Tag Archives: grief

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On finding peace, solitude, and solidarity at the 9/11 Memorial

I began blogging well after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. Even though the focus of my blog is Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders, I have always tried to post something in remembrance of this day each year. It’s a day which will always replay in my mind, a day which replays in all of our minds. A day on which, we all came together as Americans swallowed whole by grief and yet spurred forward filled with intense renewed resolve not to allow our country to falter in the dreams of our forefathers.

Sure I know where I was that day. As do we all. I don’t want to rehash where I was, what I was doing, how I watched the second tower hit live on TV, the first tower fall, and then the second tower. We all know where we were with intense detail. What I want to share with you today are two separate events – one involves a road trip last September 11, the other involves my visit this past December to the Memorial Site in NYC.

———–

I’ve already blogged about the road trip because frankly, it took my breath away. But I’ll rehash it here. I was on my way to Georgia to visit with my kids. I had NPR on because they were broadcasting the services from NYC and then from the Pentagon. As I listened to this coverage, the requisite moments of silence, I drove. Not a tear. Not until Spartanburg, SC.

In Spartanburg, SC, patriots gathered on the first overpass over I-85 with all the American flags and then some they could find. They stood on that overpass, waving their flags at all the passing traffic, covering it on either side with the symbol of America’s enduring freedom.

I lost it. Tears poured forth at this raw yet powerful show of patriotism, a stark reminder that when it comes down to it, we are ALL AMERICANS.

Then, as I turned off the interstate, I pulled off to the side of the road for a motorcade of motorcycles riding in memory of 9/11. I stayed there for a good 10 minutes, out of respect for their ride and the day at hand even as other vehicles raced past me. I sat there, blinkers on, quietly respectful.

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This past December, while visiting a friend in Northern NJ, we planned a day of sightseeing in NYC. He advised me to think about what I wanted to see while there so we could plan our travels across the city. As I thought, long and hard, I realized there was nothing I wanted to see more than the WTC Memorial site. How could I be in NYC and *not* visit?

Once I decided to visit the site, I braced myself. You see, I have this knack for sensing emotions and feelings when I visit places. Given that this was a site of such tragedy, such heartbreak, such…..darkness, I had no idea what to expect so I began to steel myself against the barrage of what I was sure would be negative emotion as early as I could.

We arrived at Penn Station early in the morning, ate breakfast across the street at Europa then booked over to the site. We walked by and he, assuming I’d be like everyone else he’d taken there, thought we were done. I said, no, I want to go in. So we stood in line to get our tickets. (They’re free, by the way, donation suggested but free.) Then we killed some time until the first available “tour.”

Walking into the site is a somber, somber experience. Everyone is quiet. Sure, some people are talking, but their tones are respectful. We move toward the entrance to the site. There are no less than 4 security checkpoints, one which is Airport grade, requiring you to remove jackets, bags, etc. You have to keep your ticket out at all times to prove you are supposed to be there.

Once we got into the site, we walked quietly for the most part, talking a bit here and there. I was taken aback completely. Not by the beauty of the monument, but by the sense of peace and beauty filling the space. I prepared myself for an onslaught of anger, frustration, sadness, and god knows what other negative emotions. But instead, there was peace, love, acceptance, solitude and solidarity, completely blowing me away.

You can search for names at kiosks on the far side of the memorial. We walked around both towers. I couldn’t help but reach out and trace some of the names etched into the memorial. Families milled about, people by themselves, friends, etc. In that space, just as on September 11, 2011, we were all Americans paying respect to lives lost in what my generation and those not alive for Pearl Harbor will remember as one of the most atrocious attacks on American Soil in our lifetime.

I am glad I went. My friend thanked me for wanting to go inside as he’d never been even though he lived just 30 minutes away via train.

New York has done right by the victims of 9/11 with the memorial. Sure, there are people who argue they haven’t or will criticize other issues surrounding 9/11 from a political standpoint. But the enduring peace and solidarity I felt inside that memorial space is all that matters to this American.

Thank you to the first responders who rushed toward the towers as they burned. Prayers and thoughts to the families and loved ones of the victims lost that day, to those who survived the day. Thank you to those who rushed to sign up to fight for our great nation and defend her honour. Thank you to those who worked tirelessly to clear the rubble after the towers fell. Thank you to those who worked endlessly to ensure the memorial site was a respectful one, as you succeeded.

May God bless America as we continue to heal from this tragedy. May we never, ever forget and always, not just today, but every day, be grateful for the freedoms we hold dear in this country and always be ready to fight to keep them.

#HAWMC: Dear 16 year old self…

Dear 16 year old self:

I’m sitting down to write this letter to you with nearly 20 years of wisdom on you. Wisdom garnered from the life which awaits you. There are a few things I feel you should know:

Stop slamming the bedroom door. Your parents mean it when they say they’ll take it away. It’s going to break in less than 6 months. And a curtain? Doesn’t have the same dramatic effect.

You’re going to say bitch in front of your entire AP Government class your senior year. It’s okay though, because there’s always someone who says it every year. Don’t worry, you stumble through it beautifully. A heads up though might just give you the extra oomph to be even more sarcastic when it happens. PS. ON THE BEACH. Not ON THE BITCH. Just saying.

College will both rock and be one of the biggest challenges of your life. You’ll lose yourself a bit too much in alcohol and partying but you’ll make amazing friends after that phase. You’ll become grandparentless. This will hurt like hell and make you want to go back to the alcohol. Don’t. Let it pour out, allow yourself to feel it, allow it to consume you until you’re through. It’s okay to hurt this much.

Kids – there are three of them in your future. They’re hilarious, witty, beautiful, amazing, and so much more. Don’t ever forget this, especially when things get hard.

Things will get hard, especially after you have daughters. Incredibly hard. But you know what? there are moms out there JUST LIKE YOU. You’re not alone and you will eventually get better.

All of this hard and then some to which I am not speaking in a public forum will make you an amazing woman who knows how to laugh, appreciate the little things, and not take life so damn seriously all the time. The good things are brighter, the happiness is sharper, and the joy is exquisite. Life is all yours – and remember, how people choose to react to you is their gig, not yours.

So go. LIVE. Be happy. Be sad. Get angry. But above all, be free.

 

Faith & Motherhood: On Grief

We can plan all we want for how we want our lives to go. But then life happens and our plans fly out the window. We are left to improvise. Sometimes improvising hurts. Figuring out which way to go when a sudden change of plans strikes can be hard. But when we learn to lean on God no matter what, those sudden changes soften a little bit even if they seem harsh at first.

This morning I woke to the news of my Great Aunt’s passing. No one plans for phone calls like this.

My phone and I went into the front yard. I sat down, in between two humongous pine trees, sun shining down on my back, and cried. I sat there for nearly two hours. Wailing at first, then every so often my tears would just well up with tears until they couldn’t hold them back and tears would slowly slide down my face as I sat there, listening to the birds, watching the squirrels scamper, avoiding falling caterpillars, and chasing away tiny spiders from my feet. The wind softly played with my hair as well as with the trees. I sat there…. breathing. Taking in the sharp green of the surrounding trees, the echoes of life, breathing. For two hours, I got to just be.

My husband brought me a blanket and a cup of coffee. Apparently I sat in the sunshine for almost an hour despite the 50 degree weather.

Grief makes you do strange things.

In those moments outside, as I sat there, a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders, I felt so alone and abandoned.

Thing is, I was not alone.

God sat there with me.

He held me, comforted me, and provided a warm, safe place in which I could mourn.

Friends offered condolences.

My children offered hugs and giggles when I got inside.

I’m still struggling to accept that she is gone.

I know right now we are working on the Shelter of God’s Promises but instead of writing from the book today, I needed to share this.

Today, I tried to live in the Shelter of God’s Promise.  It was not perfect. But it worked. Not all day, but it worked.

And that, my dear readers, is progress toward learning to live in the Shelter of God’s Promises.

Respite

Today, for the first time in years, my toes and the Atlantic Ocean made contact.

I grew up on the Jersey Shore (NO, not THAT Jersey Shore – mention it again and I’m a send someone with a whole lotta vowels in their last name your way) just mere seconds away from the ocean. I suffered from perma-tan as a result of spending almost every waking minute on the sands of the beach during summers at my grandmother’s house.

We had a routine – we’d hang out, then eat cream cheese and jelly sandwiches on toast while watching The Price is Right (with Bob, not this new guy, Drew). We’d pack up the station wagon after the show was over to glide the 5 measly blocks to the ocean. Hot metal car seatbelts do NOT feel good against young skin, lemme tell you what. Then, we’d slather on sunscreen and go running smack dab into the ocean.

The afternoon always passed too quickly in squeals of delight, screams of fear after stings of jellyfish, and whoops of joy as huge waves carried our brave bodies toward shore, hurling us unfailingly into the hard sand underneath the soft water. We’d laugh, get up, and run smack dab back into the ocean all over again.

The grandmother with whom I spent all that time with at the beach, at the Atlantic Ocean, is now a part of the ocean. She passed away well over 10 years ago and her ashes were spread in the Atlantic.

Today?

Today I said hello.

Tomorrow?

Tomorrow I will run with glee smack dab into the ocean to give her the biggest damned hug of my life.

I am home.

On surviving the tempest

The following post is very descriptive of a difficult period in my life. I have not shared this story with very many people until now. Within the past few weeks, it has been swirling about my head, wanting to come out. As it did in the story, it took me a very long time to get these words on to paper. But tonight they came. I’m grateful. Grateful to have them off my chest and out in the open. If you feel you cannot handle a difficult and potentially triggering read, go watch the following video, Michael Franti & Spearhead’s Say Hey, I love you. This song makes me sqeeee with glee every time I hear it. Also, FYI, the triggering things in this post? Start right off the bat. Be SURE this is something you can handle reading before you scroll past the video.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehu3wy4WkHs]

A Quick Note:

The following intertwines words I wrote tonight with words I wrote in college as part of a short story. The words in italics are from the short story. Toward the end, there are words in bold italics. They are explained directly below, in red.

Perfect

When I was seven or eight, or perhaps a little older, I wrote a poem about death. It was quite graphic. My mother kept it in her jewelry box for a very long time. She may still have it today – I don’t know. You see, as a child, Death and I often played in the same sandbox. That bastard repeatedly stole relative after relative. He snatched them out of my arms as a greedy toddler snatches toys away from other children whilst shouting, “MINE! You can’t have them!”

I hated him.

Death faded out of the picture for a few years after he stole my grandmothers. My junior year of college, Death came back with a vengeance and stole my grandfathers. Just for kicks, he stole both of them in less than three weeks. Insolent greedy toddler prick.

For the first time, I experienced a deep, dark, sinister physical grief. I often lost control of myself. I hit, punched, kicked, screamed, cried, wailed, and writhed until I passed out. I drank. Heavily. In places I should not have. With people I really should not have. I did things I now regret with people I really should not have. And then….

Then.

I signed up for a Creative Writing Course as part of my Major Coursework as I sought my degree in English Literature.

As part of this course, I wrote a short story about a Latin American Author, Alfonsina Storni, who killed herself as she faced certain death due to cancer.

Brilliant, right?

Still grieving, I struggled to write this story. You would think it would be easy. But no… it wasn’t. A numb void – that’s what I was when I set out to write this story.

It was spring. Slowly, the buds poked their heads out, the freshness of a reborn earth filled the air, the chirping of baby birds echoed across the forest. Rain fell to push the buds closer to blossoming.

Spring. Rebirth. Water.

There was a lake nearby the college. I often drove to this lake, sat there, dipping my toes into the cool water as I watched the ducks and geese swim and fish. Sometimes I even fed the geese, getting them to eat from my hand. I even discovered an underwater cement jetty at one location which allowed me to walk almost halfway out into the lake yet only be ankle deep in the water. The mere thought of standing in the middle of the lake like that still makes my head spin – very surreal.

As I struggled to understand Alfonsina, I visited the lake more and more.

You see, she killed herself by diving into the Atlantic Ocean from some cliffs in Buenos Aires. I struggled to understand why she would do such a thing – why, when she was a mother and would leave behind a son. I struggled with this because I was not yet a mother but I could not bear to think of my own mother doing such a thing.

Finally, I began to write:

I know they talk about me all the time. They say what a bad mother I am, those proper mujeres de Buenos Aires; what a distraught pilgrim she is, along for a ride of simple ecstacy. How crazy she is; the woman who lives away from the society she should be embracing. I see no point in embracing the false, that which inflicts pain and suffering upon others for mere appearances. Stretching out under the covers, I open my eyes to face another day. At least today there is no treatment for my cancer. Today I have all to myself and know exactly what to do.

After tossing the covers aside, I reach for my bathrobe. I pit-pat to the bathroom to shower before heading out for the day. No one else is home, my son is off at University listening to his Professors ramble. Warm water flows about my body for more than half an hour. Water lifts my soul. It is my freedom, my saviour.

It is dark outside now, night. I have a glass of wine and a pack of cigarrettes beside me. As I sip on the wine, I hear crickets outside. I also hear the soft echo of traffic just down the hill from my dorm room. There is a soft breeze which plays with the leaves on the tree outside my window. I let the last sentence rumble about in my head for a bit as I chat online with friends.

Water has been my own saviour. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, less than a mile from the beach. Each day as I walked to school the air was infused with the scent of saltwater. To this day, that scent is a very soothing scent for me – sometimes I smell it even when it is not there.

I think this is why I was so drawn to the lake just outside the town limits of my college. For me, water is peace. Water is solace.

As I lay down to sleep, I continued to brainstorm about this story. Due in just a few days, I had to finish it. I had to…

The next day I wrote a few more paragraphs.

Alfonsina comes to life on paper. And in my head.

Every action intentional, deliberate. This woman had a plan.

I find what I want, a pure white ankle-length dress. Low cut, it hugs my curves as I slide it down over my naked body. Staring at myself in the mirror, I smile, sliding my hands down over the cotton fabric, smoothing it over my hips. I rub some blush upon my cheeks and lipstick upon my lips. I whisper to my reflection, “I am Alfonsina Storni, and I am beautiful.”

From there, I briefly summarized Alfonsina’s life. Her childhood, her marriage, her life as a single yet determined mother. And then. Then I type a single word.

Perfect.

What’s perfect? Who is perfect? Who says things are perfect? Who has that authority? How did they get that authority?

I had learned an important lesson…not everything is perfect nor could it ever be, at least not here on Earth. Earth by its very nature exists on an imperfect plane, riddled with rills, ridges and faults.

Sorrow and guilt live among those ridges and rills, I thought to myself. So does death. Death. Perfect.

My story is due within a day or two. I need to write my conclusion.

I have to write her suicide.

The next day it rains. A deluge. Complete with thunder and lightning. Lightning. Water. Person. Death. Perfect.

I change my clothes. Flowing skirt. Flowing shirt. I grab my keys and purse. Run for my car. Drive to the lake. Park my car. Sit and stare at the choppy lake, listen to the thunder and watch the lightning. I get out, leaving my keys in the car. I won’t need them anymore.

I walk down onto the lake’s beach. Into the angry water swirling under an angry sky. I begin to cry. I wail. I scream. I shout. I lift my arms to the sky and ask why. I scream even louder. I pray for lightning to strike the water. I contemplate sinking beneath the water and staying there. I wonder how long it will take anyone to notice I am gone. I breathe. I wonder what it will feel like to fill my lungs with gulp after gulp of water. What the sting of lightning will do to my body. Grief has finally opened it’s gaping mouth to swallow me whole. I’m circling the drain. Gleefully.

The rain beats down on my face, mixing with the saltiness of my tears. I close my eyes and am reminded of the ocean. The ocean – Alfonsina.

Then it hits me.

At first it is a whisper. Then a scream.

This?

Is not what my grandfathers would want for me. Is not what my grandmothers would want for me. Is this really the BEST I have to offer? The BEST I promised my grandmother? IS it?

Is it?

I scream back. Angry at them for saving me.

I wade back out of the lake and trudge across the muddy beach. I get back into my car. I’d left it unlocked so anyone finding my vehicle wouldn’t have to break in.

I sit there, in my car, until the storm begins to subside, draped over the steering wheel, drenching my seat, crying, wondering what’s next.

I finally start my car. Drive back to school, trudge up to my dorm room, change, and plop down in front of my computer with a deep sigh. I open Alfonsina’s story and stare.

I begin to type, my hair still soaked, dripping onto my shirt and arms.

As I walked to the edge of the cliffs, I hear the thunderous roar of the ocean greeting me. My eyes drink in the beauty of the view. The cliffs went down about fifty feet, and at their bottom, a small sandy and rocky beach stared up at the sky. In the distance, several boats bobbed about in the ambivalent sea as they struggled to find their way.

I closed my eyes, held my hands out, and drew in a deep breath, relishing the scent of the sea. Keeping my eyes shut, I breathed in the sweet scent once more, holding it longer this time. I sat there a long while, holding it in longer this time. I sit there a long while, listening to the waves crash and the sea gulls cry overhead. Here, at Mar del Plata, I find my peace. Here, I glance into the mirror of God and am appeased momentarily. But then the pain and horror of my cancer grows larger and looms heavy. Recovering from a radical mastectomy, I’m to be home. But I had to come. Water is my saviour.

I draw out a small pad and my favorite pen. I write a few lines, as I always did when I visited the cliffs. Today is different though. Today is the last time I will ever drive here.

I Am Going to Sleep


Teeth of flowers, hairnet of dew,

hands of herbs, you, perfect wet nurse,

prepare the earthly sheets for me

and the down quilt of weeded moss.

I am going to sleep, my nurse, put me to bed.

Set a lamp at my headboard;

a constellation; whatever you like;

all are good: lower it a bit.

Leave me alone: you hear the buds breaking through . . .

a celestial foot rocks you from above

and a bird traces a pattern for you

so you’ll forget . . . Thank you. Oh, one request:

if he telephones again

tell him not to keep trying for I have left . . .

Alfonsina Storni

(*Note here: The above poem was mailed to a local newspaper by Alfonsina the day before she committed suicide. Those are HER words, not mine.)

I sign my name with a flourish and set my purse on the paper so it will not blow away. Standing up, I smooth my dress down over my body as the wind plays with the bottom of my skirt. Walking close to the edge of the cliffs, I lift my head in prayer. I ask God to forgive me, explaining I could no longer endure the pain. I take one last deep blissful breath of that sweet scented Atlantic air. I dive head first over the cliffs, my eyes wide open to see just what endures below God’s mirror.

I slump back in my chair.

Grateful to be finished.

Grateful to be alive.

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Whatever Wednesday: Questions from Twitter

I decided to take questions from Twitter today. Only the first 5 responses though so as not to overwhelm myself. In no particular order, here are the questions and their answers.

1) @ksluiter asked: I want to know about succesfully weening to get pregnant or staying on meds while pregnant.

Staying on meds while pregnant was a decision I struggled with when I became pregnant with our son. The pregnancy was not planned so I skipped over the whole “weaning to get pregnant” concern and skipped straight into the “should I stay on my meds while pregnant” arena. This is most definitely a decision which should be made with the help of a medical professional. There were a few things which helped me make my decision a little easier:

a) Moms on meds when pregnant and then go off their meds during pregnancy face a higher relapse rate for mental health issues (specifically Postpartum) after delivering.

b) Baby has already been exposed to medication for 4-6 weeks by the time you realize you are still pregnant (unless you weaned beforehand) Going off meds cold turkey will affect baby as well as you.

c) High levels of stress/depression cross the placenta as well and can inhibit fetal growth and spur premature delivery. Given that my 2nd daughter had indeed been born nearly 5 weeks early, I was not interested in going that route again.

Bottom line here: This decision is an intensely personal decision. Talk with your doctor. Research. Know what you are comfortable with doing.

Couple of great resources for this are: Pregnant on Prozac by Shoshana Bennett and also Otis Pregnancy (also has a Twitter presence: @OtisPregnancy) Check them out.

2) @invisibledaddy asked: what’s the closest experience you’ve had to ppd besides ppd itself, to help us get a sense?

Wow. I had to really think for this question. I think the closest experience I have had to PPD happened my junior year of college. Within 19 days between February and March, I lost both of my grandfathers. This left me with no grandparents. The subsequent grieving process I went through was extremely similar emotionally to how I felt during Postpartum Depression. My grief was a very physical grief and that’s where it differed from my Postpartum. It also differed in that I wailed. A lot. Quite often I would wail and scream myself to sleep. I struggled with anxiety attacks as well, something I did not experience during Postpartum. I also thrashed and hit. It took me a very long time to recover.

The most important difference here is that people expect you to grieve when you lose a close family member or friend. When you have Postpartum, there is an element of guilt and shame accompany the disorder with which you struggle. Why? Because you have a baby. You SHOULD be happy. Even those who experience the grief of miscarriage or losing an infant within the first months of life experience this as many around them will tell them awful things such as “Well, it was never a REAL baby” (miscarriage) or “He/she wasn’t here very long so the pain will fade quickly because you didn’t have a lot of time to bond.” Acerbic comments such as this are extremely unhelpful and only serve to expose the ignorance of those offering them. (FYI, for a great website about miscarriage and infant loss, I highly recommend the folks over at Grieve Out Loud.)

Another thing I experienced with Postpartum that not many associate with it was intense anger and increased irritability. Many associate crying as one of the major symptoms. While it is a symptom, it is not one that every mom will experience. Many moms instead become very overwhelmed and as a result, develop what I term “explosive” personalities, blowing up over the smallest perceived injustice or high expectation.

3) @MamaRobinJ asked: How about blogging about PPD. How much detail do you think people should offer? What’s too personal?

I have a few personal rules I stick to when blogging about PPD. The primary goal is to keep from endorsing specific medications as I feel that is a discussion best left between physician and patient and to keep from triggering others.

Sharing details is good to an extent. That said, if you have a piece you are posting to your blog that a new mom may visit, always ALWAYS warn at the very beginning of the piece that if someone is in a fragile state, they should probably skip the post and come back when they’re feeling a bit healthier. I’ve taken to posting music videos via YouTube at the beginning of posts I think may trigger someone. Katherine Stone, author over at Postpartum Progress, has a symbol she posts at the beginning of potentially triggering posts. We all have our own methods but we all keep in mind the fact that the people reading our blog may not be in the same mindframe we are now.

Another thing aspect of sharing details is that in writing your own story, you may feel drained. It may drag up some of the same emotions you had when you experienced while in the depths of PPD. Be prepared to deal with this. Sharing is therapeutic. But it can also be exhausting. Share at a pace which is healthy for you. Your mental health is far more important than indulging the curiosity of your readers.

Too personal for me is:

  • Naming the Psych Hospital I spent time in
  • Naming any of my Physicians
  • Naming any of my medications

Even with HIPAA, for me this is a privacy issue and one that I will not disclose under most circumstances.

If I do disclose my medication, I am very careful to say that it is what worked (or didn’t work) for me. All treatments/therapies work differently for different people. It is important for us to respect the journey of others toward wellness.

4) The good folks over at @bandbacktogether asked: “why did you start to blog?”

The best answer to this question is back at my very first post in May 2007. But, for the sake of posterity and saving you a click and a ton of reading (and the horrificness of my first ever blog post), my husband and I found ourselves quite unexpectedly pregnant after a very nasty episode of Postpartum OCD (and probably PTSD due to my daughter’s NICU stay). Once the pregnancy test lines turned pink and I dug myself out of bed after reading Karen Kleiman’s “What Am I Thinking: Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression,” I decided to start a blog in order to “reframe” my pregnancy as Karen suggested. Little did I know something I started for just for me would still be around nearly four years later and evolved into what it has today – including #PPDChat at Twitter every Monday at 1p & 830p ET.

5) @TouchstoneAZ asked: “Have you seen any correlation between when period returns pp even while bfing and PPD?

When I asked for further clarification, she stated she was asking about mood and period. If I’ve understood her question correctly, I think she’s asking about increased issues with mood during PMS after an episode of Postpartum. SO many mothers (including myself) struggle for a long time with increased mood issues during PMS after a Postpartum episode. I get increasingly irritable, cranky, and just all around grumpy. I was on medication for PMS prior to pregnancy for my PMS. In fact, I remember reading research stating that women with PMDD (or severe emotional issues during PMS) are at a slightly higher risk for developing PPD. I can’t find the link at the moment though as my kids are on day 3 home from school for snow and frankly, my brain is fried. I’m also defending my laptop from my three year old as I type this so .. when I find the link, I’ll update this answer with it, I promise.

 

This was fun! I may have to do this again next week! If you liked this feature and have a question about my experience or anything Postpartum related, please either @ me on Twitter (I’m @unxpctdblessing) or email it to me at mypostpartumvoice(@)gmail(dot)com with “Q&A submission” as the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Off the blog: Guest post over @AccustomedChaos

This past weekend, I wrote a guest post for Devon over @AccustomedChaos. I was in the mood to write, she needed a topic, it just kind of unfolded.

The post I wrote was not one I expected to have tumble forth from the keyboard, though. In fact, it’s quite possibly one of the rawest posts I have written in awhile.

I have only recently started to write again about the deaths of my grandparents. You see, I have no living grandparents. I was in college when I lost my grandfathers. It took a very long time to heal.

Head over to Accustomed Chaos to read my post “A Tale of Imperfectly Perfect Grief.”

One reader’s reaction to Crystal’s Video

A close friend of mine, Marcie Ramirez,  a Co-Coordinator with Postpartum Support International in Tennessee, sent me the following piece last night. She wrote it to process her feelings after watching Joseph’s very poignant video about his daughter, Crystal. Marcie used to live in San Diego and was newly recovered from her own journey through postpartum when Crystal’s tragedy occurred. I immediately asked if I could post it as it was beyond fabulous. Sheer power and emotion are captured so magnificently here – I couldn’t let it just sit in my inbox. With no further fuss, here is the piece I received:

Today I was watching a montage that my friend had posted on her blog.  I had read the article which had the basic nuts and bolts…a story of yet another mom who didn’t survive the first year of her child’s life.  A mom, who just like me felt like her family would be better off without her and for whatever reason didn’t feel like she could ask for help.

As I watched the video I not only read the words but I noticed familiarities in the pictures.  It was a landscape common to San Diego, my home until not quite two years ago, where I gave birth to both my children and where I went through the most terrifying experience of my life.  I watched and my suspicions of this woman being from my home town grew when I saw the name of the cemetery.  My heart sank.  I clicked on a link in the blog that took me to the man’s original story and it turned out that he owns a restaurant my husband and I have been to on many occasions.  It was also the restaurant my family and I would go to every Christmas when we would look at the lights on Candy Cane Lane and Christmas Circle.  La Bella’s was one of the few perfect memories of my childhood.

As suspicion turned into reality I realized that I went through my Postpartum hell at the same time she was pregnant and when I was really starting to see a light at the end of my tunnel she saw nothing but darkness.  What if our paths had crossed?  What if I had been able to say something to her that would have allowed her the freedom to ask for help?  I never asked for help.  To this day I am still confident that if I hadn’t have been screened that I would be dead.

San Diego is on the forefront of Postpartum Mood Disorders.  I say this because I know first hand how incredible my access to maternal mental health services was.  I was screened through my pregnancy, before leaving the hospital and again at my six week postpartum checkup.  When I didn’t pass my screening there was a therapist onsite who saw me before I went home.  I saw posters, I had access to a psychiatrist who specialized in maternal mental health.  I wanted to kill myself many times but somehow was able to hold on because I knew if I could just make it to my next appointment that I would have a soft place to fall.  I spent close to two months in a mental hospital when I just couldn’t handle it anymore…but I survived and am thriving.  I am not only a better mom but a better and more empathetic person than I ever thought possible.

Still, when I read the words of this courageous father I was left wondering why she didn’t get the same help?  Was it because she wasn’t screened?  Was it because she developed the PPD after her last screening?  I don’t know and will never know.  What I do know, though is that just as we call our medical professionals to screen new moms we have a responsibility to do our own screening.  We don’t necessarily have to whip out the Edinburgh every week but we can sincerely ask a new mom how she is REALLY doing.  We can learn the signs of PPD and ways that we can help minimize the stress on new moms.   We can offer to bring lunch over and then have a real heart to heart conversation.  We can talk about our own experiences so that the one in seven who are suffering realize that they are not alone.  We can offer to take them to their appointment or watch the baby so they can take an uninterrupted nap.  There are so many things we who have been there can do to make a difference.

Ironically maybe an hour after I read the articles and watched the heart wrenching video, I was at a restaurant with my two boys who are now seven and three.  For some reason my oldest son asked if we could sit at a particular table in a section we had never sat in before.  At the same time a family sat down at the next table.  Mom, dad and a beautiful little girl who was maybe a year old.  The little girl, however screamed over and over and over…and every time she screamed I saw the life draining from her mother’s face.  The mom would bury her head in her hands as if trying to escape.

I was instantly back into my first year postpartum.  I could see, smell, taste and hear the very things that were going on when I was in that place.  My heart sank and I just wanted to walk over, hug her and tell her that she would be able to get through this.  Normally when it’s just a mom and baby I can easily strike up a conversation and casually mention that I had PPD.  This was different, though because dad was there.  He seemed like a wonderful and supportive father from what I could tell from my few minutes watching the family.  He was trying to take over with the daughter so mom could eat in peace.  Eventually he got up to get a drink and I was able to speak briefly with the mom.  I gave her my card which had my contact info for the work I do with Postpartum Support International.

Hopefully this mom was just having a bad day.  But what if she wasn’t?  What if she felt completely hopeless and was ready to escape by any means necessary?  We don’t know.  That is why it is so important for each and every one of us to love new moms and be there for them.  Sometimes a kind word can be the beginning of changing someone’s forever.

Reclaiming the Anniversary: One Father’s Journey

On April 9, 2009, I posted a moving story from Joseph Raso over at the Postpartum Dads Project. Susan Stone had originally posted this at Empowher.com and I reposted with her permission. The piece stayed with me.

On Wednesday night, I received an email from Joseph. It included a link to a video montage of his daughter, Crystal, set to the Rascal Flatts song, “Why.” Crystal tragically shot herself shortly after giving birth to her second child, Max. No one knew she had been struggling. They simply thought Crystal was being Crystal and worrying just as she always did. No one was let in to help her. Her world turned upside down, inside out, and the only way she saw out was to leave her family behind in the most tragic way possible. Joseph has worked courageously and tirelessly to share Crystal’s story with as many people as he can in order to raise awareness of Postpartum Mood Disorders. And for that, I commend him. It is difficult work to take such a dark event and turn it into something so showered with light nothing can touch it.

Today, February 27, 2010, marks the second anniversary of Crystal’s tragic passing. Please join me in respectfully remembering her life. Join me in praying for her family, her parents, her husband, her children – praying they will continue to find strength and that God will bless them each and every day. Join me in sharing her story to raise awareness of Postpartum Mood Disorders. Click on the candle picture to light a virtual candle which will burn for 48 hours in honor of Crystal and mothers everywhere who needlessly lose their lives to Postpartum Mood Disorders each day.

I charge you with a simple task today. If you know an expectant or new parent, male or female, make a point of asking how THEY are doing. Encourage honesty. Don’t judge. Listen with compassion. Educate yourself and expectant/new parents about Postpartum Mood Disorders. Feel up to more? Challenge your local L&D to educate new moms if they aren’t already doing so. Please don’t let any more mothers suffer so alone and so silently. It’s just not okay.

(Before you click on the video below, please know that it made me bawl like a total baby after having read Joseph’s piece. And I don’t cry or bawl. Often. If you are not emotionally stable right now, you may want to skip the video. There is nothing graphic in it at all. It’s just very very moving. Kudos to Joseph for putting together such an amazing montage.)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYIRZbyXnu0]

The following is what Joseph shared with me via email when he sent me the video:

“This Saturday (02/27/10) is the second anniversary of Crystal’s passing.  Mary, I, and the whole family miss her so.  Seeing her children, Hannah and Max, almost daily is double edged sword.  On one hand, being a huge part of their lives brings such joy, but on the other hand, every time we see them we are reminded WHY we are such a big part…  it is because Crystal is gone.  I thought you might want to keep this video in your library.  Someday you might want to forward it to someone who could be at risk of postpartum depression.  This song “Why,” by Rascal Flatts, not only tells the story of how our actions can affect others, it is also so beautiful, anybody could enjoy it.  When I first heard it, I was  reminded of what we went through after Crystal died.  God Bless You.”

If you, a loved one, or a friend are coping with the recent loss of a loved one to suicide, please read this from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

If you are contemplating suicide, there IS hope. There are people who love you. People who care and want to help you heal. Need someone to talk to right now? Click here for a comprehensive list of resources in the US.

If you are struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder, contact Postpartum Support International‘s warmline at 1.800.944.4PPD. (I may just be one of the people to return your call – I’m a volunteer for the warmline in addition to providing support in my home state of Georgia)

Bottom Line here? There is hope. There is help. And above all, you are absolutely NOT to blame. And above that? You WILL be well.

Please feel free to share any of the above information on your blogs or within your networks. In fact, I encourage you to do so. Below is a button for you to place on your blog in remembrance of Crystal. The only rule is that if you download it and post it, it must be linked to Joseph’s YouTube video.

Here is a list of blogs participating in today’s remembrance event. A big Thank You goes out to all of them for great posts! (If you posted and you’re not listed below, please let me know so I can add you to the list!)

The Power of the anniversary

"A Floating Red Balloon" by jcarlosn @ flickr.com

Put the past behind you.

Move forward.

Be happy about how far you have come since (fill in the blank).

These are all common phrases people love to shoot off when they know someone is struggling to deal with something which happened in the past. While they are certainly lovely sentiments, the one thing people who give voice to these phrases do not know is that memory is very organic. Sure you can do your best to decide to deal with a tragic event in a positive way but then there are the memories which sneak up on us and scare us to death. The anniversary of the birth of my daughters and the anniversary of my time in a mental ward for Postpartum OCD are a few memories which did just that to me.

I am not alone in this experience.

Many women struggle when reaching their child’s first birthday, their hospitalization date, miscarriage date, or the date on which they lost a child. These are all events that leave more than a glancing blow. The fight to return to the “new normal” is an uphill battle. And once the “new normal” arrives and you’ve unpacked the last box, there’s a looming date trouncing your way ever so cheerfully. Sure you can bob and weave but even the best of us may find ourselves down for the count after a few sucker punches.

A fellow PPD warrior mom, Helen Crawford, shared with me that her 1yr anniversary was very traumatic. She could smell/hear the memories of the year before. “My fingers burned. I talked with my therapist. Surviving severe depression is like surviving extreme trauma. I took the finger burning as a reminder to ‘love myself more’ and say thank you to my body.”

Today my three year old daughter found pictures of herself as an infant. Awwwwww, you say. But these particular pictures included a feeding tube taped ever so gingerly to her less than 24 hour old cheek with cute teddy bear gauze tape. Classic symptoms consumed me – heart in throat, check, rapid shallow breathing, check, rapid pulse, check, dizzy, check. Oh.CRAP. She’s been flashing them here and there for the past week and I’ve been ever so nicely sidestepping the issue. But today, today she wanted to know WHAT that was on her cheek and why it was there. Oh boy. And I thought the hard question with kids was supposed to be “Mommy? Where do Babies come from?” (And for the record, I GOT that one today too from her 5 year old sister – what a day!)

Suddenly, there I was again. Curled up in the hospital bed, crying my heart out, aching, hurting, wanting to go back in time to BEFORE the birth, for someone to warn us about the rabbit hole into which we were about to trip. What.the.hell???

She knows about her cleft palate and knows doctors fixed it. She also knows which belly button came from mommy and which one belongs to the doctors. But we have never discussed the tubes. NEVER. As playfully as I could, I explained to her that because her mouth had a hole in it when she was born, she had to eat with a tube which went in through her mouth and went allllll the way down to her stomach. (I can still hear her laughing because I tickled her as I told her this.) Inside, I was dying. I smelled the NICU. I heard the sounds, the crying, saw the tense faces, the reserved mouths as they asked about worst case scenarios. I thought I was going to pass out when she said she wanted these pictures – the tube pictures – up on her bedroom wall. I softly replied that Mommy would have to think about it.

I thought about it all day. ALL day. Once she got home from her 2 hours of special needs pre-k for her speech, we talked. Honestly and age-appropriately. I told her that when she was born while I was very happy to meet her and get to know her, all of the medical stuff surrounding her birth like the tube feedings and surgeries were very difficult for Mommy to handle. And that it was very hard for Mommy to look at pictures of her with tubes and such attached to her. I promised her we would find some different baby pictures to put up on her wall. I also told her that it was ok she had to use a tube – and I was glad the nurses and doctors knew just what to do to help her grow strong so she could become the amazing silly little girl she is today. She was sad but seemed to take it in stride.

To top things off, 12 years ago today, my maternal grandfather passed away suddenly after experiencing congestive heart failure. Yay for anniversaries, right? (And in 19 days, I’ll be marking the anniversary of my paternal grandfather’s death which left me grandparentless. I was a real ball of joy 12 years ago, I tell you what!)

Grief is a tough thing to handle. 12 years ago I dealt with it in a very physical and raw manner. I remember crying, screaming, and punching my then boyfriend until I would literally black out. Healthy, right?

The thing is to give yourself PERMISSION to mourn/remember/accept whatever it is that your anniversary centers around. Celebrate how far you’ve come since said event. Honor the event but also do something to help propel yourself forward. One of the last things my maternal step grandmother said to me (in what I now know was her I know I’m dying soon so I better get this out while I can speech) was to always be the best that I could be no matter what stood in my way. Those words have stuck by me. And even in failure, I’ve always strived to do every single thing that I possibly could before giving up. It’s part of what got me through my PPD. I knew I was better than PPD. I KNEW I had to turn and fight. And every time I have an opportunity to help another mom through her struggles, I am celebrating my anniversary. I am celebrating no longer being alone. I am paying forward the help I received. I am choosing to walk the line between remembering the past yet striving for the future. I AM HERE to do that. And for that, I am grateful.

Remember to celebrate YOU on your child’s birthday too. It’s not just your child’s birthday – it’s YOUR own personal Mother’s Day. Don’t rush around for the kid without stopping to breathe for yourself too. Sure, Hallmark doesn’t make a card for this but that makes it all the more special, right? You’ve earned it. You’re worth it. And doggonnit, we like you. In addition, the more positives you make out of a negative, the less power it holds over you. Darkness cannot win when bathed in light. Choose to regain those reins as you approach your anniversary – whether it’s childbirth, miscarriage, hospitalization, recovery – it’s ok to cry. But it’s totally awesome to party too.