My hardest fight.

The first time that I ever felt depression I was eight or nine years old. I was sitting in the back of my mom’s car and I distinctly remember that I was looking down at my brand new pair of ADIDAS sambas. These were shoes that I coveted and begged my parents for-shoes that were absolutely necessary for someone my age to own. My parents weren’t the type to purchase new things for us, they believed deeply in a non-material life, so getting these shoes was monumental. And as I sat in the back seat, I remember that the sun was shining and that we were on the way to pick up my friend for a sleepover. And out of nowhere I was hit with a feeling-one that began very subtly, but that increased by the second. The feeling was gross. It was heavy. It felt like a terrible taste in my mouth or a foul smell in the air. It felt like nothing and everything at the same time. And within a few minutes, it was gone.

I was diagnosed with type one diabetes when I was eleven. Most people attribute my struggles with depression to the fact that I have a chronic illness. In other words, I am sad that I am sick. Well, yes that’s true. But true chemical depression is very different. It’s deceiving. It comes for you in your happiest moments. It waits for you after a promotion at work or a really great night out with friends. And it digs its fingernails into your flesh and drags you unwillingly into its grip. And it keeps you, no matter how hard you struggle, no matter how much you scream or punch or claw or thrash. It doesn’t waver.

I spent most of my late teens and early twenties on Prozac or Paxil or Lexapro or Effexor. And I think it helped. Who knows how well. Because that’s the thing about mental illness. When it clutches you for so long, you forget what feeling good feels like. What your baseline is if you will. And so just as you begin to feel “better” you also begin to feel “nothing” and you wonder if nothing is better than awful? Is there a place where you, the you you’ve forgotten, can exist again? So you switch medications and continue with the same song and dance for a couple more months-always always searching for yourself. The yourself that you just know is in there somewhere, deep in the stomach, down in the toenails of the toes. Somewhere.

I got pregnant with my twins in 2012. My acupuncturist instructed me to go off Zoloft before getting pregnant. So I did. Cold turkey. And it was fucking terrible. I was dizzy and nauseous and irritated and sad. I spent my pregnancy crying and feeling mad. And when they were finally born-two months early-I battled postpartum depression like a soldier at war. I was told to go back on Zoloft. And then Ativan. But the Zoloft made me sick and I couldn’t eat and because I couldn’t eat I couldn’t produce milk and because I couldn’t produce milk I felt that I had failed. I hated myself for it. And then the babies stayed at the hospital and I visited, clutching my tender c-section wound with one hand and a tiny bottle of desperately pumped breast milk in the other. I limped my way into the NICU day in and day out, and when I got back in the car after seeing them, I folded into myself and cried until  bedtime. At some point, a friend’s father saved me. He threw every pill bottle I had away and told me to eat. He drove in the night to CVS and bought those ensure protein drinks and made me drink one. And then another, until I began to get strength and my head cleared a little. The last night of my battle, I dialed the number of a depression helpline and hung up thirty times. And then the next morning, for whatever reason, my head cleared  and the darkness lifted and I fell so profoundly in love with my two tiny, beautiful, miracle babies.

For four years I went without antidepressants. Thinking back I was ok-I must have been ok. I can remember feeling really, genuinely happy.

And then the summer of 2016, my whole world crumbled and I broke into pieces.

In the spring time I realized that I hated my job. That the Master’s degree that I had worked hard for after the babies were born, was not what I wanted. Was not what my career would be about. And that I was at a depressing job that covered a depressing subject and that I had nowhere to go. I hated myself. The person that I dreamed I would become was non-existent.  I had been lying to myself all along. All that I was was a mother and for me that didn’t feel good enough. The voice inside my head reminded me every morning and every night that I was a failure, a loser, a poser, a disappointment.

So I stopped sleeping. No really, I stopped. The first few weeks and months I would wake up around 4am or 5am and never fall back asleep. I trudged back and forth to work like a zombie, I saw my kids and yelled at them when they didn’t deserve it-all of it going by like a blurry slow motion movie. The nights got worse. I would fall asleep and wake in a panic at 2am, staring wildly into the darkness like a madwoman. I begged my brain to turn off.  I stood in the bathroom, looking at my pale and frightening face and pleaded for God to calm my body and quiet my mind. I paced the house and told myself if I just washed my hands, or just went to the bathroom, or just turned off the fan, or just turned on the fan, or just rearranged the pillow, or just changed pajamas, if I just, if I just, if I just…I would fall asleep. But I didn’t.

On September 19th I went to the doctor and was prescribed Ambien.I took one pill before bed and slept for a total of thirty minutes. On September 20th, I called the doctor sobbing and was prescribed Lunesta. That night I took two and never went to sleep. Around 4am I called my mother after pacing the house with a flashlight, trying to save myself from myself. She drove over and got in bed with me in our guest room. When her words failed, she just held me as tightly as she could. She’s a very small person and I can remember the way her frail arms felt around my shaking, screaming body. We left for the emergency room soon after. She scribbled a note on a scrap piece of paper telling my husband “Anna is not ok.  We are at the ER”. All the while my two little babies slept soundly in the next room. When we got to the ER I put my head on my mother’s lap the way I had when I was a little girl-a little girl at a grownup dinner party, just too tired to stay up any longer. She stroked my hair and I cried.

The Doctor that saw me was handsome. He had longish hair and a quiet, very zen demeanor. He told me that he had six kids and that his wife had bi-polar disorder. “I can’t fail anyone else.” I said again and again. “The weight of the world is on my shoulders”.  He gave me an injection of Ativan  and almost immediately after my heart began to slow and the never ending thumping in my chest subsided. My brain felt soft and velvety. He asked someone to come in the room-an English woman who seemed a little old for the job. She told me about a nice place that “I could go” to get the help that I needed, and she reminded me that it was “completely my choice” and I could come and go as I pleased. It was almost 6am. I could see the sun beginning to rise and I thought about what my kids were going to have for breakfast, what clothes they would pick out to wear to school. I thought about my husband making coffee. I thought about his face when he read my mother’s note.

I turned to the woman and said “ok”.

This next part is hard to write. It’s been almost three years and I’ve written about this incident and erased it a dozen times. I’ve never talked to a single person about what happened, about what it was really like. And the reason that I am writing about it here is because I need it out of my body. I need to declare, to believe that it is not something to be ashamed of. When it happened, a family member suggested I not write about it, or put it on Facebook (as I am an over sharer by nature). I agreed thinking, what if I want to run for office one day? I would ruin my chances by admitting this secret. This shameful event. And as time has gone by, I have thought so much about how lonely I felt in those days. How I would have given both my arms and legs to have another person tell me they were sad too. That I would be ok. But I had no one. So the reason I am finally, finally telling this fucking story is also because I know in my heart I am not alone. There are incredibly brave people out there, one in particular, who have inspired me to be bold and brave and to share my experience.

Around 6:30 am on September 21st, the day before my sister’s birthday, two male nurses wheeled me on a stretcher into the back of an ambulance. My mother went home. The nurse sat in the back with me but we didn’t talk. I could see the morning traffic begin to go by through the back windows. People headed off to jobs at the CDC, carpool lines to drop off kids, sunlight streaming in. I wondered how this could be. How the real world was just on the other side of the metal door. While everything that had just happened and was clearly about to happen felt surreal. And like that, the ambulance pulled into the parking lot of Wesley Woods.

A mental hospital. Three words that I’ve wanted to type or write or scream or even just whisper for two years. Three words that make my cheeks burn. Three words that make me so sad.

They wheeled me in and began the check-in process. The Ativan was beginning to wear off and I had a deep, dark feeling that I had made a terrible mistake. Like a horror movie where the stark reality of the moment comes into focus. The girl wakes up only to realize she has been brought back to the same horror scene she tried to flee. A man came in and took out everything in my purse and wrote it down. Six pill bottles in total. He told me to remove my laces from my running shoes. Before I could say “why”, I figured it out. They said they were taking my cell phone next. I sent a text message to my husband and to my family saying this: “I’m so sorry for all that I have caused today. I am en route to the looney bin now. I’m sad about all this but I think it’s time to bite the bullet and get this right. Everyone deserves to be the best version of themselves.”

That’s all I am going to say about what happened inside. I didn’t stay long at all. The food was terrible. There were a lot of coloring books and people that frightened me. There were some extremely dark moments-moments that break my heart to think about-but what happened when I came out is what matters. For the first time really in my life, I made my mental health a priority not just for me but for my family. I began seeing a psychiatrist who to this day manages my medication every couple of months. I began weekly therapy and started to address and tackle things in my life that were deeply buried. I guess more than anything, I carved out space in my life to talk about my life. And I took the medication. And you’ll never guess, at some point after many days and many weeks, I fell asleep.

I’m not sure even as I type this that I will have the guts to post it. I wonder if I will erase the whole thing. Maybe no one will read it anyway.  But I want to put it out there. Because even though I “recovered” from that experience, I deal with major depression and anxiety every day. To be honest, as I sit here typing this I am smack dab in the middle of a depressive episode. A chemical shift that requires new or more medication.

But this time I handled it differently. The moment I identified what was happening, I called my therapist and my psychiatrist. And we began altering my medication. The effects of those modifications are hard-exhaustion being the worst. But I have a team now. A team that I never had or thought I needed or deserved before. And I guess that’s exactly what I want to say. I’ve dealt with a lot in my life medically speaking. I have managed a lifelong disease for twenty-five years. I’ve pricked my finger and injected a needle into my arm hundreds of thousands of times. I’ve been hospitalized more than a dozen times. I’ve had two major surgeries to deliver my babies and at one point I had a jaw infection that required drains be implanted into my cheeks.

But depression remains my toughest competitor.

My hardest fight.

 

So if you are reading this, know that where you are, I am there too.

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Where I go from here.

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In two weeks my third child will turn one. This is far and away the fastest year of my life. I have mixed feelings about her birthday. I feel sad because literally every minute with her is amazing. I feel excited, because I look forward to hearing her first words and finding out who she really is. I feel scared, because just five days after her birthday, I will turn 36 and I feel so far from 36 it’s breathtaking. Change is really hard. I simultaneously want my life to change and stay the same. I’m very aware that my time on earth is moving and that at some point in the not too distant future, I will be beyond middle aged. And I’m struggling, as I think many people do, with what I have and have not accomplished in my time on earth.

I wake in the night worrying that I am not and never be who or what I thought I would be at this age. And then I am struck by how lucky I am and have been. I’m married to a wonderful man who, after fourteen years, still laughs at my jokes, supports me when I’m down, and tells me I look beautiful regularly. I have THREE fireball children who, when I look at them, I feel certain I could die that day and be happy. I have parents and a sister who I see regularly, and a job and a warm house and enough food on the table.

And yet I still lay awake at night wondering if what I’ve done is enough? If what I am or who I am is enough. Frankly I am plagued by it. Today was my last day chairing a board that has been my identify for more than a decade. Something I am deeply, deeply passionate about and proud of. And now it’s over. And it should be, because it’s time for someone else to be in charge and it’s time for me to figure out what I want to do next. And as my therapist says, I try to see that as a positive challenge-as something exciting to ponder. And in some corner of my mind it is, but it is also scary. I feel like I want to do big, huge things with my life, but I don’t know what they are.

I saw a quote recently that said “remember when you wanted what you currently have”? Good gracious that should be written on my tombstone. How many hours and nights did I fret about whether or not I would be able to have children. How many times did I break down sobbing, begging for one child. And now I have three. And they are fucking GREAT. And I think it’s ok to still want more-to strive for more, but it’s just as important to practice gratitude and forgiveness and kindness to oneself for what they already have and have already accomplished. I have always been so hard on myself. I don’t ever give myself a break. I really don’t. I know where my drive comes from, for better or for worse. My ambition makes me proud, but it is also a very heavy albatross to wear. It’s a constant reminder that no matter what I have right this moment, it’s not enough. I don’t want to look back on my life and regret not relishing in the time I have right now with my children. Relishing in the job I have that not only allows but SUPPORTS my time with my family. But those voices we carry with us from childhood are loud, and they are judgmental and unforgiving. And who are we to think that we can banish a voice that has been with us for thirty years through a couple of yoga sessions? A couple of therapy sessions.

I don’t mean to have a pity party for myself. I really don’t. But this blog is more for me than for anyone else. It is a place where I can experience a catharsis, where I can hear my truest voice. A different therapist (god help me) once said that we have a tendency to listen to the harsh, hurtful voices in our mind as though they are the “true” voice, the “real” voice. But the same could be argued for the gentle and soft voice that says “hey there, you are enough”. Because that voice, the more likable voice is the true voice.

Or at least it should be.

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Griddle cakes.

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Last month I bought a belly binding corset.

It is also called “A Girdle”. As if this thing isn’t unsexy enough, they’ve given it a name that actually sounds fat when you say it. Girdle. Sometimes when I say it, I think of the word “Griddle” and then that makes me think of pancakes. Back to the corset, er girdle. This torture device costs a pretty $100 and you’re instructed to wear it for 12-24 hours/day. There’s even a little flap at the bottom for when you have to pee. I had to lie on the bed and roll back and forth just to get it buttoned. And once I had it buttoned, I immediately had a headache and felt sweaty. Sweatier than usual which frankly is saying a lot.

But see the thing is I am desperate. I am so horrified by my own body that and so obsessed with its inevitable demise, that I feel like I’m losing my mind.

Thinking back,  I can’t remember a time when I felt actually good about my body. I remember in high school someone I cared very much for told me I was pretty and since I had terrible self-esteem, that comment took me somewhere. It made me feel valuable like a prize or a treasure to covet. And that same person ultimately chose someone else instead of me. And I told myself, as many 17 year old girls do, that it was because of how I looked. What my body looked like.

Throughout college and in the years following, I gained and lost the same five pounds. When I wanted to drop the weight, I drank 76 beers on the weekend instead of 100. I walked on the treadmill at the school gym for 11 minutes and I only ate Burger King FOUR times a week instead of five. It was easy.

My 20’s were spent making more bad decisions. Some of which made me lose weight, some of which made me gain weight, all of which kept me focused on what I looked like. What I was valued at. Who wanted me and who didn’t want me.

I had my twins when I was 29. Via c-section. I gained a lot of weight while pregnant with those two. Partly because I’m a type one diabetic and I suddently had two people growing inside of me and partly because I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was supposed to do about that fact. But then they were born via emergency c-section and 13 months later, I had lost all the weight. I worked out, I dieted and then I got a bacterial infection in my jaw which required not one, not two, but three surgeries to fix. Two weeks of not eating knocked those last stubborn pounds right off. I also made the brilliant decision during that time-in the midst of crushing post-partum depression-to quit taking zoloft. So I got skinny. Like narrow, pointy jaw “what’s going on with Anna?” skinny. Who cared that I was going insane at the time, my pants looked really, and I mean really great. I even thought about wearing a two piece once. Sure, my stomach skin still looked like the guy from “Ghost” who yells “Get OFF MY TRAIN!!!!!!” but the rest of me was skinny. All I had to do was shove my ghost stomach into a pair of high-waisted jeans and nobody would know. People talked to me about it. They congratulated me on losing all that weight. My dad said I had never looked better. My mom told me she was impressed. And I felt it. I felt like a better version of myself. Even though inside my body, I was rotting.

The days and months and years went by. I kept the weight off. But I also started to rot even more. I started to go crazy. I mean really crazy. I screamed and yelled at people I very much loved, I stayed awake for weeks at a time. I cried and then screamed and then cried some more. I can remember feeling these bouts of utter despair and sadness-feelings that brought me to my knees (my super skinny knees but still). But I have to be honest, I still valued myself because of what I looked like on the outside. Who cares that you’re losing yourself, that you are exploding from the inside when you can comfortably wear a size 28 jeans?

And then it all came crashing down. In September of 2016 (man, if only I had known what was coming in November that year). And crash it did. In a way that I still can’t totally revisit in my own mind, much less with anyone else. But once it did all come crashing down, I put myself, er…I was put back on Zoloft. And quite a lot of it.

And the weight began to creep back.

And back.

And back.

And while my inside began to shine just a little bit and my heart began to feel soft and kind and patient, my pants began to get tighter.

And the weight crept back.

And when my brain started to feel calm and peaceful again, and when I could squint and begin to see myself again, my zipper started to not budge.

And then, as cliché as it sounds, one day I woke up, and I (Anna) was completely and totally BACK. I no longer mentally felt like I was floating and that I couldn’t anchor myself or my thoughts to any one thing. I no longer felt like I was suffocating and grasping for air. I no longer felt like my brain was spinning and thumping and throbbing. I felt like myself again. The myself that I had known for 30 years.

And on the outside? I had gained almost 20 pounds in six months.

I gave birth to my third baby via somewhat emergency c-section on March 12th of this year. I took Zoloft the entire pregnancy. And I’m not lying when I say that I loved my body. Not just in a “oh look at that cute little pregnant belly” way. I felt sexy and proud of what I saw in the mirror. I even let my friend photograph me naked at 35 weeks. Once I was cleared for exercise, after my sweet, precious, delicious third baby was born, I started to work out. My first workout back, my trainer simply told me to roll on the floor from one side to another. I couldn’t do it. My stomach muscles were so destroyed that I couldn’t even get off the ground without help. But as it is with most things, time passed and it got easier. I kept at it. I worked out between 5-6 times a week; I’ve eaten healthy, I’ve exclusively breastfed my baby for almost eight months. I’ve lost 13 pounds and have at least 15 to go.

Every person around me is thinner. Every pregnant woman I see is already smaller. Every friend who is also post-partum is “actually thinner than they were before they got pregnant”. Someone honked at me this morning while I missed a green light because I was too busy watching a thin, blonde woman running by my car. I was wondering what her life was like, how it would feel to slide on a pair of shorts and a tank top without hating every inch of your body in the process. What it would feel like to strip naked after that run, casually climbing into the shower in front of her spouse or partner, utterly comfortable in their own skin. I looked down at my own lumpy, fat, fleshy stomach and felt sick. More than sick, I felt like again I had failed. The second honk pulled me from my daydream and I hit the gas and kept going.

As I approach my 40’s (I am turning 36 in March), I am sad that I still feel this way about my body. I thought by now I would have made peace with what God gave me to walk around in. There’s a mantra that I’ve tried to focus on. Instead of focusing on what your body looks like, focus on what incredible things the body, your body, can do. Here’s what I know: I have grown three people inside of me; I have nursed three babies; I have lived successfully with a brutal, chronic disease for almost 30 years; I have attracted an extremely handsome, wonderful man who I love to pieces and who I know loves me; I can run several miles and lift very heavy weights and do toe push-ups. I know that I am a product of my culture. A world where a woman is punished for gaining weight or getting older. A place where the greatest living female tennis player alive is not celebrated for her gift, rather she is laughed at for her thighs. For her ass. And so the raging feminist inside of this flabby body is trying to rage against the machine. What my body is doing these days is nothing short of remarkable. And that doesn’t just need to be enough, it is enough.

And so I will be returning the corset.

The girdle.

And when I do, I may just treat this body to a plate of griddle cakes.

 

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The mundane.

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Sometimes I understand why people want to give up. Every year that I get older, life seems harder and harder. And that’s coming from a person with extreme privilege. This morning as I walked my kids to school, sweating and tired and dazed, I had to stop for a minute because I was sincerely baffled that a full 24 hours had elapsed since the day before when I did exactly the same thing. And the day before that, and the day before that and the day before that.

Years ago, I read a piece by Joan Didion-I don’t remember which one it was-that talked about how much a person misses the mundane after a tragedy. How you long for the routine of making coffee, brushing teeth, cleaning up dishes and picking up shoes. And I try really hard to focus on that in these redundant moments of my life. Especially when with my kids. How grateful I should be to get to walk those fifteen minutes to school every day with them. How grateful I should be to make them breakfast each morning and pick up their shoes and watch them make silly faces at each other, collapsing again and again in a fit of kindergarten giggles. And sitting here now, typing this out, I feel grateful. I feel lucky to have precious moments to watch them learn and grow and move through the world. I genuinely do.

For a long time, several years at least, I have wanted to write about depression on this blog. But the truth is, I’m a coward. I’m too afraid of what people will think of me. If I  admit what haunts me, what has haunted me most of my life. Because for some reason it feels shameful. More shameful than admitting my need for insulin, or my worry and insecurity about my children. Writing about mental illness makes me feel naked. Sweaty and hot. Completely and entirely exposed. And so I kept putting it off. And there was and there is a piece floating around in my head that is desperate to get out. I want to say it. I want to write it. But I’m so scared. I feel guilty because I wonder if me saying it, me writing it, would maybe maybe maybe help someone else feel less ashamed. But the truth is, I remain a coward.

Perhaps I will dip my toe in. Just a centimeter. Virginia Woolf writes about depression (and I am paraphrasing here) as the realization not that you are lonely, but that you plus all other people are lonely. Perfectly stated. Because if it were just the realization that I am sad and despairing and lonely, then I could look around at this beautiful world around me and feel reinvigorated and re-energized. But depression is the gut punching acceptance that there is nothing to redeem you. We are all excruciatingly alone.

This is the point in the blog where I should see the light. Where I should turn it all around for my kids, for my family, for the planet that is so kind and beautiful. And in a sense, I feel that. I’ve quoted this before, but it remains one of my favorite sentiments. Samuel Beckett writes at the end of The Unnamable “You must go on.” “I can’t go on.” “I will go on.”

I must go on. And so, I will go on.32170007_10104877104425484_4294125117337763840_n

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The top floor of the parking deck.

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I think this is going to be a sad post. So if you don’t want to feel sad on an already gloomy February day, don’t read this.

I was raised by two parents with chronic illness. My dad was diagnosed with type one diabetes about five or six years after I was and my mom has had Rhematoid Arthritis since before I was born. I’ve grown up in a family uniquely familiar with sickness. A family that has never and will never take health for granted. A family that knows the value of living in the moment, because oftentimes those hard moments are fucking relentless and when they’re good, you better celebrate the fact that they’re good because god knows they won’t always be that way.

And that,  defines my mother.

Observing a disease like rhematoid arthiritis as a spectator from the sidelines is fascinating. The way that from the outside she can seem perfectly fine, only to learn later that she didn’t sleep a wink the night before due to mind-numbing, excrutiating pain emanating through her bones and joints. The way it criplled her hands and her feet again and again and again. Even after dozens, literally dozens of surgeries. The way it put her in a hospital bed while I was a child, busily eating McDonalds in the hard wooden hospital chair, utterly oblivious as to how deep her suffering ran. Because now I am a mother. Now I know what it feels like to be a “sick parent”. To miss things with your kids because you don’t feel well, because you have to take a time-out. To be seen through their eyes as a person with an issue. It’s very hard to articulate why that knowledge is painful. I believe it’s because I want my children to know I am their protector, that I make everything better, that I am infalliable. And seeing them see me being sick, shatters my entire self-image.

My mother is, without a shadow of a doubt, the strongest woman, the strongest person that I have ever known. She fights fiercely against a disease, a systemic disease at that, that affects every inch of her body. And here’s the crazy part. She never, ever ever ever complained. She never, ever ever ever let it stop her. Her strength lies not in simply living with her disease, but in standing up to it. She fucking refuses to let it diminish her quality of life. She fucking refuses to let it break her. And so when she says the old cliche “live in the moment”, she actually does. No, really she does. She is present, and she is unwavering in her gratitude. If you know her, if you’ve even met her for a moment, chances are you agree.

When I was 11 and had just been told  I had type one diabetes, she walked me across the top floor of the parking deck at Piedmont hospital. It was February and kind of cold. She was so strong in those moments, and I think about them so often now that I am a mom. I think about how easy it would have been to crumble and openly mourn the fact that your baby now had a life-long disease. Particularly as back then, it was accepted that type one diabetics probably couldn’t have children. She had to look at her eleven year old daughter, knowing there was a high chance she could never carry a baby, and tell her everything would be ok. That particular eleven year old loved babies and oftentimes could be found burping a bag of rice or cradling a giant bag of marshmellows like it were an infant. But my mother didn’t let her hurt or worry show for a second. I found out later that once I was checked into the hospital that day, she went home with my sister to collect my stuff. Books, stuffed animals, dolls, my discman, anything that would make me happy. And while packing stuff up, she sat down on my bed and cried. My sister tried to comfort her, but all she could do was cry. I can’t fathom that level of pain.

Yesterday I parked in relatively the same spot on the top floor of the parking deck at Piedmont for my 32.4 week perinatology appointment. The same general spot that I parked in more than 5 years ago to give birth unexpectedly to my twins. The same general spot that I parked in every day and every night I came to visit them in the NICU. The same general spot where I parked after holding my baby girl and my baby boy in the NCIU and cried and felt sorry for myself because this wasn’t how I had imagined it would be. And the same general spot that I parked in five months ago and called my husband to tell him we were having another girl. Where I called my sister to tell her the baby was the size of an orange. Of an apple. Of a kumquat. And yesterday I parked in that same general spot and called my mom again. Sobbing into my sleeve, trying to catch my breath.

“What is it Anna? Tell me. My heart is racing” she said.

I told her that the perinatologist had informed me that my baby was “extremely large” because of “uncontrolled diabetes” and “the longevity of my illness” and “the fact that I’ve been sick for 25 years”. He said that I would most certainly have another c-section. That she would come early, in the 37 week range. That she had something wrong with her kidneys, that it wasn’t a “big deal” but it was “something seen in babies of diabetic mothers” as their uncontrolled diabetes made the baby produce more urine. It was “something to watch” and “something to tell the pediatrician”. And then he said “this baby will probably have to stay in the NICU” because of “the mother’s illness” and because the babies bloodsugar could drop dramatically and, wait for it, “put her in extreme danger”.

I made it to the car (just barely) before my eyes spilled over. I punched the steering wheel and kicked the wall and when the car was shut and the windows rolled up, I screamed as loud as I could. And then I called my mom.

Throughout my life, I have tried to emulate my mother in every way. I try very hard to be tough, to not give up, to be grateful every chance that I get.

To meet me, I doubt you would know that I had diabetes. Much less how much I struggle. And that’s great. But it also allows you to live in a fairy land, one where the idea of neuropathy or amputation or dementia or death is implausible. And so in moments like yesterday, the disease comes out of the wood work and hits you over the head like a fucking sledgehammer. You are reminded so intensely how sick you are. How different other people’s lives are from yours. And trust me, as I type this I feel disgusted by how lucky I am. I have a disease that people live VERY long lives with. I had TWO healthy children and am about to give birth to another baby in a month. I have a beautiful family, a husband that loves me and takes care of me and money and resources to afford the latest technologies-a new pump, better blood sugar meters and more refined insulins. And yet, diabetes is a unique disease. It doesn’t ever ebb and flow. It’s not exacerbated, so to speak, by stress or lifestyle choices. It’s there, all goddamn day. Every hour. Every minute. Every second. It is another child to care for, but one that never naps, never sleeps, never grows older, never leaves you. Another full-time job calling insurance companies and arguing claims, and pricking fingers and changing pump sites and buying new insulin and wiping up blood and eating a snack to treat low blood sugar and walking the block and injecting again to treat high blood sugar, and calculating every bite of food that is going or will ever go into your mouth. A disease that regularly makes you have blurry vision, migraines, depression, stomach issues, nerve pain and on and on and on. It’s a fucking monster that won’t leave me alone. And just when I think I’ve almost forgotten it, I’ve almost blended in to a world that doesn’t prick  fingers or count carbs or jab itself with needles, it pops back up in the middle of a perinatology appointment to remind me, you aren’t normal. You are sick and you are wreckless to think you could have another baby. You are greedy for wanting more. You are selfish for making your babies body suffer, for making her precious tiny kidney struggle, all because you wanted something. Something you thought you could do, but something you failed at. You failed.

I have tried so hard to make it right. To check my sugar, to take my insulin, to walk around the block after a meal when my back is aching and my feet swollen. I have carb counted and woken multiple times in the night to prick my finger. I’ve seen doctors after doctors after doctors, and I’ve connected myself to machines that give me better sugar results, or more real time data. I’ve poured over reports as to why my sugar goes up unexplicably at times, and drops into dangerously low zones at others. I’ve prayed for her and rubbed her back through my belly and promised her that if she could just hold on, if she could just make it out of me safely, she would be the most loved baby in the world. I want her to know that just on the other side she has a daddy  ready to kiss her and blow rasberries on her belly and cheeks; a sister who is literally jumping in anticipation to help change diapers and give her baths and teach her “to read and do science stuff”; and a brother who cannot wait another minute to “sing her sweet songs when she cries” and “rub her head in her crib if she’s scared”.

And lastly a mommy. A mommy who already loves her, without ever seeing her face. Without ever touching her cheek or looking into her eyes. A mommy who believed in her long before she was a baby. When she was just an idea, a hope and a dream. A mommy who fought for her, who got her to grow inside, who protected her in every way that she could. A mommy who is fighting a fucking battle inside of her own body to protect her unborn baby- to keep her safe from the wreckage her disease has caused. A mommy who learned everything there is to know about being a mommy from her own mother. From her own sister. And now from her own daughter. A tribe of fearless women.

And you baby girl, if you can just hold on, you’re next in line.

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Will I miss you?

belly

Dear self,

You are 31 weeks pregnant. This is what your body looked like at the time. No matter what you hear, you will miss this pregnancy when the baby comes. You will look back with rose colored glasses and you will long for the belly, the attention, the kindness of strangers. The beautiful movement inside of you throughout the day. And it’s okay to mourn the end of the pregnancy of your last baby. But also remember this: it was hard as hell.

Don’t forget the brutal migraines that lasted well into the second trimester. The vomiting, the trip to the Asheville hospital. The crippling depression and anxiety. The increase in anti-depressants that devastated you, that worried you and made you feel ashamed. The heartburn. The anger. And don’t forget the diabetes. How could you? It’s with you every day, all of the day. Don’t forget the insulin resistance, the inability to eat anything, the daily (instead of every three days) pump change out. The acceptance of metformin. And the numbness of your feet. The discoloration of your eyes. The breathtaking fear you felt every time the Doctor looked at the ultrasound and commented on your babies size. The feelings of failure and the acknowledgement of age and its impact on your body.

Don’t forget the missing of the wine. Oh dear the wine. And working out. Running. Wearing normal pants that button. A normal bra that doesn’t look like a parachute. The back pain and the tight glute muscles and the dry skin and strange spots. The inability to get up and out of the couch. The exhaustion and the need for the nap and the way your kids didn’t notice or care. Or the full day of work and the full night of kid work that followed. Not being able to change your own sheets on the bed anymore.

But also, don’t forget this.

The wonder you felt when you looked at your body naked at the 20 week mark. The beauty of the swollen belly. The way in which a body that has always caused you insecurity and shame, suddenly made you feel proud and as beautiful as you ever had before. The awe you felt looking at this powerful, brave body growing life inside of it. And the knowledge that you….specifically YOU had it harder than others. That you overcame those battles. That when they said “no, don’t do it again” and “it will be too hard on your diabetes”, you simply said “get out of my way”. And the love that you feel for that little baby already. A love that you grew to feel after a fierce battle with post-partum depression last time. The knowing that YOU can and YOU will survive whatever is thrown at you.

That, I will miss.

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My H.

h and mommy

Dear little bird,

I will never forget the way that it felt to kiss your cheek, to squeeze your foot, to smell you one more time before I left the hospital that day, with your sister and your daddy, but not with you. Because that was the day we left you behind. Because you weren’t ready to come home yet. I know that it’s irrational, I think I knew it was irrational that day, but I still feel guilty for leaving you. I wondered if you thought you did something wrong. You did everything right. I went back to the hospital every day and your daddy came every night until you grew big and strong enough to come home. With your little blue hat knitted by the NICU staff for NICU babies, to somehow try and comfort NICU mommies who thought their hearts had most certainly broken. And every day since that day you came home, you’ve been my little bird. My little baby and then my little toddler and now my little boy. You are the sweetest child that I have ever known. You feel other people’s pain. And you go out of your way to make it better, even at the cost of your own happiness. Sometimes at night while you are asleep, I crawl into bed and smell your breath as you exhale in and out of dreams.

You turned five a couple of months ago and this week I met with your teacher. Who told me that it was time to have a conversation with you about bathroom privacy, and body consent and “keeping things covered by clothes”. I got in the car after the meeting and cried into my hands harder and louder than I have in years. I know time flies. I fucking feel it every second I look at you and your sister. And it terrifies me. Because I don’t want to lose any of this, I want to dig my fingernails deep down into the experience and claw it still. Claw it steady. So that the minutes stop becoming hours and days and years. I’m not ready for you not to be my baby anymore. I’m not ready for you to not be free and beautiful and wild to run around the house naked screaming “look at my booty everyone!!!” I’m not ready to place you in a world full of rules and “he should”s and “what’s appropriate”. Because you are my little bird. The same little bird I birthed and nursed. This didn’t happen overnight but goddamnit it sure feels that way. You are too big for my lap. I can barely carry you anymore. You still want to snuggle and call me “mommy” and get a hundred kisses and you cry when you scrape your knee or feel left out and you reach for me when you have a nightmare or hurt feelings. But you are moving away from me as well. I don’t want to weep because it’s over I want to rejoice that it happened. I want to rejoice at what is happening right now. Every day that you come home with a new thought or observation. Every time you tell me about a new friend or a new word you’ve learned. “Mommy, did you know turtles have a million eggs filled with a million babies?”

When I looked out the window last week and saw you riding your bike, I didn’t weep, I felt utter pride. And awe at who you are. At who you, my little baby, has become. Being a mother is heartbreaking. It is so powerful that thinking about it, feeling it right now, makes my legs wobbly, my heart shaky and my breath short. When I close my eyes, I can smell the antiseptic soap we were required to use in the hospital before we held you. I can hear the incessant “beep beep beep”s of the baby heart monitors. I can smell the formula and breast milk and diaper cream and baby lotion. And I can still feel the way your chubby little fingers felt, first as I squeezed them tight, then as I pulled away from them. As I left the NICU. As I left you behind. You chirped a little bird sound as I opened the door and entered the hallway. I looked back at you, at my little boy, a boy that at times over the past several years I imagined would never come. And then I left you and went home.

 

My little bird.

 

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