Where is Your Worth?

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Today my oldest son was sent home sick from school. I knew it was going to happen. I had seen other moms post photos of their kids next to trash cans or their status updates would warn others to stay away from the plague upon their homes. All I could do was wait for those germs to make their way through the school halls and come through my front door. Today the plague arrived.

Illnesses are treated much differently in our home. We are careful to separate sick children from the well ones and clean thoroughly, but we also try our best to keep them from coming in our home in the first place. With a chronically ill child on a chemotherapy drug and a mom who has an auto-immune disease, every illness has to be treated as if it has the potential to send us to the hospital. My ritual of telling the germs they are not welcome comes via a seasonal social media update, it reads something like this, “With cold and flu season upon us, we ask that you stay away from our family if you have been sick or have been around anyone who has been sick. Please make sure you are completely free of illness before visiting our home.” It’s simple and to the point but there is always more I could add like, “We ask you refrain from our home during flu season. We are more susceptible to getting the flu, but your small flu could send those in this home with chronic illness(s) and/or autoimmune disorders to the hosptial. Your flu could be devistating to our health.” I don’t want to come off as too pessimistic but illnesses pose a higher risk for those who are already chronically ill. I take quite a bit of medication to try to build up whatever immune system I have so I can care for sick kids when the plague does arrive, but it doesn’t always work. I sometimes succumb to illnesses and I need help.

These days asking for help is increasingly hard. I was scrolling through Facebook and someone had posted a quote that read something like this, “My greatest accomplishment in life is knowing I never depended on or was a burden to anyone else…..” I read it, made a face, read it again, and mumbled something under my breath. This quote may indicate that the author is a go-getter, someone who is independent and self-reliant. Those observations could very well be true, but the statement tells the world that there should be some great pride in not being a burden to others; so much so that this quote was paired with a beautiful photo, nice enough to hang on a wall if someone so desired. What I mumbled under my breath was this, “So what if something happened to this author and he had no choice but to rely on someone else? What about those who have no choice but to rely on someone else??…..” What did this “inspirational” quote say about those who need the daily help of others? Reliance = burden?

This quote could very well be an excellent life goal for an independent person but to someone like me who increasingly relies on the help of others, it makes me feel a bit…….worthless. I can no longer proudly proclaim how I care for myself and my family with complete independence. Until my disease is better controlled, I frequently need the assistance of loved ones. I can’t even walk long distances without the assistance of a rollator! (Yes, I am the one behind the pink and sparkly rollator.) So I have felt like my life has been on hold since my diagnoses, but does that mean I’m worthless?

I have spent many evenings cuddling a tissue box because I was crying over my feelings of worthlessness. I can’t escape the fact that I have times when I need extensive help from my husband because my RA is so severe. I still look for “good days” when my pain is minimal and I am able to leave the house or do a little of what I was able to do with ease not that long ago. It’s hard to live in a society of people who value what you can do more than who you are. Sometimes it is hard to find meaning when it’s hard to fulfill a purpose my body physically couldn’t possibly fulfill.

Then one morning after reading our morning devotional, many things came into focus. My faith teaches that we are created to be loved by a God, a God who finds pleasure in our love for Him. That same morning I looked at my special needs son after our reading and said, “Your purpose in life is to love and be loved! And we love you so much!” It was then when my light bulb went off. My purpose and meaning really isn’t measured by what I can do or how I can do it, in fact, it’s not meant to be measurable at all.

My little boy may never be able to fully understand many things in life. He has limited expressive communication skills but that doesn’t mean he can fulfill the purpose we were are created to fill, to be loved. If the only thing my son ever accomplishes in his life is to be loved, it’s a pretty sweet accomplishment. No one knows the course of our lives and those who are the goal oriented, go-getters may someday find themselves relying on others to accomplish those tasks that were simple for them not that long ago. That does not mean those people have lost their worth because of it. No, their value was and will always be the same. They are valued and loved for who they are.

Don’t get me wrong, working hard and accomplishing dreams are great but there are those who are struggling to find value because we live in a society hung up on what we do more than who we are. All the valuables in the world mean nothing to someone with an empty heart. You are meant to be loved. You are loved and made for a purpose, and that purpose isn’t measurable by things of this Earth. We may not all have equal valuables but we are all of equal value. Once I realized this, I have spent less time cozy-ing up to the box of tissues. I realized that my life can be spent in love and service to others and to a God who delights in my life.

*d*

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Love is Stronger Than Pain

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I was thinking about what Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) has taken from me today. It has taken many things; my peace of mind, health, mobility, strength, and much more. It has been hard to accept that just a couple years ago I didn’t have to worry so much about my own health, the peace of mind about being able to take care of my own children was secure, and I knew I had the physical and emotional strength to take on whatever life threw at me. Now most of my day is centered around pain. I ask, if I stretch, exercise, or take the right medication or supplements, can I relieve this pain? But the day usually begins and ends the same, in pain.

I am certain I can handle what the disease takes from me, what I don’t like is what it takes from my kids. Above, I posted a picture of me holding my youngest daughter. She is our surprise baby; you know, that baby who comes along and yells “surprise” a week before a scheduled hysterectomy. My husband and I determined we were finished having children and I needed to have the surgery to take care of some health issues that have plagued me for many years. These problems were so disruptive, we are lucky to have even one child, we have four. When our youngest snuck in under the radar we were very excited. We were shocked and thrilled when we finally conceived our first and every child thereafter was equally, maybe even more exciting.

I think I do alright as a mom. I love and have loved every stage of their lives thus far, but I especially love the toddler years. I personally think too many people focus on the possible tantrums or stubborn nature of a toddler and miss all the incredible things they are learning and accomplishing in the first short years of their lives. I was always the proud mom to carry her babies around on my hip. The first three were glued to my hip as long as they’d allow me to pick them up and put them there. Unfortunately for my fourth, she hasn’t had the same. I am unable to pick her up, let alone carry her like I could with my other children and that just makes me mad. She is frequently raising her arms to me and saying, “up” and I have to say, “Sorry baby, mommy can’t pick you up right now”. Yes, I know I can find other ways to pick her up and I know it isn’t a necessity but I want to do it! I hate that my RA has taken this simple joy from me. I have accepted and smiled through many things that have spewed into my life but I am neither going to smile or accept this one.

As you can see, I try to pick her up as much as I can, pain or no pain and I often try to take a picture. I want to remember that I was blessed to have had babies on my hip. I am privileged to raise my children and I will keep doing my best despite what this awful disease does to me. I will pick them up (try to put them on my hip), hug them, kiss them, and smile at them, even if the entire day is experienced in pain. When I think hard about it, my life isn’t about me, it’s about who I have been gifted to love. The love of a child is far more powerful than any pain some awful disease tries to throw at me.

*d*

Finding Your Perfection

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Today I watched you stand in front of your mirror, your face barely reaching above the top of the dresser – in one hand you hold your plastic curling iron, pretending to fix your long, dark hair for whatever pretend adventure you and your baby sister have planned for today. I know you both will grow up way too fast. I imagine you both crowding in that same mirror that will someday be too small for both of you to use. One day you will have no use for the plastic curling iron and pretend makeup you adore now. You will leave it and your childhood behind. Soon, you will quietly whisper about the boy or boys you are preparing to see. I know one day you may not want to tell me about your dates, and especially the young men that await you, but I’ll still be there, even if I’m still just watching you from the doorway.

Right now a young man can be anything you imagine. He can be as handsome and brave as one in a functional movie, but someday the choices of whom you will want to be with will be more complicated than you realize. I want talk to you about when you give your heart to another person. Your heart is beautiful and precious. I can only hope that you know exactly what you deserve. You won’t learn the majority of it from me, you will learn the most about men from the most important man in your life right now, your dad. I hope when you decide to date, you are willing to wait for someone who is as wonderful as your father.

I had a hard road before I met the man that I’d love forever. Once we met, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with him. It isn’t hard to love your dad, he has a generous smile and a warm personality. Of course, I thought he was the most handsome man I had met but it wasn’t just those things that made me fall in love with him. It was also his generosity, his willingness to give of himself selflessly, and his big, big heart. When we were together, it was like I found a missing part of myself, the best piece of myself. I knew quite soon he and I were supposed to be together.

When he and I met, dated, and fell in love, he demonstrated qualities that assured me he was a trustworthy man. His actions defined him as a man and who he would be as my husband. I was his equal, his partner, and I never worried about what he would do once he held my heart. He didn’t just compliment me, he helped build my confidence. He didn’t just talk with me, he had a genuine interest in me. This is all important because when the time comes, you will want to know if you are with someone who is just as interested in you as he is himself. You will know the relationship will last through the best and worst times because he made time to know you and hopefully you will have done the same. All of this is important because bad times in a relationship will inevitably come. If what is supposed to be the best part of a relationship brings out the worst in someone, don’t be surprised what the worst times in a relationship will bring out. You will want someone who cares about your well being as well as his own during hardships. I know because your Daddy and I have been through a lot together. When we vowed to love one another better or for worse, we didn’t realize how important that vow would be.

We have faced an artillery of difficult circumstances. For example, we never anticipated having a child with a life altering medical condition, or that I would also be diagnosed with one, all within ten years of our marriage. Both diagnoses bring stress to our marriage in various ways.  It is in these times that I have seen the best, not worst, in your father. He has been an example of how to truly love another. He gives of himself and his love selflessly and meets each challenge with understanding and prayer. When there is nothing but pain and hurt on the faces of those he loves, he is patient and non-judgmental. It may sound easy, but it isn’t. It is hard to smile when there is pain inside and I know he hurts too. It’s not easy to be the one person an entire family looks to for guidance and your dad does it so well. When he smiles and says, “It will get better,” and you can have confidence in his words. He can tell me he loves me and thinks I more beautiful than the day we met and although I don’t believe I am, I believe him.

So girls, one day I hope you will wait and seek a man much like your dad. He isn’t perfect, no one is but he’s pretty close. We are all very flawed but love and the love of someone who truly loves you can make a relationship that feels nearly perfect. Until the day you leave us for a family of your own, we want to love you the same…….. imperfectly perfect

Love,
Mom (*d*)

Help from a Song

It took one day in mid-October to change my life. My infant son was admitted to the hosptial after having two seizures at home. After three days of scans, questions, and crying, we were given a diagnosis, Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. We left the hospital in shock. We had never heard of this disease and now it threatened our son’s life.

Nothing made sense as we drove home from the hosptial that night. As I sat next to him, I held his tiny hand and studied his perfect face. It was only three months ago when we brought this precious life into the world and we had so many dreams for him. No one could tell us how this would effect his life and we were told he could be disabled. I was heartbroken as I realized the future was uncertain at best. There was no more dreaming of tomorrow as we were uncertain of today.

As time progressed, so did his disease. He developed a catastrophic form of epilepsy, he began to exhibit behavioral issues, and efforts to control the effects of the disease kept failing. I became more depressed despite my deep faith that teaches purpose in suffering. The feeling of helplessness was overwhelming. I yearned for the days with my baby when I could still imagine him free of his disease and I could hope that he would fulfill a normal life.

We reached our emotional bottom after five years of sleepless nights and uncontrolled epilepsy. His medical team wanted to discuss the next step in gaining control over his seizure activity. It was in that room amongst the discussion of neurosurgery that helped change my perspective. I didn’t see the young boy who was hitting, screaming and injuring himself out of frustration or pain, I saw my baby. I saw him as small and innocent as the day I held his hand on the way back to the hospital and my heart broke all over again. How could this be happening? I tried to sort out the last six years of ups and downs and continual failures. Fortunately we were given the option of starting a new medication and avoiding neurosurgery. We once again left the hosptial with mounting uncertainty.

Shortly after that visit, the song, “Can We Start Again Please” from Jesus Christ Superstar popped into my head. It persistently played in my head so I scrambled to find the song online. When I heard it, I wept. I recounted six years of failures. I recounted everything from medication to my own failure as his mother. It knew this song was God’s way of telling me that it’s okay to start again. It was okay to fail because the question could always be asked, “Can we start again please?” Shortly after, I rocked him in my arms while listening to that song and I softly sang it in his ear. I then asked for his forgiveness for my own failures. I knew the frustration with his disease had also gotten the best of me. When the difficult days get the best of me, I ask to start again. Sometimes several times a day if necessary. I just keep trying. A simple song reminded me that there is always a time to start again.

*d*

If a Photo Tells a Story

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Here we are, my youngest son and me. It was as uneventful as it looks. We were waiting in the van for Daddy to come out of the grocery store. My buddy said he didn’t want to go in so he sat with Mommy. He did get anxious while we waited so I decided to distract him with one of his favorite activities, taking his picture. “Cheeeeese!!!” he said while sporting his best cheesy grin. Of course I didn’t like how I look in any of the photos. My hair has been falling out at breakneck speed lately. I also noticed his hair was getting a little long. I am glad his medication hasn’t been doing to his hair what my medication has done to mine. Anyway, he was overdue for his haircut. Although, he’s been doing better at getting a haircut, I thought I’d let him go a little longer before we’d give him one. Autism and haircuts don’t mix well at our house.

That’s how life is for us, things like a haircut that seem simple usually have a story behind it, like this photograph. What you don’t see in this photograph is how swollen and painful my knees were that day and how bad my shoulder hurt. My Rheumatoid Arthritis was causing me a lot of grief. The only other time I had left the house that week was to pick up my oldest son from school. By this time, I was anxious to find any reason to leave the house.

Leaving the house wasn’t what it used to be and I was wondering if I should apply for a handicap placard. You see my cutie in this photo has had a rough life. Here he is at the end of a very rough summer. He has been weaker than usual because his seizures had been increasing. He didn’t want to go in because he had a few seizures that day and he was weak and a bit tired. I wondered if I should get a placard for the times he may want to go in and a long walk to the store would be too hard for him. What about me? Some days I can barely make it down my hall to the bathroom but I worry because neither of us “look” handicap. I had a crazy vision where someone deciding to do their own sort of “justice” was yelling at me for parking in a handicap spot as I unload my kids since I may not give the world some sort of visual confirmation of our need for a placard. There is no membership card for a chronic illness club. I guess it’s best I wait. We’d be okay a while longer, I guess.  I try not to take the kids out alone, it’s too hard on my body. So I thought about another topic; how sad this summer was and how we really didn’t do anything fun. I apparently wasn’t being very positive on this day.

My thoughts were interrupted by my son spitting. Yes, he has a bad habit. I’m not surprised. He has autism and epilepsy, and I have Tuberous Sclerosis to thank for all of that. He does things to make his Mom squirm, like most kids do, it’s just a bit harder to convince him to give up a bad habit. I try to be as patient as I can because I know he has a lot going on. I am not the master of patience yet, but I was getting a lot of practice in the parking lot this day.

He wasn’t interested in much that evening, including his iPad. When we are waiting for a long stretch I usually play a movie for the kids. We got this van specifically for the DVD players. Unfortunately they stopped working. Not great news for me. It’s helpful for times like these when I am at the receiving end of spit. There would be no way we’d be able to fix the DVD system so I tried not to think about it. It would just make me mad. I pulled out the next best thing to the DVD players, my phone. Technology can sometimes be grand and seeing himself on my phone is always grand for him. We took our picture together. We are two peas in a pod, he and I….

The course of my disease is eerily mirroring the one he has already taken. He took a medication that required eye exams every three months to check for vision loss. I am supposed to do the same but we don’t have vision insurance, so I am hoping for the best. He moved on to another medication after that one failed. It is used to treat cancer. He has to have labs done every three months to make sure the rest of his body is okay with the medication. I’m right behind him with Methotrexate and looking to see if I can start, and most importantly afford, to continue to take it after the first of the year. With all of the gloomy thoughts, I’m thankful his smile can put a smile on my face.

I flipped through the photos we took and wondered if my face looked a bit more round than usual. I had been on predisone for a while and I’d rather blame the medication for any noticeable fullness in my face instead of my late night snacking. I noticed how tiny my son looks in the picture. We were at the store so his Daddy could go in to buy him his breakfast shakes. It’s the only thing he will consume consistently. We buy them to supplement his diet. It isn’t cheap but it helps him maintain his weight.

That reminded me to check our bank account. “I hope there is enough in there to buy what he needs,” I thought. I sighed and took a long look at the summer sun. It will be sad to see it go. I wished we both felt good enough to enjoy it. We did miss a lot but we do have this picture together. We can certainly look the part but rarely does anyone really know what’s behind a photo.

There is usually a story behind our photos, as there are stories behind many things in our life that no one knows about. I’m smiling but I am always thinking about our health, money, the future, and sometimes regret. I try not to be negative but it’s hard not to be on occasion. The great thing is that he can always find a way to remind me how to be happy despite the flurry of thoughts that often bring my spirits down. It’s as simple for him as taking a photo with his very best smile. Although it won’t be that easy for me, I am certainly going to give it a try. Someday we may look back at this photograph among others, and I want him to know there was a genuine smile on my face, and he was one of the reasons why. I am blessed for every last moment, even uneventful ones like this time when he and I can take a moment, forget our troubles, and smile. “Cheeeeese!!!”

*d*

Pondering the “What If” in Life

It’s Monday and Kristie’s day began before most of the world opened it’s eyes. It’s 2 a.m. and one of her two sons is ready to start his day. Kristie rubbed her eyes, dreary from numerous days of scattered sleep.

“Can I get up?” asked her youngest son Blake standing next to her bed

“Go back to bed, it’s too early.” As he wandered back to his room, Kristie knew she shouldn’t get too comfortable. She knew he would come back and he’d probably ask to go to the toy room. Several minutes later, he was back. ” Come on,” she said as she walked with him to the toy room. She laid on the couch and he grabbed his iPad. She didn’t look forward to the next four hours of interrupted sleep on the couch.

On this morning Kristie couldn’t sleep. She settled on the couch and made her best attempt but couldn’t.  Instead she ended up watching her little boy. Her mind began to wonder about all the things surrounding Blake and her oldest son, Drew. She began to rehash the “what-ifs” and all the other parts of her life she tries not to think about. It’s the same inner monolog that plagued her when her oldest son Drew was born, it’s the same crushing thought that wonders what life would be like without Fragile X Syndrome. What if their two boys never had it and what if she never carried it? “What if,” she wispered to herself.

She began to wonder what their life would have been like without all the harsh looks, awful critism, and impossibly difficult days in the  fifteen years since Drew was born. She recalls the worst of moments when a harsh stare was enough to make her family feel unwelcome and how a terrible comment like, “You should stop having those defective children,” seemed to cut her to her soul. She could still feel the same sting she felt fifteen years ago when it was confirmed that Drew had Fragile X.

She sleepily closed her eyes and  began to dream, or maybe it was her imagination but when she opened her eyes, both of her boys stood in front of her. “Hi Mom!” They spoke with unbelievable clarity, each offering arms open wide. “Thank you,” she heard from both boys harmoniously. In her  confusion she also heard, “We know it’s been hard, sorry Mommy.”

“No babies, don’t say that.” She thought she had spoke but the words didn’t come out.

“I love you.”

“I love you ”

Each boy embraced her. The very real feeling startled her awake. It was Blake. He was pushing on her arm. He wanted to watch a movie. It was 4 a.m. She got him settled again, all the while playing back the vivid vision in her head. She returned to the couch and now she really couldn’t sleep. She felt a gnawing in the pit of her stomach. If getting carried away with an impossible notion where her boys weren’t plagued with Fragile X wasn’t enough, she felt like she got a very real glimpse of it. She was very certain her boys would never fully understand the difficulties their family faced daily. The boys didn’t know life without Fragile X, it’s all they knew, but Kristie couldn’t help but wonder.

What would it feel like without the cloud of anxiety that seemed to hover over her boys. The anxiety that make daily schedules a must, especially when plans change outside the normal routine, small difficulties a big deal, and outings that often feel more like a production. The anxiety that causes fear of the unfamiliar. The same fear that causes tension between the boys and sometimes leads to physical outbursts. Most importantly, what would life be like without her own anxiety over every decision made in regard to her boys?

Kristie and her husband wanted to be prepared because they knew they could not afford take the trial and error approach to parenting. They knew they would need support and help with the decisions they would have to make for their boys and a foreknowledge of how to deal with the issues that come with Fragile X. They have attended meetings and conferences to help navigate life with their two special boys. She and her husband couldn’t simply ask, “When will Drew start school?,” they asked questions like, “What’s an IEP?” and “Will this school be able to accommodate his special circumstances?”. They couldn’t anticipate developmental milestones, they had to work hard to help the boys reach them. Each day is hard work and she and her husband often feel like they are fighting an uphill battle. They fight everyday to make life fulfilling for their boys while trying desperately to somehow fulfill their own needs. So they do wonder what would life be like if every decision didn’t feel like a thread that could pull the complex tapestry of their lives apart.

Kristie blinked heavily, “It’s six Blake, let’s get a shower.”

At this age both her boys should be taking showers independently but both boys need help as developmental delays and anxiety keep them from doing it without assistance. Soon she would have to wake Drew who is often hard to get out of bed and often difficult to bathe.  After the routine of morning showers, Kristie either feels ready to approach the day or ready to go back to bed. Today was difficult. Both boys needed plenty of help and verbal cues to prepare for the morning. It felt like an entire day was packed into a mere few morning hours. Already tired and exhausted, she began to make a schedule for the day, but today was proving to be too much. She began to cry.

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Drew and Blake saw her crying. Drew nudged her and said, “You’re a sad little Mama,” and stormed off but Blake stood for a moment, looked at her, and began to cry.

She couldn’t help but smile through her tears. She looked at Blake and just like any other mom, she saw her baby and wiped away his tears. But Kristie became especially grateful for this moment. There was no anxiety, schedules, or questions, just a moment where she could cry with her little boy. It was a moment when he was moved by her sadness. This small moment reminded her of a great many things.

What would she be like without Fragile X? Would the small and grace given moments such as these be as special? Would she see the world with the same set of eyes if her life wasn’t entwined with it? Undoubtedly, the disease has laced each day with challenges most families will never face, but it has also allowed life with her boys to teach her many things.

She knows patience is not given but learned. She knows even when she has felt like she has failed, there is always an opportunity to try again.

Grace is invaluable. She knows why it is needed because she knows she has needed it.

Love should be given blindly and love is not defined by another’s capacity to reciprocate that love.

“I love you Blake,” she said as he left the room. Kristie wiped her own tears, reminded of why she makes it through each day.

She has been given a gift and although she can’t help but occasionally wonder “what if”, she knows she is filling a greater purpose. Kristie is the woman God has intended her to be, a woman who serves as an example of His unending love and grace. Kristie sees the world with compassion because she has needed compassion, she has patience because she has to endlessly practice it, and she loves her family as selflessly as God wants to love each of us.

Yes, Kristie has grieved the life she envisioned for her boys, she still prays for easier days, and still desires understanding from those she comes into contact with, but with it, she has an opportunity. She knows there will be days when she will wish the world would love and accept her boys as she has but it won’t, she struggles with the inevitable bullying and dirty looks that frequently come their direction, but you won’t see her deny the blessings she has received through each of her boys. Life for Kristie and her family can be hard but they truly love the life they have been given despite the difficulty. They have been given the rare opportunity to show others that true joy comes from the foundation in which you stand.

Kristie knows that on days where she feels like she has had enough, she can still stand because she chose a solid foundation in her faith. It is faith in a God who provides the most joy in what seems to be the most difficult of situations and shines an example of His love through her life. God often uses the broken to do His best work because oftentimes the broken are already asking for His guidance through prayer. No doubt this is Kristie.

At the end of the day, she can look back and thank God she was blessed with another and thankful for the strength to endure. Soon enough the day will start again and she may be tempted to wonder “what if” but she can be assured she will remember why she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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*d*

The Invader

It’s a rainy Monday morning and a very pregnant woman arrives with her husband, bags in hand, at the hospital. Today is the day she will welcome their new child into the world. She can hardly contain her excitement. She also can’t hide her obvious worries. Despite all the birthing and breastfeeding classes, as a first-time mother, she still has lots of questions. No matter how many times she was reassured that her motherly instincts would kick in once the baby arrived, she felt no indication of it. Before all of that, she will finally experience childbirth. From the time she announced her pregnancy, every mom she knew shared every birthing horror story with her. All these thoughts swirled in her head as she was lead back to her birthing suite.

Her heart skipped a little as she looked at the rocking chair where she’d soon be rocking her baby. Her suite had a large tub, big windows and a cheery feeling. Soon her bags were put away, she was changed, and resting in the bed. The staff began checking her vital signs, asking questions, and preparing for the forthcoming arrival. She felt a sense of peace come over her. Over the next few hours, she was encouraged to walk the halls to help speed up labor. She thought this would be the perfect time to visit the nursery where they would be bringing the baby shortly after the birth. As she approached the window she gasped at what she saw, snakes… There were snakes in the nursery slithering inches from newborn infants. “What’s going on here?” she cried.

“It’s okay,” a nursed comforted. “We have had a snake infestation for years and we have never been able to completely eliminate the pests.”

“Why wasn’t I told of this ahead of time?” asked the now crying mother.

“No one ever talks about it so we have learned to ignore the problem. Besides, who wants to hear that in birthing class, right?” she chuckled.

The mother stood stunned in front of the nursery window. The air escaped from her mouth when her husband turned to her and said, “It should be fine, just go back to the room.”

“Yes”, the nurse agreed, “very rarely will one of the snakes actually bite one of the newborns.”

The mother, now completely dismayed, wandered back to her room. She couldn’t understand what was happening. She certainly couldn’t have been the only one to notice the invaders, yet the birthing suites were full and babies were making their way down to the nursery. The new mom now had a choice, remain quiet or speak up. If she spoke, she wondered who would believe her and worried if she would sound crazy. She wondered if this was all in her head and became too scared to speak up so she decided to take her chances with the snakes.

This story itself may sound crazy but something just as vile is invading birth experiences everywhere. No one would allow snakes to roam freely in a nursery but there is a very real problem that does happen every day, it’s Postpartum Depression (PPD). And here is the reality; Postpartum Depression is just as sly as a snake lingering about a nursery. It’s waiting to strike and squeeze the life out of what should be a beautiful moment in a women’s life, the birth of a child. It can strike so quickly that it can even interrupt the bonding experience between a mother and child shortly after birth. Yet, many people are still tight lipped about PPD and some women don’t feel like they can be open about it. These women often feel brushed off, just like the mother in this story, and end up deciding to take unnecessary chances with an invader rather than speak up. This is why the discussion about PPD needs to happen and turning a blind eye to PPD can no longer be acceptable.

I struggled with depression after my first son was born and anxiety with the subsequent three. I was fortunate to have a supportive husband and a knowledgeable family physician that worked with me when the hospital and gynecologist failed. After his birth, I had experienced unexpected complications and by the time I was released from my six day hosptial stay on a mere couple hours sleep, I felt like I was falling apart. I  began to sicken over the reality that I was expected to care for my child alone when I felt no will to take care of myself. I felt worthless as a mother and the overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame were crushing. My husband felt very alone as I was deteriorating before him and he had no idea what he could do to help. I was a shell of myself and I couldn’t make myself better. Thankfully I had a common sense family physician who removed me from the counterproductive medication I was given at the hosptial and a supportive family. They assured me that my feelings were common among many mothers and in time, I would feel like myself again. It took me weeks before I begin to feel better. Getting the proper help and listening to my body was a must. I had to realize that it was okay to open up and ask for help, but it wasn’t easy. Like many mothers, I didn’t want to admit that I needed help because it felt like if I wasn’t able to care for my child, it meant that I didn’t love him. Or, others would judge me and deem me a bad mother.

Over the years I have personally witnessed other women struggle with PPD in various degrees, most more severe than my personal experience. The biggest issue I saw  was the judgement these women faced. Comments like, “Shake it off,” and “You just have to get on with life” invalidated their struggle and made them afraid to reach out. PPD has nothing to do with how strong or weak a woman is anymore than someone dealing with physical pain. If a woman broke her leg on a icy sidewalk, she would be encouraged to seek medical care, so the same woman suffering deep emotional distress cannot be asked to brush off her emotional pain and steer free of a qualified professional.

Pregnancy and childbirth are wonderful and natural. The changes that has to happen to a woman’s body to sustain another life is astounding but it can also come with a price. Women experience very real hormonal and physical changes before, during, and after pregnancy.  It is very important to emphasize this: hormones and the effect they have on a woman are real! With all the recognition of all the amazing things a woman’s body can do, why is there still a stigma around the emotional changes that can happen during any of her body’s natural processes?

Real change about PPD needs to happen long before a women ever gets pregnant. Healthy conversations about how hormones can effect mood and cause depression need to couple the with the discussions explaining the physical processes of womanhood. Young women need to know that jokes and sneers about a woman’s monthly cycle further add to the problem and she should never feel ashamed of it. Young women need to know they are supported and loved even when they are struggling with the real emotional effects of hormone fluctuations. So if the time comes, she can feel like she is able to be honest and speak up about how she feels.

PPD and Depression is real and treatable. Seek help and discuss depression with your daughters (and sons). Don’t feel ashamed to seek help. New moms also need a friend in which they can speak to with honesty without judgement. Please be aware of some signs of PPD:

Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, and emptiness.

Trouble sleeping.

Lack of concentration.

No interest in every day things.

Loss of appetite or weight loss, a sudden weight gain is also possible.

(Source webmd.com)

There is hope but we have to start talking about it. We have to discuss it often and we have to support each other. When we fail to acknowledge the mere existence of PPD and depression, we are all failing.

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