Saturday, December 26, 2009

"God Bless the Mamas"

[Quote from Primary Colors]

I recently told a friend of mine (who also has twin girls, and who also has struggled with depression) that I know my experience wasn't necessarily extraordinary, but part of me felt it needed to be documented, while the other part of me just wanted to forget it. All new mothers struggle - don't they? (I found myself saying the word 'torture' often to describe the first year of the girls' lives).

As I recall the fragments that make up my memories of those first few months, it occurs to me how a veteran mother views a new mom-to-be. It's like watching someone put on a parachute and jump out of a plane for the first time. There is absolutely no way that you could know what the experience will be like until you live through it, and there is no amount of research or advice that will make it any less shocking, scary, or dare I say, exhilarating.

And as much as being a new mother is a fantasy in so many respects for many women, that balloon gets burst as the reality of the near-crushing weight that new motherhood brings sets in.

As I look back, realizing that I was struggling with post partum depression (or perhaps a continuation of years of untreated depression - I may never know), I see such strength in all mothers. I feel such pride in my new title, but also such sadness as a new wave of understanding washes over me for all the mothers in all the countries in the world, throughout history, the pain and vulnerability that comes with having your "heart go walking around outside of your body" -Elizabeth Stone

"To understand a mother's love, bear your own children" - Chinese Proverb

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Gift of Calm

This Christmas, I'm thankful for many things - the usual: family, friends, job, house, etc. But there is one thing that stands out for me, that has eluded me in my parenting of these twin girls, and that is CALM. My ability to remain calm in the face of situations that present themselves in the course of a day with two preemies, two infants, and now, two toddlers.

I recalled for an acquaintance at a holiday party how my girls would scream from about 4pm until 7pm between 4 and 8 months old. I'm sure it wasn't always both babies, for the full 3 hours, and I'm doubtful that it lasted four months, but that's how I remember it. I remember the utter chaos and the complete frantic feeling that would overtake me. My anxiety was palpable. I wasn't able to put it away, even after the girls had fallen asleep. Even when I myself was asleep.

On a busy holiday evening, I ventured out to the local take-out pizza place with my two two year olds in tow - a task I would not have even considered a year ago. More than likely not 6 months ago. Possibly not even 3 months ago. It does have an awful lot to do with their age - they tend to cooperate, put on their shoes, hop into their car seats and go.

But they are still two. Before we had even left the garage, there was a dramatic crying scene over shoes and the possibility of being left behind. I strapped the little drama queen into her car seat, feeling confident (and calm) that it would pass, and went on our way.

My mom calls me just as I was pulling into a parking spot in front of the pizza place. I watch people go in and out, hoping the line won't get too long before I can finish up my call and go inside. With my girls holding my hands, I step inside just in time to see the customer before me pay for $112 worth of pizza! Knowing we might have a longer wait than I had hoped for didn't send my blood pressure sky rocketing, as it surely would have in the past.

There were times in the past when I viewed my daughters as ticking time bombs, with only a finite time frame to work with before -- what? I don't even know now what I was so worried about.

Since the craft store is right next door, I decided we needed to pick up some supplies for Christmas. Normally, my husband and I avoid taking both girls with us to the craft store because it can be hectic. I asked the girls to please stay next to me and entered the store without a second thought. Next thing I know, they have discovered porcelain piggy banks and each have both of their hands eagerly cupping a pig, with gleeful anticipation. A quick, stern warning from me prompts a look from a woman passing by, and we make eye contact with that knowing glance that all mother's share. Purchases in hand, we exit the store.

Unbelievably, I'm still feeling calm.

Calm enough to walk over to Safeway to grab a movie and some pop. This task is uneventful until I can feel victory with the swoosh of the air coming in through the automatic doors. Then, the finale of this story: I pull Jaeda up out of the cart, and set her free. Just as I'm asking Tristyn to carry the movie, Jaeda runs over the threshold outside, and the door closes separating her from us. I hastily grab the case of pop and it collapses, silver cans spilling out onto the floor. The automatic doors open again and I reach for Jaeda, pulling her back inside. I pick up the cans and heft the box into my arms and task the girls to a "race" to the car, which keeps them on track and focused on the goal: the safety of the car.

As I close the door and start the car, I do a mental inventory. My heart isn't racing. I don't feel angry at my children or circumstances. And, above all, I feel calm. Wow. Writing it doesn't have nearly the same intensity. I'm sure there are millions of people that strive for many other emotions that are the opposite of calm, but for me, I feel as though I've run a marathon, and that calm is my reward.

I'm quite certain that anti-depressants account for the majority of my calm. But I would like to think that after 2 1/2 years of being a mom, I'm finally learning what all moms eventually discover - that you have to roll with the punches, and when you stay calm, your children stay calmer too (most of the time). What a concept!

Not so calm in Santa's lap (Christmas 2008)
MERRY CHRISTMAS to my blog readers!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Anti-depressants Make Me a Better Mother

I’ve actually uttered this sentiment to complete strangers while discussing my twins, usually after one of those inane comments twin moms hear so often; “I don’t know how you manage with two – I can barely handle one!” “You’ve got your hands full” or my favorite: “I’ve always wanted twins.”

My path down the yellow brick road to the fields of opium poppies and Lexapro was arduous, and filled with much doubt that anything was even wrong with me. I’ve referred to myself as Tom Cruise-esque in my belief that depression (post-partum in this case) is “all in your head” or could be fixed by simply wishing it away. I even once believed depression (if it was real at all) only struck those unfortunate enough to have been traumatized by some past event or form of abuse.

Then I lived it.

Day after agonizing day, with two infants to care for, and no basis with which to complain, I began to surmise I simply was not meant for motherhood. I forced myself to do the minimum amount of work required to maintain a household, and attend to two babies, but each and every action required effort, and I waited for the moment of reprieve; the girls’ nap, my husband’s arrival home, or my own bedtime. I longed for sleep all the time, even after surviving those eleven months of sleep deprivation before the girls finally slept through the night – at the same time. When I did sleep, it was restless, and I awoke feeling worse than when I lie down, simply praying for their cries to stop or hoping, against all odds, that both of them would go back to sleep (that never happened, but it didn’t stop me from hoping it would).

My restless, overworked brain went round and round trying to come up with some solution to my angst towards these ever-demanding bundles of flesh, only to reach the conclusion that I was simply too selfish to give up my entire life to motherhood. I developed a few survival tactics that kept me going – twin mommy blogs, a phone call to my mom or a drive to the espresso stand down the street. Lots of espresso.

I remember telling a close friend of mine somewhere around my daughters’ landmark first birthday, that I felt the kind of intense anger everyday that I had only experienced a handful of times in my life pre-children.

That should have been a red flag for me, but instead, I continued to assume that I, unlike billions of women before me, wasn’t meant to procreate.

Finally, when my girls were 16 months old, that same friend suggested I see a psychiatrist after I told her I was “barely keeping my head above water”. Having just had a baby herself, and being a mental health professional, she must have seen that look of desperation in my eyes, that certain quiver in my voice. Or maybe it was just women’s intuition.

Reluctantly, those little white pills followed, and I felt so infidel to my inner Tom Cruise. I heard my father’s well intentioned advice to make better use of my juicer (lest this be a mineral deficiency) go out the window.

And I started to feel relief. A missed nap no longer put me into a tailspin I could not recover from; a screaming match over a toy or bottle didn’t end with me screaming as well.

Of course, as any user of anti-depressants knows, relief didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t without its stumbles along that yellow brick path, but I can’t recall the last time I felt that plume of anger steam through me like a freight train.

I hear myself telling my daughters to “use your words” in that sickly sweet tone mothers use, and find myself staring at their delicate faces instead of the TV as they lounge in my lap. I relish every hug and kiss; I soak up the touch of their hands on my skin when they need reassurance from a barking dog or a passing train. I find myself engrossed in one of their activities, enjoying the simplistic pleasure of block stacking or pretend muffin making. I chase after them encouraging their delightful squeals over and over again. I am patient enough to stand at my daughter’s crib while she hands me – one by one – all eleven of her baby dolls that must accompany her at night, and still have the patience left over to swaddle and re-swaddle them until she is satisfied it’s done correctly.

When I forget to take a dose, those old “patterns” rear their ugly flying monkey heads – the impatience, the stagnancy to move on after an unpleasant event, the mental exhaustion, the irritation at everyday toddler idiosyncrasies (refusing to sit in their car seats, dawdling when we are in a hurry, the incessant rant of “mama mama mama mama mama mama MAMA!”)

I am enjoying motherhood like I never could unless I was on anti-depressants. And I’m okay with that.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Flirting with the deuce

(25 weeks)

My close friends and family know that I am a confident, curvaceous woman, unabashed at being full-figured. I've always embraced my curves. My best friend says that I "carry my weight well", which I regard as a compliment!

I had the awkward chubby phase pre-adolescence, but was a sleek, muscular swimmer in high school and college, with a healthy body image. In the years before becoming pregnant, I had settled into a delicate equilibrium with my weight - thin enough to feel sassy and healthy, while still embracing my natural hourglass figure.

But pregnancy broke me.

When my doctor insisted that I would need to gain _at least_ fifty pounds, my jaw dropped. Didn't I get a weight credit for being ample to begin with? Nope. At my 16 week visit, as the twin shock wore in, I had only gained a few pounds. I was ordered to gain 20 pounds in the next 6 weeks by any means possible. Numbers were thrown at me like hummingbirds whizzing around my head. 175 grams of protein and 2,700 calories PER DAY. 11% chance they would be identical. Twins represent one in 200 births. Average 37 weeks gestation. Expect bed rest by week 28. I was given a blue packet full of information and shooed out the door in a daze of confusion. My first post-twin-shock meal? Fettuccine Alfredo, which I could barely force myself to swallow, even though it would have been a forbidden treat an hour before.

Everything I'd learned about food and nutrition went out the window. It was like living in this backwards Jerry-Seinfeld-bizzaro universe where I was encouraged by my doctor to eat fast food. For the first time in our 5 year marriage, my husband was privy to the weight on the scale, standing behind me as I removed my shoes for the hopeful (!) weigh-in.

I remember the day I hit 200. My husband was amused that I now weighed more that he did ('I'm THREE humans', I reminded him defensively), despite being nearly a foot shorter.

Towards the end, I ignored the scale. I knew that my belly felt like it was suffering under the weight of 2 bowling balls. I saw the chubbiness in my face in the pictures that my boss and coworkers would diligently snap of me every 2 weeks so I could remember my pregnancy. I stopped going out in public. I felt the additional 70 pounds at week 34 with every step I took.

I delivered at 34 weeks, 2 days, and was spared the final belly-stretching weeks and bone-crushing weight gain that often comes with carrying multiples. I traded 70 pounds for just shy of 8 pounds worth of baby. At first, I accepted my additional weight as par for the course, feeling confident that the pounds would melt away with the whopping volume of breast milk I was producing.

Besides, what new mother has time to worry about losing weight? Amidst the craziness with two infants, I was lucky to make it through the day without collapsing. And, I had a built in excuse!

At least, that's what everyone kept telling me.

Almost a year later, I was feeling discouraged. My body confidence waned. Would I really have to bid adieu to my pre-pregnancy self-assurance? I vowed to make a better attempt to get closer to where I had been before.

By the girls' 2nd birthday, I was down 50 pounds! And that is where I still stand (sit?) today... Reluctantly hanging onto that extra 20 pounds, that threatens to drown my old aplomb - the girl that collected bikinis and barely gave a second thought to actually wearing one. (Gasp!)

Perhaps that is yet another one of the battle scars of motherdom. Perhaps the women in Hollywood that whip back into shape in 6 weeks are merely a figment of our imaginations.

Honestly, I haven't quite figured it out yet. I'll get back to you on that.
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