New Chapter

026At the beginning of April 2017 our sweet Skeeter was officially discharged as a graduate of the Urology Clinic. It has been six years since a visibly anxious mom had the first visit at this clinic. I teared up leaving the clinic. Our nurse practitioner Heidi has been with us every step of the way.

Skeeter’s kidneys are almost the exact same size now. She always had one that was slightly smaller which was the same kidney that registered the high level of bladder reflux. When she was initially diagnosed, she had to undergo an X-ray procedure called fluoroscopy which allows them to visualize her bladder and kidneys. I had to nurse her, and then she had to have a wet diaper so they could see how the liquid came out.

I have never been more grateful to work for a healthcare company. I had colleagues who were certified radiology technicians. I showed them the exams, and I also had them explain how much radiation she received. They were able to reassure me that the scan just got only the necessary anatomy.

When I got to our local Children’s Hospital, Heidi allayed so many of my fears. Skeeter only had the one fluoroscopy exam. After that it was all kidney ultrasounds. Heidi took the time to explain everything in layman’s terms. Skeeter adored her, and she still tells me how Heidi says we shouldn’t hold it if we have to pee.

Naturally all things pee and poop were discussed often during these visits to the urology clinic. Initially Skeeter was seen every six months, then a year. At our last visit it had been two years. I know that I can still reach out to Heidi and our team at the clinic if I have any other questions down the road. I am so grateful for all the care and reassurance they provided.  Skeeter’s condition and her hospitalization was the tipping point that catapulted my descent into postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression. It felt like my recovery had come full circle.

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Fitness Fridays: Outlet for Strong Emotions

I Run I Am a MomExercise for me is not just about building muscle, increasing my endurance, lifting heavier weights, jumping higher and running faster.  Exercise decreases my anxiety, and it helps me burn off the rage that resurfaces from time to time.  Women are socialized to be “nice” which led me to suppress a lot of my strong emotions as a girl.  I struggled with my temper throughout puberty.  I figured out ways to channel my emotions: basketball and acting.  This approach served me well throughout high school and college.

Flash forward to motherhood.  The hormonal shift combined with sleep deprivation, PPOCD, PPD, and PPA made me an emotional wreck.  My emotions came at me in waves, and they threatened to consume me.  Once I finally got diagnosed, I focused on my emotional and my mental health.  It took me nearly a year into my recovery before I started to focus on my physical health.  Exercise is now a key component as part of my self-care routine.  It improves my mood.  It enables me to sharpen my focus and get out of my head.  I find my best ideas when I’m exercising.

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Triumphing over My Intrusive Thoughts

As a Warrior Mama who is in recovery, I receive emails from fellow mamas who are struggling with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.  The letters are unique to each mama, but the theme remains the same.  How do I get rid of my intrusive thoughts? Do they ever go away?  Will I ever get better?

I know how much pain you are in.  It is like your mind is a record player, and you are stuck in this same groove.  The same horrendous images keep flashing in your mind on repeat.  I know that you hate yourself for having those thoughts.  I struggled with those same thoughts.  Seven years later, I am telling you that it does get better.  Of course those thoughts creep back from time to time.  Now I am recovered, and I have muted that critical voice and those images in my mind. Setbacks do occur, but I have found them easier to manage now.

I did experience another setback five years ago which prompted the unwelcome return of intrusive thoughts to the forefront of my mind with a vengeance.  Just after Labor Day 2012, I was involved in a car accident.  This accident triggered the return of my intrusive thoughts as well as a spike in my overall anxiety level.  In the height of my postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety the thoughts involved me willingly steering my car into oncoming traffic.  I wanted so desperately to sleep, but I was plagued by horrible insomnia.  All I did was worry about my girls, my husband, my family, work, bills, daycare, etc.  I wanted to get into an accident so that I could rest.  The insomnia and anxiety were so severe that I would have traded anything for a month of rest.

I walked away from this accident with minor injuries, a totaled car, and a shaken psyche.  It took me a few months and the use of my anti-anxiety medication before I could drive in heavy traffic again without intrusive thoughts or panic attacks.  I knew that I would get better because I had climbed out of that pit before.  I knew that this was another bump in my journey of motherhood.  With the help of my therapist, the support of my family and friends, and my medication, I worked through this debilitating anxiety.

Throughout my recovery, I had always used the mantra that “I am not my feelings.”  I did not internalize that mantra fully until a meeting with my therapist after my car accident.  When I told her the story, she stopped me in mid-sentence.  She reminded me that I had done the exact opposite of my intrusive thoughts.  I did everything in my power to avoid a head on crash that day in September.  I slammed on the brakes, and I cut the wheel so sharply to avoid the impending crash.  In that moment, I realized that my thoughts are just my thoughts.  I controlled my action and my reaction in those split seconds.  My thoughts were just thoughts.  At that moment, I felt victorious and relieved.  I had proven my mind wrong.  I did not give in to that thought.  I had the power to choose my own action in that moment, and I chose to fight.  I did not hesitate, and my actions were swift and sure.

Remember that you have the power to choose your actions and your reactions.  You are not your intrusive thoughts. You have power over them.

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A Tale Of Two Moms: Postpartum Rage

I hid this side of my struggle with postpartum depression from everyone but my immediate family.  My postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety manifested itself in rage.  Postpartum rage made feel like I suffered from a split personality disorder. On the outside, I appeared mostly together, just a somewhat stressed and frazzled new mom.  Cut me off in traffic, and I would go from zero to sixty in two seconds.  Rage felt visceral to me.  I could feel the heat building up inside of my body.  The tips of my ears and my cheeks would flush with anger and frustration.  My vision became like a tunnel; I could only focus on the object of my rage.  I could feel my heart pounding in my ears.  I felt the need to hit something, anything.  I threw remotes, books and phones.  I slammed doors and drawers.  My rage turned me into an out of control monster.  I could barely recognize myself after one of these bouts of rage.  Anything and everything could set me off.  My poor husband, my sweet three-year old and my infant daughter took the brunt of my wrath.  I yelled and screamed until my throat was hoarse.  I had no idea at the time that these feelings were symptoms of postpartum depression.  I believed that I was simply a horrible person who did not deserve the beautiful family that she had.

I felt like a pot constantly about to boil over.  Everywhere I looked, I saw disorder and chaos.  If my husband forgot to set something out that I needed in the morning like the bottles for the baby, that minor infraction was enough to make me lose my temper entirely.  I felt completely unhinged when I was in the midst of one of my rages.  I truly thought I was losing my mind.

My lowest point came when I pushed my husband in front of my oldest daughter.  I wanted to provoke him into rage like I was raging.  After that incident, I realized how out of control my rage was.  I felt sick to my stomach realizing that my actions spoke louder than my words to my preschooler.  How could I expect her not to hit if I did it?  I was wracked with guilt and worry that I was damaging my child.  I have not hit anyone since that time.  I felt so much guilt and shame for my behavior that day.  I regret that explosion more than anything.

I felt like I needed to rage and be angry against the whole world.  I felt so much loathing and self-hatred.  I could not understand what was happening to me as the rage took hold of me.  I felt powerless in the grasp of my rage.  I always dissolved into tears of shame and guilt after these blinding rage fits. Medication helped take the edge off of my rage.  Another key component in managing the rage was therapy. I had to put in the hard work to recognize the early signs of rage that threatened to overwhelm me.   I needed to identify the emotions that were my triggers.  I used exercise to help manage both the anxiety and the rage.  I welcomed company when I struggled with anxiety.  When rage started to build, I needed to remove myself from the situation.  Kickboxing, weight lifting and running were fantastic outlets for my rage.

Postpartum rage nearly destroyed my relationship with my husband.  I lost myself within that rage, and I needed to repair the damage that I did.  My husband and I went to counseling separately, and we went to counseling together.  It took love, support, and lots of communication to repair the cracks in the foundation of our marriage.   My husband reassured me that we pledged to love each other in sickness and health. That season of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety was my season of sickness.  Postpartum rage brought me to my knees, and it threatened to consume me in its wake.  I rose again, armed with compassion for myself and others, knowledge of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and the belief that I would be well.

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Seven Years

To my sweet Skeeter,

Seven is a big milestone. You’re in first grade. Reading chapter books, learning to ride a skateboard, and writing stories are your latest accomplishments.

I love your energy and enthusiasm. I know sometimes it seems like I am almost always reminding you to use your quiet voice. We are a house divided with personalities. You and I are the extroverts, and your daddy and older sister are the introverts. We all adore you. We simply cannot keep up with your energy. When I am semi well rested, I can. Learning how to navigate different personalities will help you later in life.

Thank you for reminding me to stop and smell the roses. Keep telling me all your stories and your jokes. I love to listen to your stories. I adore that you create plays and shows. Keep learning. I love how self aware you are with your schoolwork. You marked lower in your self assessment because you knew that you could do better. Your creativity continues to amaze me. I love you, my seeet girl.

Love,

Mama

P.S. I know your birthday was just over 9 weeks ago. Forgive me for the delay.

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Gratitude

I am blowing the dust off the blog today. I have been buried in an immense project at my day job that has been all consuming. I’m finally coming for air. I got to do writing new procedures and training as part of this project. A dear friend reminded me that I’m a storyteller. That is my calling, not the title on my business card. 

Today I had the privilege of talking to a former employee of mine who reminded me how telling him a story about what I saw in him made him change his mindset. I saw intelligence and leadership that needed to be developed and nurtured. Thank you A for reminding me of the importance of seeing yourself as others see you and not listening to the stories we tell ourselves that just aren’t true. As you reminded me of how I challenged you to grow as a leader, you gave me the insight that this current leader needed to hear. For that I’m grateful. 

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This is Ten

078My sweet munchkin,

I cannot believe you have been in my life for an entire decade. You inspire me with your intelligence, your creativity, your kindness, and your work ethic.  Your birthday month was a super stressful month for me professionally.  The grace that you extended me grew my heart three sizes.  Thank you for reminding me what grace in action looks like.

This was a year of firsts. You completed your first year of dance competitions.  You grew so much in your poise and confidence on stage.  This year you are doing two dances for competition. You thoughtfully considered how much you could take on which is wisdom that your mama did not have at your age. You dance three days a week now. Your stamina is amazing. Yes, I will continue to run after you with snacks and water. I know that you think I’m weird. Trust me, mama understands that your body needs the proper fuel to keep itself going.  I love to watch you dance.

I love your thirst for knowledge and insistence that I read the books that you love and you think I’ll love.  I adore that you want to broaden my YA book knowledge.  Now if you can work on taking some of mama’s suggestions like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and Brown Girl Dreaming, my book nerd self would squeal in joy.

You made serious progress in the kitchen this year.  You learned how to read recipes and attempt some on your own.  I have so much fun baking and cooking with you.  It was so amazing to have you make macaroni and cheese for you and your little sister one morning when I wasn’t feeling well.  It made me feel like my parenting has come full circle.  You learned how to do your own laundry too.  These are all small steps on your way to becoming an adult.  It is exciting and a little scary to relax the reins a little bit and let you take over.

As you enter the tween age, I want you to remember that I am always here for you whenever you need.  There is nothing that you could do that would cause me not to love you.  I love you always.  Thank you for making me a mom.

 

Love,

Mama

P.S. I know this birthday post is ridiculously late.  October was kind of a shit show for me, and you gave me so much grace.

 

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2017 Word: Nurture 

As I reflect on the past year as we start a new school year, I realized how much my one word of 2016 was my anchor: courage. Both my husband and I changed jobs this year. This also meant a change in our daughters’ childcare. I’m now picking the girls up from childcare after school. He is the one who drops them off in the mornings. After 8 years of the same schedule, this was a huge adjustment for all of us. I’m now the primary cook since he gets home later.

I have a team of employees who report to me which again was a huge adjustment. I had forgotten how mentally exhausting it can be when you are managing a team of very different personalities while initiating some major changes in processes and procedures.  I also struggled with impostor syndrome in a huge way.  I had to keep reminding myself that I was chosen for this job because of my unique skill set.  I made mistakes along the way as a new again manager.  I remind myself that I need to bring my authentic self to work everyday.  As a team we continue to grow, and I realize that we are stronger together.

I’ve had the honor and privilege to be in some amazing Facebook groups where we focus on living intentionally. This year I learned of the concept of the one word and anchors to help you remain focused on that one word. My word is nurture which means “to care for and encourage the growth or development of”. My anchor words are nourish, focus and foster. Nourish means “to provide with the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition”. Focus means “an act of concentrating interest or activity on something.” Foster means “to encourage or promote the development of”.

This stage in my life involves lots of nurturing.  I am focusing on nurturing myself, my husband, my daughters, my extended family, my team and my friends.  I am choosing self-care that reflects my priorities in life – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  All four facets of my being require care and nurturing.  I am trying to model this for my girls.  They are my greatest teachers, and I am their biggest student.  change ahead

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Five Years of Stories 


A week from today Milwaukee will have its finale Listen To Your Mother show at 3 p.m. in the same venue that housed both our inaugural and second shows. It is a bittersweet feeling like watching my youngest skip off to kindergarten. Three weeks after our show she has her graduation ceremony. 

To our current cast, thank you for bringing your stories and energy to Alexandra, Rochelle and I.  We needed to see how much our community still hungers for connection and storytelling. To our alumni of the past four years, thank you for continuing to share your stories and champion storytelling. My life has been enriched by all these different perspectives. 

To Rochelle, thank you for making Milwaukee a trio. I’m always inspired by your words and your actions. As a mom raising daughters, your counsel and wisdom has helped me through so much. To Alexandra, what can I possibly say? You took a chance on me when I was still struggling from postpartum depression and anxiety. You saw a spark in me that I didn’t recognize in myself. Your faith and belief in me gave me the courage and confidence to go after my goals. To my husband, my parents and my girls, thank you for being the help behind the scenes. I appreciate it so much. This project gave me back my passion for theatre. Thank you for honoring and nurturing that gift even when you all worried that I bit off more than I could chew. 

Ann, thank you for creating this movement. I have been transformed by the amazing women and men I have met or watched from the sister cities. The love, energy and enthusiasm for using stories to bring our communities together is what fueled me. Come see the magic of Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee for our final show – get your tickets http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2935129

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Community Divided

I have been processing these past two weeks as an organization I volunteered for shut its doors. The changes I had seen were mainly surface and not of lasting significance. A pattern of repeated micro aggressions led to the departure of women of color. This pattern began over two years ago. I was part of the editorial team who wrote blog posts. We never discussed this first issue in depth. Those of us who remained discussed these issues with each other. When we attempted to discuss it as a group, we were dismissed. The women of color who were harmed at that time were asked to explain why certain comments were racist.  The tone deafness to hurting moms was appalling.  I stewed, and I ended up resigning from the editorial team.

I felt hope after seeing the differences made after the first conference.  There was an advisory board of women of color to ensure that we were representing all moms.  A women of color was hired to be the project manager for the Climb, and I was inspired to continue to lead a climb in my community.  I was actively engaged with the community, and I was getting ideas for outreach in different places I hadn’t previously considered.

When I read this, my first reaction was of sadness and hurt for my friend. Then I got angry. The latest in a string of issues led to her departure and the departure of our previous Climb project manager who had been positioned to help us build partnerships with local organizations. As I kept hearing even more stories than the ones I was aware of, I became even more angry. Why hadn’t the organization learned? Why were the same mistakes being repeated? I promised to tell those stories so that the community would see how shaky the foundation had been. This latest incident was the final crack in an already fractured foundation.  Say their names: A’Driane, Alexandra, Jenni, Divya, Jenna, Graeme and Jasmine.  Honor their contributions.  Honor their stories and listen to them.

I decided to resign from my volunteer duties. I notified the staff. I stayed on to help moderate a Facebook peer support group. That is the amazing part of the community of survivors. I liken it to the Marines. We do not leave a suffering mama behind. Postpartum Support International has stepped up to support our grieving community. Grief is a part of this process.

Anger being directed at those who came forward publicly to discuss the micro aggressions is NOT okay. I am calling out and calling in my white warrior moms. The statistics are 1 in 7 women will experience a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. We repeat that statistic ad nauseaum. For women of color it is 1 in 4. How can we be for all moms if we don’t get uncomfortable and talk about race? How does race and culture affect how mental illness is perceived? If we aren’t actively learning cultural competency, how can we truly be for all moms?

I do not have all the answers. I am one voice who is using her white privilege to amplify the voices of so many women of color whose contributions went unappreciated. I am still learning about race and immigration. When a woman of color says that they have been wronged, believe them. Full stop. Prejudice and racism are built into the fabric of our society. This country was built on the genocide of Native Americans, and it was created by the unpaid labor of African slaves. That trauma and history is NOT something we can ignore. When we ignore it, we invalidate how another is feeling. As women who have struggled with mental illness, we know the power of validation and me too. I am my sister’s keeper. When she shares a painful experience, I need to listen and validate. How can we do this? We can use these phrases. I hear you. I see you. I see your pain. How you were treated was unacceptable.

See my last post for all the women who have helped that organization and in return had their concerns dismissed.  This was due to a lack of accountability from the board and the CEO.  The community is hurting, but it can heal by listening to our moms of color.  We can fuel this hurt, disappointment, and anger into something positive.  Mental health is a fundamental human right.  We can appreciate Katherine for creating the blog and the nonprofit in the first place, and we can also be angry with her for perpetuating white supremacy.  These two concepts seem to be diametrically opposed, but there is room for both and, not either or.

We need to be an inclusive community for all parents.  It is not just moms who struggle with postpartum depression.  It impacts fathers and their partners and trans women.  Learning does not stop.  We need to be life long learners to continue to help all those who struggle with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.  I am still learning on how to be more inclusive of my trans sisters.

“Careful the things you do.  Children will listen.  Careful the things you say.  Children will see and learn.” As Into the Woods teaches us, our children are watching us mamas.  Let’s sit and process our grief.  Then we rise.  “When we know better, we do better” – Maya Angelou.  Listen to me, my white warrior moms.  We know better.  WE MUST DO BETTER.

 

 

 

 

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