Gloaming

I love that there is a line of light on the horizon,

a gleam just beyond

A glow of grey at the billowing edge of green,

the globes atop tree branches

It is dark in the corners –

But there, far away, it is bright.

For All Mothers

Three years ago, Kelly Kittel began her journey of book tours and signings, publicity and PR for her newly published memoir, Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict.  I’d journeyed with her, on parallel paths, in a shared writing group for months before.  Kelly has journeyed today to Washington, D.C. to advocate for appropriate allocation of funding for maternal health programs.

In December 2016, the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Dark Act of 2015 was signed into law.  Today and tomorrow scores of women visit the Capitol to discuss how to enact programs highlighted by the legislation.  It’s wonderful to see my news feeds filled with faces I’ve met in my maternal health circles, gathering together at the core of our country, for the health of mothers.

Kelly and I have had different journeys in motherhood.  She will be speaking to bereavement and infant loss.  She is speaking from her own personal experience.  My personal experience is with postpartum depression.  I was honored and touched that she asked me to give her my take on the care I’d received postpartum and what it may have lacked; to bring a firsthand account of what mothers in Rhode Island might need to recover and thrive despite postpartum depression.

To be a mother is to know the utmost joy and deepest despair.  While our manner of grief might differ, we all embody the emotion.  I thank Kelly Kittel for taking hers, and mine, on her latest journey.


More info on this initiative:

http://mmhcoalition.com/advocacy-days/

http://mmhcoalition.com/impact/

String Theory

The baby is screaming.

She fell asleep during her bedtime feeding, exhausted from the non-nap she took, but woke as I dressed her in pajamas. Two of her sisters came to her crib-side to stem the tide of tears, only prolonging the cry-it-out of which she is desperately in need.

My husband has finally comforted her and there is silence. I’m not sure it will last once she leaves his arms.

I’m sitting in the living room in the dark. In a singular armchair in the corner because it’s the farthest away from couch command central I spend those hours of nursing/napping with the baby during the day.

I screamed when I saw the previously smooth comforter on my bed had been rumpled like the ridges of wet sand left by a receding wave. I swore when I saw that said rumpling slid most of the clean load of laundry I’d dumped on the bed for folding onto the floor.   I flung dirty, yet previously sorted, clothes back into their piles from where they’d been strewn across the hallway. I didn’t even know what to do when I found one of my few personal care products had been removed from the basket on my dresser and moved to the baby’s.

It’s all a violation. After a long day of doing everything for everyone, to have even one little bit of it undone is a slap in the face. Or a turning of a screw tightening my already taut strings into a discordant twang.

Especially in my room.

Do not take what little I have for myself. What little sanctuary I have.

That being said, if the sight of one misplaced purple hair care bottle disturbs me so, I think it’s safe to say I need a break.

It’s time to scale back. Sit apart. Self care.

However, I realized earlier today that, except for two, all of our weekends throughout the entire summer are booked. Summer hasn’t even started yet! A good number of those are family time and travel, which is, of course, good. But it’s a major weight on my ever-forward-looking and always-cognizant-of-what-needs-to-be-done mind.

It’s also a reminder that a place where I’ve fallen short is discriminately choosing what absolutely adds to the quality of our lives and what would just be nice if we had time; that I need to clearly and effectively communicate my desires and capabilities – for what works for me and us, not others.

Because I’m obviously feeling stretched to the limit tonight and stuff like this shouldn’t make me break.

guitar_neck_and_strings_by_mikithemaus-d3ima5n

Simply See

Home again, and Jane and I are going walkabout.  I have her rigged on my shoulders in the backpack.  Distributed throughout the aluminum frame and snugged straps, her weight dissipates to nothing.  After all, she weighs little more than a good-sized chicken.  As we step into the yard, I twist my neck to get a look at her face and find her looking out over the valley below.  Her eyes are wide and steady beneath the brim of her floppy cap.  How far out of infancy do we lose this gaze, with its utter absence of expectation or prejudice?  What is it like to simply see what is before you, without the skew of context?

from Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

Aspect Ratio

I can put myself in the labor bed for the birth of my third child.  I can see the scene unfold.  I can hear the conversations with my midwife.  I remember how, even at the height of contractions with delivery imminent, I still hadn’t come to grips with the fact that I was pregnant.

I remember thinking, but wait, I’m not ready.  I haven’t reconciled this with myself yet, with the universe.

The universe didn’t care.  Nature didn’t care.  My body and the baby didn’t care.  It was time – whether I was ready or not.

I think on a cellular level I knew that pushing out that child without owning the pregnancy would only lead to trouble.  The basest parts of the body do not lie.

I grew that baby with the utmost care.  Once she was this side of the womb, I was only attentive.

But my soul was squeezed by internal pressures; my own mind that couldn’t accept this path only because I hadn’t carved it.

And so, I was amazed by the wonder that accompanied an unplanned fourth pregnancy.  Simply bowled over by the joy that flooded me when they placed her on my breast.  While I had been afraid to plunge into the depth of my love for my third, for fear that someone would take her from me, it just happened with my fourth.

And yet, because any footprints make deep imprints on the psyche, a year later now, I look at my pregnant self and cannot believe that is me.  Was that my life?  Was that a mere year ago?  How can I reconcile that exhausted, frumpy, wallowing-in-her-own-skin IMG_20160430_150358162person with who I am just a year later?  I hate that I look so miserable when pregnant.  Because of my problems in the past, I look at any such photo and second-guess myself.  Was I feeling that same way then?  Struggling the same?  So paranoid, scared, to fall into that trough – even on a timeline that has already elapsed – I doubt what’s right in front of me.

My grey matter muscle memory worries that if I have a hard time measuring this last year of my newborn’s life, that I look at this picture of me a mere year ago and see an alternate reality – am I not in just as much denial this time as the last?  If I am still getting used to the idea of having a baby and she’s turning the corner to one year-old, doesn’t that mean I am putting up some of those same walls?

NO.

Will I forever be haunted by the dark feelings and stilted growth of my postpartum depression?  Yes.  Will it make me paranoid and second-guess myself?  Right now anyway.  Is it possible to have mind and heart blown during any childbearing and rearing experience – ‘normal’ or otherwise?  Yes.

It’s so easy to let past experiences form new fears and worries.  Just like losing it with the older kids or having a low day makes me worry I’m having a relapse.  Knowing the signs and how to help ourselves is key; expecting perfection and punishing ourselves is crap.

So maybe I’ll just look at those pregnant photos of me and say, no wonder I look like rough; growing a kid is rough work.  Maybe I’ll just seal them in her baby book and never look at them again.  I certainly need to stop looking at them trying to find signs of trouble.

Notice, though, that I haven’t even begun to look at the newborn photos for this go-round.

On This Day

11 months, 2 weeks ago, I was trudging through the day-to-day like an elephant on two legs in an animated film.  I was full with pregnancy, with baby, aches and pains, in bladder, daily chaos, and exhaustion.  I was in some sort of suspended stasis; neither did I want to be pregnant any longer nor did I want the onslaught of labor and care of a newborn.

Thanks to the equally annoying, nostalgic, and awe-inspiring features of technological devices and their applications, I can see last week, this week, today in tidy little boxes of unasked-for updates.  That me has tired eyes, a wan smile, the ruddy mask of pregnancy fingering its way across my face.  Except for the dropped weight, that me hasn’t changed much in the last near year.

And yet, looking at that me, it seems like another life.

Looking at this other life in my arms, I feel like she’s just arrived and yet, that other, older me in the photos is saying she’s been here for eons.

For the growing she’s done, I’ve done.  For the countless hours of lost sleep, the endless ribbon of days and nights spooled out and folded in and around each other.

It’s time to celebrate her first year of life, but she still feels brand new to me.  How has this time elapsed without my say so?  For all the holding and staring and loving, I couldn’t hold her trapped in time with my gaze.

But if I stay focused on her in this day, all the others, past and present, will fall away.

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday

M’aider: help me

repeated three times in a row

internationally recognized distress call

Next 31 days – third May I’ve tackled mental health issues for a month straight

It is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, the beginning of a month dedicated to opening dialogue and resources to all women in the perinatal realm; that is, attempting to conceive, prenatal, postpartum, and living the dream.  There are air quotes around that last phrase there – because sometimes mothering can be a nightmare – for too many reasons to list here, but May is a month dedicated to the mental health of mothers, be their struggles situational, emotional, or physical.

As maternal mental health is an issue close to my heart – and psyche – I endeavor to share my own experiences throughout this month and explore others’ and share information.  The fact that I haven’t made it each May since the inception of this blog is an illustrative example of my life and the raison d’etre of the blog itself.

While I was blogging in 2012, I’d only just started my fifth month.  And while I’d signed my name in ink and blood on its byline, I don’t know that I was fully in mind of where my daily life and mental health intersected.  By 2013, I felt comfortable enough in the platform to tackle a month-long series to raise mental health awareness and work to eradicate stigma.  Even then, I still saw the month as other; a separate function of my blog.  I showcased the fabulous Blog for Mental Health Project, but hadn’t taken the pledge myself, feeling unworthy since my blog wasn’t dedicated solely to discussion of mental illness and health.  By 2014, I was ready to laser my focus on not only mental illness, but the flavor that burned the back of my tongue after the birth of my third, inciting this whole process: maternal mental health.  Ironically, this laser focus blew everything wide open.  I began to realize that my blog was always focused on mental health even if I wasn’t discussing DSM or sharing the latest research; because mental health, whether an individual accepts it or not, affects every. aspect. of. one’s. life.  

And then, 2015, I didn’t log daily posts during May.  Perhaps I was burned out by the idea of daily posts with my three minions around.  Maybe I felt I’d saturated my serial idea.   I know I wasn’t naive enough to think I’d covered it all.  Maybe I was naive enough to think my life had hit critical mass and I didn’t have the time.

Because in May of 2016, irony of all ironies, I gave birth to my fourth child.  Another surprise.  Another girl.  But a new beginning with no mental health issues – other than the low-grade ones I’d been dealing with for the previous seven years.  Needless to say, a month-long daily series did not occur with a newborn.

Enter 2017.  I’m going to try to climb back on the horse, though it may look more like the dark ride of the ring wraith than the victorious march of the Mother of Dragons.

I’m not promising anything – except my ever-continuing support of all those struggling with mental health issues.

Some Similar Sunday

Just when you think you’re trudging this road of life and parenting alone, you come across a gem like this.  I’m brought back to the Sunday evenings of my childhood, where we ate not popcorn, but scrambled eggs or a solitary bowl of cereal.  I’m mise-en-placed to any meal with my own children where we rush to throw a paper towel on the spilled pool of milk before it cascades down the cracks between the leaves of the table.  And I’m gleefully reminded how this all must be done with laughter.

It must have been a sight: eight to twelve of us packed around the dinner table, heads bowed over books splayed flat (somewhere a librarian cringes), the pages held open with one hand while the other dipped in and out of the corn, back and forth from bowl to mouth, the rhythm interrupted only when someone refilled a bowl or took a pull at their Kool-Aid.  When your eyes are fixed on text, you tend to fish around with your free hand, and nearly every week someone upended their Kool-Aid.  The minute the glass hit, Dad jumped up to make a dam with his hands in an attempt to keep the spill from leaking through the low spot in the table where the leaves met.  For her part, Mom grabbed a spoon and scraped madly at the spreading slick, ladling the juice back in the glass one flat teaspoon at a time so it could be drunk.  The same thing happened if someone spilled their milk.  Sometimes when I wonder how my parents managed financially, I think of Mom going after those spoonfuls of Kool-Aid like an environmentalist trailing the Exxon Valdez with a soup ladle, and there’s your answer.

from Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

Skin Deep

A bloody gouge across my ring finger
coagulated and dark by the end of the fray

Tiny teeth marks amidst pink raised skin
Ragged red streaks where fingernails have strayed

The physical signs of one morning of motherhood

These are nothing of the mental anguish,
the emotional toll
the trials and tribulations
of getting out of bed and out the door

Today there are scars to show
for all the toil
Outward reminders
of what is always underneath

Grocery Delivery: Soup to Nuts

I stood in the bread aisle of the regional chain grocery store and my head spun.  White bread.  I just needed a loaf of white bread.  One somewhere left of high fructose and right of nutty wonder so my kids would eat it.  The options stretched away from me ad infinitum and I felt myself being pulled down a slippery chute lined with smooth plastic bags striped in red and yellow.  The baby stared up at me from the cart.  I knew my window of her compliance wouldn’t last forever.  Nor would my will to survive.  Yet I was struck inert.  I didn’t want to be here anymore, in this bright, overwhelming environment; neither did I have the energy to reduce this bread conundrum down to digestible size.

And this was a quick trip to the grocery store.

I’ve written before about well-meaning old ladies at the grocery store; running people down in those infernal race car carriages – grocery store annoyance has been done.  One would think an overabundance of choices and the money to buy them, within reason, would be a fabulous experience.  But buying groceries is an emotional burden.

When my third baby was still a baby, maybe before I even realized I had postpartum depression and really needed it, I started ordering groceries through a delivery service.  It may have had something to do with my physical limitations following her birth, but it saved me mental anguish as well.  Have you ever taken three children to the grocery store?  Even if you haven’t, just stop a moment and imagine.

The log-in to my account was serenity.

Having a chipper delivery person walk bags of groceries right through my kitchen door while the children ran and hid in the other room?  Priceless.  Hell, I’d even take a cranky delivery person.  I remember ordering a sippy cup for my toddler for delivery in those early days.  Order a non-grocery item from the grocery store?  At that exorbitant price?  Oh, you’ll bring it to my door?  Okay!

Those days, it was all about survival.  When the older two went off to school and the baby was more manageable, I ventured back into the arena, but pregnancy and infancy number four retired me once again.  And this is the baby in the cart now.

For an anxious person with too much on her plate, walking through a mine field of choices is almost too much.  Locating ingredients for a recipe, weighing options within ingredients, prices, health concerns.  Now multiply that by five other family members.  Multiply that by three meals a day, seven days a week.  Compound that with the dread of having to come back for forgotten ingredients.  Stick a baby in the cart.  Or three free-range children with sticky fingers, no concept of economics, and food ideas of their own.

There are downsides to delivery as well.

Delivery fees, of course.  However, new customers get coupons for free or reduced delivery for several months.  There is also a flat fee for delivery for a year, which is a tough pill to swallow initially, but actually more cost effective overall.

That obsessive behavior in aisle two?  Must be done at home, on-line and in a flurry of cookbook pages.  Thought of each meal must be made by midnight on Tuesday night so your family can eat for the next week.  And if you forget something – you might have to go to the store in person anyway!  GASP!

There are some ingredients you just can’t get.  When my husband started moving toward a plant-based diet, I couldn’t get nutritional yeast from the site I use.  Guess that doesn’t fly off the warehouse shelves in these parts.  But that could happen in any brick and mortar, too.

Overall, grocery delivery saves a piece of my sanity that might otherwise shear off and shatter on the floor of the bread aisle.  And to me, the price of delivery is worth all the serenity it buys.

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