You Don’t Have to Be Thankful on Thanksgiving

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You Don't Have to Be Thankful on Thanksgiving

You don’t have to be thankful today.

I know. It’s Thanksgiving. We’re all supposed to sit around the table, hold hands, sing “Kumbaya,” and say what we’re most thankful for while our stomachs growl and we think, “I’d be more thankful if I wasn’t hungry.” Thanksgiving is a day of thanks, one of reflection when we think over all our many blessings.

But it’s hard to feel thankful when you’re carrying the weight of postpartum depression.

It’s hard to feel thankful for a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder that makes you doubt your every move, every action, every thought; one that makes you question every question. “Am I really a good enough mom? What kind of mom even wonders that? I’ll never be good enough.”

It’s hard to feel thankful when postpartum anxiety makes you wonder if the baby, asleep in the pack and play in the next room, is breathing or not. Or if your mom’s cat jumped in there with her. Or if an asteroid is going to hit that side of the house. “It could happen.”

It’s hard to feel thankful when postpartum OCD sends intrusive thoughts racing through your brain, ones you feel too scared to admit even to your therapist out of fear they’ll take your baby. “And why shouldn’t they? What kind of mother thinks these things?

It’s hard to feel thankful when you haven’t slept in days or weeks or months or since the baby arrived, and people just keep telling you to “sleep when she sleeps,” but you’ve tried. Oh, you’ve tried. This insomnia feels like it will never end, and it is your punishment for have a mood disorder in the first place. “I don’t deserve to sleep.”

It’s hard to feel thankful when you feel so angry. Angry at the baby for not sleeping. Angry at the doctors for your traumatic birth experience. Angry at society for the pressures they put upon mothers to be this SuperMom creature. Angry at your partner for not doing more, helping more, being more. Angry at yourself for not “doing” motherhood “right.” “I’m angry at everyone and everything.”

It’s hard to feel thankful when those who should be supporting you simply aren’t. When they tell you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps; when they tell you how mothers in “their day” didn’t get “sick” like this; when they tell you that if you just prayed more, exercised more, drank a shake, ate less meat, ate more meat, turned around twice, you’d feel better. “I’ve already tried all that. Why can’t they see that?”

It’s hard to feel thankful when you’re feeling desperate, alone, and hopeless. “I just want this feeling to end.”

I know, mama. I know.

It’s hard to feel anything more than the distinct awfulness that has taken over your life. It’s hard to feel anything more than simply present; feeling thankful feels like something in the far off distance, something you did in the past and something you hope to do again in the future. Just not right now. Not yet.

It’s okay.

For now, just feel what you need to feel. Acknowledging your emotions will serve you better than ignoring them, bottling up, and pretending that everything is going splendidly. If you’re staying home today, perhaps take a little while to journal those feelings, to question what true thankfulness means to you in this moment, and to let it out instead of keeping it in. If you’re with extended family today, take a few minutes outside or even in the bathroom, take deep cleansing breaths, and acknowledge those emotions as they come, but know that they will also pass.

And then, mama, know this: We are thankful for you.

We Are Thankful for YOU.

We are thankful you’re here. We are thankful that you’re fighting through the darkest days of postpartum depression. We are thankful that you’ve chosen to fight, to keep fighting, to do whatever it takes to find your way back to you. We are thankful for you baby, for making you a mother. We are not thankful for your perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, but we’re thankful you’ve found us. We will stand with you today, on back porches in the cold air and in bathrooms with little kids knocking, and take deep breaths with you. We will remember Thanksgivings past, ones in which we didn’t feel very thankful at all; we will think of you, of your baby, of all those feelings you are feeling, and we will cover you with love and light.

Then we’ll go back in to our families, the loud bustling ones and the quiet ones and the arguing ones and the trying ones and the loving ones, and we’ll say what we’re thankful for around the table. When it comes to you, when it’s your turn to say what you’re thankful for, you can pass. You can say, “I don’t know.” You can even tell the truth, that it’s hard to find something to be thankful for right now as your in the throes of PPD. You can say whatever you need to say to get through the moment.

Because you will get through the moment, mama. And the next, and the next.

And we’re so thankful for that; for you.

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It’s Okay to Stay Home on Thanksgiving

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It's Okay to Stay Home on Thanksgiving

Having a baby around Thanksgiving feels so magical, doesn’t it? Pregnant with our first son, I remember feeling excited about his due date. While not due until the week after Thanksgiving, I delivered all three of my babies early due to health complications, so I figured this first boy of ours might come in time for us to be really thankful.

He arrived one week before Thanksgiving that year. People bought us lots of little “Mommy’s Little Turkey” and “My First Thanksgiving” outfits, onesies, and bibs. I remember cooing over his chubby little cheeks and calling him my very own butterball.

Because everyone felt very excited about his arrival—the first grandson and all—my husband and I felt obligated to attend Thanksgiving with relatives. I still couldn’t move very fast. I’d ended up with a last minute “emergency” episiotomy when my son and I both spiked a fever and my son’s hart rate kept plummeting during each push. The doctor said, “We need to get him out now,” and I said, “Okay,” and so I went to Thanksgiving dinner with stitches in my crotch.

I look back at the pictures of our little turkey, sitting on his grandmother’s couch, being ooh-ed and ahh-ed over. I know the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all passed him back and forth while I sat and watched. The pictures of the day look really great… except for one of me holding my newborn son.

My eyes look simultaneously petrified and empty.

It's Okay to Stay Home on Thanksgiving

I look as if I didn’t know how I got there exactly and that I wasn’t sure if I belonged. I know I felt exhausted as our adorable little bundle of joy slept all day and kept us up all night. I had help from my husband, still on paternity leave at that point, and from my mother-in-law when she could make it over, but already I knew that motherhood felt a bit different than I’d expected.

And I didn’t even know about the horrible months of postpartum depression and anxiety yet to come. I just knew something felt off.

If I could tell my New Mom self one thing about Thanksgiving that year—and thereby, any new moms trying to figure out how to handle Thanksgiving with a newborn and family and pie baking and who’s going to watch the dog for the day and oh, crap, do we need a hostess gift and and and—it would be this: It’s okay to skip Thanksgiving dinner this year.

It is. It’s absolutely, 100% okay to stay home on Thanksgiving.

Order a turkey meal from your local restaurant or grocery. Or order whatever you want: You’re a new mom and you should get to eat what you want for the holiday. Don’t plan on cooking a big meal, making seven pies, and being on your feet all day. This is one time where the convenience of restaurants and pre-made foods serves moms well. Order the food and then go back to cuddling with your baby, or sleeping when he sleeps (no, really), or relaxing in whatever way would make you and baby feel most comfortable.

You don’t owe anyone, not even your mom or mother-in-law, any further explanation than, “I’m just not feeling up to being out with the baby yet.” You can offer to do Thanksgiving with them next year, if you want to. You can offer to text over a photo or two so the grandparents can pass it around the table for all the obligatory oohs and ahhs. And that’s it. You’re done. No arguing about it. No guilt trips from Aunt Sally. No stories about how Grandma made Thanksgiving for the family of 24 with two day old twins on her hip. Nope.

Additionally: This get-to-skip doesn’t just serve moms of itty bitty newborns. No, mamas. If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, if you haven’t had time for self-care, if you’re in the midst of dealing with a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, if you’re just wanting to use that day off from work to sit in your jammies and breathe the smell of your newborn’s head, if your kindergarteners are driving you batty, if you’re just overwhelmed with mothering and all that comes with it: THIS IS FOR YOU.

This is about you. You are allowed to set boundaries for yourself, for your family, for your physical and mental well-being. You are allowed to say no. No, in and of itself, is a whole sentence. Anyone who doesn’t respect your wishes right now doesn’t need to be in your presence on a day of thanks anyway.

Just be sure to take a few pictures. You’ll be able to look back on the day as the one you stood up for yourself and, goodness, look at how far you’ve come. You got this, mama. Enjoy your day, however you spend it.

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Speaker Submissions Now Open for Warrior Mom™ Conference ’16

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Warrior Mom Conference Speaker Submissions Now Open

We’re looking for YOU…

…to submit a speaker/presenter application for the 2016 Warrior Mom™ Conference happening in Atlanta next October 14-15. That’s right. We’re looking for you.

We’re looking for speakers who want to use their knowledge and passion to help moms with perinatal mood disorders. We’re looking for mothers who have been there, done that, and don’t want other moms to suffer needlessly. We’re looking for superstar fundraisers who want to teach others how to raise money. We’re looking for social media experts to teach our Warrior Moms how reach the most people possible. We’re looking for amazing storytellers who want to help others tell their stories. We’re looking for someone to teach us all about self-care and about how to recover from recovery. We want to learn how to spot PMADs and to learn more about diagnosing them. We need to learn from someone about why diversity and cultural competence matter in these discussions and how we can best reach underserved moms.

We’re looking for you.

Whether you want to throw together a panel, speak by yourself, or run a workshop, we’ve got a format for that. We’ve got two days worth of conference timing to fill, and your idea could be the one that makes all the difference—not just for attendees, but for the moms they will help in their communities.

The Warrior Mom™ Conference will be based on Postpartum Progress’ mission, which is to:

…create healthier families by raising awareness, reducing stigma, providing social support and connecting mothers to help for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression.

Topics will also support or theme for the year: Together, Stronger.

And, of course, you, because with you, we are together, stronger. Our peer-to-peer organization includes you, your experience, and your desire to help others. So go ahead and get your application together. The deadline to submit is January 31, 2016. We look forward to seeing what you can bring to this conference.

(Note: If you’re just inspired to attend now, get your ticket soon! They’re selling fast!)

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When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned

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When Breastfeeding Doesn't Go As Planned

As expectant mothers, all we can do is plan. We make labor plans, we plan the nursery, we plan how we will spend our maternity leave. We plan birthday parties, play dates, college graduations.

All this planning before even giving birth. We thrive on a diet made up entirely of good intentions.

What happens when the core of those plans is taken away from us?

What then? Where do the rest of the pieces fall? Where do we stand as confident and capable mothers?

My breasts began leaking as I reached eight months pregnant. I was excited. They were working and that was all I needed to know; the center of my plan was to feed my child using my body. The center of my plan was to provide the most intimate bond I could imagine with my child after removing her from my womb.

I could express the colostrum on demand before giving birth. I had to wear breast pads. Everything was going according to plan.

I gave birth in the middle of the night, via C-section. I was put to bed, in horrendous pain, and told a lactation consultant would visit me the next morning. I was told to not attempt breast feeding until the consultant visited.

I lay, awake, in the hospital bed as nurses in the baby sanctuary fed my newborn formula.

“But, it’s going to be okay. This won’t ruin her. She will feed from me in a few hours.”

Morning came, and morning went. I was not visited. By one o’clock in the afternoon that day, I was asking where this person was. When was it going to be my turn? I watched as my family members visited me and fed my infant formula, as I curled up in bed, clutching myself and wishing for my turn.

I was told to be patient. I was told to wait. I could feel it then, I could feel my plan slipping from between my fingers.

At 6:00 in the evening, after eating dinner, I asked one last time where my consultant was. She had gone home. The day had ended. There were simply too many mothers to get to.

She came the next morning. Late in the morning. She spent eight minutes with me. She showed me an awkward and not natural feeling way to hold my daughter as I tried to get her to latch on to me. She would latch, and then cry. Latch and cry. I was told to be patient. I was told she would eventually get it. I was told to go home and keep trying and pump.

I sobbed, there. I sobbed, holding my newborn like a football under my arm. She couldn’t do it. Worse: I couldn’t do it.

My mother reassured me. Maybe being at home, relaxed, would help. I was not to give up hope.

I arrived home and immediately secluded myself in the nursery. I placed myself and my daughter in the rocking chair that I always planned on feeding her in. I put on the soothing music. I drew the curtains so the sun cast an amber wash over us as we went to work.

I sat and tried to nurse my child for three hours. Visitors came and went. I saw none of them. This was my plan and I refused to give any more ground on it than I had already allowed.

She latched on for about 20 minutes on one side. I will always remember that feeling. It hurt but it felt like a pain I was meant to endure. My body was doing it; I was doing it. I could feel the dominoes stacking back up in place. I tried the other side and she latched on and then released immediately. And then she began to scream.

My child was hungry.

I had done all I could do at the moment so my mother came up, took my child from me and brought her downstairs to supplement with hospital formula, while I pumped for the first time.

I sat in the chair, hooked up on both sides, until it grew dark. The pain was dull, like how you would feel during a tattoo after hour four. I would check the bottles and while one side had accrued maybe two ounces of milk, the other side only held yellow colostrum. My husband took the bottles when I called for him, he fed them to her immediately. We mixed the colostrum with the formula. We did everything we could with what my body was giving me.

My breasts looked like they have been through a poorly fought battle after that much pumping. I felt deformed. I felt humiliated. But, I kept trying. I would try to nurse her, but I was losing ground. She would root against me, trying to find something that wasn’t there. She would scream at me. I would sob.

For two days this routine went on. Four hours of pumping wielding two ounces or less from just the one side, yellow gold from the other.

It wasn’t going to work. It had slipped between my fingers.

My mother told me it was time to admit defeat; to dry myself up and focus on what was important: feeding my child, regardless of where it came from.

We bought a can of formula. I endured the pain of drying my supply up.

People questioned why I was giving up “so soon.” They scolded me for “only trying for two days.” Those were the longest two days of my life.

I was in labor for 22 hours. I pushed for 2 hours. I had an C-section. Those two days were more painful than all of that combined. My child was hungry. It was time to feed her.

And so, I formula fed my daughter through her entire infancy. I watched other mothers blissfully breastfeed their babies. I read articles from highly respected mothers’ journals about the benefits of breastfeeding and how superior it was to formula feeding.

My child, who had initially dropped birth weight due to lack of feeding, thrived.

She grew up into a developmentally sound and sensitive little soul. She is five years old now and here is what I can say about breastfeeding:

It is not the center of your plan. It may feel like the sun. It may feel like the most important thing you can do for you and your child. But, every single mother romanticizes breastfeeding. We picture the room; the ambiance; the feeling and bond we will form in those hours together with our child.

I had all of that. I eventually allowed myself to bond with my child, once I had mourned the loss of breastfeeding. I created the same room, the same ambiance for us to be in together.

I just held a bottle in my hand.

And that is okay.

Read more on breastfeeding:

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