Last year I wrote here about my initial experience with the VA during my pregnancy with Austin. So many of you reached out and helped me make my voice heard online and the VA eventually heard me and decided to treat me throughout my pregnancy again. Dealing with their mental healthcare system hasn't been easy since I gave birth a year ago. It's been manageable, but it's been a process that has challenged me significantly.Read More
When I came home bone tired and emotional from Climb Out of the Darkness 2014 on Saturday, my husband met me at the door, wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. As I let myself sink into the embrace, going soft in such a strong place of comfort, I heard him say, "Addye...this is you. Art and advocacy...this is it. This is what you were meant to do. After today? Don't doubt it. This is YOU. I'm proud of you." Among my writing community, Story Sessions, there's a call that's given when we're encouraging each other to embrace and embody our artistry and voice. "Pick up your keys," we say. It's almost like a battle cry, really, a battle cry to rally and go forth...do...be...
Looking back, that's what I see happened on Saturday as I began to climb up the steps of Mt. Bonnell with my team. I officially picked up my keys and led an amazing group of women on a journey of hope and healing that I'm hoping will just keep growing and evolving over the years.
I felt the shift that's been stirring in my bones over the last 2 years finally happen. I crossed over. I made the leap.
It was hope.
It was power.
It was stepping into purpose and embodying the call.
It was realizing part of my life's work in a new way.
It was healing.
It was living.
It was picking up the keys and feeling the call pulse with life as I felt them pressed in between my fingers.
It was preparation for what lies ahead calling me to come yet even deeper into living waters that run deep.
It was leaping and landing on the other side, feeling joy spring up from the soles of my feet, and escape through raised hands.
It was being rooted in the belief that nothing is impossible for those who fight and dare to get in that arena.
A few months ago, I wrote a letter to Miriam Carey, the mother who lost her life after a chase with police at our nation's Capitol. After her death it was revealed that she suffered from some form of mental illness, possibly triggered by postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. In that letter I made her and her daughter a promise: that I would do better, do everything in my power to make it so that mothers like her, like myself, don't suffer in silence, nor fall through the cracks of the healthcare system in our country. I promised her that I would continue to be a voice crying out for those in our communities to take our mental health seriously and to seek treatment-even if it felt like I was speaking in a silo, into the wind, and no one was listening. I promised I'd do better so her daughter wouldn't be ashamed to seek mental health help if she ever needs it as she grows older.
I've been working very hard since then to live up to that promise, even if it just involves me being completely honest here about where I'm at mentally. I haven't erased my YouTube videos, even though I haven't updated it in months and regret that I haven't seen that project through like I wanted. I do, however have other projects in the works that hopefully I will see through and that will help me carry out my promise to her in tangible, impactful ways.
I WILL be a change agent.
When I was thinking of writing this post-what I wanted to say about why I volunteer my time and resources to Postpartum Progress, and why I'm asking for your support, I thought of Miriam, my promise, and then I thought of myself.
I thought back to January 2011. I don't remember the exact date but I remember it was nighttime, and I was sitting in the dark, crying as I sat in front of my laptop typing words into Google search. I had spent the previous hour sitting on my bathroom floor, envisioning my family coming in and finding me bleeding to death in the bathtub. I'd been having suicidal and intrusive thoughts for over a week, and was exhausted from the mental strain and impact of severe shifts and cycles in mood. I remember thinking about the people in my life who had told me that either nothing was wrong with me or that I was suffering because I wasn't "living right." No one could explain why I was feeling insanity dance within me, and no one understood because I could barely articulate what it was that was happening to me.
I remember feeling the exhaustion settling in deep within my bones, overtaking any resolve that remained. So there I was, Googling what I thought were my symptoms. The first link in the search results was Postpartum Progress. I spent the next 3 hours reading everything there: posts, comments, the "Plain Mama English" guides that outlined the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders. I remember crying as I read everything, realizing that I finally had an explanation for what I had been enduring since even before I gave birth to Alex. The rage...the sadness...the anxiety...the compulsions...the intrusive thoughts...the guilt...there it all was, laid out for me in black and white on the screen.
I emailed Katherine Stone, the founder. She emailed me back, encouraging me to seek help and telling me that no, I wasn't crazy, and yes, I would get better, and there as hope for me. She directed me to the Postpartum Stress Center in PA where I eventually started treatment.
Hope and a lifeline. She and Postpartum Progress had given me both.
Postpartum depression and related illnesses like postpartum anxiety, ocd, and psychosis, are the most common complications of childbirth, impacting 1 in 7 women, and at a higher rate of 1 in 4 women in minority, lower-income, & impoverished communities every year. Suicide is among the leading causes of death among new mothers every year. (As I mentioned above, it nearly took MY life) With these kinds of grim stats in mind, Postpartum Progress has grown from just a blog, to a non-profit laser focused on improving the maternal mental health of women worldwide through a variety of programs.
For example, in the next 24 months, Postpartum Progress will be updating and expanding the blog including a Spanish language version, creating a video PSA, and starting the development of a mobile app that supports moms through PPD and related illnesses.
These are the kinds of initiatives that Climb Out of the Darkness is designed to help fund. Climb Out of the Darkness is THE first event of its kind: one designed to spread awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and help fund Postpartum Progress' efforts to reach every mother, in every community, on every socioeconomic level.
I'm joining mothers all over the world-there are climbs in London, New Zealand, Canada, and South America-to raise money over the next 48 days that will help Postpartum Progress help every mother and their families have the strong start they deserve.
I did it last year to honor my experience and ascent out of the darkness I found myself in that night in 2011. This year, I'm leading a team of survivors here in Austin, and I'm doing it for Miriam. I'm doing it for the other women who have lost their lives in the last 12 months to suicide. I'm doing it for the mothers in communities that lack access to adequate mental health resources, for the mothers who have no insurance, who are at risk and don't know there's hope and help. For the mothers who are ignorant of the facts and range of their symptoms because their OB doesn't have adequate information in their brochures on PPD. For the mothers who just think that PPD is nothing more than being sad and doesn't understand why she has scary thoughts or full-blown rage she's never in her life experienced up until this time in her life.
Some quick facts on PPD and related illnesses:
- PPD and related illnesses happen to ONE MILLION WOMEN in the US alone each year.
Only 15% of moms with PPD and related illnesses ever get professional help. That means there are more than a half a million mothers (in the US alone) each year who have not gotten any help.
The National Research Council reports that untreated PPD is associated with impaired mother-infant bonding and long-term negative effects on the child’s emotional behavior and cognitive skills, lasting into adolescence and adulthood. The Urban Institute says the biggest tragedy of this illness is that it is treatable and thus we could be preventing the damage it has on so many mothers and children.
The annual cost of lost income and productivity in the US of not treating mothers with depression is $4-5 billion.
Let's not lose any more mothers to these very treatable illnesses. Let's eradicate the shame associated with these illnesses that keep so many from seeking treatment. Would you consider a $10 or $20 donation this week? Team Austin's goal is to first raise $500, and then stretch to $1k. We're over 60% of the way to $500. Help us get there?
Thank you SO much for your support. Seriously. You're helping us save lives. You're helping us save the other Miriams & A'Driane's out in this world.
To join a climb in your area, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/COTD2014
To donate to our team here in Austin, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/addyeB-COTD2014/fundraiser/addyeB
To read my latest post over at Postpartum Progress, go here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-anxiety-comes-back
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
I've been in a depressive episode for nearly 8 weeks. The decline has been gradual. There have been good days scattered throughout, but I've been edgy, tense, fatigued....my mind has been too loud some days, eerily silent during others. I've been crying off and on in my bathroom to hide my breaking from my kids...in my car as I drive from one errand to the next. I've had to shift to auto-pilot to just get through hard moments, root myself in detachment to keep from getting swallowed up by the stress. I've spent the last two weeks cycling rapidly between hypomania (marked mostly by agitation and a mind packed with too many thoughts), and a dragging depression that swallows me up and sends me into its belly for a few moments then spits me back out into the sun and air where I can breathe again. And then everything's still and quiet...I feel "normal" and then the cycle repeats itself hourly, daily, weekly....and so it's been for nearly 2 months now. Rinse. Settle. Repeat.
I'm still in that critical postpartum window. I just weaned nearly a month ago. My body and hormones are in flux and adjusting as a result. I hate it.
Stress is both motivating and crippling for me. I can handle 10 things going on all at once with ease. It's once the 11th shows up demanding my attention that my mind starts to split and scatter off into darker corners. I think about my life these days and chide myself with all kinds of "should" statements for feeling and being overwhelmed by all I manage on a day-to-day basis: baby is teething & raging, middle child with special needs, oldest was just diagnosed with ADHD and his enthusiasm for school has waned significantly, trying to overhaul our home and parenting lifestyles to accommodate and support their needs (like increasing structure and making our home more sensory friendly), supporting my husband while he deals with stress at work. New therapy schedules, trips to the pediatrician, and comprehensive psychometric testing have dominated our lives over the past month. Up ahead there is more testing to be done, and meetings with the school district to discuss accommodations for Brennan and evaluations and placement for Alex who is gearing up for preK this fall...
It's not all stressful. I'm involved in birthing great projects. I'm taking my mom's advice on avoiding burnout by feeding my spirit so I don't fall prey to losing myself, you know? I've joined writing & art communities online, I'm painting at 11pm, I've signed up for retreats and writing eCourses, done a couple of write-ins with groups, and I've done a juice cleanse to try to reset my body and mind. I'm re-reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown as well as books on painting, sensory processing disorder, creativity, and feminism. I'm trying to find my way here still, in this space as far as my writing is concerned. I'm trying to learn how to embody all the parts of myself that have come alive over the past few years-artist, writer, advocate-in the midst of the daily demands on my person and time as a mother and wife. I'm trying to bloom where I'm planted. At 31, it's still a stumbling process though.
I'm searching for my flow amidst the rhythms, rocking and swaying as the ebb and flow of my life's current carries me throughout my days. But the stress of everything gets triggering and I find myself cycling with the ebb and flow as a result sometimes. That's when my knees buckle and my head spins. My chest constricts and my brain starts to feel like it's suffocating. My grip gets weak. Fatigue sets in and my steps forward get heavy. Taking care of myself gets harder, and usually becomes the last checked off item on my must do list-if it's checked off at all. I end each day feeling as though I have no safe place to come up for air and just process my thoughts, fears, and anxiety...I end most days feeling unsettled and bottled up, stuffed to capacity and as I close my eyes to sleep I've found myself starting to pray like Jabez, asking God or whoever is listening for an increase in capacity...in ability...in might...
My hair is pink again with some blue added for extra fun. My hair and color are always my first lines of defense against the disorder of my brain chemistry and mood.
I visited my psychiatrist last week at the VA. This is another area that I can't seem to find solid footing. We've lived here for nearly two years and I'm on my 3rd psychiatrist. Obtaining talk therapy has been a fail. The appointment scheduling system here is confusing and useless to me because I have very little say in what days and times fit into my schedule that's already inundated with the kid's school and therapies. I've had to fight to get treated, and I'm constantly having to say "but if you read this and go here, research and experts agree that....". I feel lost in a system that I'm constantly told is for me to use and that I should trust. But the bureaucracy I face with nearly every interaction chips away at that trust. I have no confidence in my mental health care these days, in the professionals assigned to my care. And yet, at my appointment last week, I sat in front of her desk and allowed myself to become undone. Completely and unapologetically. I unloaded nearly 24 months of thoughts and stress right there in her office in 20 minutes while my smiling baby squirmed and cooed in my arms. She listened to every word. Asked some questions that dug a little deeper. Apologized for all the trouble with the system I've had and for not really hearing me 6 weeks ago when I told her my anxiety was becoming a problem. She admitted that lack of knowledge about medications while breastfeeding restricted her ability to really give me what I was needing. We decided now that I'm no longer pregnant and breastfeeding we could get more aggressive with my meds again-go back to finding a more therapeutic dose. So over the next two months I'll be doing that-going up on lamictal and prozac and trying out an additional med for anxiety. I started the increase yesterday. I'm hoping by the end of the week my brain and mood will start to grab ahold and adjust accordingly.
I've struggled today to pick everything back up and keep walking. To push past and through. To square my shoulders and lift my chin. To turn a deaf ear to the tape playing in my head that has all kinds of lies and frenzied talk on a loop.
But I'm doing it-picking up and pushing. I'm moving forward. Slowly. The sun is shining outside despite the cold front that's moved through. I'm working my way out into the sun, breathing in deep as I go.
Every mother. Every time.
A pregnant mother of three drove her minivan into the ocean at Daytona Beach yesterday. She was reportedly incoherent when questioned by police and is undergoing a mental health evaluation at a local hospital. She is believed to be suffering from psychosis.
Every mother. Every time.
A mother in Chicago is being held on $1 million dollar bail today after she tried to kill herself and her 8 month old son by causing head on collisions with other vehicles, not once, but twice.
Every mother. Every time.
Out of ignorance I used to judge mothers who committed such acts. But during my second pregnancy, I started experiencing symptoms of antenatal depression and had fleeting thoughts of suicide. After I gave birth, I spent the first year of my son's life crippled with anxiety, despair, and found myself planning suicide 2 months before his first birthday. I wanted to be free of what my mind had fallen prey to. I wanted relief from the intense mood swings, frenzied OCD, and graphic intrusive thoughts that flashed in my mind unwarranted and unwelcomed. (Full disclosure: Driving my car into a body of water or into oncoming traffic? I've had those thoughts. Learn more about intrusive thoughts here)
Thankfully I found hope and help after a google search led me to Postpartum Progress, and I read about the full scope of perinatal mood disorders and their symptoms in "plain mama English." I sought and began treatment; my diagnosis eventually changed to rapid cycling bipolar 2, OCD, and anxiety, and when it did, I began a medication regiment that included a mood stabilizer instead of just an antidepressant.
I don't judge anymore. Instead I recognize and question if these mothers recieved adequate help and support. I wonder if they felt safe enough to reveal their struggles or if the stigma surrounding mental illness in motherhood choked them into silent suffering. I wonder if their obstectricians were taking them seriously if they disclosed struggling with the mood swings hormone fluctuations during and after pregnancy trigger. I wonder if their obsetricians and children's pediatricians screened them for depression and anxiety during pregnancy and beyond the 6 week postpartum check up. I wonder if they were told that depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy can manifest as rage, obsessive thought patterns and behaviors, and if they were made aware of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis, and told what to do if they began to hear voices or have delusions. I wonder if anyone told them that having an intrusive thought doesn't make them a bad mother, and doesn't mean they will harm themselves or their child.
I wonder what it will take for the medical community and our society to take maternal mental health seriously. I wonder when we'll give just as much care to women's minds as we do their bodies during and after pregnancy. I wonder how many more women and their children have to die because we aren't making a mother's mental health our priority when we care for and treat them.
Every mother. Every time.
What will it take for every obsetrician, every pediatrician, every insurance company to screen mother's during pregnancy and their infant's first year? Suicide is THE leading cause of death among women in their first year after childbirth, yet we stop screening for PPD, PPA, and postpartum psychosis after 6 weeks-if we screen at all. At least 50% of the 1 in 7 women who suffer from a PMAD go untreated, whether it's due to lack of screening, or access to support and mental healthcare.
What will it take to screen and care for every mother, every time? What will it take to offer our mothers and their babies treatment and hope?
There is hope. Women don't have to listen to the siren call of despair. Treatment makes recovery possible. We don't have to leave women to suffer silently on their own, trapped in their minds, unable to free themselves. But too often, we do. Women are being missed and overlooked.
Every mother. Every time. We must screen. We must be louder than stigma's voice. We must enoucrage our mothers to seek treatment.
If you believe universal mental health screening for pregnant and new mothers should be mandatory, please consider signing this White House petition. If you or someone you know is currently suffering, please know you are not alone. You are not a bad mother. There is hope and there is help. You can find information and resources at Postpartum Progress, and you can find a community of support on Twitter through the #PPDChat hashtag, and Postpartum Progress' private support forum.
To read some more about my experience with PPD & Bipolar Disorder during pregnancy, you can type "ppd" in the search box here to find some older posts, and you can read guest posts I've written here and here.
I'm approaching week 38. Still contracting. Still not progressing much. As of Wednesday, after 15hrs of contractions? 1 1/2 cm and 50%. I startled my OB with my exclamation of "FUCK!" as he finished my cervical exam. Distraction has been my focus-anything to take my mind off my body, and keep edginess away. Last night's distraction wwas season 2 of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. This morning's was scrubbing the grout between the tiles in kitchen til they were white. I found the rhythmic motion and sound of the scrubbing brush and soapy floor sparkling in the sunlight from the kitchen windows soothing as I went about it.
Bertski came back from the run I practically pushed him out the door to take, and we took the boys for a bike riding lesson on their newly acquired bikes at the middle school track down the street. They rode, they ran, I sat and soaked in the sun before making way around the track as Busta Rhymes & Talib Kweli blared through my headphones.
Just now, while laying here listening to my family snore the afternoon away, confessed these words via text to a dear friend who's worried about how quiet I've been lately:
"I keep telling myself once I have the baby I'll feel sane again. And not this anxious desperate person with thoughts that are too loud & too fast and who wants out of her body. I think that's half the reason why I want to have him already. I haven't felt like myself much of this pregnancy and that unnerves me. "
I know it's normal for women to feel like they're going mad with the waiting and anticipation of baby's arrival and from the physical strain of the final weeks. I do. But I don't like it. It's unsettling. My mind can't take it, it's not wired to handle such things very well without help. (Meds, YAY!) I'm also an impatient person by nature and while my pain threshold is relatively high, being in pain and under physical stress daily is triggering for me mentally & emotionally.
I just want it to be over and have him in my arms and my own physical space back. I want my hormones adjusted, my mind off the hamster wheel and fully engaged with living and learning as a mother of three. I want newborn snuggles and laughter and to not be consumed with the obsessive, compelling need to have everything in its "right" place internally and externally, from my house to the cluttered corners of my mind. I want to feel like myself more often and be consumed with the goodness that's taking up residence in life as the year prepares to close. I want to be present, not lost traipsing the corridors of my mind waiting for them to empty so I can breathe freely again.
I want to run. Not away to escape, but toward. To freedom. To the woman waiting for me on the other side of this. She's fully enjoying the season that's ahead and I'm desperate to join her.
But it I have to wait and somehow make patience my virtue until it's time.
My body shakes with the hope that it's soon. Very soon.
Today I'm 36 weeks pregnant. I've been contracting with minimal relief since the end of week 29. After my second trip to labor and delivery I was basically told my uterus is irritable and my cervix is soft but stubborn-it's like one of those broken garage doors that only opens an inch or so off the ground and then gets stuck.
Back at the beginning of my third trimester, this was a good thing-necessary as neither my OB nor myself wanted to see my baby boy in the NICU or worse, not make it. So I was given magnesium, a couple of steroid shots, and a host of other meds that didn't work in an attempt to keep everything at a standstill. My cervix didn't open any further, but the contractions refused to leave. So I've been living with them, each one eating away at my sanity like a zombie feasts on brains & flesh.
As I mentioned previously, I went in to see my OB last Monday after a weekend of particularly brutal contractions that were practically on top of each other. That's when he gave me the "hang in there old sport" pep talk, checked my cervix and told me it had changed just a tiny bit, warned me that much like my labor with Alex, this one is starting off at a snail's pace, and told me he wouldn't try to make it go any faster until at least week 37. He also told me it would be a good idea to at least start doing some walking to help get things "ready."
So I've been walking every day, and honestly resisting the urge to sprint down the street in spite of my symphysis pubis being as wide as the Grand Canyon at this point. I pretty much try to waddle-walk as fast as I can without splitting my pelvis in half. So far thanks to my SI belt, I've remained intact, and while walking has helped baby boy drop it low (very low), he hasn't fallen out on the street yet, so we're good.
I would, however like him to fall-er come out within the next two weeks though. I started labor with Alex at 36 weeks and had him at 37. I normally would be all "oh let's just have Nature take its sweet ass time," but when you've been contracting for over a month while keeping up with two other children and running a household, AND experiencing early labor symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and losing weight for the past two weeks? You start thinking of how you can get Nature to get her ass in gear and end her tyrannous reign over your body.
Even if you've had one of those disgustingly goddess-like pregnancies where unicorns met you every morning and you glided everywhere you went in your pre-pregnancy skinny jeans held together by a single rubber band, weeks 36 & 37 are the weeks women start googling "how to get this f-----ing human out of me on time." That will lead you to the seedy underworld of pregnancy message boards where you find women desperately seeking not Susan, but ways to (safely) help the body get a move on.
Yes, I'll admit it: I've read all the boards. Repeatedly. I've asked friends who've studied midwifery for tips. I've asked my OB's nurse for suggestions. (Evening primrose oil, in case you're wondering). I spent all last week trying to tone my uterus via raspberry tea leaf like I'm training it to swim against Michael Phelps in the next Olympics. And again-I've been waddle-walking.
One thing that's struck me though when I've read these boards and asked folks for suggestions is that there's an obvious method that no one is mentioning. It wasn't until my friend Lindsay jokingly mentioned that I should just twerk it that it hit me: DANCE.
No one on any of these boards has mentioned dance as a way to get dilated & softened. Sure you could spend your time being all namaste in a squatted yoga pose till the pressure built up on your cervix causes a blowout, OR you could just throw on some "Pop, Lock & Drop It," by Huey. At least the asinine lyrics will distract you from how uncomfortable and claustrophobic in your own body you feel.
So, I'm here at week 36, telling you that maybe instead of giving yourself the runs and worse via castor oil, destroying your mouth eating legions of pineapple, and having sex when the LAST thing you want at this point is to be touched by the one who DOESN'T have to get up every 2 hours to go the bathroom-try busting a move. Put on some music and pop those hips. Twerk it. Shake it. Drop it like you're 23 and in the club.
I just did. I did at one point drop it low and stay on my living room rug, but hey, I'm 9 months pregnant, that's to be expected. I didn't say doing any of this would look pretty-I'm just saying it might prove effective and will probably be MUCH more fun than chugging some nasty drink concoction or just sitting in misery.
If you're looking for songs to pop, hop, drop, & shimmy it to, I'll help you out and give you my playlist. You're welcome.
- Anything by Missy Elliot. Seriously-ANYTHING.
- Shake it Out by Florence + The Machine (for the hippie in you)
- Show Me What You Got-Jay Z
- Bring Em Out-T.I.
- Hips Don't Lie-Shakira (c'mon, it's obvious why)
- Party Rock-LMFAO
- Runaway Baby-Bruno Mars
- Locked out of Heaven-Bruno Mars (I suggest grabbing a hairbrush and just belting this out)
- You Make Me Feel-Cobra Starship (remember-23...in the club...don't GAF about NOTHING-let loose)
- Anything by the Black Eyed Peas. Begin with "Let's Get it Started", perhaps?
- Jump Around-House of Pain (I can't jump, but I waddled and bobbed)
- Square Biz-Teena Marie. (6:40 of absolute funk & soul to lose yourself in. Spin, twirl, snap fingers)
- Get Up-Ciara
If you're feeling particularly fearless and REALLY want to get into it, I suggest heading to YouTube and finding some Unk ("Walk it Out), Ester Dean ("Drop it Low), and another "Drop it Low," by Kat Deluna. Song is annoying but the moves might help things shift around down below.
I'm off to go get checked. Hopefully Operation Get Dilated is in full effect. I'll let you know :)
*By the way, I'm not a doctor. So talk to yours about what's safe for you to do and get clearance before you wind up having to search YouTube for ways to do an emergency home birth. Don't sue me. Thanks.*
I woke up at 5:24 this morning and stumble-waddled my way through the dark for yet another trip to the bathroom. I sat there, on the throne, looking at myself in the bathroom mirror through vision hazy from sleep, and whispered out loud, "It's almost over."
As soon as the words left my lips and drifted off into space, a mix of varied emotions weaved their way up from my toes to my belly where my hands were interlaced. My fingers tensed as each emotion swept through and around me, each one squeezing tightly and then releasing me much like the contractions I've been having the past six weeks.
So many contractions. 2 trips to L&D. Body pumped full of medications to stop them but they've refused to surrender. They are tenacious and stubborn, insistent on being present. Stronger and more frequent than Braxton Hicks, but not productive enough to fully initiate labor. They last for hours, pulsing and squeezing, tightening and releasing me sometimes one to two minutes apart, at others three to five, and at their slowest every twenty to thirty. They are overwhelming and tiring at their most frequent intervals and annoying at their slowest.
They are altogether frustrating, and their constant presence since week thirty have taken a toll on my psyche. At times they are all I can think about, my nerves on edge, trying to decide if I should call the nurse line and go in or just ride them out. Confusion and doubt often set in, intermingling with the pain, setting my OCD senses tingling and on high alert. My thoughts often ruminate during the more intense rounds and I often can't tell if I'm losing my mind, responding mentally and emotionally as any pregnant woman in my situation would, or just being melodramatic & hormonal.
The past two weeks they've been accompanied by nausea, cramps, back aches, loose bowels, loss of appetite and a drop in weight-all of your textbook signs of your body preparing for birth & early labor. "Your labor will most likely be very slow in the beginning, much like your last," said my OB last week. "Which we want, because we want to keep him in just another week or two longer. Your cervix is stubborn, which we need it to be right now. Hang in there. Let's see what happens-hopefully next week we'll start to see some big changes!"
So here I am, sitting on the toilet at 5:24am, at 35 weeks and 7 days, staring at the start of week 36 with an aching back and pulsing thighs...nauseated....exhausted yet mind abuzz with energy....body contracting physically and emotionally....forcing myself to whisper words to counteract the anxiety that has separated itself from the emotions pulsing around my belly and wound its way up to my chest, squeezing my heart until it feels as though it will burst from the constriction.
"It's almost over."
"Hang in there."
"Pregnancy is a shitty and invasive force of Nature that always biologically beats my body into submission, but it's worth the end result."
The end result being my third child, another boy.
After the anxiety passes my interlaced fingers tighten their hold on my belly and I feel the other emotions that remain creating a sense of heat around my womb, both inside and out.
Yes it's almost over and there is excitement. There is anticipation. There is a desire for joy to meet me at the end when I peer into his eyes and behold the mystery behind them for the first time; the first glimpse into him, this tiny stranger, an extended combination of my husband and I that has been growing and squirming restlessly within me for nine months. There is hope. There is an eagerness to begin this new season of my life as a mother to him and his brothers, a mother of three. There is a shout wanting to shoot it's way from my soul and burst forth from my lips in exaltation at what a year it's been for me, for my husband, for the boys individually, and for our family as a whole. This child, this boy, is the culmination of the new life we set out to build for ourselves back in April of 2012; when my husband and I sat in an IHOP in Philly, allowing restoration to heal our broken relationship. He is the embodiment of our new life as a whole unit, and the cairn directing our steps towards yet another new way forward for our family.
I've had each of my children during life altering transitions and significant periods of growth in my life, and timing of this child's birth will be no different. What he embodies and signifies in my life at this moment are special to me, just like his brothers. Brennan healed my heart from my past, he is my empathy, my reincarnated self given another chance at a peaceful and full childhood, he showed me that I was good, and clean, and capable at motherhood and life. Alex is the one who challenged me in new and painful ways that were unexpected but oh so necessary. His entrance into my life dug itself deep into my core and unearthed in me things I had yet to see, and shone a harsh light on what I need to face and finally deal with. He shifted me as a woman, a mother, a believer...with him I was forced to throw all I thought I knew and carve out a new way of living and thinking. Alex taught me how to take care of myself and make my well-being a priority-a first for me. Alex pushed me out of the stagnant, boxed up life I had been living and out into a world I hadn't let myself explore. He pushed me up and out of the rubble of the past 29 years and into wholeness-into my real self. I am the woman I am right at this very moment because I gave birth to him.
And here I am with this one. I know what he means to me personally, as a mother, and our life as a family in one sense...but he remains a complete mystery to me in another, which I find exciting and my being twinges with eagerness to learn and explore the world through his eyes as I have through his brothers.
And yet there is also fear of what's to follow once we make our way back out through the hospital doors, and back to our home where the adjustment and shift of our family dynamic will begin to take shape; permanently rooting itself in our lives, our family.
Will I relapse? Will I catch it before it sucks me in? What if I can't get appointments or calls in to my therapist and psychiatrist because of how slow and overbooked the VA appointment system is? How will I handle the hard and the overwhelming task of meeting the needs of three children, who are all at very different stages and seasons of life? My husband being unavailable due to work obligations? Fluctuating hormones and fatigue?
And the boys: how will Alex adjust to the change and new presence, both as a three year old, and as a child who struggles with change and disruption of routine on the sensory level? Will his ABA based preschool be enough of an outlet for him? How will Brennan feel, as the oldest? So much of the focus has been on Alex and his therapies these past months, I often wonder if I've given him enough attention, and now with a newborn....
There is fear...despite all of the knowledge, support, and awareness I have, despite knowing that I'm at a much different place in life than I was when Alex was born and suffered through that first year...there is a lurking fear that sits and stares me directly in the eyes, making me all the more aware of the reality of my illness and how stress, change, and motherhood trigger it.
So I am here at 5:24 in the early dark of morning, with foggy eyes squinting through the bright bathroom lights at my pregnant self, fingers tightly interlaced across my belly. Body and mind are engulfed in emotions that jar against each other, breathing deeply and staring back at what has been, and into what lies ahead. Feeling new life roll and jab in a space that is becoming too cramped and ready to be birthed. Ready but yet not ready. Craving for it to be over, yet continue on because what's on the other side is still dark and unseen in a few areas. On the brink yet still stuck in the space and feelings between old and new. Waiting.
Sorry I haven't stopped by here since May 20th. Life's been pretty consuming as of late, and I'm not as good about writing my way through periods like this as I was a year ago. Things are busy busy busy and I'll be honest-sitting down to write has proved to be more difficult than I would like it to be. The words are there, waiting to be given life, the stories are stacked up on shelves in my brain, the desire is there, but it all just becomes a jumbled mess when I sit down to type or even write in my journal. Part of it is because my brain is so scattered, thanks to my disorder and my recent hypomanic episodes and cycling. Part of it is because I become to preoccupied by my compulsions to clean, organize, and rearrange everything in our apartment. Part of it is because I'm fatigued and the energy I do have is poured into being pregnant, mama, wife, housekeeper, cook, errand runner...the desire to create or give anything back to myself lingers quietly in folds of my heart, but never finds its way to execution. My mind is scattered and my hands feel inadequate, empty, unable to form the words or images that are mixed in the chaos.
Part of it is because I've become completely immersed in a new parenting approach with Alex and in implementing new routines and techniques I hope make like easier for him...and for all of us, really. I'm seeing how different and significant some of his needs are and in a lot of ways re-learning this whole parenting thing. From how I discipline, to the words and tone I use when speaking to him, to even how much pressure I apply when I touch or hug him, my whole posture towards parenting and mothering him has changed. Most of my days are consumed with being engaged with him in ways I wasn't before. Learning about sensory processing disorder, autism, and what we're learning from his therapists since April has given me new ways to engage and interact with him that are different from how I did before. It's been quite the learning curve-there's so much more to be aware of these days! I'm more watchful, taking note of the slightest change in attitude or behavior (positive or negative), more apprehensive and mindful about how changes in routine, however slight, will impact him from moment to moment. In some ways I feel like I'm on high alert from the time he wakes up until he finally falls asleep after I've put him back in his bed and given him a deep pressure squeeze for the fifth or sixth time. I've had to become much more patient, learning to move at his pace, and how to move him along faster in a way that he can understand when we're short on time. I've found that all of this has taken an energy that I, especially being pregnant, barely have the reserves for. The simplest things from washing his hands to getting dressed to helping desensitize his facial muscles before his speech therapy sessions is all a process; exhausting and consuming, but one I'm committed to helping all of us navigate and learn as best we can.
Part of it is because I'm committed to being well during this pregnancy and am forcing myself to focus on self-care. This becomes increasingly difficult when pregnancy is kicking my ass, particularly when migraines attack, and my blood pressure is low. The migraines have been pretty frequent this pregnancy; during a good week I only get one, during my worst I've had them for 4 days straight. Functioning when I'm a wreck physically feels impossible, but I somehow get through making sure the kids have what they need for the day and that's about it. Aside from eating and taking my medications, taking care of myself takes a backseat and I have to fight to make things like taking a shower, combing my hair, getting in any kind of exercise or leisure activity a priority. Overall I'm doing better on the self-care front than I have in the past, especially during my last pregnancy.
All of this focus on concentration on these other areas of my life leave little for my writing here and painting....advocating even. I had all of these plans for my creative pursuits this year but the mental and creative bandwidth I need to execute them isn't what I'd like it to be. For some reason I can't seem to find space for those two to fit in my life as of late and this does sadden me. Frustrates me. Leaves me to wonder how I'll fit them in when there are THREE children to give my time and attention to. I'm hoping I can find a way....I'm in awe of those who've found a way to balance and navigate it all.
At any rate, while I find it hard to write and paint these days, I have found it easy to keep up with vlogging-probably because I can just do it on my phone while I'm on the go and have a few minutes alone. So I think that's just what I'm going to have to do for now because it's the one thing that I can keep up with that fits in best with everything else. It's the one thing I feel I can keep up with right now on this front. I'm hoping to write here during the summer, but know that if you don't see me here, you'll be able to find me on my YouTube channel, addyeBeesWorld, where I'll mostly be sharing the nitty-gritty of navigating bipolar disorder while being a pregnant mama. Feel free to watch and subscribe-I've done videos for weeks 15, 16, and 17 so far (I tell you what we're having in my second video for week 16!) And of course, I'll always be on Twitter :) (@addyeB)
So that's where I've been, what I've been up to, what's going on. I'm still here...I'm just consumed is all.
Maybe I just need to Lean In...anyone have Sheryl Sandberg's number?
I decided to take "My Bipolar Life" in a new direction and turn it into a video diary of sorts for this pregnancy. As with my other videos, this one goes against all vlogging rules-it's just me, talking, unscripted. I hope you don't mind the lack of editing, the "ums" and my losing my train of thought at times :)
My goal is to do at least one of these a week. There might be more-just depends on what's going on, if I have some thoughts I want to share, where I'm at mentally, etc. Hold me accountable? Oh and subscribe? Thanks.
Fear has become my constant companion these past months, sowing seeds of doubt, confusion, and discouragement that have taken root deep down inside of me where my essence and passions are conceived. It has choked my creativity, inhibiting my freedom to write and paint the way I want, the way I know I can. My growth in these areas has been stifled, stunted-my movements restricted. Every expression these past months has just skimmed the surface of what lays deeper inside, what's patiently waiting for me to discover & explore.
And that's the thing-I'm afraid of going deeper. I'm afraid to find out where this longing to go deeper plans on taking me. What if I can't handle it? What if the growth that's required is too much, the growing pains too painful to endure? What if I fail? What if I'm wrong and there's nothing really there? What if the surface is all there is? What if this is all just paranoia and an overblown exaggeration-grandiose thinking, on my part?
I'm feeling the urge and pull to dig deeper creatively, and go bigger in my creative pursuits...but I'm terrified if giving myself to it completely. Without trying to sound "deep", I feel, well myself being called to be MORE of who I am creatively and otherwise, and that scares me shitless.
This fear it weighs me down, and while it leaves me paralyzed creatively, it has me shrinking back in other areas of my life too-as a mother, a wife, a friend, an advocate.
I'm terrified of my illness now that I'm pregnant. I know what it's capable of, I know what my risks are, and although I'm doing all I can to be "well," I'm so fucking scared. I don't want to go through another 3 years of darkness. I don't want to be hospitalized again.
I'm scared I won't be the mother Alex needs me to be. It's been intense, the 5 weeks since he started therapy, and now that OT and speech have been added, our daily schedule has drastically changed, as has my whole approach to parenting him. I'm learning how to see the world through his eyes and identify what puts him on edge, what triggers him, trying to find that delicate balance between protecting him and gently pushing him to where he can function despite his anxieties & sensory deficiencies. It's been a learning curve for all of us, and I'm questioning if I can keep stepping up to the plate and being the mother he needs and the kind I want to be for him. I struggle to manage my own illness-can I help my autistic and sensory defensive son be all that he wants to be? Can I help him function?
I'm afraid I can't hold it altogether for us, be the strong one, the rock. I'm honestly just overwhelmed. I feel feeble, weak, especially physically. With my pregnancy being difficult to manage physically thus far, changing up my meds, trying to manage my symptoms, dealing with the VA BS, Alex's schedule and adapting to his needs, keeping up with Brennan and his school schedule, keeping up with marriage and domestic life, life in general? Every day I feel like I'm going to break in two from the pressure of it all.
I'm scared to let the boys down. Myself down. Bertski down. This new baby I'm carrying down.
I'm afraid of losing my drive and ambition...especially in regards to writing my book(s?).
I'm afraid of losing myself in my journey to balance & survive motherhood & mental illness.
Is it wrong or irrational of me to want to be more, do more, for myself and others?
What am I DOING with my life? I'm a mom, I've served in the Air Force, I have an associates degree, I'm a wife, I try to write here....yet it feels like I'm not doing enough, like I'm not being completely...ME.
Maybe this is just grandiosity talking, but since I was very young, I've always carried this feeling that I can make an impact of some kind on the world around me...and I'm afraid I'll never realize what that is. I'm afraid of living without purpose-outside of being a wife and mother. Right now it just feels like I'm fizzling out. Decaying, even. It's depressing.
I don't know. This is starting to sound like a pitiful lament, and it's not my intent for it to.
I hate fear. It used to motivate me to ACT, but since the new year started all it's done is keep me rooted to where I'm currently standing, slowly creating a sinkhole for me to eventually fall into.
If that happens I can't help but think I'm fucked.
It's been a long week. It's kicked my ass, but rest assured I've been fighting back. Monday, as you know, I learned that the VA (the Central TX VA healthcare system in particular) does not provide psychiatric treatment for women veterans during their pregnancies. They don't provide treatment because a pregnant veteran who requires (or at least wants to utilize) medications as part of her treatment during her pregnancy is carrying a potential lawsuit in her womb.
It doesn't matter if the medications she's on are deemed safe by reproductive psychiatrists, obstetricians, and maternal mental health experts in the civilian sector. It doesn't matter if the risks of the potential birth defects associated with those medications are significantly low, and the benefit of the mother being treated outweighs the risk. How the mother's illness affects her and her child during pregnancy does not matter to them. In their mind, the risks associated with a mother's untreated mental illness during pregnancy and its effects on her child in the womb aren't that important.
The VA made it clear to me on Monday that by discontinuing my medications, they could care less about my mental health and they are far more concerned with being held liable for an incidence that the research and my obstetrician says is less than 1%.
The stupidity of this whole situation is they failed to see that by discontinuing my medications, especially without notice, THEY ARE STILL LIABLE if something were to happen to myself or the baby. Discontinuing medications during pregnancy for a woman with a mood disorder can exacerbate her symptoms and puts her at risk for relapse. (For more, read this from Postpartum Progress) Discontinuing a patient's medications and psychiatric treatment-especially without their knowledge-is dangerous and unethical; to so do during a patient's pregnancy not only puts the patient in grave danger but also the developing baby-you know, the one they are so concerned about being held responsible for when it's born.
Stopping meds cold turkey and without supervision can have serious, and even deadly consequences. My illness is hard enough to manage with medications-without them my ability to function and care for myself and my family is significantly impaired, and the risk of my falling prey to suicidal ideation increases significantly.
The VA has been in charge of my mental health care since my diagnosis in July 2011; for them to just decide to "drop" me and try to dump their responsibility on my obstetrician, (not knowing if he would even be able to continue my medications, as they had never spoken to him about my mental health or OB care)? Yes. I took it personally and the desperation I felt about the situation only deepened my anger. The thought of continuing on in this pregnancy without comprehensive psychiatric treatment (medication + therapy at a minimum) terrified me, as did knowing my risk of developing postpartum psychosis is 25-30% higher than others just because I have bipolar disorder. I felt and still feel that I shouldn't have to fight to find and pay for treatment through a private psychiatrist and therapist when the VA has already been treating me. (For the record, Austin lacks psychiatrists who treat pregnant women AND who offer affordable care. Trust me, I've called 38 of them.)
If you follow me on Twitter you probably witnessed my emotional and enraged tweets to the Dept of Veteran Affairs' national account. Sure, I made phone calls to voice my anger and search out an answer and resolution, but I threw caution to the wind and let my anger do the talking tweet after tweet in the hopes they'd answer. I knew it was a long shot, but as desperate and fed up as I felt, I figured I didn't have anything to lose. So I unleashed my fury. I ranted. I wrote a post here and cross posted it on BlogHer.
Guess what? They listened. The social media manager for the VA's twitter account responded to one of my tweets Monday evening and Tuesday morning DM'ed me asking for my last name and last four of my SSN to pass along to the patient advocate in Austin. I don't know what was said during their conversation, how many people they called or who on the VA totem pole here in Central TX they got ahold of, but at 4:30 on Tuesday, the director of the VA mental health clinic in Austin was issuing me an apology. AN APOLOGY. From the VA. Y'all. This just doesn't happen. If it's one thing I know from dealing with them since I separated from the Air Force in 2006, it's that they don't apologize for shit, no matter how royally they screw things up for you.
So next Tuesday, I will be seeing a new psychiatrist-one who is a "clinical pharmacologist who is well versed in medications and can assess your treatment plan with [my] OB," since my OB "doesn't have a problem with you taking these medications and deems them safe." (But I thought the VA here didn't have anyone "well versed" in such matters? They must have hired someone pretty quickly if that was the case up until Tuesday!) I'll also have my own therapist and will FINALLY be getting the psychotherapy I've been requesting since I moved here in August.
I also called my OB and informed him of what was going on. Naturally he was both hesitant to prescribe me my meds and confused as to why the VA was refusing to treat me, yet expecting him to. Although this upset me, I didn't blame him-I'm a new patient, he's not the one who originally prescribed me the medications or diagnosed me, and the VA didn't even call him to discuss my mental health history! Nevertheless, he DID prescribe me my Lamictal and refilled my Prozac, saying he would call the VA clinic himself and advocate for me. "We will FORCE the VA to be responsible, and threaten malpractice if they don't. They're still liable for your care. This is unheard of!" (Have I mentioned how much I love my OB?)
So. Tuesday I find out if this is all legit. I'm hoping it is. I'd really like to be done with this and be able to work toward my goal of being well this pregnancy, hell even enjoy it. I haven't been able to do that so far because physically it has sucked, and mentally I haven't had the tools I need to manage my illness. Hopefully now I do. I have my meds, and hopefully Tuesday I find that I have a medical team dedicated to overseeing my treatment. Cross your fingers for me?
Last thing: This isn't the end of this issue for me. Sure, I got their attention and pressured them to take effective action to fix this for me and they did (which, I'm telling you is a miracle), but now that I know that I have the power to get their attention? I plan to advocate my ass off until their approach to maternal mental health changes and they incorporate it in their efforts to serve and care for women veterans. As I stated in my last post women veterans account for at least 10% of the veteran population and are affected by mental illness. Why should their mental health care be discontinued or pushed off on an outside agency during pregnancy? In my opinion, if the VA wants to truly care for women veterans, then maternal mental health MUST become a priority. It's not enough to contract out and cover a woman's prenatal care-the VA needs to ensure that psychiatric treatment continues for those who rely on them for their mental health treatment as well. I don't have the answers on how they can do this, but I have some ideas ranging from collaborating with obstetricians, hiring and working with reproductive psychiatrists, to support groups for pregnant veterans with mood disorders, to ensuring psychotherapy services are accessible and utilized.
Women veterans with mood disorders deserve comprehensive psychiatric care and support during pregnancy-maybe I went through this to help ensure that this becomes a reality for us. I will work my ass off for years if I have to, to see such a systemic change happen.
After all, aren't women veterans Warrior Moms, too?
Oh and this right here? Made all the hell of this week worth it. I'm so glad I fought for us.
The pregnancy test flashed a positive sign on a Wednesday. Two days later, a Friday, I was sitting in front of the nurse practitioner at the Cedar Park VA Outpatient Clinic, waiting patiently for the lab to confirm what EPT had already told me. When the confirmation came, there was a congratulations, a D.O.D standard "Guide to Pregnancy" book placed in my lap, and instructions from my primary care doc to stop all of my medications immediately. No Clonazepam, no Fluoxetine (Prozac) and no Lamictal. I left the clinic with these words and a promise from the nurse practitioner: "I'm going to see Dr. A once she's done with her current patient and find out what she recommends, ok? She'll be able to give you the proper guidance on what to do about your medications, being that she's your psychiatrist. I'll call you as soon as I speak with her."
Friday afternoon came and went. No phone call.
Sunday afternoon came and I had already started to notice my mood shifting and withdrawals setting in.
Monday morning: I called and was put on hold. Left a voicemail. Called two hours later, left yet another voicemail with the nurse for the my primary care doc. Called back and tried to leave a voicemail for my psychiatrist and was unable to-the phone just rang without an answer. "She's in the office, ma'am, how about I take the message for you?" said the vet volunteer working the front desk. Ok. Left the message. Checked my phone obsessively for the rest of the day-nothing.
Tuesday morning: Called back-left more messages. Nothing.
I spent the rest of that week freaking out from med withdrawal and anxiety over what to do. Fed up with the lack of response on the VA front, Bertski and I decided that finding outside, non-VA care was the way to go, even if we had to pay out-of-pocket until I was verified as a dependent under his insurance at work. A recommendation from a friend led me to Austin Area OBGYN and my new OB. I made an appointment, and even though it was weeks away, I was able to speak to a nurse about my medications. Within an hour I had more informed guidance: "Dr. S says you can continue to take the Prozac, but not the Clonazepam. He says that while Lamictal is relatively safe to take during pregnancy, he would prefer you to try to stay off of it until the end of your first trimester-the incident of a birth defect like cleft palate forming with Lamictal is very, very low, but he always advises staying off of it the first 12 weeks just to be even more cautious. HOWEVER if you feel yourself start to struggle and you feel you need to start taking it sooner, just let us know, and we can work with that, ok? Come in for lab work tomorrow so we can see how far along you are, ok, honey?"
I don't think I've ever breathed a larger sigh of relief than I did when I hung up the phone with her. Later that day, when I checked my mailbox, there was a "CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR PREGNANCY!" package from the Women's VA Health Clinic in Temple. (Note: all of the VA outpatient clinics & hospitals in Central TX are all spread out-there's one in Austin, Cedar Park, Temple, Waco and Bryan College Station.) There was nothing from my primary care doc or psych in Cedar Park, and I still had not received a phone call returning my messages as promised 7 days prior. I threw the package in the trash, completely disgusted.
That next Monday it came-an appointment card from the clinic in Cedar Park telling me I had an upcoming appointment with my psych. I laughed-it wasn't the first time this had happened-her just scheduling an appointment instead of actually returning my messages, but I thought being pregnant would have warranted her actually making the effort to call me. (What's faster-a phone call or the mail? The mail, OBVIOUSLY!)
I went into that appointment on March 28th ready to give her the benefit of the doubt. I left vowing to no longer allow her to be in charge of my care.
Um...why didn't you call me back? I've been waiting to find out what to do.
"I did call you-I didn't get an answer."
Um...no you didn't-I don't have any voicemail from you and I've watched my phone like a hawk waiting to hear from you.
"Well, I called, if you didn't get it, that's not my problem. Anyway, in my opinion, someone in your condition getting pregnant is just irresponsible."
"I'm sorry, but you shouldn't be on any medication-you need to give your baby the best & healthiest start possible. Taking medication in my opinion is causing your baby harm."
What if I have an episode during the pregnancy? What about postpartum psychosis? My OB said Lamictal and Prozac are safe!
"Well, I don't agree with that. All of the research says otherwise...these are things you should have considered before getting pregnant."
WHAT research? Everything I've read and what Dr. S has told me is the complete opposite of what you're saying. The incidence of the birth defects associated with these two meds is very low, I've read this myself...there are women with epilepsy who take Lamictal at much higher doses-
"So are you just going to go with what he's saying? Fine. Do you need psychotherapy? Individual therapy isn't available through the VA here, but I can see if the social worker here at this location is available-I doubt it though-she doesn't do therapy."
I left that office shaking from the anger surging within me. That was it. Bertski and I agreed that day to no longer have anything to do with her-I'd try to find a private psychiatrist or have my care transferred to a new one at the Austin clinic. Her misinformation and lack of knowledge just wasn't acceptable, and besides-it wasn't the first time I'd had problems with her lack of communication and dismissive attitude. It's what played a significant role in my being hospitalized back in October. Fed up with her neglect and lack of professionalism? Yeah, understatement if there ever was one.
I've spent the 6 weeks since then struggling to manage my symptoms while dealing with the yuck of the first trimester, Alex's autism and SPD diagnosis and entrance into therapy, searching for a therapist who accepts our insurance (or has an affordable self-pay option), and pushing myself to hold on until the 12 week mark, which is tomorrow. I've also been working with the women's health outreach specialist to get a new psych through the VA, at the Austin clinic. They're so backed up, she put in the consult 6 weeks ago, and it's still pending. (She was, however able to secure the authorization necessary to have the VA cover my prenatal care and delivery so I don't have to pay out-of-pocket or use Bertski's insurance which only covers a certain amount-so at least that's a win.)
I called the VA pharmacy in Waco to have my Lamictal and Prozac refilled today (since I only have a 10 day supply left of both) ONLY to find out that they've been discontinued thanks to Dr. A. DISCONTINUED. She discontinued my medications and did so without informing me. No correspondence, no phone call, no explanation. NOTHING.
Needless to say I'm enraged. Even more so than I was before because instead of just jeopardizing MY health, she's jeopardizing that of the baby's and that has me wanting to FIGHT. Fight for my right to better treatment, and fight because, well, WHO THE FUCK IS SHE TO DO THIS TO A PATIENT?! Maybe it's just me but I don't see how any of this is ethical.
I've spent the morning making phone calls to file complaints and to even try to get ahold of her and the director of the clinic to no avail. She's not answering her phone (of course) and the director is on vacation until May 17th. The women's health specialist is aware of what's going on and assured me she's going to do something to "fix" things, but honestly, I don't even TRUST anything VA related anymore. This infuriates me because as those of you who have been reading here since 2011 know, my psych at the VA hospital in Philadelphia was AMAZING, as was the mental health clinic and psychotherapy services there.
I'm a 100% service connected disabled veteran. I'm pregnant. I have a mood disorder. I shouldn't have to deal with this kind of treatment. I shouldn't be scouring Austin looking for a therapist because the VA here doesn't offer separate, individualized psychotherapy therapy for women in my situation. (Or women period-When I discharged from the hospital in October, I was told repeatedly that they just have general support groups-nothing specialized or one on one for women.) I also know that I can't be the only woman vet in the Central TX region who has had to deal with this pathetic system and its inadequacies. But outside of reporting her, what else can I do? I don't just want her reported, I WANT HER AND OTHER VA DOCTORS HERE INFORMED. Informed on medications and treatment for women with mood disorders during pregnancy. Trained. Educated. I want better for my fellow women vets. Since moving here I have encountered nothing but poor treatment and bureaucracy. The Central TX VA Healthcare System has done nothing but inhibit my ability to have consistent, quality, and effective mental health care.
What can I do y'all? How do I fight this so that they stop failing myself and others?
Update: I spoke with the women's health outreach specialist, and she informed me that my meds were discontinued because the VA doesn't want to assume any liability if something happens to the baby as a result of my being on psychiatric medications. Per the Chief Medical Director of the Women's Health Clinic in Temple, TX: "The VA can't assume responsibility for anything that may happen as a result of her staying on these medications during her pregnancy. Our psychiatrists are not experts in this area whereas a private obstetrician is. If he says these medications are safe for her to take during her pregnancy and he will write her a prescription for them, then she can bring that prescription to the VA pharmacy in Austin and we can fill them that way. If something were to happen, then this private OB is the one responsible, not the VA. Unfortunately this is what we have to do in situations such as this."
So. There you have it. The VA has practically rid themselves of me during my pregnancy due to my having a psychiatric condition and I'm suddenly a liability concern. Question: WHY aren't VA psychiatrists educated in reproductive psychiatry when women veterans comprise at least 10% of the veteran population and have children and are suffering from mental health issues like PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma, Depression, Anxiety, and others as a result of their fighting in combat and service?
Update #2: Several of YOU helped me flood The Department of Veteran Affairs twitter feed, sharing my angry tweets and this post with them and others like the local Fox News station here and even Rachel Maddow! At 5:29pm I received this response from their Twitter account: "
@addyeB Dismayed by what happened. I'll make sure the patient advocate in Austin hears about this." Not sure if this will actually lead to effective action, but I'll keep putting on the pressure until it does. If you'd like to help me apply that pressure directly to this patient advocate at the Austin clinic, comment here or email me! bconfessions at gmail dot com. Thank you for supporting me through this!
First, some snaps from Alex's post bath photo-shoot...
And secondly, I'm pretty sure my heart grew 2-3 sizes thanks to all the love pouring in it while these moments were captured. Which, if you ask me, is just the kind of expansion my mama heart needed seeing as though a new resident is moving in...
Looks like I'll be having more than just turkey for Thanksgiving this year, y'all :)
Three years and five days ago, I went into labor on Easter night. Six to be exact. I had just finished eating and went into the kitchen when I felt the first contraction-THE contraction that my body used to inform my mind that it was time. As I gripped the counter top and exhaled my way through its duration, Mother Ezekiel's words unearthed themselves from my memory and gripped my heart once again: "It's time, " she had whispered as she took my hand and drew me in close at the altar so I alone could hear the prayer on her heart for me...for us. "It's time, and it's going to be ok. All is well. It's time for the baby to come and he will be such a blessing to you-oh how God LOVES this baby A'Driane, " she said as her hands found their way to my belly and the small of my back.
Her grip was strong, yet gentle, much like the tone of her voice. I remember my heart breaking, releasing all of the turmoil that had been churning inside throughout my pregnancy. Her prayerful whispers of affirmation and encouragement were a soothing balm to my soul that had been bleeding quietly for months. I released the pain and weight of the depression I had been carrying and her arms encircled themselves around me, drawing me in yet even closer. Out of all of the altar calls I'd responded to in my life, that one was the most tender and beautiful. They were God's arms holding me, it was God's voice whispering healing and hope, affirming that despite the pain of the last month's, my son and I were going to be ok.
My labor started that Easter night, at the end of my 36th week of pregnancy....and lasted for the following five days. Yes you read that correctly, people-FIVE DAYS. Even my OB couldn't believe it. I was so desperate to move from 3 to 4 cm and be admitted to the hospital I left my OB's office and instead of taking a walk as he suggested, I RAN. A. MILE. In a maternity dress and sandals as my sister tried to keep up w/Brennan in the stroller.
22 hours and five pushes later, there he was, Alex the Great, laying on my chest, jet black eyes squinting from the harsh delivery room lights....we had made it.
Today, he's three and I'm always reminded of how I gave birth to him because every day he reminds me that he will do things in his own time, his own way, on his own terms. He's not one to be rushed, pushed or prodded into anything be it a t-shirt or trying something for the first time. He is fiercely independent, bold, fearless even, but cautionary when it's called for. He is a free thinker, stubborn like his father and I, adamant about having his way and never shy to voice his displeasure, but grows quiet when consumed with excitement. He's an old man in a young man's body, enjoying the simple pleasure of just sitting outside on the front step, observing all of the life going on around him. He trusts no one the way he does his big brother, and even we, Bertski and I have had to work diligently to earn his confidence.
He's addicted to trains, cars and trucks. Want to see pure joy? Watch his entire body explode with it as one of his trains falls off of a "cliff", be it the edge of the dining room table, the couch, or TV stand. Hear it in his laughter as you chase him around the house, or have him wrapped up in your arms as you tickle his belly.
Brennan saved me by healing my heart of wounds borne in childhood. Alex has saved me by forcing me to grow, mind, body and soul. As difficult as my pregnancy and first year postpartum were, carrying and giving birth to him helped me give birth to who I was underneath the wounds of my past. He's the one who has given ME new life. Were it not for him, I wouldn't be free of the tangles that kept me bound up in misery and ignorant of who I am. His birth led to me getting therapy and treatment and pushed me to grow and stretch in ways I didn't think were possible. From the challenges that have come with mothering him while battling a mental illness, I've learned empathy, patience, grace, and that time is my friend and not my enemy. He's taught me to slow down and LIVE. He's taught me to seek and not just rely on what I've always known. He's helped me expand my perspective and worldview. From him I've learned how to be open and flexible to whatever may come my way.
From the joys that have come with being his mother and watching him evolve into the three year old little boy he is today, I've learned how to cherish every laugh, every smile, every expression of love bestowed upon me, big or small. He's taught me how to value the simplest of things and how to be an individual. He's challenged everything I thought I knew about life and parenting, and taught me how to endure.
I'd be lost without you my sweet boy. I'm so glad you're here. Happy birthday son. I love you.
Hello. My name is A'Driane, but most people know me these days as addyeB.
What most people don't know about me is that I've been carrying a lot of shame about my body....
My body is imperfect, you see, or at least that's what society tells me.
All the commercials, all the clothing, all the "how celebrity so-and-so got her body back after baby" messages? They come flying at me from all different directions, all with the same shame inducing message:
You're not beautiful. You don't measure up. You're not perfect. Your body is ugly and it needs to be changed.
Even all the weightloss ads I see have a message that says, "You aren't healthy or taking good care of yourself unless you're an "ideal" "healthy" weight" hiding behind their glossy, eat well, feel good, get active exterior.
This time last year I was obsessed with changing my body. I was nearing 12 mos postpartum and hadn't shed an ounce of the 41 pounds I gained during pregnancy. No amount of compliments or reassuring from my ex could keep me from telling myself I was fat, ugly, sloppy, frumpy, gross, unattractive...you name it, I said it-to myself.
I hated myself and my body. Mentally I was battling PPD and the first stages of triggered Bipolar Disorder. Emotionally my self esteem and sense of worth were in lost in a sewer somewhere and physically I was trying to force my body harder and harder each day to change into an ideal it wasn't.
Can you blame me? I mean with all the messages in our culture that place us in this pressure cooker to fit a certain standard of beauty, and with celebrities telling us to "reclaim" our bodies, how the hell are we as women not supposed to succumb to this insanity?
The desire to be pretty enough. Wanted enough. Attractive enough. It's all a machine designed to make us feel like we are never enough.
On one hand, I get it. Pregnancy is a beautiful experience....or at least it's supposed to be right? But let's be honest ladies-it's hell. It's pure hell on our bodies-EVERYTHING CHANGES. Our bodies morph into these foreign versions of ourselves we don't recognize. Our body functions not to take care of us, but to instead nuture, protect, and incubate the well being and survival of someone else. So it's no wonder women may feel like they need to reclaim themselves after enduring 9 months of that PLUS the average 2 year time doctors say it takes for a full recovery from childbirth.
But on the other hand, who says that the body we have before baby should be reclaimed? Who says that type of body is the only one that is beautiful? Why can't a body that's been broken by one of life's most awesome and creepy miracles be considered beautiful?
Sagging breasts? I got em. But they only sag because they swelled to porn star heights while I breastfed my boys and then deflated when I was done...and I didn't always wear the "appropriate" bra, but who has time to do that when you're sleep deprived?
I'm not the ideal. I'm not "perfect." I don't have trainers, spanx, and weightloss gurus tailoring my work outs and nutrition.
But you know what? After battling so hard last year to change my post baby body and seeing the scale never dip back below 170, I've come to realize a couple of things.
1. My self-esteem and self-image issues are more than skin deep. I didn't like the way I look physically because I didn't love myself. Body acceptance is more than just loving yourself once you reach a certain physical goal. I also had to learn that it's about loving who YOU are to begin with. I also had to learn that just because I may want to get healthy doesn't mean that I DON'T love myself. It just means I want to be just that: HEALTHY. What healthy is for each person is different, so I'm still learning how to not compare myself with others. It's not easy.
2. I realized that you know what? I don't want all that celebrities have. I don't need nor do I want the pressure of having to fit an ideal that is neither realistic or healthy.
So I'm ditching our culture's definition of perfection and beauty after we've had children. A post pregnancy body is a gloriously beautiful one because of what it DID: nurtured and gave life through the hardest and most painful of times.
I'm redefining my definition of "imperfection." My body isn't imperfect. It's beautiful. I'm grateful that I have it and that it gave me my children. It gave me the best parts of me...the parts that I need the most when the worst parts of me malfunction and have me feeling less than.
In a weird way I guess you can say that my body put it's foot down the past year and has been teaching me what it means to just. be. enough.
This is a Self-Love Saturday post, but I was inspired to write it after
- Casey from over at Moosh in indy put out a call for some courageous women to highlight their post baby bellies. (see here)
- I saw this post a year ago and it made me cry: http://starvingartistink.com/the-shape-of-a-mother/
- I visited The Shape of a Mother
- I read some posts over at Just Be Enough, so I'm linking this post up with them :)
I've been finishing up my 50,000 word count for NaNoWriMo this weekend. I'm about 4,000 words shy of this goal and this process has been.....cathartic....revealing, even. I thought when I did this, 50,000 words & 175 pages would be enough to contain "my story." However, it seems the more I go back and remember, the more I reflect, the more words that I type, just when I think I have nothing left to say.....more comes to the surface, overflowing and spilling onto the screen in front of me and even down my cheeks.... Because I've been thinking a lot about my life over the past 10 years while writing, I found myself digging through my storage bins and poring over the stacks of journals I've kept since I was 19.
While reading through one of them, I came across an entry I wrote when Brennan was about 4 months old. Tears, a steady stream of them came winding down my face as I read the words of a new mother who was struggling to take care of an infant all on her own. Then came the memories....flashbacks of crying, screaming, anger, intense pain....I remembered the first 6 months of Brennan's life like they were yesterday, and knowing what I know about PPD and PPA now, I reflect on these memories and see myself, at 24, being consumed by these disorders and not even recognizing it.
In April of this year, when I finally sought and found treatment for my PPD & PPA after Alex's 1st birthday, I remember the therapist asking me if I suffered with PPD after having Brennan.
"Honestly? I don't remember...I...I'm not sure. I..I know I was sad and angry and some other things, but honestly I was just too consumed with trying to survive to even think about if I was depressed. I mean, it was just me. I was newly separated from the military and his father wasn't doing anything to help me. I didn't have a job. My unemployment was hardly meeting my expenses, and I was living with friends. If I ever considered myself depressed, I just attributed it to all of that and being a new mother. Everyone told me being a single parent was going to be tough...I...I just assumed feeling the way I felt was just part of the package."
Looking back, knowing what I know now, having been educated to the signs, risk factors, and various symptoms of PPD & PPA, and reading these words, I see it. I see me struggling through them while trying to raise my first born. And that pains me. It tears me up because not knowing what to look for, not having someone there to push me to get help put me in some very dark places those first 2 years. The dark places I found myself wandering in during my pregnancy and after Alex's birth would have made much more sense had I been able to recognize them 3 years prior.
Reading the entries in that journal was painful as were the memories that found there way back to the forefront of my mind. (sigh) But....at least I know now, right?
Here's one of the entries I found:
There it is again
a malicious intent to harm
that’s come and gone before
I’m able to acknowledge it’s existence;
the only evidence of its surfacing,
a tiny, fragmented piece of your innocence
that’s fallen to the floor
along with expectations I’ve fallen short of.
this wasn’t supposed to happen.
Where are the loving thoughts?
What happened to the sunshine?
When did it get so dark in here?
Who put out the warmth,
Who rewrote this fairytale,
because this isn’t the ending I expected.
Its worn off….how can that be?
Its origin is a mystery to me….
You’re supposed to be everything I wanted.
We’re supposed to be happy.
But now you’re crying,
and I’m trying to escape the guilt that’s
chasing after me.
I’m so sorry.
I never meant for this to happen.
But how do I tell you that?
How do I show you that I really do love you,
my sanity just caved under the pressure
and I slipped before I could catch myself.
Maybe I can find redemption somewhere in
perhaps you’ll forget this mistake.
I pray to God you will.
Forgive me…for I know not what I do.