We Must Do Better When it Comes to Postpartum Care

I didn’t know what hard work was until I had my first child. I was 30 years old and had never stayed at a job longer than two years, so it shocked me to my core how hard caring for a newborn was. I always hated working and the responsibility that came with it, but this was a million times harder than any job I temporarily held.

I didn’t have much help with my daughter because my husband was dealing with his father’s death just months before Isla was born. I don’t blame him now, because the loss of his father, his best friend, was gut wrenching and tragic. But back then I resented it. My husband also was dealing with serious family turmoil after his dad’s death and that was almost as tragic. My family all lives in Dallas, but my mom would try to come down and help some.

I didn’t get much sleep; I was exhausted all the time. I was breastfeeding, and I think that made everything harder. I breastfed for eight months, which I considered a feat, but I also became severely depressed and believed I couldn’t take any antidepressants while breastfeeding. My psychiatrist told me that. He was dead wrong.

There was nobody to pick up the slack while my husband was at work or at night, which made the depression and anxiety worse. At the time I didn’t have a housekeeper, so household chores fell by the wayside. I wanted to be like my mom friends who seemed to do it all — take care of a newborn, work, clean the house, etc. They all looked like they were handling being a new mom so well; it made me feel like a failure. I felt guilty all the time, too. I didn’t lose the baby weight I had gained, and my self-image went down the toilet.

I was in bad shape, to say the least, but my psychiatrist didn’t seem to care about the issues I told him about. He told me I had treatment-resistant depression and didn’t change a thing in my treatment plan, despite my suicidal ideation at times. I felt hopeless and wanted a new doctor but there aren’t a lot in Corpus Christi. The ones I called had months-long wait lists.

When my daughter was still little, we decided to get pregnant again. Immediately the depression lifted, thanks to a ton of feel-good hormones. I was tired a lot but it was a nice respite from the darkness I faced after having my daughter. But all good things come to an end. After my son was born I had severe postpartum depression. This time I talked with my OBGYN about taking antidepressants, which she assured me was fine to do while breastfeeding.

Things were different after I had my son, Eli. First of all, I had help; my mother in law moved to Corpus Christi and helped out with the kids a lot. And we were able to get a housekeeper, which lightened my load a lot. Despite things being somewhat easier, my depression continued. I started abusing my anxiety medication and was suicidal again.

One night I made a plan to die by suicide. I didn’t make an attempt, but I was close. I was sobbing and hysterical. My best friend told me to go to the emergency room, so I drove myself and was hospitalized for two days. When I left, I didn’t feel any better, but I did find a new psychiatrist from Southlake who could do phone visits.

I was still suffering though, which led me to enter an inpatient program at the Menninger Clinic in Houston, TX. I stayed there for six weeks. My medications were changed, I was introduced to new therapies, and most importantly, I was given hope that I would feel better. And eventually I did.

I know I talk a lot about my hospitalization, but I have a point — postpartum care, well, mental health care in general, is bullshit. I reached out to my doctor and the doctors at the hospital where I first stayed. But it didn’t matter. I was flailing, about to kill myself, before getting actual help. WE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BREAKDOWN IN ORDER TO GET CARE WE NEED. I know that not everybody can go to a high dollar hospital and stay for six weeks. A lot of people can’t afford to pay out of pocket for mental health care, which I do a lot. My therapist and psychiatrist don’t even take insurance.

We must change the way we care for new mothers. We must change mental health care and make it affordable to all. One in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness. One in 20 experience serious mental illness. Only 45 percent of people with mental illness get treatment in a given year. About 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. These other types of postpartum depression include postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), postpartum panic disorder, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis. It’s not a minor illness; it affects a lot of women on a daily basis.

I feel like if it happened to me, it’s happened to many others (especially women of color) who didn’t fare quite as well as I did. The National Institutes of Health reports this: Nine percent of white women initiated postpartum mental health care, compared with 4 percent of black women and 5 percent of Latinas. Black women are more likely to have PPD and are less likely to receive help.

There’s so much more to say, but I’m going to wrap it up. I just want to leave you with this: We need to do better. Mental health care is health care, and it’s absolutely a necessity.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, go to the emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

See below for symptoms of postpartum depression.

According to the CDC, symptoms of PPD include:

  • Guilt
  • Fears of harming the baby
  • Feeling angry
  • Isolating from family
  • Feeling disconnected from their baby
  • Crying more than normal

Long Live Weerow the Sea Horse

One of the things you hear as a new mom is that it goes by fast — the days are long, but the years are short. And it’s true. All of a sudden I have an almost 7-year-old and almost 5-year-old. They’re not babies, and they’re not toddlers. How did this happen?

My oldest doesn’t want to kiss us anymore, and she’s very independent. My youngest is entering Pre-K, but still likes to cuddle and give kisses. But he is starting leave his stuffed seahorse at home more instead of hiding him in his backpack every day for school. He’s sleeping with other stuffies at night, too. This is what bothers me the most. I didn’t expect him to go to college with Weerow (the sea horse), but it’s so bittersweet watching Eli not cling to his buddy so much.

I remember when Eli first found Weerow, he wasn’t even a year old. I originally got the sea horse at McDonalds in a Happy Meal when I was in high school (1999). Beanie Babies were all the craze then and for some reason, I kept it. It was just small enough for Eli’s hands and soon he carried it everywhere. He wasn’t walking that well yet so sometimes he put the sea horse in his mouth while he crawled.

One day he started referring to it as “Weerow,” and that’s the name that stuck. I found a larger version of the sea horse online so he’d have extra We probably have 10 extras in waiting. Boy, do they get dirty fast. Eli chews on the eyes — well, chews on the whole thing. Honesty, Weerow (still) smells like dirty mop water, but Eli loves it. He still takes whiffs of his pal here and there. Weird, I know, but it somehow calms him. I was hoping we’d have Weerow in our lives for a couple more years, and maybe we will.

I know it’s not the sea horse I’m upset about — it’s the fact that my babies are growing up. They’re changing and entering new phases I know nothing about yet. I blinked, and now they’re big (ish) kids.

Next time I’m counting down until the kids’ bedtime (which is often), I’ll try to remember that I need to appreciate my kids and the fact that their childhoods won’t last forever. Time is so fleeting, and we have to make it count as much as possible. I’ll probably still count the minutes some days, I mean come on, but I’ll do my best. I’ll take mental pictures. I’ll take real pictures. I’ll be present and mindful.

Sigh. On second thought, I wouldn’t mind if Eli took Weerow to college.

A Letter to My Daughter on Social Media

Dear Daughter,

Let’s not rush this. Social media can be so great, a way of meeting others and catching a glimpse of the world you might not see otherwise. But there are sinister parts to social media, too.

My worry is your self-image and self-esteem. Pictures on Facebook and Instagram aren’t always real, and if they are real, they don’t exactly depict reality. It’s hard to tell the difference, even for me at 37. I look at some of the pictures on Insta and I can’t help but compare the thin, beautiful pics of friends and strangers to myself. And if you don’t know, comparison is the thief of joy. I start comparing my body to others’ (whose bodies haven’t been through what mine has) and I’m doing myself a disservice. There’s no reason to compare, and definitely not a reason to compete, yet I do it anyway. We’re all beautiful and special in our own ways.

You might promise to never compare your body to other’s, but because of society’s toxic diet culture, you’ll end up doing it anyway. It’s in some people’s — industry’s — best interest to perpetuate the allure of being thin, young and beautiful, but just think what it would mean to not want, or need, beauty products, dieting services, plastic surgery and so much more. I don’t think anything is wrong with using said products or services — I certainly do — but I think it’s dangerous to want and need them so badly, to think you’ll be ugly, fat or old without them. Or that you’d be unworthy.

I hope you never feel those things, but I understand if you do. Let me tell you that you are beautiful, not just outside, but inside. You are amazing for more than your looks. You are a kind, loving, generous, passionate kind of girl, and I have no doubt that you’ll grow into a wonderful adult. Because I’m your mother, I want to protect you and shield you from things like body dysmorphia, low self-esteem and eating disorders. I’ve struggled with them for the majority of my life, and it has been no picnic. I’ve dieted and lost the same 40 pounds over and over again. I have had plastic surgery and gastric sleeve surgery. I’m still not thin. I’m trying to be OK with that but can you imagine being almost 40 years old with the same body image issues from the sixth grade?

I don’t want you to go down the same road, and you might think I’m a hypocrite because I’ve gone to so many extremes to be thin, but trust me, the path I’ve taken is full of heartache and self-hate.

You might also think I’m a stick in the mud, but I don’t even want you using filters on your selfies. You don’t need to change a thing; there’s nothing to improve upon, and I mean that as a compliment.

Stay away from bullies and trolls — those people are deeply unhappy to want to hurt others. Don’t waste a tear or a minute on them. I hope if you are being bullied, you’ll speak up. You can tell me anything, I’ll lock it in the vault.

Childhood and adolescence are hard. There are so many changes happening and you might feel awkward but please know every kid feels that way regardless how they act. You’ll get through it, you’ll flourish. It’ll be OK.

I’m always here, and I’ll love you (just the way you are) forever.

Love,
Mama

p.s. Stay off Tik Tok, too lol

Where Does the Time Go?

Today I got an email saying that Kindergarten graduation pictures were next week. This stopped me in my tracks, and I couldn’t help but tear up. My daughter has been going there since she was 2. She’s now 6. Everyone tells you when you have kids to slow down and enjoy it because it goes by fast, and it’s cliche but true.

I remember not even wanting to take Isla to JCC, because I had her at a different day care, but David insisted because he went there. I just didn’t want to change my routine, but God, am I glad I did. I found a home at JCC. The teachers and directors were so nice, and I met amazing mom friends. I even joined the PTO and ran the book fair for two years, which I both dreaded and loved. I’m also on the board.

I love that the kids are learning about Jewish traditions, holidays and culture. I love the diversity and inclusion taught by the school. I love everything about it except for the fact that it doesn’t go all the way up until college.

My kids are so blessed to be there, and I’ll still be around because Eli has two more years. But it just tugs at my heart that Isla will be graduating and leaving this place we both cherish. Isla made her first best friend there. She learned her ABCs and now she’s learning how to read, write and how to do fractions.

The JCC has always been there for our family, a home away from home. They’ve been accommodating and so caring toward Isla and Eli. I can’t say enough good things about the J. And I’m so proud that my kids have followed in their dad’s footsteps.

Next year, Isla will start a new adventure at Windsor Park, the gifted and talented school, and I know she’ll do great because everyday for the past four years JCC as prepared her.

And not just academically.

Gifted and Talented, Part III

As previously mentioned, I have been stressed and anxious about the results of my daughter’s gifted and talented scores. The scores determine which school she’ll attend next year, and the G/T school is amazing. My husband actually attended when he was little.

Because of the winter storm that passed through here a couple weeks ago, the results were delayed, which I understood. But my brain did not — I wanted the results and my anxiety made a mountain out of a molehill. After being told the second deadline would not be met, I was so upset. I’m so impatient, and then my anxiety made everything worse. You’re probably saying that worrying doesn’t make the results come sooner, and I know that, logically. But the logical side of my brain gets overpowered all too often.

I digress. Yesterday while I was nursing a migraine, I checked my email and there it was — an official school district email with the results. My heart started pounding (dramatic, right?) and I opened the attachment — she got in! I’m so happy that she’ll get to benefit from such an amazing school. I think it’s important for me to say that I don’t care about the “title” of being gifted and talented. I already knew she was gifted and smart, but it’s important to me that she learn critical skills needed to succeed in this world and the school can help prepare her. Not only that, but the program will challenge her and nurture her intelligence and creativity. That’s what I’m happy about. It’s just such a great opportunity.

So, I was relieved, to say the least. I feel so stupid saying this, but her getting in validated some insecurities about myself. I thought to myself, “Yes! She got David’s DNA and mine’s not going to screw her up!” And I know it sounds silly, but I’ve always been scared that she’s going to have all my bad traits — that my genetics had overpowered David’s and she was destined to be depressed and unhappy (more drama, I know). But David is just so amazing and it makes me happy knowing that she’ll follow David’s footsteps at the G/T school. Not that I’m putting any pressure on her.

I need to stop worrying about what my kids inherited or didn’t. They’re a mixture of an intelligent, generous, logical dad and a creative, kind, sensitive mom. I don’t need to concern myself with their potential flaws. We all have them, that’s what makes us us. And even if they are riddled with my flaws, it doesn’t matter — I’d love and support them anyway.

That’s what makes me me.

Success in Mediocrity

All the writing I did about Isla’s gifted and talented scores got me thinking about the idea of success and what that means for me.

When I was younger (high school-ish), I would’ve told you being successful was having a good job, being well-off and married. I thought my parents were successful, which they are, so I intended on emulating their lifestyle. But when I did go out into the “real world” after college, I couldn’t hang. I got a job hundreds of miles away, working as a reporter to a mid-size daily newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. I missed my family, and even though I made friends, it was still so hard. My depression worsened for one, probably from being away from home and stress of my first job. I got in trouble a lot for calling in sick (either depression or migraines), and I ended up quitting just short of a year. I quit journalism too, even though I thought being a journalist was my calling. I felt like a loser, and I was really anxious and embarrassed about the whole thing.

I eventually got a new job where I could use my writing skills, but I still mourned the idea of not being a journalist.

I never found another job that made me feel as good as writing for a newspaper did. After a few years of working various jobs, I stopped working all together so I could get healthy enough to have a baby. People judged me for not working, but to be completely honest, it felt amazing to get that pressure off me. I did become healthier and had two beautiful babies within two years. I still haven’t gone back to work, and I like it that way.

When people ask me what I do for a living, and I say stay-at-home mom, it sometimes stings but I think that’s because society has conditioned us to believe that success only lies in one’s occupation. And for a lot of people, that’s true. But not I. It never occurred to me back then that that a job is just a job — it’s not who you are. And just because I don’t have one (that pays) doesn’t make me less of a person.

But it’s not about a job, house, how much money you have, etc. For me, it’s about happiness and being fulfilled. I was never the brightest, thinnest, most athletic, most ambitious person. I’m not even sure I’ve been the best at anything, and I say that not fishing for compliments but to proclaim that I might be mediocre in many ways but I’m also exceptional in others. I celebrate the fact that my life doesn’t have to parallel my parents’ or anyone else’s. I celebrate my strengths, even though they may not match others’. God made me the way I am for a reason. And you, too.

Success should look different for everyone, because we’re not all the same. We don’t have to be. We don’t have to join the rat race, either. All those “flaws” I thought I had before aren’t flaws at all, and I should celebrate them because they make me, me. I don’t get paid, but I write everyday and blog about a topic that I’m very passionate about. It makes me happy, and hopefully, I’m helping others in the process.

I will remember this about my kids as they grow up and try to figure out life as they know it. And I’ll support them, no matter what success means to them. Just like my parents did with me.

Just Say No

I don’t like saying no to my kids, big surprise, right? In the past, I haven’t wanted to hear them scream, whine or cry because I didn’t say yes. It makes me uncomfortable when they do that, and as you know, I hate being uncomfortable. So, if the kids wanted junk food, I’d say yes and if they wanted some kind of new toy, yes again.

Then it dawned on me — I got everything I ever wanted growing up (which I’m grateful for) but I never learned how to work hard for anything, and I don’t want that for my kids. I had no work ethic, and I never learned struggle or how to cope with it. Already, my kids are privileged and spoiled. They are accustomed to the finer things in life, and the last thing I want them to be are entitled assholes when they grow up. You see — I don’t need to be in the business of saying, “yes.” I NEED to say, “no,” because I want to raise them to be healthy adults. It’s not going to hurt them to hear, “no,” and it’s not going to hurt me, despite what I’m feeling at the time.

The consequences of not saying, “no,” are dire. I’ll admit that I’m not a healthy adult, but let me be clear — it’s not because of anything my parents did or didn’t do. My shortcomings are due to crappy genetics, crappy coping skills, among other things. But they’re there. I don’t want my children to suffer the way I do now. For example, I have an eating disorder — I don’t take care of myself the way I should by eating healthy; instead I binge eat when I’m stressed — alas, a crappy coping skill. I’ve also never had a job for more than three years. I’m dependent on my husband, which isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but I’d like both of my kids to be financially independent and have a good worth ethic.

I’ll confess that sometimes I feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick by having a severely depressed mother. Buying them toys, clothes and other crap is probably me trying to compensate for being ill. But logically, I know that material things don’t matter — experiences matter. Teaching them how to be healthy matters. Showing them how to overcome adversity matters, and I can do that. I’m resilient and scrappy, two traits I want them to have, too. I may not be the healthiest, but being sick all the time has made me stronger. I hope that’s what my children will see — that even though I suffer with a chronic, invisible disease, I still show up to fight….for myself and my family.

Ann Landers said, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” She’s not wrong.

And that’s what I have to remember every time I say no. I’m not depriving them of anything — I’m shaping them into good people (I hope). I also need to remember this when I don’t feel like taking care of myself, because they’re watching and learning. It’s up to me to model healthy behavior, as hard as it is.

Parenting is hard. We all mess up and think we’re not good enough, me especially. Then I remember how Isla collected more than 1,000 toothbrushes for the homeless because she was worried they didn’t have money to brush their teeth. I recall how Eli puts his hand on my face and tells me he appreciates and loves me. They’re loving, kind and a product of their environment, which I’m extremely proud of. Learning to say no will be hard but it will definitely help in shaping them into healthy adults. I truly believe that.

And while I’m at it, maybe I can be shaped into a healthy adult, too.