My new favorite word: Cumulative

Julian and I take a class on Wednesday mornings. At a recent class, we were talking about holiday traditions. The teacher said something that I can’t get out of my head:

Our childhood holiday memories are cumulative.

When I heard that word – CUMULATIVE – something inside of me clicked and I felt a profound sense of calm and relief. I want to give my children the same happy, joyful holiday memories that I have. But my memories? They are more of a warm cheerful glow than a particular moment. The things that happened when I was four are intertwined with Christmases from adolescence, creating a big messy collage of memories.

We made gingerbread houses from candy and graham crackers, but that did not happen until elementary school. Was my three year old self robbed of some essential holiday moment? Of course not! Besides, the cozy memory spills over to all my childhood memories. So even though the gingerbread house may have only been constructed when I was ten, when I think back on childhood Christmases, it’s as if we made houses every year.

There’s a lot of talk about traditions this time of year, and with social media and Pinterest, it can be easy to get freaked out and worry that we are not doing enough to make Christmas special. But Christmas is not some isolated event. It’s cumulative, and Christmas 2017 is linked with Christmases past and Christmases future. That’s why overall, the thought of Christmas makes me merry, even though a few specific Christmases may have been less than perfect.

For the holiday season, I propose a new greeting: Merry CUMULATIVE Christmas!

Memoir Update

A quick recap: I started writing about my experiences with postpartum depression in November 2013, when Pippa was still a baby and my recovery had just begun. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I decided to indie publish and hired an editor over a year ago.  I sent her my manuscript in September 2016. She sent me a 19 page memo with suggested revisions about six weeks later.  I assumed it would take me a couple of months to implement all the suggestions and that I’d publish my memoir in early 2017.

Oops.

I learned so much from that 19 page memo – it was basically a crash course in writing a memoir – and spent the next ten months overhauling my book. It was hard. It was demoralizing. But it felt right. Yesterday I got back my editor’s line edit of the latest version of my book.

I’m sitting in Panera now with a binder and exactly 300 pages of suggested line revisions. (Which means she is suggesting ways to tweak sentences, clarify scenes, etc.) I’ve gotten through the first 116 pages. It’s time for me to head off for the Postpartum Support Group that I run, but damn, I’m feeling good.

The book is in excellent shape!

I still have a lot of work to do. But nothing like the overhaul I did this past year.

Looks like I’ll definitely be publishing my memoir in early 2018!!!

I have my period!

I wrote a blog post, many lifetimes ago, for The Cranky Pumpkin. That was not my first blog. My first blog was Wendy the Cactus, the adventures of a neurotic, self-absorbed cactus, navigating the dating world of Los Angeles. Then The Cranky Pumpkin became my place to vent. But I digress!

In this blog post, I listed things that never get discussed in Jane Austen novels. Things like yeast infections and menstrual cycles. But now it is nearly 2018 and shit, people still rarely talk about those things. I still hide my tampons while walking to a public restroom.

I’m sick of it.

If we are going to have a world where women have all the information they need about maternal mood disorders, and dads understand that they can get postpartum depression as well, then we need to be open about all things feminine. Including the messy bits.

Oh man, my period has become an incredibly messy bit.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or because I made two babies, but my periods have gotten much worse the past few years. They definitely got worse after I had Pippa, but they stopped it up to an all new level since I had Julian.

I don’t know if this is my body’s way of telling me that something is wrong or if this is just life. I’m not worried that I have a serious illness, but I have no idea if intense periods indicate a nutritional deficiency that I could easily correct. I feel like this is something I should have learned in junior high school. It would have been much more helpful than learning how to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle (which did not even make sense at the time I was learning it).

Day 2 has always, always, always been the worst day of my period. My friends can relate. They all know what I mean when I say it’s Day 2. But pre-pregnancy, even at its worst, I could still venture outside on that dreaded now.

That is no longer the case.

The past couple of months, Day 2 happened on a Sunday, so I just huddled at home, changing my tampons every hour – sometimes more – and still ruining multiple pairs of undies. This month, though, Day 2 falls on a Wednesday. I have to take Pippa to school, and then Julian and I have a toddler class that is celebrating the holiday season with a potluck. I really don’t want to miss the potluck. I love the ladies in that class, and we won’t be gathering again until January.

But I’m also less than thrilled to attend a potluck when my vagina is doing its best imitation of a medieval battlefield. 

I’m not supposed to publish this post because, gasp!, a man might read it and then, horror of horrors, he might be offended. But this is a big part of my life. Every twenty-eight to thirty days, my ability to engage in regular activities is restricted because all the blood is rushing out of my lady bits and I am yet to find a tampon — super, industrial, mega, magical — that can handle the flow.

Just as I feel compelled to talk about postpartum depression in case it helps one mama, I also feel compelled to talk about my monthly “issue.” Maybe I’ll help one mama who is suffering from unnecessary because secrecy begets shame. But also, I’m doing this for me, because damnit, it just feels better to write things and hit ye merry olde Publish button.

Adventures With Meditation

After reading Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart (which I highly recommend), I have been trying to meditate on a daily basis. The word “daily” is subject to interpretation. Over the weekend, for example, I did not formally meditate, but I did  pretend I was meditating while snuggling my kids. Totally counts.

I am home now with a napping toddler and messy house, and could have made the house less messy, but I prioritized meditation. I sat down cross-legged on my bed, with a pillow behind my back, put my palms on top of my thighs, and directed my gaze about four feet in front of me, looking slightly down.  I always thought I had to meditate with my eyes open, but Pema suggests meditating with eyes open. That has been working great for me.

Here’s a recap what happened while I meditated:

  • The music from one of my favorite songs from Les Mis drifted through my head until I realized I was humming a song about dead Frenchmen to myself.
  • A few seconds of emptiness
  • Why did I eat so much chocolate? Now my stomach hurts.
  • Maybe four seconds of silence in my head
  • Wow, it’s so much easier to meditate when I’m tired. I don’t think as much. I’m so glad I went swimming this morning during Julian’s swim lesson. I’m not thinking as much because I’m tired. Fuck, I’m thinking about NOT thinking, which means I’m thinking…
  • I’m going to blog about this when I’m done 
  • My gaze drifted upwards and I looked at a photo of Pippa on my dresser for at least twenty seconds. Then I realized I was admiring my beautiful daughter and returned my gaze to the floor.
  • Moment of quiet.
  • Then I imagined a big cartoon image of a brain being attacked from all sides by little monsters squishing it together.
  • Moment of quiet.
  • I started thinking about the episode of Shameless that I watched last night with Nathan.
  • My neck got itchy.
  • I scratched my neck.
  • I thought about the fact that I was scratching my neck.
  • I congratulated myself for thinking about the act of scratching my neck because at least I was thinking about something happening in the Here and Now.

TIME CHECK: 4 minutes and 11 seconds OH MY GOD HOW CAN IT ONLY HAVE BEEN FOUR MINUTES AND ELEVEN SECONDS

  • I’ll call the blog post about meditating “Adventures With Meditation” and isn’t that cute because my podcast is Adventures With Postpartum Depression and oh my god, I’m so lame.
  • %$#&
  • and
  • &*$%
  • and
  • #$*&
  • Moment of calm serenity
  • Congratulate myself on the moment of calm serenity
  • Realize that during the moment of calm serenity, my brain was not actually quiet. Instead, I was replaying a song from Moana.
  • %$^$*&#^@
  • I start thinking about the podcast interview I’m doing tomorrow and rehearse what I’ll say to the guest before we start the interview because it has been so long since I did a podcast interview and gulp, I’m a bit nervous…

TIME CHECK: 6 minutes and 39 seconds – Not bad, not bad at all! I’m rocking this meditation!

  • Pema suggests we direct our gaze downwards and four to five feet ahead but that means I’m looking at this pile of dirty laundry on the floor and criticizing myself for leaving laundry on the floor.
  • I quickly jot a note down about this on my iPhone and smile when the phone interprets Pema Chödrön as “Emma Shojin.”
  • It feels good to ventilate my brain. Pema uses the word “ventilate” a lot. That makes sense to me.
  • What should me and Julian do the Wednesday after next when his class is on winter break? 
  • I don’t seem to spend a lot of time dwelling on the past when I meditate but I sure spend a lot of time rehearsing and planning the future. 
  • When will Julian wake up from his nap? 
  • Will I have enough time to write after meditating? 
  • Should I do laundry first? 
  • When will my dad bring Pippa home? 
  • Did I remember to schedule the next Meetup for my peer support group? 
  • Moment of quiet.
  • Then: an intense visual image of a glass of Diet Coke and a strong craving for soda.

TIME CHECK: 10 minutes and 53 seconds

  • If you want to be immortal, all you have to do is spend the rest of your life meditating because time passes so slowly while meditating, you effectively become immortal.
  • I am so good at relaxing into the experience of meditation and being forgiving of all my thoughts.
  • My gaze wanders the room.
  • Intense feeling of boredom.
  • Quick visual memory of a person who treated me poorly.

TIME CHECK: 13 minutes and 23 seconds

Mic drop. I’m out!

Journal Excerpt: Being Hollow

I’m looking back through my journal from last month, and found this excerpt from Julian’s birthday, when he was in the middle of a big sleep regression after transitioning from crib to bed:

sometimes we need to be hollow

sometimes we need to be depleted

sometimes we need to struggle and feel like everything is over all done and lost

and then we rise back up

taking care of yourself is hard hard work

add two children to the equation?

jesus

that’s tough

It’s funny. I’m way past that moment. Today I feel alive and full, energized and vibrant. But I know I’ll be back to this sort of moment sooner or later. There are ups and downs, rises and falls. We feel full, then empty, full, empty, and endless cycle.

It’s good to know that there are days we feel depleted and days we feel full. On the days I feel empty, I remind myself that this has happened before, it will come to an end, and then it will happen again. That does not eliminate that empty feeling, but it does give me the boost I need until I start to recharge my batteries.

 

The Night I Slept With Urine

A few nights ago, Julian came into our bedroom at 4 a.m. shaking around an empty bottle a little milk junkie seeking his next fix. Little did I know that my side of the bed would soon be drenched in his urine.

Let me backup.

Julian turned two years old last month. Right before his birthday, he climbed out of his pack n play (which he preferred over the crib). My husband and I knew it was Game Over, disassembled his crib, folded up the Pack n Play, and moved him into Pippa’s room. We had a couple of rough weeks with him waking up before the literal crack of dawn and refusing to go back to sleep, but we survived. After a couple of weeks, Julian adjusted to the big boy bed and started sleeping until the much more civilized hour of 6 a.m. Hooray!

Except a few nights ago, he stumbled into our bedroom at 4 a.m. shaking an empty bottle, clearly wanting a few fresh sips so he could get back to sleep. It being 4 a.m., we were not interested in reasoning with a toddler, so Nathan headed off to the kitchen for a milk refill. I reached down and scooped Julian up for a power cuddle.

I was so tired, it took me a full minute to realize that Julian was soaking wet. It took me another minute that he was wet with urine, not sweat. At least that explained his 4 a.m. wakeup. 

Nathan was so tired, that when I told him about the pee pee leak, he suggested we just strip off the wet clothes and put Julian back into bed sans pajamas. I did not have the energy to explain that if we did that, Julian would probably remove his diaper and defecate all over the place; so I took care of the pajama situation myself.  As much as I dislike staggering across the house for dry pajamas at 4:05 a.m., I would hate cleaning feces off the floor at 4:07 a.m. even more. 

I tucked Julian into bed with a fresh bottle and clean clothes. Then i crawled back into bed. At first, everything was fine. Then I rolled on to my left side to get comfortable. The sheet was wet.

My side of the bed was drenched with pee pee.

By this time, Nathan had fallen back to sleep.  He’s been under siege at work, so I was loathe to wake him. Besides, if I woke him, then i would have to change the sheets, a chore that requires actually having clean sheets.

We did not have any clean sheets. 

We own two sets of sheets for our king size mattress. (I’d brag that I’m a minimalist, but really I’m just cheap.)  Set No. 1 was drenched with urine.  Set No. 2 was crumpled up with the rest of our dirty laundry, because our dryer had been broken for the past week. We were in laundry survival mode. I was more concerned with making sure we had clean underwear than washing the backup sheets.

So what was I going to do?  Strip off the wet sheets and then cover the mattress with towels? That sounded far too ambitious. Besides most of the towels were damp and dirty because, again, broken dryer.

It seemed like as good as any time to quit while i was ahead, roll on to my other side and sleep inches from my son’s urine.

If that’s not parenthood for you, I don’t know what it is.

Postpartum Depression Greeting Card!

You guys, I am so proud of myself! For over a year, I have had the idea to open a Zazzle shop to create various products about maternal mood disorders. First and foremost, I wanted to design a greeting card for new mamas that includes information about mood disorders like postpartum depression. I finally stopped procrastinating and opened my shop. Here’s my first card!

New Mama Postpartum Depression Awareness Card
And here’s the inside of the card:

New Mama Postpartum Depression Awareness Card

The shop has actually been open for a week, but I wanted to have a physical copy of the card before I told you about it. I was worried the quality might be cheap. It’s not! It’s printed on heavy card stock and has the heft and quality of a Hallmark card at your drugstore. Except instead of making some unrealistic claims about the joys of motherhood, this card gets honest!
The card is available RIGHT HERE along with a few other items in my new Zazzle shop. I’ll tell you about those items soon, but for now, I just had to brag about my first official postpartum depression card.

 

Top Tips for New Parents’ Mental Health

Dr. Kat, host of the Mom and Mind podcast, complied a fantastic list of tips for new parents. My tip: “Knowledge is power – learn about PMADs before the baby arrives.” But you should definitely check out the other twenty-six tips. They are great for new parents but also relevant to moms and dads who are not so new to this parenting gig.

Check out the entire list right here.

Also: be sure to listen to the Mom and Mind podcast! It’s available on iTunes and all the other places you can find podcasts.

My PPD Gratitude List

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, so you could say I’m a bit late to the gratitude party.  Then again, gratitude is a good practice to incorporate into daily life. I’d like to bring some thankfulness to this site more often. So without further adieu, these are some things related to postpartum depression that I make me grateful.

  1. Zoloft helped me feel better so quickly.
  2. My current psychiatrist has involved me in my treatment plan and kept me well informed of all my options.
  3. The fact that I had postpartum depression convinced me to give cognitive behavioral therapy a try.  Once I started CBT, and addressed my PPD issues, I went further and dealt with my preexisting anxiety.  Thanks to PPD, I became a calmer, happier person.
  4. As shitty as the illness was, it has helped me connect with tons of women on a deep emotional level.
  5. I now make self-care a regular and deliberate part of my life.
  6. Thanks to having PPD, I’ve met some incredible women I would not otherwise have ever had reason to know.
  7. As part of my recovery, I started writing a memoir about my PPD adventures.  After finishing the first draft, I needed an editor with memoir experience. That led me to find and hire my editor Anne who has taught me so much about being a writer. So thank you, PPD, for helping me become a better writer.
  8. Having PPD inspired me to read books about postpartum depression which inspired me to read books about mental health which eventually led me to books about spirituality and the meaning of life. Long story short: PPD has brought many, many layers of meaning to my life.
  9. My second round of PPD convinced me to try therapy with a new therapist.  My new therapist challenged me to explore previously unaddressed issues.
  10. And now that I have survived two rounds of PPD, I feel confident I can tackle any challenge life offers.

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