I had it all figured out.
I had nannied. Twins. Overnights. Special needs. I knew babies.
I'd read the books and the blogs, from the humorous to the medical. Talked to parents. Formed opinions. I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
Then, I had a child, and it all went to hell.
I should have known I was in trouble during labor. After three days of a hospital induction the baby still wasn't coming, so we were sent home. We got there, and my water promptly broke, thick with meconium. With that, my med-free water birth went out the window as I was hooked to monitors and planted in a bed. This baby was literally shitting on my plans before I had even seen her face.
In the coming days and weeks other dominoes fell. My vows against co-sleeping lost out to my desire for two hours of uninterrupted rest. Exclusively breastfeeding wasn't as important as supplementing formula to get my skinny girl to grow.
All of this in the midst of accommodating the overwhelming needs of the tiny dictator.
"How is the.... adjustment going?" one mom friend asked, with a knowing look on her face. "I remember thinking it was hell on earth," the dad of a two-year-old told me. "Welcome to the secret society," my aunt said, "You can't understand it until you've done it."
I may not have understood, but I would have liked a warning. Because while babies are adorable, the stress of having a newborn is unlike anything I could have possibly imagined. The mundane - like tackling the next feeding - meets the massive - like wondering how to protect this perfect being in this imperfect world. The result is a perfect storm of exhaustion and emotion.
Recently NPR asked "Why are new parents depressed?" The segment focused on men and women, and asked if as a society we were even willing to talk about the unpleasant sides of bringing home a new baby, or if it is still too taboo. Maybe it's silly to mention, because perhaps those who haven't experienced it won't understand, and those who have been there will just smile knowingly. But with all mental illness, it seems important to at least start the conversation.
As I end this post, I'm temped to write, "but one smile from the baby makes it worth it," or to clarify that while the last six weeks have been intense as can be, I'm definitely not depressed, just reeling from the new experience. And while both of those are true, those disclaimers play into the stigma, as I attempt to distance myself from people with the "real" problems.
Instead, I'll ask, what were your expectations of bringing home a baby, and what was the reality? Whether you've reproduced or not, do you think this is something that is discussed openly?
And now, I'll quit while I'm ahead, and follow that often-quoted and impossible to follow advice that makes it all sound so simple: "Just sleep when the baby sleeps." Ha!
Bright and early this Monday morning my phone rang. I saw with shock that it was my dad, awake and calling before 7 a.m. Clearly something was wrong.
"Could you stop by on the way to work?" he asked, sounding cheery. I sighed. I was already squeezing in a workout and still hoping to get to work early.
"Sure," I said, reverting to the little girl who doesn't want to say no. "I'll come by when I'm done working out."
Five minutes later the phone rang - Dad again.
"Can you come over? And can I talk to your mother? Oh, you're working out?" The rapid-fire, repeating questions were the second sign that something was amiss.
An hour later I walked in and found my Dad sitting at his table furiously writing. "Hi," I said. "I've had an epiphany!" he replied.
My heart sank - he was textbook manic. His hands and voice were shaking and he was overjoyed to tell me about the religious awakening he had had overnight. The saddest thing about a manic episode is that the person having it feels fantastic. With a spark in his eyes, my dad told me how he felt the best that he had felt in five years.
Luckily, by this point the family has a pretty good system in place: run symptoms by someone else to confirm your suspicions; gently bring up a trip to the ER; wrack your brain about who you may know in the mental health fields; pray.
When your loved one is constantly in and out of crisis care it is exhausting. So many emotions overwhelm you: rage and bewilderment as you ask "Why couldn't you just stay on the meds?"; hope as you think "Maybe this is the time"; and contentment when you realize that - maybe just for today - your loved one is doing the right thing and seeking help.
Now I've tagged in another relative and Dad is in the ER, waiting to be evaluated. He called me just before walking into the hospital to reiterate what he had said this morning - he wants to share the journey. He asked me to write about my feelings and to share his writings. Part of that is the mania speaking, but part is a man speaking about something he believes is important, no matter what his mental state. So, I'll do it.
And in the meantime I'll ask a favor: if you can spare a prayer, join me in hoping that maybe - just maybe - this time will be different.
One of my favorite views, taken on a gorgeous Boston day from the BU Bridge.
Like the rest of Boston, I am still reeling today from the attacks at the Boston Marathon yesterday. No matter whether you live in Boston currently, or have moved on to a new place, everyone who has been blessed enough to call Boston home knows the magic that is Marathon Monday. On Comm Ave, the trees are blossoming, and I assure you there is nothing more beautiful than Boston in the springtime. Families on April vacation are freed from the indoors to explore their city, and college students - who can practically taste summer - take to the street to celebrate life by punishing their livers. The first time that I watched the Boston Marathon in Kenmore Square, I was in awe that an event could be so life-affirming.
All tragedies are awful, but I learned yesterday that there is a unique and heart-wrenching ache when the bombs are placed on sidewalks your feet have touched, and the wounded are wheeled along a path you used to walk to quietly take in the spring.
Fortunately, the spirit of the marathon was reflected in the response. When we see pictures of people running toward the blast, and read stories of everyday Bostonians offering up their homes to visitors, we can see the good. Today, I visited a middle school, sitting in on a media class for a story I am writing. Class opened with a brief discussion of the bombings, and when the students were mostly silent, the teacher urged them to remember the words of Mr. Rodgers, and "look for the helpers." Look for the people who put themselves aside in the face of danger and tragedy to help others. In Boston yesterday, there were plenty of helpers.
Being a writer certainly affected my reactions after hearing the news. I hugged my husband, and told my family I loved them, but then I turned to my journal. A long time ago I wrote down a quote: I write to find out what I am thinking. When the unimaginable happens, putting pen to paper (and later, fingers to keys) is the best therapy.
As a journalist, I have to consider what is the proper way to cover such an event. I can't imagine the scramble to get the information out to millions of scared, confused, and angry people. National Public Radio continues to amaze me with their reporting skills. They resisted the urge to report the latest whispers, and stuck to the facts. Although they were not the first to report many aspects of the attack, they did not make the mistakes of reporting false information, like so many other outlets. I'd imagine it takes a strong team to be so patient, but as a consumer, it was incredibly valuable to know that I was only getting the facts.
In addition, the space NPR provided to callers to share their stories was a refreshing change from the awful video shown again and again on television. As horrible as some of them were, sharing experiences is no doubt a healing process. Whether it is tragedy, joy, fear, or pride, by sharing stories we connect with people we have never met, and may never see. That's the amazing power of words.
For All Your Writing and Editing Needs