Diary of a Woman Who Has Three Hours to Herself (to Squish In Everything)

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[preschool dropoff]

Woohoo! I’m free!

Are they ok? Wait, doesn’t one of them have a stomachache?

I’m a bad mom for needing to send them away.

I’m so happy!

[anxiety attack]

Breathe slowly, you idiot!

I’m really gonna enjoy my time off this time.

I’m not going to waste it.

I have to stop at this store first.

Dang it, they don’t have it.

Just one more store.

They don’t have it.

Argh! I’ve wasted a whole hour. For no reason!

Drive home faster so you can relax faster, you dork.

This anxiety attack is giving me an anxiety attack because I’m wasting time on the anxiety attack.

What do I even want to do? What do I even like anymore?

Oh, lemme just look up this thing online. Maybe I can find it.

Dang it! You wasted another HOUR!

Ok, Melissa, buckle down and write. For real. It’s the only thing that helps you.

Virus warning? WTF??

Did I lose that work? NO NO NO NO NO NO

I’m gonna stare at this ceiling for a while in the depths of despair like Anne of Green Gables.

ONE HOUR LEFT? LOOK AT THIS MESS! Why haven’t I cleaned anything?

What is wrong with you?

[pace, pace, pace] Which mess should I start with? The worst one or the easiest one? When was the last time I cleaned this dog bowl? OMG.

Maybe I should put on some music. Or take a bath. Those things always help.

Music. Ok, Talking Heads is my cleaning music.

“Slippery People”? How can I not dance to this? Dancing helps anxiety. Dance it off!

Wow, why can’t I dance like that when people are around?

Maybe I’ll unload a few dishes while dancing.

Wait, look at that pile of clean clothes.

Look away. Look at it again.

I really need to clean the toilet. Maybe I can dance-clean the toilet.

Ok, focus, Melissa. Sit down and make a list. Prioritize.

Look at that pile of clothes! JUST LOOK AT IT!

Oh, wow, DJ Shadow? [lost in a romantic college-era dorm-room Christmas-light trance]

OMGosh I have to LEAVE TO PICK UP THE TWINS!

Wait, I didn’t eat.

Isn’t it a beautiful day outside? Why wasn’t I outside?

[start the car]

Get it together, woman!

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.

Regular thoughts vs. Anxiety Thoughts

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Me. Worrying.

Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me. Well, “tricks” makes it sound kind of fun and playful. These tricks are neither fun nor playful. Hmm, maybe “my mind” isn’t the best phrase either. Let me start over.

Sometimes my brain chemicals try to screw me over.

The same things happen to me on good days as do on bad days. No matter how good or bad my brain chemistry is acting, I still have to make the same amount of meals, wipe the same amount of bums, and hear the same amount of chaos. The difference is whether or not I can handle those things.

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Me. Hiding.

Some days, I can calmly look around and survey the damage and prioritize my responsibilities. Other days, I look around at my life and I … feel like when I’m swimming and I think the bottom of the lake is right there, but then my toes realize that I can’t touch the bottom and I panic and tread water even though I know I know how to swim.

And then, I shut down. Zombie mommy takes over. I don’t know what to do about anything and I slowly lose the ability to do anything. I lose the ability to prioritize. Everything seems huge and every attempt on my part seems inadequate or even just wrong. On a “good” day, I might look back and wonder why on earth I couldn’t handle that stupid little event/ responsibility / feeling/ chore/ request.

Here is how my brain handles things on good days versus bad days…

The houseplant needs water.                                                            
Regular thought: Where did I put that watering can? Which kid will help me water this plant?
Anxiety thought: I kind of like watching this plant die.

My kids go to their rooms for their regularly scheduled “quiet time”.
Regular thought: These kids really benefit from quiet time. We all need a break.
Anxiety thought: Shouldn’t I be doing some cute craft with them or something? I shouldn’t need a break from my own children.

I see a book on the floor that I had promised to read to them but didn’t.
Regular thought: Oh, I better remember to read that to them tomorrow!
Anxiety thought: I am the worst mother ever. How could I promise something and not follow through? These kids will never keep trusting me if I don’t mean what I say.

I am late to something.
Regular thought: Ugh, I tried hard. Oh well, people understand that I have potty-training twins and can’t always be on time.
Anxiety thought: I am never on time. Everyone else manages to be on time, no matter how many kids they have. What is wrong with me?

There are piles of laundry on the couch.
Regular thought: I can’t believe how much mud and pollen three small boys can get into in the spring!  Let’s get this folding started. It won’t be so bad in the summer time.
Anxiety thought: There is no point. Laundry never ever ends. Other moms can handle their laundry with bigger families than mine. What is my excuse? I can’t even look at this pile.

I need to start making dinner.
Regular thought: Let me consult my meal planner on the wall to remember what I am making tonight. Ok, I need to start that in ten minutes.
Anxiety thought: Everyone is going to need me while I’m making dinner. It’s so impossible. They won’t even want to eat what I planned anyway. Why do I bother?

My husband calls and says he will be late coming home from work tonight.
Regular thought: Ugh, not again. Ok, let’s get this over with.
Anxiety thought: I will be doing this alone forever. I can’t handle this. I can’t handle them.

I have a whole lot of emails/ texts/ messages/ calls to respond to.
Regular thought: Well, people understand that I have twins. I’ll get to them sooner or later.
Anxiety thought: People make time for me, yet I can’t seem to make time for them. I am a really bad friend. I am going to lose the friends I’ve got.

Everyone is crying at the same time.
Regular thought: Let me see who has the most serious need and handle him first.
Anxiety thought: I don’t know what to do. I want to hide in the bathroom.

The house is a mess.
Regular thought: Well, I have three small boys! What do I expect it will look like? It’s not like I have a cleaning crew. I’ll clean it when they go to kindergarten.
Anxiety thought: I am a failure.

Even on a bad day, I know I can’t believe the anxiety thoughts. But it’s so hard. I know I shouldn’t listen to that crap. I know it’s not real. These “tricks” are all so new to me. I can’t believe how much effort it takes to both hear them and not to listen to them. On a good day, I just handle it. Handle it and move on.

Besides my migraines, anxiety has absolutely been my biggest challenge to my parenting. Sometimes I imagine what kind of mother I could be without anxiety or migraines strangling me. I can’t decide if thinking like that makes me feel better or worse.

Yes, what I do is really really hard. I am not sure that anyone in my situation would be able to do any better. At least, that’s what I have to tell myself. Having three small children, one of them with special needs, a couple of them potty training, and all of them very very dependent on me, would take a toll on anyone. Right?

It makes me really sad to read what I have written – to put this stuff in words. But I usually can’t heal from something until I write it down. I think better when I write. Let’s just hope I can learn to think better during the bad days, too.

I Went Away With a Girlfriend for Two Nights So I Wouldn’t Crack

I went away with a girlfriend for two nights. My husband insisted. I had been going through a really rough time, due to anxiety problems combined with some truly evil migraine medication side effects combined with potty training. He knew I was about to break. He told me, “You need to call your friend and ask her to go away with you. Right now. If you don’t call her, I will.” She is also a mother of three-year-old twins, so she heard the desperation in my voice text, and scheduled a beach weekend with me right away. Her husband must be as smart as my husband.

In order to make it to my weekend away, I had to sludge through my husband’s six-night business trip first. It was such a huge strain on my body and mind that I could barely even look forward to my beach weekend. I survived, but potty training didn’t.

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I did force my friend to do this with me and she will never forgive me.

When my friend and I told our strength-training instructor that we would be going away to the beach, he got a sparkle in his eye and said something about us “going out” and blah blah. We looked at each other and laughed. Sleep. Lots of sleep. And maybe a couple long walks on the beach. (Oh, and somehow I would force my friend to do one of those old-timey dress up photos with me, but that would be pushing it.) Our trainer, a man with no children, had no idea what we were really looking forward to. Sleeping through the night. Deciding when we wanted to go to the bathroom. Eating a whole meal without witnessing anything gross enough to make us stop eating. Eating a whole meal without getting up. Not having anyone demand anything of us. Not dealing with anyone else’s poop besides our own. Not having anyone ask us 900 questions a day. (Not exaggerating: the average three-year-old asks upward of 400 questions a day. Times two for us. It’s science.)

It was finally time to leave. My kids, ages 6, 3, and 3, are finally old enough to basically say, “Don’t let the door hit you in the a$$ on the way out” when I leave. A year or two ago, we were still in the cling-to-my-legs stage. Sometimes they seem better off without me. I know that is the anxiety talking, and it’s not really true. But they fight less when they aren’t around me. They potty train properly for my husband. My husband can keep the house in order. Sometimes it seems that I shouldn’t be here. Anyway, I was so emotionally drained by the week of single parenting prior to our departure that I sagged into my friend’s car with not quite as much enthusiasm as I had imagined I would have. I wanted to weep, but more from exhaustion rather than from sorrow at leaving the kids or from joy at leaving the kids.

As the house got further and further behind us, we realized it was so much … easier… to talk to each other without four three-year-olds talking to us at the same time. Wow. Imagine that. We were able to finish thoughts and sentences. Have a real back and forth like normal people. It was so… easy. And not once did I turn around and strain my neck looking into the back seat!

We arrived at our hotel and both of us had to take Benadryl. It’s been so long since we slept through the night that we know we can’t actually sleep through the night anymore. The body is a cruel mistress.

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My first time alone in a hotel room. Age 36.

I had never slept in a hotel room alone before. Since I married at age 22, I can’t remember a time that my parents or my husband weren’t with me in a hotel room. (I did go to college and also studied abroad in Italy, but I always had roommates!) It was weird and scary and intimidating. And yeah, kinda nice.

We did all the usual things that you would expect Mormon moms to do at the beach in the cold springtime: walk around, sleep in, eat at cheap restaurants, look at dolphins, not drink, and maybe make fun of the cheerleading competition that was in town. It wasn’t life-altering. But it was good. Very very good.

I was surprised that I couldn’t make myself call home.

I was also surprised that I never did relax. How many days would it have taken?

I was also surprised that when I came home, I discovered that my kids are the cutest things in the whole world. Those little voices? Those chubby legs? Those giggles? Those fat arms around my neck? Are you kidding me?! Beautiful.

It lasted about an hour. Then they were the same old kids.

I need to go away again.

 

Also, this is a non sequitur, but this sign made me laugh every time I got on the elevator.

Also, this is a non sequitur, but this sign made me laugh every time I got on the elevator.

 

Why Is “Postpartum Anxiety” A Thing Now? And What Do We Do?

Ah, okay, there’s a name for that now. I have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology (granted, it’s old) and I had never heard the term “postpartum anxiety” before recently. Where did this come from? Everyone knows about postpartum depression, but why was no one talking about the postpartum anxiety? When I type the word “postpartum”, the suggested next words are “depression” or “hemorrhage”. Not anxiety.

I was at a baby shower recently and the words “postpartum anxiety” passed through the room like a hot potato. From mom to mom to mom. These are my friends, and we had no idea that each other was suffering.

What is going on?!

I didn’t feel any of these feelings during high school or college. I managed to graduate cum laude without getting too overwhelmed or ever hearing this kind of negative self-talk. I managed five years of a teaching career without hearing this crap. I could handle 25 five-year-olds every day for ten months out of a year, and only feel normal amounts of tiredness and frustration. Yes, those things were incredibly challenging and a huge amount of work, but I didn’t shut down.

This anxiety is all new to me, since motherhood began.

How many of you mothers out there are rocking in this same unsteady boat? Is it new for you too? Why now? Are we poisoning ourselves and our brain chemistry? What is to blame? Ourselves? Pregnancy? Regular daily situational stress? Environmental toxins? Pesticides? Food dyes? An overabundance of information?  The fact that modern parents are not able to let their ten-year-old walk home from the playground without getting Child Protective Services called? Pinterest? (Just kidding. You know Okayest Mom is not a Pinterest mom.)

No one told me before I started infertility treatments that women with successful IVF  have higher rates of depression and anxiety. No one told me before my twins were born that mothers of multiples have higher rates of depression and anxiety. Some studies even show that new adoptive mothers have higher rates of depression. We all know that people who cheat death like I did have some mental repercussions later. And it’s probably obvious that almost all mothers of special needs children have higher rates of “psychological distress.”

Despite the fact that I was not quite cognizant of all of this crap, I figured it all out on my own as I bowed under the pressures. I wrote about being haunted by successful IVF a while ago. And I have never subscribed to the belief that “adoption is rainbows and unicorns.” (The truth is that adoption is extremely complex – and involves walking with your child through his grief.)

With all of these complicated family dynamics under my roof and inside my head and on my shoulders, it’s really no surprise that I have some really really bad days. Days when I can’t handle my life. Days when I feel like a bad person. A wrong person. And, yes, days when I feel like a bad mother. I am really bad at a lot of things. Potty training twins. Growing blueberries. Unpacking anything ever. Turning down the minivan radio.

And then I have some normal days, like today. Today I reread a hopeless and detailed (unpublished) post that I had written during a bad day. It made me feel so sad. Not sorry for myself – just plain old sad. Since my brain seems to be thinking clearly today as I look back on that post, I started making a mental list of all the things that I actually do right. My list was kind of beautiful. Everything on it was something I do as a mother, just naturally, without comparison to others and without force. My list made me smile, and I realized I needed to write it down.

I needed to write that list down and read it on every single bad day. I wanted to be able to read my own words and believe myself on a bad day. Here is my list.

Motherhood things I do well (and need to reread on a bad day):

  • Having Beastie Boys dance parties with my kids
  • Saying “no” when needed
  • Saying “yes” as often as possible
  • Going outside with my kids in all types of weather
  • Making exercise a priority for all of us
  • Baking homemade organic bread often (for fun!)
  • Making homemade organic wheat pancakes from scratch every Saturday and a homemade pumpkin pie every Sunday
  • Loving their father
  • Checking the pollen count every day for my seriously allergic son, and making him change his clothes and wiping him down all over when he comes inside
  • Running a food-dye-free kitchen when I realized one of my sons reacts to dyes
  • Driving to another state to see a specialist on a regular basis for one son
  • Fighting tooth and nail to get services for one son (and then listening to this ridiculous 80s Journey song on the way home while pumping my fist in the air)
  • Snuggling and kissing and hugging my children as often as they allow
  • Teaching my children that they are the bosses of their bodies and can say no to my hugs (sigh)
  • Taking them to church every Sunday (okay, most Sundays)
  • Letting them see me preparing my Sunday School lesson, and then teaching them a 3 minute shortened version of it every Monday for Family Night
  • Teaching them to respect their father
  • Making them kale smoothies (they don’t eat their vegetables, but they sure drink them, and I’m okay with that)
  • Keeping my kids away from electronics
  • Getting my own exercise so I can be healthy for them (and keep up with them – almost)
  • Almost always controlling the volume of my voice
  • Seeing the grandparents and great-grandparents a lot
  • Learning about my own white privilege, and trying to change that for my son
  • Taking classes about race and transracial adoption to try to do better
  • Making sure my kids know what a record player is
  • Living by my favorite parenting quote: “Give them time to explore and learn about the feel of grass, and the wiggliness of worms.” (by Marjorie Hinckley)

Again, this list is not here to compare to your good things. I am writing it to remind myself what *I* do right, and hope that it can outweigh my shortcomings. If you suffer from the same crap I do, make a list for yourself of your good things – the things you do effortlessly and for which you forget to take credit.

Make a list for yourself. Give yourself credit. Reread it. Reach out to other moms on your bad days. Remind your friends what things they do right. Let’s do this together.