Apology to my first son

Awhile ago, I saw a HuffPo piece called “An Apology Letter to My Second Child.” My second child was about a month old, so I was like, ok, I’ll bite. It was one of those funny/cutesy posts where the writer apologizes for all the awful things that happened (brother peed on you, didn’t do your baby book, etc.) but then declares she won’t apologize for loving you less. Slightly Hallmark cliche, but sweet nonetheless. It got me thinking, though…

…and I need to apologize to my first son. So, here goes:

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Colt, 6 weeks

I’m sorry I don’t remember much about your first few months.
Jack will do something adorable, like “shout” at us or make a funny face. I’ll remark, “I don’t remember Colt doing that; did he do that?” And my husband will inevitably reply, “Yes,” with only a hint of an exasperated sigh. I was in such a fog of exhaustion and untreated postpartum depression that I honestly don’t remember most details of his first 3 months. I took a crap ton of photos, so it’s not like it’s a complete blank. But those random moments of looking into his eyes, smiling at his coos, nuzzling my nose into his hair and breathing in his wonderful baby smell? No memory. Makes my heart ache a little.

I’m sorry I was afraid.
I was afraid to bedshare, because I was certain I’d kill him. I was afraid to babywear, because I read one random story about a baby suffocating in a Moby wrap. I was actually afraid to be alone with him at times, because I didn’t know what to do with him! I wish I’d educated myself more. Bedsharing has been a lifesaver with Jack; I get so much more sleep and I know I won’t kill him because I do it safely. I wear him in a wrap often – sometimes, it’s the only thing that calms him down! Again, I educated myself on the safest ways to wear an infant. I can’t help but wonder a bit that if I’d bed-shared (gotten more sleep) and baby-wore (less crying/stress), I might have more memories of Colt’s first few months.

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There was happiness…

I’m sorry I was so stressed and cried a lot.
Most of what I do remember about the first few months is how panicked I felt – especially while home alone. Bryce went back to work 10 days after he was born, he worked 12+ hours a day, I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have any friends that lived nearby. Basically, I was too isolated while learning this crazy new job of mother. Plus, there was the untreated postpartum depression. I’d gone off my depression meds before trying to get pregnant. During Colt’s pregnancy, I had no symptoms of depression, so I didn’t think after pregnancy would be all that bad. HA. I had several risk factors for PPD, but ignored the signs when they showed up or lied to health care providers. I mentioned to Bryce once or twice that I thought I needed help, but did it kind of casually and never followed up. I should have told him I’d had fleeting thoughts of what life would be like if I was gone (how would Bryce raise a child alone?) and that I was afraid I could possibly hurt the baby.

With Jack, it’s been 180 degrees different. Bryce took a month off before going back to his laidback, 9-hour-a-day job. I have a car and an older son who loves to go do things. I’ve got several local friends I see regularly. I started taking my depression meds at 36 weeks, so it would have time to build up in my system before delivery. No sadness, anxiety, or unworthy feelings (unless I forget to take my meds for a few days!). I feel so much more relaxed. I’m sure part of it is just the fact that I’ve done this before. However, I think a large part of it is different circumstances (Bryce’s job situation) and that I worked hard to reduce my risk of PPD this time around. If things get bad this time, I will ask for help. If you have any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, please don’t be afraid to ask for help!!!

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Much more relaxed now

I’m sorry I went back to work because I thought being a SAHM wasn’t enough.
I took a full-time job when Colt was 4 months old. Part of the reason was financial; we were barely scraping by on just Bryce’s salary (damn student loans). Another part was me wanting to use my newly earned Master degree. But there was a part of me that felt being “just a mom” wasn’t enough; that I wasn’t fulfilled as a person. In reality, my disease was rearing up. I used to only find my worth in my work and felt like I wasn’t complete without validation from outside sources. This was my disease talking. I’ve since worked through that and I no longer need someone/something to tell me I’m worthy; I’m enough. I’ll be going back to school when Jack is about 5 months, but not because being home with the boys isn’t good enough.

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The moment Colt stole my heart

I suppose this is the part where the touching “I’m not sorry I…” comes in. I’m reluctant to add it – mostly because of the Hallmark cheese factor – but also because I don’t want to devalue what I just wrote. I loved Colt then, as I do now. There’s no doubt about that. He made me a mother. I am grateful that I learned from my early motherhood experiences, so that I could make different choices later. Colt is a bright, independent firecracker who tells me he loves me about ten times a day, so I know I didn’t ruin him in those early dark days. I just wish those early days weren’t quite so dark.

Depression is a sneaky bastard

My diseases are liars. When everything is going well, they lead me to believe I’m “fine” or “cured.” If I take my meds for long enough, I start to think I have beaten depression and might be able to live without them. Every now and then, the thought sneaks into my head that my alcoholism is gone and I could handle “just one drink.”

And then I miss my meds for a few days, and crash into familiar territory. Sad for no apparent reason. Overreact to seeming slights. Take criticism too personally. Irritable as fuck.

(Thank heavens I’ve never acted on the thought of “just one drink,” because Bad Shit Would Happen – worse than what I describe above.)

All it takes is a few days off my meds to knock me back into reality. I can’t live without chemical support. And fuck all if that isn’t really depressing. I mean, I’m not going to physically die without it, like someone with diabetes who needs insulin, but living with untreated depression isn’t really living.

It shouldn’t be a big deal. There are millions of people with chronic diseases who take meds. Most don’t have the shitty stigma of mental health problems, but then I don’t really care if someone disapproves of my Prozac. So I’m really not sure what it is that bothers me. Maybe it’s the long-term nature of it; that I probably will have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life in order to be happy or “normal.” That’s kind of tiresome, especially for someone who sucks at remembering to take pills.

I just hope the drug builds back up in my system quickly. I’m sick of these nighttime downers.

It’s ok to hate motherhood

It’s kind of funny that my last post was about angry music and in it, I asked my hormonal bitchiness to go away. The day after I wrote it, I had probably the worst day of my pregnancy, hormone-wise.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was the perfect storm of crazy. I was tired, sore from my Sunday run, short-tempered and low on patience. My son was whiny, tired and not really willing to listen to me. Everything came to a head when he refused to nap. I laid with him for a little bit and, of course, fell asleep just long enough to wake up groggy, tired and more irritable than before. I left him lying there awake and told him to sleep. About 15 minutes later, I hear a knocking on his door (his usual way of letting me know he’s up). I ignored it, until I heard him hit the door with what sounded like a hard toy.

I kind of exploded. It wasn’t pretty. I yelled about not hitting the door and he started crying. In a fit of rage, I showed him how his beloved Lego Marvel superheroes video game was going into the closet for the foreseeable future because he wouldn’t nap. All the while, he’s standing there with tears in his eyes, probably confused as to why I was freaking out so much.

Once I forced myself to calm down a bit, I held him for awhile and apologized for yelling. We talked about how it was scary that I yelled and how he shouldn’t have hit his door and I shouldn’t have yelled. He was running around and playing as if nothing had happened about 15 minutes later, but I was still in a state.

Fast forward, my husband gets home and they go outside to play. I sit down outside to watch and soak up some Vitamin D, but within two minutes I have to go lay on my bed and bawl my frickin’ eyes out. While sitting out there, watching my son run around, I had this fleeting thought:

I wish he’d keep running and not come back.

That instantly triggered the mom guilt and reinforced my thoughts of inadequacy; hence the tears. As I lay there sobbing, I alternated between beating myself up for having such a horrible thought and being terrified at the thought of having two children when I can barely manage one.

Now, normally this is the point in a blog post like this where I’d tell you about that magical moment where I realized it’s all going to be okay. That my son did something heart-melting and I saw what a joy motherhood really was. Not going to happen this time. I didn’t have an a-ha moment like that this time.

My son and husband did come in and try to make me feel better. My husband rubbed my back and sat there in silence, knowing I would talk if I wanted to. My son jumped around the bed, asking if I was ok, telling his dad that I was sad and giving me little kisses and hugs. It did help my tears subside and my calm (sanity) return, but it didn’t make me love motherhood again.

And that’s FINE. It’s okay to have thoughts like mine. It’s normal not to love motherhood 100% of the time. It’s all right not to have that Hallmark moment where you realize everything is going to be hunky-dory. If it takes you a little longer to find your calm again, you are still a good mama.

Note: If you have these kind of feelings, acknowledge them. Don’t force them away because you are ashamed, or think good mamas don’t have those thoughts. Let them out in some constructive way: crying, talking to someone, screaming (into a pillow, preferably not at someone else), doing a therapeutic activity (art, yoga, whatever floats your boat). If you hold these types of feelings inside, they will fester and possibly grow into something worse. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel like you’re drowning. Asking for help is a sign of strength. My support team is my husband, my parents, a few close friends and my OB. After I give birth, I plan to go back on my antidepressants (I know there are some I could take during pregnancy, but I don’t feel my need outweighs the potential risks to the baby at this point). Just please, don’t hide these feelings away out of fear or shame. You are a good mama, and don’t ever forget that.

When “You are your mother’s son” is scary

“You are your mother’s son.”

My husband said this affectionately to our son last night as we left the restaurant. Colt had just told him, “I didn’t do it. Mama did it.” He was referring to how I had picked him up and put him in his seat because he was dawdling too much to do it on his own…30 minutes ago. That greatly upset my very independent boy, so he sat and stewed on it for the entire meal.

Yep, he’s my son. When I got butt-hurt about something, I used to hold onto it and roll it over in my mind for ages. I used to let small misunderstandings ruin my entire day, which would frustrate my husband to no end. I didn’t like doing it, but I couldn’t help it. I was upset, you know, so it was important to chew on it because eventually he would see I was right and he was wrong, right? Right??

Luckily, I’ve since learned the value of letting go of small annoyances and working through larger problems so they don’t get blown out of proportion. But the memory of my past behaviors is there when my son shows signs of my less-than-impressive qualities. And that’s what makes the phrase, “You are your mother’s son,” slightly chilling to me.

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What else is he going to inherit from me? Will he be a slave to compulsive behaviors, as I was? Will he feel anxious in social settings because he believes everyone there is better than him? Will he lie and manipulate because he can’t handle the emotions he’s feeling? Will he be an alcoholic or addict?

These fears aren’t new; I’ve had them since before I was pregnant. Of course I only want him to receive my good qualities and I want my bad qualities to be left behind in the gene pool. Truthfully, I want him to be more like my husband. I’d rather Colt had my husband’s cool, calm and collected sunny day rather than my up-and-down emotional thunderstorm. So far, it’s looking like he’s more of the thunderstorm type.

I know it’s not just nature that decides how our life goes. Nurture plays a big role as well. I’m able to calm my fears a little because of the changes I’ve made in my life. I’m no longer the slave to compulsive behaviors, the self-hating girl who lies and manipulates because she can’t handle the emotions of addiction. I can do my best to mitigate the less desirable genes I’ve given him, by nurturing him with love, encouragement, empathy and respect. I am the best person for the job of his mother.

And I’m going to do my best so that when someone tells Colt, “You are your mother’s son,” it’s something to be proud of.

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The Gift of an Ordinary Life

Do you know what it feels like to regret something with every fiber of your being, but still be incredibly grateful for the lessons you learned from that shameful experience?

I do.

My heart silently aches while it pours out happiness like sunshine.
My stomach churns with equal parts sorrow and joy.
My mind struggles to forget what happened but delights in the place I am today.

I can’t believe that I’m here today. This life that I have now is beyond my wildest dreams. On the outside, there’s nothing extraordinary about it. I’m a stay-at-home mom who takes care of a busy toddler and keeps house for a loving husband. It’s a life that many women live every day.

What’s extraordinary is that it so easily could be different.

I made serious mistakes. The kind of mistakes that change your life. When it came time for the consequences, I had choices. The first choice I considered was ending my life. I thought I couldn’t live with myself, knowing the pain I’d caused my loved ones. A selfish desire to see my son grow up saved me from those thoughts when I was at my lowest.

Once I decided I was going to live, I had another choice. I had to choose how I was going to live that life. Would I continue to live as I had been, ruled by addiction and compulsive behavior? Or would I choose the path of healing? Staying the same would be easier, but I would lose my family. Choosing to heal would involve a lot of pain and no guarantee that I would keep my family.

I chose the path of pain and possibility.

A year later, there is still some painful healing to do, but I’ve come a long, long way and changed drastically as a person. I’ve become someone I can live with, someone I can love and respect. I take responsibility for my actions and I find it easier to choose the next right thing.

And the possibility? It became a reality. My family is intact and healthy. Every night, I get to kiss my boy good night and cuddle him to sleep. I marvel at how easily I could have lost that. Every morning, I get to hug my husband and ask him how he slept. That, too, could have been lost.

My actions almost ended life as I know it, but choosing to turn away from the person I used to be brought me rewards beyond my wildest dreams. I’m not really a Christian, but this Bible passage resonates with my journey:

Ephesians 4:22-24 (New International Version)
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off the old self,
which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;
and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

With time, the happiness will overpower the ache; the joy will defeat the sorrow. My mind won’t struggle to forget because forgiveness will have vanquished the shame.

But for today, I will simply enjoy this beautiful gift of an ordinary life.

Taking Ownership of My Chubby Belly

I’ve got some extra fat hanging around my midsection lately. Know whose fault it is?

MINE.

I’ve been making excuses for quite some time.

  • “It was so hard to eat healthy with just a microwave and a hot plate.”
  • “It was so hard to work out in the hotel room and I couldn’t go to the gym.”
  • “I’ve been so stressed lately and really just focusing on my depression stuff.”
  • “I just took a shower; I can’t work out now.”
  • “I just ate; I’ll work out later.”
  • “I haven’t eaten yet; I’ll work out later.”
  • “I deserve these tortilla chips and cheese.”

These are all things I either said or thought at some point to help me feel better about my growing mother’s apron.

But the truth is, it’s not the fault of the hotel room, depression, shower or tortilla chips. It’s 100% on me (both the fat and the responsibility). I am blessed with a vast quantity of resources for clean eating and no-equipment-required workouts. I even did one or two of those workouts in the hotel room and loved how I felt afterward! Yet, I didn’t continue. Story of my (exercise) life.

I lack internal motivation. In England, I had an amazing HIIT (high intensity interval training) class that I went to 3 times a week. I started going because my good friend was the trainer and harassed me about coming. I fell in love with the workouts and became friends with several people in the class. I became so fit and felt so good about my body – it was strong, could do awesome things like handstand pushups and looked pretty good on the outside. Then, we moved. And my physical activity came to a screeching halt.

I’ve dabbled in exercise here or there (a few runs in Estacada, a handful of HIIT workouts, some active playing with Colt), but really the only thing I’ve worked out in the past few months is my lazy muscle. And so I’ve collected some extra jiggle in the front of my stomach.

Some of that protruding jiggle is due to bloat, which I could easily fix by locking down my eating habits.  I plan to do the 21 Day Sugar Detox once we get settled in Texas. I did one back in March and lost about 10lb and 1.5 inches off my waist (even though I sort of half-assed it). I’m waiting because it requires a lot of prepping and cooking; two things I won’t really be able to do on the road trip from Oregon to Texas. I don’t want to set myself up for failure.

Yesterday was one of the worst body-image days of my life. I just. Felt. Fat. All day. When I got home, I put on a pair of my husband’s sweats and one of his shirts because I couldn’t bear wearing any of my own form-fitting comfy clothes. I couldn’t handle fabric clinging to my little bit o’ chub. Then, the lowest of low: I contemplated starving myself for a few days. I know that isn’t healthy, and I know it doesn’t lead to permanent weight loss. Last summer, after my world crashed around me, I stopped eating due to the stress. I felt so skinny and kept up the feeling after I started eating again because I kept my food intake on lockdown. I found myself wanting to return to the worst feeling of my life, because it led to me feeling skinny.

Those thoughts were a wakeup call; my rock bottom, if you will. Starving myself would be another form of self-destruction and an easy way to avoid dealing with the root causes of my bad self-image. I chose the easy way out for most of my life; I am not returning to that.

So today, I am owning my chub. Madame Middlefat may be a guest who has overstayed her welcome, but I’m the one who invited her over. I made the decision to eat too many tortilla chips and to not work out. I’m going to take responsibility for the consequences of my decisions, without beating myself up about it. It happened, the pudge is there, but it’s a new day and I can always make different decisions.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox Syndrome

Aprille at Beautiful In His Time recently wrote a post about how she saw a little Lightning McQueen in herself. It seems we can learn a lot from our children’s entertainment. A recent addition to Colt’s top 3 movies is Fantastic Mr. Fox, the 2009 stop-motion animated film based on the book by Roald Dahl. At first, the movie creeped me out. But after several viewings over the span of a day or two (thank you, toddler love of repetition), I started to enjoy it. Then, this quote suddenly stuck out to me:

“I think I have this thing where everybody has to think I’m the greatest, the quote unquote ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, and if they aren’t completely knocked out and dazzled and slightly intimidated by me, I don’t feel good about myself.”

I hear you, Mr. Fox. I think I have the same complex. Now, I haven’t been shot at or helped destroy an entire community in my pursuit of fantastic-ness, but I did make a pretty good mess of my life.

My name was fairly well-known in the mommy circles at my last base. I helped found a breastfeeding support group and was all over the Facebook group, answering questions. Later, I became the first dedicated lactation consultant at the base hospital. I guess I was pretty good at my job, because the breastfeeding rates spiked shortly after I started (I’m assuming I contributed somewhat to the increase).

I had two commercials on the local Armed Forces Network channels:

This one’s all me: http://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=1994620313127

This one’s a voice over: http://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=488540477827683

A photo of me nursing my son was used to advertise the 2012 Big Latch On held at our base.

Image used in a magazine ad for the Big Latch On 2012
Image used in a magazine ad for the Big Latch On 2012

On the breastfeeding support group Facebook page, moms were constantly saying, “Go see Sara! She really helped me with xyz.”

I’m not going to lie – I loved the attention. I was a workaholic, so I thrived on workplace accolades. Every time I was mentioned, praised, thanked, I felt validated. I smugly thought of the doubters who didn’t think I could do the job and mentally gave them the finger while blowing a raspberry. I reassured myself that I was a good person because look at all the good I’m doing and how much people appreciate me.

Then all that came crashing down, as I’ve mentioned before. And I realized I didn’t need workplace fame to feel like a good person. Or so I thought.

I’m part of several breastfeeding Facebook groups associated with my soon-to-be-new home. I chime in from time to time, but I’ve kept a low profile since we’re not there yet. There are a couple private practice IBCLC’s in the area already, so I’m not really sure how much work I’ll be doing. I’ve been toying with opening my own private practice, but kind of want to wait and see what it’s like after I get there. With at least two other IBCLCs in the area, plus WIC, I’m wondering if the market is already oversaturated.

So really, I’m worried about my ego. I’m worried that I’ll hang my IBCLC shingle out and nobody will want to use me. I’m worried that I’ll take it personally and see it as a rejection. I’m scared of being just another breastfeeding advocate and not the local celebrity I used to be. I’m scared that the reason I want to hang out my shingle is because I want to be that local celebrity again. I feel a twinge of jealousy every time I see one of the other IBCLC’s name-checked in the local Facebook groups. I want to jump on there and start tooting my own horn about all the women I helped at my last base and how great everyone thought I was.

And that’s when I realize I’ve got a huge red flag waving in my face.
I’ve got Fantastic Mr. Fox Syndrome again.

CC image of fox courtesy of digitalprimate on Flickr
CC image of fox courtesy of digitalprimate on Flickr

I have to dazzle, to delight, to be amazing or I’m no good to anyone. This time it really snuck up on me. I thought I was doing a pretty good job appreciating me for me, without the need for external validation. This is a reminder that I am a work-in-progress. That I need to be mindful of the true motivation behind my thoughts and emotions. That my issues with compulsive thinking are always lurking in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

This could be contributing to my recent depression flare. It sucks to know I’ll always be trying to stay one step ahead of my brain’s desire to revert to compulsive thinking. It’s exhausting. It’s sad because sometimes, I just want to be “normal.” I don’t want to have to constantly worry about whether what I’m doing is healthy or not. I don’t want to have to question my motives. I just want to live.

But, I’m different. I’ll always be different. And that’s ok.  I suppose I can find some comfort in another Fantastic Mr. Fox quote (look how nicely I’m wrapping this piece up. Go me). Towards the end of the movie, Felicity Fox refers to Mr. Fox when she says this to her son Ash:

We’re all different… Him, especially. But there’s something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?