Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's a New Day

Wow. It’s amazing what a few good nights of sleep can do! We’ve pretty much done a 180 degree turn in the past week starting with Allie switching over to formula. Yes, I stopped nursing, and although I’m still struggling to accept it and still questioning whether I made the right choice, seeing her (and me) finally at peace is helping me cope. For the past 3 months, I’ve been suffering from major sleep deprivation (among other things), and between Allie’s bottle refusal and my breast issues (I’ll spare you the details) there was little anyone else could do to give me relief. Fortunately, she took to formula like a champ, and all of her tummy issues and reflux symptoms disappeared almost instantly. On the fourth night she slept for two stretches of five hours, waking only for a quick bottle. As for me, it took just a couple restful nights for my good spirits to return in full force.

This week I am half-tempted to apologize for my recent negativity and stinky attitude, but I won’t because I am committed to sharing whatever is on my heart on any given day – good, bad, or ugly. It is my hope that those who read my not-so-happy posts will reflect on their own past or current struggles and take comfort in knowing  that no mom walks around with her head in a cloud of positivity 24/7. No matter your struggle, you are never alone, and your many messages of encouragement over the past few weeks have certainly reminded me that I am in the good company of many other moms out there who experience their own share of dark days now and then.

I used to think the ebb and flow of life from bliss to turmoil and back again meant that there was something wrong with me. Today I know that’s not the case, and when you find yourself swinging back and forth between the tides, know that there’s nothing wrong with you either. Those moments (or days or months) of turmoil are what fuels our ability to enjoy the blissful days in the first place. It’s difficult to fully appreciate joy if you have never felt sorrow; to really know peace if you are never troubled; or to truly understand God’s grace if you've never been challenged. For, without the bad we could not fully experience all that is good.

With my energy restored (well, almost anyway), I have finally been able to rediscover the joy in a midnight feeding. I can see the humor in Reese’s claim that she’s “flying to Mars” despite my full knowledge of what she’s really doing in the pantry with the door shut. And I can once again read Dr. Seuss with the kind of enthusiasm that would undoubtedly land me a starring role in Sneetches: The Movie. My routine over the past few days has been a piece of cake compared to the weeks of fussy mornings, colicky evenings, and sleepless nights, all gathered under a dark cloud of PPD.

Today I have a renewed commitment to take no precious moments for granted. I am emerging from this struggle with a stronger marriage, a deeper faith, and a mightier soul. When I reflect on the first few months of Allie’s life, it won’t be with regret over my inability to savor every moment. Rather, it will be with gratitude for the many moments I did savor, and all that I learned – about myself and the true level of my strength; about my husband and the real depths of his love and support for me; and about God and the comfort He brings when I offer up my struggles to His endless glory. There's definite truth to the saying, "the soul could have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears," and through this storm I always took comfort in knowing that the rainbow would come, bringing with it the brighter sun of a brand new day. Today is that day.

This is a Bigger Picture moment.
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Misery Loves Company

By now most of you know that things haven’t exactly been smooth sailing around here over the past two months. On the upside, I have finally recovered from my postpartum depression and Allie’s colic has improved significantly now that she is on medicine for reflux (thanks to some reader emails). Still, despite the recent improvements, I’m still having a lot of moments where my attitude stinks and the bigger picture of life gets lost in the mundane, repetitive days. Between a baby who doesn’t sleep and a toddler who doesn’t listen, I often find that motherhood isn’t exactly the magical, marvelous experience I expected. Sure, I have magical and marvelous moments, which are the ones I usually write about, but I have plenty of “Why did I choose this life, again?” moments that leave me feeling both guilty and inadequate in the role I’m supposed to love with all my heart.

Let’s face it, though. There’s nothing magical about Reese pooping in her underwear every other day and there’s nothing marvelous about discovering crayola art work on the walls and greasy chapstick doodles on the couch. Someone always needs me, someone is always crying, and I’m always trying to figure out the evasive answer to another mysterious problem. Why is Allie crying? Why isn’t Reese listening? Well, I’ve had enough of the guilt, and despite whatever I’m supposed to be feeling, this phase of life often stinks just as much as it shines.

On those not-so-shiny days, I don’t necessarily want to hear about the bright side. Bright side people make me feel guilty. I also don’t want someone to swoop in with the perfect advice or a magical solution. Chronic fixers make me feel inadequate. Instead, what I want on those days is a friend who will drop everything to meet me for coffee because she hears the need in my voice. A friend who isn’t afraid to agree that some parts of motherhood are downright awful and draining. A friend who will sit with me and swap “why me” stories until we’re both waist-deep in each other’s misery.

With that kind of friend, there's no mention of the bright side because we know that some aspects of life only have one side. We don’t need to say “I’ve been there” because it’s apparent in our stories. We don’t need to look for the silver lining because we can hear it in our laughter. And we don’t need to worry that our negativity brings each other down because we know that sometimes misery really does love company - not because we love to be miserable but because misery needs validation and reassurance from people who can use their stories and laughter and “me too’s” to say, “I totally get it.” In those moments where our stories are heard and our emotions are validated, the feelings of guilt are replaced by a realization of normalcy, and the feelings of misery become glimmers of hope.

Thank you, Kristin, for giving my misery so much company.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Surrender to the Mess

I’m double dipping today and linking up with Bigger Picture Blogs and the Hearts at Home Third Thursday Blog Hop. The theme for the upcoming Hearts at Home conference is “No More Perfect Moms,” which means the Hearts Bloggers will be laying out a few of our many imperfections with our next few topics starting with today’s prompt “no more perfect homes.” Enjoy!

My house is always clean. Everything I own is neat and organized to an embarrassing degree. Let’s put it this way – the items on my spice rack are in alphabetical order. No joke. Everything has a place and rarely is anything out of its place for very long. Clutter and chaos drive me bananas, and I would gladly forfeit my very scarce bubble bath opportunities in the interest of tidiness.

Sometimes people ask me why I care so much about the condition of my house, especially because I’m not one to fret over anyone’s judgment. The reason actually has nothing to do with other people. I could be a hermit living on a mountaintop and my house would still be just as organized. I’m trying to measure up to my own standard, not anyone else’s. I’ve just always been happier in a clean space and I function better in an organized setting.

Friends and family often teased that I would have to give up my compulsive neatness when I had kids. Well, after Reese was born I didn’t change and neither did my house. I’d like to think that I did it without compromising my responsiveness to her needs (or my own), but I’m sure that wasn’t always the case. Many nights I would put her to bed and then spend my me-time picking up toys, washing dishes, and folding laundry. When Allie came along, I was just as determined to keep up my charade because, after all, a clean home is a happy home.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I would have to make my peace with the disaster that has overtaken my living space. I’m not sure what pushed it over the edge – the addition of a second child or the toddler who leaves a trail of toys through every room – but I’m finding myself outnumbered by burp cloths and puzzle pieces. In the weeks after Allie was born my efforts to battle the mess were futile, and I slowly began to lower my standards.

Looking back, I see that all I ever got out of my obsessive need for order was a temporary sigh of relief and a side of unnecessary exhaustion. For a long time I thought of housekeeping as a part of my job description as an at-home mom, and I believed that giving it up would mean I had failed in that aspect of the role in which I have so much pride.

Today, my house is no longer the perfectly organized haven to which I have been accustomed for so many years, and I’ve had to find other ways to achieve the inner peace I had always derived from a tidy home. The more I let it go, the easier it got to leave things undone and I’m even finding that I have more time for other things I enjoy – things that bring me greater peace than a spotless kitchen ever did.

Contrary to my fears of failing at my job, letting go of my house is making me a better wife and mother day by day. I finally see that obsessing over my kids is much more worthwhile than obsessing over my chores because there’s nothing miraculous about housework. I don’t cut snuggling sessions short when the dryer buzzes because wrinkles don’t grow up and move away. I don’t stop the puppet show to sweep the kitchen because my days with crumbs on the floor are not numbered. And in those few precious moments when the girls are asleep and the house is quiet, I can finally walk past the dishes, step over the toys, throw my clothes on the floor, and sink into a tub of bubbles because a relaxed mom is a happy mom, and a happy mom makes a happy home.

This is a Bigger Picture Moment. 
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Monday, January 14, 2013

The Time I Almost Ran Away

I wish I could say that my recent absence came about because I’ve been too busy reveling in the joys of my growing family, and if I wasn’t so compelled to tell the truth, that’s probably what I would have said. I might have told you about how much I enjoy watching Reese tell Allie what color everything is and asking her if she’ll be ready to play outside “when the snow goes away.” I might have told you about how busy I’ve been preparing for my new part-time teaching job. I might have even opened up about how difficult the transition to two children has been and how much harder it has become to juggle all of my responsibilities to my home and myself. All of these things are pieces of the truth, but they are only minor contributors compared to the real culprit.

Although it pains me to say it (or write it) out loud, the truth is that I’ve been caught in a dark place since mid-December because of a terrifying episode of postpartum depression that ripped through the center of my being in a matter of days and put my heart in a vice grip of constant panic.

I experienced some postpartum struggles after Reese was born, and I promised myself this time would be different. I spent months building a fortress of positivity around my heart and soul. Armed with self-help books, daily meditation, and relentless prayer, I truly believed I was prepared. Allie’s delivery went so smoothly, my recovery went so quickly, and we settled into our new routine so easily. Everything about our birthing experience with Allie was a stark (and pleasant) contrast to the many struggles we experienced during and after Reese’s arrival. I had every reason to believe that I had beaten it this time. After six weeks of baby bliss, I thought I was out of the woods.

I did not see this coming.

At first, I thought the tears were born out of exhaustion. I thought the frustration was a natural part of life with a toddler. I believed the panic was legitimate and the worries were real. By the time I realized what was really happening to me, I was already deeply buried in the trenches.

This was not a run-of-the-mill postpartum episode – the kind that leaves you crying over your permanent muffin top and mourning the loss of your personal freedom. Oh, no. This was a door-slamming, on-the-floor-crying, sanity-robbing hostile takeover that kept me up at wee hours of the night plotting my escape from this house, this town, this life. I was constantly distracted, always on edge, pacing the floors like a caged animal. Simple tasks overwhelmed me to tears, and I felt like I was drowning in my own life. I fought the constant urge to jump in the car and head out of town with no plans to return.

If the anxiety wasn’t bad enough in its raw form, I made it worse by wallowing in guilt and shame and allowing myself to question my love for my family as if a better wife and mother would never be in the place where I found myself.

Four days before Christmas, I overheard Reese addressing the guests at her stuffed animal tea party, “Mommy’s sad and I don’t know how to fix her.”

I had wanted to work through this on my own, and I believed my faith and my love for my family could carry me to the other side. I got through it before and I would get through it again, but not at Reese’s expense. With my white flag flying high, I made an appointment with my OB and came home with a prescription for the medication I swore I would never need.

Somewhere in the depths of the darkest emotional hole I’ve ever experienced, I found the inner strength for which I had spent so much time praying. It didn’t come in the form of a superhuman ability to defy biology and overcome a long-standing chemical imbalance. It came instead in the form of an emotional white flag and a rock-bottom willingness to accept my circumstances and receive help.

It’s been over three weeks, and I’m finally starting to feel like myself again. I knew the worst was over when we all got the flu on New Year’s Eve and I couldn’t stop laughing at Matt’s “happy new year” jokes in between trips to the bathroom.

Slowly, I’m remembering how to laugh at messes and spills and diaper blowouts. I’m playing with Reese more and fretting over the budget less. I’m learning to ignore the inner voice that makes me feel ashamed of this weakness and to listen instead to the one reassuring me that I’m still every bit as strong as I always believed.

Well, that’s the real reason I’ve been M.I.A. this month, and I chose to share the full extent of the truth because I know I’m not the only mom who has experienced this emotional cage. Even though most of us struggle through postpartum hormonal changes in some way, the voice of this part of motherhood – like many other not-so-pleasant aspects of our roles – often goes unheard. Let’s be that voice. If you’ve been there, let your story plant a seed of hope for someone else. If you’re there right now, reach out for help before your older kids start seeking counsel from their stuffed animals. And if you ever start to believe you are alone in this battle, just give me a call and I’ll tell you about the time I almost ran away from home.