was once more, an (irrational) enemy. 

Every night I sat in the quiet, nursing my son, and felt so very alone. I was jealous and angry that everyone else got to be in bed sleeping sweet slumber and I had to be a slave nursing my son. Every night in those quiet moments I would confess to myself that I didn't want to be alive anymore. 

I feared for my son in his fragile newborn stage as I had my daughter... wishing time would fast forward, but at times I only overcame my fear of leaving him with his dad during a (now) evening shower because I told myself that if my husband accidentally caused my son's death then I would have a reason to leave my husband and reverse the mistake that I had made in expanding my family. 

I wrote of my understanding of lives lost here.

My mental health prescriber worked hard to find a medication adjustment to help pull me from my misery but the first few attempts only made things worse. I was left in a dazed fog and sometimes I had no idea what was going on around me. I remember being at an amusement park and my husband had taken my daughter on a ride... but I stood there with my son in his Ergo carrier and felt as though I was lost and I couldn't comprehend what was going on around me or what I was waiting for. 

On top of my postpartum depression, my anxiety started to take over once more, but in a whole different way. I was now bound to my house, far too afraid of leaving causing some sort of life altering change. I now had two car seats in my car and if the car got hit on one side, then it would be whoever I had decided to put on that side of the car who would be injured or possibly killed. If I took a certain way to the store, it would be my deciding to take that route that got us killed. 
At my worst, I couldn't even leave to go to the grocery store 5 minutes away. The only place I did religiously go was to visit with my dad and accompany him to his doctor appointments and hospital stays. Walking into the hospital room with my son in tow brought my dad to tears. 

I eventually found the right medication and an amazing therapist and began to overcome my fears of leaving the house. My dad lost his fight against the monster in June and I felt numb to the world. He had kept me going, he had been my purpose. In the months following his death I decided to go off my medication. I didn't know what part of me was grieving and what part of me was maternal mental health. I wanted to know. 

Then the monster reared it's ugly head.
I remember sitting in the playroom with my kids and having an unnecessary outburst of anger.
I yelled. I said things that were untrue and uncharacteristic of me. I was typically patient and loving but I felt like a monster that day. I had to remove myself from the room and hide from them out of fear of losing control. 

I called my prescriber and requested an appointment to go back on my medication. I felt like a failure. What kind of mother couldn't be kind to her children without being medicated?

I messaged Becky and told her how horrible of a person I felt.
She reminded me that medication simply drowns out the monster and allows me to be who I really am. It took a while before I agreed with what she said.

As my son's first birthday neared, with a new type of medication now stifling my demons, I began to find myself again. As my mind cleared I was certain of one thing:
I could never do this again because I was certain that I would not survive it. I sold off all of my baby items with no sorrow whatsoever. I just wanted this time in my life to be over, no matter how much I had previously wanted 3 children I knew it wasn't a possibility if I wanted to be alive to watch them grow.  

The reign of the baby was over. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Under the Dome [Part 3]: Walls

Trigger warning: The following blog posts are heavy with describing details of Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum OCD, also including suicidal ideation, intrusive thoughts and various medical procedures/complications during pregnancy and delivery. Please use caution while reading Under the Dome posts if they might trigger you. 

July 2014 was the turning point of what would become an ongoing battle with MMH (maternal mental health) the next 4 years of my life. A local morning show was playing on the TV while I cleaned up the livingroom and my daughter played on the floor. A local woman named Becky Schroeder was talking about maternal mental health and she said something that I had never before heard.

Postpartum Anxiety.

I immediately googled the term and although it wasn't as easy to find, I finally found a webpage describing the symptoms of PPA. Every single word spoke to me. It said, here you are. I finally felt justified in what I was feeling. I picked up the phone and called my midwife and talked to the nurse. I told her something wasn't right with what I was feeling. She asked for specifics and it didn't sound like she agreed at first. Then I told her of my thought about dying being my only escape from the overwhelming fear. She put me on hold while she talked to the midwife and I was so relieved.

"Ok, we will send in a prescription for medication*."
...ok, and then what?
"Just take the medication, you should feel better."

In all of my years of counseling and all of the hard work that I had done with my PTSD, this felt like only a fraction of a solution. That's it... magic pill. I filled the prescription at the pharmacy and began taking it. Now, in addition to my mind attacking me, so was my body. The medication made me feel very physically ill and I could barely care for my daughter which only envoked more fear. I stopped taking it. It was then that Becky inadvertantly graced me with her presence a second time. She posted a link to her news segment in a local mom support group I had once attended in hopes to find some answers about how I had been feeling. I immediately messaged her filling her in on the last few months of my postpartum experience and how sick the medication had made me.

She helped me.
She brought me into this amazing group of women who knew how I felt and made me feel less alone. And even moreso, they gave me voice when I didn't have one. They called doctors for me and helped me find the more specific help that I needed. When I hit walls, they gave me a boost over them.

In the early years of my experience, there wasn't any urgency in the medical community to help moms. I wouldn't actually see a therapist or psychiatrist until several months later. Thankfully, the support group had advised me to seek help from my family doctor who gave me a different prescription that I didn't get ill from.

On the right dose of medication I became less and less anxious and started to enjoy my baby with less fear. I was able to leave the house and trust that she was in good care and even took a job in the career field that I had just graduated with a degree for.
I flourished.
I specifically remember those blissful months when I finally felt whole again. So filled with life and love and joyful anticipation for the future. I can see myself, standing on the lawn outside of my workplace, soaking in the sunshine with a smile on my face.

That's the last time I remember being truly happy.

I flourished
and then all hell came crashing down on me.
A month later we discovered my brother had a drug addiction.
A month after that my dad got diagnosed with cancer.
And two months later I got pregnant with my second child.
All before my daughter even turned 1 year old.

*Specific names of medications are omitted in order to not divert people away from taking them. Every mom is different and every medication works differently for every mom. What worked or didn't work for me may or may not work for you. 

Becky Schroeder is now the co-founder of Mom's Mental Health Initiativea nonprofit organization dedicated to helping moms navigate pregnancy and postpartum depression and anxiety by sharing information, connecting them to resources, and providing peer-driven support.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Under the Dome [Part 2]: Fear itself

Trigger warning: The following blog posts are heavy with describing details of Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum OCD, also including suicidal ideation, intrusive thoughts and various medical procedures/complications during pregnancy and delivery. Please use caution while reading Under the Dome posts if they might trigger you. 

It wasn't until my 28th week that I was finally cleared from all testing following my baby's thickened nuchal fold. They wanted to be prepared when my baby arrived if she ended up needing special care and still warned me that the "reason" may present once she was here.
By the end of the 29th week I went into an anxiety induced preterm labor in which I began to dilate and was taken to Froedtert by ambulance to prepare for a preterm baby who would need a lot of care.

In all the times I had been hospitalized over the years during my pregnancies (which was a few times for each child), no one ever asked me what I was doing prior to my contractions. No one asked me how I was feeling emotionally on any level. Would it had made a difference? I'm not sure... but I would hope it could have.

I eventually got to go home on strict bed rest with the exception of doctor appointments I had to attend 3x weekly. I went from actively working 3 jobs (one full time, two part time) to not even being able to take care of any household chores myself.
It was that time that my anxiety grew from a nagging worry to a full blown constant panic. I spent my days researching how to prevent all things that could kill my baby. I obsessively researched SIDS, sleep accidents, car accidents/car seat safety, common illnesses that could kill newborn and infants, babies being left in a car, postpartum depression and various other things that I would catch from a story or show. I know everyone may do this... but the extent to which I delved into these topics was beyond what I wanted to. My anxiety reared it's ugly head and made me suddenly completely too anxious to have anyone over. A few people offered company or help but I couldn't allow it. I couldn't pinpoint why, but I felt like I was going to internally combust.
It wasn’t who I was. I was normally social with a small group of longtime friends and should have wanted some company in my long hours of sitting in one spot but my mind and body told me otherwise.

7 weeks later, after a sometimes stressful and scary delivery, my daughter was here.
I was IN LOVE. I felt all of those beautiful things people try to describe about how loving your child supersedes any love you’ve ever experienced. 

My anxiety stayed true and strong even in the hospital. One minor fever in my baby and the doctors had me overly paranoid about keeping her as germ free and healthy as I could. Every person who came to visit us made me more and more anxious. I wanted them to lock us in a quarantine. I didn’t even want my own family there. I just wanted to be left alone with my new baby. Love and fear battled inside of me. 

When I went home it was more of the same. My daughter was jaundice and required a UV blanket. Feeding her was a battle that I felt like I was failing and no one was there to tell me otherwise.
I felt immense sadness watching my husband bond with and take care of her. I felt like he was keeping her from me. I felt like he might take her from me. I knew that felt like a irrational thought process but I felt like he hated me and just wanted our baby. 

The days and nights were long. I didn’t cherish the newborn days like people had repeatedly told me to. Instead I wished and prayed for time to fast forward a year or two so she wasn’t so helpless and dependent on me. Maybe if she was older then less could go wrong. Instead of celebrating milestones as she grew, I instead only felt relief that I was closer to her growing up - lessening the chances of things like SIDS. My baby being so helpless and dependent on me was overwhelming.

As the months went on I researched postpartum depression more and more. First once or twice a week and then on a daily basis. I went to doctor appointments with the mindset of answering the postpartum questions honestly, hoping to prompt a discussion from my doctor. I stared at the questionnaire but nothing it asked ever fit me and even when I lied (to prompt discussion), no one ever mentioned my answers or asked about my mood. 

I wasn’t depressed.
I was happy.
I was happy and fear was swallowing me whole.
I hardly slept. 

When I did sleep, I woke up several times in a panic to check on the baby. Fear was keeping me up at night... not my baby who had started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks. I put her to bed and then made sure her things were in pristine condition. If I felt like her bottles on the drying rack may have been contaminated, I rewashed them. If I washed them and still felt anxious then I sterilized them. I washed her clothes and dried them and folded them. If I folded them and set them on something that I then thought might be dirty then I would rewash them and wash a sheet or towel with them that I could then set on the ground to set them on. 

One night, when my daughter was 4 months old, I laid down in bed at 2am to hopefully get some sleep and as I shut my eyes and tried to will my fearful thoughts away I thought "This will never ever stop. I'm always going to be this afraid of losing her."

That thought swallowed me whole.
"I will be fearful my whole life... until I am dead. If I died, I wouldn't have to be afraid anymore."
And with that thought, came peace. And for the first time since I got pregnant, my body relaxed and I fell asleep. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Under the Dome [Part 1]: 1614 days

Trigger warning: The following blog posts are heavy with describing details of Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum OCD, also including suicidal ideation, intrusive thoughts and various medical procedures/complications during pregnancy and delivery. Please use caution while reading Under the Dome posts if they might trigger you. 

I thought long and hard about how to describe what it feels like to be stuck in the battle of maternal mental health and it wasn't until I was freed that I could come up with that analogy.
You know how some people believe that there is good and evil in all of us? How we make daily choices that make us either good or bad?
Maternal mental health struggles are like that. You get split into two different people. Imagine that the "good" part... the part that helps you flourish in joy, that is made up of a million tiny things that make you "you", gets locked into one of those old style outdoor cellars with the two wooden doors. The wooden doors are old enough to see the world in slots of light and dark. To watch the broken parts of yourself carrying on with a life you had dreamed about since you were young.

One thousand six hundred fourteen days I was trapped in that cellar.
I feel like I owe it to every other mother who suffers any form of maternal mental health struggle to share my story - in it's entirety - with every shameful, heart wrenching, fearful truth that I never wanted to share. I didn't want to, but I have to. With my third baby came this new wave of struggles... to admit to a happy, blissful, and (nearly) perfect postpartum experience and be even closer to knowing why my story needed to be told. If version #3 was how everyone else experienced postpartum and motherhood then they really didn't understand what the rest of us had been going through.

Truth: 40% of women experience maternal mental health struggles starting in pregnancy.
I wish I had known that. It actually wasn't something I came to know until I was pregnant with my 3rd, believe it or not.
The first 12 weeks of my first pregnancy were filled with a lot of obsessive reading about everything and anything that could go wrong. While this is probably what happens with  lot of people, with me it was a bit different since I suffered from PTSD. PTSD never allowed me to truly envision a future - especially not one where I could be a mother - so I was pretty certain that something was going to happen to crush any dreams of normalcy that I had.

In the beginning I called my new OB/GYN and asked her nurse about medications I was currently taking for my PTSD that I had been on for over 10 years. "Stop them immediately" she told me. I asked if she was sure. I told her that I feared that the stress of not being medicated was going to be far more harmful than the medications were. She told me that wasn't correct. I asked her to ask the doctor if I needed to wean off of any of them, she said no.

I sat and stared at a wall before then calling back and requesting to be switched to a midwife.
My midwife listened to everything I had to say and said she would call me back. When she did call back she agreed with my feelings about stress>medication harm and told me that she would support my staying on them. She also suggested that I inform my mental health prescriber before my first doctor appointment.

My mental health prescriber was an AODA specialist since I was taking a low dose of an AODA medication for my PTSD. My reasons for taking the medication had nothing to do with drugs or alcohol but my doctor was unable to ever get out of that mode of thinking.
"You can stay on the drugs if you can research them and prove they are safe. You also need to bring the father in and I need his permission to prescribe to you since this is his child too" he told me.
So, I went home and researched and actually found out that the medication had been used in various other countries as a fertility drug and that the people who took it had stayed on it after conceiving with a lesser outcome of miscarriage while taking it. My husband (then boyfriend) came with me to the next appointment where I made my case and then listened to my doctor explain that he was unaware of what the medications would do to me and needed his permission to prescribe them.

"I trust her" Kevin said with a unwavering stare.
Everyone seems to be in charge of my life except for me.

My worry kept me up at night.
My worry paralyzed me.
My worry had me obsessively scouring the internet.
My worry made my body hum with anxiety so vicious that once, during an argument with my husband, I told him I wished we hadn't gotten pregnant so we could instead get to the point of complete understanding of each other before bringing another life into the world.

I worried about miscarriage...
and sometimes I wished it would just happen already so I could be put out of my worried misery. So I could start over and do things the right way.

My worry caused me to over analyze every pregnancy symptom I had which led to many worried calls to my midwife and then scans and tests to make sure that the symptoms were not a result of a real, sometimes life threatening, problem.
At week 11 I got a call back from the doctor regarding a scan I had to make sure bleeding hadn't been a result of a bigger issue. Thankfully, it wasn't but unfortunately they had found something else. They had seen that the nuchal fold was thicker than it should be and wanted me to see a specialist who would be able to measure properly to confirm. They made me an appointment right away and I hung up to then search what nuchal fold measurements had meant.

Down syndrome.

I talked it over with my husband and did all the research I could before my next appointment. We were going to love a baby no matter what challenges it brought us. I wrote entries about my appointments in more detail but here's the truths I left out:

My doctor never told me that there was an option of "everything is fine". In every option there was going to be a high risk of a mental disability, shortened life, or no life beyond the womb at all. In order to find out "which one" I was going to be doomed with my doctor told me I could either have a blood test done (which would take weeks for the results and not be as specific) or I could have a CVS done (which was going to be done immediately, a sample taken from the placenta via needle through my stomach going in and out of it over a dozen times to collect the needed amount).

"If you take the blood test route you will be further into your pregnancy and by then if we abort due to possible complications we would have to take your baby out in pieces since it will be larger."

I excused myself to the bathroom to sob in private.
That is the moment that my fear went silent. That all of my previous worries had lost their voice and instead caused a constant hum throughout my body that simply said "run".

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I will try to fix you.

This photo is of my son Emmett curled up next to my dad today.
What neither of them knows is that the ugly cancerous tumor that is taking my dad's life is the reason that Emmett exists. And what everyone else doesn't know is that Emmett is the reason that I exist on the (somewhat) sane level that I currently do. The trials and tribulations of the last year plus have been that of which I wish I could have just said "forget it" and drown my reality in some sort of mind altering substance.

But I didn't. 
Because I know better.
The real reason?
I have a child to protect.
I have a child to nourish.
And that child is here because my dad's cancer exists. 
And I won't let that not matter. 
I will fight. Always

Emmett is here because a few months after his diagnosis, with a dozen unanswered questions, more uncertainty than not, and a grim outlook even in the best case scenario, I knew we were on borrowed time. It was with that knowledge that I slowly convinced myself and then my husband that sooner was better than later for child #2. Don't get me wrong, I took my time deciding. I asked all the right questions and had valid reasons. They were all reasons and questions I just hadn't had before the cancer. 

I wanted my dad to meet my baby.

And what if...
What if that baby would be a son, the first grandson?
What if my dad beat the cancer and got years to live afterwards then all would be happy and well? Then he could watch him grow.

There were periods of time during my pregnancy when I feared the life inside me wasn't growing. Concurrently my dad was fearing that the life inside of him was growing. There were moments where my doctor appointment wouldn't go well but his would and then times when mine would be looking up and his would be some sort of unexpected bad news.
I wanted both of us to come out winners in this battle.
But that isn't what happened. Instead I watch my dad's face fall into sorrow and sometimes tears when he looks at my son... not because he knows why he exists, but because he knows he won't get to watch him grow.

I could dwell on how much I hate it. I could go on forever about the up and down emotions of watching someone die. How one minute you're grateful for the time you do have and the next minute you're cursing and throwing something across the room at the wall out of a rage that rumbles so low within you that you're not sure you'll ever be rid of it.
Instead I will say that I will first thank my dad for everything he contributed to my life, for working hard and providing for our family, for teaching us right from wrong and work ethic.

And then I will thank him for harboring the (cancerous) life that sequentially gave me Emmett.