Struggling Well

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About a month ago I had a Monday that made me want to shake every other Monday and scream “why can’t you all be as nice as this Monday?!” I somehow managed to workout, eat clean, tidy and clean the house after a crazy weekend, keep two kids sick with a cold happy, and bake not just one but TWO pot pies for dinner. I posted that evening on social media that I had just kicked that Monday’s butt and felt positively amazing about it. You want to know what happened the following day? The torrents of glory raining down on my toned (from the workout) shoulders came to a crashing halt around 4am when my son decided he was awake and not going back to sleep until 6am…and we all know that as adults there is not going back to bed at 6am because we’ll just have to get up the second we finally fall back asleep. The floodgates of Heaven were barred and instead Hell broke loose resulting in a Tuesday that felt like the crap storm of five Mondays. And that, my friends, is life.

I wrestle with myself sometimes about the answer to a very big question: is it possible to thrive in life all the time in every season? I’m not talking about joy. I absolutely believe with all of my heart that a deep abiding joy because I belong to my Lord is available and at my fingertips no matter what my circumstance. I have lived that truth and it makes me who I am today. No, I’m talking about an existence that looks like me killing it every day all the time. Waking up energized, eating right, being patient with my kids, reading inspirational and soul-enriching books, walking outside, getting in an amazing workout, building a career that helps others find peace and balance, nailing dinner, and having incredible sex with my husband before falling easily to sleep. There’s a lot of talk out there right now that promotes a “manifest greatness” and “go get some girl” lifestyle…and that sounds amazing. I believe that can happen to a lot of us. Some of the time. Wait, but I read this book and it said that if I just….. Nope. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry but do you know what most of those books don’t talk about? Kids. And marriage. And compromise, and pets, and the stomach flu, and Grandma getting sick and the basement flooding, and if they do, they forget that often times the tricky situations in life snowball and it can take us days if not weeks to catch up. Take that Tuesday at 4am for example. That wasn’t just me losing some sleep. That was my husband losing sleep causing him to take the opportunity to sleep in a little, making his work day get pushed until later, which made our daughter grumpy because Dad wasn’t home for dinner. It made our son’s nap schedule get way off which meant I didn’t get a workout in, which meant I was more uptight and cranky because my “me” time got ruined. It made the colds seem worse, the patience wear thin, and the whole day feel bad. The little hiccups in life, regardless of how resilient we are and how solid our backup plans may be, will always take a little bit of time to recover from. We will miss work and lose vacation days over a child’s illness. We will miss out on a trip because a loved one passes away. A teacher will fail to see the brilliance in our child and it will result in a year of broken hearts and misunderstanding. We will work tirelessly at a book only to have the publisher delay it. We cannot thrive every day all the time. We are going to struggle. Most of us right at this moment are struggling. We are. And that fact is so profoundly OK that it shouldn’t shock us to acknowledge it, or to hear it on another’s tongue.

What I want to know is how. How are you struggling? Are you clinging to God, to the promise of peace, to your loved ones, and to the knowledge that you belong and are loved? Or are you struggling with a frantic look at what everyone else is doing, assuming you are the only one not getting it right? Are you struggling silently at night while your shoulders shake and you pray that your pillow dries by the morning? I pray with you tonight that in your day, in your night, in your darkness and light, that you remember this: You belong. You are not alone. And when you struggle, you can struggle well. Because sometimes, just sometimes, we wake up on Monday morning and show it who’s boss.

The Magic Number

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I remember thinking in high school that I didn’t have an absolute number of kids that I wanted, but knowing that somewhere between two and four would feel right. Probably three. I was almost certain it would be three. My husband and I have two kids. If you had asked my mom when she was 13 how many kids she wanted she would have told you none, that kids were whiny and messy and fine to babysit but not to have any of your own.  I have other friends that have one child and they planned for that all along.  One and done. And I don’t think that how we think it’s going to play out is necessarily what is important. We don’t always get to choose how our family is going to look, and this is what I have been meditating on lately. Am I any less “mom” because I decided not to have the three kids that initially imagined?

I follow a lot of homesteading and homeschooling moms on instagram simply because those are the moms whose lifestyles and values tend to play most closely to my own. We are not homeschooling our daughter but that has more to do with her personality than it does our opinion of homeschool…and the jury is still out with our son. 😉 He is quite the mama’s boy… But as I read stories and look at pictures of these family’s lives I find myself often feeling juxtaposed in a way that probably seems very silly but I still cannot ignore. Most the these women who are raising their kids how I try to raise my own and who are homemaking and raising chickens and drinking kombucha…they all have a brood of kiddos. Four kids at least. A couple of girls to play dolls and make daisy chains together. A couple of boys to go climb the tallest tree together and come home filthy and muddy. Now I’m obviously generalizing (and gender stereotyping) but I hope my heart comes across when I say that I’m not choosing that for my own family but I still yearn for it. I do. I want a brood too! I would have loved to give my daughter and sister and my son a brother. I would have loved for them to grow up in a loud and loving clan like I did. But I’m not going to. And while it is not an easy decision, it’s one that I feel complete peace in. Mostly because I know that is not God’s desire for our home to biologically have more children. I often feel like we pushed the envelope with our two beautiful babies. They were very easy pregnancies but traumatic deliveries. And I can’t do that again. And my husband can’t do that again. And when Big Sister still asks after a year and a half if her baby brother is ever going to have to have tubes again, I know that she can’t do that again either. Now in reality I know we could. Of course we could. But we’re not being asked to. So given the chance, we are saying we’re done. So I am left with calm in my heart and these painful tendrils of inadequacy. I wonder if I’m being selfish. I wonder if I will regret my decision later. I wonder why I feel like I need to have a surplus of kids in order to feel like I’m worthy of being crowned “Mom”. I wonder if maybe we got pregnant one more time that this delivery would be smooth and this baby wouldn’t need intervention after birth. I wonder and I fret and I worry. And then I stop. And I look at how much my daughter and son adore each other. And I look at us, our family, our clan, and I know we are so completely and utterly complete. And I shush my doubts and I don my Mother crown. My children are still young and I still have so much time with them. Two of them. Two wild and wondrous spirits that I get to foster into adulthood and then set free. And I made them. Both of them. Two babies…

 

 

 

Baby Birds, Creation, and Love

Tonight I was scrolling through social media, mindlessly searching for something beautiful or hopeful in the wake of 72 hours of grief. And I found it. A dear friend had posted a picture of a mud swallow’s nest built right up against the eaves of her house with 4 brand new baby birds inside. I was instantly taken back to being 8 years old and having to run from the detached garage and into our house because Mama mud swallow would try and dive bomb us to protect her babies. Babies that were snuggled safely inside a nest of mud and sticks, built lovingly and instinctively just to the right of our front door. “Why?” I asked my heart. “Why did you hold on to that memory?” And the answer was so simple. We always remember the introduction of new life.

If you are anything like me, you are demoralized and angry over violence, polarization of peoples, fear, and hatred. And you are enraged over both what is being done and over the crippling fear that nothing can be done. I had a full on meltdown in my closet today while my husband tried to understand what I was grappling with. And after I had used up all my words I went to the mirror and saw a fury in my eyes that both terrified and excited me. My friends, we don’t get anywhere without passion, and passion doesn’t even come close to the explosion going on within. But my trouble was with the really big question of “what can I do”. What can a tiny, white, suburban, stay-at-home mom do? Until tonight I had no answer.

An emotional run and the image of 4 baby birds in a nest gave me my answer. Because when we are desperate to hear, we will. Create and Love. That’s it. It’s so simple. Oh dear hearts, it’s so simple. We create beauty and truth and life. And we love deeply and purely and well. That’s it. We extend those things to our children and our neighbors and we ask what we can do for others as our creative energy spills over. We serve one another and place value on life that is not just our own. That is going to look different for you as you live it out than it will for me. And thank God for that, because your talents are unique and different from my own. And you have them. Talents, I mean. You have them. Don’t you dare buy in to the lie that you don’t. That’s where I was, hurt and broken just hours earlier, believing the lie that I wasn’t enough and couldn’t do anything about the world’s brokenness. My offering may not be very big, but I will offer it.

Hey, Kelly? Thanks for sharing your birds.

No Shame

 

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I think we all begin our motherhood journey with an idea of what will define our parenting. At least I did. Either that, or something snatches your attention and your heart along the way and you think to yourself, “yes! I like that!” This absolutely happened for me, and it happened though a beautiful book called Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. When I became a mother I knew that I wanted the kind of childhood for my babies that I had. Lots of outdoor time, family trips to the beach and to Eastern Oregon, siblings to play with, and slow easy summers. And Disneyland! Let us never forget Disneyland. But somewhere along the way I started to read about an old, intentional, slow kind of child-rearing. About not beginning formal education until a child is seven, starting every day with at least an hour of outdoor play time, singing and crafting your way through the day, and fairy tale magic. I got turned on to Waldorf education. And immediately I was mesmerized by the images of these woolen clad, rosy cheeked children playing peacefully with wooden toys and prancing with play silks through meadows. “That!” I thought. “That is how I want my children to grow up”. So I bought the play silks. And then when my daughter was old enough I bought white silks so we could dye them ourselves. And I bought her a wooden doll cradle and a little stuffed Waldorf doll and went for the wooden play kitchen instead of the plastic one. We read sweet, gentle stories and picked apples and made jam. And some of that…SOME of that…was absolutely wonderful. We still do a lot of those things. But time and time again I felt like a phony mom trying to live some lifestyle that wasn’t really me.  When I was pregnant with our son I started off the baby registry with only the most simply wooden toys, all organic clothing and linens, and none of the extra “stuff”. And then I started remembering back four years prior to having my daughter as an infant…and things like pacifiers and musical mobiles and a vibrating bouncy chair snuck their way in. And before I knew it, we were ready for baby boy with a lot of natural, organic, beautiful baby items in his nursery…and some really convenient plastic things too.  And this is how I have tried to parent, with each hand in a seemingly opposing stream of parenting not feeling like I was genuinely anything.

Fast forward to last week. The beginning of my four days long turmoil that ended in an epiphany about 2.5 seconds before I started writing this post. Thursday of last week I was 99% certain that we would be sending our daughter to a local kindergarten through 6th grade Waldorf School. The “day in the kindergarten” experience that we had attended was absolutely wonderful and my daughter had not stopped talking about how excited she was to go to that school. Despite the relatively long drive and private school tuition, the whole thing felt good. Not perfect, but good. And then I had our intake interview. I knew all the questions to expect. What was our daughter’s birth like? How is her temperament? Has she been exposed to media? Does she participate in any extracurricular activities? I can tell you that the last two questions are posed with a specific answer in mind. The Waldorf way is specific and intentional and doesn’t just involve the child’s life at school. This sweet kindergarten teacher wanted me to say “no, our daughter does not watch tv or movies”. But I didn’t say “no”. I answered honestly. Yes, we have parented our children with exposure to tv and movies and the occasional game on a tablet or laptop. We have all been to Disneyland as a family and we don’t think that Disney is the equivalent of The Devil. And yes, our 5 year old has taken swim lessons, dance, and gymnastics. She does not live the perfect Waldorf home life, and up until that very moment I had been very comfortable with that. But as I said “yes” to the media question, I watched the woman visibly cringe and I simultaneously felt myself shrink. Yep. You heard that right. I allowed her to shame me. The rest of the interview was rushed and blurred because a certain 1 year old had just about had it with not having Mama’s undivided attention, so we scheduled a time for me to come back with fill out paperwork with the admonition that “there is a media free policy at the school as long as she is in attendance”. I drove home stewing. I cleaned the house and did my workout and put my babies to bed and did all of my normal stuff….stewing. Here’s the thing. If I was convicted that watching a little tv here and there was seriously detrimental to my daughter I would have taken it away already. But that’s just not my conviction. It might be yours, and I embrace and applaud that. You might also think that cloth diapering is a complete waste of time, or that Popcicles are going to rot your kids’ teeth. (They might…we just brush really well after.) The point is, my husband and I have been very sure to parent based on education and conviction about what is best for our children as individuals. So if we had decided together that our daughter attending this school was absolutely worth some sacrifices, the one thing that I could not sacrifice was my dignity. Because I am a good mom. And nothing is worth me sending my little girl to a school that will be expecting our family to fit a perfect mold so that every time we walk through that gate I have to pretend to be something that I’m not. You and I are all products of our choices and our convictions, but chances are there are too many things that you care deeply enough about to make it all work the way you want it. I’m right there with you. There are a lot of things that I want for my kids that don’t get to happen because other priorities are greater. Like this school. I adore Waldorf pedagogy. I think it is beautiful and artistic and brilliantly aligned with childhood development. But I don’t agree with all of its other tenants. And more than I love the idea of my kids going to Waldorf school, I love the idea of them going to a fantastic public school where the message will be that everyone belongs and everyone is accepted.

God didn’t give my children to a mom who loves to bake. He didn’t send their beautiful souls to a seamstress, a mathematician, or to a morning person. He did send them to a woman who is learning to be brave but will fight tooth and nail to make sure that they feel honored and accepted. He sent them to a mom who loves toys more than they do, adores Disney, and despite being an otherwise horrible baker can actually produce a perfect chocolate chip cookie… and then run it off later with joy. When I texted my husband earlier that I had stumbled upon this “ah ha” moment, I simply said “If God wanted the kids to go to Waldorf school and be raised in the way that entails, then He would have sent them to a Waldorf family”. His response was absolutely perfect. “Yep, and we’re the best parents that we can be. And I’m damn proud of the parents that we are.” I am too, My Love.

The shame that I allowed that teacher to put on me is gone. I’m just a normal mom, doing the best I can with the greatest job I’ll ever do. So are you. And we’re doing a pretty damn good job.

 

Feeling all the Feels

IMG_6072Are you a bottler? I’m a bottler. I stuff and stuff and avoid and minimize and all of the usual psychological jargon that goes along with not wanted to deal with big emotions. Ok, I’m not that bad. I’m a recovering bottler who still gets caught in that trap of “it’s easier not to deal with this right now”. But lately there are big things- big, heavy, sad things- that I am avoiding. I can talk about it a little and be physically present, but please don’t ask me to feel. Not something this raw. Death hurts. Who wants to hurt? So this is where I get caught up. I could allow myself to process slowly and in privacy. I could be the stalwart and put on my therapist hat and let everyone else come to me with their grief while I quietly dust away my own. But do you know who that is doing a giant disservice to? A) Me. B) My husband C) My babies. Yup, now I got you. Cause ain’t nobody going to hurt our babies.

My daughter is almost five years old, and if you haven’t raised a 4-year old girl before well then just imagine a cross between your emotional teenage self, a Miss America contestant, a horrible stand-up comedian and your annoying aunt who “really can’t understand why you got that horrible tattoo”. Four is emotional. Four feels alllllll the feels. Deeply, passionately and sometimes all at once. This also makes the 4-year old incredibly sweet and tender. We lost our sweet black lab, Layla to canine cancer a few months ago, and somehow my girl really had it in her head that Layla was going to come back. That is until two weeks ago, where one night at bedtime it hit her. She suddenly had a very big girl understanding of death and its finality, at least in an earthly sense. And the next thing my husband and I knew was that we could hear the sobs from her bedroom all the way downstairs. My husband went up first only to come back down ten minutes later. “She’s crying because she misses Layla and she knows that she is never coming back. She wants you.” She wanted me. So I trod slowly up the stairs and down the hallway to her room.

“Hi (sob) Mama. Mama (sob) do you know why I’m crying?”

“Why are you crying, Baby?”

“Because I miss Layla…..”  And that was it. There was nothing to be said or explained. She just needed to cry and grieve and hurt for her beloved Mama dog who she had loved and who had loved her. So I held her and wiped her hot tears and pushed her damp hair away from her cheeks. And soon my own tears joined hers, as I finally found the space and the trigger that I had needed to grieve my grandma. When I realized the similarity in our sadness I whispered to her, “You know how Layla girl died because she had a tumor in her tummy?” My daughter nodded. “Well Great-Grandma is about to go to Heaven too because she has the exact same kind of cancer. I bet when she gets to Heaven and finds Layla that they are both going to eat all of the amazing food they can because their stomachs won’t be hurting from cancer anymore. And then they can keep each other company until you and I join them again.” Well that revelation seemed to comfort her as much as it comforted me. I held her close until her cries became sniffles and her sniffles turned in to the deep breaths of sleep.

On Friday morning at 5am my grandma joined our loved ones who have already said goodbye to this world. She joined some of her best friends. She joined her great aunt. She joined my Layla pup. And she left behind my mom. She left behind me and my siblings who were her only grandkids and therefore the recipients of incredible amounts of spoiling love over our lifetimes. She left behind my grandpa with Alzheimer’s who shared with her the most beautiful and tender goodbye that I will ever ever witness. My grief comes in waves. It’s raw and angry and often gets in the way of simple daily tasks. But for my children’s sakes I am doing my best to be present with it. If I am going to tell my daughter that it is alright for her to express her emotions and to cry when she needs to cry and shout when she needs to shout, then I had better be ready to do the same. If I am going to raise my son to be tender and sensitive then I better be sensitive too. And not just with his feelings, but with my own.

You know how when your husband or your sister or your best friend comes to you with baggage you let them air it all out? You encourage them to talk it through, justifying their feelings and listen sympathetically. We deserve to treat ourselves with the same compassion and care. If you’re hurting tonight, you’re not alone. Give yourself permission to feel. Deep down we all carry a piece of that 4-year old with us. And that’s OK. It really is OK.

 

Wonderful Expectation

I’m sitting in front of a computer screen blank, cursor flashing with possibility, my hair damp from the night’s shower (that I shared with the dog who got skunked three days ago and needed another dose of something to fight the lingering skunk funk), listening to the chug of the washing machine and the static white noise coming through the baby monitor. Outside, our house’s Christmas lights are reflecting off of the wet pavement. And I am trying to find the words to express what my heart so deeply longs for in this season of Advent with young children.IMG_5033

It’s slowness. Care. Unhurried appreciation that I want most. More than anything. It’s my baby boy’s first Christmas and my daughter’s fifth. Their first Christmas together. My first Christmas as a mother of two. Why can’t the world see that and understand that I am desperate for the opportunity to cherish this? If Advent in its very soul embodies the spirit of expectation then why does the world make it so very hard to move slowly enough to do so? Christmas is a week away. We didn’t see Santa this year or ride on the Polar Express train. We haven’t baked. I love doing all of those things but they just didn’t happen and it’s because I didn’t force them to happen. Actually, I haven’t forced anything. And it has felt so good. Now I am not here to praise myself for finally doing what is best for our family and for our kids, because I have a lot of rushing and forcing in my past that I need to make up for. I’m not even here to tell you to “take it easy” this Christmas because in all honesty you’ve probably heard that message somewhere. But I will tell you that if you have been looking for an excuse to have a holiday season that is filled with less…you don’t need an excuse. You don’t. Now my gift to my father-in-law and his sweet wife is simpler and less involved that I had originally planned, and that’s bothering the perfectionist in me a great deal. But they don’t know how I wanted it to turn out. All they will know tomorrow when I show up at their house is that my children love them, we love them, and we will have a meaningful gift (and wine) to share. My neighbors might not get home baked cookies from me this Christmas, but they also know that I had a baby this year and I somehow doubt that they will be expecting cookies from the lady who only has time to get her mail every three or four days.

All I’m saying is that it is OK to not have a Santa picture to post on social media. It’s OK that the ornaments on your tree start halfway up because that’s where your one year old can’t reach them. It’s also OK to take your daughter to the Nutcracker ballet because that is the thing that will make her little ballerina heart sing. And to tell your husband on the day that it is pouring down rain that you still really want to go get a Christmas tree, but that you promise a back massage later.  Traditions are important. They are beautiful. They are cement to a family’s foundation and to a child’s youth. But you can have just a few of them and still be a good mom. Heck, a fantastic mom. When Mary said “yes” to the angel and “yes” to carrying Emmanuel, it was a simple but profound acceptance and an act of obedience from her heart. She didn’t have to do any more or any less than follow God’s plan. You and I don’t either. Mothering our babies through one of the most beautiful seasons of the year can be a profound but wonderfully simple thing if we let it.

My hope tonight is that however your heart celebrates the holiday that it can embrace a slow and beautiful simplicity. Happy Advent. Merry Christmas. And may your home be filled with glorious expectation.

Finding Your Way Postpartum: A Resource List

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Postpartum anxiety and depression are becoming better known issues but that doesn’t mean that knowing where and how to seek help is commonplace.  Four years ago when I sat in a room with the OB on call and stared down at a depression questionnaire that I knew was off the charts I thought my only options were counseling, medication, both, or none.  In fact, those were the only options given to me. So I chose medication and went home to search Amazon on my own for books that might be helpful. And to be honest, I ordered a few but never read them. At least not at the time. My anti-anxiety meds kicked in and I didn’t look back. Getting to the heart of my anxiety seemed like a waste of time when I was “feeling better”.  I was in fact feeling better, but I was numb. It wasn’t until trying to conceive my son that I realized I had to do some work, some examining in order to achieve wholeness again.

So for the past two years I have thrown my spare time into this passion- this heart for helping women navigate the heaviness that can come with birth and postpartum. Loss of self, anxiety, depression, etc. I refuse to let it be an elephant in the room. Acknowledging that you are unhappy, scared, lonely, angry, or all of the above does not diminish the miracle of your pregnancy and baby. It doesn’t mean that you’re not grateful for your child and over the moon in love. It simply means that you’ve experienced probably the most intense transition in your life and everything looks and feels different. And you need help.

I’ll start with my favorite books that begin with pregnancy and take you through the postpartum period.

  • Birthing From Within, by Pam England and Rob Horowitz walks women through the spiritual aspect of pregnancy and childbirth and provides ideas for inner work that can be done all throughout pregnancy, bringing full awareness into the changes that women experience in both body and soul. You can order it Here
  • The Mother-to-Mother Postpartum Depression Support Book by Sandra Poulin is a wonderful collection of stories from women who experienced all kind of postpartum mental health challenges and recovered. The stories are broken up by the type and severity of postpartum depression and are very helpful. Order Here
  • Postpartum Depression Demystified by Joyce Venis and Suzanne McCloskey is exactly what is sounds like and is great if there is a “need for information” junkie in you who needs to know what PPD is, what it looks like chemically, what causes it, etc. coming from a clinical perspective. It is not spiritual in its approach but still a valuable read. This text can be found Here
  • After the Baby’s Birth: A Woman’s Way to Wellness by Robin Lim is a wonderful text filled with all of the ways postpartum women can care for themselves, from sleep, to nutrition, to stretching, to journaling. I have loved this book. You can find it Here

Books are wonderful tools for wellness and healing, but it has been the power of story that has had the greatest effect on my recognition of self as a mother. Nothing has touched me more or made me feel more accepting of myself than hearing the words of a fellow mother who has, remarkably, felt like I feel and walked where I have walked. For that reason, the following resources are community and story based and can all be accessed virtually. I think virtual community is a great jumping off point in the case of PPD because you can chose your level of anonymity and go deeper if you wish from there.

  • The Village Magazine is an online and published magazine that is dedicated to bringing back the “sisterhood in motherhood”, which is something that I’ve mentioned in previous posts as being vital to emotional health in motherhood. The old adage “it takes a village” is real, and these women recognize it. Their website will lead you to various forms of social media, but I particularly love following them on Instagram for the story aspect that it brings. You’ll see what I mean. 🙂 thevillagemag.com
  • Your local LaLeche League is a vast resource! It could be that your anxiety/depression/etc is coming in large part from breastfeeding issue. Seek help and use their fabulous resources! Their local chapter meet-ups are a wonderful way to meet other moms that are walking through life postpartum right along with you. http://www.llli.org/
  • Birth Without Fear is an incredible community and has been the loudest voice in my recognition that my cesarean birth with my daughter was BIRTH and not just a surgical procedure. They have a blog, a facebook page, Instagram account, etc and the stories are absolutely incredible. Healing, inspiring, beautiful. Enjoy! http://birthwithoutfearblog.com/

Have you found any other resources for mental and spiritual health after birth? If you have, please share!  And never, ever diminish the power of your story. One day it will be the healing balm for another.

Good night, dear ones.

Sneaky Anxiety

I woke up two nights ago at a typical nurse back to sleep time for my son. I couple hear him starting to fuss a little and decided to bring him back into bed with me over trying to stay awake enough to put him back to sleep in his own bed. I snuggled him in under my arm, his knees curled into my belly in a puzzle fitting of bodies that we have been perfecting for 7 months now. I started to drift off to sleep but every time I did I would wake up suddenly with a racing heart. It was similar to having the falling dream and waking in a panic only I wasn’t asleep enough to dream. This happened about five or six times until I realized that I was in a cold sweat, the room was spinning and my heart was racing. It had been years but I knew what I was experiencing. An anxiety attack. I sat up suddenly I instructed my husband to please soothe our son as I placed my head between my knees and breathed. I was angry. Why was this happening? I wasn’t any more stressed than usual. I wasn’t feeling particularly smothered, tapped out or out of control. My postpartum experience this time around had been so wonderful and IN control. And then it dawned on me. My period. I had just started my period for the first time since pre-pregnancy. My hormones were changing and my body was struggling to keep up. Knowing there was a reason for the anxiety attack, my body seemed to relax almost as soon as I made the connection. When I felt strong enough to stand up I did a quick walk around the house, got some water, inhaled my favorite balancing essential oil, changed into cooler, looser pajamas and cracked the window. Then I climbed back into bed ready to reassume cuddling and nursing with my son until we both drifted off to sleep. In the morning I was able to briefly address what had happened with my husband and we shrugged it off as an isolated event. But it really stayed with me. Because in the months postpartum with my daughter, those were not isolated incidences and I did not always know how to regulate my racing thoughts, let alone my heart.

Anxiety is crippling, frightening, and can come from a multitude of triggers. Its onset can seem mild and shakable, like a fleeting thought or irritation. But those thoughts turn to fears, and suddenly your heart is hammering in your chest, and your mind’s awareness of your racing heart causes you to fear you are losing control which only exacerbates the symptoms. Anxiety is cyclical in that way. It is a cruel rabbit hole that feels bottomless. When you are in the middle of an attack you’re left gasping and grasping at anything you can to pull you back toward something that resembles stability. I’ve been there, and for the most part I’ve climbed out of it. But I have triggers and seasons and sometimes even when things seem really good I have to acknowledge that my anxiety is present again. And every once in a full moon I experience something like an actual attack. Like two nights ago.

If this is you, I am here to tell you that you are not alone, you are not broken, you are not a bad mother, and you can and should seek help. When anxiety was debilitating after my daughter was born I chose to be on medication. I sometimes question that decision now, but I’m not sure if I had a better option for that specific time and situation. I was still able to breastfeed without any complication for her (though a decrease in my milk supply meant that I had to supplement with formula) and I was also able to return to work and function well. My relationship with my husband was able to remain strong, I was able to resume having a social life, and I was able to truly bond with my daughter. I stopped taking medication after 9 months old because I was so concerned with my milk supply and I had really wanted to nurse her until she was at least a year old. I weaned off safely and was thrilled that I still felt very much like myself. But all of life is peaks and valleys, and since that time my body and heart have experienced many hormonal and life changes. I am simply prone to anxiety. And because of that, I have had the opportunity to learn coping skills that have prevented anxiety from becoming incapacitating again. My hope is that something here will ignite hope, awareness, and inspiration to someone who might be in a dark place without a match.

1). Talk to someone. That someone can be someone very close to you or a complete stranger, depending on which suits your own unique personality.  But please make it a loving and wise someone who will extend care and respect for your experience.

2). Seek to carve out space that is all your own. This can be physical in the way of creating a safe haven within your home that is your own private retreat (your bathtub perhaps) or it can simply be thirty minutes to an hour of the day that is all your own. When you have an infant at home this requires that you lean on the support of others to tend to your baby during this time period, but it’s necessary space for your well-being.

3). Pray, meditate, or consider seeking spiritual connection if you haven’t ever before. Motherhood opens us up to an entirely new way of being that can only be described as spiritual. In the face of this new reality of self we come face to face with the most inner parts of our soul and often times need to wrestle with big questions.

4). Make sure that your hormones are stable and functioning normally. Even the slightest imbalance can have incredible effects on our bodies. The most natural and effective way that I have found hormone balance is through the use of essential oils. I have a few friends that work with very reputable companies and I have been thrilled to find a particular oil blend that combats my anxiety.

5). Eat real, healthy food. It’s really that simple. Take care of your body by giving it good fuel. Don’t count carbs or calories or fat grams. Just eat really simple, basic, and straight from the source food.

There is no shame in needing help. We all need encouragement, support, and sometimes simply a sounding board. I’m here. Your motherhood sisters are here. God is here. Tomorrow night I will be posting more resources specific to postpartum anxiety, so if you know anyone who could benefit please send them here.

Take heart,

Heather

A Careful Expectation

The weather on February 19th in my neck of the woods was stunning. Cold, clear, crisp, and bright. God-sized handfuls of snow still lingered in the shady places and puffs of pure white clouds broke up the otherwise winter blue.  I settled the car seat shakily into its base, holding my tongue between my teeth until I got it at the precise angle and then “click”. My sleeping daughter threw out her fisted hands in a brief startle and then settled back to sleep.  She was 5 days old and we were leaving the hospital. I climbed gingerly into the passenger seat, careful to place my lap belt in a spot that didn’t aggravate incision and we were off. The distance between the hospital and our house at the time was short but between my racing thoughts and my husband’s never-so-slow driving it felt like an eternity. I was already wresting with my demons and pushing away the creeping symptoms of postpartum depression, but I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew is that my life was completely changed…and nothing was how I thought it would be.

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Do you know what comes up when you google “quotes about expectation”? A lot of stuff that people have said or written about heartache and disappointment. Because that is what expectation breeds. And yet that is a massive part of what life is and how we live it. We anticipate. We plan. We schedule and we imagine. We set goals and dream of a hopeful, beautiful future. But there is a giant elephant in the room as we prepare for life, because while we can close our eyes and picture how we expect even the next hour to play out, we also know that the calendar can become figuratively erased by one phone call or a 103 degree fever. At the same time, we can’t not plan. That is what pregnancy is! Showers and appointments and nesting are all things that we do as we expect the most remarkable treasure to enter our lives. It’s all necessary. Well, most of it is necessary…(says the woman who might be selling the crib that was slept in 5 times and traded for a twin-sized mattress on the floor…). But in the details of that expectation, fear and darkness have a way of taking hold even as we are imagining perfect peace and joy. The most pessimistic of parents don’t purchase a crib and bottles and clothing for their expected baby without some imagination of what it will be like. As we accumulate the gear we begin to read and we grab hold of certain ideas that resonate with our souls. “I will breastfeed”. “I will bottle feed”. “I will deliver my baby naturally at home”. “I will stick to my set birth plan so that my epidural is timed perfectly for delivery”. “My baby will start sleeping in this beautiful pine crib right around his 6 month birthday”. “We will put the kids to bed together every night so that they can both hear the same bedtime story”. And so on and so forth. What is wrong with that? Nothing! Absolutely nothing because our dreams are life-giving and powerful. But if those dreams become the plan? The expectation and not just the hope? That is where fear and anxiety find their breeding ground. Because Darkness loves nothing more than to crush our joy with disappointment. And life happens. Changes to the birth plan happen. Reflux and NICU stays happen. Babies who we long to breastfeed cannot, or ones we need to take a bottle so we can go back to work don’t. Siblings get sick. Jobs are lost. Pets die. And there is joy and beauty to be found in ALL of it, if we are prepared to let go of our expectations.

I was not prepared to let go. Most often I’m still not. I’m a stubborn, dreamy optimist and if you ask my husband he will tell you that I throw little fits when my plans fail. I’m learning to hide hope in my heart to last through those alterations. To envision a rough sketch, an impressionist painting of how I would like things to turn out with the details left to be filled in by life’s creator. You and I are right where we are supposed to be. Our children are right where they are supposed to be. If we can trust that, and lean into that truth as our saving grace, then there isn’t any room left for fear.

Will you commit with me to trust more and hold less tightly the vision of a well-planned life? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And as always, love on and love well.

An anchor for my soul

I had something else in my mind to write about tonight. Something other than what you will instead find in the space below. When I’m in the shower or driving and inspiration for a post strikes I jot it down. But having more ideas than time means that the list is getting longer. This frustrates me because I have the supreme adversity of being a postpartum, type B perfectionist. All that means is that every time I actually get the drive and inspiration to write, something (like a nursing baby) takes higher priority the second I sit down. But when circumstances for writing are perfect the free spirit in me rises up and shakes her chains and says “nope, you’re not writing tonight.” And then because I’m a perfectionist I chide myself for being a “bad blogger”. Such is life.   So I walked out into my backyard tonight to water the garden before settling in to write about a, b, or c topic on my aforementioned list but immediately I knew my fingers and toes and chest and belly were rising up with a story of their own. Because the moment my feet hit the grass on my walk to the garden the wind picked up and my whole body reacted to its meaning: change.

Fall is blowing in. A new season. Already, my mind asks? My baby was born in the winter, on the cusp of spring, but still two seasons ago. I wholeheartedly welcome the fall time in the Pacific Northwest. Autumn is my soul sister. But already? My son will be 6 months old this week. Half of a rotation. Half of a year. He sits up unassisted and babbles constantly, rolls across the floor or bed to what he wants. And in the same way that he was born, he greets the world face up, always joyfully grasping at life. And while I welcome days of more sleep and more independence I also crave the feeling of wrinkled newborn feet beneath my fingers. Every emotion that I didn’t yet have words for overwhelmed me in the face of this evening’s wonderfully cool breeze. I looked at my garden and took in its growth and ripeness, so close to harvest. Behind me the maple was tossing its first leaves to the ground. The first year postpartum is so much like the changing seasons. Somehow each day that lasts an eternity is over when we blink our eyes. We simultaneously love and hate the feedings and bathing and changings and forget to look up until the breeze hits our skin and suddenly we’re staring at the stars.

One of most overwhelming parts about the first year after our child’s birth is the sheer constancy of change. Just when we think we have a handle on something the rug is pulled out from beneath us. It’s really hard to feel like you’ve figured something out with your baby only to have a new milestone disrupt it two days later. Did you hear me? I said it’s HARD. It’s frustrating and exhausting and can leave you feeling really, truly powerless. Mamas, I am giving you permission to admit that all of this change is rough stuff. And I’m also going to let you in on another well-kept secret…it doesn’t exactly stop as they get older. There is always going to be change. Longer legs don’t just mean new clothes and a bigger bed. Longer legs can carry small bodies up and down stairs. Longer legs mean growing pains, and new words, and then school. Friendships and hurt feelings.  Eye exams and allergies. Every season will bring nuances to our kids that we love and some that we don’t really understand or care for.  But this first year is by far the most intense. It’s the year that strengthens us and builds up our stamina for the rest that we are given. It’s also the year that we fall unabashedly in love with our children. So much in love that on days when we are pulling our hair out because yesterday’s “get the baby to nap” trick fails we swallow our tears and keep at it. Love that shows us a bit more of what our Father’s love for us feels like.

Tonight as I swallowed the tightness in my chest God told me to press in to my fear and exhaustion. He gave me permission to feel it and explore its roots. But once I was done, I knew I was supposed to surrender. To bring my broken mothering and my broken offering to His feet where I could be embraced just as I embrace my son and daughter. With a ferocity of unconditional love. I have a ballast in Him. An anchor for my soul, and security that unlike everything else around me cannot be moved. Press in, dear ones. There is strength and peace to be found in every season. Even in the very hardest ones.