Happy Birthday, Dad? With a mentally ill parent, nothing is simple.

I am feeling All The Feelings. This time of year was always big in my family, because we had three birthdays in three weeks–my dad, September 29th, my sister and me. And then there would Halloween to top it all off. I’m still not sure how many details I want to share, in this space, because I still haven’t responded to his email. Any of it. And it’s been months. But I am writing about I feel, today, his birthday, because many of the people who read this blog have mentally ill family members/loved ones. I have a mentally ill parent. My father is really sick. And he asked me not to call him on his birthday, because he felt afraid that I would ruin it. At least, I think that’s what happened…

What happened, from my perspective, is that this spring, I was doing my best to show my dad that I loved him, especially on holidays, and even felt rather proud of myself for getting a card in the mail more or less on time for Father’s Day. On that holiday, my dad didn’t answer the phone or return my calls. My dad was leaving his home only for doctor’s appointments (I do not exaggerate) and then appeared to be not at home for over twelve hours, when I left four messages–I assumed that there had been a medical emergency. I was afraid. He emailed to tell me he was fine, but not up for talking, or something along those lines. After my fourth message. Anyway, the point is this: I don’t feel that anything on my end changed, but after that day, a lot seems to have changed for my dad. He chose to share his perspective and his feelings in a way that I feel is unacceptable and inappropriate, not to mention toxic.

I am so angry, still, that I am shaking as I type this. My head knows that paranoid delusions can happen to people who are as ill as my father is, but my heart simply breaks when he accuses me of hurting him intentionally. Obviously, I can’t know that “paranoid delusion” is the right term, clinically, but there is a pretty intense narrative on his end that insists on some seriously negative intentions behind my past behavior. I don’t know what else to call his book-length email all about me, my family and his “ruined” holidays, past, present and future. He asked for “boundaries” that seem like arbitrary rules to me–no contact for five days before, the day of, and the five days after a holiday or birthday (including mine). This is intended to protect him.

It hurts my heart that, even if I were talking to my dad every day, I wouldn’t be able to call him today. Or for the past five days. Or until next weekend. Or maybe even for the entire month, because there are so many October birthdays, and I don’t know if they all count as off-limits, or just his and mine. I feel rage when I think about how he just assumed that it would be ok to send gifts to my child on Walt’s birthday, but didn’t address how Walt or I might feel about not being able to send him anything on his.

I feel sad that my dad may not know that we have moved; if he sends a package to Walt for his first birthday, that package will be returned to him. What he does with that is up to him. I have no idea how he will feel or if he will feel anything. The dad I knew, whose feelings and/or behavior I could predict, no longer exists. It’s just. so. sad.

I feel relief and even happiness that I can enjoy this gorgeous fall Sunday without a big, dramatic time-out in which I call my father and have no idea what to expect. I felt this on the 4th of July, too. I don’t have to remember to call him when he is at his best, a window of time that I can’t even remember anymore. I don’t have to pray that the baby stays quiet or that my neighbors make no noise, because a distraction could turn his mood.

I do not feel afraid.

My father is emotionally and verbally abusive. As I type that, I am tempted to go find “proof” for you. But this is my space! Take my word for it, or not. If he comes here and finds out from my blog that I am calling him abusive, well, I’m ok with that. He once sent me a letter accusing me of being abusive towards him; I was a teenager. That was a pretty big shock. If he reads this, and he’s shocked–I can live with that. I have to type that then read it again, because I’m afraid, to this day, that I will get in trouble with him. I fear his words, and his rejection.

I don’t know what to do. I can’t make a choice, right now, about what I want my relationship with my father to look like. If I agree to his rules about holidays, then I am agreeing to a relationship on his terms. If I write to him and tell him that I will not agree to those rules, then I might be ending that relationship. I don’t want to accept this idea that he gets to make all the rules, nor do I want his so-called emergencies to dictate when I make huge decisions about our relationship. I will not be forced into an arbitrary choice about one of the biggest relationships in my life.

I know that not responding is a kind of response; I understand that doing nothing is an active choice. I choose to stay silent, as far as he is concerned. He has tried to get me to break that silence. I will not speak to him until I know what I want to say. I feel empowered and relieved about that choice.

I love my dad. I hope he has a good day. Honestly, I don’t know what a “good day” looks like for him, anymore. A mentally ill parent relationship is a minefield. I wish him a happy birthday, and I also really glad that I don’t have to watch my step, today.

I'm really glad that my wonderful stepmother is with my father, and taking good care of him. This is us on their wedding day, in 2003.

I’m really glad that my wonderful stepmother is with my father, and taking good care of him. This is us on their wedding day, in 2003.

Walking to Help Prevent Suicide

–Trigger Warning: this post discusses suicide and suicidal ideation. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)–

A lifetime ago, I met Cristi Motto Comes (pronounced “Combs”), aka Motherhood Unadorned, while she was raising money for suicide prevention and promising to dye her hair blue if she reached her goal. Of course, she surpassed her goal, and ended up with some rockin’ blue hair. Since then, Cristi has written a guest post at Do Not Faint, and much more impressively, walked all night long for the Overnight Walk Out of The Darkness to raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It was Cristi’s proud smile I saw, an image from an Overnight Walk photo, when I thought about whether or not I could commit to a smaller, daytime Walk, here in Connecticut.

Click here to register to walk with the Do Not Faint team! (Or donate. Or both.)

Click here to register to walk with the Do Not Faint team! (Or donate. Or both.)

 

I just dove in, head first, because the negative voice that whispered “what if you fail? what if you raise nothing?” was suddenly drowned out by a phrase I learned at my HypnoBirthing training: “what if it’s better than you ever could have imagined?”

It’s been under twelve hours since I created a team to raise funds with a local friend, and I have already surpassed my rather modest fundraising goal. I’m just… speechless.

The team is named for this blog, because I was in a hurry to get things started. I only discovered this local walk a few days ago, in the local paper our new town publishes. (We only moved two miles, but we technically crossed a border.) Last year, this town broke records in the number of walkers and funds raised. It’s a pretty great surprise to learn that we live in a place that fights stigma and raises awareness in such a public way. We’ll be walking on great trail on a Sunday afternoon.

I wish that I knew nothing about suicide and just joined in all local charity events. I’m sure that Cristi wishes the same. She lost her dear friend to suicide. I will never meet Rachael, who once corresponded with me about her depression, because she died last year. We suspect suicide. My father, his sister, me, a number of my friends–we have all been in hospitals while we were at risk. I spent the darkest night of my life planning my own death. When the sun came up, I knew who to contact. I got help. I clawed my way up out of the darkness.

I want every person who feels that darkness closing in to know exactly where to find help. The AFSP can help accomplish that.

For my dad and my aunt and my friends and myself and Cristi’s friends and all of your loved ones, I just had to sign up for this event practically in my front yard. Wish me luck in my fundraising efforts. If you are local, please join the Do Not Faint team! If you can, please consider donating something. This is a small thing, this afternoon walk with my family and a few hundred friends and neighbors. But it’s something.

–Just one more time: If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)–

More information, in pretty flier form:

Walk Funds Flyer 2013

The NuRoo Pocket: A New Mom Guest Review

I learned about the NuRoo Pocket baby carrier from one of its creators, mompreneur Hope Parish, at MommyCon Philly. In early 2013, I had seen that the carrier had come out and was advertising hands-free skin-to-skin time with Baby; frankly, I was skeptical. I’m so glad I met Hope, because I would never have known that, contrary to my assumption that this was all some sort of marketing gimmick, the carrier was actually designed with a ton of real, scientific research into “kangaroo care” in mind. Hope absolutely radiates passion, and she knows a lot. I thought that I knew about skin-to-skin, but I learned so much new and exciting information from her! Unfortunately, my Walter was already nearly twenty pounds and a wiggly crawler. I talked with Hope about this blog and its audience, and we agreed that, because skin-to-skin time seems to decrease a new mom’s risk of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (hereafter known as PMAD), my readers needed to know if this thing had the potential to help them.

Enter, my friend “Jane” (not her real name) and her brand new baby girl; Jane’s blog, A Place of Greater Safety and her writing in general are incredible, so I felt completely confident asking NuRoo Baby to send her a Pocket for a guest review. This two-mom company (with eight kids between them!) generously agreed, because they really do care about reaching the community of moms who are at a higher risk of experiencing PMAD. I asked my dear friend to bare her soul, a bit, and talk about her mood, as well as her general experience with the NuRoo Pocket as a baby carrier for newborns. Please enjoy Part One of her review, after the jump.

NuRoo Pocket teal on model

Looks like a wrap shirt, right? But there’s a baby in there! *Photo courtesy of NuRoo baby (that’s not Jane).

The author of this review received one NuRoo Pocket carrier to use and keep, but all opinions expressed are her own.

When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I was deeply concerned about postpartum depression. My past history of anxiety and depression, plus mood swings related to my period, made me a prime candidate. If someone had pointed me to a product that seemed to have any real chance of reducing the chance of suffering from depression, or the severity of my symptoms, I would have bought it. I didn’t look very hard, however, because I considered finding such a thing unlikely. It turned out that I made it through the baby period with my first daughter surprisingly well. She is now a two and a half year old dynamo. I seem on track to do about as well with my second daughter, who is almost seven weeks old. Still, doing “surprising well” means it’s incredibly hard. There’s the “normal” amount of sleep deprivation, stress, and occasional bouts of crying (mine – hers are regular, not occasional). I’ve also had extreme breastfeeding issues – so severe that the fact that I’m not falling apart is exactly how I know I’m doing so well. So I listened carefully when Anne-Marie told me about a new carrier, the NuRoo Pocket, designed to support skin-to-skin, which has been shown to be beneficial for new parents and the baby. Of course, you need no special product to get these benefits – you simply need the time and hands free to hold your baby to your bare chest.

For me, right now, time and hands and sanity are currently in short supply, however. The breastfeeding difficulties in particular have been time consuming and stressful; I have had extreme pain and nipple trauma bad enough it had the potential to cause permanent damage. I had similar problems with my first, which meant after six weeks I gave up breastfeeding directly and ended up exclusively pumping. As a result, the second time around I was less worried about PMAD, and much more worried about supporting breastfeeding. However, it all overlaps. Breastfeeding problems and PMAD are correlated; it seems each can make the other worse. Skin-to-skin contact has been shown to help with both, and therefore potentially so can the NuRoo Pocket, by making more of that contact possible.

So how much does the NuRoo actually help? In the couple of weeks I’ve used it, the carrier has actually felt a bit like magic, at times. The first time I put it on, I was amazed how easy it was. Within five minutes after opening it, I had the baby in it exactly as suggested in the diagrams printed on the outside of the box.

instructions

Diagrams! Click on the image for more, including a video, on the NuRoo Baby website.

This was a miracle, compared to my experience with several other carriers, which generally seem to have a learning curve before I really feel comfortable in them. This is how it works. I start by putting on the carrier like an open front shirt. I wear a bra under it, because I’m generally uncomfortable without some support, but I imagine you could go without. I pick up my baby and hold her upright close to my right shoulder. Next, I pull the left flap across my chest and wiggle the baby into the inside pocket. (The pocket doesn’t really support the baby – it’s basically insurance.) I attach the left flap using Velcro, pull the right flap over the baby and secure the end of it to my left side. The baby is now supported by the two wrapped layers of stretchy neoprene-like fabric, but then I put the separate padded belt around us both for extra support and security under the baby’s butt. I particularly like that the belt supports the butt while letting the legs move a bit freely in the carrier. I have a ring sling, also new to us, where so far I have a really hard time adjusting it so that it supports her body but doesn’t squish her feet.

Getting the baby out is just a reversal of the process, although they do suggest that you can just take the belt off and slide the baby up and out without taking the carrier off. I don’t really like this way of doing it; it’s a bit awkward. But I can definitely see doing it this way when out in public, since, ideally, you’re not wearing anything under the carrier, and may not want to just rip it open any old place to get to your baby.

Now that I know it is this easy, I do actually grab this carrier when I’m in that frustrated state where I have a baby who needs to be held, but I need to do something else. Recently, I spent most of a half hour drive home from an appointment listening to my newborn cry. There is nothing quite like being two feet away from your angry, frustrated baby and being unable to soothe her. Of course, when we arrived home, I not only needed to soothe her – I also needed to somehow get her older sister, who was basically asleep on her feet, laid down for a nap. As soon as I got us shuffled into the house, I grabbed the carrier and had the little one in it in under a minute, where she basically passed out. I felt tremendous physical relief immediately. I got to use my chest and heartbeat to soothe my littlest while I used my hands and voice to pick up and comfort my exhausted toddler, read her a story, and lay her down – although a bit awkwardly.

I wish I could tell you that using the NuRoo Pocket always provided that sort of physical relief, but it doesn’t always work that way. Both my girls seem to have fussy moods that would be calmed by being placed in a carrier – and fussy moods where a carrier is not the solution, if there is one. This means I have many times when I’ve tried to put my baby in the carrier and just ended up with a squirmy, frustrated baby attached to me. No carrier I’ve used feels secure with a baby trying to flail inside of it, so that means getting the baby out, figuring out how to soothe her, and giving up on whatever I had hoped to do hands free – like losing at a stressful game of baby roulette. This happens with every carrier, so the ones I like are the ones that are easy to get in and out of – and the NuRoo Pocket is just about the easiest in my collection.

I also wish I could tell you that the NuRoo Pocket made it possible for me to have as much skin-to-skin time as I want, since that’s really the point. Most of that is just a function of the fact that instead of sitting calmly and dozing off while my baby sleeps quietly on my chest, I’m trying to achieve something – take notes during my online lecture, wash dishes, take care of my toddler, even writing and editing this post. During the first few weeks of my newborn’s life, I wasn’t trying to achieve these things. We were blessed to have a couple of grandmas and my sister visit, all of whom adore my toddler. This meant I was able to focus on the new baby; I basically lived on one corner of the couch for three weeks, trying to successfully breastfeed, or having skin-to-skin time. I had been worried that the breastfeeding problems I had with my first would recur; when they did, those breaks when she just slept quietly on my chest were absolutely central to maintaining some sanity and some sense of having a positive relationship with her. (We are still struggling to solve the breastfeeding. If you want a few more details, you can read the last couple of posts on my personal blog.) I always viewed skin-to-skin as a wonderful goal, but during those weeks it felt life-saving for me. I was focused on skin-to-skin from birth on in the hope of supporting breastfeeding, but the benefit I felt most directly was the deep, calming effect of her warm little body settled on me.

As I said, I’ve never quite achieved that calm using the carrier that I felt on the couch. I don’t get the full benefit – and I’m torn about how well the baby sleeps, too. Sometimes she seems like she does better in the carrier, but she has also seemed to do better sometimes in her swing, where the movement is consistent. Newborns are tricky beings. Despite everything I’ve read about “babies love carriers!” and “they want to be close to you!” it never seems that straightforward. Sometimes she wants to be left alone – and sometimes she doesn’t. Again, baby roulette.

I really don’t know if I’m better off, from a mental health perspective, using the NuRoo Pocket than I would be without it. Even with the carrier, my general feeling (as someone sleep deprived not carefully keeping track) is that I’m not managing to hit the minimum sixty minute period that the research recommends for skin-to-skin. Occasionally it is that long, but much of the time, it seems like she wakes up, or I find something I need to do where I can’t wear her (like cook). I do like the carrier, and I do think it’s increasing the amount of skin-to-skin time I’m getting with her, or even just physical contact. That is worthwhile.

I feel most comfortable suggesting this carrier as an easy to use and snug carrier for the newborn stage, regardless of whether you care about skin-to-skin. The $60 price tag and limited time of use (through 15 lbs.) are worth it, not because of the research, but because it really is the carrier I have found easiest to use with a newborn. The fact that it has full coverage without the need for a shirt underneath is a plus. I found with at least one other newborn carrier that I tended to put it on just to calm her down, then realize I’d put it on over no shirt – struggling with breastfeeding leads to a lot of time spent without a shirt on – and find that my baby was happy, but I wasn’t really fit to be seen by my husband’s coworkers dropping by to say hello. No shirt needed underneath is also nice in warm climates like mine, where more layers can create a concern of overheating.

All the purported benefits of skin-to-skin advertised on the box are real, and they’re important, and I love that this carrier tries to help you experience those benefits. It’s not magic – but it can be a very good tool to add to your toolbox. I have not experienced anything that qualifies as PMAD – just the stress of caring for a newborn and the breastfeeding difficulties. I’ve been happy I had the NuRoo Pocket to grab when I needed help, now that I don’t have grandmas or aunts in town.

If I was suggesting one carrier to have before you give birth, it would be the NuRoo Pocket, even if you can’t use it for your child’s entire babyhood. All the rest can be explored and bought once you know yourself and your baby, how much you like carriers, and when and where you tend to use them. The NuRoo Pocket is the easiest carrier to use and has the best potential payoff.

The set of stressors on a new mom is complex and interwoven – breastfeeding problems, sleep deprivation, learning the personality of this entirely new being. That doesn’t even include the very real risk of PMAD for many of us. Skin-to-skin has been shown to help with many of these stressors, and the NuRoo Pocket seems to help, at least some, with achieving skin-to-skin, even with other children at home. I’d suggest putting it on any new mom’s registry, or buy it for yourself as an insurance policy for your sanity. It can’t hurt, and it will most likely help make the days just a little easier.

New Home (A Sweet Home!)

I cannot tell you how excited I am about our new place. Two whole bedrooms, lots of light, the washing machine… it’s just dreamy! We won’t have internet, there, until later this week, so I’m writing this from an uncomfy chair in our old apartment, while Nathan watches All The Football on a television that is sitting on the floor. Poor Walt is so confused about why he can’t crawl around his old haunt, but we’re making it work. Note to self: call about transferring TV and internet much sooner next time!

We have moved once a year for the past four years. Last time, we just moved across the hall, but it is never any fun! This time, we moved just a few miles away to get more room for lower rent, and we were smart enough to hire movers, recognizing that our king-sized mattress and its bed frame are just two heavy for us. Good timing, student loan money!

Here are a few pictures of the kitchen, which looks better than any other room, so far. More pictures will come. Now you know why I haven’t been here or anywhere else online, much!

Oh, but I did write about surviving the baby’s first cold (also referred to by me as The Plague Virus) over at Fit for Moms, so please check that out! Add any tips you can think of in the comments, there, because it is so sad to feel helpless while the baby suffers, that we need to know about all the little things we can do to comfort the littles.

As promised, pictures:

kitchen counters & window #abeautifulmessapp

Our wonderful landlord has carefully grown a privacy hedge outside the kitchen window, which faces a neighbor’s driveway/yard. It has flowers and lets the sun shine through! I love our new kitchen.

kitchen table

These two guys approve of the new setup, too (despite the still-bare walls). Note: the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair is *still* the best baby gear we own. Ever. The coolest. Pull up your chair, Walt! Have breakfast with Mom & Dad! So cute.

PS We did try cloth diapers for the first time! More on that adventure soon!