My Resolution: Kill The Perfect Parent Plan

That may seem totally obvious. Obviously, there’s no such thing as the Perfect Parent! Right? So it should be easy to avoid planning to be a Perfect Parent. Right? Well, that knowledge seems to disappear for a lot of people; anyone giving advice about parenting, anyone beating themselves up for not doing a better job as a parent, these are just two of the types who seem to believe that there is a right way to do this.

Why is this coming up now, for me? I have no job, and 2012, aka The Baby Year, is approaching. I’ve got nothing to do right now but plan. But, lucky for me, the relatives I’ve been talking to know better than to endorse any plan that claims to produce a Perfect Parent. My sister and my mother-in-law deserve awards for patience, since they consistently reign in my least realistic ideals and remain supportive while doing it.

My sister has two kids under five. She teaches developmental psychology every semester. I have never met anyone who knows more about babies and what they need. I have seen up close how, as a parent, she could not possibly try any harder. Are her kids happy all the time? Of course not! This Christmas, she found time to sit down with me and go through a day in the life of Mom to and Infant. Her youngest is 20-months-old, so she still remembers what she did and the stuff she used when her kids were infants. Incredibly helpful.

But the most helpful thing we talked about was something she did not do. When I told her that I wanted to eliminate toxins from Baby’s sleep environment by getting a new, non-toxic mattress and bed frame and, eventually a non-toxic crib and mattress, she said she understood that impulse. But she asked me to consider whether we had the money for all that. (We don’t, especially not since I lost my main source of income.) Now, this is how cool my sister is: when I asked if she thought that if she had had these things, her daughter’s asthma would be better. She thought about it. She pointed out that the asthma would probably have happened no matter what she did, because her cousin has childhood asthma, it’s in the genes. But more importantly, they hadn’t thought about spending all that money they didn’t really have all those years ago on something they hadn’t really heard much about. In other words, it’s too late. Does she think it has made much of a difference? No.

Risks and benefits. It’s all about weighing the risks and benefits. Risk: if we do not buy non-toxic everything, we will expose our hypothetical baby to bad chemicals. This is true. It is also true that living in an old building will expose our hypothetical baby to bad chemicals. But if we lived in a new building, there would be other bad chemicals. Benefit: if we do buy non-toxic everything, we will limit Hypothetical Baby’s exposure to chemicals. Risk: if we buy all this stuff, we go into major debt. For a bed. And a crib.

I have taken a deep breath. I have mulled it over for a few days. And I am going to settle for an Ikea mattress. We need a new one; ours has a pillow top, which is too squishy for co sleeping. Ikea is actually pretty good, when it comes to chemicals. So we’ll trust the Swedes. And buy non-organic clothes. Because we don’t have unlimited funds. And I will still be a good mother.

But this all ties in to my more general resolution. I am resolved to accept the fact that I am not perfect. I want to remember, at least once a day, that I will never be perfect. Moreover, I am resolved to remember that perfection is not only an unrealistic goal, it is an unhealthy and pointless goal. I am not perfect. I do not want to be perfect, not really. That is my New Year’s resolution.

Learning to Fail: A Life Skill

My greatest fear used to be a fear of Failure. I remember sitting in session with my first serious twice-a-week therapist (the Great and Amazing Kate) and discussing this fear.

“Failure is insidious,” she said. “You don’t have time to fear it, because it happens in tiny ways, small bad decisions, and it’s over before you even notice it’s coming. If you are worried about failing a class from the beginning, you probably won’t fail the class.”

I’m paraphrasing most of that, but she definitely said that failure is insidious. I remember that language, because I had to look it up. Google says it like this:

in·sid·i·ous/inˈsidēəs/

Adjective:
  1. Proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects: “the insidious effects of stress”.
  2. Treacherous; crafty: “an insidious alliance”.
Synonyms:
sly – treacherous – guileful – crafty – perfidious
Perfidious is a great word, too. But back when I was talking to Kate, we were talking about how I was not actually failing at anything in my life. I don’t know that I ever had. I was 21. I had an amazing school record. I had prepared my resume for life after college, but that life wasn’t starting for another year. I had whole year ahead of me of this thing that I was so good at–being an undergraduate.This past year, I have learned to fail. I failed at my last attempt to take a graduate course in exactly the same way that I failed to keep this job I so desperately wanted. I loved that course; in many ways it healed me, being there. I was a class on mental illness and memoir, for heaven’s sake! We talked about talented people who struggled with mental illness all the time! That’s all we did! Seeing myself in that context was totally awesome. But after a series of absences, I promised my professors that I would not miss another class. One day, I didn’t feel well, the train still scared me half to death, and I didn’t go. As soon as the clock ticked past the last train that would have gotten me to New York on time, I knew it was over.

Yesterday, as soon as the clock passed 1:00 pm, the time I was supposed to be at work, as soon as I knew I wouldn’t go, I knew it was over. I had failed to keep my job. It happened just the same way.

Here’s what was gradual, subtle, and harmful: I did not admit to anyone, not even myself (especially not myself!) that I was not taking enough anti-anxiety medication. We had agreed, Dr. P and I that 4 mg, stretched out over the course of a whole day, might be enough. I had held myself to that number even as my sleep disappeared and my thoughts scattered. Even while I looked over my shoulder, convinced that someone must be noticing all the mistakes I must be making, even if I couldn’t quite name the “someone” or point to specific mistakes.

I refused to admit that there was a pattern emerging in my absences from both babysitting and school jobs. That I couldn’t go a whole week without missing a day. That the mom I babysit for had a real point when she called me on it. That I was crying too often. That, on the weekends, I couldn’t so much as walk the dog without freaking out.

I have not learned to fail gracefully; I don’t think it’s possible. But I have learned to fail with humility and with a sense that I will learn something.

I have learned that even when I fail, I am not a failure. I do not feel that I, as a person, am a failure. I can examine my mistakes to learn from them, to learn about where I am. I take that knowledge to my husband, my therapist, my psychiatrist(s). And I move forward. In fact, I am blessed. So much help. So much support. So much love. With all this love, all this family and these friends around me, how can I be a failure? It’s not possible!

And so, I accept that I lost something I should have held onto. That I also did the best I could. That I also sabotaged my own efforts. That all any of this means is that I must accept the fact that I need more medicine.

Another therapist, Monica, once told me that I draw “lines in the sand.” 4 mg/day? A line in the sand. I must learn again and again that these are not real boundaries. That I must cross the boundaries I create if that’s what it takes to keep me healthy. That my health matters more than the stubborn attachment to The Best Way to do anything, especially if that Best Way is something I made up and didn’t tell anyone about.

The quickest, most insidious way to failure is to embrace denial. To pretend that everything is ok, even as it spins out of my control.

No fixing this one…

Out of the last twenty days I was scheduled to go to work at my new job, I missed six. I didn’t give much notice. Three times, I was having panic attacks.  I don’t know how often I felt sick and was really feeling anxious. Yes, the job was only during afternoons. Yes, Monday-Friday is no big deal to most people. But knowing that I needed to be somewhere every day at the same felt like setting myself up to fail. I knew, on some level, that I would not be able to do this. I hoped. I tried. I did try. I tried so, so hard. I just couldn’t do it. Maybe next time?

Speak UP! You are HERE!

I’ve been writing a little bit about internet forums for women who are TTC (trying to conceive) lately, and I will definitely continue to do so, as they just keep becoming more fascinating. In fact, I would very much like to go get a Master’s in Women’s Studies and write a thesis on this topic. Anyway, for now, I have this to share:

I got a “PM” (private message) this week from a woman who lives in Australia; like me, she and her husband are waiting to start trying for a baby until she sorts out her psych meds–what does she need to stay on, what can she do without, etc. We’ve been having a lovely conversation all week about doctors, medications and cultural differences. Australia’s health care system is, I hear, a lot less judgmental than ours. Which makes sense to me, because the public health care system in the UK was a lot less judgmental. Ahem, free birth control. Need I say more? (I have issues with handing out hormonal birth control like candy, but if it’s going to prevent an unwanted pregnancy at a university, which is the community my UK doctor served, I am reluctant to criticize. What’s more likely to interrupt a woman’s education than an unwanted pregnancy? Not much. So, free birth control gets my stamp of approval, even if I do wish they’d do a better job educating women *everywhere* about how the stuff works.)

I digress.

Despite the lovely nature of this conversation between two women with quite a bit in common, one thing keeps nagging me, something I can’t quite shove away: the conversation is happening not in the already anonymous “public” forum, but in “private” via fertilityfriend.com’s messaging system. Why does this bug me? Because even when there is no chance that anyone will find out who we are, our real names, anything we don’t want them to know about our private lives, we still are not willing to openly discuss psych issues and pregnancy!

I hear from a lot of men and women who relate to the things I write, here and elsewhere on the web. I appreciate it, I do. I love the support, the encouragement and the “e-hugs” I have gotten from each and every letter-writer. I also invite you all to share your stories publicly.

You do not need to provide any personal details. You do not need to tell me or anyone who you are. You just need to speak up. Because we are not crazy. We are not freaks. We are human beings. We do a really good job, most of the time, coping with some pretty difficult circumstances. Some of us are severely ill. Some of us appear to most people we meet to be 100% healthy. But the thing about stigma is that it doesn’t go away if we all agree to hide. When we hide, when we are quiet, we give the stigma power.

I would like to see a Horton Hears a Who movement grow and grow. You see, at the end of this Dr. Seuss classic, it takes every Who in Whoville shouting the same phrase at the tops of their voices in order to make themselves heard. Do you know what they shout?

“We are here! We are here! We are here!”

If you are brave enough to share your story, if you think it is at all related to anything I have written about, please email me at amtonyan [at] gmail.com. I would love to include a guest post from you. If you have a blog, send me a link. I’m off to post a new thread in that forum for women dealing with psych issues pre-pregnancy/pre-TTC. I hope to hear from you soon, you brave, beautiful people!

Five Hilarious Things About Having Anxiety

  1. My heart is racing. So what? Oh, that’s not normal? What do you mean “was it the coffee?” Oh, because caffeine could do that! I get it! You might be right about that.
  2. I have a stomach ache. Oh, well, I must be anxious. What’s that? What about antibiotics? Oh yeah, I am on antibiotics! They do give me stomach aches! You are right, I should eat some yogurt.
  3. I’m so sleepy; I hate how anxiety makes me want to take naps all the time. Huh? Take the nap? Why? Oh, yeah! I’m sick! And antibiotics do make me sleepy.
  4. I’m so sleepy; I hate how anxiety makes me want to go to bed at 9:00 pm. What’s that? Did I work today? Well, yes, I did. So. Oh, working is a good reason to be tired, I suppose.
  5. I need a hug because I’m a freak who freaks out at the tiniest things and I had a hard day at work. What’s that? It’s normal to be upset about a formal reprimand at work? It’s normal to need a hug? Huh… I guess that’s plausible…
Oh, it’s so much fun having an anxiety disorder! I end up thinking that everything I feel is nonsense caused by wacky chemicals. If I didn’t have so many awesome people in my life to set me straight, I’d really be a hot mess thinking about how crazy I am. Most of the time, turns out that what I feel is just normal, even if I am a little sensitive. Why do I keep thinking that being “good enough” means being “perfect” which means never needing anything from anyone? How creepy would I be if I just did everything right the first time and never needed a hug? Very.

Preparing for TTC? Relearn Your Alphabet

I was trying to read and respond to posts on an online forum this weekend for women who are trying to conceive and charting using the Fertility Friend website/iPhone app. I ran into a huge wall until I found this handy guide. Oh, and these are only the “most common” ones.

The following abbreviations and acronyms are frequently used on online support groups where women discuss their trying to conceive experiences.

2WW: Two week wait (before testing, not always 2 weeks)

AF: Aunt Flo, your period.

BD: Baby Dance. Have intercourse for conception purposes or by extension any form of insemination.

BFN: Big Fat Negative (pregnancy test)

BFP: Big Fat Positive (pregnancy test)

CD: Cycle Day

CH: Crosshairs- the lines drawn on the chart to indicate ovulation

CL: Coverline

CM: Cervical mucous, also known as cervical fluid. It is fluid produced by your cervix as you approach ovulation due to increased estrogen.

CP: Cervical Position

DH, DD, DS: Dear Husband, Dear Daughter, Dear Son

DPO: Days Past Ovulation

EDD: Estimated Due Date

EWCM: Eggwhite cervical mucous. See Eggwhite cervical fluid.

FSH: Follicle Stimulating Hormone

GnRH: Gonadotropin-releasing hormone

HPT: Home pregnancy test. Measures levels of the hormone hcG which are produced in pregnancy.

HcG: Hormone detected by pregnancy tests. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin.

IUI: Intra-uterine insemination

IVF: In-vitro fertilization

LH: Luteinizing Hormone

LMP: Last menstrual period. The first day of your last period.

LOL: Laughing out loud

LP: Luteal Phase

LPD: Luteal Phase Defect

M/C: Miscarriage

O: Ovulation

OPK: Ovulation Prediction Kit. OPKs measure luteinizing hormone, the last hormone to peak before ovulation.

POAS: Pee on a stick

RE: Reproductive Endocrinologist- Fertility Specialist

TTC: Trying to conceive.

There’s a kind of beauty to this need to turn everything into an acronym; it feels like saying “yes, we admit it, this is all just too hard to say/type out loud month after month.” Because unless you’re like me, waiting for some other reason, you’re “TTC” because you have had at least one “M/C” or just month after month of “BFN” “HPT”s.

But the one I don’t really get, the one that’s just confusing, is “DH”–who started that one? Dear Husband? Anyone who knows, please tell me.

Holiday? What Holiday?

I have a new job, you see, and, well, I suck at transitions. So I have been transitioning into my new job, which is working as a Support Infant/Toddler teacher for the most wonderful school ever every weekday in the afternoons. Which means freaking out, sleeping a lot, freaking out, playing some really awesome games, holding babies and washing lots of hands. And eating snack. And more hand washing. And getting sick.

So, I’m sorry that I forgot about, well, everything else. I’m very tired. I know that working 4.5 hours a day doesn’t seem like it should exhaust a person, but since I’m me, that means trying to be absolutely perfect for 4.5 hours every day. Which is actually really hard work. Thank goodness it’s the weekend! And if Christmas wasn’t coming soon, I don’t know what I would do.

But, I should mention that I spent this evening at a lovely holiday party with my coworkers and Nathan. He was the only +1, and he rocked it. Like he does. I can take this man anywhere and he will charm and make friends and make himself useful. I love that about him. Anyway, I’m loving work and having a job and am actually quite happy. No, I’m not ignoring you because I dislike you suddenly. I’m just a little preoccupied with trying to be a grown-up. Good timing, right? I feel like I should learn to do grown-up things like have a job before I become a mother. Maybe just so that I have something to refer back to when the kid asks? Or maybe so that I can be this happy! Seriously, I’m so happy. It’s ridiculous. And sleepy.

I don’t know what or who to blame for me getting a bladder infection, but that happened. Infection and antibiotics = extra sleepy. Good night, my loves!

 

PS This is the sum total of Christmas decorating I have done:

Word of the Weekend, and My New BFF

In case you missed it: we are just a couple months from “TTC” and that means that it’s time to get serious about understanding what the heck that means. The obvious is, of course, that it means “trying to conceive” and it may seem obvious as to what we need to do. But here’s the thing: most women are really, sadly, out of touch with their bodies. Do you know when you ovulate? If you answered “half-way” or “day fourteen” then you proved my point.

The whole process of releasing an egg, getting that egg fertilized and getting the fertilized egg to follow through on becoming a baby is a complicated and involved one, despite what we were told in our “You’re Becoming a Woman” talk in the fifth grade. As it turns out, counting to 28 after your period starts to mark a calendar with “Warning! You may need a ‘feminine product’ today!” is important to your wardrobe, but, well, it’s not the whole story. For starters, 28 days? It’s an average. You know what is not helpful at all to a woman trying to figure out how to, how not to or if she is pregnant? Average. “On average, a woman ovulates on Day 14 on her cycle.” That sentence has convinced many, many women that they are infertile. Which brings me to my new BFF for TTC, Fertility Friend, and it’s combo of detailed info about topics like why ovulation is harder to predict than we were taught and high-tech analysis of my personal data, in the form of The Chart.

So far, I’ve been really, well, general, about fertility. Family members, right about now is when you want to stop reading if you’re squeamish. We’re just talking basic biology and just about “fertility signs” but I thought I’d give proper warning.

Still here? It’s really simple when you break it down. Keep in mind that this is my take on it. (Not a doctor.)

  1. Cervical fluid aka cervical mucus: what your body makes to help sperm travel through the vaginal opening, into the cervix and to that egg that’s waiting. If it’s not there, you’re not fertile. If it looks and feels like raw egg whites and is “stretchy” – there’s probably an egg waiting to meet some sperm. I find this part really amazing, actually. There are, depending on who you ask, at least four stages of “fluid” to check and record.
  2. Basal body temperature. I take my temperature every day. With a regular thermometer. Under my tongue. The reason for this is that a woman’s body temperature at rest (right when you wake up, before moving) stays pretty constant and then spikes *after* you ovulate. If you are pregnant, it stays higher. If you are not, or if you miscarry, the temperature goes back down.
So, every day, I check at least these two things, put them in my iPhone, which syncs with the website (www.fertilityfriend.com), which adds the data to this month’s chart. Every chart begins on “Cycle Day 1” – the first day of my monthly period. The analysis involves graphing the temperature, trying to spot the day I ovulated, the phase afterwards (luteal phase). It spots anything that’s outside the parameters of “normal” and tells you if that’s probably due to human error or something you should ask your doctor about.

This is a chart from after I stopped using hormonal birth control (the evil, migraine-inducing Nuva Ring) but before I started ovulating. It's normal for things to take awhile to get back to normal--at least three months. I've been bad about taking my temp every day recently.

Oh, and the word of the weekend? “Mittelschmertz.” Real word! Directly translates as “middle pain” and “refers to a slight pain that you may feel near your abdomen or ovary at the time of ovulation. It does not necessarily occur at the exact time of ovulation and not everyone feels it. As such, ovulation pain is useful to cross check other signs, but cannot be used to definitively confirm or pinpoint ovulation” (Fertility Friend). Yep, that’s right, sometimes you can feel it when an egg gets released. AMAZING! And, thanks, German. Awesome word.

New York City Doctor, Round Three

I love that Dr P. is the specialist I’m working with because she is very good at her job, but I kind of wish that we had met in other circumstances; namely, circumstances in which we could be best friends and drink hot chocolate together. Because when she laughs, I laugh, and we spend much more time laughing than really feels proper for a psychiatry session. The time flies. And I have fun. And then I remember that it’s a psychiatry appointment, and I think wow, am I lucky! This is a little weird, but I’m so lucky that this is fun! (We’re talking about babies! And how awesome my husband is! And cracking jokes!) But you want news. Here is my news:

First, Ativan. I am possibly Ativan’s biggest fan. I can feel it kick in in no time, but it doesn’t leave my system in a rush. I can practically feel it slow down my thoughts, as though it is returning the speed of my thoughts to “normal” down from “super fast” and I finally sound like myself, instead of a chipmunk version of myself. (You know, like when sound gets played too fast and everyone sounds like chipmunks!) In other words, the “cross-taper” is going well. I am having no trouble saying good-bye to Klonopin, which will be gone completely by Tuesday.

Second, Dr. P. asked me a very important question. How ready am I to start trying? Well, you know what I said. She asked me how I know. Well, folks, it is quite simple: I know in my heart that our baby is waiting to be loved and known and to meet us. We’re all just waiting for the right time. But we’re already family. This baby is already out there. If that sounds crazy, then I guess that’s fair. But she says she hears things like that a lot. I realized that we already love our baby. What better time could there possibly be?

Finally, Effexor. Dr. P. is a sort of fresh pair of eyes for my case, the only new psychiatrist to talk with me since, well, since I was admitted as an inpatient in early 2007. A lot has changed since then. I have not been worried about depression in a long time. Dr. P. wonders if, perhaps, I might do well not taking any anti-depressant at all. It’s true that I only talk about anxiety. I only feel anxiety. Ativan seems to treat that anxiety. Could we, perhaps, get me off of Effexor? Apparently, this is done while taking Prozac, because Effexor leaves the body so quickly that patients feel withdrawal no matter what. More importantly, it can be done in about six weeks. I thought that it would take months. I’m going to talk to my primary psychiatrist and make the final decision later.

It’s an interesting idea, though, this realization that depression no longer lurks in the background of my mind. Anxiety is jumping up and down like my brain is a damn trampoline, but depression? I looked in all the dark and scary, cobwebby corners today and found no brooding, lethargic, unhappy mess, anywhere. I love my job. I love my husband. I’m active, physically and otherwise. I’m seeing a therapist twice a week. It is entirely possible that the daily battle with anxiety is my only remaining battle. It’s a tough fight, but if I don’t need the other medication, then by all means, let’s get it out of my body and see what happens!

If I do need Effexor but can wait to go back on it until after the first trimester of pregnancy, I can prevent exposing myself to the risk SSRI’s pose for early miscarriage, something I don’t remember and maybe the baby developing Autism, although the study that linked first-trimester SSRI use with slightly higher rates of autism is by no means definitive.

All agree that the fewer drugs I use to achieve “normal,” happy, stable moods, the better. If we can use one drug instead of two, a big factor disappears: the two drugs interacting. You see, it’s very difficult to parse out even one set of data about women and babies when just one drug is used during pregnancy. Throw more medication into the mix and everything gets even less predictable. The development of zygote, embryo, fetus, baby is incredibly complicated, obviously, and there is so much we don’t know.

Now all I have to do is try not to get my hopes up too high or set unreasonable expectations for myself (oh, say, for example, only taking one medication and never ever taking two again under any circumstances or else I will be a failure and terrible mother!–things like that). Simple, right?

The new timeline still has us TTC around February/March. Assuming my psychiatrist agrees that going off Effexor is a good idea. If he thinks that’s too risky, I totally trust his assessment. And if we decide not to go off Effexor? Well… then it’s time to buy some ovulation predictor kits!