Getting Help

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Photo from Creative Commons

Life held no joy. I dreaded every day. I didn’t understand my behavior, so I couldn’t help myself. And I was making my family miserable. Three weeks ago, I finally sought medical help for over eight months of what I’ve learned was uncontrolled Anxiety (not postpartum depression, as some moms on a Facebook group suggested). And now I am able to breathe again. Able to sleep again. Able to cope again. Able to praise God, even in a time of vast uncertainty.

On the day I finally decided to go to the doctor, I was hyperventilating, again. I hadn’t slept well the previous night, again. The kids were demanding ten million things of me and I kept repeating, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” literally too paralyzed by anxious thoughts to be able to help them. I felt, as I have so many times in the last eight months, that I just needed to get away and have a mental breakdown. I needed a weekend away to regroup, or even a day. But when you have two little kids and no family around, you can’t really do that. My course over the past year has been, instead, to explode. I have been a scary mommy. And a selfish wife.

When things came to a head this past month, which they did after my husband was laid off (due to a merger), my explosions turned to sob sessions. I saw what my Anxiety was doing to my family (although I didn’t know it had a name), and I knew it had to stop. I just didn’t know how to help myself. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to take some good advice.

Two good friends, who have also been spiritual mentors to me over the years, recently revealed that they are getting counseling for emotional issues or life stresses, one of them also taking medication. Getting this knowledge was like getting permission to get counseling myself.

The counselor I saw suggested my root problem was perfectionism (which cannot coexist with parenting toddlers), but she also said I might benefit from Anxiety medication. I agreed with the diagnosis of perfectionism, but was resistant to medication. One week after my counseling session, on the horrible day I described above, I decided it was time to put aside my Christian pride and ask for some drugs.

Friends, it was the best decision I have made in a long time.

I haven’t been on medication for thirteen years—and I don’t feel it helped much in the five years I took it (ages 15 through 20). The healing I finally found for depression eight years ago (age 25) as described in my book, came through Scripture and prayer…but guys, life has changed since then. My hormones have surely changed, as the counselor pointed out. I’ve had two babies, we’ve had two moves, lost the support of family nearby, and now we have lost a job and face another new start.

It’s no wonder I’ve had some anxiety. I just didn’t realize it was anxiety with a capital A. Or that I could get help for it from a pill.

Some of you will be curious, and I don’t mind sharing (because that’s what I do around here): I’m taking Lexapro nightly, and Xanax as needed. The first week, I needed the Xanax daily to battle a beast that was raging out of control. During the second week, I needed it less and less, and now in week three, I haven’t needed it at all. The Xanax, that is. But the Lexapro seems to be working wonders.

I’m happy to report that joy is returning to my life. Equilibrium to my emotions. And sleep to my mornings. Praise God, sleep is again possible from the hours of 3 to 6 a.m. I have not blown up at my kids for days, and I am starting to repair the damage I did to my marriage over the recent rough months, when I was too busy clawing my way through each day to lend any real support to my husband, who is now facing his own brand of (lower-case) anxiety due to job loss.

I know there are deeper problems to face—chief most my perfectionism, which has surely stolen much joy from my family over the years—but right now I am simply thankful to be able to breathe. To be able to sleep. To be able to praise God because I’m not hyperventilating. And to be able to parent my sweet, but explosive little people without exploding myself. Oh, thank you, Lord, for helping me to get the help I need, right now, in this uncertain time of life.

Friends, if you are struggling like I’ve struggled, and if it has lasted for months, and if you’ve tried talking, praying, or making otherwise drastic changes, but nothing is working, don’t feel bad if you need to seek medical help. A prescription is not necessarily forever. But it might be the lifeline you need for a particular season. That’s where I am right now. I’m going to keep praying through my perfectionism, but for now, I’m thankful for the pills that are allowing me to cope.

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The Second Baby Difference

First family pic out of the hospital–taken February 13th, the day Seth and I came home.

I held two-week-old Sam in my arms, and he wailed and wailed.

“What is it, baby boy?” I wailed too, rocking him, bouncing him, doing anything I could think of to quiet him.

It was 9 a.m. on Buc’s first day back to work, and I was already at my wit’s end. Sam would not stop crying.

“Are you hungry? Tired? Cold? Mad?” I swooshed Sam in big circles in the air, dipped down low, stood on one leg. I rocked and walked from one end of the living room to the other and back again. Sam was now screaming in short, staccato shrieks, his face candy-apple red, his mouth wide open and his tongue trembling like screaming babies’ tongues do.

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Fussy Sam

Suddenly, I saw a CD my mom had sent: Baby Lullabies.

“Maybe you want to listen to some music?” I grabbed at the CD desperately and jammed it into my CD player.

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I bounced Sam in time with the music, trying bravely to sing through my tears (but inevitably failing). “Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.”

Little ones are weak? I thought. How about their mothers? Oh Lord, help me! I prayed. But Sam wouldn’t stop crying. I looked at the clock. Barely an hour had passed since Sam’s last feeding. “You shouldn’t be hungry yet, Sam!” I cried. My boobs ached from all the recent feedings. But after several more moments, I took him to his room and I fed him. I knew it was the only way he would quiet.

This is a memory from my early postpartum days with my firstborn, Sam—days I remember like a dark cloud. They were desperate days. Dark days. During those days, I didn’t sleep for more than two-hour increments. I didn’t get regular showers. I didn’t get to finish entire meals. Buc and I wondered if we’d ever eat a meal in peace (and quiet) again. Because all Sam did, it seemed, was nurse…or cry.

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More fussy Sam

Truthfully, I feel bad about how bad those first weeks with Sam felt—and how bad those days still feel in my memory. I think we probably had plenty of delightful moments, moments of oohing and aahing over our new, beautiful baby. But all I remember is the desperation. Which is why I was never too excited for a second baby.In fact, I was preparing myself for the worst. I was expecting my life to be thrown into turmoil—and actually preparing to hate my life for awhile (before the baby/mama attachment and sustained sleep kicked in).

But you know what? That line that every parent of more-than-one-kid says—“Every child is different”—is so true!

At three weeks old, Seth is so much calmer than I remember Sam being; and at three weeks postpartum, my overall experience is so much nicer than it was the first time around. Thank you, Thank you, Jesus!

I think it’s possible that the difference I’m seeing between my two babies is tied to different personalities. Sam seems sanguine, while Seth seems phlegmatic—and that would account for Seth’s more laid-back, content disposition. (Would you believe he doesn’t really cry, except for when he’s hungry or poopy? Thank you, thank you, Jesus!).

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Sam
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Seth

But if there’s more to the difference than differing personalities, it is adequate nutrition. Unlike Sam, whom I breastfed exclusively for the first three weeks–until his pediatrician sounded alarm bells on his weight and told me to start supplementing with formula—Seth has had the benefit of enough food for his entire life.

Thank prior experience for that.

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I vividly remember this moment with Sam at three weeks old: We had just come from another weight check at the pediatrician’s–the one where she told me to start formula–and this picture captures a finally-calm Sam after having two ounces of Similac. We later settled on Enfamil Soy, six formula tries later.

I tried again—put Seth to breast every few hours in the hospital and again at home. But after hour-long nursing sessions when Seth was still fussy, still wanting to nurse (and this after my milk had “come in”), I knew what to do. Because of prior experience, I knew it wasn’t normal for babies to be fussy after eating…unless they were still hungry. So I gave him formula. By day 11 I stopped nursing to formula feed and “supplement” with what breast milk I could pump. And now I am down to pumping a few times a day. But given the small return I was getting for hours of nursing, I’m okay with this. Unlike the first time around, this was an easy decision to make.

Thank prior experience also for that—for my own more laid-back approach.

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Sam and me

Frankly, it’s just plain great to have prior experience—to not be navigating parenthood for the first time around. Even if I had a tough second baby, I think I’d be doing better, simply because I could see light at the end of the fussy, sleepless tunnel. I look at two-year-old Sam and can’t believe all the milestones he’s leapt through in such a short a time—and the amazing little guy that he has become.

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Sam still is, and always will be, “my baby,” too.

While I don’t remember Sam’s beginnings happily, I am happy to say that today I absolutely delight in his personality, his growing communication skills, his laughter, his life. Thank you, Jesus, for the passage of time, and for difficult babies growing up and maturing and developing. And thank you, Jesus, for the gift of easy babies—and the fact that I HAVE ONE THIS TIME!

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Seth is so easy on us, in fact, that that’s why I started this post with a memory of Sam. I have stronger emotions, memories, reactions, to Sam than I am having with Seth…because Seth doesn’t do much. He likes to be held, but he also likes to be put down; and he likes to sleep! (Right now, in addition to sleeping a ton during the day, he sleeps in three- and four- hour stretches at night, and after feeding, he goes right back to bed.) What I’m saying is that he’s not as interesting to write about as Sam. But his different personality has sure spurred comparisons with Sam! And in this case, even though they say you’re not supposed to compare your kids, I am really gratified to do so! Thank you, Jesus, for different personalities!

As a coda, how is Sanguine Sam handling his new brother? (I didn’t realize that that’s the most frequent question I’d get after baby #2. Kid conversations will always be about comparisons from now on, won’t they?)

So far, he’s doing well. Since I came home from my three-night hospital leave, Sam has been more difficult to put down at night, worried I won’t be there in the morning. But otherwise, he’s been holding his own and maintaining a healthy play life. He keeps his distance from the new baby, but gradually he’s mentioning him more and more, and I think he might even be starting to like him.

Now. One caveat.

The other HUGE blessing in this period is that I’ve had my eighteen-year-old niece, Megan, here with me through it all. She came mainly to care for Sam while we went to the hospital, but she was also here for the last two weeks of my pregnancy, bonding with Sam, and she has been here for the three weeks since Seth’s birth. And Sam really likes Megan. I hope I’m not just fooling myself, thinking life is easier with baby #2, when, really, it’s just been Megan here that’s made the difference. Because, really, when littles are afoot, extra hands make such a difference.

(On that note, Thanks so much, Megan, for sacrificing your social life and your family for these crucial weeks to make our load so much lighter. How would you like to be a full-time nanny? Just kidding. [Not really.])

Megan and Sam

But seriously, Megan has been a huge blessing. Seth has been a huge blessing. And so has Sam. And no matter how life plays out after Megan leaves next week-ish, I hope I will remember how happy I was for these first postpartum weeks—and realize how blessed I’m sure I’ll still be after they’re over—even if I’m a little more frazzled for watching two kids on my own. One thing I’ve learned from prior parenting experience: when the going gets rough, just wait it out…kids change all the time, and if you give them time, they will get easier. (If they don’t, I can still rejoice that one day they’ll graduate and move out, right? [Just kidding…maybe.]) For now, I’m loving the second baby difference, and I will try to enjoy every moment. Stay tuned!