New Goal: I Will Sew a Traveling Red Dress

There is a magic dress. A magic dress that is usually red and travels to women who are struggling with illness (including mental illness), weight, low self-image in general. When a woman receives a traveling red dress, she puts it on and the magic helps her remember who she really is, the woman who has not and will not truly be defeated, the woman capable of love, the woman who deserves to feel beautiful and to do something that helps her feel beautiful. The Red Dress need not be red, but it must be stunning, impractical, eye-catching–a ball gown, literally or metaphorically. Then, someone take beautiful photographs of her in her stunning gown, so that she can always remember the magic of self-care.

The lovely and hilarious The Bloggess explains this better than I can, because she has experienced the magic first-hand–twice. Once in 2010 and again very recently. The traveling dresses she wears in her photos would not fit me, but having seen dresses I would die to wear on vintage patterns sold on Etsy, it occurred to me that there might be another kind of therapy in the crafting of such a gown.

Ball gowns are not as difficult to sew as you might think, or so my reading tells me. I want to make it, wear it and send it on to someone else. They can be, certainly, but the primary hurdle is fabric and the cost of fabric. I am about to do something I feel shy about doing and, well, frankly, terrified will upset you, dear readers. Before I do, I must show you how well I have researched this and the beautiful things that I’ve found for the project:

First, the pattern:

My dream dress. The pattern fits my measurements exactly, which is just further proof that I must make it. In red taffeta.

Taffeta is a fabric best made out of silk, and perfect for fancy dresses. My own wedding dress was made from silk taffeta. It’s not very heavy, but is “crisp” as they say in the sewing world. It’s the fabric the artist used as a model for drawing the dresses on the envelope of the pattern. I found the perfect shade of red taffeta at Mood fabrics (Project Runway uses Mood for a good reason–they have everything you could ever want).

Now, can you see the detail around the neckline of the dress in the picture? It has an accent that I believe is beaded. Which inspired me: the dress must have sparkles or shinies of some kind. And then I found this:

Isn't this perfect?

Since I can’t manage all of this on my own and because it is for a good cause, I am asking for your help in buying supplies to make the New Traveling Red Dress. I’m doing it officially and anonymously, using a website called WePay specifically for this purpose. If you do give a little something, thank you in advance. If you do not, I will never say a word about it to you, cross my heart. You can donate to the New Traveling Red Dress Project here. The $300 total goal is high–I can get away with less–but the more I have to work with, the better the supplies, and the longer the dress will last. I’ve also set a six-week deadline, so that in case I do get pregnant I can hurry up and finish the dress before I’m too big to wear it!

What do you think? Do you have other fabric suggestions? A better idea for the trim? Sewing tips? Would you rather donate your services as a photographer or help with the sewing? Do you have a dress form I could borrow? Any and all thoughts are welcome! I am worried about this: is it inappropriate for me to ask for monetary aid if I’m going to wear the dress myself? If so, I am perfectly happy to feel absolute joy in making it, in working with such gorgeous fabric and immediately passing it on to someone else who needs it. Do please help me organize this in the best possible way! I have the best possible intentions.

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.

The Warmth of Good Company

The Log Cabin, site of the MotherWoman breakfast. And snow. On 10/28.

A confluence of events turned this weekend into the kind of celebration of sisterhood that might have elicited an eye roll had I seen it on television or read it in a novel.

1) I observed a weeks-long debate about breastfeeding vs. formula feeding (sort of) that became a discussion about civility (or the lack thereof) in the feminist mother blogger community. Insults flew across twitter, blog comments, blog entries, etc. Then, there were reflections about the insults. I just wanted to get different points of view about the actual issue, because I have no idea what it’s like to have a baby, yet. I felt like I had just walked into a cafeteria divided into cliques. And frankly, I was happy to have a good excuse to keep quiet (no baby, no feedings, no experience with this).

2) I attended the amazing 2011 fundraising breakfast for MotherWoman, an organization that “supports and empowers mothers to create positive personal and social change for ourselves, our families, our communities and the world.” And does it well. I saw for myself. (And now want to move to Massachusetts.)

3) I shared some of the insight I had gained at the MotherWoman breakfast with another blogger, and her response totally filled up my heart.

The sisterhood that I am celebrating now is not only female friendship, feminist support or mothers sharing knowledge with peers; the sisterhood I have discovered is both specific and huge: I have (awkwardly) named them the Mental Health Moms. Within the “Mommy Blogger” category, there is a group of women who bravely and publicly tell horror stories, name their diagnoses, admit to feeling fear and shame and just plain put themselves out there. I met them through Cristi Comes, guest poster here, and writer at Motherhood Unadorned, BlogHer, and other places, when I read her post “I’m Not a Bad Mom Because I Take Medication.”

1) You know who stayed out of the name-calling? That’s right; the moms who blog about mental health issues. I am not saying that moms who have not been Anxious or Depressed are unkind or that mentally healthy moms are unkind. I am making a generalization, so it’s obviously going to have some big exceptions. I am sure that there are bitchy Mental Health Moms. But when I read a blog post, I ask myself, “How can I help?” or “What do I have in common with this writer?” Granted, I seek out some specific topics: feminism, motherhood, mental health and all three when possible. It is therefore not too difficult to find common ground.

2) You know who attended the MotherWoman breakfast? Yes, women who either know what it is to face down mental illness or feel empathy and contribute support to the women who have survived the darkest hour. Women who fight the stigma and volunteer their time, money and other resources to help women get treatment and support for “postpartum emotional complications.”

3) Do you know how I was able to help a woman I hardly know, whose blog I just started reading? When she was wrote about the tension in her family around recent discussions about bringing a second child into the family, I noticed that she seemed afraid of losing control over her body and pointed out that this is both healthy and something that deserves to be acknowledged. I was just offering up some of the wisdom I had absorbed at MotherWoman about taking care of the whole family’s well-being (not just Baby’s), and she made the decision to acknowledge her fears about another pregnancy and go out and get the information she needs to combat that fear. Now, Diana and Sam, like Nathan and I, will make their decision based on real information and in conversation with a medical professional. Neither of us will be closing our eyes or keeping our mouths shut, like we’re on a roller coaster at the top of a big drop. And even though our connection is online, it’s there. It helps.

Here is my theory about why Mental Health Moms are kind, even online, where it’s easy to log in, sling an insult and log off: someone was kind to us when we couldn’t be kind to ourselves. We know what it means to look organized and happy on the outside and feel completely worthless inside. Maybe we hesitate another second before assuming that we know the woman on the other side of that blog post.

I have been waiting for someone to disprove my theory, or even provide an exception, but I really just keep seeing cheerleading, support, encouragement, and all of that good stuff. Mental Health Moms frequently make the blogger equivalent of hot cocoa. With marshmallows. Thank you, ladies.

Oh, yeah. And watch this video. If you don’t tear up, you’re not human. *Sniffle.*

Your House is Strong

Un-Pregnant

“You need to be un-pregnant.” –L (Therapist)

“I do actually understand that I’m not pregnant.” –Me

“I know that. You’re not bonkers! You’re not psychotic. But you’re trying to control everything about this pregnancy before it even happens. No more books. No more researching car seats. You will have plenty of time to do that when there is an actual baby to prepare for.” –L

She wasn’t being mean or even harsh. She was pointing out that obsessing about a future pregnancy makes it awfully hard to live in the moment. You know what’s a really good way to get yourself really anxious? Thinking about the future all the time. You know what therapists have always told me to do to calm myself down? Find a way to focus on the present. Focus on the taste of a cup of tea. The air in my lungs during a walk. Obsessive thoughts about the future lead only to an overwhelming helpless feeling. After all, I cannot predict, let alone control all possible outcomes.

Often, I feel better about something as I gather more information about it. Case in point: my decision to stay on my medication. I read, talked, listened, read some more and eventually decided that taking the medicine posed few risks and offered many benefits. Done and done. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. But the more I learn, the better I feel.

So why has talking and reading about pregnancy made me more anxious? Should I be less anxious? Shouldn’t reading books about birth choices make me feel confident about giving birth? If I were truly anxious about the physical changes pregnancy might bring, learning about pregnancy might help me relax. I’m not scared of all that, though. I have a healthy fear of the real dangers pregnancy can pose. But I’m not anxious about it.

I am anxious about being a bad mother. I am afraid that I will choose my own well-being over my family’s. Because here’s the thing: I already have. I will take medication through pregnancy, through breastfeeding, because I don’t want to feel out-of-control anxiety and depression. I’m glad that taking meds poses relatively low risks to our hypothetical baby compared to the risks of having an anxious and depressed mother, but I’d be lying if I said that I’m taking them to keep my family safe. I want to feel good. I take them to feel not just ok, not just slightly better than suicidal; I want to feel good. I don’t think that’s selfish and have no guilt about it. Call me names, and I still won’t feel badly about it. So why am I anxious?

I’m afraid that it’s going to be a slippery slope. I’m afraid because when I was small, my own mother made some choices that hurt me; she put herself first because she had to. And you know what? It still hurts. Will I do that to my child? These are rhetorical questions. I know that I will be a good mom, and no matter how many times people tell me that I will be a good mom, I’m still afraid. The fear is not rational. It’s a shadow that lurks in darkest corners of my mind and feeds on “What if?”

I used to fear abandonment. I am now afraid that I will abandon.

No amount of reading is going to change that. No amount of talking will fix it. Until there is an actual child to worry about mothering, I can only do one thing to beat back the shadow: stop feeding it hypothetical failures. What if I find myself so depressed that I need to leave my baby and go to a hospital? Then that will happen. And we’ll all survive. But I have done everything that I can do. I will not sit and wait for disaster.

I am going to think of the next five or so months as the best and longest “babymoon” in history. We always intended to wait until March of next year. Until then, I am going to enjoy the heck out of my family as it is. I will avoid books on pregnancy, birth and parenting. I will be sewing and knitting baby stuff, because it gives me something to do with my hands and my therapist sanctioned these activities. I will sleep late, stay up late, enjoy a quiet house, watch too much TV, play video games, read books, leave the house in five minutes flat, spontaneously go to the movies and wear impractical shoes while going on dates with my husband. And other activities parents tell me they now perceive as luxuries.

This Mothering Thing is Going to Happen?! Anxiety Spike!

Honeymoon! Me and my gorgeous husband at Hemingway's house in Key West. My husband is right about lots of things, often, but he made a particularly astute observation about this month’s big spike in my anxiety level: it has something to do with my intense focus on all this baby stuff. Case in point? I recently received an email from Amazon notifying me that I had ordered two pregnancy books I do not remember deciding to buy. Yes, I looked at them, and I remember that. But I thought I had left it for later… What’s going on? Well, it’s something I have mentioned this in the past, but it’s worth repeating.

Anxiety does a really tricky thing I call the DO IT NOW! list. You see, when we are extremely anxious, we lose the ability to order tasks according to their importance. Reading a blog post about the awesomeness of the Diva Cup? Just as important as eating lunch. Which is just as important as remembering to go to therapy. Which is just as important as answering my phone. (I’ll let you guess which ONE of those things got done.) When every single task I could possibly do takes on “URGENT!” status, I totally shut down. Wouldn’t you?

Usually, I can identify the trigger and work through the anxiety in time to, you know, get up the next morning. This time, I don’t know how to deal with the trigger. I’m supposed to somehow stop thinking so hard about becoming a mother? This is a big one. I need some help. And I missed therapy–twice! But I can do some of this work between now and tomorrow’s (double) makeup therapy session.

First, let’s rephrase the goal. I’m not supposed to stop thinking so hard about becoming a mother. I’m supposed to surrender. Obsessing today will not make me a better mom tomorrow. Or next year. To a child who does not yet exist. Practicing surrender seems like a darn good idea, too, because I am told that moms have to do a lot of it in order to stay sane. At some point, I’m going to do something truly and utterly horrible like buy my child a toy gun or a Barbie doll, and I’m going to have a nervous breakdown unless I can believe that he or she will turn out ok!

I understand, now, why some women get really excited when they find out that they’re pregnant and then feel very depressed about actually being a mom shortly thereafter. I was on a high after our appointment with Dr. P, when I finally became comfortable with planning a medicated pregnancy. I have crashed back to earth.

So. I called my psychiatrist like a responsible patient. I’m taking 2 mg of Klonopin every day again. Up from 1.5 mg. Doctor’s orders. I still don’t feel right. I’m taking a break from subbing at the child care center, which means I’m only working two days a week. And they’re not even full days. And I’m still exhausted and sleeping a lot.

But I want to say a little more about why my husband’s observation was just so incredibly helpful. I told him that I was scared that this road was leading to depression because I didn’t know why I was having so many anxiety attacks. And he didn’t lie, he told me that the prospect of me having a depressive episode after we have a child scares him. It’s a scary idea. But when he gently pointed out that this month, the anxiety has a cause, that I am fighting it, but that I am giving in to these obsessive thoughts about motherhood, I forgave myself. I believed, with him, that I’m doing my best.

I’m really glad that I don’t have to do this parenting thing by myself, and I’m really, really glad that Nathan is the one doing it with me.

Motherhood Unadorned: She’s Been There

I was lucky enough to interview, via email, a mother/blogger I’ve been admiring ever since I read her syndicated piece on BlogHer: “I’m Not a Bad Mom Because I Take Medication.” I wanted to hear from a mom who had faced the decisions I’m facing and come out, well, come out a MOM. A woman with babies. At this point, I don’t really need to hear that everything will be peachy. I just want to hear that it will all be ok. And Cristi of Motherhood Unadorned is really, really good at telling anyone who needs to hear it that it will all be ok. Just ask her on Twitter! You’ll recognize her picture–she’s got blue hair, very blue hair, to raise awareness for suicide prevention. I’ll let Cristi do the blogging from now on. For the record, she does note:

“I am not a medical professional at all. I just have been dealing with mental health doctors for about 15 years.”

[hr]

#1) Did you seek help or advice before your first pregnancy? Before your second? If so, where did you look?

I had been seeing a psychiatrist for several years for depression and anxiety. I went to her prior to trying to conceive and tried to slowly wean off of my medications. After a few months it was clear that I really needed to be one them. So we figured out the best meds for me with lower pregnancy risk and I went back on. It was a good thing too. We had trouble getting pregnant and my depression got worse during that time. So I really needed them. I stayed on and got pregnant after a year of trying with fertility treatments. (I’m much older than you Anne-Marie. Will be 38 next month) and after having Ronin, I exclusively pumped breastmilk for 13 months even while on medication. I couldn’t have made it through all of that stress without them. [For more on Ronin & Cristi’s feeding adventures, read this.]

#2) Was there one moment where you knew you needed to go on/stay on medication? or was it your whole experience?

When I tried weaning, I became a mess. Had severe anxiety and depression. I just knew I needed to stay on them for my health and that of my unborn babies.

#3) What did you learn about yourself during your first pregnancy that made the second easier? Specifically, how did you develop a thicker skin for dealing with all those messages that say this decision is “unnatural” and that taking pills while pregnant or breast-feeding is always unsafe?

Its not unnatural. Anyone with a real medical condition (and mental illness is very real) can’t just stop taking their meds and power through their disease. You have to do what is best for you, which is also what’s best for your child. Happy mama = Happy baby. I believe that 200%.

#4) Do you have any advice for women trying to navigate our own mental health and plan the healthiest pregnancy possible?

Medication isn’t the only way to make it through trying to conceive or pregnancy. Therapy is vital. I also saw a chiropractor regularly. I saw an acupuncturist for many years because of my depression. Exercise/Yoga can be very effective too (I did prenatal yoga pregnant with Ronin). Massage is helpful. Bottom line, its about self care. Getting better sleep. Eating well. Drinking LOTS of water. Taking vitamins. Taking care of yourself is your #1 priority. And working with good doctors who care about you, listen to your needs and help you find all of the therapies that work for you. Not just meds.
By the way I highly recommend you getting your thyroid checked and your Vitamin D levels because those two things specifically can affect mood quite a bit. I had never heard of pregnancy-induced hypothyroidism before my pregnancy with Ellie. They didn’t even check with Ronin. I gained a TON of weight with him and I bet I had it then too. I felt SO MUCH better during my pregnancy with E, and I gained a normal amount of weight. So just something to be aware of.

[hr]

FYI last check, my Vitamin D levels were low. I’ve been taking D for a few months, so it should be back up. This is also the second time I’ve heard about pregnancy-induced hypothyroidism. Apparently, it often goes undiagnosed! Demand a thyroid check.
Thank you, Cristi for sharing your experience and for the excellent advice. You can find her, follow her and read her at:

Why Psychiatrists Avoid Giving Straight Answers

Because people with mental illness are notoriously unstable. I still feel disappointed after yesterday’s therapy session, when we checked in about next week’s appointment with Dr. P, perinatal mental health expert. As soon as L (my therapist) asked me, “What do you think the appointment will be like?”

Obviously, it’s going to be a First Session. I’m going to tell Dr. P my life story, at least whatever parts of it are relevant; she’s going to write a lot of stuff down. She may talk to Nathan. She’ll say “Nice to meet you” and we’ll set up a time to meet again. This is now completely obvious to me, because this is how a First Session always goes. Until L asked me to picture it, though, I somehow expected something much more exciting.

I thought that I would go to this appointment, explain that I want to have a baby, that my husband is on board, tell her what my meds are and hear what they should be. I thought that I would get answers. “Switch to this medication.” “Stay on that medication.” “You’ll probably be ready to start trying early next year.” THAT is what I wanted. I am not going to get it.

The anxiety attack I had this morning seems to have centered around not getting answers and a fear that the uncertainty will go on indefinitely. And what if it ends with a “no”? Well, it won’t. Because psychiatrists bend over backwards to avoid telling patients “no.” You never know how someone is going to react, especially if she has a history of anxiety attacks and depressive episodes. Psychiatrists tell you about risks and benefits surrounding the various choices a patient can make. But not until they know a whole lot about you–not if they’re any good and especially not if we’re talking about taking medication during pregnancy.

That is why Dr. P will ask me lots of questions, probably ask Nathan and Dr. C (regular psychiatrist) lots of questions, wait, ask me some more questions later, to see how I do over time, ask Dr. C how he thinks I’ve done over time, probably talk to L, wait, and ask me some more questions. Finally, L will tell me what my options are, explain the risks and benefits, and leave the choice up to me. And I do not know how long that will take. I hate not knowing. I hate waiting.

But parents need patience, right? I should learn patience? Right?

Jealousy

It’s officially gotten very bad. I am jealous of a woman whose marriage fell apart during her pregnancy. She told me “When it came time for the birth, I was the only one who showed up” and “There was so much untreated anxiety and depression during the pregnancy; I definitely had a high-needs infant!” Why am I jealous? One reason: she has a child and I do not.
Mothers, I envy you. Don’t worry, I promise I won’t let it interfere with our friendship. Nor have I become the creepy babysitter who makes remarks about wanting to take your children home with her. But I am so close and so far, all at once, that I can picture myself pregnant but can’t throw out the birth control.
My therapist does a good job preparing me for events outside my (very specific) plans. I’m a planner who gets attached to these almost obsessively detailed but imagined futures. I need her to remind me that I do not have control over so many factors, here. But every time she reminds me that the meds transition might not go smoothly or that I might not get pregnant on the very first try, I want to yell at her. STOP TEMPTING FATE! One of my grandmothers had fifteen kids and the other had eight! Surely, I am extremely fertile! Right?!
Who knows? I don’t. I want to know. That everything will turn out as planned. That I will be “good enough” to forge a smooth path to motherhood. I know that this isn’t possible. But every baby in a carrier and preschooler in her ballet clothes brings me close to tears. I had no idea that I could want something this badly. And I have never been good at patience.
I find myself praying, begging–please, don’t keep this from me much longer.

Nice to Meet You, Dr. Perinatal Mental Health Expert!

Today, I got a phone call I’ve been anxiously awaiting; I left a message over a week ago and finally heard back today. I spoke with Dr. P, who apologized profusely for not getting back to me sooner. We talked for a little bit, and she was kind enough to say, “I have to commend you; most of the women we see [in women’s mental health] come in and say ‘Oh no! I’m pregnant! Now what!'”

I had mentioned my psychiatrist’s name in my message, because I knew that he was familiar with some of the doctors at the program. Turns out, they know each other quite well. I have no idea how well or why, because psychiatrists just never tell you very much about themselves. So the conversation quickly moved to who, exactly, I should make an appointment to see. I could see one of the fellows (or interns? not sure). Or I could see one of their supervisors. (Both options are in New York City, but I knew that trip would be necessary.) Now, I am all about helping doctors learn. Dr. C was fellow (intern?) when I met him, and he was still awesome. These psychiatrists already have their MDs; they’re being trained in women’s mental health, specifically, so they know a whole lot more than your average psychiatrist. I did have one thought, though, and it turned out to be a good one–if I am adding another member to my growing-fast team of medical/mental health professionals, wouldn’t it be nice if two of them already knew each other? Dr. P agreed.

Now, we just have to find a time to meet. That’s not going to be super easy… but I still feel like I’m one step closer to Baby. I needed to feel that, today. Thanks, Dr. P!

Too Soon to Cry Mercy? I Want My Medication Back!

“I have no talent for certainty.” Jane Austen

It’s been eight days since I tapered my morning dose of Klonopin from 1.5 mg to 1 mg, and it’s been eight days since I had a good night’s sleep. I wake up soaked from night sweats with a jaw clenched so tightly it aches all day. Sometimes I sleep for twelve hours, sometimes for four. I dream about looking for some lost thing or person, but I never know exactly what I am looking for. My nights are full of problems with solutions that seem just out of reach. I just want to go back to eight hours. I want to fall asleep at 10:00 pm and wake up at 8:00 am again. I want to stop grinding my teeth so hard I’m afraid to knock out a filling.

For the first few days, I thought I just had to tough it out. But when I don’t get enough sleep, I get migraines. Understand this: I do not remember ever getting regular, consistent sleep until my early twenties. I remember watching the clock tick past ten, eleven, even midnight, as a child in grade school. (This is a classic sign of childhood anxiety, by the way.) Regular sleep was the first change that helped my anxiety, outside medication. I want my sleep back!

I’m not sure what to do, except ask my psychiatrist if this will end soon. Maybe I need a sleep aid to get me through this time. Maybe we need to make some other change to my medication. But I’m discouraged. I just didn’t see this coming. I expected harder days; I didn’t expect to feel lucky that I only had one migraine in over a week of terrible sleep. I didn’t expect to fall asleep with the kids I babysit in the middle of the day. [For the record, I wake up at the tiniest noise if I’m babysitting. R (18 months) threw one little teddy bear out of his crib, and the sound woke me up.] I didn’t expect to be baking scones at 3 am and watching Dr. Who. Everyone knows that’s a daytime activity!

Brown Butter Scones, with Teff, Whole Wheat, Oat and So Much Butter.

In the meantime, I think today I’ll go for a very long bike ride and hope that wearing myself out physically helps. Any other suggestions?