Episode 51: Surviving the Holidays

I recorded this episode on November 13, 2017, and it seemed like a good time to talk some sense about the upcoming holiday season. Or is the word “upcoming” wishful thinking on my part? As far as commerce is concerned, the holiday season has already arrived. I went to the pet store with Julian yesterday, and they were selling a Santa outfit for guinea pigs.

Seriously. A Santa suit for guinea pigs.

Before you go crazy, and think you have to buy a guinea pig, and then get a Santa suit for said guinea pig, let’s get down to Holiday Survival Basics.

YOU HAVE TO MEET YOUR NEEDS FIRST. Your basic needs. Sleep food air warmth.  Are you familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?  It’s a pyramid that represents our needs as humans.  The triangle at the tippy top represents self-actualization. I love self-actualization. That’s where we become our best selves. But before we can reach the top of the pyramid? We need a solid base. Otherwise the whole pyramid collapses on itself.

Maslow places physiological needs at the base. That includes sleep. Babies, god bless them, really batter the shit out of the base of our pyramid. It takes a lot of work, and luck, and sacrifices to the gods of slumber, to get enough sleep. 

Julian, my sweet rambunctious two-year-old, learned how to climb out of his crib recently and so we graduated him to a “big boy bed.” (Translation: twin mattress on the floor.) Now he is waking up early. As in 4:30 in the morning. Waaaaay too early. Nathan and I are taking turns with the morning shift, and damn, this experience has been an excellent reminder as to how important sleep truly is. Today, I got enough sleep. I am patient kind loving creative funny happy empathetic and all sorts of good stuff. Yesterday I was up at 4:30 and felt like a vicious bitchy beast all day. I literally growled at my children.  It was suboptimal. But I’m not going to beat myself up because holy crap, it is hard to do anything but survive if you are not getting enough sleep.

So why am I rambling on about pyramids and sleep? Because like newborns, the holidays muck with our basic needs. With all the commercials and carols, tinsel and traditions, it can start to feel like crafting the perfect wreath is more important than getting a good night’s sleep. It’s not!

Your mental health is everything. Not something. Not anything.  EVERYTHING. If you don’t have your mental health, then how can you even think of enjoying the holidays?

There will be Christmas 2018 and Christmas 2019 and on and on until the end of time. Do what you have to do this year – and every year! – to preserve your mental health. Don’t sacrifice your mental health in order to perfectly wrap baby’s presents. Baby don’t give a shit if the gift wrap coordinates with the bow. (Actually, baby don’t even give a shit about presents.) 

Holidays can get messy because everyone has their own expectations. It’s OK to disappoint someone if their expectations do not work for you this year. Especially if their expectations might damage your mental or even physiological health. 

You can’t manage other people’s expectations. Mainly because those expectations are floating around in their heads and you are not psychic. But even if you are psychic, or even if the people in your life go to great pains to articulate their expectations, you still have to remember the golden rule: YOUR MENTAL HEALTH IS EVERYTHING. It does not matter what your sister or father-in-law expects from the holidays if their expectations interfere with your ability to meet your basic needs. 

But you can manage your expectations. That’s what I’m trying to do this year. Manage my expectations. I started a list the other day on my iPhone. I put “holiday cards” on the list.  That made me realize I also want to take cute photos, which made me realize I also want to craft a cute Advent calendar, which made me get really honest with myself and admit to about thirty other insane expectations.

The list made me realize I’m heading into the holidays with some schemes that will interfere with my sanity. But now that I have made the list, I feel like there is more space in my head.

Next step: I have to show my list to Nathan so he can tell me where I am being insane. Confession: I’m a little afraid to do this because he’s going to get a good look at my crazy Pinterest side.

Before I show my list to Nathan, I’m taking a hard look at it and labeling things as “do-able,” “aspirational” and “societal.”

Christmas cards? I hate making Christmas cards. They stress me out. I only think I have to do them because it’s a societal expectation. And these days, a lot of people skip the cards. So maybe it’s not so much a societal expectation as a pressure generated by all the companies that want my money and create elaborate blog campaigns to convince me that my life will be perfect if only I get the best cutest hippest Christmas cards.

Yeah, I’m not falling for that this year. Christmas cards are getting slashed off my To Do List.

Then there are gingerbread houses. For me, those are aspirational, so I now have a ten year plan to eventually make elaborate houses with my kids. But this year? I will buy kits at Trader Joes and assemble the houses when the kids are asleep. Then, when we are all well-rested and happy, I’ll let the kids go crazy with frosting and candy.

With your list, be sure to listen to your gut and do what works for you. When your gut says one thing, but your head says something else, listen to your gut. 

You don’t need to get good photos. You don’t. The memories and love are there regardless of how many photos you take. By all means, take photos. I love cuddling with my children and flipping through old photos. But we get as much joy from candid shots as we do from staged fancy shoots. Actually, the candid shots are probably more entertaining. I don’t have any awesome Christmas photos from years past and guess what? That’s okay!

If there’s a tradition or expectation driving you crazy, remember: most traditions were started, or at least perpetuated, by someone looking to make a buck. The person selling fancy Christmas trees does not care whether you have a merry Christmas and they certainly aren’t worrying about your mental health. They just want your money.

If you are looking for a book to keep you sane during the holidays, I highly recommend Llama Llama, Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney. I think it is as soothing for mamas as the little llamas.

When things do not go according to plan (and with kids, they rarely do), remember that a little chaos makes for a good story. Stories about the perfect calm holiday meal? Boring. The family story about the year the turkey spontaneously combust? Outstanding!

When all else fails: there’s always next year. 

Episode 50: Starting A Peer Support Group

Episode 50? Woot woot! I probably should have baked a cake, right? I baked a chocolate cake last weekend for Julian’s birthday, so let’s just pretend that cake was also for the podcast.

Thinking of starting a postpartum mom-to-mom support group? Fabulous! These are my top eleven tips. (Ten sounds better, but hey, I thought of eleven.)

1.  If you want to start a mom-to-mom support group, do it!  Don’t worry about the frills and frippery.  You don’t need a website or blog header.  You don’t need to know who your first one hundred members are.  You don’t need a five year plan.  You do not have to be perfect in the beginning.  Your group can and should evolve over time.  Just start.

2.  Do what works for you.  In a perfect world, these groups would be offered in every neighborhood at dozens of different times.  But you are human.  You can’t be everything to everyone.  Pick the time, location, frequency, and logistics that work for YOU so the group is sustainable. 

3.  Lower your expectations.  Moms will RSVP and never show up for a meeting.  There might be weeks (even months) when no one attends.  Be patient and remember: you are helping a tough crowd.  Life with a baby? DIFFICULT.  Nap schedules change without warning.  Babies get sick.  get really excited when a mom makes it to your group, because damn, she worked hard to be there. 

4.  Don’t take anything personally.  I think this is critical for just about everything in life.  I can’t stop talking about The Four Agreements and think it should be required reading for humanity.  If you want to run a mom-to-mom support group, read that book!

But more specifically for running a mom-to-mom support group, some moms will attend and clearly hate the group.  That’s their journey.  It’s not you.  Even if it seems like you, remember, they are dealing with all sorts of emotional and psychological issues. 

5.  Some moms need to attend regularly.  Others need only attend once.

6.  Remember: you are not a mental health professional.  Be sure to mention that to any new moms who attend.

7.  If you have the money, Meetup.com is great.  At least in Pasadena.  But for spreading the word about your group, there’s also Facebook and emailing mom resources directly, e.g. obstetricians, pediatricians, mommy and me classes.   

8.  You are allowed to quit.  I quit when I was pregnant with my second child because hello, I had morning sickness until the day I gave birth.  I knew I could not keep the group going while vomiting all day long.  Know yourself.  Know your limits.  You have to meet your needs before you can meet anyone else’s needs. 

9.  You are allowed to start over if you do quit.  I restarted my group when Julian was about six months old and the second incarnation was even better than the first.  That’s when I committed to a regular time and day and asked The Family Room if I could use their space to host my meetings. 

10.  You are helping people who you never meet.  I promise, you are.  For some moms, just knowing your group exists is a huge relief.  It helps them realize they are not alone.  They need that.  I have dozens of moms whom have never attended my group but signed up for the Meetup, and I know they are helped by the group’s existence. When you start the group, you are fighting the stigma.

11.  You can’t save everyone.

Also: check our Jane Honikman’s books!  They are amazing resources!   I have listed them all below with Amazon links. I did not read these books until after I had started my group, so don’t feel pressure to read them first. (See Tip # 1.) But don’t feel like you have to invent the wheel by yourself.

Jane Honikman’s Books:

Community Support For New Families

I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families

Postpartum Action Manual: How to Provide Comfort, Encouragement, and Guidance to New Families

Episode 43: Katie’s Story

This week, Katie Flores, a holistic health coach, shares her postpartum adventures.  Katie suffered from crying episodes, dreams of running away, becoming easily irritable, and just knowing that something was wrong.

I think that’s so important. Sometimes, we don’t know how to label it, but we just know “something is wrong”. I know I felt that way for months but was too afraid to ask for help because people kept insisting that the newborn phase is tough and things would get better at the three month mark.

Katie’s worst year was not the first year postpartum, but the time from when her daughter turned one until she was two.  There’s an emphasis on the first year postpartum, but you know what? A woman’s body works in mysterious ways. If you feel like crap, reach out for help, no matter how far along you are during your postpartum journey.

For Katie, the postpartum depression was not the diagnosis but a symptom for another issue with her thyroids. Postpartum thyroid issues mimic postpartum depression, so your doctor should test your thyroid as well.

Her website is right here at KatieEFlores.com.  It’s a beautiful site and hey, Katie offers a free strategy phone call.

Katie also offers a free healthy mamas’ support group. If you would like a free copy of Katie’s free Thyroid Labs Checklist, head over HERE and sign up for her newsletter.

Thanks, Katie!

Episode 42: Lucy’s Story

This week, Lucy McEwen shares the story of her motherhood adventures, including her traumatic birth experience at a less than mother-friendly hospital. The nurses were actually annoyed with Lucy for being “too loud” during her contractions! She was bullied into getting an epidural, and her birth plan was effectively ignored.

Lucy and her beautiful family

After the birth, her baby needed to go to the NICU but the maternity wing was full so Lucy was sent to a room on the other side of the hospital. Lucy could only hold her daughter while breastfeeding and with all the travel time between her hospital room and the NICU, she had very little time to sleep.

Lucy then experienced postpartum depression with lots of crying and intrusive thoughts.

It took Lucy a long time to realize she was allowed to grieve this traumatic experience.

Right after birth; in the NICU; and then reunited in the postpartum wing

Lucy’s second birth was a much more empowering experience. She worked with a doula how made sure Lucy knew how birth works and what Lucy’s rights and options were.

The collage above shows Lucy’s Climb out of the Darkness team for every year from 2013-2016.  Isn’t it beautiful to see how the event grew over the years?  I’m so glad the Climb is being continued by Postpartum Support International.

Lucy’s warrior mom tattoo alongside Katherine Stone’s tattoo

She is currently seeking her certification as a postpartum doula. She works in the Antelope Valley and her website is Journey to Joy Doula (JourneytoJoyDoula.com).  There’s also a Facebook page.

Lucy has also started a postpartum support group for moms in the Antelope Valley.  It’s called AV Postpartum Support and you can head over to Facebook to join. The group includes members from neighboring cities and provides peer support with free monthly meetings.

Bravo, Lucy! The mothers of Antelope Valley are lucky to have you. And I am so lucky to know you!

41 Sandy’s Story, Part Two

This week, I continue talking to Sandy, author of the memoir Dancing On The Edge of Sanity.

We mentioned a couple of books by Karen Kleiman: Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts and What Am I Thinking: Having A Baby After Postpartum Depression.  I have not read either of these books yet, but they are on my shelf and will be read soon! (I don’t know the meaning of summer reading.) (Or, rather, I do, but don’t care. There’s far too much to learn about maternal mood disorders to slow down for summer.)

To read some excerpts from the memoir, check out Sandy’s blog, Dancing On the Edge of Sanity.

Episode 40: Sandy’s Story

This week, I talked to Sandy Celauro, author of the memoir Dancing on the Edge of Sanity, which she published under the pen name Ana Clare Roudes.

Sandy’s descent into the darkness of postpartum depression and anxiety was very, very quick. Within days of her son’s birth, she began to experience panic attacks, anxiety and obsessive thoughts. She sought help at her local emergency room, which was grossly unprepared to help a mom suffering from a maternal mental illness.

This week, Sandy and I talked about her ordeal – but we could not stop talking! So next week, in Part 2 of Sandy’s interview, we’ll delve into different issues concerning postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, especially the writing of such memoirs.

Thanks, Sandy, for sharing your story!

Episode 39: The 2017 Climb Out of the Darkness

I am so happy that the Climb Out of the Darkness is continuing under the auspices of Postpartum Support International.

Climb Out of the Darkness is the world’s largest event raising awareness of maternal mental illnesses like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety & OCD, postpartum PTSD, postpartum psychosis, bipolar/peripartum onset, and pregnancy depression and anxiety. It is held on or near the longest day of the year annually to help shine the most light on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The event features mothers and others across the globe joining together to climb mountains and hike trails to represent their symbolic rise out of the darkness of maternal mental illness and into the light of hope and recovery.

If you have questions or would like to lead or join a Climb or become a Climb sponsor, email cotd@postpartum.net.

Thank you, Emily, for talking to us about the Climb and continuing working for this amazing event!

Episode 38: Beth’s Story

This week, Beth shares her story of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety after the birth of her second child.  She also suffered from PTSD after the birth of her first child.

This episode does include a trigger warning: Beth’s ten month old son was diagnosed with an incredibly rare genetic disorder that affects his adrenal glands. If you are not in a place to listen to that, I understand. Just listen to the intro and then skip ahead to the last five minutes because wow, Beth ends with a powerful message.

Yay for mini-Princess Leia! 

Beth mentioned The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, a book that I love and highly recommend.

She also talked about how finding her Facebook tribe has been such an important part of her recovery.  If you are in search of a FB tribe, I recommend the Self-Care Squad for self-care support in general and the Postpartum Collective for anyone with any sort of interest in maternal mood disorders.

At the end of her interview, Beth talked about happiness and holiness. After we stopped recording, she told me she has been reading The Happiness Darewhich has inspired those thoughts.  I’ve already added that book to my wish list!

And lastly, and perhaps a bit weirdly, I talked about Missing Richard Simmons, a podcast about everyone’s favorite fitness fanatic. If you love podcasts, I highly recommend it!

Episode 37: Of Zoloft Weaning And Sensory Deprivation Tanks

It’s just me again this week talking about my mental health and advocacy work, but I promise, we’ll be back to interviews next week.  (Probably.) (You know how it goes.) (#MomLife).

I talked about my gradual tapering off of Zoloft.  I am down from 150 mg to 75 mg and easing myself into 50 mg. I was a bit cavalier this week and took 50 mg two days in a row before my body was ready for the leap and oh boy, did I suffer.

I felt like this:

But Nathan says I was actually more like this:

I feel better now. Whew.

But I jeopardized my mental health today by trying a sensory deprivation tank.  I was in the dark, floating in about six inches of water that was loaded with Epsom Salts for an hour. I thought it would be tranquil and energizing. It was quite the opposite. By the time the lights went back on, I felt like the photo above.

But hey, it was an adventure.

I just finished reading  The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and loved it. I’ve already started The Four Agreements Companion Book because I can’t get enough. I highly recommend both books to anyone looking to improve their mental wellbeing. I wish I had learned this stuff before I had PPD!

Episode 36: More Thoughts and Feelings On The End of Postpartum Progress

I had tons of interviews scheduled for this month, but after the ending of Postpartum Progress, and organization I loved with all my heart, I have needed to take some time to rest and gather my energy.

But I am so excited to be back this week and talking about yes, my feelings and thoughts on Postpartum Progress. Because when you are part of something big, and that Something Big comes to a sudden and unexpected end, you are going to have big feelings. And my goodness, but I needed to talk through those feelings.

I am so grateful for the new Facebook community, the Postpartum Collective. I highly recommend joining if you want to be connected to other women fighting to help others with maternal mood disorders, or you just want a community where you can be yourself and not feel judged.

In this episode, I mention author and shame-researcher Brene Brown several times.  I love her work and have just finished Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.  I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Thank you for listening!