Friday, April 11, 2014

It's a girl...hey where did everybody go? -My Messy Beautiful

Swaddled in a pastel blanket, there she is on the balcony of my apartment, three stories up from the parking lot.  The railing is there but she is so small that she rolls and slips right under the base, falling quick towards the pavement below.

 I snap back to reality, my heart racing, my breath rapid and frantic, my mind full of fear and horror, why does this scene keep playing in my head.  I look over at my sweet 6 week old daughter laying safely in her bouncy seat and start to calm down as I return to reality.   
A year before this I had longed to be a mother.  I was recently married and filled with excitement at the idea of starting a family.  So why was this happening to me now that the moment had arrived?  Why was I seeing horrible visions of my sweet baby?  Why was I so sad all the time?  Why did I panic anytime I needed to go anywhere or make a decision?  This was supposed to be a happy wonderful time and I was a complete wreck.   

I didn't dare tell anyone, actually writing that first paragraph was extremely hard.  I haven't even told my husband about that horrible vision.  I feared they might think I was a terrible mother, or take my daughter away from me.   I loved her, woke at all hours of the night to nurse her, sang songs to her, and  would do anything for her.  I thought that maybe it was just exhaustion and if I could catch up on my sleep it would go away, then one day I went to buy some chicken.   I went to the drive-thru of a fried chicken place and when my turn came to order I panicked.   I was buying dinner for myself and my husband, I had decided that this would be easier than cooking a meal with a newborn, it wasn't.  I could not make a decision on how many pieces of chicken I needed.   My heart began racing, my chest got tight, I felt dizzy and like I couldn't breath as all the options of combo meals ran through my mind.  I sat parked in front of the speaker frozen and feeling like I was about to die.  This, was my wake-up call that I was not doing OK and this certainly couldn't be normal.   I was suffering from a case of postpartum depression and I needed help.  

Fast forward to today and I am now a mother of two children, ages 8 and 11. (this picture is old, I can't seem to find a recent one.)  I am also a birth doula and now I get to support women as they go through the journey of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.   This work often makes me think back to those first few months of motherhood and the struggle and pain that came with the joy and elation.   I question how it happened to me, and how I can help it from happening to others.  I am not sure that I can single-handedly stop it from happening but I can certainly start a conversation about it.  Sometimes raising awareness of something helps the people going through it not feel alone when they come to face it.   I think a big part of postpartum depression is feeling alone.   

Prior to having my daughter my husband and I had a group of friends to go out with, outdoor parties by the pool and music in downtown Austin. After she was born our friends stopped calling because they assumed we would be too tired or busy to go out.  When I was pregnant there was rarely alone time.  Strangers at the grocery store wanted to talk to me about my growing belly. Did I know if it was a girl or boy? What name had we picked? How was I feeling, and could they get me anything?  Pregnancy can be a pretty self indulgent time. The world takes notice and stops to pamper you.   Then, you have the baby, everyone rushes in, makes a big fuss and then in about two weeks they all vanish.  Paternity leave, if there was any, ends all too quickly. Helpful grandmothers go back home.  There you sit in a rocking chair, sleep deprived, baby spit up on your shirt, a pile of dishes and laundry, and an adorable baby. Messy, Beautiful.

Now I know that there are support groups like Postpartum Support International so that no new mother has to feel alone.  For myself, I spoke to my Dr, read an encouraging "new mom" books, took some zoloft, prayed, joined some online social chat rooms, and made myself get out of the house.   I wish I would have known there were local support groups and so many women that had been through it before and that is why I'm telling you my story.

How about as a community we decide that we don't just go away after the first two weeks of our friend having a baby.  Let's keep gushing over her, go clean her house, or ask her if she wants to go out dancing.  She might say no, but being invited feels so good!   It lifts you up out of the foggy valley of parenting to see that the world didn't just forget about you.  It is helpful to know that you are more than a milk machine and diaper changer, you are the cool friend that your girlfriends want to hang out with.  I have a theory that small villages do not experience the levels of postpartum depression that Americans do.  Actually 1 in 10 Americans report depression according to the CDC.   That is ridiculously high but I totally believe it.   We are all on our phones, updating our status to say how awesome our life is, and the real community, the hugs from a friend, the sound of their voice in a conversation, the things that stimulate our souls.... are lacking.

I wish I could tell you that I don't feel alone anymore, but the truth is that I do.  Often.  My guess is that you do too.  I'm not depressed, I find joy in my family and my garden and crafting.  This busy America is set up for folks to feel lonely despite all of that.   I have thought it the past that it was because I am the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, or because my son has SPD and all that meant I had to say "no" to doing some fun things for the balance of my family.   I am sure that is part of it but it's bigger than that.  1 out of 10 Americans, it's so much bigger than my situation.   I think it's because things are too rushed to connect.  We drive around, drop kids off places, check our email while walking, and forget to look up and communicate with the people around us.  Also we are daily seeing stories and pictures of moments that we were never a part of.   I look at everyone's facebook updates and feel like I am missing those moments.  The family that is far away having a birthday party, the  friends I haven't seen in 10 years because of all the miles between us.  Part of seeing that is a gift because we do get to stay updated on family and dear friends, but since when does looking at an old photo album make anyone feel less lonely.

I got off track from the postpartum depression, but my point is that the loneliness and depression can happen regardless of life stage.  I think society expects it less from the new mother because "she should be happy with her new baby."  The new mother needs special care, but really we all do.
 This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!


Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Weight Of Mercy - Part 2 (making it lighter and filling your cup)

I've been on a journey of exploring this thing called mercy for many weeks now.  I'm still learning but I wanted to share some things that I have learned along the way.   The first thing that I learned was to not hold on to things that aren't mine to hold.  In order to do that I had to evaluate what really was mine and what wasn't.  I absorb the emotions of those around me, so much sometimes that I'm easily tricked into thinking they are my emotions.  Somewhere I know they aren't but my response is to act as if they are mine.    I'm getting better at this now, each time an emotion rushes through me I assess the situation, I ponder on whether or not  it is coming from me, and then I ponder what I am truly feeling.   If you aren't super empathetic this might seem crazy to you, but if you are then hopefully this is helpful.   I'm also finding that physically separating myself from the person who is radiating emotion can be helpful.  I don't stay away too long, just enough to get grounded and figure out how I feel, and how they feel, and then I can move forward knowing what is true.

My dear friends at church met with my husband and I to tell us that they were moving very far away.  I was sad, but also I was happy for them because it seemed that they were embarking on a divinely inspired adventure and I was excited to see what will happen next.  That next Sunday they announced it at church and immediately the room was flooded with so much emotion, a lot of it felt like extreme sadness, fear, and despair.  Our pastor asked that we gather around them in prayer and I knew that I could not be in the middle of that circle.  I wouldn't have known that a month ago.  I would have rushed right up there and become immensely overwhelmed. Luckily for me I was working on figuring this out and so I stayed on the outside physically, reminding myself of my own true feelings and accepting that I couldn't fix or stop the other people from their sadness.  It was still difficult but I was able to acknowledge what feelings didn't belong with me and then pray for those who were feeling the other emotions.

My next lesson has been that my cup must be full.  Full of rest, joy, love, and health and then from the overflow, that is where I can help others.   I'm working on filling my cup, and not feeling guilty about it because it means that when I go to help others I will be so much more useful and I won't break out in a crazy stress rash at the end of the day.

I must sit, and pray, and wait.  My bible study group has been reading a book that I can't remember the title of, but the lesson this week was that not all good things are great things.  Our world has so many good choices, so many things that we can do to help and serve, so many worthy causes.  Not all of them are for all of us.  We must do what only we can do, and let others do what we cannot.   Saying no to something means I can do something else that I'm totally equipped for and I can totally rock it!  That is much better than doing something halfway good that somebody else would have done entirely better.

  This makes me think of Sunday school class.  I signed up to teach last year because we needed teachers.  I didn't realize that it also meant coming up with our own Story Telling lessons for the verse.  I thought that it would be pre-planned.   I must say that I was pretty terrible at it, I struggled with it weekly, and my lessons were OK but I knew they could have been much better. Most of the time I searched online for a lesson plan that fit the bible verse.   This year I am the assistant, I get to sit with the kiddos and help them not fidget so much, talk with them while they color and basically just be spontaneous sharing the love of Jesus while somebody else teaches the lesson.  My replacement is a great teacher, her lessons are wonderful and she actually has the gift of teaching.  I can hang and talk and I love being around kids, but lesson planning.... so not my skill and that is OK because someone else does have that skill.  

Next Lesson: I like to fix things and I hate conflict.  The moment conflict starts to arise I feel very panicked and fearful and try my best to smooth it over and make in vanish.   The question is, am I trying to fix things that need to be broken?  Things that need to be fixed by someone else so that they can learn and grow?   I'm so quick to jump but a lot of times it's to prevent my own discomfort of sitting and observing a mess.  Who wants to sit and stare at a broken glass on the floor when they are could just quickly  sweep it up.  Except, maybe I don't have the proper equipment to clean up and I end up cutting my finger when if I would have looked behind me there was someone standing with a broom and dustpan ready to do the job properly.
( I literally just watched this happen at my kids school in the hallway.  This woman started frantically grabbing pieces of glass and cut her finger all while someone else was getting the broom and dustpan.  So then she was bleeding everywhere and in need of band-aid, a simple mess made into a bigger mess.)    Patience.

So I'm still learning, but overall I'm getting the message that it's not about me.   People feel things, I can sit with them and share that, we need to know we aren't alone in our troubles  but I am not supposed to fix them.   They were never asking to be fixed, just to be listened to and loved.   I think that maybe mercy is mostly overwhelming when we think we have to hold on to others emotions and trouble until they are fixed.   That is not the job for humans, even therapist only hold your troubles long enough for your session and then it's up to you to the individual to go about the fixing.  Of course my own personal belief is that Jesus does the fixing, but we have to ask Him to and we have to want to be fixed.  

 I have been learning a lot on my journey and seeking His voice this whole time.   It's been amazing what has been revealed to me and I look forward to learning and growing more.

"if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[a]do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." -Romans 12:8
Rember, you cannot do things cheerfully if you haven't first filled yourself full with cheer.