Four Years to the Day After I Almost Died, I Feel Selfish and Depressed on My Twins’ Birthday

wp-1484074415461.jpgFour years to the day after I almost died, I still don’t like my twins’ birthday. I get feelings of dread that begin a month or so before their birthday. People ask me about their birthday plans, and I sputter.  I don’t understand why I have a dark cloud over me and can’t/won’t think about their presents and party. Finally, a couple of weeks before their birthday, I remember why I feel like a puddle on the floor.

Oh, yes, hello again, old feelings. I remember you. You’re not welcome here. I see you’ve come in anyway. Make yourself at home while I struggle to carry on with daily life.

The depression is heavy. The anxiety is dizzying. I look at my healthy and lighthearted sons and feel so.much.guilt. They are happy and adorable. They are wild and strong. And I am the Girl Who Lived. We lived! They thrived! I have nothing to be sad about. I want to celebrate. I want to celebrate their health and their beautiful little miraculous lives. I want to celebrate the doctors who saved me that day. It’s their BIRTHDAY. What is more joyful than the birthday of a set of four-year-old twins?! Isn’t that reason to celebrate? And it’s my survival day. Shouldn’t my survival day become a holiday, with capital letters? Survival Day.

What is wrong with me? What an ingrate. Look at those gorgeous faces and get yourself together. But I can’t. I’m not sure if the initial feelings, or the guilt about the feelings, are worse.

It’s been four years. They turn four today. Isn’t that enough time to have worked through my feelings about the way I almost lost my uterus, a twin, and even my life? Somewhere between the birth of Twin A and Twin B, I lost consciousness. Twin B wasn’t breathing and was intubated – but I didn’t know that. I came around again and held Twin A to my breast for a miraculous five minutes, but my heart was with my unknown Twin B, whisked away to the NICU, away from my body for the first time since he was in that Petri dish eight months before. It was the very first time I realized that I would never ever be able to fully focus on only one child. The moment they were taken from my body and the three of us were separated, my heart was split forever.

And then I lost my entire blood volume and came back to life two days later in the Intensive Care Unit. I didn’t know the fate of Twin B, or if I even still had my uterus. I didn’t know where Twin A was, or what day it was. It was dark and I was alone. I was intubated and tied down. I couldn’t talk or move my own arms. There were no babies in my belly or on my chest. I was more scared than I had ever been in my entire life.

And yet, my story had a happy ending. I was wheeled out of that hospital a week later with all the babies and body parts with which I had come into it. (Well, technically, I guess I lost two organs. Placentas are organs, right? Disposable organs?) I think of all the people I know and love who have had such tremendous traumas in their lives – like losing children forever – and want to slap myself for being so maudlin about a story with a happy ending.

How could I have held on to this fear for four years? Their birthday should be all about them. No matter how hard I try to celebrate, I have this black cloud hanging over my subconscious. Even when I think I’m fine, even when I think I’m not thinking about it, October brings scary memories. It’s a movie that won’t stop playing in my head. If my birth story is a movie that I can’t stop watching, then I had better move a few more rows back in the theater.

I have a happy ending to my story. I do not pity myself. Seriously. I don’t want pity. I don’t want sadness. I don’t even want understanding. I just want to be happy. But the leaves start to fall, and so does my mood.

Sadly, I am not alone in my grief. My husband witnessed more than I did that day, because, unlike me, he was conscious for all of it. He feels the weight of this day, too.

And what about my oldest son, the one who joined our family through adoption? He was only two when his momma went on bedrest, left for a while, and almost died. He lived with his grandparents for at least a week and visited me every day in the hospital – but wouldn’t touch me or come near me. My in-laws later told me that he threw up in their Cadillac every day on the way to the hospital. He was so scared. And when he finally got to go home, he came home to a sickly momma who couldn’t even walk… and she had brought two new people with her. Two very demanding people.

Adoption – even adoption at birth – is a trauma. And having your little two-year-old life change so drastically is a trauma, too, even if it had a happy ending. It’s possible that these events put our attachment to each other at a disadvantage. My guilt over what that did to him is staggering. I stagger under the weight of it. Even if it is misplaced guilt, it’s still placed there in my head. Yes, I know postpartum hemorrhage is not my fault – but I did make the decision to start IVF when he was so young and so fragile. I did make the decision to implant two eggs and put my life in danger.

In addition, soon after the twins’ birthday, I know my oldest son’s birthday is coming too. Can’t I celebrate at least his birthday with joy? But his birthday – the day of his birth – was the last time he ever saw his birthmother. My heart breaks for her on that day. And my heart breaks for him. It is a day of separation and pain for many children who were adopted. Some adopted children don’t want to celebrate the most defining and painful moment of their lives. Adoption is very complex and it involves walking with your child through his grief. He’s still young, but his conflicted feelings are present. And that’s okay. I need to put my own worries aside and focus on his needs. (Yep, that brings more guilt for taking too much time to worry about myself.)

I feel a depression on these anniversaries that smothers me. It feels like a heavy suit. A suit that is depressing me into the ground. Leaving a depression. I look around at other people and wonder how they are able to do things.

wp-1462743015156.jpgIt’s time to stand up, blow up the balloons, frost the cake, and put a smile on my face. “Forget yourself and go to work,” I keep repeating on a loop inside my head. I schedule a therapy appointment. I write and write and write some more to work through the feelings. I draw my babies close to me and sniff their heads. Focus on the unique scent of each strong boy. I pretend it is fuel and I keep going.

 

 

 

 

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The order in which I publish my blog posts is not the order in which I write them. I actually wrote this over six months ago. So, before you feel too sorry for me, remember that I more recently wrote that one where I learned how to treat my feelings like visitors. Or a train. Or something. Read it here, so I can prove that I’m not too much of a mess.

Demanded-Out: My Messy Beautiful Submission

Touched-out? No. Demanded-out.

My brain is touched-out. Your body has probably felt touched-out, but what about your brain? That little baby’s body, attached to your body for nine months of pregnancy and a year of infancy, can leave your body feeling a tad smooshed. But, now that my babies aren’t babies, I need a new phrase to describe how my brain feels touched-out from all these motherhood demands. I need a phrase to describe how my brain feels “demanded-out”.

My brain seems to have a limit on the amount of tantrums, demands, requests, tears, pleas, hand signals, cries, speeches, and barks it can accept. After a certain point, I feel like my nerves become raw. After that point, I think my eyes go blank and I just try to survive until bedtime. My son knows that face, no matter how much I think I’m hiding it. I’m sure every mom goes through these same exact things in the same exact order.

Mr. Okayest doesn’t understand why I can’t just ignore the demands like he can. He really is amazing. He doesn’t get sweaty, like I do, when all three cry at the same time. He doesn’t get shrill, like I do, when everyone needs something at the same time. Just ignore them, he says.

He is so smart and so supportive and so observant, but I don’t think he will ever empathize with this mom feeling. Sympathize – yes. Empathize – maybe not. I try to explain to Mr. Okayest that, as a mother, I have no choice but to respond. I don’t necessarily blame hormones, because I felt this same way when we adopted our oldest. However, there is something hard-wired into our mom-brains that makes us have to respond.

I have to respond to their cries, either to shush them or to hug them. I have to respond to their sign-language requests for more milk, whether I get up right now or in a minute or never. I have to respond to the barking dog, whether I put her in her crate or put her shock collar on. I have to respond to the phone ringing, either to look at the caller ID or to decide not to answer it, even if I am feeding a baby. I have to respond to their cries in the night, even if I am a firm believer in “crying it out” (which I am), and even if “respond” simply means I wake up with them and lie there in the dark until they fall asleep again.

There is no ignoring of anything, even if my choice is not to meet that request. Every demand is catalogued in my brain. Every single cry, plea, bargain, and questionable poop noise: it’s all getting catalogued in my brain and silently prioritized. With four children under four in our house (adoption + my niece + IVF twins), every single moment is a list of needs from an army of small people. In my brain. All the time.

I don’t know how to stop it. My senses got messed up during my horrific twin pregnancy and the whole almost-dying-during-childbirth thing. I think most new moms feel this way: everything was too bright, too loud, too rough, too shrill, too painful. But my senses didn’t seem to right themselves after recovery was over. I entered a fight-or-flight feeling that went on for a year. My adrenaline never stopped pumping. Even after my twins started sleeping through the night at seven months, I couldn’t relex. Even though my job was done at 7:30 PM, and I knew they would sleep for twelve hours straight, sometimes I couldn’t stop pacing the house until my husband literally took my hand and pulled me down.

Finally, around the twins’ first birthday, my own psychology degree hanging on the wall convinced me to talk to the doctor about that feeling. I work on that feeling every day. Sometimes I have to call my husband at work to give me the “pep talk”, but I have come a long way.

No matter how far I come, though, I don’t think I will ever be able to relax all the way. Moms have to prioritize every messy moment of every messy day. I am so demanded-out. Some nights I become zombie-mommy as I go glassy-eyed at the last of the day’s cries/pleas/tantrums/barks. But I’m alive, I’m here, I’m okayest, and I’m not going to ignore this messy beautiful life.

Even though maybe sometimes I wish I could.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project from the Momastery blog. To learn more, CLICK HERE. To learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir “Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life”, CLICK HERE.

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