Climbing Out of The Darkness

A few months ago, I wrote a letter to Miriam Carey, the mother who lost her life after a chase with police at our nation’s Capitol.  After her death it was revealed that she suffered from some form of mental illness, possibly triggered by postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. In that letter I made her and her daughter a promise: that I would do better, do everything in my power to make it so that mothers like her, like myself, don’t suffer in silence, nor fall through the cracks of the healthcare system in our country. I promised her that I would continue to be a voice crying out for those in our communities to take our mental health seriously and to seek treatment-even if it felt like I was speaking in a silo, into the wind, and no one was listening. I promised I’d do better so her daughter wouldn’t be ashamed to seek mental health help if she ever needs it as she grows older.

I’ve been working very hard since then to live up to that promise, even if it just involves me being completely honest here about where I’m at mentally. I haven’t erased my YouTube videos, even though I haven’t updated it in months and regret that I haven’t seen that project through like I wanted. I do, however have other projects in the works that hopefully I will see through and that will help me carry out my promise to her in tangible, impactful ways.

I WILL be a change agent.

**

When I was thinking of writing this post-what I wanted to say about why I volunteer my time and resources to Postpartum Progress, and why I’m asking for your support, I thought of Miriam, my promise, and then I thought of myself.

I thought back to January 2011. I don’t remember the exact date but I remember it was nighttime, and I was sitting in the dark, crying as I sat in front of my laptop typing words into Google search. I had spent the previous hour sitting on my bathroom floor, envisioning my family coming in and finding me bleeding to death in the bathtub. I’d been having suicidal and intrusive thoughts for over a week, and was exhausted from the mental strain and impact of severe shifts and cycles in mood. I remember thinking about the people in my life who had told me that either nothing was wrong with me or that I was suffering because I wasn’t “living right.” No one could explain why I was feeling insanity dance within me, and no one understood because I could barely articulate what it was that was happening to me.

I remember feeling the exhaustion settling in deep within my bones, overtaking any resolve that remained. So there I was, Googling what I thought were my symptoms. The first link in the search results was Postpartum Progress. I spent the next 3 hours reading everything there: posts, comments, the “Plain Mama English” guides that outlined the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders. I remember crying as I read everything, realizing that I finally had an explanation for what I had been enduring since even before I gave birth to Alex. The rage…the sadness…the anxiety…the compulsions…the intrusive thoughts…the guilt…there it all was, laid out for me in black and white on the screen.

I emailed Katherine Stone, the founder. She emailed me back, encouraging me to seek help and telling me that no, I wasn’t crazy, and yes, I would get better, and there as hope for me. She directed me to the Postpartum Stress Center in PA where I eventually started treatment.

Hope and a lifeline. She and Postpartum Progress had given me both.

***

Postpartum depression and related illnesses like postpartum anxiety, ocd, and psychosis, are the most common complications of childbirth, impacting 1 in 7 women, and at a higher rate of 1 in 4 women in minority, lower-income, & impoverished communities every year. Suicide is among the leading causes of death among new mothers every year. (As I mentioned above, it nearly took MY life) With these kinds of grim stats in mind, Postpartum Progress has grown from just a blog, to a non-profit laser focused on improving the maternal mental health of women worldwide through a variety of programs.

For example, in the next 24 months, Postpartum Progress will be updating and expanding the blog including a Spanish language version, creating a video PSA, and starting the development of a mobile app that supports moms through PPD and related illnesses.

These are the kinds of initiatives that Climb Out of the Darkness is designed to help fund. Climb Out of the Darkness is THE first event of its kind: one designed to spread awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and help fund Postpartum Progress’ efforts to reach every mother, in every community, on every socioeconomic level.

I’m joining mothers all over the world-there are climbs in London, New Zealand, Canada, and South America-to raise money  over the next 48 days that will help Postpartum Progress help every mother and their families have the strong start they deserve.

I did it last year to honor my experience and ascent out of the darkness I found myself in that night in 2011. This year, I’m leading a team of survivors here in Austin, and I’m doing it for Miriam. I’m doing it for the other women who have lost their lives in the last 12 months to suicide. I’m doing it for the mothers in communities that lack access to adequate mental health resources, for the mothers who have no insurance, who are at risk and don’t know there’s hope and help. For the mothers who are ignorant of the facts and range of their symptoms because their OB doesn’t have adequate information in their brochures on PPD. For the mothers who just think that PPD is nothing more than being sad and doesn’t understand why she has scary thoughts or full-blown rage she’s never in her life experienced up until this time in her life.

Some quick facts on PPD and related illnesses:

  • PPD and related illnesses happen to ONE MILLION WOMEN in the US alone each year.
  • Only 15% of moms with PPD and related illnesses ever get professional help. That means there are more than a half a million mothers (in the US alone) each year who have not gotten any help.

  • The National Research Council reports that untreated PPD is associated with impaired mother-infant bonding and long-term negative effects on the child’s emotional behavior and cognitive skills, lasting into adolescence and adulthood. The Urban Institute says the biggest tragedy of this illness is that it is treatable and thus we could be preventing the damage it has on so many mothers and children.

  • The annual cost of lost income and productivity in the US of not treating mothers with depression is $4-5 billion.

Let’s not lose any more mothers to these very treatable illnesses. Let’s eradicate the shame associated with these illnesses that keep so many from seeking treatment. Would you consider a $10 or $20 donation this week? Team Austin’s goal is to first raise $500, and then stretch to $1k. We’re over 60% of the way to $500. Help us get there?

Thank you SO much for your support. Seriously. You’re helping us save lives. You’re helping us save the other Miriams & A’Driane’s out in this world.

To join a climb in your area, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/COTD2014

To donate to our team here in Austin, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/addyeB-COTD2014/fundraiser/addyeB

To read my latest post over at Postpartum Progress, go here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-anxiety-comes-back

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

Operation Get Dilated

Today I’m 36 weeks pregnant.

I’ve been contracting with minimal relief since the end of week 29. After my second trip to labor and delivery I was basically told my uterus is irritable and my cervix is soft but stubborn-it’s like one of those broken garage doors that only opens an inch or so off the ground and then gets stuck.

Back at the beginning of my third trimester, this was a good thing-necessary as neither my OB nor myself wanted to see my baby boy in the NICU or worse, not make it. So I was given magnesium, a couple of steroid shots, and a host of other meds that didn’t work in an attempt to keep everything at a standstill. My cervix didn’t open any further, but the contractions refused to leave. So I’ve been living with them, each one eating away at my sanity like a zombie feasts on brains & flesh.

As I mentioned previously, I  went in to see my OB last Monday after a weekend of particularly brutal contractions that were practically on top of each other. That’s when he gave me the “hang in there old sport” pep talk, checked my cervix and told me it had changed just a tiny bit, warned me that much like my labor with Alex, this one is starting off at a snail’s pace, and told me he wouldn’t try to make it go any faster until at least week 37. He also told me it would be a good idea to at least start doing some walking to help get things “ready.”

So I’ve been walking every day, and honestly resisting the urge to sprint down the street in spite of my symphysis pubis being as wide as the Grand Canyon at this point. I pretty much try to waddle-walk as fast as I can without splitting my pelvis in half. So far thanks to my SI belt, I’ve remained intact, and while walking has helped baby boy drop it low (very low), he hasn’t fallen out on the street yet, so we’re good.

I would, however like him to fall-er come out within the next two weeks though. I started labor with Alex at 36 weeks and had him at 37. I normally would be all “oh let’s just have Nature take its sweet ass time,” but when you’ve been contracting for over a month while keeping up with two other children and running a household, AND experiencing early labor symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and losing weight for the past two weeks? You start thinking of how you can get Nature to get her ass in gear and end her tyrannous reign over your body.

Even if you’ve had one of those disgustingly goddess-like pregnancies where unicorns met you every morning and you glided everywhere you went in your pre-pregnancy skinny jeans held together by a single rubber band, weeks 36 & 37 are the weeks women start googling “how to get this f—–ing human out of me on time.” That will lead you to the seedy underworld of pregnancy message boards where you find women desperately seeking not Susan, but ways to (safely) help the body get a move on.

Yes, I’ll admit it: I’ve read all the boards. Repeatedly. I’ve asked friends who’ve studied midwifery for tips. I’ve asked my OB’s nurse for suggestions. (Evening primrose oil, in case you’re wondering). I spent all last week trying to tone my uterus via raspberry tea leaf like I’m training it to swim against Michael Phelps in the next Olympics. And again-I’ve been waddle-walking.

One thing that’s struck me though when I’ve read these boards and asked folks for suggestions is that there’s an obvious method that no one is mentioning. It wasn’t until my friend Lindsay jokingly mentioned that I should just twerk it that it hit me: DANCE.

No one on any of these boards has mentioned dance as a way to get dilated & softened. Sure you could spend your time being all namaste in a squatted yoga pose till the pressure built up on your cervix causes a blowout, OR you could just throw on some “Pop, Lock & Drop It,” by Huey.  At least the asinine lyrics will distract you from how uncomfortable and claustrophobic in your own body you feel.

So, I’m here at week 36, telling you that maybe instead of giving yourself the runs and worse via castor oil, destroying your mouth eating legions of pineapple, and having sex when the LAST thing you want at this point is to be touched by the one who DOESN’T have to get up every 2 hours to go the bathroom-try busting a move. Put on some music and pop those hips. Twerk it. Shake it. Drop it like you’re 23 and in the club.

I just did. I did at one point drop it low and stay on my living room rug, but hey, I’m 9 months pregnant, that’s to be expected. I didn’t say doing any of this would look pretty-I’m just saying it might prove effective and will probably be MUCH more fun than chugging some nasty drink concoction or just sitting in misery.

If you’re looking for songs to pop, hop, drop, & shimmy it to, I’ll help you out and give you my playlist. You’re welcome.

  • Anything by Missy Elliot. Seriously-ANYTHING.
  • Shake it Out by Florence + The Machine (for the hippie in you)
  • Show Me What You Got-Jay Z
  • Bring Em Out-T.I.
  • Hips Don’t Lie-Shakira (c’mon, it’s obvious why)
  • Party Rock-LMFAO
  • Runaway Baby-Bruno Mars
  • Locked out of Heaven-Bruno Mars (I suggest grabbing a hairbrush and just belting this out)
  • You Make Me Feel-Cobra Starship (remember-23…in the club…don’t GAF about NOTHING-let loose)
  • Anything by the Black Eyed Peas. Begin with “Let’s Get it Started”, perhaps?
  • Jump Around-House of Pain (I can’t jump, but I waddled and bobbed)
  • Square Biz-Teena Marie. (6:40 of absolute funk & soul to lose yourself in. Spin, twirl, snap fingers)
  • Get Up-Ciara

If you’re feeling particularly fearless and REALLY want to get into it, I suggest heading to YouTube and finding some Unk (“Walk it Out), Ester Dean (“Drop it Low), and another “Drop it Low,” by Kat Deluna. Song is annoying but the moves might help things shift around down below.

I’m off to go get checked. Hopefully Operation Get Dilated is in full effect. I’ll let you know 🙂

*By the way, I’m not a doctor. So talk to yours about what’s safe for you to do and get clearance before you wind up having to search YouTube for ways to do an emergency home birth. Don’t sue me. Thanks.*

 

Three….

photo

 

Three years and five days ago, I went into labor on Easter night. Six to be exact. I had just finished eating and went into the kitchen when I felt the first contraction-THE contraction that my body used to inform my mind that it was time. As I gripped the counter top and exhaled my way through its duration, Mother Ezekiel’s words unearthed themselves from my memory and gripped my heart once again: “It’s time, ” she had whispered as she took my hand and drew me in close at the altar so I alone could hear the prayer on her heart for me…for us. “It’s time, and it’s going to be ok. All is well. It’s time for the baby to come and he will be such a blessing to you-oh how God LOVES this baby A’Driane, ” she said as her hands found their way to my belly and the small of my back.

Her grip was strong, yet gentle, much like the tone of her voice. I remember my heart breaking, releasing all of the turmoil that had been churning inside throughout my pregnancy. Her prayerful whispers of affirmation and encouragement were a soothing balm to my soul that had been bleeding quietly for months. I released the pain and weight of the depression I had been carrying and her arms encircled themselves around me, drawing me in yet even closer. Out of all of the altar calls I’d responded to in my life, that one was the most tender and beautiful. They were God’s arms holding me, it was God’s voice whispering healing and hope, affirming that despite the pain of the last month’s, my son and I were going to be ok.

My labor started that Easter night, at the end of my 36th week of pregnancy….and lasted for the following five days. Yes you read that correctly, people-FIVE DAYS. Even my OB couldn’t believe it. I was so desperate to move from 3 to 4 cm and be admitted to the hospital I left my OB’s office and instead of taking a walk as he suggested, I RAN. A. MILE. In a maternity dress and sandals as my sister tried to keep up w/Brennan in the stroller.

22 hours and five pushes later, there he was, Alex the Great, laying on my chest, jet black eyes squinting from the harsh delivery room lights….we had made it.

 

Today, he’s three and I’m always reminded of how I gave birth to him because every day he reminds me that he will do things in his own time, his own way, on his own terms. He’s not one to be rushed, pushed or prodded into anything be it a t-shirt or trying something for the first time. He is fiercely independent, bold, fearless even, but cautionary when it’s called for. He is a free thinker, stubborn like his father and I, adamant about having his way and never shy to voice his displeasure, but grows quiet when consumed with excitement. He’s an old man in a young man’s body, enjoying the simple pleasure of just sitting outside on the front step, observing all of the life going on around him. He trusts no one the way he does his big brother, and even we, Bertski and I have had to work diligently to earn his confidence.

He’s addicted to trains, cars and trucks. Want to see pure joy? Watch his entire body explode with it as one of his trains falls off of a “cliff”, be it the edge of the dining room table, the couch, or TV stand. Hear it in his laughter as you chase him around the house, or have him wrapped up in your arms as you tickle his belly.

Brennan saved me by healing my heart of wounds borne in childhood. Alex has saved me by forcing me to grow, mind, body and soul. As difficult as my pregnancy and first year postpartum were, carrying and giving birth to him helped me give birth to who I was underneath the wounds of my past. He’s the one who has given ME new life. Were it not for him, I wouldn’t be free of the tangles that kept me bound up in misery and ignorant of who I am. His birth led to me getting therapy and treatment and pushed me to grow and stretch in ways I didn’t think were possible. From the challenges that have come with mothering him while battling a mental illness, I’ve learned empathy, patience, grace, and that time is my friend and not my enemy. He’s taught me to slow down and LIVE.  He’s taught me to seek and not just rely on what I’ve always known. He’s helped me expand my perspective and worldview. From him I’ve learned how to be open and flexible to whatever may come my way.

From the joys that have come with being his mother and watching him evolve into the three year old little boy he is today, I’ve learned how to cherish every laugh, every smile, every expression of love bestowed upon me, big or small. He’s taught me how to value the simplest of things and how to be an individual. He’s challenged everything I thought I knew about life and parenting, and taught me how to endure.

I’d be lost without you my sweet boy. I’m so glad you’re here. Happy birthday son. I love you.

running from the quad copter.

running from the quad copter.