Bonus Day

Yesterday, the first day of spring, my children had a snow day from school.

No, the irony does not escape me. Yes, I realize our region of New England does not preclude such occurrences (one blizzard happening several years ago on April Fools’ Day – apparently Mother Nature has a healthy sense of humor every year). Alas, the snow totals fell drastically short of the predictions and the sun shone and snow melted by what would have been dismissal time.

As I lay in bed Sunday night, after receiving the robo-call from the school department, I was more relaxed than usual knowing I wouldn’t have to rush the kids out the door the next morning. I did say to my husband, however, that I wasn’t looking forward to a whole day inside with the kids. He agreed with me that my comment didn’t exactly sound nice, but I’ve gotten used to some quiet school days as a respite. Plus, I’ve been having iPad battles with the oldest (see previous post), all the girls have been having battles with each other, and I just end up yelling.

It made me laugh, then, when a friend called in the morning, saying I had a ‘bonus day’ with the kids. None of us were dressed. I’d been on my phone all day. They’d bounced between their rooms, the Wii, iPad, and computers. Her use of ‘bonus’ implied unexpected and appreciated quality time. I think I was on vegetation/survival mode.

I finally got my butt in gear enough to strip all three of their beds, a task – believe it or not – they’d been bugging me to do. My very particular middle wanted tightly tucked sheets. My little wanted new blankets. The oldest sleeps with such reckless abandon her bed was just torn to shreds. I figured with them home, perhaps they could help me. I also hoped I’d find my middle’s long-lost library book shoved under her mattress. Ha ha!

When I pulled the bunk beds out to sweep for books and animals lost to the abyss, I made the mistake of leaving the room for a bit afterwards. We all know what empty spaces and crevices and unexpected configurations are for, right? For me, it meant extra room to tuck in those pesky sheets on the far side of the bunks. For them, it meant fill with stuffed animals and baskets and blankets!

'Sure I know what would solve this problem. More floor space.'

Or personal space . . .

 

Suddenly, awash in piles of bedding flooding the hallway, random crap scattered everywhere on the bedroom floors, another step added to an already unwelcome task – I was transported back to days when all three were pre-school. When it was one step forward, two steps back. When it was literally shoveling shit against the tide. When keeping them happy and/or entertained and a house with the least order of squalor attainable and some semblance of sanity was a nearly impossible balance.

And I was scared.

I was reminded what life was like with a house full of littles. As the sole caregiver, comforter, cheerleader, coach, craft guru . . . I am well aware that I need not be all these things at all – and certainly not all at once. But my anxiety treats any deviation from a perceived plan or expectation as a misstep, a notch closer to irritation, panic, anger. It makes me hide in a corner of my couch, balled up in my pjs, content to try nothing rather than get frustrated with things not going according to plan. Or overwhelmed by the enormity of a whole day with all these people – when it should be about the moments.

Even when summer vacation starts and I have not only the new infant, but the older three, it will not be the same as those insular days when they bounced off the walls like ping-pong balls. They are not all toddler and preschool age. They can have some independent and alone time. Even while I tend to the baby, they can play on their own or swing outside. Hopefully they will understand that I won’t be able to – nor should I – entertain them all day. Hopefully I’ll remember that, too.

And to take each moment one at a time for what it’s worth – not worrying the whole day away before it’s even started.

 

I’ve Been Had

I had to clear out months of clutter in a matter of weeks.

I had to squeeze in cleaning sessions between naps.

I had to let some things go that seemed absolutely essential.

I had to receive guests into an imperfect house.

I had to admit that the next week was lost due to physical and mental recovery.

I had to hope that it was just the exhaustion of overextension and not the harbinger of a downward slide

into

anger

irritability

the dull padding of apathy.

I have to rally the hopeful spirit of the season and strive to be reborn each day.

 

Not PPMADetermined

Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PPMADs) rob mothers of so many things, but perhaps the cruelest thing they take is the joy. The joy – which makes the overwhelming job of motherhood worth it – is replaced by fear.

Fear that you’ve made a terrible choice in having a child
Fear that you don’t deserve this child
Fear that someone may take this child from you
Fear that you may do something to hurt this child
Fear that you won’t survive another day without hurting yourself

The fears of the early days will pass – through time, gentle care, therapy, medical intervention. You will be able to envision a bright future for you and your child

Even still, there are some things PPMADs may steal that can never be replaced. The memory of the pain and anguish, the trauma linger on. There is no peace to ever be associated with that time in a mother’s life. So much so, that she will never, ever attempt it again. Women who dreamed of large families stop at one child, not because they are bad mothers or lack the desire, but because their pospartum experience was so bad.

There are the women who achieve pregnancy fully armed with the warning signs and therapeutic tools available to them, should PPMAD strike again, yet are paralyzed by the anxiety that it could happen again.

There are women who must face the scrutiny of others who deem them crazy for even attempting pregnancy after their previous experience. They second-guess their own intuition and self-knowledge and the fact that they’ve come out the other side beat-up, but stronger – all because of the well-meaning souls who give critical advisories for mothers’ own good. Well-meaning souls who have never inhabited the dark spaces of these mothers’ individual hells, who have not fought the daily internal battles it takes to stay out of them, and who don’t realize that every negative comment saps one more drop of the mothers’ resolve.

PPMADs are an insidious band of thieves. They take without provocation, without discrimination, without consideration. They come under cover of dark; they aren’t cloaked because they’re faceless. But with help and support, mothers can choose to face them. And take back what is rightfully theirs: their own vision of motherhood.

I’m Baaack

I remember peeling off the cocoon of my bulky winter jacket one of the first times I came here.

Perching nervously on the edge of one of these same chairs.

Feeling completely vulnerable and exposed.

Wanting desperately for someone to mold me back together – yet not touch me.  Not look at me.  Not judge me.

For my weaknesses, my failures, my inability to just be.

It’s been awhile.  But I’m back.  And so are all the same feelings.

All Sorts of Bombs

The hours that stretched between late afternoon and evening yesterday were tough.

I hustled my three girls off the bus and into the car, rushing off into the next installment of the ‘passport debacle’ (I may pen a frustrating short story of the same title). They were tired, hot, sticky, hungry, and probably would’ve had to pee if they weren’t so dehydrated from the high temperatures. After toting them through two venues and experiencing botched passport attempts (adding to the overall debacle), they hooted and hollered, spat and pinched the whole ride home. Home. The place where I got to give my husband a quick smooch, eat a hamburger right off the grill as I set the table for the sit-down dinner the rest of my family would be enjoying while I rushed off to a curriculum night at the school. School. The place that was boarded up tight because the curriculum night is, in fact, tonight. I got back in the car and thanked my lucky stars that I’d loaded Led Zeppelin II in the CD player so I wouldn’t go out of my ever-living mind. I promptly popped a bottle of beer when I got home and joined my husband on the porch. Trying to recount my frustration and agitation to him, I was repeatedly interrupted by our cherubs, one of whom snagged a butterfly net over my cranium, God bless her.

In a rare moment of calm, I said to him, life would be so much easier if we hadn’t had them.

That’s one of those statements you know you probably shouldn’t say out loud; that you know was a mistake as soon as you see your spouse’s face.

In his ever-present magnamity in the face of my melancholy, he replied, but we wouldn’t have the joy, either.

I know, you’re right, I sheepishly yet grudgingly replied. Still, my days the last week or so have been fine – until I have to get them off the bus.

And then – not with a lightning bolt, but with a gradual blossoming like a-bomb footage on slow mo – I realized that I’d have had depression anyway – with or without them. If left to my own devices, depression would’ve snuck in in the quiet moments, seeped through the cracks of career dissatisfaction, cycles of stress and PMS, self-loathing and pity.

abomb

Life with three little people is insane. It would be so easy to pin my struggles on them. It’s hard to see anything else, to even draw a spare breath. And the tenor of my life with them did seem to kickstart whatever this alternate mental atmosphere I’m living in is – but in that one absurdly clear and dissonant moment, I saw my struggle, my illness, my self for what it is.

That doesn’t make it any easier to raise three littles in the midst of all that. But it makes it easier not to resent them and their needs. And to love myself – faults and all.

I could’ve danced talked all night

wpid-wp-1440692157183.jpgThe universe works in mysterious ways.

There’s a reason for cliches such as this.  In ways unexplained, people and circumstances are drawn together.  In an affinity, a warm, glowing feeling that spreads with seemingly no foundation, conversations click, relationships made, journeys continued before we’d even realized they’d begun.

One such journey began in 2012, though I was not yet aware.  As I typed the first tentative strokes birthing my blog in January of that year, Charlotte of Momaste went about her business a few mere miles down the road.  One day seven months later, in a burst of breastfeeding genius, her blog was born.  About a year later, I discovered the light and love and unabashed truth of her blog when its SPOT-ON post, Touched Out, was Freshly Pressed.  She gave voice to the heretofore dysfunctional and guilt-inducing tendencies I’d been seeing in myself as a mother.  I’d found a kindred spirit.

Depression – postpartum and otherwise.  Anxiety.  Mindfulness.  Breastfeeding.  Trying to balance selfhood with motherhood.  Yoga.  Puns.  Writing.  So many connections.

And then she posted a picture of the view from the end of her street.  And I saw the same bay I could see out the window of the house I’d started my family in and just recently vacated; the same one, admittedly, I had an imperfect view of, too, but still reveled in mentioning.  Not only were we from the same state, we been living in nearly the same zip code.

I felt even more of a kinship.  I had a scaffold in which to place her ruminations and observations; a visual schema her scenes unfolded against, even if I wasn’t on the exact street.

We bandied about the idea of meeting for quite some time.  Fellow bloggers can attest to the feelings of friendship engendered by genuine, heartfelt comments and the uncanny ability to pin pieces of your own gray matter on their own sites.  Still, with our young families, no concrete sense of who each other was, and both suffering from anxiety and possible cases of social awkwardness, the time never presented itself, nor was never found, to meet.

Then I registered for a conference in Boston for survivors of postpartum depression.  The excitement leading up to the real-time introductions at the conference led to whole lots of conferring online beforehand.  If strangers were becoming friends for that, why not my other ppmad peeps?  I reached out to Charlotte and floated the idea of traveling to Boston for the conference.  That plan didn’t hash out either, but it created a real impetus for our meeting irl, as they say, which finally happened yesterday.

The thoughts going through my head as I drove to meet her were akin to what I’d imagine if I were in an episode of Catfish.  My ten year-old daughter, in an annoying yet pride-provoking manner, had pointed out that there are dangerous people on the internet, you know.  My mother relayed the message that my grandmother was very nervous and didn’t want me to go.  I said I highly doubted this woman would turn out to be a 47 year-old male axe-murderer – not for the sake of a blog meet-up.  Charlotte and I did do the awkward blind date eye-contact, avoidance, cut through the coffee house, then back out onto the deck greeting.  She affirmed that yes, she was not a man and no, she did not think a 47 year-old axe-murdered would go to so much trouble writing blog posts to lure in a victim – particularly ones about breastfeeding.

That was the first of many laughs on this my first blind date with my first online friend meeting in the flesh.

We swapped stories about our kids, our spouses, our writing, our work, our struggles, disappointments, triumphs, and joys.  Most rewardingly, we shared the same space – psychically and emotionally.  The whole simpatico thing worked in person as well as it did online.  While our stories differed in their twists and turns, we got it.  There are as many differences as similarities, but we respect the journey each of us is on and support each other.

When Charlotte checked whether it was time to pick up her daughter, I realized I’d lost all track of it.  While nearly two hours had spooled away, it felt as if we’d just started our conversation.  I experienced almost the same feelings I’ve had when I realize I haven’t caught a friend up on the crush of things that’ve happened since our last visit – even though we face the stretch of time before our next one.  And we had to get caught up from the beginning!

But there’s always the next cup of tea – or chai in this case (to which I will have to add copious amounts of milk if we visit the same place as it was mighty strong).  There’s time for friendships to grow – online and in real time.  And there’s the universe – that has already proven it’s got our backs in bringing us together.

Momaste, Charlotte: the mom in me so bows to the mom – and lovely human – in you.

The Future of Fenway

The last time I was at a Red Sox game was pre-kids.  Pre-worrying-about-someone-else’s-bladder-but-mine.  Pre-stuffing-vibrating-little-bodies-into-ridiculously-small-sweaty-seats.

The excitement was still there.  The awe of the gate rising above Yawkey Way.  The hum of my soul resounding with the rest of Red Sox Nation.

image

Jennifer Butler Basile

New sensations?

The abject terror of someone sweeping my child away in the crowd.  The overwhelming desire to wrap my arms around them like a mama bird with her brood.  Irritation when they wouldn’t hold my hand.  Impatience when they didn’t read my mental directions on how to navigate the milling crowds.

This was my first time leading my babies through the big city.  I’d done it myself plenty of times, but leading literal babes through the woods was a new and disconcerting experience.

It also offered many teachable moments.

Telling my ten year-old how to keep her bag close.  Telling my five year-old who insisted on bringing my old flip phone with no service not to set it down anywhere.  Telling my eight year-old not to wave her mini Dominican flag celebrating the retirement of Pedro Martinez’ jersey dangerously close to fellow fans’ heads.

But also, what a bull pen is.  A foul line.  Tagging bases.  Striking out.  How to do the wave.

And it was a way to rediscover the magic of rooting for the Red Sox through my children’s eyes.  Seeing the spark when they realize that the guy at the plate right now is Big Papi in the flesh.  Sharing the excitement of singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ at the top of our lungs.  Chanting ‘Let’s go, Red Sox’ in unison.

The Sox may have lost the game, but we’re still a nation of believers.  And we may have just clinched the next generation of die-hards.  New Englanders live and breathe for their team – whether it’s 1918, 2004, or any year in between.

And that’s worth the whole gamut of sensations that comes with.

This Ain’t Any Ol’ Con

So I am living the hipster life. Typing on a table so repurposedly wonky my laptop rocks back and forth disconcertingly. In sun-dappled shade as I wait to sip my freshly prepared cafe mocha and eat my just warmed vegetable quiche.

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

It’s delicious.

All of it.

The flaky crust. The gooey egg. The sugary froth. The warm breeze.

The ability to notice such details as the vaguely distant whoosh of traffic. The inability to safeguard little people.

I can’t.

They’re not here.

I am alone.

Which, even though it was an acupuncture appointment I had this morning, was blessedly just what the doctor ordered.

I’m at the back-end of a weekend packed with emotionally-charged, mentally-draining conference work.

The Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference.

Lest you get the wrong impression, I enjoyed this conference immensely.

I so looked forward to connecting with fellow survivors of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (commonly lumped together and referred to as postpartum depression). I expected to commiserate and trade war stories. I expected to get amazing fuel and ammo for advocacy – a role into which I thought I’d fully transitioned.

I did not expect to be so completely enveloped by the emotions I thought I’d left behind.

All throughout the first day of workshops, panels, and speakers, I teared up and misted over when particularly poignant points were made. But I was good. While I still danced with depression and angled around anxiety on random occasions of my everyday life, my period of postpartum depression was done.

And then, on the second day of the conference, Annette Cycon of MotherWoman got up to talk. As she described what transpired after an inexplicable bout of rage during her two young daughters’ bath time, my grief bubbled up and out of my body.

“I went into my bedroom and curled into the fetal position on the floor. I held my head, rocked back and forth, and sobbed. I said, ‘It’s either homicide or suicide – and I can’t do either. I love myself too much. And I love them too much.’”

Hearing this raw account, I sobbed. My face contorted into the grimace of one silently choking back tears. My shoulders shook. I experienced this incredibly intimate moment of grief in the midst of a room full of mothers. I felt so incredibly alone and yet dreaded anyone noticing and reaching out to me.

And yet, I wasn’t embarrassed.

There was no need.

I was in a room full of women, mothers who, while their own grief/rage/depression/disappointment/detachment/love/mania/compulsion manifested itself differently, had all been at the bottom of their own deep, dark hole. They were all at various footholds on their way back up and out, or sliding down and scrambling for a hand to hold – to stop them – to stop the pain, the agony – to spark the love they needed to feel for themselves and their children.

I may not have expected to awaken the grief, guilt, shame, and pain I thought I’d left behind – and apparently only buried – but I also didn’t expect to find a tribe of mothers instantly and deeply connected by their shared experience. And that was such a life-giving and validating surprise.

Soon, I will have to leave my empty coffee cup and the flaky crumbs of quiche crust behind. Soon, I will have to stop pretending I am an unencumbered hipster who can write alfresco for hours. Soon, I will collect my children and return home to our ‘normal’ lives, our harried routine, my possibly high levels of anxiety and masked depression.

But there will be hugs around the neck and hearty belly laughs. And there will always, always be my tribe of warrior mamas who’ve got my back.

Stuff We All Get

When I got married, I inherited a staggering amount of pharmaceutical office supplies. Some women marry into wealth. Some women carry a substantial dowry; others, a hope chest full of handmade linens and needlework. I got a cardboard box full of sticky note pads and ball point pens bearing the name of brand-name drugs. A distant cousin on my husband’s paternal side, a salesman for a pharmaceutical company, had a wealth of such products himself, to which I was now a party.

Not one to turn up my nose at anything free, I welcomed this surfeit of stationery. The pen on a lanyard came in handy as I made circuits around my classroom – not only did hanging it about my neck ensure I didn’t lose it, but the big block letters emblazoned along the side. You found an Androgel pen, you say? That’s mine. Unless there was another twenty-something female teacher with stock in Androgel, there was no doubt who the pen’s rightful owner was.

However, this example also illustrates one of the disadvantages of pharmaceutical swag. Your use of said promotional product could be construed as endorsement of said drug.

This wasn’t a problem with the note cube advertising Flonase. Nasal congestion and seasonal allergies don’t carry much of a stigma with them. No one cares if your nose is running or you’re snorting floral scented mist up it. Same with the cute little calculator whose flip-top lid schilled for blood pressure medication. No one will judge me for the inner cleanliness of my arteries.

But I always thought of my audience when I wrote a note on the Wellbutrin pad.

I didn’t want anyone to think that I actually needed an antidepressant; that I was such a frequent flier, I’d earned promotional prizes; that the ‘dealer’ and I were such good buds, I got benefits.

Forget that it doesn’t work that way. It’s not like filling the card of stamps at the grocery store of yore to earn a full set of ceramic dishware. One doesn’t get a sticker for each pill ingested. But I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea . . . whatever that meant.

Fast-forward nine years and I’d be fighting my own internal battle with stigma as I debated whether to go on low-level sertraline while I battled postpartum depression. I did. Don’t know which side of stigma won, but I started on the meds I’m still on today.

Today.

The day irony served me a big slap in the face.

The day my physician suggested I add Wellbutrin to my prescription regimen – because sertraline doesn’t seem to be cutting it; because I need a ‘lift’ in the morning to get me going; because while I don’t have ADHD, I need help focusing, prioritizing; because all my labs came back normal and there is no organic reason for my symptoms other than plain old depression and anxiety.

Whoop-ti-do-da-freakin’ DAY.

Four to five years after I started my first antidepressant. Two to three years after I finally (or so I thought) came to terms with ‘succumbing’ to the help of an antidepressant.

Seemingly light years away from that time when I humorously pointed out the name on a sticky-sided square of paper – thinking my worst worry was that people would mistake me for a person who needed medicinal balancing of her brain chemicals.

I have so much more to worry about now.

Off the Grid

The irony of

one post about the beauty of staring into the fire

and the next

about not staring but rushing around willy-nilly

does not escape me.

Of life-giving warmth

giving meditative bliss and salve

being ignored for

frantic prepping and sapping of adrenaline that may be needed in actual emergency.

I get it.

My analytic mind senses the conundrum.

My overly expectant self wallows in the defeat of two house-bound days devoid of relaxation.

Though my electrical panel never lost power, I did.

The ability to worry is the only sort of control I have.

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