Sunday, July 8, 2018

40 In, 40 Out: A Postpartum Journey

You can do this. You can do this, but why would you? It's a story that needs to be told. Stigmas are stigmas for a reason. So many women suffer in silence. Silence wards off the inevitable judgement. Sharing the experience is cathartic. Sharing the experience is so, so scary. You're on the tail end of it. Will it ever really be over? Mental health is health. Mental health is health.

For the past 80 or so weeks, I haven't been myself. That's a long freaking time when I see those numbers typed out. Yikes.  Antepartum and Postpartum depression have hit me like a relentless hurricane during my second pregnancy and life has been difficult at best.  It's hard to even know where to begin in sharing my journey, but it's one that's worth sharing if it means that just one other woman in this sometimes lonely world will feel less alone.

Depression: I think it's important to share a bit of my history with depression as a precursor. Depression runs deep in both sides of my family so it's not totally a surprise that I suffer from it. I remember the first time that I was really able to identify what it was: I came home on break from college during grad school just feeling absolutely miserable and going through the motions, but not much beyond that. It felt as though I was swathed in a deep fog and had no fog light to guide me through the darkness. Since then (or probably before, but I didn't know it), I've battled depression on and off for years.

Antepartum Depression: Did you know this is a thing? It is a thing. I found out that I was pregnant with Harper in January of 2017. It was something that CP and I were hoping for so we were elated and excited. About a month later after the initial excitement set in, so did the dreaded winter blues. Those winter blues never left, though, and they became spring and summer blues too. I'm not sure how to accurately describe how low I felt. I dragged myself out of bed in the morning, only to find myself pleading for the minutes to tick by faster so I could close my eyes and be done with the day again. I closed so many people off and hibernated whenever I could. Paired with some difficult physical symptoms like sciatica, I hated so much of this pregnancy. The shame that I felt (and still feel) for feeling that way given that so many women and couples struggle with infertility only led me deeper down the depression wormhole.

Along with the Antepartum depression, this is also when I started experiencing night terrors. I would dream that people were crawling through our walls, children were being taken or were drowning, or that I was trapped in a room with no way out. I would wake up and be "awake", but still in the night terror so I would often be screaming or yelling for help. Oy. These lasted throughout my pregnancy.

Postpartum Depression: Harper's birth was about as easy as they come and I so hoped for relief from all of the physical and mental ailments that haunted me for the previous 40 weeks. I'd say for about 4-5 months, actually, things were a lot better. When I say a lot better, I mean not as depressing- the transition from one to two girls was still a crazy one, but thankfully (so thankfully!), the night terrors stayed at bay.

The transition back to work after three months was a stressful one, but I more or less expected that. A couple of months later, my grandfather died, we moved my grandmother to VA, and life threw our family a big curveball. Looking back on those months of going back to work and then a big upheaval within our family, it's no wonder my anxiety and subsequent depression came rearing back, but things were so chaotic in the moment that I couldn't even recognize it.

My anxiety kept increasing (for me, I mostly feel a big 'ol pit in stomach when I'm anxious) and there was another piece that started making my depression rear its ugly head more and more: pumping. Where to even start on this one- it is such a love/hate relationship that I have with the darn machine. I'm thankful that I had one and that I was able to use it. Beyond that, though, it became such a source of the blues for me. Harper surprisingly preferred the bottle to milk from the source, so I was spending about 100-150 minutes a day tethered to the pump and after long enough, it just got the best of me. At work I would miss recess and planning time, meaning I wouldn't step outside of the building most days and I was obviously playing catch up on planning all the time. I would wake up at 5am to give myself enough time to pump and get myself out the door for work and then I would be dead tired at night....only to remember that I still had to pump last thing before bed. All this to say- pumping wore me to the ground this time around. Around this time, my night terrors also resurfaced and they were far worse this time.

So- what was the breaking point? I started to resent Harper. Even typing those words and rereading them makes the tears stream down my face, but it's an honest moment of where I was at and it's also when I realized that I needed help as soon as possible. This was all totally new, as I had not experienced any of this with Avery's pregnancy or postpartum journey. Again, depression is beyond difficult to describe if you're not prone to it but the best way I can bring my feelings to life is to explain that Harper is one of the happiest babies I've ever met. Not just because she's ours, but because she truly just radiates happiness. That's a wonderful thing, right? To me, in that moment, it was the worst thing. I had spent 40 mostly blue weeks carrying this baby and now she was the most even keel and delightful cherub....and here I was blue. Again. It was as if Harper had managed to soak up every atom of happiness from me and transplant it into her DNA, leaving me with nothing.

When I went to my doctor, we came up with a plan and I think I'll share more of that plan and the resources and strategies that I have found incredibly helpful in another post. Things are definitely moving in the right direction, thankfully, and I do feel like I'm in a much better place than 8-10 weeks ago.  That being said, so much of mental health is an ongoing conversation and evaluation - one that is imperative to keep on your front burner, even when you have a million other things vying for your stove top space in life.

When I think about why I felt compelled to write about and share my experience, it's three-fold. Writing has always been cathartic for me in general. Also, once I started opening up to friends, it became so clear so very quickly that many women suffer from anxiety and depression (many of whom are postpartum), and I gained so much strength and courage from listening to their stories and experiences. And finally, I'm sharing my experience for Avery and Harper. Never, ever, ever do I want them to feel as though they are "other" if and when they are feeling blue. It's a difficult thing knowing that depression runs in families and there's a solid chance that one or both of them may experience it. However, my hope is that the mental health conversation picks up as much speed as the other parts of our health-centered conversations have so that they know they're never alone and that it is normal and okay to not feel normal and to not feel okay. I want them to know that they have parents, family, and friends that will always be there for them and support them regardless of any mental, physical, or emotional circumstances that they are experiencing. This is a great big world and it can be a scary one if you feel like you're traversing it alone.

And so, here we are. Mostly on the other side of Antepartum and Postpartum depression, mostly feeling normal (whatever normal even means), and so grateful for a lot of love and a lot of support that I've felt on this challenging journey. I do want to share what helped most over the last year and a half next time, but for now just know that if you are a human being and you are struggling, there is someone out there with their arms wide open ready to catch you. It's okay to fall as long as you know where you can land safely.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Avery is Three!

Actually, she's been three for nearly two months now. I haven't blogged in forever (hoping to change that soon!), but this space as served as her baby book in many ways, so here are some tidbits about what life is like at three for Aves.

-The emotions. Ohhhh, the emotions. There's a reason they're affectionately known as threenagers at this stage. Every feeling is SO big. Happy, angry, silly, sad, you name it and the feelings are so strong. As a parent this can be a roller coaster but it's also incredible when you get to see such excitement through a little's eyes. For example, the other night CP was showing Avery a lightning bug and the squeal that she let out when it lit up is a timeless memory.

-Avery has always been off the charts in height and weight and has shown no signs of slowing down! People are often shocked when they find out that she is only three because she's the size of a five year old. She definitely has the Pike height in her blood. Seeing Aves in the midst of her classmates is always fun and also a little comical since she towers above almost ALL of them and when I brought her in to school one day this Spring, she fit riiiiight in. :) 

-Reserved is still one of the first words that comes to mind when I think about Avery but she is coming out of her shell bit by bit. It still takes quite a while for Avery to warm up to strangers but once she's warmed up, there is no stopping her. This is definitely one of the biggest ways that she has changed in the last year.

-Some of you will remember that Avery's speech was slow to take off this time last year. Well, enter preschool (Hi, Jane!!) and wow. Just wow. Putting Aves in a two year old class this year is the best decision that we have made in so many ways and her speech development is one of them. Her vocabulary growth has been remarkable and there's no doubt that her continued socialization in the preschool setting has been a huge contributor.

-The one liners and conversations at this age are just too much. Two examples:

Avery, while driving with me down Kirby Road: "MOMMY. You are going WAY too fast. This is dangerous!!!" (I was, in fact, not speeding at all- perhaps it was the windy road?).

While CP and I were out and Ma (aka my mom) was with Aves. Avery to her walkie- talkie: "Hello?  Mommy, Daddy? You there?  How are you? You having any problems? We are alllll good over here." 

-Being a big sister to Harper is a role that Avery takes very seriously. I know that I can't always expect Avery and Harper to have a bond sealed with a kiss, but the love and affection that they show for one another right now is just so, so sweet. Avery loves to make Harper laugh and show her new things and Harper clearly looks up to Aves already as a big sister. These two have so much fun in store for them over the years.

-I'm so excited to see what the next year brings for Avery. Her serious, silly, shy, and loving personality is truly a gift and being her mama is the most rewarding (aaaand scariest!) job in the world. 

(photo by Laura Lou Photography!)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Year Four


As we approach year four of you not being here, I'm feeling more reflective than in years past. Time has a way of doing that, no? My mind bends and swirls when I think about how much has occurred in the past three years - so much happiness, inevitable worry and sorrow, fear, and also celebration. It's natural and easy to fall down the trap of wishing you were here to spend time with these two beautiful and budding granddaughters of yours. I see you chasing Avery down the sidewalk on her balance bike and taking her and Harper to The Italian Store to visit your friends. Alas, these are just fleeting and impossible fantasies.

That being said, I'm realizing how much of you lives on in me and therefore in them. How much my words and actions will mold these little malleable minds much like your words and actions molded my own. I so often see you in myself in my everyday life- both for better and for worse! Even those for worse moments have a silver lining in that I pause to reflect on what I can be doing differently. All this to say : you're not here but my goodness you are. Each year that you've been gone has taught me something new about myself because you've always been (and will always continue to be) my voice of reason.

Year One: The Circle of Life
As we turned the page of you being gone for a year, I watched the sun rise and set that day on the beach in Florida with a baby growing inside of me. In that moment, the circle of life was staring me down- the notion of missing one life so much and also being so excited for the life that was going to join us soon. I realized that the yearning for what was and the excitement of what is to be are not mutually exclusive. Although that felt unfamiliar, that has been such a valuable life lesson. Beauty, fear, truth, sadness- they don't have to stand on their own.

Year Two: Patience
Admittedly, this is a theme that I honed in on during year two in spite of you- patience was never a strong suit between us, now was it? :) Motherhood forced me to learn patience on so many levels. Most importantly, I learned how to be patient with myself. There were (are!) simply not enough hours in the day to plow through those long to-do lists that I often found pride in completing. Even when there is the time, I'd much rather spend those fleeting moments doing something more meaningful than folding a basket of laundry. Those baskets? They sit there. Those ungraded papers? They sit, too. That cluttered trunk of my car? It gets even more cluttered if it means that my mind can rest for a few minutes. Everything will get done and it doesn't have to get done right away. Patience, patience, patience.

Year Three: Human Connection
This is a trait of yours that I've always admired beyond belief. You had a way of connecting with people that left me in awe, particularly when it was an unexpected relationship. From the janitors at the gyms on the weekends who became your best buds to Jack, the gentleman with an intellectual disability who you mentored while I was growing up, you consistently went out of your way to form new and meaningful relationships. Seeing you in these roles taught me what this life is all about - connection. As I settled into a new position at a new school during year three, I honed in on this idea even more. I formed some amazing relationships at CB over eight years that I've held onto and I've also put myself out there with new co-workers and have found a lot of comfort and support in those new relationships. Whenever I think of you, it's the reminder that I need knowing that the smallest words and actions carry the greatest gifts and weight.

And so, here's to year four and all that it will teach me. We'll be remembering you on the 2nd with Five Guys and Manhattans- just the way you would like it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Mother's Intuition

Since Avery was little, she's always been on the late to very late end of milestones. Pinching her food, crawling, walking- you name it. The girl has a mind of her own and certainly doesn't rush into things. She also has a stubborn streak in idea where she got that from! :)  Perhaps it was my own mom telling me that I was the same way with being on the later end of timelines, but I always felt throughout the late milestones that it was fine and she'd get there when she was ready (as difficult as it was not to compare her to other kids her age). From day one, my motherhood mantra has always been that a healthy and happy baby = success.
Fast forward to Avery at nearly 21 months, and we're living that mantra day in and day out. Aves is a healthy and happy girl who loves to take in the world around her. Like any toddler she has her moments that make you cringe (especially when they are in public!), but we all know that this is part of growing up. As we reach the age where Avery is supposed to be developing her speech at a faster and faster rate and identifying everyday objects around her, something has felt a bit off. Receptively, girl's got it down and she loves following directions that you give her- especially when it comes to giving our dog Sloan a hug and a kiss.  However, there are parts of her expressive language that have left us wondering. Wondering if this is another stage of Aves being a late bloomer or wondering if perhaps we need to dig a bit deeper on this one.
As a teacher, I'm more than accustomed to teaching children of all backgrounds. Students that come from all over the world, students that come from modern families, students that have special needs, students that are so bright beyond their years- and I love them all the same. I think having this maternal instinct with all of the students that I've taught over the years has reinforced for me that even if Avery does require services or additional help, there's nothing "wrong" with her. That being said, that word- "wrong"- has come up time and time again when I've mentioned my observation about Avery to other people and it's made me pause and reflect. It's something that I feel like I want to be able to bring up in conversation and not necessarily hide, but it's also been an eye-opening experience sharing this concern with others. I know in my heart that there is nothing wrong with a child (or adult, for that matter) that needs help of any kind.  Might they need some additional services to get them where they need to be, though? Absolutely. The thing is, I know that people who have said, "Oh, I'm sure there's nothing wrong with her!" have meant so, so well by that comment. And they're right- there is nothing wrong with Avery. There is something that has been pulling on my mama heartstrings that I want to look into further, though. There is something that we can do proactively as her parents to let her know that we're always her number one advocates and want to do whatever we can to be there for her. 
And so- we made the call. The testing hasn't taken place yet and I don't think that this is the space for me to share where we go from here either way. It is a space, though, to share that as a parent you're always the most in tune with your child(ren) and you're always their front-line of love and guidance for them. As a parent, don't ever feel like something is wrong with your little one when you're noticing something that seems different (something that I've been reminding myself a lot these days).

Healthy and Happy = Success.
Sidenote: I actually caught myself doing a similar thing the other day when a friend was sharing that she was worried about something medically and I made a comment along the lines of, "Oh, I'm sure it's nothing!". I don't think that's what she wanted or needed to hear, though. Instead, I think a more comforting response would have been that I hope that it turns out to be nothing, but if it is something, I'm here for her in whatever way she needs me. It's easy for us to think that we're consoling people by hoping that there's nothing abnormal happening in their lives when, in fact, sometimes we just need to hear that even if there is something unusual that pops up, we have friends in our corner waiting to be there for us. 

"Chopsticks, you say!?"

Friday, November 4, 2016

Screaming From The Soapbox

Friends and Readers,

This is personal.

It’s important to start off by making it very clear that in no way am I bashing the two schools that I have worked at for the past eight years. Quite the opposite, in fact. I love both of them dearly. That being said, they are becoming products of a broken system, as are the rest of the Fairfax County schools.

This Tuesday, Fairfax County voters will vote on the proposed meals tax for the county. To most voters, this might seem like an obvious vote- of course I don’t want to pay a tax on my meals. However, to anyone who is connected to education in Fairfax County, we know that this is a VERY important tax that we need to pass on Tuesday.

As a product of FCPS schools, I have a lot of pride and admiration for this school system. It has changed, though- and not for the better. When I was in high school at McLean High School, FCPS was often compared to the crème de la crème Texas school systems that are recognized across the country. When I was getting my degree in Elementary Education, I knew to apply to teach in FCPS very early on because you had to be invited to an exclusive early hire fair if you wanted any hope of getting a teaching job for the following school year.  Fast forward eight years and the portrait of FCPS is much different now. We currently have over 200 vacancies in the county and they are begging people to attend the FCPS job fairs each spring. Every single year has brought new and difficult challenges from the top down. Until last year, teachers did not receive a step increase for seven years (!!!!!). In fact, even with our raise for the first time in so many years, when we crunched the math with our new insurance premiums it came out to a whopping TWENTY TWO DOLLARS more per month that we were making. Teachers are exhausted- mentally, physically, and financially. It is demeaning and hurtful to feel as though we are not valued in a job that we commit so many hours of our day to- both inside AND outside of our schools.

On top of teachers not being compensated appropriately, we’re failing in other areas too. Our retired teachers who substitute teach are now being paid the same amount of money as a normal substitute teacher, which is insane. Our classroom technology is lacking. Our class sizes are far too large. Our morale is down. Teachers are jumping ship left and right to head to nearby counties that compensate their teachers appropriately. The list goes on and on…..

I think what hurts the most is knowing the average portrait of the voter that’s going to potentially shoot this tax down- someone who lives in one of the wealthiest areas of the United States and can certainly afford a meal tax and yet does not support our children and teachers. Never mind, either, that every single surrounding county already has a meal tax in place that allows their school systems to continue thriving.

Maybe you’ve already heard about the meal tax and have made up your mind or maybe you haven’t. If nothing else, please educate yourself on this vote. For this teacher, it’s deeply personal. Your vote for the meals tax is a vote for our county’s children, our teachers, and our future. I fear that the fallout from a potential strike down of the this tax will simply spur yet another exodus of amazing educators to other close-by counties- an exodus that FCPS simply cannot afford. Pun intended.

Educate yourself:

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Grieving with Gratitude

True to form, grief comes in waves and is unpredictable. It has been nearly three years since my dad passed and there are still hours, days, and weeks that sneak up on me and are particularly weepy and difficult. This past week has been one of those stretches of time that’s rooted in the fact that I just miss my dad.

Last week Avery was having a particularly turbulent afternoon where nothing seemed to be appeasing her when we got home. Finally, I decided to lay down with her in our bedroom knowing that snuggle time if often her favorite activity after a long day. We’ve gone through this routine on many days yet this day was unique. As Avery rolled over into her snuggle spot that was close enough to me but not toooo close (#toddlerboundaries), Sloan hopped up to join us. The next few minutes that transpired are scary and yet somehow comforting.

Avery stopped crying and locked eyes with me as Sloan sat there with us. In that moment, a flood of emotion swept over me as I felt my dad more present than ever. The circle of life was staring me down as Avery snuggled so peacefully in the same space that my dad took his last breath. While I know a large part of my brain chemistry doesn’t allow me to recall a lot of the events on January 2nd, 2014 (hello, survival mode), the vision of my dad lying so peacefully when I found him that afternoon was staring right at me. It’s no surprise that it’s painful not having my dad living as Avery grows up, but there’s also no question that he makes his presence known in our lives.

The four of us spent the next few minutes together, our souls swathed together in a comforting space. It was the first time that my dad has showed up for me in Avery’s presence and as the tears streamed down my face, Aves calmly stared back at me knowing full well that the moment was a special one.
I’ve spent a lot of time with this moment in my mind over the past week. These types of situations take a lot of time for me to process and move through and I think they’re important to share. I have a co-worker this year that I’ve quickly become close with. Her energy is infectious and her warmth shines through so strongly each day that I see her. We connected on Facebook and I’ve learned through some her posts that she lost one of her beautiful daughters in a tragic accident a few years ago. My heart breaks and bursts with happiness every time that I read her loving words about her daughter because it’s so clear that they are another example of the living existing in a special place alongside those who have left us.

The other night she posted something that spoke to me so clearly and powerfully:
Image result for death is nothing at all. it does not count

Daddio, I want you to know that we love you beyond measure and feel your presence. You’re a source of comfort and strength each day and I hope in some small way that we are for you, too. I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart). 

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Truth Is.....

On Sunday my mom and I took Avery to the Nats game where CP would later join us. Avery and I haven't been to a Nats baseball game in over a month and she's at the age where she's changing so rapidly that she's not the same little chickpea that she was just 30 days ago. Flashback to last year when she would literally sleep through the entire game. Those days are LONG gone.

After enjoying a small bucket of french fries all to herself (#yolo), Aves quickly became antsy. It was clear that trying to stay in our seats was not a realistic expectation so I took her up to the concessions area above our seats where we ended up staying for over an hour. In all honesty, despite missing most of the baseball game itself, that hour was so darn fun! Avery had a blast running into the crowds of people passing by and wiggling her way back to me, many people stopped to say hello to her, and we even got to hear the bagpipers tune up for their 7th inning stretch performance.

The reason I popped in to even share this is because I had posted some photos on social media that showed Avery sitting in a seat happily munching on those delicious fries and while she certainly did enjoy them, that photo did not accurately represent our experience that afternoon! I find that this is one of the most obvious blessings and curses of social media in general- our lives are so curated. While I know this, I think it's an important reminder to bring to light sometimes, too.

The Nats game was a great time, but not because of the baseball. It was fun because I had the opportunity to soak up some unintended moments of Avery's childhood that were incredibly special to me. In a schedule that keeps us moving non-stop, it was especially meaningful to me that we were able to veer off course and be extra silly and spontaneous together.