What Does Self-Care Mean to You?

My anxiety disorder makes it hard for me to take care of myself. I recently started stocking these “Orgain” nutritional shakes for times when I suddenly realize it’s been 12 house since I ate something. At least I can get nutrition through a straw. Why am I so anxious? Because my therapist is on vacation. It’ll be fine. She’s coming back. I’ll see her on Monday. In the meantime, the stuff I usually tell her is just swirling around my head. I honestly can’t explain what talk therapy does or why it helps me so much. I can explain how it helps with specific problems, but it hadn’t occurred to me until this third week of her vacation to wonder why talking to my therapist is so necessary. My mom asked me why I still go twice a week. It never occurred to me to stop, but since she asked–it’s because my psychiatrist for most of my in-treatment years told me that twice-weekly therapy would probably help me more than meds. (I didn’t ask him why that was.) All I know after weeks without therapy is that I go because I feel better. Why? Maybe I’ll ask Linda (therapist) when she comes back.

In the meantime, I’m distracting myself, and trying to cut myself a break in my head. Ease up on the guilt in the ol’ inner monologue. Like so:

Thanks to Groupon, I got to go with Kate, my friend and future coworker at Joyful Birth, to a cute little salon and get a mani/pedi.

Thanks to Groupon, I got to go with Kate, my friend and future coworker at Joyful Birth, to a cute little salon and get a mani/pedi.

Yay, sandal season! It’s hot here. Looking cute is the only way I can make myself feel better about it. I HATE the heat. Hate hate hate it. And we have no AC. But I have pretty hands and feet!

What do you do for self-care? This is the beginning of a series in which I attempt to write short posts around pictures like that one. Give me ideas!

Breastfeeding is Hard

I’m lucky enough to know really helpful and amazing women who are comfortable talking about just about everything. When I freaked out, yesterday, because my son, Walt, hurt me, again, while nursing, my friend Avi responded to my exasperated tweet with some fantastic advice and an e-hug. He has been scratching and pinching me, so she suggested holding his hand and firmly stating, “That hurts Mama” and stroking his hand softly. I was freaking out, so I didn’t do that at the time, but I’ve tried it since and, to my shock, I felt better. And, because I was holding his hand, Walt had to stop pinching me.

Until now, I haven’t had any trouble breastfeeding. I’ve been so blessed. The first weeks of Walt’s life, about half his diet was actually donated breastmilk, so that we could give his little body time to adjust to whatever amount of my anti-anxiety/anti-depressant medication makes it into my own breastmilk. Even though I pumped an ounce for every ounce Walt got via bottle, I think that the bottle feeding must have given my body and skin time to get used to the whole thing. I never had the kind of soreness I’ve heard about. I just assumed that everything would continue to go on without like it has–drama free.

I’ll just say it: breastfeeding has been easy.

Until now. I am now being bitten, scratched and pinched until I am red, black and blue. My son is teething s l o w l y and bites down on anything and everything he can get in his mouth. He recently decided to start fighting with the nail clipper, and at the same time, began exploring nearby textures by scratching at them in a repeated motion. Finally, he has figured out how to pinch things between thumb and forefinger.

I don’t know how, but I managed to snip those razor-sharp little nails, today. Even so, look what he did to himself before I finally could clip them:

My poor baby.

My poor baby.

I’d show you my wounds, but I don’t want to put pictures of my nipples online and I can’t photograph the place on my arm where he pinched me hard enough to leave a bruise. And the big scratch on my neck has pretty much healed.

I’m just trying to be real and show all the sides of this mom thing. It’s really hard to be the main source of nutrition for a seven-month-old who has, on several occasions, clamped his gums down on my nipple and then turned his head. I’m frustrated. I’m a little skiddish. I’m starting to wonder if I should be pureeing food to spoon-feed him, rather than letting him eat whole foods, like we have been. (Baby-Led Weaning. It’s definitely the coolest. Until breastfeeding starts to get hard. Then, I kind of wish my kid was dropping a feeding or two due to calories consumed via spoon. More on that later.)

So I’m having a tough time. I panicked last night, because I thought maybe I couldn’t power through or follow through on my commitment to nurse until Walt was ready to stop. I want to nurse him until he’s at least a year old, like the AAP recommends. I’m not giving up on that. But this is a bump in a road that, until now, was really smooth. I believe in sharing the tough stuff, not just the pretty things.

Has your child ever hurt you? How did you respond?

Fun Update!

I’m not writing as much, because we are on vacation. That means that my PhD candidate husband has a couple weeks between the end of spring semester and the beginning of summer teaching; this has aligned with my therapist’s vacation, so we are spending a lot of time at my mother-in-law’s house. It’s a magical place. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you may know my mother-in-law as #fairyMIL or #fairygrandma because she does things like bake my favorite cookies while I’m asleep.

Peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses in the middle. The best.

Peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses in the middle.    The best.

On Sunday, we’re going to drive to my mother-in-law’s mother’s home on the top of a mountain in Vermont, where we will enjoy gorgeous views, beautiful gardens, hopefully some nice weather, and a hotel pool (not enough room at Great Gram’s house). I have so much to tell you, but just not enough time. I guess I’m on vacation, a little, too. Point is: it’s hard to write when I can hardly remember which state I’m in, let alone which day of the week is it and is there somewhere we have to be today. I have always had a love/hate relationship with summer that has often been heavier on the hate. I need a schedule. I need it to remember to take my meds and even eat real meals. But I am enjoying this time. All the same, I’ll be happy to be back to a routine, even if it is just defined by my twice-weekly therapy and Nathan’s teaching schedule.

Big News: My New Career as a HypnoBirthing Instructor

I have some amazing news that I have managed to share everywhere but here:

I am studying to become a Certified HypnoBirthing Instructor!

What does that mean? I’m studying information, for now, like the anatomy of the placenta (so. darn. cool.) and fetal development and pregnancy (that’s as far as I’ve gotten). I’ll be rereading my copy of HypnoBirthing by Marie Mongan. Then, during a weekend in August, I’ll be near the Catskills in New York, with other amazing women who are becoming certified or re-certified, learning how to teach pregnant women and their birth partners about the HypnoBirthing method of childbirth.

For clarification: I’m going the official HypnoBirthing Institute Mongan method route. There are several self-hypnosis birthing methods out there, but I did this one. I want to teach it because the teacher/mama/birthing partner connection was so meaningful for my family. There’s a person to answer questions, not just a book or audio tracks. I like that there’s a strict, copyrighted script for instructors to follow, with room to adapt to each couple’s needs. I LOVE that the course includes time, with your instructor, watching actual births with this method. They are gorgeously un-dramatic (very little screaming) and wonderfully mama-centered. They are climactic in only the truest sense, in the only way that birth ought to be: the baby meets the world, the parents react. There is no “OHMYGOD her water broke! Everyone run in circles!” moment. (Ok, so I have only been to my birth and seen stuff on TV and haven’t watched many births.) But watching calm births, and quite a few, meant a lot to me. Calm. Birth. Two words that should go together!

Here’s why it’s such a great fit for me: the premise of this whole HypnoBirthing thing is that if we can eliminate the fear surrounding childbirth, we can eliminate the progression from fear to tension to pain. Think about that. When we are afraid, we tense our bodies. Tense bodies hurt. There’s a lot more pain when the muscles are tensing around a baby who is trying exit a uterus via a birth canal and has either a more room in a relaxed mama’s body or no room in a very tense mama’s body. Less fear means less tension means less pain. No fear? No pain. For. Real.

For someone who has spent the best part of her adult life trying to manage anxiety and fear, the opportunity to help others manage their anxiety and fear is golden. I am thrilled. I am blessed. I’m also going to be thinking about how to relax and eliminate fear a lot. Which means I’ll be reminding myself to use all the coping mechanisms I’ve learned in general and specifically, through HypnoBirthing.

For the already initiated: my favorite thing to use almost every day is the Rainbow Relaxation. I love picturing the colors of the rainbow filling each section of my body, with violet at the top of my head, then indigo, then blue at the throat, all the way to red in the pelvic area. I am always totally floored by how many muscles I just keep in a state of tension in my face and head, alone. Seriously–I don’t need to be using my energy to keep tension in my darn scalp.

Logistics: being a HypnoBirthing instructor means spending two hours each week for five sessions with a mama and her birth partner. I am thrilled that I will be able to schedule this with the families who hire me in a way that lets me leave my baby for just a few hours at a time with his other favorites: Dad or Gram (Dad’s mom). It’s up to me how many clients I take on. I’ll be working alongside my instructor/doula, Kate, who will be celebrating her five-year anniversary by getting recertified with me in New York with the same teacher who taught her first class. The structure of the course means that if either of us has an emergency, we can fill in for each other. A couple would miss nothing if I happened to teach their third class instead of Kate.

The Doula Question: No, not yet. I’m not ready to be away from Walt for indefinite periods of time. Birth can happen any time of day or night and last a while (MUCH shorter for HypnoBirthing mamas, FYI) so for now, I’ll be referring clients who want a birth doula over to Kate, and her wonderful and growing Joyful Birth.

The Future: Yes, I do want to become a birth doula. I also would love to become a postpartum doula, further down the line. I’m totally fascinated by the idea of the HypnoBirthing fertility consultant program, but that would involve becoming a licensed hypnotherapist. So that’s really intriguing. I’m a huge believer that fear and anxiety and tension can prevent conception for years. I’ve also learned in the past few years that a shocking number of couples are given an actual diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” which I will not even give capital letters to. I want to help future parents feel that they have power before conception, during pregnancy, during birth, after birth–all of it.

The mind is so powerful. That is what this blog has been about, in so many ways. I can’t wait to share my journey with all of you!

I looked like this less than 12 hours after giving birth because I was so calm, thanks to HypnoBirthing (and because I ROCKED IT).

I looked like this fewer than 12 hours after giving birth because I was so calm, thanks to HypnoBirthing (and because I ROCKED IT).

Our Friend is in the Pysch Ward: Now What?

Trigger Warning: This post discusses suicide and depression and may trigger a strong reaction. Thanks to Cristi Comes at Motherhood Unadorned for providing this list of crisis resources:

If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis, please call:

 

This is for all the friends in my computer who are praying so hard for our friend; she went to the hospital voluntarily. I did that, too, so I’m going to write down what I wish my friends had known, when I went Inside. I obviously don’t know what our friend needs, specifically, but I’ve seen and related to enough books and movies to know that there are some universals about this experience.

Dear Friends,

First, stop feeling guilty. The perspectives have changed; the nurse who refused to give your friend headache medicine should be feeling guilt. Did you not pick up the phone one time? Doesn’t matter. This was not an involuntary commitment. Rather, a grown woman looked at the state of her mind, understood that she couldn’t get better on her own, in her house, with her current doctors, whatever it was, and took her grown self to the Emergency Room. She said something like this: “I need help. I need to stay here.”

Now, feel proud. In order to walk yourself into an ER and ask to stay there, to sign a paper giving so much power to doctors you’ve never met, you have to be one Brave Human. No one gets brave all by herself. It takes friends to build that courage. All kinds. These kinds:

The Listener: If you always listened, to everything, no matter what, but didn’t know what to say, except maybe “hugs,” then that’s huge. It let your friend spit all that stuff trapped inside out.

For about a week, I was stupid. I didn’t want to go to the hospital, but I wasn’t ok on my own. It’s a long story, but there were friends sleeping over with me, so that I wouldn’t “be alone at night.” Which meant, of course, that at night, I was most dangerous to myself. At night, I sometimes thought about hurting myself or even ending my life. I still can’t believe that my friends stayed with me and listened. Made me laugh. Pretended we were having sleepovers. I love them for that so hard. Especially the cousin in her first year of college and the best friend who hid her terror so well. The Listeners didn’t know what else to do. They didn’t know what to say. They just stayed.

The Class Clown: If you always made jokes, gave pep talks, changed the subject, then that’s huge. It let your friend escape for a minute or even a second.

One of my most faithful visitors was a frat boy with an enormous heart. (I know, I know, but it’s true!) We had been drinking, trading sarcastic barbs, flirting, pushing me outside my comfort zone (aka going to totally tame parties) for years. When I was transferred from the ER to the inpatient ward, I showed up in my hospital gown. They had given my clothes to a friend, who had taken them back to my dorm. Showing up to a psychiatric ward without the proper attire is pretty hard. I managed to do it. And get stared at. It was enough to get me special permission to stay in my room (normally not allowed during the day) until clothes showed up. Well, guess who dropped everything to come bring me clothes? My frat boy. Bless him, he showed up with a huge damned grin on his face, gave me a hug and then tried to argue when they said he couldn’t stay. It lifted my spirits when I really needed it.

The Speaker of Hard Truths: If you stopped a conversation, admitted that it was too hard to hear something, asked that a professional, not you, be consulted, then that is huge.

During my Week of Stupid, one friend wrote me a letter. She said she couldn’t see or talk to me until I went to the hospital and stayed there until it was safe to come home. She had been through this, before, and found that it didn’t help anyone to enable the pretending. I was pretending that it was ok, now. I just needed someone to stay over at night. It was fine! Obviously, it was not fine. She was the one who was brave enough to say that. And oh boy, was I mad. LIVID. Pissed off. And then, I looked at the Listeners differently. I could see the fear behind their smiles. I understood that being responsible for me for a night was too much to ask of any friend. I agreed to go and stay in the hospital, because I finally saw the situation from her perspective. It scared me straight.

Being an inpatient in a psychiatric ward is not the hard part. Getting yourself in there is the hard part. Remembering the skills you learned, there, and applying them to life outside the psych ward, is hard. Right now, our friend is in really good hands. We should all feel so proud that she made this decision on her own. I can tell you from personal experience that it is the most terrifying thing: all in one moment, you give up so much power and take on so much responsibility. You also make a promise to get better. To stare down the darkness. You go to a place where you can’t end your life, so that you can finally feel all of the scary feelings that made you think you might want to end it, before. (We weren’t allowed full shampoo bottles, by the way, because one young woman tried to drink hers. They make it really, truly, absolutely impossible to hurt yourself in there.)

Yes, it’s scary to think that someone we love wants to hurt herself or end her life. It’s heartbreaking to empathize, if you’ve been there. It’s terrifying to contemplate, if you’ve never been there, maybe even unimaginable. But right now, she is in one of the safest places on the planet. Send love, prayers, hold her in the light. And take a deep breath. Because for a time, all of us, including our beloved friend, can breathe easier, knowing that she is safe. All of us helped her take responsibility for her own safety. She gets to know now, forever, that she was brave enough to take that step. We helped. She has to do this part on her own, now.

We love you, honey. We are here. We always will be.

Out of the psych ward, on to graduation parties: My Listener. Me. My Frat Boy. (Because everyone asks: the Frat Boy and I never dated. Just friends.)

Out of the psych ward, on to graduation parties: My Listener. Me. My Frat Boy. (Because everyone asks: the Frat Boy and I never dated. Just friends.)