Last year I wrote here about my initial experience with the VA during my pregnancy with Austin. So many of you reached out and helped me make my voice heard online and the VA eventually heard me and decided to treat me throughout my pregnancy again. Dealing with their mental healthcare system hasn’t been easy since I gave birth a year ago. It’s been manageable, but it’s been a process that has challenged me significantly. Continue reading
Austin will be a year old on Wednesday. Half of me is consumed with relief, praising God I made it through his first year with my mental health (mostly) intact. My biggest fear as I approached his birth was that … Continue reading
I never planned on having children, so the fact that I have 3 almost feels like I’ve been punked by one of those “never say never” situations. I remember being 18 in the women’s underwear section of Target with my mother and sister, arguing with my mother that I didn’t “owe” her any grandchildren. I had absolutely nothing to do with the physical event that led to my conception; that was purely her choice and I was determined then that mine would be absolutely no biological children. I preferred adoption, if I decided to have children at all. The aspiring world changer in me, freshly graduated from high school, had her sights set on joining the Peace Corp and from there, who knew where life would take me. I wanted to be free as a bird, on the front lines of a cause, making my voice heard, putting my hands to work for others, advancing justice while rocking out to Prince. Children? Pfffft. Continue reading
Confession: My greatest fear is that I will lose my life to suicide. I don’t say that to be melodramatic, I simply state it as a fact. As a person living with bipolar disorder, it is a fear that silently … Continue reading
A few months ago, I wrote a letter to Miriam Carey, the mother who lost her life after a chase with police at our nation’s Capitol. After her death it was revealed that she suffered from some form of mental illness, possibly triggered by postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. In that letter I made her and her daughter a promise: that I would do better, do everything in my power to make it so that mothers like her, like myself, don’t suffer in silence, nor fall through the cracks of the healthcare system in our country. I promised her that I would continue to be a voice crying out for those in our communities to take our mental health seriously and to seek treatment-even if it felt like I was speaking in a silo, into the wind, and no one was listening. I promised I’d do better so her daughter wouldn’t be ashamed to seek mental health help if she ever needs it as she grows older.
I’ve been working very hard since then to live up to that promise, even if it just involves me being completely honest here about where I’m at mentally. I haven’t erased my YouTube videos, even though I haven’t updated it in months and regret that I haven’t seen that project through like I wanted. I do, however have other projects in the works that hopefully I will see through and that will help me carry out my promise to her in tangible, impactful ways.
I WILL be a change agent.
When I was thinking of writing this post-what I wanted to say about why I volunteer my time and resources to Postpartum Progress, and why I’m asking for your support, I thought of Miriam, my promise, and then I thought of myself.
I thought back to January 2011. I don’t remember the exact date but I remember it was nighttime, and I was sitting in the dark, crying as I sat in front of my laptop typing words into Google search. I had spent the previous hour sitting on my bathroom floor, envisioning my family coming in and finding me bleeding to death in the bathtub. I’d been having suicidal and intrusive thoughts for over a week, and was exhausted from the mental strain and impact of severe shifts and cycles in mood. I remember thinking about the people in my life who had told me that either nothing was wrong with me or that I was suffering because I wasn’t “living right.” No one could explain why I was feeling insanity dance within me, and no one understood because I could barely articulate what it was that was happening to me.
I remember feeling the exhaustion settling in deep within my bones, overtaking any resolve that remained. So there I was, Googling what I thought were my symptoms. The first link in the search results was Postpartum Progress. I spent the next 3 hours reading everything there: posts, comments, the “Plain Mama English” guides that outlined the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders. I remember crying as I read everything, realizing that I finally had an explanation for what I had been enduring since even before I gave birth to Alex. The rage…the sadness…the anxiety…the compulsions…the intrusive thoughts…the guilt…there it all was, laid out for me in black and white on the screen.
I emailed Katherine Stone, the founder. She emailed me back, encouraging me to seek help and telling me that no, I wasn’t crazy, and yes, I would get better, and there as hope for me. She directed me to the Postpartum Stress Center in PA where I eventually started treatment.
Hope and a lifeline. She and Postpartum Progress had given me both.
Postpartum depression and related illnesses like postpartum anxiety, ocd, and psychosis, are the most common complications of childbirth, impacting 1 in 7 women, and at a higher rate of 1 in 4 women in minority, lower-income, & impoverished communities every year. Suicide is among the leading causes of death among new mothers every year. (As I mentioned above, it nearly took MY life) With these kinds of grim stats in mind, Postpartum Progress has grown from just a blog, to a non-profit laser focused on improving the maternal mental health of women worldwide through a variety of programs.
For example, in the next 24 months, Postpartum Progress will be updating and expanding the blog including a Spanish language version, creating a video PSA, and starting the development of a mobile app that supports moms through PPD and related illnesses.
These are the kinds of initiatives that Climb Out of the Darkness is designed to help fund. Climb Out of the Darkness is THE first event of its kind: one designed to spread awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and help fund Postpartum Progress’ efforts to reach every mother, in every community, on every socioeconomic level.
I’m joining mothers all over the world-there are climbs in London, New Zealand, Canada, and South America-to raise money over the next 48 days that will help Postpartum Progress help every mother and their families have the strong start they deserve.
I did it last year to honor my experience and ascent out of the darkness I found myself in that night in 2011. This year, I’m leading a team of survivors here in Austin, and I’m doing it for Miriam. I’m doing it for the other women who have lost their lives in the last 12 months to suicide. I’m doing it for the mothers in communities that lack access to adequate mental health resources, for the mothers who have no insurance, who are at risk and don’t know there’s hope and help. For the mothers who are ignorant of the facts and range of their symptoms because their OB doesn’t have adequate information in their brochures on PPD. For the mothers who just think that PPD is nothing more than being sad and doesn’t understand why she has scary thoughts or full-blown rage she’s never in her life experienced up until this time in her life.
Some quick facts on PPD and related illnesses:
- PPD and related illnesses happen to ONE MILLION WOMEN in the US alone each year.
Only 15% of moms with PPD and related illnesses ever get professional help. That means there are more than a half a million mothers (in the US alone) each year who have not gotten any help.
The National Research Council reports that untreated PPD is associated with impaired mother-infant bonding and long-term negative effects on the child’s emotional behavior and cognitive skills, lasting into adolescence and adulthood. The Urban Institute says the biggest tragedy of this illness is that it is treatable and thus we could be preventing the damage it has on so many mothers and children.
The annual cost of lost income and productivity in the US of not treating mothers with depression is $4-5 billion.
Let’s not lose any more mothers to these very treatable illnesses. Let’s eradicate the shame associated with these illnesses that keep so many from seeking treatment. Would you consider a $10 or $20 donation this week? Team Austin’s goal is to first raise $500, and then stretch to $1k. We’re over 60% of the way to $500. Help us get there?
Thank you SO much for your support. Seriously. You’re helping us save lives. You’re helping us save the other Miriams & A’Driane’s out in this world.
To join a climb in your area, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/COTD2014
To donate to our team here in Austin, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/addyeB-COTD2014/fundraiser/addyeB
To read my latest post over at Postpartum Progress, go here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-anxiety-comes-back
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
I’ve been in a depressive episode for nearly 8 weeks. The decline has been gradual. There have been good days scattered throughout, but I’ve been edgy, tense, fatigued….my mind has been too loud some days, eerily silent during others. I’ve been crying off and on in my bathroom to hide my breaking from my kids…in my car as I drive from one errand to the next. I’ve had to shift to auto-pilot to just get through hard moments, root myself in detachment to keep from getting swallowed up by the stress. I’ve spent the last two weeks cycling rapidly between hypomania (marked mostly by agitation and a mind packed with too many thoughts), and a dragging depression that swallows me up and sends me into its belly for a few moments then spits me back out into the sun and air where I can breathe again. And then everything’s still and quiet…I feel “normal” and then the cycle repeats itself hourly, daily, weekly….and so it’s been for nearly 2 months now. Rinse. Settle. Repeat.
I’m still in that critical postpartum window. I just weaned nearly a month ago. My body and hormones are in flux and adjusting as a result. I hate it.
Stress is both motivating and crippling for me. I can handle 10 things going on all at once with ease. It’s once the 11th shows up demanding my attention that my mind starts to split and scatter off into darker corners. I think about my life these days and chide myself with all kinds of “should” statements for feeling and being overwhelmed by all I manage on a day-to-day basis: baby is teething & raging, middle child with special needs, oldest was just diagnosed with ADHD and his enthusiasm for school has waned significantly, trying to overhaul our home and parenting lifestyles to accommodate and support their needs (like increasing structure and making our home more sensory friendly), supporting my husband while he deals with stress at work. New therapy schedules, trips to the pediatrician, and comprehensive psychometric testing have dominated our lives over the past month. Up ahead there is more testing to be done, and meetings with the school district to discuss accommodations for Brennan and evaluations and placement for Alex who is gearing up for preK this fall…
It’s not all stressful. I’m involved in birthing great projects. I’m taking my mom’s advice on avoiding burnout by feeding my spirit so I don’t fall prey to losing myself, you know? I’ve joined writing & art communities online, I’m painting at 11pm, I’ve signed up for retreats and writing eCourses, done a couple of write-ins with groups, and I’ve done a juice cleanse to try to reset my body and mind. I’m re-reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown as well as books on painting, sensory processing disorder, creativity, and feminism. I’m trying to find my way here still, in this space as far as my writing is concerned. I’m trying to learn how to embody all the parts of myself that have come alive over the past few years-artist, writer, advocate-in the midst of the daily demands on my person and time as a mother and wife. I’m trying to bloom where I’m planted. At 31, it’s still a stumbling process though.
I’m searching for my flow amidst the rhythms, rocking and swaying as the ebb and flow of my life’s current carries me throughout my days. But the stress of everything gets triggering and I find myself cycling with the ebb and flow as a result sometimes. That’s when my knees buckle and my head spins. My chest constricts and my brain starts to feel like it’s suffocating. My grip gets weak. Fatigue sets in and my steps forward get heavy. Taking care of myself gets harder, and usually becomes the last checked off item on my must do list-if it’s checked off at all. I end each day feeling as though I have no safe place to come up for air and just process my thoughts, fears, and anxiety…I end most days feeling unsettled and bottled up, stuffed to capacity and as I close my eyes to sleep I’ve found myself starting to pray like Jabez, asking God or whoever is listening for an increase in capacity…in ability…in might…
My hair is pink again with some blue added for extra fun. My hair and color are always my first lines of defense against the disorder of my brain chemistry and mood.
I visited my psychiatrist last week at the VA. This is another area that I can’t seem to find solid footing. We’ve lived here for nearly two years and I’m on my 3rd psychiatrist. Obtaining talk therapy has been a fail. The appointment scheduling system here is confusing and useless to me because I have very little say in what days and times fit into my schedule that’s already inundated with the kid’s school and therapies. I’ve had to fight to get treated, and I’m constantly having to say “but if you read this and go here, research and experts agree that….”. I feel lost in a system that I’m constantly told is for me to use and that I should trust. But the bureaucracy I face with nearly every interaction chips away at that trust. I have no confidence in my mental health care these days, in the professionals assigned to my care. And yet, at my appointment last week, I sat in front of her desk and allowed myself to become undone. Completely and unapologetically. I unloaded nearly 24 months of thoughts and stress right there in her office in 20 minutes while my smiling baby squirmed and cooed in my arms. She listened to every word. Asked some questions that dug a little deeper. Apologized for all the trouble with the system I’ve had and for not really hearing me 6 weeks ago when I told her my anxiety was becoming a problem. She admitted that lack of knowledge about medications while breastfeeding restricted her ability to really give me what I was needing. We decided now that I’m no longer pregnant and breastfeeding we could get more aggressive with my meds again-go back to finding a more therapeutic dose. So over the next two months I’ll be doing that-going up on lamictal and prozac and trying out an additional med for anxiety. I started the increase yesterday. I’m hoping by the end of the week my brain and mood will start to grab ahold and adjust accordingly.
I’ve struggled today to pick everything back up and keep walking. To push past and through. To square my shoulders and lift my chin. To turn a deaf ear to the tape playing in my head that has all kinds of lies and frenzied talk on a loop.
But I’m doing it-picking up and pushing. I’m moving forward. Slowly. The sun is shining outside despite the cold front that’s moved through. I’m working my way out into the sun, breathing in deep as I go.
Every mother. Every time.
A pregnant mother of three drove her minivan into the ocean at Daytona Beach yesterday. She was reportedly incoherent when questioned by police and is undergoing a mental health evaluation at a local hospital. She is believed to be suffering from psychosis.
Every mother. Every time.
A mother in Chicago is being held on $1 million dollar bail today after she tried to kill herself and her 8 month old son by causing head on collisions with other vehicles, not once, but twice.
Every mother. Every time.
Out of ignorance I used to judge mothers who committed such acts. But during my second pregnancy, I started experiencing symptoms of antenatal depression and had fleeting thoughts of suicide. After I gave birth, I spent the first year of my son’s life crippled with anxiety, despair, and found myself planning suicide 2 months before his first birthday. I wanted to be free of what my mind had fallen prey to. I wanted relief from the intense mood swings, frenzied OCD, and graphic intrusive thoughts that flashed in my mind unwarranted and unwelcomed. (Full disclosure: Driving my car into a body of water or into oncoming traffic? I’ve had those thoughts. Learn more about intrusive thoughts here)
Thankfully I found hope and help after a google search led me to Postpartum Progress, and I read about the full scope of perinatal mood disorders and their symptoms in “plain mama English.” I sought and began treatment; my diagnosis eventually changed to rapid cycling bipolar 2, OCD, and anxiety, and when it did, I began a medication regiment that included a mood stabilizer instead of just an antidepressant.
I don’t judge anymore. Instead I recognize and question if these mothers recieved adequate help and support. I wonder if they felt safe enough to reveal their struggles or if the stigma surrounding mental illness in motherhood choked them into silent suffering. I wonder if their obstectricians were taking them seriously if they disclosed struggling with the mood swings hormone fluctuations during and after pregnancy trigger. I wonder if their obsetricians and children’s pediatricians screened them for depression and anxiety during pregnancy and beyond the 6 week postpartum check up. I wonder if they were told that depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy can manifest as rage, obsessive thought patterns and behaviors, and if they were made aware of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis, and told what to do if they began to hear voices or have delusions. I wonder if anyone told them that having an intrusive thought doesn’t make them a bad mother, and doesn’t mean they will harm themselves or their child.
I wonder what it will take for the medical community and our society to take maternal mental health seriously. I wonder when we’ll give just as much care to women’s minds as we do their bodies during and after pregnancy. I wonder how many more women and their children have to die because we aren’t making a mother’s mental health our priority when we care for and treat them.
Every mother. Every time.
What will it take for every obsetrician, every pediatrician, every insurance company to screen mother’s during pregnancy and their infant’s first year? Suicide is THE leading cause of death among women in their first year after childbirth, yet we stop screening for PPD, PPA, and postpartum psychosis after 6 weeks-if we screen at all. At least 50% of the 1 in 7 women who suffer from a PMAD go untreated, whether it’s due to lack of screening, or access to support and mental healthcare.
What will it take to screen and care for every mother, every time? What will it take to offer our mothers and their babies treatment and hope?
There is hope. Women don’t have to listen to the siren call of despair. Treatment makes recovery possible. We don’t have to leave women to suffer silently on their own, trapped in their minds, unable to free themselves. But too often, we do. Women are being missed and overlooked.
Every mother. Every time. We must screen. We must be louder than stigma’s voice. We must enoucrage our mothers to seek treatment.
If you believe universal mental health screening for pregnant and new mothers should be mandatory, please consider signing this White House petition. If you or someone you know is currently suffering, please know you are not alone. You are not a bad mother. There is hope and there is help. You can find information and resources at Postpartum Progress, and you can find a community of support on Twitter through the #PPDChat hashtag, and Postpartum Progress’ private support forum.
To read some more about my experience with PPD & Bipolar Disorder during pregnancy, you can type “ppd” in the search box here to find some older posts, and you can read guest posts I’ve written here and here.
I’m approaching week 38. Still contracting. Still not progressing much. As of Wednesday, after 15hrs of contractions? 1 1/2 cm and 50%. I startled my OB with my exclamation of “FUCK!” as he finished my cervical exam.
Distraction has been my focus-anything to take my mind off my body, and keep edginess away. Last night’s distraction wwas season 2 of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. This morning’s was scrubbing the grout between the tiles in kitchen til they were white. I found the rhythmic motion and sound of the scrubbing brush and soapy floor sparkling in the sunlight from the kitchen windows soothing as I went about it.
Bertski came back from the run I practically pushed him out the door to take, and we took the boys for a bike riding lesson on their newly acquired bikes at the middle school track down the street. They rode, they ran, I sat and soaked in the sun before making way around the track as Busta Rhymes & Talib Kweli blared through my headphones.
Just now, while laying here listening to my family snore the afternoon away, confessed these words via text to a dear friend who’s worried about how quiet I’ve been lately:
“I keep telling myself once I have the baby I’ll feel sane again. And not this anxious desperate person with thoughts that are too loud & too fast and who wants out of her body. I think that’s half the reason why I want to have him already. I haven’t felt like myself much of this pregnancy and that unnerves me. “
I know it’s normal for women to feel like they’re going mad with the waiting and anticipation of baby’s arrival and from the physical strain of the final weeks. I do. But I don’t like it. It’s unsettling. My mind can’t take it, it’s not wired to handle such things very well without help. (Meds, YAY!) I’m also an impatient person by nature and while my pain threshold is relatively high, being in pain and under physical stress daily is triggering for me mentally & emotionally.
I just want it to be over and have him in my arms and my own physical space back. I want my hormones adjusted, my mind off the hamster wheel and fully engaged with living and learning as a mother of three. I want newborn snuggles and laughter and to not be consumed with the obsessive, compelling need to have everything in its “right” place internally and externally, from my house to the cluttered corners of my mind. I want to feel like myself more often and be consumed with the goodness that’s taking up residence in life as the year prepares to close. I want to be present, not lost traipsing the corridors of my mind waiting for them to empty so I can breathe freely again.
I want to run. Not away to escape, but toward. To freedom. To the woman waiting for me on the other side of this. She’s fully enjoying the season that’s ahead and I’m desperate to join her.
But it I have to wait and somehow make patience my virtue until it’s time.
My body shakes with the hope that it’s soon. Very soon.
Today I’m 36 weeks pregnant.
I’ve been contracting with minimal relief since the end of week 29. After my second trip to labor and delivery I was basically told my uterus is irritable and my cervix is soft but stubborn-it’s like one of those broken garage doors that only opens an inch or so off the ground and then gets stuck.
Back at the beginning of my third trimester, this was a good thing-necessary as neither my OB nor myself wanted to see my baby boy in the NICU or worse, not make it. So I was given magnesium, a couple of steroid shots, and a host of other meds that didn’t work in an attempt to keep everything at a standstill. My cervix didn’t open any further, but the contractions refused to leave. So I’ve been living with them, each one eating away at my sanity like a zombie feasts on brains & flesh.
As I mentioned previously, I went in to see my OB last Monday after a weekend of particularly brutal contractions that were practically on top of each other. That’s when he gave me the “hang in there old sport” pep talk, checked my cervix and told me it had changed just a tiny bit, warned me that much like my labor with Alex, this one is starting off at a snail’s pace, and told me he wouldn’t try to make it go any faster until at least week 37. He also told me it would be a good idea to at least start doing some walking to help get things “ready.”
So I’ve been walking every day, and honestly resisting the urge to sprint down the street in spite of my symphysis pubis being as wide as the Grand Canyon at this point. I pretty much try to waddle-walk as fast as I can without splitting my pelvis in half. So far thanks to my SI belt, I’ve remained intact, and while walking has helped baby boy drop it low (very low), he hasn’t fallen out on the street yet, so we’re good.
I would, however like him to fall-er come out within the next two weeks though. I started labor with Alex at 36 weeks and had him at 37. I normally would be all “oh let’s just have Nature take its sweet ass time,” but when you’ve been contracting for over a month while keeping up with two other children and running a household, AND experiencing early labor symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and losing weight for the past two weeks? You start thinking of how you can get Nature to get her ass in gear and end her tyrannous reign over your body.
Even if you’ve had one of those disgustingly goddess-like pregnancies where unicorns met you every morning and you glided everywhere you went in your pre-pregnancy skinny jeans held together by a single rubber band, weeks 36 & 37 are the weeks women start googling “how to get this f—–ing human out of me on time.” That will lead you to the seedy underworld of pregnancy message boards where you find women desperately seeking not Susan, but ways to (safely) help the body get a move on.
Yes, I’ll admit it: I’ve read all the boards. Repeatedly. I’ve asked friends who’ve studied midwifery for tips. I’ve asked my OB’s nurse for suggestions. (Evening primrose oil, in case you’re wondering). I spent all last week trying to tone my uterus via raspberry tea leaf like I’m training it to swim against Michael Phelps in the next Olympics. And again-I’ve been waddle-walking.
One thing that’s struck me though when I’ve read these boards and asked folks for suggestions is that there’s an obvious method that no one is mentioning. It wasn’t until my friend Lindsay jokingly mentioned that I should just twerk it that it hit me: DANCE.
No one on any of these boards has mentioned dance as a way to get dilated & softened. Sure you could spend your time being all namaste in a squatted yoga pose till the pressure built up on your cervix causes a blowout, OR you could just throw on some “Pop, Lock & Drop It,” by Huey. At least the asinine lyrics will distract you from how uncomfortable and claustrophobic in your own body you feel.
So, I’m here at week 36, telling you that maybe instead of giving yourself the runs and worse via castor oil, destroying your mouth eating legions of pineapple, and having sex when the LAST thing you want at this point is to be touched by the one who DOESN’T have to get up every 2 hours to go the bathroom-try busting a move. Put on some music and pop those hips. Twerk it. Shake it. Drop it like you’re 23 and in the club.
I just did. I did at one point drop it low and stay on my living room rug, but hey, I’m 9 months pregnant, that’s to be expected. I didn’t say doing any of this would look pretty-I’m just saying it might prove effective and will probably be MUCH more fun than chugging some nasty drink concoction or just sitting in misery.
If you’re looking for songs to pop, hop, drop, & shimmy it to, I’ll help you out and give you my playlist. You’re welcome.
- Anything by Missy Elliot. Seriously-ANYTHING.
- Shake it Out by Florence + The Machine (for the hippie in you)
- Show Me What You Got-Jay Z
- Bring Em Out-T.I.
- Hips Don’t Lie-Shakira (c’mon, it’s obvious why)
- Party Rock-LMFAO
- Runaway Baby-Bruno Mars
- Locked out of Heaven-Bruno Mars (I suggest grabbing a hairbrush and just belting this out)
- You Make Me Feel-Cobra Starship (remember-23…in the club…don’t GAF about NOTHING-let loose)
- Anything by the Black Eyed Peas. Begin with “Let’s Get it Started”, perhaps?
- Jump Around-House of Pain (I can’t jump, but I waddled and bobbed)
- Square Biz-Teena Marie. (6:40 of absolute funk & soul to lose yourself in. Spin, twirl, snap fingers)
- Get Up-Ciara
If you’re feeling particularly fearless and REALLY want to get into it, I suggest heading to YouTube and finding some Unk (“Walk it Out), Ester Dean (“Drop it Low), and another “Drop it Low,” by Kat Deluna. Song is annoying but the moves might help things shift around down below.
I’m off to go get checked. Hopefully Operation Get Dilated is in full effect. I’ll let you know :)
*By the way, I’m not a doctor. So talk to yours about what’s safe for you to do and get clearance before you wind up having to search YouTube for ways to do an emergency home birth. Don’t sue me. Thanks.*
I woke up at 5:24 this morning and stumble-waddled my way through the dark for yet another trip to the bathroom.
I sat there, on the throne, looking at myself in the bathroom mirror through vision hazy from sleep, and whispered out loud, “It’s almost over.”
As soon as the words left my lips and drifted off into space, a mix of varied emotions weaved their way up from my toes to my belly where my hands were interlaced. My fingers tensed as each emotion swept through and around me, each one squeezing tightly and then releasing me much like the contractions I’ve been having the past six weeks.
So many contractions. 2 trips to L&D. Body pumped full of medications to stop them but they’ve refused to surrender. They are tenacious and stubborn, insistent on being present. Stronger and more frequent than Braxton Hicks, but not productive enough to fully initiate labor. They last for hours, pulsing and squeezing, tightening and releasing me sometimes one to two minutes apart, at others three to five, and at their slowest every twenty to thirty. They are overwhelming and tiring at their most frequent intervals and annoying at their slowest.
They are altogether frustrating, and their constant presence since week thirty have taken a toll on my psyche. At times they are all I can think about, my nerves on edge, trying to decide if I should call the nurse line and go in or just ride them out. Confusion and doubt often set in, intermingling with the pain, setting my OCD senses tingling and on high alert. My thoughts often ruminate during the more intense rounds and I often can’t tell if I’m losing my mind, responding mentally and emotionally as any pregnant woman in my situation would, or just being melodramatic & hormonal.
The past two weeks they’ve been accompanied by nausea, cramps, back aches, loose bowels, loss of appetite and a drop in weight-all of your textbook signs of your body preparing for birth & early labor. “Your labor will most likely be very slow in the beginning, much like your last,” said my OB last week. “Which we want, because we want to keep him in just another week or two longer. Your cervix is stubborn, which we need it to be right now. Hang in there. Let’s see what happens-hopefully next week we’ll start to see some big changes!”
So here I am, sitting on the toilet at 5:24am, at 35 weeks and 7 days, staring at the start of week 36 with an aching back and pulsing thighs…nauseated….exhausted yet mind abuzz with energy….body contracting physically and emotionally….forcing myself to whisper words to counteract the anxiety that has separated itself from the emotions pulsing around my belly and wound its way up to my chest, squeezing my heart until it feels as though it will burst from the constriction.
“It’s almost over.”
“Hang in there.”
“Pregnancy is a shitty and invasive force of Nature that always biologically beats my body into submission, but it’s worth the end result.”
The end result being my third child, another boy.
After the anxiety passes my interlaced fingers tighten their hold on my belly and I feel the other emotions that remain creating a sense of heat around my womb, both inside and out.
Yes it’s almost over and there is excitement. There is anticipation. There is a desire for joy to meet me at the end when I peer into his eyes and behold the mystery behind them for the first time; the first glimpse into him, this tiny stranger, an extended combination of my husband and I that has been growing and squirming restlessly within me for nine months. There is hope. There is an eagerness to begin this new season of my life as a mother to him and his brothers, a mother of three. There is a shout wanting to shoot it’s way from my soul and burst forth from my lips in exaltation at what a year it’s been for me, for my husband, for the boys individually, and for our family as a whole. This child, this boy, is the culmination of the new life we set out to build for ourselves back in April of 2012; when my husband and I sat in an IHOP in Philly, allowing restoration to heal our broken relationship. He is the embodiment of our new life as a whole unit, and the cairn directing our steps towards yet another new way forward for our family.
I’ve had each of my children during life altering transitions and significant periods of growth in my life, and timing of this child’s birth will be no different. What he embodies and signifies in my life at this moment are special to me, just like his brothers. Brennan healed my heart from my past, he is my empathy, my reincarnated self given another chance at a peaceful and full childhood, he showed me that I was good, and clean, and capable at motherhood and life. Alex is the one who challenged me in new and painful ways that were unexpected but oh so necessary. His entrance into my life dug itself deep into my core and unearthed in me things I had yet to see, and shone a harsh light on what I need to face and finally deal with. He shifted me as a woman, a mother, a believer…with him I was forced to throw all I thought I knew and carve out a new way of living and thinking. Alex taught me how to take care of myself and make my well-being a priority-a first for me. Alex pushed me out of the stagnant, boxed up life I had been living and out into a world I hadn’t let myself explore. He pushed me up and out of the rubble of the past 29 years and into wholeness-into my real self. I am the woman I am right at this very moment because I gave birth to him.
And here I am with this one. I know what he means to me personally, as a mother, and our life as a family in one sense…but he remains a complete mystery to me in another, which I find exciting and my being twinges with eagerness to learn and explore the world through his eyes as I have through his brothers.
And yet there is also fear of what’s to follow once we make our way back out through the hospital doors, and back to our home where the adjustment and shift of our family dynamic will begin to take shape; permanently rooting itself in our lives, our family.
Will I relapse? Will I catch it before it sucks me in? What if I can’t get appointments or calls in to my therapist and psychiatrist because of how slow and overbooked the VA appointment system is? How will I handle the hard and the overwhelming task of meeting the needs of three children, who are all at very different stages and seasons of life? My husband being unavailable due to work obligations? Fluctuating hormones and fatigue?
And the boys: how will Alex adjust to the change and new presence, both as a three year old, and as a child who struggles with change and disruption of routine on the sensory level? Will his ABA based preschool be enough of an outlet for him? How will Brennan feel, as the oldest? So much of the focus has been on Alex and his therapies these past months, I often wonder if I’ve given him enough attention, and now with a newborn….
There is fear…despite all of the knowledge, support, and awareness I have, despite knowing that I’m at a much different place in life than I was when Alex was born and suffered through that first year…there is a lurking fear that sits and stares me directly in the eyes, making me all the more aware of the reality of my illness and how stress, change, and motherhood trigger it.
So I am here at 5:24 in the early dark of morning, with foggy eyes squinting through the bright bathroom lights at my pregnant self, fingers tightly interlaced across my belly. Body and mind are engulfed in emotions that jar against each other, breathing deeply and staring back at what has been, and into what lies ahead. Feeling new life roll and jab in a space that is becoming too cramped and ready to be birthed. Ready but yet not ready. Craving for it to be over, yet continue on because what’s on the other side is still dark and unseen in a few areas. On the brink yet still stuck in the space and feelings between old and new. Waiting.