Monthly Archives: February 2012

Whatever Wednesday: Lost in a soothing chimera

My mind is quiet today.

It shouldn’t be, there is a lot going on up there.

But as I wander through the aisles, it’s as if everything on the shelves suddenly disappears just as I reach for it to place it in my cart. My hand passes through empty space instead of jars filled with thoughts and feelings. Every aisle is the same. Full as I start my trip down each new row, list in my hand, I arrive at the desired item only to have it vanish as soon as I reach out.

Finally, I abandon my cart and leave it to dissipate along with my thoughts, finally understanding there’s no point to continuing this exercise in futility. I exit the store and enter a field covered in poppies, a babbling brook coursing through the middle of the stimulating red flowers and soothing green blades of sweet grass. Butterflies flit to and fro, bumblebees hum as they gorge themselves upon sweet pollen.

My mind is empty today.

Busy, but empty.

A contradiction in action.

For now, I’m drifting in the silence, listening to soft murmuring thoughts, and contemplating the meanings behind their syllabic cadence. I’m letting the poppies grow across my body and losing myself in their aromatic fragrance carried across me by a gentle breeze. Giving myself permission to just be in the midst of the melange of introspection, losing myself in a soothing chimera.

How are you spending today?

Postpartum Voice of the Week: Love, marriage, depression, survival

When I first fell into the rabbit hole of Postpartum Mood Disorders nearly 8 years ago, I never imagined it would lead to me sitting in front of a tiny computer attempting to compile the journey of a Syrian woman now living in Austria who has also struggled through her own issues with Postpartum Mood Disorders. At a time when so many in Syria are struggling for survival, it is truly an honour to share the story of a woman who grew up in their world and has fought her own battles to survive. Nadia is still fighting but her determination to win is enviable and because of that, she has already gained a victory. What follows below is a rewrite of a timeline Nadia sent me. With her approval, I am thrilled to be sharing it with you now.

I was born in Damascus, Syria, single child to Syrian parents who were cousins. My father studied Atomic Sciences in Russia but was not allowed to work in his specialization for security reasons. My mother was analphabetic, raised in a small village in the north of Syria where a woman doesn’t have the right to decide anything. She had five sisters. Two of them were married and then divorced after they had children. They suffered from depressions and psychological illness but I am not sure exactly what. I do know her family history involved depression.

My parents divorced after a marriage full of fights. My father beat my mother as a result of losing his temper. My Uncles, my mother’s brothers, threatened her, telling her she was not allowed to ask to see her daughter. They held her responsible for destroying the marriage by getting divorced which brought shame to their family. I was automatically given to my father.

Shortly after my parent’s divorce, my father married an Austrian woman who worked for the Austrian Embassy in Damascus. She couldn’t get pregnant due to cancer which caused doctors to remove her uterus. I visited my mum in the summer holidays only for short visits. My mother fell into a deep depression.

Three years later, I moved from Syria with my step-mother and father to Libya where my step-mother worked for the Austrian Embassy in Tripoli. I lost contact with my mother. My father’s temper flared. He beat me and his relationship with my step-mother began to fail. Within the next few years, my father was badly burned in a fire accident at home when our washing machine exploded. After three months in the hospital, he passed away.

After my father’s death, I was given the choice to stay with my step-mother or go back to Syria to my mother. I stayed with my step-mother because I was afraid if I returned to Syria the family may force me to marry or nobody would want to care for me. I moved to Austria with my step-mother because I knew it was the only way to help my mother. As I approached puberty, my step-mother and I did not get along very well. I was sent to a boarding school and she left Austria to work for the embassy in Turkey.

A short year later, I found myself longing for Arabic food, company, tradition, and language. I opened the phone book and searched for an Arabic restaurant. I went to eat there with a friend of mine. I met my husband at this restaurant. He was and still is my great love.

Two years later, after working very hard through summer holiday, my husband and I traveled to Syria to fulfill our dream of getting married. Our families both attended and our wedding was amazing. We returned to Austria, managing to get a one room flat. For five months, we didn’t have a bed to sleep on due to tight finances. But our love was more than enough to live on and we were sure things would improve.

In 2002, the same year we were married, I became pregnant. My pregnancy interrupted my schooling but I wasn’t concerned because here in Austria, when you give birth, the government pays you a monthly income for two years so finances were not a concern.

Our first son was born in 2003 when I was 19 years old. He cried without ceasing after birth. I was so sad as well. I did not know at the time of Postpartum Depression. It disappeared by itself although I still struggled with sadness and sometimes crying as my husband worked as a waiter all night long and I was alone with the baby quite often.

Three years later, we had a daughter, desired very much by my husband and myself. I struggled psychologically during pregnancy and was again crying and sad after giving birth but less than after my son. Again, I was still unaware of Postpartum Depression and thought this crying and sadness after giving birth was normal for me. I got Austrian citizenship and this allowed my husband to have working papers. He began working two jobs as a waiter and I was again alone at home for long periods of time.

In 2008, doctors discovered through blood tests my thyroid was hyperactive. They told me this might have caused my sadness during and after pregnancy. My thyroid was removed a year later and I began to take hormones. My mother had also had issues with thyroid and hers was removed as well. I knew I did not want to become pregnant again even though my husband always wanted to have four kids. I wanted to do something for me such as a job or return to school.

With both kids in school, I began taking courses in ICDL and secretary classes. I got a great offer for a job at the Embassy with a good salary. My boss and colleagues showed a lot of appreciation for me and for the first time, I had a feeling of success. My life felt so nice.

In November of the same year as finally starting my job, I found out that despite my copper IUD, abnormal thyroid results, and no desire to be pregnant, I was pregnant. My husband was very happy and offered to leave his job when I gave birth to stay with the baby so I could stay at my job. I was still sad because I knew I would experience yet another difficult psychological situation. But abortion was not an option.

This pregnancy however, proved to be one filled with additional difficulties.

In January of 2011, discovered my mother had Leukemia. In February, I went for one week to Syria to visit her. In March of 2011, my mother died in Syria. I was unable to go due to work, pregnancy, and the political situation in Syria.

My third child was born in August of 2011. He spent a month at the hospital due to jaundice. The doctors searched and searched for a reason. We were told at one time he didn’t have bile to get rid of the bilirubin. Then they suggested perhaps I was infected with Hepatitis in Syria when I visited my mother and the infection transferred to him. After the doctors confronted me with these suspicions, they discovered our son was a carrier of a disease called Alpha 1 Antitrypsin deficiency. He will not be able to drink alcohol or smoke when he is an adult as a result. Apha 1 Antitrypsin deficiency is genetic and perhaps my husband or I are carriers as well. We have both smoked for 10 years at this point.

Once my youngest son was home for two weeks, my older son’s eyelid began to twitch. The doctors again jumped to conclusions and stated it might be a facial paralysis. I became terrified and anxious about my son. He was treated with magnet resonance but all tests pointed to simple sinusitis. He was given antibiotics and healed just fine.

One week later, my husband traveled to Syria for his sister’s wedding. During the week he was gone, my daughter got worms again, went into the hospital, was given medication, and was able to come back home. Two days before my husband returned home, I felt as if I didn’t need to sleep. I couldn’t sit still. Adrenaline took over my body as I worried for no reason at all. I began to think this was because I was alone and tired.

My husband returned home and I did not get better. It got worse. Panic attack after panic attack hit me. No sleep, no food, just coffee and cigarettes. I finally sought help at the hospital and was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. I have been on medication since November. My panic attacks have disappeared. I am working again and it’s been better since starting Psychotherapy and attending a support group here in Vienna as well. I’ve been in touch with the wonderful Wendy Davis, whom I highly appreciate and love, at Postpartum Support International as well. I have been reading this blog (My Postpartum Voice) and have greatly appreciated your help for other Mums and feel like you wrote what I always needed to be reassured that it goes away. Your words moved something inside of me and I decided to write to you.

Personal statement from Nadia:

I am a 28 year old mother of three kids, I’m proud of myself and my family and what I reached in my life. I’m living with terrible thoughts. They come and go. Once I have cancer in the kidney, once I start thinking my daughter has Leukemia because she looks so white in her face and so on. They thoughts almost disappeared. On a scale from 1-10 they were a 12 but now they are at a 3 but 3 is still making me anxious when they come. They start to convince me my daughter or son don’t look well, maybe they have this sickness, maybe I should do a blood test but I don’t even manage to do a blood test for them because the fear doesn’t want me to do it because the result might be really bad. I know it will get better. I know now what Postpartum Depression is and that I have it and I swear to god should I ever come out of this illness, I am going to start a project in the Arabic world to help any woman who gets involved with this illness.

اكتئاب ما بعد الولادة PostPartum Depression is the Facebook Page Nadia has created to support Arabic families struggling with Postpartum Mood Disorders. Please visit it and add it to your list of resources.

Give up giving yourself up

Parenting is a ritualistic exercise in extreme sacrifice. We awake earlier than we want, watch television programs we don’t want to, make play-dates we could care less about, plan parties, go to parties, make nice with another parent because our kid likes their kid, etc, etc, etc, etc. It goes on forever.

But that’s what parenting is, right? Sacrifice?

Yes.

And yet a resounding no.

Last night, I asked on Twitter if Motherhood should trump Womanhood once it entered the mix. What ensued was an extremely interesting conversation. Answers varied from “If that’s what the woman wants” to “No, it shouldn’t” to “I don’t understand, isn’t Motherhood a facet of Womanhood?” It is, once it enters the mix. But what fascinates me is the way we, as women, and as society, measure a woman’s worth based on her desire to conceive or parent. Someone even pointed out a pet peeve with articles which identify someone as a Grandmother, Mother, etc., even when it’s not relevant.

In the infancy years when our children depend fully upon us, Mother is our defining role. However, we should still make time for ourselves as women as well. We are still us, we have merely added another facet to our skill set. Some of us are woman first, mother second. Some may be Mother and then Woman. That’s okay. It varies from woman to woman and is based on personal experience as well. Go with what works for you and your family.

For those who are woman first, mother second, we know we need to be valued as a woman. But no one will value us as woman if we fail to treat ourselves as woman first. But what is woman once she is a Mother? She is you, as you were before children, with the added responsibility of child-rearing. Woman is beautiful, exhilarating, compassionate, powerful, strong, complex, amazing, and full of heart. She is life, and yet at the same time, she can get so lost in roles demanded by society, she may be her own death. Swallowed whole by Mother, Wife, Employee, Caregiver, Daughter, Sister, Cousin, etc, she finds herself carried away by the powerful current of Life, not realizing until too late she is in dangerous waters.

Today I tweeted, with the intent of being humorous, “For Lent, I’m giving up giving up things.” I also posted it as my Facebook status. The responses surprised me. One of my friends on Facebook included a link to a post written by a friend of hers last year —On Eating Chocolate for Lent— which got me thinking –should we be giving up anything for Lent at all– especially when we already give up so much of ourselves as Mothers? If we continue to sacrifice ourselves at the rate we’re going, we will have nothing left to give our children or loved ones once we finish –if we finish– before we pass out, an exhausted heap in the kitchen floor.

Want to give up something for Lent? Give up throwing yourself under the bus for everyone around you. Give up saying yes to every responsibility you are asked to take on by friends, family, work, etc. Give up judging yourself for not keeping up with the Joneses. Stick with the bare necessities. Give yourself the gift of time to yourself, the gift of time with your children instead of racing around like crazy to keep family, friends, and society happy and smiling. Give yourself happy. Give yourself joy. Give yourself laughter.

Give up giving yourself up for 40 days. Be kind to you. You are worth it.

 

Who’s that girl?

“When you see her, say a prayer and kiss your heart goodbye
She’s trouble, in a word get closer to the fire
Run faster, her laughter burns you up inside
You’re spinning round and round
You can’t get up, you try but you can’t”

 -lyrics, Who’s that Girl, Madonna-

Innocent enough lyrics, right? Of course, given that they’re Madonna lyrics that’s an arguable statement. Yet these lyrics are so very applicable to Postpartum Mood Disorders.

As a mother with Postpartum Mood Disorder, we drag ourselves out of bed in the morning after a lengthy internal argument between “have to, able to, and want to.” We stumble into the bathroom where we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror. Raw. Unkempt. Barely awake. Depressed. Anxious. Angry. Petrified. Unrecognizable. So we hide her. We hide the girl in the mirror behind make-up. Behind a forced smile. We tuck her away in the corners of our mind and pretend to be okay for everyone else.

It works for awhile.

But then the mask begins to crack. Chips fall to the floor. We can’t replace them. The cost is too great. Exhaustion sets in, keeping us from fixing the veneer we have worked so very hard to replace. Our hearts and broken minds spill out into public view. We crumble as the pain of exposure overwhelms us. Frozen with fear we become deer trapped on a country road as vehicles race past us.

Until finally someone stops, gets out, and approaches us with compassion. They hold us and walk us back to ourselves, allowing us to lean on them along the way. As we awake each morning thereafter, the girl in the mirror begins to look a bit more like us. Sure, we still have our raw, unkempt, angry, sad, depressed, exhausted days. But in between those days, we cautiously regain our glow. Our eyes once again transform into a beautiful stained glass window to our soul instead of the broken window to the dark soul of the depression or anxiety which has gripped us for so very long.

But the window to depression or anxiety which exists in our eyes, jutting deep into our souls, will never fully close. It stays open, even if just a centimeter. Each time we falter, fail to live up to our own impossible standards, our mind will scurry to that window to measure the opening, to see if it’s widened. We will check and re-check, not believing original measurements equal to the original. Eventually we walk away somewhat satisfied but never fully believing we are recovered.

Depression and mental illness thrive on doubt. They thrive on suppression, stigma, and questioning of our own abilities whether from others or the internal struggle for sense of self. Even without mental illness, we question ourselves our entire life. Grab onto the positive. Grasp tightly onto balloons of hope when they float by. Marvel at the flame of a beautiful candle when it shines light onto your path. Find your light where you can, when it is offered, and let it flood your world. Don’t hide it behind the darkness in the soul of your depression.

Let go. Allow the light flood into your world until you recognize the girl in the mirror again as beautiful. It’s not that she disappeared. It’s that your perception of her was stolen by Depression, a sly thief. Steal her back.

Postpartum voice of the Week: Mommy Guilt Starts Early

Today’s Postpartum Voice of the Week post is shared with us by a dear friend of mine from way back. Kim and I “met” at iVillage when we were pregnant with our first kids back in 2003. Her second child was born around the same time as my second daughter. iVillage was the first place I found a community of support and the first place to encourage me to seek help for Postpartum Depression with my first daughter. Kim and I have stayed in touch and evolved to FB friends these days. We still have to meet in person but she truly is a friend. She’s hilarious, tenacious, and just all around awesome. The piece below is something she emailed me a few weeks ago. She wasn’t sure what to do with it. I asked her to consider thinking about sharing it with my readers as it left me in complete awe. When she emailed me to let me know I could indeed share it, I squealed with delight. Kim’s words capture what so many of us have experienced and they capture it exceedingly well. May her words mean as much to you as they have to her, to me, and I hope you share them with others who may need to read them.

Mommy Guilt Starts Early

I never would have thought that one of the happiest days of my life would involve peeing on a stick and waiting, breathlessly, to see how many lines appeared in the window. It also would be the beginning of a journey so wrought with pitfalls that left me battle scarred both inside and out.

My pregnancy was not a blissful, glowing and euphoric time in my life. It was amazing, yes, but I was so sick and miserable that the “mommy guilt” started before I even gave birth. I should have been radiant. I should have been mesmerized and enchanted by the little things that make growing a human such a miracle. I should have been breathless with anticipation of becoming a Mommy, the greatest profession ever. But, I wasn’t.

The Best Laid Plans

We had planned a natural birth. We had a doula, we took Bradley classes, we were ready. Baby had other ideas. Eight days after his due date, I was induced. I won’t go into the nitty gritty details, because scaring other ladies about childbirth is not my goal, but suffice it to say nothing went as planned. Not the pregnancy, nor the birth, and not even the first few hours and days after he arrived.

I was completely overwhelmed. I chalked it up to not knowing what to do having not really been around babies before. I attributed it to not getting enough sleep, the pain meds, and to the fact that he was a fussy baby. At night, I would awake in the midst of a panic attack and bolt upright (not an easy or comfortable feat after a C-section) to check on him. He would cry and my anxiety would go through the roof. Sitting in the dark, rocking and nursing him, should have been soothing but my skin would crawl and I just wanted to run away. In the dark, he wasn’t my baby. In the dark, he was the reason for the internal battle that raged inside me; the darkness that ate at me and consumed me. I cried. A lot. We both cried. A lot.

He grew and thrived and I swallowed my anxiety. We went for walks and play dates and splashed in the puddles. He was sleeping better at night and we enjoyed each other. He still wouldn’t be left with anyone else and had the random crying fit but, in general, life became a comfortable place. That’s when we decided to give A a brother or sister. As before, my husband barely breathed on me and I was pregnant.

This pregnancy wasn’t any easier and I was even sicker than the time before. The doubts started creeping in and I was finally able to verbalize a small part of what I’d gone through before. My OB mentioned post-partum depression and offered Zoloft for the end of my pregnancy. I felt fine. I refused and said we’d keep an eye on it. Baby N arrived and things went better. I chalked it up to knowing what to expect the second time around.

Little A was a good big brother. The first year was a blur of trying to balance the baby’s needs and those of his big brother. As the boys approached their birthdays (A turning 3 and N turning 1), life began to get more complicated. Little A began really acting out. I mean, the 2’s had been hard enough but the 3’s were looking like they were going to be the biggest challenge yet. The mommy guilt came hard and fast and I felt completely ill equipped to handle these toddlers. Little A became more and more angry and belligerent. He began to hit his brother when he was angry. I visited a therapist and she made me feel like it was my fault. He was just a little boy.

He wasn’t intentionally hitting my buttons and it was my inadequacies that caused the escalation in behavior. I tried talking to the pediatrician and was told that it was normal behavior on the part of a 3 year old. The darkness started coming back. I cried. A lot. I felt like a complete failure as a mother. We hadn’t bonded. I had un-diagnosed, un-treated PPD that held me back from bonding with my son and he was showing this to us. That’s what I thought; what I felt in my heart. That same heart was broken.

My heart was broken as was my kid. *I* had broken my kid. My son. My beautiful boy who had depended upon me for his very well being had suffered because of my inability to be the mom he deserved.

After the birth of our third child, I could no longer deny that I was depressed. I was having anxiety attacks frequently and for days on end I would start every day by sitting in the shower and sob big, body-wracking, sobs. Finally, I spoke up and my doctor listened.

No longer was I viewing my son through guilt-riddled lenses and I began to see other things that I had missed. It became clear that the things I felt had been my fault were not. I was suffering from a chemical imbalance, as was he. The rages, the meltdowns, the complete irrationality were not, in fact, due to my own parental failings but a chemical reaction within his brain coupled with the fact that my son is gifted. Put those two together and it became a whirlwind of emotion, both high and low, and instead of seeing this objectively, I took the blame.

Shoot, I didn’t just take it, I doled it out in big giant steaming heaps. I have been my own worst enemy. I saw fault where there was none. I suffered guilt when it was there was no need.

I did not break my child. Whew. I did not break my child.

Those of us who hold the platinum award for Mommy Guilt could easily find guilt in missing out on so much pleasure from his childhood because of all of this. But I won’t. I refuse. I did not break my child. I did not ask, nor cause, myself to suffer from Postpartum Depression. My son and I ARE bonded and I adore him; madly, completely, and without question. Because of me (ok, and his daddy too!) Little A is crazy smart, he’s sweet, and funny, creative, athletic and loving.

My son is whole. I did not break him.