My husband and I could not do this journey alone. It truly does take a village. In the case of our sweet Skeeter, we receive some additional help to manage her vesicouretal reflux – in laymen’s terms, bladder reflux. Each year the little lady heads back to our local Children’s Hospital for a renal ultrasound to keep track of her kidney growth and to get a check up from our nurse practitioner at the urology clinic.
Since the Child Life Specialist made such an amazing difference last year, I did not hesitate to request that we have someone with us for the ultrasound. Unfortunately the specialist wasn’t able to be there yesterday. We had an amazing Ultrasound tech who was an angel. Skeeter answered all her questions, and she asked questions of her own. The tech explained how ultrasound creates the images which fascinated Skeeter. The whole exam took ten minutes. Skeeter and I headed back through the complex to the Urology clinic with time for me to stop and get a much-needed boost of caffeine.
Skeeter was in her element once we met our nurse practitioner. She had to show all the cool things that she can do now that she is a big girl. Skeeter told her all about school. Based on her progress, we got the fantastic news that Skeeter does not need to be seen again for a check up for two years! I am so relieved, and you can tell by the photo above that my sweet girl is also delighted with the news. I know that these check ups are important to track the growth of her kidneys and continue to monitor her bladder reflux to ensure that she is not struggling with bladder infections. To read more about Skeeter’s journey, please see the following posts: https://tranquilamama.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/dare-to-care-skeeters-story/, http://hardtomommy.blogspot.com/2012/02/guest-post-when-kids-are-sick.html, and https://tranquilamama.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/skeeters-tough-day/.
I saw this amazing post, and I had to add my take on it. Social media like Facebook can cause you to compare yourself to the mama who seems to have it all together. I would see these blog posts and adorable pictures, and I would berate myself. Why didn’t I have it together? Why couldn’t I reach out to friends and schedule play dates with my friends who were SAHMs? I suffered in silence, and I withdrew from my friends and family. I felt so much self-loathing and hatred towards myself. I felt like I did not deserve my beautiful family. I hated the person I had become. I treated the loves of my lives with rage, irritability and frustration. If I treated the people I loved that way, how could I fake it for anyone else? I could not keep up that facade. The depression and the anxiety threatened to consume me. My loved ones knew that I was struggling, but they felt powerless to help me. No one knew exactly what to say.
Janelle so eloquently tells us in her post to just ask the mom how she is really doing. Look her in the eyes. If you hear a little catch in her voice on the phone, go see her in person. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders make women isolate themselves at a time when we need the support and love of our community. Connection and community are what that struggling new mom needs. That is what I needed. It does not take much to make a struggling mom feel heard and validated. Sometimes words aren’t even necessary; just a simple hug can make a world of difference.
Motherhood should not equal martyrdom, but that is how I approached those early years. I felt like I had to sacrifice everything for my daughters. I worked full-time, and I spent quite a bit of time nursing and pumping. I felt like I could not take any time away from my darling girls since I spent so much time away from them. I started to resent them for taking everything from me. What I failed to realize was that I forgot to fill up my cup. I felt so guilty about taking any time away from my children for self-care. I felt like I was deserting them. I had forgotten that I was a person with needs. How could I take care of others if I did not take care of myself? My girls understand the value of self-care now at ages four and seven. They understand that Mommy and Daddy have outside interests and hobbies. When they protested this weekend that I was going for a run, I reminded them that I had been especially cranky this past week due to a lack of intense exercise. After a few minutes of debate, they acquiesced. Nearly an hour later, I returned from a five-mile run refreshed and recharged. I found this podcast a while ago, and it really resonated with me. https://powerofmoms.com/radio-episode-10/ This podcast title inspired me so much that I made it the title of this post.
I wonder often why I did not struggle when Munch was born. I worried about everything. I know that I had anxiety then, but I talked about all my worries and fears. I leaned on my extended family and my friends. We struggled on our breastfeeding journey. I felt uncomfortable nursing Munch in front of anyone except a handful of people.
With Skeeter I felt more confident in my parenting choices and decisions. To that end, my beliefs left no wiggle room. I was adamant that I would exclusively breastfeed for six months. When Skeeter required formula after birth to treat low blood sugar, I was so upset. I wasn’t able to control this situation. Thankfully that was a tiny blip. Skeeter latched on and nursed like a champ. She and I had a great nursing journey. I nursed my sweet girl for nineteen months. With Skeeter as my husband so eloquently put it, I’d “feed her anywhere and everywhere”. I was not going to feel shamed for nursing in public like I had been with Munch.
To that end, my staunch beliefs kept me from reaching out and asking for help. When I started struggling, I did not call anyone. I retreated into myself. I focused on my family. I felt like I had to soldier on. The mantra of “our choices, our family” left me stuck feeling like it was just my husband and I against the world. How could anyone else possibly understand our reality?
In hindsight I realize how flawed my logic was. My anxiety and depression manifested in black and white thinking. I had to maintain a veneer of control. What kind of person or mom was I that I could not control my thoughts? The intrusive thoughts came at me like images from a movie. I hated myself so much for being an utter failure as a wife and as a mother. I could not make any decisions. The depression paralyzed me. I prided myself on being detailed and focused. I lost all of that. Gone was the ability to plan and organize.
I still struggle with my need to be perfect and in control. My self esteem took a beating when I struggled with my PPD and PPA. Now I recognize the negative thoughts and beliefs in my mind. I can stop that tape and turn those thoughts into affirmations. I am perfectly imperfect. I hope to instill that in my girls.
So we are a scant seven and a half weeks away from our third annual Listen To Your Mother show, Milwaukee!! I just gave myself a mini heart attack by counting down the days and weeks.
Alexandra, Rochelle and I are buckling in for what will be a whirlwind. We have chosen our cast, and our tickets went on sale this morning. Our cast gets to meet each other for the first time on Sunday. I cannot contain my excitement. My messages to my teammates are full of exclamation points and all capitals.
This is my favorite time of the season. We are in full on planning, editing and creating mode. I am so grateful to be working with such amazingly talented and kind women. Rochelle and Alexandra make me cackle and cry with laughter every day. Their words and their counsel on parenting, writing, storytelling and life is invaluable. I am so blessed to be a part of this amazing experience. I am looking forward to see the light in our cast’s eyes when they understand how each piece fits like a puzzle piece to the next, creating a tapestry of words.
I knew what kind of day we all needed after a frantic text at the close of Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee auditions Sunday afternoon. My youngest daughter Skeeter had succumbed to the same tummy bug that had kept up Munch the night before. This bug kept both my husband and I in a state of constant alert for each cough. Munch barely slept Saturday night, and so neither did my husband or I.
High on the excitement of listening to more amazing stories and caffeine, I managed to stay alert and present until that text. Rochelle and Alexandra hurried me out the door, so that I could be home with my babies. I knew it was the right decision when my sweet Munch asked me if I had to work the next day. I told her no. I told her that I was taking a whole day off just to take care of her and her sister. The delight in her eyes made that working mama guilt bubble to the surface. I squashed it down, and I knew I had made the right choice.
Our day was full of movies, snuggles on the couch, lukewarm Sprite, water, oyster crackers, chicken noodle soup, books and naps. I even got in a nap. We divided our time between the living room and our comfy bed. I even let them bring snacks into our bedroom and eat the dry cereal in bed. We needed that day of love and togetherness.
When I began my foray into Listen To Your Mother, I had no idea the stories that I would be privy to at auditions. Storytelling is a tradition as old as the human race. In our connected world, we lose sight of being present and really listening to stories. As a mom of two little girls, they can talk my ear off. I am a distracted listener and an habitual multi-tasker. This trait made me seem unkind and not caring. I also had horrible recall of stories and conversations. I simply was not present.
LTYM changed my life. The whole audition process made me a more compassionate listener. We see ordinary people tell extraordinary stories. It made me realize that I can never truly know a person’s story until I hear it from them. Everyone wants to be truly seen and heard. Each story touches my heart, and I leave auditions feeling grateful for this opportunity to hear these sacred stories. Stories are how we make sense of our world, and it is a blessing to listen to them, distraction free. It has made me a better listener to my little ladies. I ask them now to stop telling me a story if my attention is not focused entirely on them. I crave those moments of their day that they decide to share with me.
My sweet Skeeter,
My heart broke the first time I heard you ask where your baby photo album was. I felt like such a failure. Why couldn’t I have managed to put together a photo album for you? The truth is that I was barely able to function until you were nearly a year old. I was unable to make decisions; picking out clothes to wear or what to eat for dinner paralyzed me. The thought of uploading photos and printing them out seemed terrifying.
Flash forward three years later. The weather is frigid, so your dad declares it a day to remove the clutter from our house and get organized. I finally decide to pull out the mounds of photos and start to organize them. This task would have sent me running for the hills back when I was truly struggling. It is daunting, but I am reveling in this experience. I finally found the album that I had bought especially for my sweet Skeeter. We were able to put the first two photos in there. We need to figure out where the other ones are before we can put the rest of them. Your smile warmed my heart. You matter, and you were so wanted, sweet girl. Never forget how much your mama loves you. What pained me most by looking at some of those photos is how dead my eyes looked in those pictures. If you could see behind the mask of the happy mama, you would see anxiety, rage and sorrow. I also realized how few pictures I took of myself. I have a bunch of pictures of you and Munch. I could barely fake the smile required for the camera, so instead I delighted in the joy of my sweet, growing girls. I promise to take more pictures with me in the frame. I love the life that I live, and I want you to have pictures of me when I am gone.