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.

Where Have You Been? /My Anxiety Coming-Out Party

Readers, you might not care where I’ve been, but I do. This post is my coming-back-to-life party. Let me take a deep breath.

I used to post at least weekly, and it wasn’t for you. It was for my mental health. (Oh, and some future version of my kids.) I don’t think straight unless I write. And you poor souls have been the recipients. I haven’t posted much lately, and for the first time in years, I didn’t post anything at all for six months. That probably means I didn’t have a complete thought during that time, either.

So, where have I been? Let’s see. I had a triumvirate* of reasons that led to my writing/thinking demise:

  • My oldest son started school. For reasons I can’t explain publicly (see Sharing vs. Oversharing), this milestone rocked our world for quite a long time. It’s been a difficult time, but I’m proud of my kid, and, yeah, proud of myself for not giving up.
  • Twin Non-Napping Disorder. For real this time. Unlike last time I wrote about my twins’ napping strike (see Fireball of Change: Twins Breach Cribs), this time there was no going back. They were done. As soon as my oldest began school, no amount of mothering finesse, bribes, threats, tricks, separations, or whiskey (just kidding, duh) could put these toddlers to sleep during the day. Nap time was one of my only blogging times. I have always said that their nap was the only thing keeping me sane. Now I have proof. Wow, it feels so sucky to be right.
  • Twin Potty Training Disorder. I haven’t really “unpacked” this one yet. I’m still too close to this train wreck to be able to write about it. You’re welcome.
  • <deep breath> I have an anxiety disorder. There. I said it. I am completely open about my struggles with infertility, IVF, adoption, miscarriage, a transracial family, and multiples. I have years of practice with all those things. I have found that being open about my struggles has brought me peace (through writing therapy) and solace (through sharing with others and opening up communication). I am good at advocating for children who have been adopted and for women who are infertile. I will fight for them. But a mental health problem? That’s new to me. I had to sit on that a while. (Although my most dedicated readers probably read between the lines  – or just read the actual lines – and figured it out a while back. Also, sometimes I write drafts and forget to publish them and then my blog or my life is out of order.)

The kicker is that the very thing that helps me muddle through these three stressors IS writing. And yet the stressors have prevented me from writing. Ugh. What a vicious self-defeating circle. Enough is enough! I have to get back on the writing wagon. (What would a “writing wagon” look like? Maybe some alphabet stickers on a Radio Flyer? A horse-drawn cart carrying authors to a writing convention?)

What are the repercussions of “coming out” as an anxiety sufferer on a public and only semi-anonymous blog? For my future? For my children? I’m not sure. (Mr. Okayest still has veto power over my posts, so he can help me there.) What I am sure of is that keeping it hidden has not worked for me. I can’t seem to work through it without writing about it. Plus, it affects my mothering life greatly (badly?), and thus, writing about being an Okayest Mom without writing about being an Anxious Okayest Mom just seems hollow.

I have learned that my anxiety, and not necessarily my children, is the source of my stress.

That was big news in my addled brain.

One of the things that gave me courage to admit that I have an anxiety disorder was a religious article published recently. It was beautifully written, and it really touched me. Hit me. Smacked me. The article is from an LDS magazine, but I believe it would benefit any religious person struggling with a mental health issue – or anyone (religious or not) who is close to that person. The author writes, “I had thought my spirit was primarily under attack, not my brain.” [You can read more about this at the end of my post if you’d like.]

Anyway, I’m glad to be back. I missed you guys. Hopefully by being more open about my anxiety, I can write more – and write better. Along the way, maybe I’ll even help some other mother who has simultaneous experience with infertility, miscarriages, adoption, IVF, multiples, a transracial family, AND anxiety.

What? Oh, that’s just me, isn’t it?

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*I initially had three reasons, therefore I used the word “triumvirate”. Then I added a fourth thing and I couldn’t think what the word for four things would be.

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The longer quote:

“It is essential to understand that such a spiritual crisis is not a result of spiritual weakness or lack of faith. Rather, depressive feelings and the resulting depressed view of one’s spirituality are usually caused by a chemical imbalance. Because our physical bodies and our spirits are necessarily connected (see D&C 88:15), it can be common to feel the effects of a physical disorder in a spiritual way, especially in the case of depression, which alters our very perception of ourselves. Therefore, it is important to seek out the actual source of such feelings, especially when experiencing the often-distorting effects of depression…

I soon discovered that medication and cognitive therapy were effective at bringing relief. But the one thing I didn’t find in any of my research was mention of the spiritual repercussions of mental illness. This surprised me, since so many of the symptoms I’d experienced seemed spiritual in nature. I came to realize that while the medical texts rarely acknowledged the spiritual effects of depression, I had initially gone too far the other way—I had misconstrued my depressed feelings as spiritual unworthiness. Indeed, I had been so sure my feelings were manifestations of spiritual weakness that it had never occurred to me I might have a chemical imbalance…I hadn’t seen myself as depressed because I had thought my spirit was primarily under attack, not my brain.

In the light of such challenges, the message given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the October 2013 general conference offers perspective and hope:

‘I wish to speak to those who suffer from some form of mental illness or emotional disorder, whether those afflictions be slight or severe, of brief duration or persistent over a lifetime. … These afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.'”

from https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/02/depression?lang=eng

 

 

Guest Post: A Mom Who Went Kicking, Screaming, and Pouting into Motherhood

This article is the fifth in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

Allow me to introduce you to my good friend, Jen. I was actually friends with her husband first – he was one of my best friends in college. We met when he, um, started “hanging out” with my roomie. Anyway, after college, when he married Jen, I knew that they didn’t plan to have children. Now she is mother to a 4-year-old and is due with baby #2 any minute, and her feelings about motherhood are beautifully complicated. Having a treasured friend like her who knows that motherhood isn’t all “sunshine and rainbows” (i.e., a friend who encourages my snarky side) definitely helps me on my bad days. Here’s Jen:

jen

I am both flattered and surprised that Mrs. Okayest asked me to guest post for her blog. Flattered, because she’s awesome and is clearly a talented writer, so it’s truly an honor to be asked to be a part of this incredible space of hers on the internet. Surprised because, unlike Mrs. Okayest, I’m more of that upfront, in-your-face, snarky friend that often says inappropriate things like “breastfeeding was horrible, it made me feel like I was in prison,” or “I can’t handle the newborn stage; they’re like a rude houseguest that just demands food and screams at you for 6-8 weeks before even offering up a smile.” Yes, I’m that friend. To my credit though, saying some of those things out loud really helped some fellow struggling moms to feel less guilty, and that’s enough for me.

Let me introduce myself and say upfront that I’m not one of those women that readily or easily embraced parenthood. I kicked, screamed and pouted my way through my first pregnancy (and with my current pregnancy as well) and the seemingly endless newborn and baby stages. It might seem shocking, but not all women were wired to enjoy being new moms and have newborns, some of us have to muck through it. For me, I celebrate each passing year with joy. I love my beautiful girl getting older, more independent, interesting and interactive. I don’t miss the newborn stage or the baby and early toddler years. I’m not one of those blissful women who find be-all-end-all life fulfillment in changing diapers, wiping noses, and dealing with the adult version of the Neverending Story: Laundry. Please don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter fiercely and wouldn’t change her for the world, but she’s not my entire life. Despite what an awesome kid she’s turning out to be, and how much I’m (mostly) enjoying it, I still have rough days where I want to hide in my closet and not have anyone talk, touch or even look at me for just a few minutes. That being said, how does someone not wired naturally for motherhood even start to make “okayest” work for her and her family?

There’s a lot of ways that I’ve made “okayest” work for me (store-bought baked goods and avoiding socially expected preschool playdates is a large part of that), but I think the most important okayest moments for me came in the first days, weeks and months of having a newborn. When you’re a first time parent, everyone tells you how amazing and special having a baby is going to be with all “the firsts.” The “newborn baby smell,” the snuggles, the bonding, the cuteness, the rainbows and the unicorns. Luckily, some seasoned mom friends will be helpful with tips about the weird stuff; breastfeeding conundrums, your recovering body, sex issues, and so on. For some of us, however, those adorable firsts and bonding experiences are overshadowed by dark days of serious hormonal imbalances and the onset of depression; and the breastfeeding, body and sex issues only serve in feeding the downward spiral. Worst off, because we’re expected by a polite society, that still stigmatizes mental health issues, to only feel blissful joy at this new life, shame sets in. Nothing fuels depression quite like a stinking pile of shame.

I’m not going to lie or sugarcoat things; there were times in those first few weeks of having a newborn that I’d find myself wishing the MAC truck barreling down the road would run in to my car, or that my heavy-footed loud neighbor would cause the roof to come crashing down on my head, or that somehow I’d find the nerve enough to swallow the entire bottle of Percocet that my doctors had prescribed me for the immense amount of physical pain I was in. I truly didn’t think I could do the whole mom-thing and survive. Having a screaming, unhappy, newborn (it’d be two months until we had her diagnosed with severe reflux which, once treated, changed things for the better) didn’t help my doubts or fears, and of course, I didn’t want to admit out loud to anyone that I didn’t think I could do it.

Long story short, there’s very little I remember from those dark survivalist newborn days other than forcing myself daily to repeat (in whispers to myself, of course) that I couldn’t let my daughter grow up having a mother who’d committed suicide. I knew that suicide was a selfish act and I survived one hour at a time until things started getting better. Forcing myself to get outside and walk; with or without the baby with me helped me to clear my mind, as did deciding not to feel guilty about asking all the grandparents to come and babysit so I could take a nap, go grocery shopping by myself, and even once, see a movie. But what helped me the most was being vulnerable and putting my ego aside by talking to my good friend Beth about how I felt. I honestly just needed someone who I trusted and respected and who’d survived the infant stages twice already, to tell me that yes, it was hard and sometimes terrible, but that above all, I was going to be okay. That it was okay to ask for help, or go see a counselor, or take antidepressants, because what my child needed most from me was for me to be healthy.

After that talk things slowly started getting better. There was no overnight miracle, but the relief of knowing I wasn’t alone was enough to help keep putting one foot in front of the other. Finally getting used to the rhythm of things, finding help for my daughters reflux, getting more sleep, and physically healing all helped as the weeks went by. I stopped feeling so alone, and was finally able to start enjoying this new little life; especially after she actually started sleeping and smiling more!

So how did I make “okayest” work? I stopped worrying about what everyone else thought and did what was right for me, with the encouragement of my husband, my friend Beth, and a few other friends who to this day may not know how much they helped me survive those first few months. “Okayest” is different for everyone, and new mommas (or seasoned ones who might have found their way to this post), please know that it’s okay to do what’s right for you and your family. Maybe it’s going to counseling, maybe it’s spending a kid-free weekend with your spouse, or going out with your girlfriends. Perhaps it’s just getting some fresh air, getting a babysitter or grandparent to watch your kids so you can get an extra hour of sleep, or making sure that when you’re feeling the most vulnerable that you’re not alone. And know that you are not alone in this struggle, there are other women out there than can empathize because they’ve survived this as well. I’m living, snarky, opinionated proof of that.

Guest Post: Why I Choose to Remain Childless

This article is the third in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

 Allow me to introduce you to one of my best friends, Sarah. We met at the small (and I mean small) school where Mr. Okayest and I also met. She knows all the nitty-gritty details about me and still loves me. Our lives have taken different paths: she went for a career, and I went for, um, a career, and then infertility, and then dog-walking, and then adoption, and then IVF, and then being a stay-at-home mom. Anyway, I am excited to hear from Sarah, my first non-mother guest writer on a blog about motherhood.

 

Sarah borrows one of my sleepy twins for a cuddle by the fire.

Sarah borrows one of my sleepy twins for a cuddle by the fire.

“You’ll change your mind,” is the response I inevitably receive when I tell someone that I am not planning to have children.  Perhaps I will change my mind some day or perhaps a child will choose me. After all, unexpected pregnancies run in my family; that’s how I came into the world.  I’m pretty sure I would be a good mother. I think that I have what it takes to nurture a child. But the honest truth is that I do not want to. Being a mother is not the path that will lead to fulfillment for me. I turn 35 this year and I finally feel like I know myself pretty well.

I do not begrudge any woman for choosing motherhood. I have known Mr. and Mrs. Okayest since I was 15. In fact, I have known them as long as they have known each other. Mrs. Okayest has always wanted children. It is a fundamental part of who she is and she is an amazing mother. I frequently feel immense disappointment when my friends become parents. I know that parenthood will likely consume them. They will become Mommy and Daddy and that will define them completely. But Mr. and Mrs. Okayest are the rare breed of parent who still maintain their pre-children individuality. I know this because in a recent photo of Mrs. Okayest, she is wearing knee-high converse just like she would have when we were teenagers (had knee-high chuck taylors been around then – we had to settle for the traditional high tops).

Some parents like to pretend that parenthood is transcendent and perfect, but Mrs. Okayest is completely candid about how challenging and at times soul-sucking it can be (you’ve been reading her blog, right?). On a recent trip to Virginia, I spent the day with her. Late in the afternoon after the three children were down for naps, we went out for an hour to have some “adult” time. When we returned to her house, Mrs. Okayest didn’t get out of the car immediately. “I don’t want to go back inside,” she said. I loved her immensely in that moment.

I’ve encountered a lot of annoying parents. In fact, Facebook is rife with them. They are the Stepford parents who seem to believe that their children crap rainbows and are the center of the universe. Mrs. and Mr. Okayest are nothing like this.  They still prioritize each other over their children. They do not hover or fawn. They do not allow their children to run rampant. They do not brag about how much their kids like esoteric foods or are already fluent in French at 3 years old. Mrs. Okayest has never uttered to words “you wouldn’t understand, you aren’t a parent.” This phrase is up there with “you’ll change your mind” to someone who has made a conscious decision not to pursue parenthood.

If I were a parent, I would want to be like Mr. and Mrs. Okayest. But let me get back to why I do not want to be a parent.

Reason #1: I really like my life the way it is. I am unmarried and live alone with several cats. In popular culture, this is the trope for a sad pathetic unlovable woman and I am the first to make fun of myself for this. I joke that I’ll choke to death on a ravioli and my cats will eat me. But in reality, I’m perfectly happy with my life. I’m not sad or lonely. I have my friends and my family (and my cats). I have my career and my hobbies. I have a full life. I do not feel like there is something missing. There is no child-sized cavity that I crave to fill.

Reason #2: I’m a selfish introvert. I don’t even want another adult in my space, let alone a child who will destroy my things and torment my cats and be generally annoying. As an only child and an introvert, I need a lot of space. I mean A LOT. I joke that if I ever get married, my husband can live in the house next door. This goes back to the whole “knowing myself” thing. This need for space and alone time is an indelible part of my personality. It’s not going to change.

Reason #3: My career as a software engineer at a large tech company in Silicon Valley is highly demanding. It is also incredibly important to me. I do not believe that I could be a good mother and also adequately handle the demands of my job. Warning: I’m about to say some incredibly unpopular things about working mothers in the tech industry. Women are not super-frickin-human and, at least in tech, I don’t think we can “have it all”. I probably just had my feminist license revoked, but whatever. I do believe that woman are equal to men. I’ve spent my entire career in a male-dominated field trying to prove this.

I recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In.” Many of the things she said about being a woman in tech really resonated with me. The part that didn’t resonate with me is her belief that you can be a good mother and have a high-powered career (she is COO of Facebook). I call BS. She posits that all you really need is to believe in yourself, be assertive in asking you employer for what you need as a parent, and have a partner who shares 50% of the parenting responsibilities.  To her credit, she openly admits that she enjoys a lot of privileges that many working mothers do not, but still, I think that she is describing a unicorn. An unrealistic myth. In tech, as in many other professions, hours are unpredictable, expectations are high and the pressure is unrelenting. It is sadly a young single person’s game. I’m not saying it’s right. Perhaps there is room for change. But in our highly competitive global economy, these types of jobs are demanding out of necessity. Asserting that a woman (or a man) can be fully present as a parent and also meet the demands of this kind of job is setting unrealistic expectations. Marissa Meyer (CEO of Yahoo!) was reportedly checking her work email just hours after giving birth. I completely get it, but I’m not sure this mentality is compatible with being a good parent.

As for a 50/50 partnership… Again, in most cases, I just don’t see this being a reality.  Fathers are more involved in child-rearing than ever before and this is awesome (Mr. Okayest is a prime example). But culturally, we’re just not there yet. I could espouse some more unpopular opinions on this topic, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll restrain myself.

Reason #4: My final reason for not wanting to be a parent is a very personal one and is difficult for me to talk about, but I want to be honest so here it goes. I have struggled with mental illness my entire life. In my late twenties, I was finally diagnosed as depressed and minorly bipolar (if I ever have a band, I’m totally calling it “minorly bipolar”). It is a physiological (and hereditary) chemical imbalance which I manage with a cocktail of mind-altering medications and bi-weekly therapy. If I were to get pregnant, I would have to stop taking my medication and I’m pretty sure that the combination of pregnancy hormones and no medication would be the end of me. Also, I would never want to expose a child to one of my depressive or manic episodes; I don’t think that a good mother should spend days in bed shutting out the world or indulging in self-destructive binges of bad behavior (I’ll leave that one to your imagination). Finally, I know that these illnesses are frequently passed on to the subsequent generation and I wouldn’t want anyone to struggle the way I have.

So this girl plans to stay child-free. My biological clock ain’t tickin’ and, to loosely quote a friend of mine, “this oven don’t bake no buns.”  Maybe I’ll change my mind. But more likely, I won’t. For now, I’ll just enjoy my friends’ children and admire my friends for taking the plunge I choose not to take.

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Note from Mrs. Okayest: Sarah also showed up in my post about How a Good Girl Accidentally Got a Tattoo and Shaved Her Head One Time.