Posted in musings

learning to know the saints (slowly and rather awkwardly)

Just a month or so ago I noticed that while I believe in the community of saints (that is, I believe that the church is the body of Christ, so the part of the body here on earth – us – is still one with the part of the body in heaven – the saints – and we are thus able to have some type of connection or relationship with them), I didn’t really know much about the any of the saints, and I didn’t have a particular relationship with or devotion to any of them except the Virgin Mary. It felt too contrived to try to pick a saint on my own, so I just registered my thought and moved on. I figured it would be best to let such relationships develop naturally, as my relationship with Mary has.

Well, earlier this year, as you know, kind of for the fun of it and to satisfy my curiosity, I used the random saint generator to find a saint of the year for myself, and was given St. Jude, the patron of hopeless and desperate causes. Interesting, I thought. I didn’t feel a connection, so I again registered it and moved on. I read the book of Jude but that was it.

Then I was hit by postpartum depression and anxiety at full force. It was obviously and drastically worse than the transitional sadness and fatigue I’d had the first couple weeks after Aubade was born; it was a massive effort just to get out of bed, and I felt like all my time and emotional energy was expended just in rolling away the negative thoughts that kept intruding into my mind. I would hear a sound (like a car in the bank parking lot behind our house, or a door opening downstairs) and feel stabbing anxiety pain course through my body in the half second before realizing what it was. And I was starting to build escapist fantasies in the back of my mind, because I just wanted to be at peace and peace felt so unattainable.

Hmm… a situation in which I was left feeling completely hopeless and desperate for help… and a patron saint whose speciality is in interceding for hopeless and desperate causes… maybe, I thought, that random saint generator wasn’t completely random. So, feeling very awkward and not really knowing what to say, I asked St. Jude if he would pray for me in this situation. After all, what is the worst that could happen? Nothing? And at best, he would hear my request and pray for my healing and peace; a saint living in eternity, championing the hopeless and lost, probably is better about consistently praying for his supplicants than the average busy and distracted friend (of course, I might just be extrapolating from my own inconsistent prayer life).

There is of course no way to verify that St. Jude did anything, but I know that I was able to fight my social anxiety enough to go to the new moms’ community after church two weeks ago, and that the only other woman there that week was an experienced mom who encouraged me spiritually and suggested I call my doctor; I know that instead of spinning into a hole of endless research and indecision I actually did call my doctor; I know that my husband and I started praying together every night, which we’ve never done before and which has really comforted and supported me; and I know that the progesterone shots my doctor prescribed, while not completely knocking out the PPD/PPA, have made me much more functional and given back a lot of the joy in my life. In other words, things don’t feel so hopeless anymore. If nothing else, I feel like someone outside of God and my family (namely, St. Jude) cares about me and how I’m doing emotionally and as a mother – that they are standing beside me before God, praying on my behalf.

I still think I’d like to let my relationships with the saints develop slowly and naturally, at their own pace, but I’m very glad that I’ve made the acquaintance of one of them this year so far, and I think I owe him some thanks.

Posted in family life

finding myself again

One of the less pleasant aspects of Aubade’s birth was that it resulted in a 4th degree tear (baby girl was coming fast and needed to come fast as each push caused her to have pretty significant decels, indicating potential hypoxia – they actually had me on oxygen and made sure we waited in between pushes to get Aubade fully oxygenated before each new push, and she was quite big!). While it’s been healing as well as can be expected, it’s put some limitations on what I can do, which is really frustrating for me.

But! Today I pushed the boys in the stroller, while wearing Aubade, all the way to the Museum of Natural History two blocks down from our house! I’d been building up to it: I’ve walked with them to the children’s museum one block from the house with no stroller, just carrying Aubade and the diaper bag, since the boys can walk that distance fairly easily; and I’d taken all three of them to the grocery store and pushed them in the shopping cart (which in retrospect was rather stupid because I lifted Rondel in and out of the cart and he’s quite a bit above my lifting weight limit right now). But this was my first solo outing with the stroller. And it went really well! With the weather so frigid, gloomy, and drizzly these days, it is especially nice to have broadened the scope of where I can take the boys when my husband is at school – and it makes me feel much more like my normal self: confident, independent, and quite capable of planning and executing fun outings with my children!

I guess my whole point is that even when you know rationally that recovery takes time but will eventually happen, it’s easy to get discouraged and feel like you’re never going to be yourself again, until you have those little moments of normalcy that help you see that you are coming back. It’s true physically with the recovery from a tear (or C-section, as I learned with Rondel), and it’s true emotionally with the hormonal transition from pregnancy to postpartum; in either case, you might need some extra help getting there, but recovery is totally possible, and you will find yourself again.

Posted in musings

postpartum depression

I had PPD with my first baby.

I’d hoped for a natural delivery and done all my prenatal care with a wonderful midwife at a birth center near our home, but I was still pregnant two weeks past my due date and state law required her to transfer my care to an OB and, after a failed induction, Rondel came into the world via a C-section.

The week of his due date I’d had a major fight (for lack of a better word, and without going into the details) with my husband and was feeling extremely emotional and stressed about that episode through the early postpartum weeks (despite how supportive and amazing my husband was through the rest of the pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum period – I have trouble letting go of negative emotions).

So I felt like my body had let me down, and like my marriage was letting me down, and then Rondel turned out to be one of the most sensitive babies I’ve ever met, struggling with the basics of babyhood and responding to his struggles with tears and screams and demands for instant comfort. The sleepless nights wore me down. The constant crying wore me down. Nursing helped hold me together – until his prolonged comfort nursing led to an oversupply and an overactive letdown that led to more frustration and discomfort for us both. Nothing was outside the realm of “normal,” but the sum total of things, plus my own hormonal instability, meant that it wasn’t a good situation.

I didn’t trust anyone else to care for Rondel as well as I could, or to love him as much, even my husband. If someone else was holding him I couldn’t let them out of my sight. But at the same time that I loved him so fiercely and completely, I worried with a deep, uncontrollable fear that I was a horrible mother, that he would be so much better off with someone else, that if I just left the picture somehow both he and my husband would be happier and better in the long run. Neither fear was rational; between the two of them, I felt hopeless and stuck.

I managed to hold life together until I unexpectedly fell pregnant again, around 7 months postpartum, and the changing hormones broke the hold of PPD on my mind and body. There are still things that bring back flashes of it: a rough night with the boys, maybe; the casual off-hand comment of a friend about how women’s bodies are designed to give birth so it shouldn’t be that difficult; a post about how well someone’s infant sleeps through the night thanks to some method or other. The insinuation that because labor was difficult for me, that because I needed an induction and a C-section I somehow was weak or a failure, triggers the old lie that I’m not a good enough mother; the assertion that some parenting technique can make your baby happy, relaxed, independent, and a good sleeper does the same thing. Because my body gave childbirth everything it had, and I gave motherhood everything I had, and we didn’t have the “expected” or “ideal” outcomes.

Now, 3.5 years later, with two more babies’ worth of experience, I know those things don’t define me or the “success” of my motherhood. But it’s a powerful lie.

Will I have PPD again, in this postpartum period or in some future one? I can’t say for certain. I didn’t with Limerick, and I’m still in the baby blues/transitional period with Aubade so it’s too early to know. It was one of my biggest fears through this pregnancy, though – because in the midst of it, asking for help seems almost more difficult than just enduring it, and the overwhelming sense of failure and shame is a pain so great I don’t even want to imagine having to go through it again. But this is the resolution I have made, for myself, for my family, for baby Aubade: that I will make rest and self-care a priority from the beginning to try to prevent it, and that if I feel things are not right within me, even if I can’t say I “know” I have PPD, I will ask for help.

Posted in family life, musings, Uncategorized

beauty in the little things

newborn baby giggles as little girl slips, milk-drunk, into sleep in my arms…

the smell of fresh bread, sweet and citrusy, to celebrate Epiphany…

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it got a bit lopsided but tasted delicious!

warm sun and a cool breeze and a couple hours at the park with my family…

little boys all crazy smiles running through the splash pad in the cold…
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warming up before heading back into the spray

sunlight on baby girl’s face, streaming through the window to the changing table, holding her spellbound for a good twenty minutes…

little boy hugs, head laid down on baby’s tummy, arms ever-so-gently tucked around her…

big boy love, wild and exuberant, caring and protective, running joyfully in each morning to say hi to the baby, showing her his toys, getting up at dinner to check on her…

tiny fingers capturing us all with their utter perfection…

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not forgetting that tiny perfect nose and mouth and chin of course! or the perfect chubby curve of that tiny cheek…

Postpartum is hard. But in with the hard times, there is so much beauty – beauty in the new life, beauty in the old familiar everyday that keeps on going on – and the beauty is what keeps me going on as the old and the new become one.