Childbirth sucks balls but it cured my PTSD

My precious baby girl turned three years old on Monday. We celebrated over the weekend (with a small family party, some chocolate cake, and a late-night bonfire), so her actual day of birth was pretty low-key. We woke up, watched Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, cleaned downstairs, folded some clothes, drove up to Park Ridge to cast Henry’s feet, and took a nap (June did, not me. Alas).

Three years ago I was sitting upright on my hospital bed, eyes closed, paralyzed with absolute terror. I was in the middle of labor. Strangely enough, I wasn’t even feeling my contractions. My water had broken (partially — apparently your water can “leak” and not fully break. Who knew?) so I was admitted and contracting and leaking (gross) — but not dilating. I was stuck at 4 centimeters. And I was so, so terrified. The contractions were nothing — mild cramps and stomach tightening — but my heart was racing so fast that the nurses kept coming in to check on me and asking if I had a heart defect of some type. My heart was defect-free — but I did have a major case of PTSD to contend with.

If you’ve followed my blog at all in the past year, you know that I studied abroad in India, and it was an absolute disaster. Not only did I develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, my PTSD was triggered by about a zillion different things, including having to pee, any kind of loud or sudden noise, doctors, hospitals, any mention of India, and being in a moving vehicle. Any of the aforementioned things would cause an immediate and irreversible anxiety attack, eventually culminating in a full-blown nervous breakdown. It was … not the best couple years of my life.

So you can guess, perhaps, that being in a hospital, surrounded by doctors, with a c-section looming (I thought), was not the most calming place for me to be. I had envisioned my labor to be done mostly out of bed, walking around to ease the contractions, bouncing on my yoga ball — but as soon as I stepped into the hospital, that desire completely vanished. All I wanted to do was hide like an animal in a cave and hiss at whoever approached. I turned off all the lights. I lay curled up on my hospital bed, unable to sleep. My heart rate skyrocketed whenever a nurse came in the room. One of the triage nurses brushed up against my leg and I burst out crying. (“Umm … I haven’t even checked your cervix yet,” she said, totally perplexed. I know, dear. I know. I’m crazy. Just ignore me.)

It wasn’t even the thought of a section that scared me. It was simply being in a hospital, where my previous trauma had taken place. It was simply being around doctors. It was simply laying on my back, in pain. That’s all it took. It was like my body remembered what had happened in India and it was screaming Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! Run away! With every passing second, I had to will myself not to run screaming from the room in terror. Not an exaggeration.

I’ll be totally fine as long as nobody comes near me or talks to me or touches me in any way, and I don’t have any contractions or feel any pain.

So for twelve hours I was wide awake, with my eyes closed, listening to my Hypnobabies CD on repeat. Contracting, leaking, and not dilating. At one point I thought to myself, hey, this Hypnobabies stuff really works! I’m not feeling any pain at all! I’m doing it! I’M HYPNOBIRTHING! 

And then the nurse came in. “Um, you haven’t had any contractions for twenty minutes now.” Well, shit.

Finally, the OB came in and asked to break my water completely to move things along. I agreed readily (meaning, I nodded vigorously, in silence). I was terrified of having this baby, but I wanted to push this sucker out and just be done already. So she broke my water. And I felt nothing for a minute. And then:

“Fuuuuuuuuck this!”

It was the kidney stone pain all over again, except that the intensity fell and peaked instead of just relentlessly stabbing me in the back like the stone had done. It was bone-crunching, soul-twisting agony, and the fact that it was very very similar to kidney stone pain racheted up my anxiety ten-fold. Oh my dear sweet baby Jesus, I thought, this cannot be happening. No, no, no. I need the epidural. NOW.

“Epidural!” I screamed. My eyes were still squeezed shut. This was the first word I spoken to my OB since being admitted.

“Are you sure?” She said. “I wouldn’t want to impose –”

“SWEET JESUS,” I gasped. “Need! Drugs! Go! Run!”

My OB scurried out of the room, bless her. And thus began the longest hour of my life — the hour between requesting an epidural and actually getting it. This part is hazy. I remember twisting from side to side, wrenching my earbuds out of my ears (those hypnobabies flutes weren’t doing shit at that point), and screaming at my husband to apply counter-pressure to my back. “HARDER!” I kept screaming. “AH, JESUS! GOD, IT HURTS! PUSH HARDER! FUCK!”

And then the anesthesiologist came. He was pushing sixty, probably three hundred pounds, and looked exactly like the dude in those diabeetus commercials. But he was the most gorgeous vision I had ever beheld.

“OH THANK GOD,” I yelled. “YOU’RE HERE. YOU BEAUTIFUL MAN. PUT YOUR MAGIC JUICE INSIDE OF ME!!!!”

He obliged.

This right here is why I sing endless praises to the heavens about the miracle that is the epidural. I know the epidural gets a lot of flack sometimes, but it was an absolute Godsend for me during my PTSD-related anxiety freakout. Knowing that there was an end in sight to the excruciating pain kept my anxiety from spinning wildly out of control. It showed me that I wasn’t at the mercy of whatever my body was doing — unlike the kidney stone pain, the labor pain could be corralled and controlled. That wimp-juice saved my life. Or at least my sanity.

After the epidural I dozed blissfully for three hours. I was still completely terrified, and I refused to open my eyes or talk with any of the nurses or staff, but my anxiety had gone from an 11 to about a 6 — a considerable improvement. I took deep breaths and dozed, my heart still pounding.

After a couple hours of this, a horde of nurses flocked into the room. I was fully dilated. Tons of nurses and doctors (and a male student EMT, fun times!) all up in my biznatch was pretty much the last thing I wanted, but I was terrified that if I said anything, or moved even the slightest bit, my heart rate would skyrocket and I would spiral into a panic attack. I kept my mouth shut, except for when I heard the ceiling open and a huge mirror descended.

“Oh, God,” I moaned. “I don’t have to watch this, do I?”

“Uh…” the nurses said, and exchanged looks. “No, of course not.” The mirror went back up.

I pushed for one hour. Every time I flopped back down after a contraction, I thought, I’m going to barf, immediately followed by, you can barf when you’re dead! June was born at 1:55 pm. Sit up and look what you did! My OB exclaimed. I used every last bit of energy to hoist myself up on my elbows. I caught a flash of her pink, squalling face (huge cheeks! I thought to myself. Just like my husband! Just like I wanted!) and then collapsed, my eyes squeezed shut, sobbing. It was over. She was out. We were safe.

Well, June was safe, anyway. As soon as I collapsed back into the bed I started hemorrhaging. The OB removed my placenta manually, reaching inside until she was elbow deep in my uterus. It was … not pleasant. The drugs they gave to numb me knocked me out for two hours, but strangely I was conscious, though I had my eyes closed and was unable to move. I heard every word my mother and mother-in-law said when they came to visit the baby. But I couldn’t open my eyes or respond. That was … also unpleasant.

For some people, this would be the epitome of birth trauma. For me, it was healing. Perspective, I guess. I had done it. I had survived. I had actually pushed a seven-pound baby out of my vajayjay and I lived to tell about it. I did it without succumbing to panic. I did it without hyperventilating and sobbing hysterically (for the most part). WE DID IT. It was done, over, accomplished. We were safe.

Hours later, in the recovery room, my husband and I watched Goldfinger (the only thing on TV besides the don’t-shake-your-baby video that we both refused to watch) and laughed way, way too hard at all the jokes. For what seemed like forever, we yelled “I LOVE GOOLLLLLD” at the TV screen and laughed until tears came out of our eyes. We held the baby and enjoyed her, soaked her in.

It was finished; we were safe.

I haven’t had a panic attack since.

 

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Idea Potluck: Like a Gatsby party (without the murder)

I had an incredibly fun night in Chicago on Tuesday. I had the great pleasure of speaking at an event called IdeaPotluck, run by Mac and Cheese Productions. I say “event” because it makes me sound super professional and important, but really it was like an improv party with a bunch of fun, eccentric people and delicious beer.

Like a Gatsby party. Except without the fireworks. And the murder.

The Potluck is hosted once a month by Saya Hillman, who I had the pleasure of meeting through Listen To Your Mother, and her husband, Pete. The gist of it is that a handful of speakers get up in front of a usually-sold-out audience and just talk. About whatever. Whatever they’re passionate about, they riff on for six minutes, to a hugely supportive audience. I squeeed in excitement when Saya asked me to be a “dish” (the nickname they give their speakers), while my introvert husband shuddered. “That sounds terrifying,” he said. It kind of is. In a fun way.

Your host, Saya Hillman.

Your host, Saya Hillman.

The most fun thing about Idea Potluck, to me, is that all the speakers have such varied interests and passions. One speaker talked about website design. Another talked about craniosacral therapy. Another gave a powerpoint presentation about quitting her job and traveling throughout eastern Europe. In the past, the Potluck has had musical performances, beatboxing, you name it. It’s a fun sampling of different people’s lives, and each presentation is only six minutes, so it’s not really possible to get bored of any particular subject.

There were way too many awesome performers to summarize in this blog post, and my crappy iPhone pictures probably won’t make a very compelling blog. But all of the performers are listed on the Potluck website and are worth checking out. Some highlights for me were:

Laughter Yoga! Lauren gave a pretty entertaining  rundown of how she got kicked out of AA, maintained her sobriety, and punched fear in the face so she could launch her own acupuncture clinic. What a cool lady!

Laughter Yoga! Lauren gave a pretty entertaining rundown of how she got kicked out of AA, maintained her sobriety, and punched fear in the face so she could launch her own acupuncture clinic. What a cool lady!

and:

Brit Belsheim blew me away with her speaking abilities. Brit is an actress/improv-er working in Chicago, and she shared a funny and powerful story about loss and restoration. She reminded me of Jennifer Lawrence, actually. She was way cool.

Brit Belsheim blew me away with her speaking abilities. Brit is an actress/improv-er working in Chicago, and she shared a funny and powerful story about loss and restoration. People who can get up in front of an audience and just riff without cards or prompts amaze me to no end, and Brit did just that. Plus she reminded me of Jennifer Lawrence a lot, so overall I’d say she was pretty darn cool.

finally:

Rude Hippo Brewing Company also made an appearance and brought some of their delicious libations. Their beer -- oh my gosh. I have tried IPAs before and have though "Meh, they're okay." I'm not a big beer drinker. But their brew -- their IPAs -- my God. The world stopped spinning. It was so delicious. They are currently raising funds to open their own brewery, and if you like delicious IPAs, you should probably go support them. Like, now.

Rude Hippo Brewing Company also made an appearance and brought some of their delicious libations. Their beer — oh my gosh. I have tried IPAs before and have though “Meh, they’re okay.” I’m not a big beer drinker. But their brew — their IPAs — my God. The world stopped spinning. It was so delicious. They are currently raising funds to open their own brewery, and if you like delicious IPAs, you should probably go support them. Like, now.

Throughout the night I kept thinking, man, I wish this was a thing when I was in college! I would have been all over this kind of thing like white on rice. In fact, it really made me miss the days when my husband and I were married, without kids, and living in the city, where incredibly fun things to do were just a short ‘el’ ride away. If I still lived in Roger’s Park, I would be at the IdeaPotluck every single month.

photo 5

My face, right after performing. I read my essay, “If healthy pregnancies were treated like special needs pregnancies,” which you can find here.

So, for anyone who can make it to Idea Potluck every month, do it, I implore you. It’ll remind you of a Gatsby party. It’ll make you wish you didn’t have kids (if only for “two couple minutes,” as June likes to say). It’s the most fun you’ll have on a Tuesday night.

 

“I smell an agenda…” You bet your balls you do.

One of my favorite sites, Sociological Images, shared one of my blog posts on their facebook and twitter pages this week.

To say I “fangirled” would be an understatement. I was all, whaaaaat?! CHYEAH! I LOVE THEM! They shared my stupid blog post?! They called it a “fabulous satire”?! BRB GONNA DIE OF HAPPINESS NOW!!!! 

(I’ve noticed that two things make me downright giddy, by the way — eating sushi, and being syndicated by a respectable publication. In the past month, my blog posts have been picked up by the Huffington Post (twice!!!), The Mighty, and MamaHealth. Someday I’ll write a piece for the New York Times and I’ll be scarfing down a big-ass Firecracker Roll as it goes live. That’s the world I want to live in.)

I have a vice, though. I gotta admit. I read the comments when my articles are shared, in whatever context. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest. I really want to not do this, but I’m half-curious and half-thinking that it might be a good idea to read some constructive criticism (ha). Anyway. I’ve read a fair share of snarky comments about my writing, and it doesn’t bother me. But one comment last night, on the blog post that Sociological Imaged shared — it bothered me.

“I smell an agenda here,” someone said. 

I don’t know why it bothered me. But she was absolutely correct. I do have an agenda.

You smell that? It’s an agenda. And it STANKS.

First on my agenda is to write, because I like writing. I try not to do it and it doesn’t work. I just keep coming back to the keyboard. Two years ago I gave in. Fuck it. I’ll write because I can’t not write. And whoever wants to join me is welcome to.

But my other agenda? I want to change the way we talk about disability in this culture.

I am not an expert on sociology, or language, or (least of all) people with special needs. All I know is that every day since we learned Henry would have spina bifida, we were conditioned to think the worst about his diagnosis. We were advised to terminate, by more than one person, seemingly because a life with spina bifida is so terrible that it’s better to not live it at all. Can you comprehend that? There is such a disconnect between the beautiful children I see who happen to have a disability, and the sorry, deformed, faceless nobodies that our culture makes them out to be. And the disconnect didn’t hit me — not really — until right after Henry was born.

I was holding him, actually, when I got the phone call. It was a nurse from some county office, wanting to let us know that, because of Henry’s condition, we qualified for food stamps and other assistance (which we declined).

“I’m calling,” she said, her voice dripping with sympathy, “because we hear you’ve had an adverse birth outcome.”

What? I thought. He died? And then I realized she was talking about Henry. What the shit? I mean, he’s got some issues, sure. But adverse? A “birth outcome”?

The thing about defining moments is that you don’t really realize they’re defining at the time. My response wasn’t one of righteous indignation. I didn’t deliver some Sorkin-esque speech. I said “Wow. Uh, no?” And then I laughed. Because it was ridiculous. I wasn’t mad, don’t get me wrong — I’m sure she was a very nice woman who was tasked with having a very uncomfortable conversation with a hormonal, post-partum stranger. I get that. But damn if what she said didn’t knock my socks off. So that’s how you see them, I realized. That’s how you see my baby.

Let’s stop with all the bullshiz. People with disabilities are people. They aren’t inspirations or heroes, necessarilybut they aren’t outcomes either. They’re endowed by our Creator with human dignity, by virtue of their status as human beings.

Yes, we should keep them. We should cherish them. We should change the way we think about them, and the way we talk about them. That’s my agenda. That’s where I’m going. And whoever wants to come along is welcome to.

Wonder

 

The drive up to see Henry’s specialists is a long one, and most of the time we need to wrassle everyone in the car and hit the road before the sun’s even come up. Clinic days start promptly at nine. We leave the house at six-thirty to avoid rush hour traffic, we drive 90 minutes (if we’re lucky) up to Park Ridge, and by the time we find parking and grab a muffin for June, it’s time to report to the radiology lab for Henry’s pre-admission ultrasound. By 9, I’m exhausted and we’re usually only still in the waiting room. Clinic days are a doozy.

Every clinic day is different, but we’ve developed something of a tradition. Every time we go to the Spina Bifida clinic, I swing by Starbucks, purchase a big-ass iced chai latte, and pull out Natalie Merchant’s Tiger Lily CD that my husband purchased at Half Price Books last year (it’s always in our car because seriously? Have you heard it? That album is great). I turn on the second track and drive into the sunrise with this song on blast. I even throw in a fist-pump or two if it’s not too early.

I love her songs. I was eight when that album came out, so it reminds me of early fall afternoons as a third grader, watching episodes of Pop Up Video and eating fruit roll-ups while I struggled to do my math homework.

I blast that shit.

“Too noisy!” June hollers from the backseat, but mama don’t care. There’s one song in particular that I have to hear.

Doctors have come from distant cities
Just to see me
Stand over my bed
Disbelieving what they’re seeing 

Maybe it’s too on-the-nose. Mama don’t care. I had heard this song before in the third grade, and it was catchy, and I’m pretty sure the Pop Up Video version made my afternoon, but when I listened to it after Henry was born the entire world melted away and I grabbed my noise-cancelling headphones and blasted it because I was hearing it all for the first time. This is our anthem. And what more appropriate place to listen to it when we travel back to the place where we were first told our little boy would never walk?

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as she came to my mother
Know this child will not suffer
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She’ll make her way

I adore this song and it resonates in my bones more than any Haas/Haugen song at Sunday Mass. It’s become our anthem. This child will be able. This child will not suffer. He will make his way. It might not be the same way everyone else travels, but dammit, he will make his way.

And it’s haunting — if I could go back in time and tell my old self anything, I would do exactly what Destiny is doing in this song. I would laugh. At the cluelessness of the doctors. In anticipation of our joy. I would whisper in my own ear — he will be able. He will be gifted. He will make his own way. You have no idea. 

I was accused a few months ago of lying. The specifics are unimportant, but basically I got into it with a bunch of strangers in an Internet combox who were asserting that a life with spina bifida is miserable, horrible, and that abortion would be a much preferable alternative. Needless to say, I disagreed. Others chimed in, saying that spina bifida was “incompatible with life” and that I was “minimizing” Henry’s “suffering.” Obviously, spina bifida was awful, and I had no earthly idea what I was talking about. Man. I’m the worst!

Is it difficult, this road we’re driving down together? Yeah. It is. And I want to write more about the difficulties we’ve faced — as a family unit, as a married couple — because sugar-coating our journey ain’t gonna help anybody. My marriage has scars, and I won’t pretend that it doesn’t.

But isn’t that what’s great about wonder? It’s a feeling of surprise, mixed with admiration. We are living this life. We’re walking down this difficult road together, our spina bifida journey. And I fully expected when we got the diagnosis — in all my ignorance — that it would be nothing but hardship and constant misery. And it’s just not. And I’m surprised. And I laugh. He is able. He’s not perfect. None of us are. But we’re able. And we’re making our own way.

And this boy? My smiley boy? So worth it.

I wouldn’t trade this fabulous life of ours, this sometimes-daunting road we’re walking down together. We’re making our own way — with love, patience, and faith. And I wouldn’t trade it for all the gold in Gringotts.

A letter to myself, one year after our diagnosis

This is a repost. I deleted the old one because I couldn’t get the formatting to work. I’m a sub-par mommy blogger, you guys. 

Henry, fresh outta the womb. So plump, fuzzy, and pink -- just like a little piglet.

Henry, fresh outta the womb. So plump, fuzzy, and pink — just like a little piglet.

 

One year ago, on November 7th, I thought my life was over.

I remember that day in bits and pieces — but the pieces I do remember are sharp. We had gone in for an anatomy scan, to learn the baby’s sex. We bided our time in the waiting room with the other mothers, giddy, debating the different reasons why we thought it would be a boy or a girl. We made bets. We shook on them. I can’t remember any of them now.

The nurse called us in and Lou carried June back into the ultrasound room. It was dark and cool. The nurse squirted some goo on my belly and our son popped up on the TV screen. In high-definition, no less. We all stared, in awe, while the tech took measurements. Every so often I’d blurt out, Do you see that? That’s his face! Do you see his little face? Is that a penis? That’s a penis right there, right? Pretty sure that’s a penis. Definitely a penis, I said, trying to get the ultrasound tech to check the sex.

And then the doctor walked in. Shook our hands. Stared at the screen intently and sighed. And then. And then. The most agonizing moment of my life. Had the doctor burst through the door and roundhouse kicked me in the neck, I could not have been more stunned. And hurt.

 

Our son, he told us, had a defect called Spina Bifida. Something was wrong. Something had not formed properly. Fluid on the brain. Malformation. No cerebellum. Increase of stillbirth by a factor of five. Prematurity. C-section. Clubbed feet. We don’t know. We don’t know. There’s no way of knowing. Over and over, the bad news just kept coming. It crashed over us. By the end of his spiel, I almost couldn’t breathe.

I didn’t want to terminate, per se — but I definitely wanted to be un-pregnant. Somehow. I bit my tongue, almost asking can I try again? Can I get a do-over? Can we fix this? Simultaneously, I seethed at the staff, smoldering with a protective fury. Just dare mention termination to me, I thought, just try. I felt like jumping off the table, ready to fight anyone who would suggest I abort — but at the same time feeling weak and wanting immediately to be done being pregnant. To have this go away. I remember feeling weighted down, weak and hot, sweaty and starting to shake, hopelessly trapped because I couldn’t run from the “problem” — the “problem” was inside of me. It was inescapable. Inevitable. I felt doomed.

OMFG I CANNOT HANDLE THE CUTENESS.

OMFG I CANNOT HANDLE THE CUTENESS.

Here’s what I would say to myself if I could go back: Your life is over. It’s over in the best possible way. The life you had is done, and the person you were is dead. And it’s an immeasurable blessing.

You’re stronger now. Words like shunt and hydrocephalus used to cause you physical pain. Now you throw them around like you’re talking about what to cook for dinner. Just the thought of leaving your baby in someone else’s care — a doctor’s, a babysitters — used to set you on edge. Now you have a month in the NICU under your belt, and you have a new confidence and respect for nurses and doctors, because you’ve seen the miracles they can work. You can delegate. Do what you gotta do, you say to them, instead of peppering them with questions and wringing your hands in terror. Instead of crying and thinking I’m supposed to CATHETERIZE a baby? How the hell is that going to happen?, you just do it, like a boss, on the changing table in the bathroom of a Barnes and Noble, and move on with your day. You don’t think to yourself anymore how will I ever possible handle all of this? Because you’ve handled it. You’ve walked through hell already. You’ve survived. You know that there are going to be other “worst days of my life” in the years ahead. But you also know that you have a resovoir of inner strength that is deep and wide, and you’re a fighter.

You’re also weaker. When you hear of a mom whose kid was in the NICU, your heart drops in your stomach. You ache right along with her. The smell of antimicrobial hand soap brings tears to your eyes — it reminds you of the NICU. You wince when you see videos of yourself in the days leading up to the ultrasound, because you were so happy in those pictures and had no idea how badly you were going to be hurt. You see kids running around on a playground and you cringe — your stomach knots in on itself. Who will Henry play with, you wonder, when all the other kids want to run around? Will he be stuck in his wheelchair, by himself? When you see pictures of children in other countries who have Spina Bifida — children who don’t have the same access to medical care, kids who, unthinkably, have no mommy to speak for them — the pain you have for those children is so real, so visceral, and so sharp, it takes your breath away. You feel pain differently. You hurt more. You’re wounded.

So yeah, in a way, your life is over. Because you’re not the same person. Your soul, your mind — everything has changed. Even your body boasts a new and impressive scar, still red and angry-looking, a vertical grin across your pelvis. But would you go back, if you had the chance, and give any of it up? Would you ask the doctor for a “do over”? Would you try to fix it?

 

Hell to the no.

You’re stronger than you ever thought possible. You’re more resilient than you had ever imagined. You’re older, wiser, and much less likely to take things — especially health — for granted. You’re a better person, because of this child, because of this so-called defect, than you ever would have been without him.

And the best part, is that you get to be a mother to this new, round, squishy little person. You get to fall in love with someone all over again. You get to delight in his husky little boy voice, his babbling, his cooing, the geewwwww he makes when he doesn’t want to eat his baby cereal, the little frowny face he makes before he starts to cry, the soft tufts of his hair, his fat, impossibly smooth cheeks. You get to be gifted with a million of these little pleasures, these fleeting moments, day after day, for as long as God allows him to be in your life.

What a joy, what a gift. Thank you, God. Not only for this precious person, but for this new mother I’ve become.

I would not go back and make it “better.” I would not trade it for anything. 

Goodbye to Two

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June got mad at preschool today — really mad. For her, anyway.

June, Henry and I go to a mommy-and-me preschool type thing right down the road from our house, and all of us love it. It gives us structure, it gives Henry exposure to other kids, and it gives June some much-needed socialization. She’s usually introverted and shy to the point of catatonia. But not today.

Today we were sitting in our semi-circle with all the other kids and their mothers for story time. Instead of a story, the teacher pulled out a wooden Melissa and Doug birthday cake and we sang Happy Birthday to the three kids who had turned four over the weekend. Apparently, June was not having it. She left the reading circle, sat with her back toward everyone else, and crossed her elbows, clearly pissed.

“I NOT singing that song, Mommy,” she said. “I just NOT singing it. It’s MY birfday TOO.”

“No, sweetie, it’s not your birthday until next month. We’ll sing happy birthday for you next month. Right now it’s their turn.”

“NO.” She said, sticking her feet straight out in front of her, in defiance. “It’s my birthday NOW. I three NOW.”

And it hit me: Whoa. She’ll be three soon. One more month, and I’ll no longer have a two year old.

And, ouch, my heart. On the way home, trying to hold it together, I made a mental list of things we’ll be saying goodbye to, when two is officially over: This is the last year she’s going to reach for me to hold her when we walk down the steps. This will be the last year she’ll plop down on my lap and kiss me on the lips and say “I yuv you!” without provocation. This is the last year she’ll pronounce frustrating as fushing! God willing, this is the last year she’ll eat ONLY CEREAL for every single meal.

“Mommy, can I have some — ” NO

I’m not ready.

I want more.

I know everyone tells you not to “wish the days away,” but the newborn days suck, and I definitely wished them away. All of them. I would happily hold them in my belly until the twenty-fifth trimester so I could avoid the nursing-for-a-half-hour-every-forty-minutes stage. (Otherwise known as the is-that-blood-jesus-christ-my-nipples-are-bleeding-again-somebody-please-anesthetize-me stage.) It’s not my favorite stage. I cherish my sweet newborns, I do. I hold them and kiss their milk-lips and nibble on their cheeks when they’re sleeping. And then I toss them in their baby swing and run like hell so I can take a shower and ice my nips.

And I’ll probably get crucified for saying so, but anything before eight weeks is so boring. They’re cute and everything, but it’s just a lot of work for not a whole lot of payoff: How’s the baby? Uh, he weighs, like, ten pounds now, I think? He nurses a lot still. He really likes playing with this kleenex box full of scarves. He doesn’t *quite* hold his head up yet — but maybe soon! Wow. Riveting. All that excitement totally makes up for the ninety cumulative minutes of sleep I got last night.

Oh, yes, it will. But we parents of newborns call it “the scare ball”

When I think of being pregnant again, I inwardly groan, because pregnancy. And newborn stage. And bleeding nips. But when I think of having another one- or two-year-old, I could have a million of those and never get sick of it. Two is when some of this parenting stuff actually feels like it’s starting to pay off. Two is when you can opine on their personality instead of run through a laundry list of boring milestones.

I am not a weepy, emotional mother by any means (unless I skip my zoloft for five or six days and then let’s just say I’ve been known to binge-watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians all afternoon and cry when Kim loses her earrings in the ocean). I am not nostalgic and I never cried when my babies reached their milestones. I never told them to slow down, you’re growing up too fast! I told them to hurry up and sleep through the night, so I don’t feel like killing myself!

I am guilty of wishing the days away. I am lazy. I don’t like work. Motherhood is hard. Sacrifice is really really hard. Having bleeding nipples and no sleep and wonky anxiety hormones sucks so badly. I’m not nostalgic for these moments. Probably because I’m in the thick of them.

Truth. And I’ll scrapbook WHEN I’M DEAD.

But two is the exception. It’s kind of throwing me for a loop. It’s so very challenging and so very, very joyful. Even when I’m scolding her for throwing her underwear at me yet again, or when I’m leading her by the hand, screaming, into Time Out because she threw a toy at her brother (“FINE, I SHARE!”), and I just want five minutes where she doesn’t ask me for another bowl of goddamn cereal, I feel so much joy and love in my heart that I catch myself smiling when I shouldn’t be. I sneak upstairs where my husband’s working and relay everything naughty she’s done and hold back laughter until my abdomen aches.

I’m not ready to say goodbye.

I want more.

Baby Terror. And Agoraphobia Terror. And Just Plain Terror.

Lou can tell when I haven’t been taking my zoloft, and his accuracy is alarming. It never ceases to astound me how totally chemical anxiety is.

Without getting too detailed, having another child is almost a physical impossibility for us at this point. We’ve decided we won’t be having any more kids for some time, and knock on wood, there won’t be one. But that doesn’t stop me from peeing on a pregnancy test every single month, even though pregnancy is nigh-impossible and my husband is rolling his eyes in exasperation. There’s no way we could be pregnant this month right? I ask, three times in a row, rapid-fire. Without fail, he raises his eyebrows in a ‘you’re insane’ way. No, he says. Have you taken your zoloft? So there you go.

 But I can’t help it. I think it’s how your hormones shift after you ovulate. A doctor drew it for me on a napkin once, after I told her that during ovulation, I feel amazing. Great! Stable! No anxiety here! Depression? What’s that? And then a week later, I am hyperventillating, crying, obsessing, and generally wanting to hide in a hole.

Go figure that your hormones (progesterone, I think? And estrogen) plummet after you ovulate. And when your hormones plummet, you start to feel like shit. Your anxiety (or depression, or both) comes back in full force. You go from thinking, hey, life is pretty great! to over-analyzing completely everything. When I’m ovulating, I think, you know, having another baby wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe in a year or so…? We’re in a good place right now. A week later, I think of having another baby and my heart starts pounding. Oh Jesus no, I think, no no no, please don’t send me another baby, I couldn’t mentally handle it. 

Truth be told, another BABY wouldn’t be so bad. Pregnancy and birth are what I hate. I have an intense fear of vomit and some vestiges of medically-related PTSD that makes birth and pregnancy a whirlpool of uncontrollable anxiety. A pregnancy without antidepressants is not possible for me, but now that I’ve had a child with a neural tube defect, I’m so terrified of taking anything during pregnancy, in case it was a medication that caused it. I start skipping my zoloft after I ovulate — you know, on the near-impossible chance that we actually did concieve a baby and on the premise (which is not evidence-based, by the way) that the zoloft actually caused his NTD somehow. Anyway, I’m terrified. And the terror convinces me to skip a dose or two. Which makes it worse. Which means until I start getting some mad therapy (and until we get, like, our own house, obviously), there are no babies on the horizon.

If it were morally licit and I had a zillion dollars, I would totally have a test tube baby. No vomiting for months on end. No danger of me poisoning the baby with my very-much-needed antidepressants. No painful, terrifying birth. No danger of a post-partum hemorrhage. I would have like ten test-tube babies. I would have my own Jurassic Park full of test tube babies.

Literally a conversation my husband and I have had, post-delivery.

So it’s with alarming accuracy that Lou can tell whether or not I’ve been taking my meds. I start sounding a little bit like Shoshanna from GIRLS, hyper and fast-talking. I start talking over and over about things I can’t control and I start imagining worst-case scenarios. An example: I was pinning away on Pinterest the other night, dreaming of having our own condo and what it might look like. For some reason, people like to pin pictures of trap doors in houses – trap doors under the stairs, hidden rooms behind bookcases, that kind of thing. I’ll admit it’s pretty cool, but when I haven’t taken my zoloft that day, I start imagining myself as a Jewish woman in 1930s Germany, cowering with my children while Nazis tear through the house. Or I imagine I’m Jodi Foster in Panic Room, and I have to corral my child in a safe room while intruders try to coax us out. Basically, I start running through a billion scenarios in my head where my children are in danger and I have to protect them. And then my heart starts pounding. And I have to shut off the computer, take my medicine, and go to bed. All because of this:

OH JESUS, YOU CAN TOTALLY SEE THE HINGES, THE NAZIS WILL FIND US

I also, ever since being diagnosed with PTSD, have struggled mightily with agoraphobia. When I skip a few days of my zoloft, and then convince myself I’m miraculously pregnant, and then skip more zoloft so I don’t poison my imaginary baby, and so on, and so forth until I’m literally incapacitated by anxiety, it is hard — nay, impossible — for me to leave the house. This was a phenomenon I never really understood until a counselor sat me down, opened up the DSM-V, and showed me the part of the book where it spelled out explicitly what agoraphobia is. I half expected to see my picture next to the description.

Avoidance? Well … I only avoid class because there might be a shooter or something. And I avoid Devon Avenue because it reminds me of India. And I can’t walk to CVS without a buddy because there might be a stabber on the loose. But other than that, I’m cool!

Restricted Travel? Not really. Except I haven’t been able to take the train in three months without a panic attack. And I’m late for class every day because once I muster up the courage to go to class, I have to walk three miles to get there. That’s normal, right?

Fear of being confined? Uh, duh! If I’m confined, I can’t escape if there’s a shooter!

This is the picture they’d use, too. Because CRAZY EYES!!!

I can safely say I no longer have PTSD. But I very much still struggle with agoraphobia. Even with medicine, it is hard for me to voluntarily leave the house. I can’t tell you how many times we miss Wednesday Rosary at church because Henry pooped his diaper twice this morning and he might do it again when we’re out! or June is potty-training and she’ll pee everywhere! or there might be rain — the sky is cloudy!. It’s not logical. It doesn’t make sense. But, I guess, the anxiety I have makes me have an incredibly low tolerance for anything surprising, or unplanned, or anything from whence I can’t immediately flee. At the height of my PTSD, I couldn’t ride in a car because if I had to pee while I was driving, I couldn’t immediately get out and pee. I would have to wait and find a gas station or something first. That terrified me. Legitimately. One night, on our way to a friend’s party, I suddenly had to pee while we were on the highway, and we had to drive around looking for an exit, trying to find a Burger King where I could relieve myself. We found a gas station within fifteen minutes, but by then I was a sobbing, hysterical, hyperventillating mess. Because what if I had peed my pants?

Believe me, it doesn’t make sense, and I lived through it. That’s the funny thing about anxiety. Your brain takes situations that, to anyone’s right mind, are no big deal. Wearing a dress. Riding in a car. Going to Wednesday Rosary. And it takes those situations and warps and perverts them until they become insurmountable obstacles. You start thinking this dress is too tight! I’m gonna asphyxiate and die! I have to pee and I have to find parking before I get out of the car! I’m gonna have to hold in my pee forever and I’ll die of uremic poisoning! And on. And on. Until you’re a crying mess.

Whoever drew this knows what’s up.

By the way, the anxiety is never really about being in a dress or going outside. The anxiety is about things happening that you can’t control. The anxiety is about the fear of having a panic attack. It just feels like you’re freaking out about something mundane.

 Even worse, sometimes anxiety manifests itself as a physical sickness. Ever wonder why people go years and years with untreated anxiety or depression? It’s because sometimes anxiety or depression doesn’t look like a humorous personality quirk. Sometimes, back in college, I would start coming down with the flu. Achey limbs, runny nose, sore throat, headache. And then I’d cancel my plans and all my flu symptoms would go away in an hour. That’s weird, I thought, and thought nothing of it. It took years and years to realize that, oh, this feels like the flu, but it’s not really. It’s kind of like having a twinge in your stomach and then finding out it’s cancer. It kind of tilts your world on its axis.

 Anyway. I guess my point is that it doesn’t matter what your triggers are. Anxiety triggers look different for everyone. And they only very tangentially make sense. And your anxiety symptoms will probably not look like the next person’s. And they might change over time, as well. (Ask me about the time I developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome and I couldn’t go anywhere without the fear of crapping my pants! Actually … don’t ask me.)

But my point is that anxiety is debilitating. And elusive. And it makes you crap your pants.

And all you can do about it is suck it up, take a deep breath, and try your best to make it to Wednesday Rosary. Even if June pees her pants on the way there.

And get some zoloft. Sweet, sweet zoloft.