My sleeping pill

I have a bedtime ritual. It is as regulated as our children’s bedtime routine, where we get into pyjamas, pick three stories (1 per kid) and then read them all until each kid is calm and sleepy and full of tales. It is absolutely necessary that I follow this routine, otherwise I will not be able to sleep for hours.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison - A thriller that made me want to stay up all night...yet let me sleep.

A thriller that made me want to stay up all night…yet let me sleep.

I’ve tried skipping it. I’ve tried mixing it up, doing something different. All with disastrous results that end with me restless, sleepless, tossing and turning, and my brain talking up a storm.

Because therein lies the rub – my brain? My sadistic, nonsensical, ridiculous, overachieving brain won’t SHUT UP when I go to bed. It finds that the bed, with its cozy mattress and its warm blankets and its huge pillow is the perfect place to review all worry, concern, to-do lists, problems, and, of course, singing any of the ditties or jingles or super fun children’s songs I’ve heard that day. My brain SUCKS at sleeping. And I hate it. Because I LOVE sleeping, DESIRE sleeping, walk around all day long wishing sleep were mine right now.

Dear Amy, Let's be friends in real life, because you seem to really get it. And it would be awesome to be in the same room as all of your talent and sass. Love, Me

Dear Amy, Let’s be friends in real life, because you seem to really get it. And it would be awesome to be in the same room as all of your talent and sass. Love, Me

I figured out the key to my sleep a couple of years ago. It was when I was in therapy for PPD with Lillian. Nancy, my lifesaving therapist, asked me how I was sleeping. Of course, terrible! I had a newborn AND depression wrapped in an anxiety disorder. I would lie down and either Lillian would wake up or Sophie would wake up or my brain would wake up. And then it would be morning and I’d have to do it all over again.

She suggested I ‘download’ all of my lists and worries and problems onto a piece of paper that I kept by the bed. Essentially, when my brain popped up with something to think about the moment my head hit the pillow, I could write it down. The idea was with practice I could write down everything BEFORE I lay down and then my brain would be quiet and I would sleep and everyone would live happily ever after.

Sometimes I do running math in my head...converting miles into kilometers, thinking about training and running and not running...but this book put me to sleep AND made me never want to stop running.

Sometimes I do running math in my head when I’m trying to fall asleep…converting miles into kilometers, thinking about training and running and not running…but this book put me to sleep AND made me never want to stop running.

It didn’t really work that way. The act of writing down everything turned more into a brainstorming of session of things that I could think about during the night, versus me getting rid of things to think about during the night. In short, it backfired.

But then I tried reading. I love reading. But with babies and my scattered brain, sitting down and reading during the day was (and still is) next to impossible. But at night? When everyone is tucked in and I have the bed to myself (because Ben is inevitably playing video games downstairs), I can read under covers, curled up with characters and lands and stories that are not my own. And that is the key.

My current sleeping pill. I love this book so far. This one makes me want to keep turning pages, be a better writer, get published...and go to sleep.

My current sleeping pill. I love this book so far. This one makes me want to keep turning pages, be a better writer, get published…and go to sleep.

When I read at night, my brain shuts off. It tunes out of my reality and tunes into other people’s trouble, worry, concern, fantasy, dreams, and to-do lists. Reading launches me into someone else’s world, so I don’t have to think about my own.

And that is the key, the piece, the only thing I can do to really get to sleep. It doesn’t matter if I go to bed at my regular bedtime, 10 p.m., or if I go to bed at 1 a.m. It doesn’t matter if it’s before a weekend afternoon nap or the big sleep in a hotel room in Baltimore. It doesn’t matter one iota. All that matters is that I’m quiet and reading a novel, a memoir, fiction, non-fiction, short stories, works of art, or fluff pieces. I need to read to escape to find the peace and quiet that I need to get to sleep.

How about you? What do you do to get to sleep? Sex? Warm milk? TV? Candy Crush? Or are you like Ben and all you need is a blanket, a pillow and your hearing aid out? Because that guy? He can fall asleep in an instant and I’m left hanging out with a snoring bear, while trying to shut off my brain…unless, I’ve got me a book, then I can tune out the lumberjack and tune into another world that acts as a portal to the most treasured gift ever – sleep.

~ Julia

I didn’t know

I’ve adopted a mantra in recent years, brought about by my mental health journey and my miscarriage heartache, and my living a small life full of big joy as a stay-at-home mom: Tell your truth. Tell it all, no matter how hard, awkward, painful, or real.

It’s a scary mantra, for sure, and is not for the faint of heart. I know many a mother, all strong, incredible women, who refuse to admit to more than a select few of their journey with mental illness or miscarriage or hardship. That talking about their truth is scarier than the truth itself. That kind of quiet, though, doesn’t work for me. And so, for me, I tell my truth.

I talk about dark days and low lows. I talk about broken brains and medicated pregnancies. I talk about dead babies and wide chasms of grief. I talk about rough patches and the fight of marriage. I talk. I talk. I talk.

I’m certain there are people who wish, sometimes or all the times, that I’d just shut up. (Sometimes I am those people.)

I also know, though, that there are people who have felt a relief that I’m a truth-sharer. That it gives them licence to share their truth – with me, with their doctor, with their partner, with themselves (sometimes, the hardest of all truth-sharing). That it gives them hope because they are not alone in their scary truth. That they are not crazy. And if they are crazy, then there’s hope because other crazy people walk among us and are living seemingly regular lives. (Note I didn’t say normal lives…there is no hope for that, let me tell you! 😉 .)

In keeping with my truth telling, I have another confession for you: I am suffering weaning depression. 

I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

I know tons about PPD and PPMD, about how they are jerks and liars and life-taker-overs, and how you have to be mega strong to fight and win over them, but that winning is possible and that having more babies after them is possible (See?! CRAZY.) and that life after is possible.

But weaning depression? Really?!

Things have been kind of ridiculous at the Mills’ house lately. A little over a week ago, I cut this guy off from my boobs:

Noodle night, anyone?

Noodle night, anyone?

And it wasn’t as hard as we had feared. And it wasn’t as tricky as it seemed. And in magical turn of events, he sleeps through the night now for the first time in 15 MONTHS. 

Guys, we won the lottery. I weaned Isaac at 15 months and there was uninterrupted sleep waiting for me as a prize. KICKASS.

But then? Then? Then I started to fall apart.

As in, the past week and a bit have been brutal. And crap.

Of course, there’s the sore boob problem. The we’re-still-making-milk-what-the-hell-are-you-doing problem. The we-look-like-we’re-surgically-enhanced problem. The if-Ben-so-much-as-looks-at-me-the-wrong-way-he’s-dead problem. They really, really hurt. I think I’m turning a corner with this, but I can’t be sure because I can’t think straight because MY BOOBS HURT. (Cue all the people who’d wish I’d shut up…it’s okay, I get it. And I still love you.)

But there’s this other problem that I don’t remember happening with Sophie or Lillian’s weaning: depression-like symptoms, rearing their ugly heads, as if I had never fought them and beat them all those months ago. As if I weren’t still medicated. As if I weren’t still working all of the steps and tools and processes that saved my life and continues to save my life today.

As if.

I feel like I’m itching in my skin again – I can’t sit still, yet I can’t do anything because everything is overwhelming and hard again. I want to scream at the babies all the time even though the hijinks and antics they’re pulling don’t bring me to my knees anymore. I want to run away from home and become a writer and a crafter and a knitter and an anything-but-stay-at-home-mom-er. I want to eat all the chocolate and butter and bread the world has to offer (Read: bring me a piece of buttered toast slathered in Nutella and you can pretty much have whatever you want). I want to eat nothing because I’m tired and I don’t want to cook or prep or clean. I want to sleep until there is no more sleep to be had. I hate sleeping because I’m having trouble falling into it and staying in it (cruel irony, here – the moment I’m given full nights of sleep is the moment I lose the ability to sleep.)

I’m struggling. And I hate it.

At first I thought I was crazier than normal, like my period was on its way (SHUT UP, JULIA!) and I was PMSing (apparently, symptoms after weaning can feel like a brutal case of PMS). And then I thought I might be pregnant (I took two tests…no fourth miracle post-tubal-ligation baby for us!). And then I decided to Safe Google (i.e. not random googling, educated googling – I went to sites that I knew did less panic-inciting and more researching and educating).

Weaning depression has not been documented in many studies, but it has a lot of anecdotal evidence behind it. Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress mentions it on her blog and states that through her years of running her website she has “heard from many women whose postpartum experiences were just fine until they stopped breastfeeding.” The Perinatal Mood Disorder Awareness website also covers this topic, saying that “a large percentage of Moms report experiencing mood changes related to weaning, and some Moms dip into full blown depression after weaning their babies.” I also found some fellow truth-tellers (like her, her and them), who bravely shared their stories and gave me hope that I’m not simply crazy and that there are other survivors out there.

I sit here stunned. Stunned that this crappy brain of mine is giving me a crappy experience again. That the life I was kicking ass at is crumbling a little again. That my ability to handle things with little-to-no help has all but disappeared and I’m left reaching out my hand to Ben, asking him to forgive the anger and crazy that’s pouring out of my mouth all the while begging him to let me lean on him (he said yes, by the way…because he’s awesome…and a life saver).

I didn’t know this existed. Had no idea.

But, now, it’s part of my journey. It’s part of my truth. And it is in this vein, this spirit that I share this with you, even the ones that wish I’d stop being an oversharer already.

Feeling low after weaning happens to a lot of women. There is a theory that it is related to the dropping levels of oxytocin, the happy-hormone that is at an all-time high while breastfeeding. The low can feel as awful as a mega bout of PMS or as bad as depression. It should be treated with grace and seriousness and help, as all mental health issues should be.

And it’s happening to me.

If you are experiencing this, or have experienced this and didn’t know what it was, or are thinking about having babies or breastfeeding babies, or if you know someone who has boobs who might use them one day to feed their babies, I’m sharing my truth in hopes that it will lend relief, understanding, and support to the person who feels lost and needs it, just as those brave women that I found as I Safe Googled my way through yet another gift of motherhood. I’m hanging in there, so have other women, and so can you.

~ Julia

Bad citizen

I have an anxiety disorder.

Yes, yes I am.

Yes, yes I am.

This means that I am an exemplary worrier, fretter, and all around ball of nerves. It also means that I’m medicated and that I’ve done years of therapy to manage the crazy in my head, because while pills definitely help, I need to be in charge of the runaway train of fear or it will definitely be in charge of me.

Simply put, I’m the queen of inflating any situation into a hypothetical nightmare. For example, if Ben is late getting home from work, I immediately envision him dead, I start freaking out about being a single parent, a widow, and the fact that I have to plan a funeral, get a job, and deal with everything forever by myself.

Welcome to my world, Ron.

Welcome to my world, Ron.

It also means that I have to be very careful, selective, and downright anal about what I consume mentally. Television shows, books, movies, even conversations, all have to be carefully monitored and I have to be ready to turn them off, shut my eyes, or leave the room if things get too dicey.

It’s a key to my self-care and my mental health, but in truth, it makes me a crappy citizen because the very tragedies that draw people closer, bring people together around water coolers and Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, are the poison that will derail my control over my nutty brain. For me, watching the news, reading online articles, following comment threads, delving into the gory details of an accident, a homicide, a plane crash, a suicide, a child molestation/abuse court case can make it too easy to go down the rabbit hole of the worst (and least realistic in my life) what-ifs out there.

This past week we had two tragedies in Canada involving our soldiers, where two servicemen, on our own soil, were killed with no war or battle or extremist circumstance near them. This is the stuff that makes our nation stand up, show solidarity, and inspires people to line the overpasses of highways to give a fallen soldier a hero’s return home.

So moving and fitting.

So moving and fitting.

It’s also the stuff that makes me curtail my online prowling and consuming so that I only view or read on the periphery, the barest of details, and avoid the in-depth commentary, the poetic waxing on the soldier’s sad dogs or grief-stricken little boy, and the replay of the security footage leading up to and including the murders. It makes me hide when everyone else is seeking insight and discussing the situation at every opportunity.

It gets even harder when something happens involving someone famous. Celebrities these days are uber accessible and prominent, and that makes any horrific or prolific situation involving them feel like it’s happening to someone we know. When Robin Williams died from suicide, I had to shut down my social media consumption extensively – everyone was talking about it, retweeting it, Facebook posting it, sharing and becoming a community of mourners. I had to halt the thoughts of how awful it must have been for him, how awful it must be for his family and friends, because had I continued to think about all of the horribleness of the situation, I probably would have found myself immobilized by a grief that wasn’t mine in the first place, or worse, in a position of wondering where my life fit on his spectrum for what’s unbearable and what I can live through. It’s a dangerous, dangerous thing for me.

And I’m not alone. This ‘don’t invite scary thoughts in your head’ tactic is used by many, many people who suffer from mental illness. It’s the first thing on the list of things to avoid when you’re suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety by Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on mental illness related to pregnancy and child birth. The Calm Clinic, an online blog specializing in anxiety disorders, states clearly that you should minimize your exposure to anxiety stimuli. What is more anxiety-filled than the evening news?

People are often surprised that I don’t know about current events, like the Ebola virus, or what the status is on those poor girls who were kidnapped, or the current war being fought. I’m a smart person. And I thrive on researching things (I’m the queen of googling). But when it comes to scary things beyond my control, things that will just worry me and fill me with paralyzing fear, things that I don’t have to deal with right now, or probably ever, I simply don’t think about them. I don’t learn about them. I don’t read, comment, write, or discuss them. Because at the end of the day, even if I am a bad citizen, at least I’m a healthy Julia, and that I can control.

~ Julia

How I’m doing

It’s been quite a few months since I came out as suffering from a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD/PPD) and I was thinking it might be a good idea to let you know how I’m doing.

I am doing really, really well.

In terms of the PPMD/PPD, I’m completely recovered. I don’t have a foggy brain anymore, I’m not anxious and overwhelmed anymore, I’m not flying off the handle with blind rage anymore. I’m controlled. I’m confident in my parenting. I’m taking care of myself. And I am actually thriving as a person, instead of drowning.

I am doing really, really well.

Of course, there was no magic pill or instant cure, there was no lightbulb moment that changed everything, but there was hard work and lots of help. And I wanted to share with you what fueled my success this time.

I stayed medicated. This is controversial, in that I was medicated all throughout my pregnancy with Isaac and even bumped my medication up at the end of my pregnancy. It’s controversial because it means Isaac went through withdrawal when he was born and was at a tiny (read: minuscule) risk for birth defects. But the risk of me committing suicide or hurting myself or my babies or landing myself into a mental hospital were all severely high if I had stopped taking my medication. I have been medicated since after Lillian was born and still am to this day. Will I be medicated for the rest of my life? I have no idea, but at this point it’s working and that’s all that matters.

I asked for help. It’s tough admitting you don’t have it all together. It’s even harder when you did have it together at the beginning and now it’s starting to crumble months after your baby is born. Especially because up until my confession in February, I had been the poster girl for what to do when you have a history of mental illness and you want more children. I encapsulated my placenta and took it as prescribed (no, really). I stayed medicated. I put supports in place for the first six weeks after birth to ensure I healed properly from my scheduled C-section. I got rest. I didn’t act like a hero. My house fell into even further disarray and I was okay with it. I did everything RIGHTAnd yet, everything still fell apart. Asking for help was eating humble pie and accepting that even though we do everything the way we’re “supposed to,” things can still fall spectacularly apart. But I did it. I asked for help. I called my therapist and got an appointment that week. I was told by Toni and Jacqui that I would be getting help from Toni, and I accepted it. Let the leaning and the healing begin.

I remembered what I had learned. I joked when I got to therapy that I was going for my PhD in PPD…that I had been here twice before, that this was my third time, and by the time this was done I would be set for life. Full of PPD knowledge. You know, it turned out to be true. I remembered what I needed to do. I remembered the importance of self-care and how vital it was to my past recovery. I remembered that sleep was a key component to getting through the day in one piece. I remembered that I had to take things one excruciating step at a time, not rush through or jump from step 1 to step 74398574. I remembered that it was a journey full of peaks and valleys. I remembered that the Julia that I remembered from before babies, before the first two rounds of PPD, before the miscarriage, before this moment would come back, that she wasn’t lost for good, that she still existed. And I remembered I had to trust the process, not jump ship just because it wasn’t working. My therapist told me that this would be my shortest journey through PPD. The first round was seven months with no help. The second round was five months with medication and therapy. This round was just shy of four months. She was right. My quickest yet. PhD in the BAG!

I exercised my tushy off. No, literally. I’m 30 pounds lighter than when I started this journey. Exercising, whether bootcamp with my sisters, hiking at ridiculous o’clock, or finding my zen in running, became an integral part of my recovery. It’s no wonder – exercise gives you endorphins; endorphins make you happy; happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.

Or maybe it’s something more like this (although I will argue that the above is COMPLETELY valid):

Exercise-is-better-than-antidepressants

I feel it when I don’t exercise – the anxiety, the irritability, the brain that won’t shut up, the anger that’s bubbling far too close to the surface. And I feel it when I do – the power that exists in me, the calm that comes from achieving something so simple yet hard, the brain break because all I can do is concentrate on my breathing when I run alone, or the friend/sister-therapy that comes from running with others. It is the thing that is gluing me together. It has replaced chocolate and mindless eating. It has replaced napping and hiding. It is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Period.

I am kind to myself. There are bad days. There are days when I feel like I’m not a great mom…or maybe not even a good mom. There are days when I feel like there’s no way I’ll ever be able to accomplish all the things I need to do…days when Isaac is screaming and Lillian is pooping on the floor and Sophie is late for school and we haven’t even left yet. These are the days I practice being kind to myself, not shaming myself. I don’t berate me for not having it all together (i.e. no poop, no screaming, on time school kid). I don’t sit there and fume and fight with the babies who only dig their heels in more when you rush them. I don’t let it ruin the whole day. I accept my fate in that moment (we are going to be late). I remind myself that no one is dying, that this is by far not the worst situation, that I’m normal and this is nuts and it’s hard because it’s hard, not because I’m failing.

Life is hard. Not because we're doing it wrong, just because it's hard.

Glennon Doyle Melton (Way-back-play-back because I LOVE this quote so much.)

I have a village. There is no supporting cast as important as the village that helps you raise your babies. It is the thing that we turn to when we have a question, want perspective, or need an ear to just listen and then respond with, “I get it. You’re not alone.” In one of my earliest therapy sessions, my counselor said that I needed to create a village for myself, that without it I would be eternally lost. And she’s right. My village is HUGE and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Shout-outs go to The Mothers, both Ben’s and mine, for loving us and our babies, for providing second homes and soft places to land when things get out of hand, for hugging and listening and never judging. Props over to my sisters, my soulmates, the people that God saw fit to put in my permanent family, especially my nanny Toni, my dopelanger-in-spirit Jacqui, and Kim, my sister-in-broken-brainedness. To my dear broken brain friends, both past and present, thank you for never letting me feel crazy…but rather, helping me feel normal. To my kindred spirit Laura, for crafting with me, praying for me, and listening to me – love you! And to the ladies of the drop-off brigade – Heather, Bethany, Andrea, Michele, and Danika – without you holding Lillian’s hands, being second moms to Sophie, sharing in the school experience, this anxiety-ridden gal would have no friends at school. Thank you thank you thank you.

I have Ben. Beyond the village, you also need a good man in a storm. Ben is that good man. He watched me sob on the couch as I worried they would take away our babies and lock me up when I confessed to the third bout of PPD. He held me and told me we’d do whatever it took to get better. He never left me, even when I was being an asshole to him (PPD brings out the worst in people). He never blamed me, even though I felt like every crappy moment was my fault (I own the brain, ergo…). He has never stopped loving me, even when I made it impossible for him to love me. He let me run. He gave me time to regroup. He’s taken 50% of the night feeds since the 7-week mark. He is awesome. And to top it all off – he’s a great dad to our crazy kids. To the moms who are fighting this alone, I don’t know how you’re doing it. You are my heroes, because this is hard and hellish with a partner…without one, you must be made of steel or something. Seriously. I bow to you.

To the moms who are still fighting – don’t lose hope. I got my PhD. I survived my third round. I’m a confident, well-adjusted (most days) mom of three kids. I am still here, better, stronger, more vivid than I was before, and you will be too. Promise.

Babies and Mama

~ Julia

 

Tell her she’s awesome

I talked about the idea of feeling bad for people who want children and who have announced that they’re pregnant – worrying over their mental health, the blow to their sense of self, and the permanent upheaval of their lives that they will experience – and how it is wrapped up in my own battles with PPMDs. But is it completely restricted to me or other moms who have experienced mental illness or something traumatic? Or might I be onto something bigger?

I read an article on HuffPost Parents (seriously love following them) called: Throwing a New Mom Pity Party. The author, Kate Rope, a two-time mother and PPMD warrior, postures that maybe, just maybe, it might not be such a bad idea to talk about the bad stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that makes you think, “What the HELL have I gotten myself into?” with as much zeal as the sweet-baby smell, the realized dream of being a mother, and the all-encompassing love you’re supposed to feel.

She says:

…I don’t think it’s a bad thing to acknowledge the tragedy that can accompany this socially recognized miracle. Why do you think Zorba called having a wife, kids and a house “the full catastrophe?” That’s what life is — messy and filled with highs and lows. And, when it comes to motherhood, we need to normalize the lows. There is no shame in talking about how it sucks (albeit not around your friend who is on her second round of IVF) and in reaching out for help at any stage of it.

In the article, she talks about wanting to give a weary-looking mother of a newborn a hug when she spots her in a coffee shop. But she refrains, because truly she doesn’t know what’s going on with her and she’s looking at the mom through the lense of someone who has suffered in her motherhood. And maybe this mom isn’t suffering, per say, but she’s a mother of a young baby, and that is not inherently easy.

But that’s just the point – young babies notoriously don’t sleep, have trouble eating or latching, drain you, throw your schedule for a loop, cry because they don’t know how to pass gas and sometimes scream for no reason at all. Why can’t we talk to a stranger about that? Is it the same reason that we say “Good!” whenever we’re asked how we’re doing in passing?

I get it – you don’t want to freak out some poor defenseless person on the street with your insistence they talk about their feelings right now, but maybe we should relax a little about talking about it in our circles of friends, or family, with our own parents, or with people in our baby yoga class. Maybe we should let go of the idea of perfection and embrace the fact that it’s crazy messy and we’re all doing our very best.

A dear mom-friend of mine, Sara, texted me saying that I should write about “creating a new mom environment – supporting not critiquing – how to create a village”. I think there might be three blog posts in there, but she’s right: as new parents, we’re bombarded with a hundred different ways to do the smallest of things and each of those options claim to be the RIGHT WAY because the other ways just might KILL YOUR BABY. It’s overwhelming. And not helpful.

If you breastfeed your baby, you’re a rock star. If you don’t, you’re a horrible mother. If you make your own baby food, you’re crazy and a health-nut. If you buy jarred food, you better be buying organic, because goodness knows what’s in the ‘other’ stuff.

There is no winning. There is no making the best decision for your family and appeasing everyone else. There is no being perfect.

And therein lies the rub.

No one is perfect. No one has all the answers. No one has ever raised a child completely mess- and stress-free. NO ONE. EVER. PERIOD. But, ads, magazines, well-meaning relatives, friends with children, friends with pets, friends who live in their parents’ basement will tell you otherwise. Will tell you that you’re doing it wrong. That they have a better way. That they are right.

Not everyone will experience my personal pain of surviving a miscarriage or fighting with mental illness. Not everyone will walk the road that I had to in order to become a mother. But everyone who becomes a parent will stumble at some point. Will have a hard time at some point. Will wonder who they have become at some point. Inevitably. No life change comes without challenge. If it did, it wouldn’t be life-changing. It would be hanging out on the couch watching your favourite show. Not doing something awesome and crazy and hard.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

I have come across this incredible online community fueled by Glennon Doyle Melton, a woman who has lived a far from perfect life, but who is learning to embrace the truth that everyone has also lived and is living a far from perfect life, called Momastery. Here, mothers from around the world chime in about embracing their flaws and failures and not working so damn hard pretending that life is anything but nuts. It’s incredibly liberating. And comforting.

Because sometimes, days when I’m covered in poop (no, literally), when I realize the pants I have been wearing have been peed on by two different children on two different days, when I can’t remember the last time I had a shower, when I just want five seconds alone without any sound, I wonder if I’m doing it wrong. If I’m not accomplishing some illusive mom-goals. If I’m failing miserably. If everyone else is normal and I’m the exception.

And then I find things like Momastery. And the Messy Beautiful Warrior Project on Pinterest (an ATTAINABLE Pinterest board, people!) And I realize, not only am I not messing up, but I’m doing awesome because I’m doing it. 

So, the next time you see a new mom, or the mom who is yelling, or the mom on her iPhone, or the mom checking out the no-name, non-organic food in the grocery store, instead of judging, or wondering if you’re doing it wrong, maybe tell her she’s doing alright. She’s doing just fine. And then tell yourself, you’re not too shabby either.

Because as Kate writes in her article, “Even if being a parent is one of your most important life goals — it was for me. You are allowed to struggle — a lot. And just because you signed up for a life-changing experience, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve help with all the changes it brings.”

So, help her with her groceries, if your hands are empty. Be truthful when talking about this craziness that is parenthood. Don’t judge when someone makes a different choice than you. And keep in mind that you are doing your best, and that is pretty freaking awesome.

Just show up Be brave Be kind Rest Try again

~ Julia

I want to be happy for you

It happens all the time.

It happened on Tuesday when I went to the hospital for therapy.

It happened when I was watching The Social.

It happens every time someone announces their pregnancy.

It happens when I spy on my neighbours across the way with their new family of three.

It happens with every person I love who tells me they want to have babies.

It happens All. The. Time.

I feel sad and worried for them. I feel engulfed in feelings of anxiety and fear for them. I want to tell them it’s a decision that is heavier than the fun they had or will have making the baby. That once they make it, they’ll never be able to un-make it. That it will be so hard. And not just hard, but the hardest. I want to say to them that they should run away, stay single, stay a DINK, do anything but become parents, have babies, make a family. ANYTHING.

I don’t of course. I smile and act happy, act excited, act enthused. I sit there and bite my tongue and cheeks and teeth, praying that my experience, my history, my perspective doesn’t come tumbling out of me and scare the crap out of them, especially if they’re announcing they’re expecting (a little late for a change of plans, you know).

But it’s my truth. It’s my experience. It’s what I know. You get pregnant and you’re happy. SO happy. You are a walking miracle. And then you have the baby and it’s awful. Your brain breaks into hundreds of fragments and only the worst parts of yourself rise to the surface. You fight every day to stay in your skin, to get out of bed, to keep tiny bundles of need alive, to not lose yourself, to not break-up your relationship with your partner, your family, your friends, to learn to love your baby, to grow into a mother instead of the monster you’ve become.

You hide because you can’t stand the thought of people seeing through the façade you’re putting on. You run away from home every chance you can because if you spend one more second in your house alone with your infant you’re not sure you’ll survive it. You seek out crowds or stay in your room. You are the extreme of unhappy in what should be the happiest moment of your life. And you have no control over anything, least of all what your brain is doing to you.

I’m not sure if there will ever be a time where I feel genuine happiness for someone when they share their stork-schedule news. I don’t know if I’ll ever get enough distance between me and postpartum depression and mood disorders to be able to conjure up anything but dread for the couple that is leaving the hospital, walking around Wal-Mart like disoriented zombies, or showing off their brand-new baby. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ‘normal’ when it comes to pregnancy or birth announcements.

But let me be clear.

I love my babies. It’s a love that I’ve earned and that for me was hard-won. It’s a love that is complicated and messy, fulfilling and exhausting, absorbing and alienating. It’s a love and experience I wouldn’t change for anything in the world. Ever.

Sophie and me

Sophie and me

I wouldn’t send any of them back or not have babies. It was in the game plan since before I can recall ever making a game plan and there is no other way I would have my life or any other way that I see my life.

Lillian and me

Lillian and me

I would love to have anything other than a mental illness every time I had a baby, but it’s not enough for me to wish all of my babies, my loves, away.

Isaac and me

Isaac and me

And when you do tell me that you’re pregnant, or that you want oodles of babies, or when I see your Facebook announcement that you’ve given birth to a beautiful new member of your family, I will do everything in my power to be happy out loud for you. To recall how I felt in the seconds after we found out about Sophie, Lillian, Charlie, and Isaac, in the seconds after I got to meet them, in the days, weeks, months after I learned to love them. To focus on the moment you are sharing with me, not the moments that might be for you and have been for me. To be present in your happiness, in your joy, in the experience that will change your life forever.

Babies and me

Babies and me

Because I want to be happy for you. I do. And I’m so humbled that you are choosing to share it with me, even though I’m a walking train-wreck PSA of what not to do when you have a baby.

So tell me. And I’ll hug you and pray that your experience is what mine becomes, that your love and health is present from the start and carries through, always.

I promise.

~ Julia

Meant to be

Do you believe in fate?

Or do you believe that when things fall into place, it’s simply happenstance, coincidence, or serendipity?

I fully believe that things not only happen for a reason, but that the timing is always perfect.

I don’t believe that it’s fate and obviously I’m anti-coincidence. I’m a firm believer that God ensures things happen when they’re supposed to. 

This is not always an easy thing to do.

It’s hard for people who don’t believe in a higher power to accept that there’s something bigger guiding things from above, or below, or over there. It’s tricky to hang on and have faith when everything is falling apart and nothing feels like it’s going to work out. And for people who are very logical and want everything rooted in something tangible, this idea is impossible. It can not and does not exist.

But for me, it’s what’s true.

Examples of this, of God’s hand working hard for me, have made themselves apparent very recently.

The first one is pretty easy to see why I would believe that God is making sure myself and my family are being cared for.

One of the sisters, Toni, lost her job in November. This in and of itself is not a great moment. In fact, some would argue that this is a crappy circumstance, and God is certainly not behind it or if He is, He’s a meanie. She’s not a millionairess (yet) and she needs her job. But, shortly after losing her job, my baby Isaac got sick. He was so sick that he had to be hospitalized for three days. My husband, Ben, had already used up all of his vacation time, so taking time off work would have been unpaid time. Toni was able to step in and be me for those few days, taking care of my home while I was taking care of Isaac in the hospital. That was divine intervention.

She still doesn’t have a job, which again might be construed as even jerkier, but in truth she’s saving me by helping me every day with my babies while I recover from postpartum depression again. It’s not great for her bank account, but the love I’m receiving is priceless.

The second example is a bit more convoluted, and the naysayers (such a biblical word) and doubters (another one!) would argue that this is complete nonsense, but bear with me.

My friend Jill is a superb Tupperware lady. Through Tupperware, she met a fabulous travel agent guru, Emily. Emily goes to church with an incredible woman named Laura, who runs her own Stampin’ Up business. Jill and I both know Paula, another awesome woman, and she asked Laura to put on a card-making party for her (so. much. fun.).

The night of that party, which happened two Christmases ago, was nothing out of the ordinary. When you’re a woman of a certain age, direct sellers target their parties directly at you. When you’re a stay-at-home mom, you are drawn to the idea of getting out of the house simply for the the potential of adult conversation.

But that night, I felt as though Laura was a kindred spirit to me. Have you heard of this idea? A kindred spirit? The best example that I can think of is Anne Shirley and Diana in Anne of Green Gables.

They are people just like you, whose heart beats like yours and whose outlook matches yours and when you look at each other you think, “I get her (or him)”. That happened for me and Laura that night. We are kindred spirits.

Fast forward more crafting opportunities, more conversations that proved we were in fact kindred spirits, and it’s today. Today I am broken. Today, my brain needs love and care and rest and help. And today I’m enrolled in a bible study with Laura. She invited me and it’s two hours in the middle of the week at her church where I get to sit and think and be with God and ponder Him.

Last week we studied Psalm 3, which is all about the strength and protection and help of God. Verses 3 and 4 really stuck out for me:

But You, O Lord, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
I cried to the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill.

Now, you might say that of course we liked each other since we both go to church and of course it would be natural that Laura would invite me to a bible study. Of course.

But it’s so much bigger than that. It’s the perfect storm of circumstance, created and curated by the big guy in the sky that made it so that I could go and sit in a room full of women and pray with my kindred spirit Laura when my heart would be hurting. It’s got Him all over it.

So as we plod along, day by day, keep your eyes open for moments of fate or kismet, or serendipity or God. Because even the smallest ones can lead to the biggest comfort.

Or maybe it’s all just coincidence.

~ Julia

Strength in defeat

I’m calling uncle.

I’m waving the white flag.

I’m giving in.

But let me be clear – I’m not giving up.

I’ve been struggling for the past couple of weeks. More than the usual struggle of three-kids-under-five. More than the usual infant-induced-sleep-deprivation struggle. More than the let’s-strap-a-15-pound-baby-on-you-and-drag-a-25-pound-preschooler-in-a-sled-for-forty-minutes-in-the-cold-twice-a-day struggle.

It’s the struggle of postpartum anxiety, depression, and the one that we hate to name, cringe to admit, are scared to talk about (because it’s scary before, after, and when it happens) rage.

The signs have been there for a little bit, but I’m reaching the point where the bad days, bad moments, bad hours are starting to blob together, where there’s little reprieve and few good, solid, confident moments.

My spirit isn’t bouncing back so easy, as if it’s as stretched out as my four-times-pregnant-three-times-c-sectioned belly. It is faltering, falling, slamming into the ground and taking forever to get back up. It needs some rest, some love, some care, and a break.

But that’s the trouble with the postpartum period. It’s filled to the brim with to-do tasks, with obligations, with needs that aren’t yours but are necessary to meet. It’s not an empty chasm ripe with opportunity for healing and restoration. Oh, if only it were.

So, I’m doing what I know is right and good and helpful.

I’ve called my therapist. She’s lovely. I’m looking forward to working with her on this, even though I’m SO angry I’m here again.

I’m asking for help. I even pulled a sister-favour from Jacqueline and Toni on Toni’s birthday.

I’m working on rest and quiet. These things are a rare commodity for any parent of young children. Young children do not, as a rule, sleep well or long, and are the loudest, most high energy creatures. Ever.

I’m going to up the exercising, because as we all know from Elle: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

And I’m admitting it out loud, because I know there are so many moms out there struggling, or who have struggled, or who don’t know what is happening to them, who are praying for an answer or a miracle. I’m letting you know I’m with you, in the trenches, again, fighting, again, for what should rightfully be ours ‘naturally’. And it’s okay that we’re here. And it’s normal. And there’s hope. And we can do this.

Promise.

Because not only have I suffered through this twice, I’ve also beat the crap out of it twice.

So bring it on, postpartum mood disorders. Bring. It. On.

I’m ready to kick your ass again. After this nap.

Never giving up

~ Julia