Passing the Bed

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He has asked so many questions that don’t have answers and I’m just so tired. I ask him to help his brother. I say, “He’s going to get hurt, can you help him?”

“Why will he get hurt?”

I answer through gritted teeth, “He just will! Just help him!” Then he sighs and his big blue eyes look sad and I wish I could find the strength for more patience and less surprising anger.

When I walk into my room to get dressed, I pass the crumpled bed and want to get in it. I want to curl up on my side and cry. I’m not sure why, but I want to do it. I start to walk that way and then I see her, the me in my mind’s eye, on her side in the bed where I am not. She looks like she’s repeating history. She is carrying this disease and she thinks she isn’t and then sometimes she thinks she is this disease. She is me and I am her and she is them and she is not.

She is so afraid that she’s given it to them.

I know that if I were to walk in and find her curled there, I’d think she should get up. I’d think she should shake it off. It’s not her fault she’s there, but she needs to get up, I’d say. Then I’d wonder if some of it is her fault, because I know memories of ridiculous choices can flood in and bring with them the funk, curling her up.

So I get dressed. I wash my face of yesterday’s make-up and I put one foot in front of the other to make sure that I’m not her or them or her past. I fight it because I know that when I do, it gets a little better.

I fake it sometimes, but strangely, most of the time I’m truly reveling in the buried joy. The miraculous happiness that comes through the eyes of my boys. We make a hideout in a closet and they are thrilled with their flashlights in the dark. I well up with joy because they are who they are and I believe we can change this. Even if it doesn’t stop, it can be lighter, it can get better. Even if they feel it, they can learn that it doesn’t define them. I will tell them. They can learn from the truths we speak over them…

You are lovely. You are worthy. You are good. Just exactly as you are. This heavy weight of sadness, it can never be who you are.

I can say it with words from my mouth, and I can say it by walking away from the bed, uncurled and dressed.

“Can we go to the park?”

He asks this carefully, and I say yes even though I don’t want to say yes. I put one foot in front of the other and he rides with training wheels beside me. He says, “You’re great, Mom.” Then through my tightening throat where my heart wells up with this mercy, I say, “So are you, little man.”

“I know,” he says.

I laugh with unleashed joy and I think, please keep knowing…please keep knowing…please…

We are sometimes sadness, but mostly we are grace.

 

{This post was originally published on The Extraordinary Ordinary. What I knew was that I needed to keep going, for my kids and for myself. What I had not yet realized was that there is no shame in needing help in order to keep going. Not long after the publishing of this post, I quit self-medicating with alcohol, I started taking medication for depression, and I went to a whole lot of counseling. Passing the bed got easier, and I am so grateful for the help,  sobriety, and the peace and joy that exists in surrender.}

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Postpartum Depression: A Feminist Issue

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Do not dismiss postpartum depression with a shrug and an eye roll, Ms. Albert.  It affects one out of every seven women.  Ms. Elisa Albert wrote a book After Birth that I will definitely not be reading.  Her main premise is that women do not have enough support for the choices that they are making.  I wholeheartedly agree with that statement and the overall theme of her book.  Based on an article with the Guardian, she then contradicted the primary theme of her book as she heaped judgement and shame on women who choose medication as an option to treat their postpartum mood and anxiety disorder.

I recognize the responsibility that I have as a Warrior Mom and as a mental health advocate.  I am not a trained professional.  I offer support and encouragement to moms who are struggling.  I share what worked for me to simply encourage a mom who is struggling to have as many options as possible.  Medication saves lives; my medication saved mine.  My medication was one of the tools in my toolbox.  I utilized many tools in my toolbox to help me recover: therapy, online peer support through Postpartum Progress, support from my friends and family, exercise, proper nutrition, sleep, journaling, singing, and sharing my story with other moms.

Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders manifest themselves differently because each mom is unique.  What worked for me may work for a friend, but it may not.  Making blanket statements does a disservice to all moms.  Ms. Albert made this statement.  “The only people I know who did just fine in the postpartum period are those who score the triumvirate: well cared for in birth, surrounded by supportive peers, helpful elders to stay with them for a time.” Guess what Ms. Albert? I had all of that, and I still struggled.  I spent my entire pregnancy anxious and depressed.  With time and perspective my family and I have been able to pinpoint how these symptoms manifested themselves immediately after I became pregnant.  My antenatal depression manifested itself in irritability and rage.  I had support from both my mother and my mother-in-law while I was on maternity leave for three months.  I had a supportive network of friends and family.  I still struggled for seventeen months until I finally got the help I so desperately needed.  My baby girl was seven months by the time I realized that I was not getting better.  Do not speak for me or for the community of Warrior Moms.  Let us tell our stories.

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The Secret Companion of Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period After Loss: Perinatal and Postpartum Anxiety

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Birth trauma, you could call it that.  My first daughter was stillborn at full-term in December of 2012.  I went into labor and delivery that night expecting to soon meet my little girl only to be told by the doctor while sitting in front of a still and silent ultrasound that there was, “No heartbeat”.

Crushed, heartbroken, devastated and numb, I fought for my life when I delivered her, because the infection that killed her, it could have taken my life too. I think it’s safe to say that birth trauma is what happened during the silent entrance of my daughter’s body into the world.

Seven months later I was pregnant again, terrified beyond what doctors and therapists would think was just a normal grief. As my belly grew with my daughter inside, both of us getting closer and closer to her due date, I would panic almost daily.  At night I would wake in up in sweats as nightmares of not being able to feel her move would haunt me.  Then I would spend an hour at three in the morning making sure she would move, making sure she was alive, because there were days when my anxiety convinced me that she had died too.  I would mentally prepare myself to go to yet another ultrasound appointment and once again hear those dreaded words, “I’m sorry.  There is no heartbeat.”

While pregnant after the death of my first daughter, it was almost impossible to get through my job everyday.  I was always worried that she might have stopped moving or that she died while I was engrossed in a work task.  The fear engulfed me. I frequently needed to step out of meetings to splash water on my face and poke at my baby to count her kicks and make sure she was still there, still moving, still alive. I also took extra ‘sick’ days just to manage my anxiety, to try to relax at home and take it easy, which proved challenging.

Close-up of crying womanphoto credit: Johan Larson-Fotolia

Then on the days that I would make it through work I would come home in the evening and break into tears of fear as I lay sobbing on my bed.  My husband held me as I cried, crying with me, and I would scream between my wails, “I can’t do this! I can’t do this anymore!”

Being pregnant again after a loss is like living inside your trauma, which, unfortunately, is your own body that you cannot escape from for nine months. It’s torture, trying not to let your fears and anxiety control you.  However, now you know; you know all that can go wrong. You know you are not guaranteed this baby, just like you weren’t guaranteed the one who died

Some might think that once the baby arrives safe and healthy relief would settle in, and the anxiety and worry would disappear.  However, this did not happen for me. The anxiety increased daily a few months after my living baby was born.

In the hospital, two days after she was born, I had a mental break down.  I was obsessed with my health, afraid that if I breastfed her I would somehow give her a new infection, and that my body would cause her to die too.  Irrational fears like this one flooded me, and only proceeded to get worse when we went home.  Yes, I was relieved and happy that my daughter was here, that I finally got to bring home a baby after 18 months of being pregnant.  But the irrational thoughts kept creeping in.  I would stay up late at night, unable to fall asleep because I was convinced the world was going to end due to the eruption of the super volcano in Yellowstone. I would seek reassurance from all my family members around this issue, and most of them looked at me like I was crazy.

In the days and weeks after my irrational thoughts had taken over, I visited the doctor and talked to my therapist about my postpartum anxiety.  I learned that I was at a higher risk for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders because of the birth trauma from my first daughter’s stillbirth.

Slowly, over time with the help of my doctor and therapist, I learned that breastfeeding my baby would not kill her, as I thought it would. When done with breastfeeding, we discussed medication to address the anxiety, which ultimately was the right choice of treatment for me, along with continuing talk therapy that utilized dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques.

My daughter is now 11 months old.  Each day that passes I seem to have less and less anxiety.  I’m still going to therapy, and I’m still taking medications, and thanks to these treatments I get to enjoy more moments with my daughter and use this second chance at motherhood as a time to heal.  Even if anxiety continues to be my companion I now know how to keep her at bay.

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Lindsey Henke is the founder and editor of Pregnancy After Loss Support, writer, clinical social worker, wife, and most importantly a mother to two beautiful daughters. Tragically, her oldest daughter, Nora was stillborn after a healthy full-term pregnancy in December of 2012. Since then, she has turned to writing on her blog, Stillborn and Still Breathing, to soothe her sorrow and has found healing in giving voice to her grief. Lindsey is also a monthly contributor to Still Standing Magazine and was featured as Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine’s Knocked Up Blogger during her pregnancy with her second daughter, Zoe who was born healthy and alive in March of 2014.

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Music as Self-Care

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Music has always been a part of my life.  I realized the depth of my struggles through postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety when I could not recall the last time I played music.  I sang bedtime songs for my daughters, and that was the extent of it.  I grew up in a musical family, and I met my husband doing community theatre.  I remembered the key events of my life through song.  My love language was and still remains music.

My music nerd self totally geeked out when I heard that Natasha Bedingfield had partnered with philosophy to release an original song that is dedicated to people who are facing mental health issues. philosophy became one of the first organizations to focus on mental health and well-being.  They created a hope and grace initiative  to donate at least 1% of their sales toward charity that will support community-based groups that are focused on maternal mental health and well-being.  We applaud these efforts to provide more women with the access, the resources and the awareness of the mental health resources that are available to women in need.

I dedicate these lyrics to my fellow Warrior Moms.

Hope

Remember morning always comes
As night surrenders to the sun
No matter how dark it may become
Don’t stop your light from shining on
‘Cause nothing’s ever over till you say it’s over
And nothing’s ever finished
Not unless you walk away

You see I’ve got hope

Oh oh
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
Hoooo-ope hooooo-ope, hoooo-ope
I’ve got hope

It’s easier to say you can’t when you know you can,
It’s easier to let go then to hold somebody’s hand
But if you do, then you might just understand yeah
That it’s okay to not know where you’re gonna end

I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way

Ooh oh oh oh oh, you need hope
Oooh oh oh oh oooh, I got hope

You see, I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope
So you could use a little, use a little
Leave it when you’ve done it
And I won’t let go
‘Cause with a little, with a little it can go a long way
I’ve got hope

Give me hope
I need a hand, I need a hand, I need a hand

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