Don’t Call It a Comeback…

My family, my dad in particular, loves to tell the story of how I fell asleep when my mom was in active labor with me. She was pushing and, apparently, everything stopped, my heart rate dropped and after the obvious ensuing panic, the doctor said I was in a REM cycle. I like my sleep, what can I say? As one who has had two babies but never felt a contraction, who am I to argue with the family lore of how I came to be? The moral of the story here is that I don’t like to be rushed and I showed very early on in life that I was most likely going to want to do things in my way. (For the record, sorry Mom! Nobody should get a nap when Mama’s in labor!) 

I am an introvert wrapped in extrovert’s clothing and facial expressions. It often appears that I’ve never met a stranger and I can carry on pretty good in groups when I need to. BUT being on the go and having something planned for everyday with other people is definitely not what I would want to be my norm. Since having Luke and Leia, this has become even more true as I often feel poured out at the end of each day. Everything I have feels like it’s poured into two tiny humans who slobber on me and hit me in head for no apparent reason. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. The last month and a half has been such an interesting mix of finding new levels of energy and yet having so many things to deplete it. 

Friday felt like the best day of my life. It was a blessed day with a full calendar but lots of clear thinking, planning, and joy in the living of it. Yesterday (Monday) felt like I was going uphill, all stinking day. I felt drained, sluggish, and so very irritable. Every event felt like it took crazy levels of energy and motivation that I just couldn’t find anywhere inside me. At one point, I was crying on the phone with our electric company in a parking garage over a misunderstanding on our bill. It wasn’t a pretty day. And for probably the 16th time, I worried that TMS wasn’t working and that I will never truly be free of depression and anxiety. It’s a fear that bounces around a lot. I’ve had a couple of times during the course of my treatment where I’ve gone 3 days instead of 2 without a treatment and each time, I breathe easier once I see my technician and feel the magnet “tap” on my head. Yesterday, I had to admit that I am very scared that this last month is just a brief respite from what is still going to be a long battle with mental health. That isn’t how TMS works, by the way. It’s just how my fear works. I’m scared that everyday will feel like Monday and my babies and my family will only know that side of me and not the one who laughs and lives without a weight pulling her down. 

I’m scared that once the magnet isn’t pulsing my frontal cortex anymore, I’ll revert back into old thought patterns and I will feel as if everyday is an exhausting, uphill battle. What if I am a weird case and it only works when I am getting active treatment? For the love, I fell asleep during my own birth, surely something is different about me! I realized yesterday how quickly the fear takes hold when I open the blinds but still have a hard time seeing things in a new light. 

I was certain that I would wake up today and feel the same as yesterday. I went through our morning routine of bottles and breakfast and did feel weariness. I haven’t napped during the babies naps since about week one of treatment. It was something that I used to do everyday. Everything in me was saying that I had pushed too hard yesterday and I needed to rest today. To be the kind of mom and wife and friend I want to be, I needed to find some way to recharge. Taking a nap this morning felt like a failure. I kept telling myself that it felt like defeat, like I was taking steps backward. And somewhere in this process of just beating myself up emotionally, I texted Chad at work and let him know what I was thinking. He pointed out that sometimes he naps when the babies nap because keeping up with two toddlers is tiring. I felt free to do what my body was trying so hard to tell me to do. I took a nap and woke up feeling better able to handle what lay ahead of me. And a bit of perspective for what (hopefully) the rest of my life will look like. 

The hardest part of this treatment for me has been having to be downtown for an appointment five times a week. I don’t like having too much on our calendar. I start to feel too constrained and rigid when we do. So, an appointment everyday for two months has been hard for me to swallow. I am a homebody. I like to keep our kids on a schedule. And I love to get a lot done when they are napping. All of this has been slightly changed with daily treatments and after five weeks, it has worn me pretty thin. So, I now understand that TMS isn’t going to make me different in this area. Just because I might have the energy for a daily outing or a daily playdate, I’ve learned that it doesn’t mean I need to make those things happen. I’ve learned that TMS isn’t going to take away my irritability or my short fuse. Those are things that still have to be restrained and contained. TMS isn’t going to make me an extrovert. (You obviously can’t see me but I literally cringed a bit). Extroversion is no longer my goal. I’m getting quite comfortable in my introverted state. And TMS isn’t going to erase the negative thoughts and neural pathways in my brain. That’s work for me to do on a minute by minute basis. I might feel better equipped than ever to manage those but it won’t get rid of decades of “programming”. 

I used to tell my clients the following statement all the time. “Your mind will lie to you all day long but your body is going to tell you the truth”. My mind tells me that I’m invincible and that I can just keep going and going. Especially because my neurons are firing. My mind tells me I’m weak if I can’t keep up the pace. The truth of it all is this: TMS isn’t going to remove all the fatigue from my current life and schedule. My body is tired because I spend my days chasing and caring for two kids. And my weekends on house projects. Just as I tried to ignore the signs of anxiety and depression that my body was telling me before I sought treatment, I can’t do the same after 26 sessions. While yesterday felt like a setback, I’m happy with where I’ve landed. It feels real. It feels true. And it still, honest to God, feels like progress. 

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Aside

“Whoooah, we’re halfway there….whooooah, livin’ on a prayer”

I have my 21st TMS treatment today. I am over halfway through the course of treatment. Before I started, I was hoping for the 75% reduction in symptoms that most people report when getting transcranial magnetic stimulation. The word that my tech used today was remission. My Beck Depression inventory and the Anxiety Scale were showing numbers that more aligned with remission. REMISSION. For people who have been chronically ill, that’s incomprehensible. I didn’t think it belonged in the same sentence as anxiety and depression, and certainly not when it came to my own anxiety and depression. 

The great news that I’m so happy to report is this: I feel in remission. I feel energy and strength coursing through me. I feel the ability to handle stress and fatigue when they arise. I feel the motivation to push through frustrations that would have previously derailed me for hours if not days. I feel able to catch negative thoughts that would have spiraled out of control. I feel able to actually pause and take a deep breath and try to find a bit of perspective when flustered. It feels great. It feels like a different life. 

I was scared going into TMS because I worried that maybe I didn’t really have depression and anxiety, I just thought I did. There’s no blood test or lab that will tell you that you have these illnesses. And when you are fighting these things daily, it’s hard to be objective enough to sometimes know how you are really feeling. I thought I’d go to the consultation and they would kindly tell me to suck it up. Instead, I learned that my symptoms can border on the severe but I have learned how to function with them. 

What I realize halfway through treatment is that I, for sure, had anxiety and depression and they sapped the little bit of energy I had that wasn’t taken up by my toddler twins. To put it another way: if I had a client who presented as I did 20 sessions ago and was presenting how I am now, I would think they were either in a manic phase or they were on amphetamines. The change is that drastic. 

Everyday isn’t roses now that things are working better in my brain. I still have a lot to do and most days, I still feel like I have too much to do and not enough time to do it. I still have two bright children who are learning to push limits and have “tantrums” that beg for my attention. Without going into too much detail, I learned a couple weeks ago that TMS doesn’t eliminate PMS (sorry Chad!). I find that things can still irritate me pretty quickly. I can feel the anger well up in me when something goes sideways or Luke hits me in the head for the 15th time because he thinks head hitting is somehow part of a hug. I am sad that my first impulse is anger but also counting it a victory that I don’t act on that anger. I am managing to wait and calm down before I lose my temper and that’s a pretty new phenomenon for me. 

The metaphor of the blinds being open remains my biggest word picture for how I am feeling. And just like when you physically open the blinds, the extra light allows you to see all the messy areas. The areas that were best kept shaded. I am finding and tripping over those areas in my heart since I have been thinking more clearly. I am realizing the negative self-image and the mean thoughts that I have allowed to chip away at me for years. I see more clearly how people might want things from me that though I feel better, I am still not willing to give. I am doing my best to challenge some long-held beliefs about myself that I have formed or have been put on me by others and seeing if they hold truth when put up to the light. And also, quite literally, I’m cleaning my house because though I thought I was a super clean person, open blinds show everything. Why does Oreo shed so much? He’s almost 14 and I still marvel at the amount of shedding every Spring. 

I”m trying to use this time to work on other areas in my life as well. I’m reconnecting with my faith in a deeper way. I’m creating a daily routine for myself that has time spent in my Bible. I’m working more on my marriage and our communication, both of which took a hit with having two kids at the same time. I’m trying hard to simplify areas of life so that there is room for opportunities of joy. And like I did with my children when life felt unmanageable at this time last year, I’m creating a schedule for myself. I’ve become a bit of an Emily Ley groupie. In her books “Grace not Perfection” and “A Simplified Life”, she talks about the structure that is in place for our everyday life that helps us de-clutter our lives and hearts so that real joy has a place to come and stay. “A Simplified Life isn’t a perfect life. It’s a life that is messy, full, and well lived. It’s both crazy and calm. It’s real, flawed, and rich with love. It’s organized to make inroads for joy. It’s simple to make room for play. And it’s rhythmic so when life gets out of cadence, which it will do, we have a foundational beat to get back to.” Before TMS, before debt payoffs for our family, before so many decisions made in 2018, this was a quote I wanted to be a guidepost. This is the light I wanted to shine on 2018. Organized and prepared because when a kid throws a curveball or life shifts quickly, we know how to get back to a place where we are all safe and happy. I didn’t know that God had TMS in store for the spring of 2018. I certainly didn’t see how 36 treatments fit into an already packed life in the midst of trying to simplify. But halfway through, I can tell you with certainty, I hear the foundational beat better than I ever have and most days, I have the energy to pick up a baby or two and dance. It’s more than I ever hoped for. 

For the many of you who have told me you’re interested in TMS, I’m telling you to RUN not walk to your nearest treatment center. (Go to www.neurostar.com and the “find a doctor” tab). I only wish I had done it sooner. 

TMS- Week One

Just a normal Thursday, really. The babies were down for their morning nap and though tired and very ready for Chad to be home for the weekend, I was unloading the dishwasher when I wanted to be napping myself. I was psyching myself up to do the chores that I had planned for that day during their morning nap since for the next 7 weeks, I am commuting down to Presbyterian Hospital for TMS treatments during their afternoon nap. This week was the first full week of treatment and today would be my fourth trip downtown in 4 days and to be honest, I was already feeling over it. An hour commute roundtrip for an 18 minute treatment felt tiresome.

I started checking things off my list like dusting and wiping down my kitchen counters. As I moved to start a load of laundry, I thought to myself “I should open the blinds”. Clearly, this is crazy talk because I’m the consummate blinds-closed lady. I like when it’s dark and cozy and you can curl and watch a show or read a book, neither of which I had time to do anymore. I’ve always said I loved rainy days but in truth, I kinda hate them now. The only thing harder than moving two kids around is moving them around in the rain. And hello, the humidity? My fragile postpartum hair needs no help with not looking it’s best. So I opened the blinds around my kitchen table. Correction: I opened the blinds that were already up half-mast because two babies think that playing with them is the height of entertainment. I systematically moved around to all the other windows on the first floor and did the same. And just that action and the realization that it had occurred to me to allow light in made me realize that slowly, I’m getting better. I’m getting less depressed. I’m less anxious. I have more energy than I ever remember having. And it’s not nervous energy, it’s real motivation. My neurons are firing. And this magnet is working.

The metaphor wasn’t lost on me. The light is breaking in and the darkness is receding. I found myself equal parts joyous and terrified. What if it doesn’t last? What if tomorrow, it’s gone and I feel the heaviness again? But sure as the sun poured in, I could feel a difference. I’ve had 5 sessions. 5 18 minutes cycles of the coil “tapping” on my frontal cortex and getting things moving that feel as if they have been dead. I did two treatments last week and then went two days without them on the weekend. This weekend sucked! I felt like my brain was freaking out. They warned me that it could be a rough time and it was. My brain was liking the magnet and it was having to go without it. I felt more energy than I have felt in months after my first treatment last Thursday. I haven’t felt that consistently but it made me feel hopeful. Today, I felt undeniably, indescribably good. And I still had poopy diapers to change and mouths to feed but I felt good. I cried I felt so good. And if I wake up tomorrow and I have to force myself to go through the motions, I know that I will be grateful for just feeling good today. And hopeful that the next 31 treatments make today look like mediocre.

If today, 5 treatments in, is a promise of what’s to come, then Praise the Lord. I know it just as much as I know that Leia won’t sleep throughout her whole nap and Luke will be so excited to eat avocado that he doesn’t chew it. I know that if I create the opportunity, light will shine in. That’s how sunlight works. And that’s how the Lord works too. Whether it’s a good day or a bad day, He will shine in if only I allow Him to.

Small Update: 7 treatments down, 29 to go. The blinds are still open. They are wide, wide open. God is faithful and good and magnets are amazing.

Aside

The Miracle Magnet?

My first memory of having a panic attack dates back to the 4th grade. I went on anti-depressants at 13. And for the last 21 years, I have lived life with depression and anxiety. I believed that I would live the next 21 years with them as well. In August, I saw a new psychiatrist, my 4th since moving to Charlotte. After reviewing my chart, I figured he would do what most doctors did and prescribe a new medication to try and say “I’ll see you in 3 months.” Instead, he introduced me to a type of treatment that I a.) knew nothing about and b.) caused me to hope as I had scarcely hoped that I might live life without mental illness.

My life, both personally and professionally, is skewed to be me much more in tune with mental health. I saw a counselors 5 because I was afraid of the dark. I spent my summers at marriage conferences with my parents. I know a whole lot of about mental health and I’ve lived with a lot of symptoms nearly everyday for over two decades. I also realize that the idea of putting a hormonal 13 year old girl on an SSRI might not have been the best treatment and I have often wondered if we could have chosen a different  treatment route. But we didn’t and it was the 90’s and people were wanting to dump Prozac into city’s water supplies in hopes of creating happier communities.

Depression runs ragged into my family as far back as we can trace. It has caused a lot of damage and left nasty scars. Anxiety seems to be a newer mental illness that I have been the one to introduce our family to and it has been a bigger beast for me to deal with, if I am perfectly honest. My anxiety hit a fever pitch about three months into living in North Carolina again as a married woman. I dealt with it too long without help and went on medication in January of 2013. That began a long list of med trials and doctors visits and adjusting. Feeling a bit like a freak and a bit like a guinea pig. And also feeling like I should be stronger than some shaking hands and rapid thoughts and shortness of breath. Crowds shouldn’t make me nervous. Surprises shouldn’t ruin my day. And I should be able to live my life with grace and joy as a counselor, and even more so, a child of God. I spent a long time feeling ashamed of it which became a huge deterrent to actually treating it.

On Thursday, March 8, I started 36 treatments of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Two weeks ago, I met with the medical director who will oversee my treatment and I felt so validated and maybe for the first time ever, proud of how I  have tried my best to handle my illnesses. I was able to acknowledge the journey thus far and name why I so desperately want to be well. And their names are Luke and Leia Beach. I have never desired to be so healthy and so stable as I have for those two little humans that I get to call my own. Tears ran down my face as Dr. Ifell-Taylor told me that most people who have had TMS report a 76-83% reduction in symptoms of depression and generalized anxiety disorder. As someone who fights both those things daily, I felt like someone just issued me a pardon. I was sinking and I got a life preserver.

I also realized that I don’t quite know who I am without depression and anxiety. Meaning, I’m not sure what’s my neurotic personality and what is my illness. What will remain when my brain actually works how it’s meant to? Will I still be pensive and swim in the deep end of thinking? Will I finally get to demonstrate the joy I feel as a mother and a Child of God who is highly favored without this weight on my shoulders? And most importantly, will I be able to love my family even better because my energy isn’t being pulled down by two constant if unwanted companions? Will I laugh more? Will I do more? I think of all the modifications I have made in battling depression for two decades and I just kind of don’t know what life will look like.

Then the questions surface of what if it doesn’t work? What if we pay all these copays (TMS is a covered benefit under our insurance with Chad’s work, thank you Apple!) and joy still feels hard to come by. What if I rearrange my entire life for 7 weeks and most days still struggle to find the energy and motivation to do the tasks that my life demands? What if certain things make my heart rate jump into my throat and a lump immediately form. There’s a whole lot of what ifs but I am 100% all in. If there are lifestyle changes that have to be made (limiting caffeine, RIP Diet Mountain Dew) and other suggestions that I have to take on the path to be a healthier and more whole Mom and wife and friend and daughter, I’m all in. I’d be lying if I said it was all of for Luke and Leia and my other family too. Guys, it’s for me.. I owe it to myself. For all the panic attacks and all the dark nights. For every tear shed and every shallow breath. If you’re telling me I have a way to not feel those as hugely or as often, strap a magnet to my head and let’s go. I’ve lived enough of my life limping under the weight of these illnesses, I don’t want to do it another day.

I’ll be blogging about it throughout and hopefully sharing with you all that I’m learning and feeling. I’m excited and nervous. And I am absolutely grateful to be able to try this new treatment. For science, for Chad, for tax refunds, for babies so we actually get a tax refund, and for new life, both my babies and my own. If anyone wants to know more about TMS or the symptoms of anxiety and depression, please ask. It’ll be free of charge :).

Twenty (one) Fingers and Twenty Toes

It sort of feels like we have been keeping a secret. I would say that I didn’t intend to but that wouldn’t be the complete truth. Granted, the time to blog or put any thoughts down is pretty rare with twins but this is something I’ve wanted to write for a while and have shied away from for longer than I’d like to admit.

Now that you’ve all read our harrowing (though hopefully not too graphic) birth story, I’ll pick up where they’ve just wheeled me into my room after the PACU and Chad and his mom are waiting. In a haze of pain and anesthesia, I found myself searching for two baby beds and looked longingly at Chad to explain where they were. My sweet husband, knowing me so well, pulled out his phone and showed me my first pictures of my babies. His first words were “they’re breathing on their own” and then their weights, probably the detail I had been most anxious about during my pregnancy. Little did I know that 8 pound babies can end up in a NICU just as easily as 5 pounders. He then smiled at me a slightly strained smile and announced “Luke has an extra thumb.” He knew that this detail would shake up his usually-fragile-but-currently-already-shattered wife. Excuse me, what? Beg pardon? My baby has 11 fingers? What is this, The Princess Bride? Jokes aside, I was rocked by this news. Instantly, I felt like I had done something wrong in my pregnancy and that Luke was suffering those consequences. Would this extra digit mean developmental issues to come later? It was one of many scenarios that I had never even thought to consider.

I feel that I need to pause here and do some explaining. Some of you might be reading this and thinking “chill out, woman, it’s a thumb, not an extra head.” Some of you might be totally freaking out. I want to give you the space to do either. I can only tell you my own process and how I have been changed by this precious boy that God has entrusted me to raise.

I’ve had a long, long battle with appearances. For most of my life, I have wanted to project that everything is fine, everything will be fine, and I’m good. Infertility had a lot to do with changing that. I now crave honesty and authenticity. I surround myself with people who desire the same and are active in that pursuit. Those willing to be vulnerable but also proactive in their own growth. When your husband tells you that your baby has 11 fingers, you kind of forget about that battle against appearances and just have a panicky thought of not only “what does this mean?” but also “what will people think?!?”

If not for Chad, I probably would have stayed in that panic. If not for Chad, I don’t know where I’d be. I am a woman truly blessed. Chad calmed me and wiped my tears as I allowed the anesthesia to wear off and this new realization to sink in. My baby was born with a genetic abnormality. He was not “perfect.” And he wasn’t in my arms.

I read an amazing article when the babies were about 3 months old that really resonated with me. It was one woman’s story about how she, and we as a culture, are trying to create what she called “superbabies”. She talked about how she ate only organic, exercised daily, attended all the birth classes, and did everything perfectly and her baby was born (in a water birth, no less) underweight, underdeveloped, and with a fairly severe chromosomal disorder. She is 5 and still in diapers and weighs only 22 pounds. This woman’s story is not my own. Shoot, my biggest pregnancy craving was a Southern greasy fast food joint called Cookout. Ketchup could have served as it’s own food group for most of my pregnancy. But I think there is a part of every woman who wants that “superbaby”. The oft quoted phrase of “we don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, we just want a healthy baby” rang in my ears like a sad failure. Was my boy not healthy?

What about the babies who aren’t born healthy? Do their parents not rejoice when they first see them? What about the babies like mine, who are fortunate by many, many standards, to have had what’s considered a short NICU stay? What about my daughter who has a hemagione (cluster of blood vessels) in her hair? Or my son with his sweet little lobster claw hand? Or what about Jimmy Kimmel’s son born with a terrifying heart condition? Or the countless other babies in the NICU that surrounded my babies for 8 days and 20 days respectively. Are they any less wonderfully made or knit together by God?

I’m terribly ashamed to admit that I watched Luke insanely closely for the first 2 months of his life. My first glimpses of him and moments with him were spent in awe but also fear as I tried to see if there was anything else “wrong.” I would read into his grunts and his cries, looking for there to be something more. Was his colic different or worse than Leia’s? His hair is falling out, Oh Lord, is there something wrong? He’s really solid and dense, what does that mean? He sure does cry a lot! What’s up with that? None of it was helped by the fact that we couldn’t get him to finish a bottle for the longest time in the NICU. It wasn’t that he would get full or fall asleep, he would just stop sucking. He knew he would get the rest through his nose tube so why go to the effort? He’s Chad’s son, after all.

I hate that I spent the first two months+ of his life looking for what was wrong rather than seeing what was absolutely right about him.

Luke came home from the NICU on Wednesday, February 1st. The babies original due date was Wednesday, February 1st. These babies and their milestones and accomplishments will never be in my timing. This baby boy of mine will not be rushed. He will do things in his own time and we will celebrate with joy when he does. I will move heaven and earth to help him but I had to learn when he was 20 days old that it’s not going to go according to my plan.

The changing point for me happened when I saw him smile for the first time. Sappy as it sounds, the boy smiled (in response to a fart, of course) and something lifted and I felt a peace about Luke I had never felt before. This boy of mine, this big-feeling, loud, strong boy who kicked my bladder mercilessly for months, will always keep me on my toes. Just as I will form and shape him, he will do the same to me. Loving him will change me. I had to stop and let him be who God intended him to be, whether that meant he was “perfect” or not. I had to embrace the ways he was different and allow myself to begin to do the same in my own life. I am his model and will be a voice in his head and I so badly want to be one that assures him how awesome he is in every way. His smile was my rainbow from God, telling me that my son is in much greater Hands than my own. This left hand that scared me and worried me was uniquely designed by Him and all of Luke will hopefully be used for His glory.

In a little over a month, we will wake Luke up and take him down to Levine Children’s Hospital, as renowned and wonderful a hospital as I could ask for, and they will operate and remove Luke’s extra thumb. I can say with complete sincerity that I, for one, will be sad to see it go. He will be in a cast for 3 weeks but the surgeon expects there to be no complications and said that she wouldn’t worry about any other developmental disorders. She sees no cause for concern. His polydactyl is the most common type and the one they remove the most. Luke will go on for the rest of his days with just 10 fingers, barring any freak accidents or stupid hijinks. To the rest of the world, he will be perfectly “normal.” But I know, and now you know, that Lucas Richard Beach bears a unique thumbprint of the Almighty and he has since the day he was born.

The Day The Twins Were Born (Ewww Gross, A Birth Story)

This is my solemn vow to you: I will not tell you anything remotely close to graphic! I had the honor being in the delivery room when my sister had her first son and while it was amazing and life-changing and all of the beautiful things, the aftermath looked a lot like the beaches of Normandy and also served as great birth control for about two years afterwards.

Chad and I had a laminated birth plan in our go bag, which was packed at 31 weeks. About the only function it served was as a great coaster for us as we waited in the hospital with me hooked up to all kinds of machines. On Friday, January 6th, I had an appointment at my OB. We were seeing them twice a week since the beginning of the third trimester. My OB is across the street from the hospital we toured and where we hoped to deliver. That Friday, I saw a doctor I had never seen before who also happened to have twins. Dr. Little looked at my blood pressure reading and the protein count in my urine and advised that we head across the street and “get monitored more closely”. She made it sound like it was going to be just that, monitoring. So, Chad and I go home and get our hospital bags and call my parents to see if they can get Oreo. Oh, did I mention that Friday, January 6, 2017 was supposed to be the night that Charlotte got hit with a snow/ice storm? And that Charlotte has no idea how to handle said snow or ice?

Chad and I go to the maternity floor and they put us in a room and I get hooked up to all the machines and we wait. Truly, at this point in my pregnancy, I was so swollen and huge that walking and getting up out of a bed or chair was both hysterical and super painful. The preeclampsia had added about 25 pounds of water weight from weeks 32-34 and my joints ached all the time. My parents stopped by the hospital to pray with us and my blood pressure spiked (apparently talking and excitement can really affect preeclampsia) and two readings were at dangerous levels so the nurse immediately made them leave and I got a rather forceful shot in my hip to bring down my blood pressure. I was pretty scared at that point.

My favorite OB, Dr. Hobbs, was on call at the hospital and she came in and said that with my blood pressure where it was, she was not comfortable with us going home. She wanted me to stay at least overnight in case we had to emergency deliver. However, the NICU at Novant Huntersville (where I wanted to deliver) was overfilled. It only was equipped to handle 2 babies (TWO???) and there were already 4 in there. So, we had a choice to make. If we chose to stay at that hospital and my blood pressure didn’t regulate, they would have to do an emergency c-section and because I was under 35 weeks, the babies would automatically be transferred about 25 minutes down the road to Novant Presbyterian (Main) hospital and I would recover at a different hospital. Or, I could be transferred via ambulance in a snow storm to the same hospital where they are able to handle over 60 babies in the NICU. Dr. Hobbs sweetly held my hand as I cried and said if it was her sister or herself, she would recommend that we go down south and be where I could see the babies after they delivered. So that was the choice we made.

Of course, that also meant that none of the doctors who had monitored my pregnancy would be involved in our delivery. I would be transferred to an entirely new staff that I didn’t know. I trusted her opinion but it was a big adjustment to make.

We waited 3 hours for the ambulance to come. I couldn’t eat or drink anything in case we had to do an emergency c-section so I was so thirsty and worried about my blood sugar due to my gestational diabetes. I got a (really painful) steroid shot in my thigh that was supposed to help the babies lungs develop more quickly and the goal was to hold out 48 hours so I could get the second one. Chad and I also had a rather emotional confrontation with the nurse who told me that “this was the first hard thing of many that I HAD to do for my babies” and the thing I HAD to do was bring down my blood pressure with preeclampsia.

The ambulance comes, we get to Presbyterian and I get hooked up to a machine that checks my blood pressure every 5 minutes for the next 4 hours and every half hour after that until 8 am. Not the best night. My blood pressure eventually goes back down and we are moved to a room on the special care ward. To make a long story shorter, the next 5 days had a kind of predictability to them. My blood pressure would be elevated but controlled most of the day and then at night, it would start to skyrocket. As would my anxiety. Tuesday and Wednesday night, the doctor was paged to see if we needed to deliver and both times they made the call to wait it out. I had seen the specialist on Monday morning and he said that I “wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.” We scheduled a c-section for January 27th and we hunkered in and prepared to wait.

Chad’s mom got into town on Wednesday the 11th and my parents came to the hospital to see me and perhaps all the interaction or perhaps it was just the course of preeclampsia but Wednesday night, i started to get spots in my vision which was a sign that my blood pressure was way too high. Again, the nurse paged the doctor on call and we were told to wait. I slept a little and woke up panicked as would often happen those last few days. Worried that I couldn’t breathe and if I couldn’t breathe, they weren’t getting enough oxygen. I would turn on hymns and hold Chad’s hand and just pray for God to keep us all safe. I was really scared at this point.

The next morning at 7:45, Vicky, the nurse (not my favorite, by the way), came in and took my breakfast tray before I touched it and said that the specialist had made the decision that they were taking the babies that morning. I’ll never forget our conversation. Chad was downstairs getting his own breakfast so he wasn’t present. Vicky said that the doctors had said “something about a section this morning”. I looked at her and said “A C-SECTION??” I had never heard it called that before and I was more than a little exhausted and groggy. I texted Chad to come up and said “you want to become a daddy today??”

It was 8:10 am and the doctor came in and said that we were scheduled for 10:30. From two weeks to 2 hours notice. The time after that was frantic with activity and monitoring. the babies were hooked up to a machine to make sure their heartbeats stayed the same, people were doing stuff with cheap razors, I was getting shots and blood drawn and signing papers, and begging for a Xanax with everything in me.

Because we were having twins and because I had terrible preeclampsia, we were taken to a standard OR and not the one on the maternity floor. I was wheeled through what seemed like acres of the hospital and put into a room with a staff of nurses who didn’t usually work in the regular OR so they had no idea what they were doing. Neither did we. I was now scared out of my mind. The nurse said that she didn’t think Chad could be in there with me during the procedure and that was not happening so that was the only time I got snippy in the whole hospital stay. (That’s probably a lie.)

At 10:45 they wheel me into a freezing room, put a huge needle in my back for the epidural and then strap my arms down and put a blue sheet up so I mercifully can’t see what’s happening. With twins, each baby has a team that provides their care in the OR. Luke’s team was to my left and Leia’s team was by my feet. I could barely see Luke’s team and I couldn’t see Leia’s at all. I also had a team of 2 anesthesiologists, two doctors, a scrub tech, and probably 4 nurses myself. There were A LOT of people in that room. At one point, I looked at Chad who was by my head and very much not looking at what was going on beyond the screen, if I was completely naked and he answered, “yep!” I was a little too overwhelmed to be embarrassed.

I reacted strangely to all the anesthesia so I was shaking like crazy through all of it.The anesthesiologist asked if I was cold several times but I really couldn’t feel anything. Even my hands and arms were heavy. I watched as they pulled Luke out first, held him so we could see him, and the whole room yelled “Happy birthday!” He let out a tiny cry and I was so relieved. Of course, I was hoping they would bring him up to my chest so I could hold him and see him because that’s how it goes in the movies and that’s what I’ve seen in friends pictures. But Luke was quickly taken to his station on the left and I couldn’t see or hear anything.

Now it was time for baby girl. They are two minutes apart and it felt like we waited two hours for them to shout that second “Happy Birthday!” The doctor later told me that she was a bit nervous that she would have a hard time delivering Leia without complications because she was sitting so high in my ribs. When Luke was born and out, Leia remained wedged in my right rib cage. The next part happened really fast and I don’t quite remember all of it. Chad and I heard a big spray almost like a hose coming on and Chad saw blood splatter on the face of one of the doctors and some nurses. We both heard someone say “we have a rupture!!” and then the family doctor resident was literally on my chest and pushing Leia out of ribs, forcing contractions so she came out. He was later named the “human contractor” by our primary OB. They did not hold Leia up and we did not see her. Well, I saw her as they whisked her up to the NICU in her hospital bed from a distance. I didn’t hear her cry and I didn’t see her face.

The neonatologist on Luke’s team brought him over bundled and capped and “introduced” me to my son. All I remember is seeing his lips and how big they were and thinking, “yes, he’s mine!”. And then Luke was taken to the NICU as well. Chad had to leave and I was taken into post acute care to recover. I was in far too much of a fog to process the fact that I had just given birth to two babies that I hadn’t held or kissed yet.

I didn’t “meet” Luke and Leia until they were over 12 hours old. I saw them in pictures and videos that Chad and his mom would bring back to show me. The pictures above are what my babies looked like in the hours after their birth. No birth plan ever involves those kind of images. I cried a lot on January 12. I cried from fear and joy and pain and exhaustion but mostly tears of a mother who had waited a long time to meet these babies and couldn’t.

As with any c section, there were a lot of things that had to happen before I would be safe to move. The dangling carrot in front of me was if I could do all these things, then I could go down to the NICU and meet my babies. Every single nurse I had said that I should wait until the next morning but I surprised even myself and did whatever I had to in order to go see them. I’ll spare you all the details but apparently I looked at Chad’s mom at some point and said “I’ll never walk again”.

At 11:45 pm, Chad wheeled me down to the NICU. I stretched as far as I could over the sinks and washed my hands for an agonizing three minutes (NICU protocol) sure that I was going to pop open at any minute. They wheeled me to their beds and I sobbed with relief as I saw that neither was needing help breathing and both were in normal beds, doing great. They placed them both on my chest and though it had been maybe the strangest, hardest day of my life, I wept with joy.

Chad and I have a slideshow of baby pictures that runs on our TV when we aren’t watching something. Both babies love to watch “their picture show”. Every now and again, a photo of them from those first few hours will come up. I have thought several times about deleting them out of the rotation. Leia hooked up to a breathing unit to support her lungs in case she needed it is not how I thought their birthday would go. Luke flipped onto his stomach because he was pulling off the leads and with blood on his bed from his IV is not the picture I thought we would frame. Our story has probably always been one where nothing goes according to plan. It’s hard and often defeating for this planner when that happens. But just when I’m ready to hit delete and try to block out those hard memories, a picture will pop up of my babies at one month or four months, smiling and chubby and HAPPY. And I remember the look in my eyes in the pictures of the first time I held them both in my arms that night and it’s one of pain, to be sure, but also one of pure bliss at having the best gift you’ve ever been given literally laid on your chest. THAT is a picture that could never be deleted.IMG_9210IMG_9235

You Down With PPD?

For the last four and a half months, Chad and I have had two beautiful but noisy squatters living in our bedroom. These squatters that we prayed for and went through quite a bit of money and medical procedures to produce were evicted from our room last week and put into the lovely nursery that I joyfully designed for them while they kicked away in my belly. I need to say this as much for myself as for anyone else. I could NOT love them more. They (and Chad) are my whole world and every single day, I am grateful for them. But, the last two months have been rough. Way rough.

I want to be as candid about my postpartum depression as I was about my infertility. I am not on the other side. I feel the clouds lifting and I am beyond grateful. But I am aware that I am still very much in the midst of this current struggle. Praise be, my OB has a counselor literally embedded into their practice just for this very reason and she has been so helpful. This is a course I have not navigated before. I hesitated to admit that I had postpartum depression because I was worried that it confirmed my biggest fear; that I am a bad mom. That I am not cut out for this and that my weak mental state will ultimately lead to my destruction as well as that of my kids. And in part, I didn’t want to admit it because it gets such a bad wrap from so many people.  It isn’t always that you want to drown your baby in the bathtub or drive them into the lake. It isn’t even always that you feel like you can’t bond with them. Sometimes, it is the feeling of being completely overwhelmed and unable to see that life will ever be different. For me, it’s not feeling confident to make any decision or think clearly. It’s not wanting to be alone with the babies because I’m afraid they will cry and I won’t be able to meet their needs and soothe them. I’m not sure if the fatigue is from caring for two babies 24/7 or the PPD but it’s there.

The cumulative effect of infertility, insane amounts of hormones, IUI’s, a terrible pregnancy, emergency hospitalization for preeclampsia, NICU stays for both my babies, and colic just wore me down to the point that I was crying every time I was alone with them. Chad would leave for work and I would sit anxiously hoping that one of the babies wouldn’t wake up because I was doubtful of my ability to comfort or care for them. Colic seemed to be stealing all the joy of motherhood and there was nothing that was able to console my sweet children and often we would all dissolve into tears together.

I was basically a sitting duck where PPD is concerned so I wasn’t shocked to be diagnosed with it. But I was shocked to be so “new” to a diagnosis given my line of work.  I felt inferior and ungrateful for these wonderful babies. I judge(d) myself so harshly for feeling frustrated when one baby finally falls asleep only to have the other wake up crying. I look at people on social media doing amazing things with their babies and posting cute monthly photos and think “man, they are just so much better at this than I am!” I feel overwhelmed by almost every decision that needs to be made and I constantly feel like I might make the wrong choice. I am using present tense because I still feel all of these things but not as strongly as I did three weeks ago. Three weeks ago, I stood over Luke’s pack n play, crying (always crying) and hoping he wouldn’t wake up and wake up Leia who had finally just gotten to sleep after being rocked for 30 minutes and the only thought I had was, I want to get in the car and go. I want to drive somewhere, anywhere, and not come back for a week.

I realized that my heart as a mother hung in this sad limbo of wanting Luke and Leia to grow out of some of this stuff that was making life so hard and at the same time, seeing them grow and missing how little they used to be. The guilt over feeling like I’m missing i!  I’m missing my babies growing up and these precious moments because I’m so anxious. I was scared to admit that this is not the best time in my life, the time I have always waited for. This time was hard and unappreciated and, dare I say it, downright shitty sometimes. (Sorry!, no other word describes it as well).

Recently, I realized that there is a part of me that has felt defeated since they were born at 35 weeks and 1 day. I fought everyday for weeks, for months really, to keep them safe and in my womb as long as I could. In the end, the inability to get my blood pressure to lower and the resulting anxiety that led to the decision to take them at 35 weeks felt like a failure. As they struggled in the NICU and then at home, I felt like my own frailty had permanently saddled them with bodies that were underdeveloped and riddled with problems that a fully cooked baby might not have. I am choosing to stop believing this lie because it’s not helpful and my babies are fearfully and wonderfully, powerfully made.

I called my counselor and asked for her soonest appointment. She kindly helped me see that I was nearing crisis levels of exhaustion and anxiety and that I needed a “corrective mothering experience”. Her recommendation was to go to the nearest hotel, check myself in, and not leave the bed for 2 days. My tendency is to not know how bad something is until someone else tells me how bad it is. So, while going to the Ritz was not exactly an option for me, I did tell Chad that we had to do something and make changes immediately because the way we were doing things and caring for the babies was not a sustainable plan for me.

He took two weeks off and we set about making changes for our family. I moved into the guest room to get better sleep and not wake up with every sound the babies made and speed read as many books on sleep training multiples as I could. We made a decision that scared both of us: to move the babies into their own room and begin the process of sleep training our 4.5 month olds. (A dear friend lost their granddaughter to SIDS three weeks after Luke and Leia were born and we were gun-shy.) I decided that the method for sleep training we would use was going to be the one that was the most recommended and that was Weissbluth’s “no-peek, extinction cry-it-out”. Wait, their crying stresses me out and you want me to increase it? How sadistic! But I didn’t want to put us all through various methods. I wanted to try the one that worked the fastest and was recommended by their pediatrician and other experts. And I also decided that I would take an Ambien and Chad would take the first night.

I kid you not, I fully believe that Chad and I were getting in the way of our babies sleep. By the 3rd night, we were able to lay them in their cribs, fully awake, and they put themselves to sleep with zero crying. The last 6 days have been nothing short of miraculous for this tired mama.

But, as with our infertility journey, I don’t want to talk about all of this in hindsight. As far as I am concerned, this battle with postpartum and feeling overwhelmed is still ongoing. Sleep has helped more than I thought possible. For me and the babies. I have been able to fall in love with them all over again every morning when I get them up. And they are happier and more animated than they have ever been.

My prayer for the last 6 months has been more one of “God, fix it”. Fix these terrible aches and pains from two big babies in my ribs and my pelvis. Fix my blood pressure and keep it under control. Fix this unbearable pain from a complicated c-section. Fix my babies feeding issues and bring them home. Fix the Godforsaken colic. Fix Chad’s job so he’s home at night when our babies are seeing who can burst mommy’s ear drum fastest. Fix it all. My prayer lately has been “God, use it.” Use all of the things that I have gone through, that Chad and I have gone through. I clearly don’t understand why they have all happened but use them for your glory. In counseling, one of the greatest things we can do is allow people the safe place to tell their story. Narrative therapy can be transformative. I’m feeling ready to tell my story. I’m feeling ready to be transformed. I’m feeling ready for God to use it.