Sunday, October 30, 2016

#write31days: The Art of Not Asking Questions

My grandmother is sick. She was sick for years before I found out; years before she told anyone.

When I first heard this, I went through different stages of grief. She is, after all, the only grandmother I've ever known. My paternal grandmother died before I was born.

My maternal grandmother is classy and reserved; easy to laugh and has a quick wit. She likes playing cards and once asked me if the margaritas I was helping make on a family vacation were "for the kids" - I did not add enough alcohol, apparently.

I never really understood, until recently, why she did not tell anyone. Even now, when I call her and ask how she is doing, she always answers, "Just fine, thanks!"

My dear grandmother, I understand now.

I understand that you're not fine - but I'm not the person you want to say that to.

I understand that you're not in the mood to be constantly discussing the state of your health.

I understand. I love you.

**

A hard part about having a child with special needs is that too many questions revolve around her therapy and her progress.

It is, honestly, draining.

To the outside person, it is a simple question. What is she doing? How is she improving? 

Every day, it's different. Every day, I try to balance typical expectations for a three year old while recognizing that she faces different challenges. She cannot use her right hand. I have to help her get dressed on her right side; I have to remind her to use her hand and arm too; we practice opening and closing her hand. We practice her standing on her feet evenly.

She has many therapists whom I am in constant communication with; she sees 5 therapists/week + 2 consults per month. I keep up with various doctor appointments. I have to be consistent about her - stretching and massage, putting on her braces, pushing her to try, try again.

It can break a mother's heart. You just want to see your baby not struggle. But she does, and that is okay too. She is a vibrant, loving, talented three year old. When I am having a hard day, I'll tell her. She says, "I hug you mommy. I kiss you."

**

In this family, we struggle. We forgive. We try, we laugh, and we dance.

I know there is a natural curiosity about cerebral palsy, different therapies, and even how postpartum depression manifests itself... but we humans are all processing. I am still processing my daughter's diagnosis. I am still processing my own diagnosis. Some days I think I am overreacting; other days, I want my bed to swallow me.

I'm not writing this to shut people out - this is a free country. People may ask questions. I am saying that people do not have a right to information. There is no Freedom of Information Act for your life; to the contrary, plead HIPPA, or the 5th Amendment. Too often, we don't want to offend people by saying, "No thanks. Not in the mood to discuss this with you." I am guilty of this. I'd prefer people lead with, "When you're in the mood to discuss, I'd like to hear about ___."

But Julie! You are writing this on your blog, a public forum! Isn't that an invitation for further discussion?

Yes, I am. That is my prerogative. The same way I talk about my postpartum depression. I even found myself mentioning it to people at a party last week, because I am a fun person.

In the same vein, Grace is my daughter. I'm happy to discuss her favorite colors, her favorite dress-up options, the funny things she says, et cetera. I want people to know Grace for who she is, and not her diagnosis. She's not an inspiration. She's a warrior princess, just like her sister Laura.

**

So, people of the world: let me bring it up.

Or begin by saying, "I'd love to hear at some point"... yes, I will register your request. And thank you for giving me the option to say "no" and "not now"! It shows thoughtfulness, as it's personal for me. I have more hard days now, or maybe they just feel harder. More often than not, questions feel harder too.

I cannot apologize for struggling. I am not a robot. I am a human, living this glorious experience.



As I've mentioned before, the best question to ask is the non-question. The best messages I receive are the ones of neutral support. I love talking to family and showing them the kids via FaceTime. I like catching up with friends (usually by text, if we're honest) and hearing about daily life. I like hearing about hobbies, adventures, trips and ideas. I don't like dwelling on things I can't change.

**

We live in uncertain times, though the days are patterned. I find myself pausing more and meditating on love. There are four types of love. There are five types of love languages. My husband is not verbose like me; I wrote him hundreds of letters, and talk to him about everything. He shows me love - he shows me that I am whole, when I feel broken. He shows me potential when I feel distress. Will is the calm in my storm. He and I have accepted that we will never know why Grace had a stroke, and we both agree that nothing changes the way we will always do our best for her, as we will do for all our darling children.

I find comfort in love, messy as it is; I've been re-reading lines from Mary Oliver's poem "Rhapsody":

"If you are in the garden, I will dress myself in leaves.
If you are in the sea I will slide into that
smooth blue nest, I will talk fish, I will adore salt.
But if you are sad, I will not dress myself in desolation.
I will present myself with all the laughters I can muster.
And if you are angry I will come, calm and steady,
with some small and easy story.

Promises, promises, promises! The tongue jabbers, the heart
strives, falls, strives again. The world is perfect.
Love, however, is an opera, a history, a long walk,
that includes falling and rising, falling and rising, while
the heart stays as sweet as a peach, as radiant and
grateful as the deep-leaved hills."

Let us ask about what concerns each of us - our life in the spirit, our joys, our doings, and our thoughts. We are more than our sorrow.

**

My "rules" for this series are short (especially before commenting): this topic is personal and I am currently living in it. This is not an abstract for a dissertation. I do not have 20/20 hindsight yet. I don't need any medical advice, as I keep in close communication with my own PA + Dr., as well as being married to one. My husband and I practice many different types of coping mechanisms as well, which I will write about too. My situation is 100 percent unique and I am writing only about myself. These posts are directed at no one, and still, I am opening myself up to share my experiences. If I can help one person, it will be worth it. Please respect this adult conversation at face value.

**

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Monday, October 17, 2016

#write31days: PostPartum Depression and Romance

This past weekend, Will and I had just a really hard time. I was struggling, and he was struggling with my struggles.

And this is where we should be honest about why most of us get married: we want to be with the person who is going to put up with our shit every single day.

Marriage isn't easy, people coo. I hated hearing that, especially when I was dating Will - even though I knew it was true. So I planned and we talked and we came to the same conclusions, and thus, engagement was natural. Marriage followed. Babies happened, and so did unhappiness. The growing pains of marriage are natural, and those who wish to ignore the root causes are apt to be unhappy that they will never be resolved until you take a shovel and dig them out. Claw if you must, but the longer you let ills grow, the harder it is to eradicate the problem.

I've seen it in too many marriages, and I tried to avoid it in my own. But one cannot avoid human nature. Humility is often the antidote.

So, this past weekend, we talked about my struggles, his struggles, our struggles. He was gone for most of the past week, and that's always a hard adjustment for us both- we work better together, and when we're separated, neither is the best version of ourselves. Add in my postpartum depression, and it's a mountain we're both climbing together.

And after two hard days, we had a beautiful Sunday together. In our Catholic marriage vows, we pledged, "I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."

This is what is hard. How do you honor each other? Not making side comments. Gossiping about your spouse. Being direct. I wanted flowers from Will. I was feeling more like the maid than the wife. So, what did I do? I asked for them.


Will took the girls to Target and Wegmans, did some shopping for me, and bought me tulips. Win-win situation. I told him, and he followed through.

It's too easy to blame your spouse. I tried to last week. He bounced back what he had done. Grumble grumble. FINE BUT...

We talked about frustrations. He hates the way I do the laundry. This is no secret. In fact, this is probably what we "fight" about the most. Oh, if that's the worst you fight about, then you're fine, some people sigh. But it's how a person fights - it's not the topic. If you are constantly right and your spouse is constantly wrong, then you are wrong too. If you belittle your spouse and get passive aggressive and dismissive, you are part of the problem too - even if you are right or justified on principle.

If you want real romance in your marriage, you have to handle tough situations together, as a team. There are no winners and losers in marriage. There cannot be a right and wrong for a marriage of true minds. We must sanctify each other. We must hold each other accountable.

Romance is the intimacy of allowing your spouse be who they are. It's saying "I'm sorry"-- and he's sorry too, and you two hug. Will's biggest romantic gesture is the absolute patience and kindness he shows me when I am struggling through the day.

And surprise tulips.

**

My "rules" for this series are short (especially before commenting): this topic is personal and I am currently living in it. This is not an abstract for a dissertation. I do not have 20/20 hindsight yet. I don't need any medical advice, as I keep in close communication with my own PA + Dr., as well as being married to one. My husband and I practice many different types of coping mechanisms as well, which I will write about too. My situation is 100 percent unique and I am writing only about myself. These posts are directed at no one, and still, I am opening myself up to share my experiences. If I can help one person, it will be worth it. Please respect this adult conversation at face value.

**

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

#write31days: PostPartum Depression and Poetry (Wendell Berry)

"Breaking" by Wendell Berry

Did I believe I had a clear mind?
It was like the water of a river
flowing shallow over the ice. And now
that the rising water has broken
the ice, I see that what I thought
was the light is part of the dark.

Having a tough few days; not looking for sympathy, and that's why I am not writing every day. 

**

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

#write31days: Fulton Sheen on Value


“Let those who think their work has no value recognize that by fulfilling their insignificant tasks out of love of God, those tasks assume supernatural worth. The aged who bear the taunts of the young, the sick crucified to their beds, the street cleaner and the garbage collector, the chorus girl who never had a line, the unemployed carpenter – all these will be enthroned above dictators, presidents, kings, and Cardinals if a greater love of God inspires their humbler tasks than inspires those who play nobler roles with less love." - Archbishop Fulton Sheen


**

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Monday, October 10, 2016

#write31days: Are You Depressed Because You Have Three Kids Under Three?

This is the big question. I feel this is often an underlined in conversations, if not specifically mentioned.

My opinion is NOPE.

Three under three means I have less time for socializing, need to organize more and maybe definitely affects how scatter-brained I am.

But these kids actually keep me sane because I love them so so so much. Maybe that is not the way for everyone, but it is for me. If anything, I am more contemptuous of anyone else who discusses my kids or my parenting in ways my brain perceives as vaguely condescending.

(Perceives, of course, is the key word.)

It's the most favorite phrase I hear: "You have your hands full!"

I usually reply that, I have one hand free (chuckle, I'm so clever), or, I'm baby wearing!, or, UP YOURS. (Sort of kidding on the last one.)

A better reply: Hands full, heart full! 


If you can't believe that you're seeing a person who has one to multiple children, here's what you can say:
  1. She/ He/ They're so beautiful!
  2. You are a lucky mama!
  3. Just smile and say nothing. (Because you don't have to say ANYTHING, since you usually do not know the person in the slightest.) 
What then? Say nothing, yes; instead, practice acts of mercy. Few people are interested in unsolicited opinions. How are your actions going to reflect love?

My friend Maria just sent me a couple of weeks worth of dinner. Praise the LORD. I'll only have to worry about the kids, which is easy enough. I am still in awe at her thoughtfulness. I've had a few friends send me cards to say Hi, I love you. That's it. That's what I need - support and love.

We Catholics have a moral obligation to participate in the Corporal Works of Mercy and the Spiritual Works of Mercy. I know for me, I am especially practicing "bearing wrongs patiently" these days... I am often impatient. It stings me to recognize how impatient I can be, but the self-awareness which comes from my healing is a blessing indeed.

Many cases of depression swirl around the idea that the mother is not enough; and in some ways, this thought is right - no one person can *do* enough. But each person has the intrinsic value and dignity of *being enough*. We all must show through our actions and words that this is the case, and try to undermine the false demons.

Favorite things to mail new mothers:
1. Anything  aden+anais (e.g. soft bibs, blankets)
2. Starbucks gift card
3. Any type of gift card involved in expedient purchases
4. wipes + dipes
5. a little luxuries box - this is much more individualized, but: a new water bottle, nail polish, easy breakfast options, a good pair of socks, flavored sparkling water, a favorite magazine, a Netflix gift card (or Hulu!), a box of tea/ bag of coffee... really, anything you feel a mother would enjoy. {I'll write more on creative gift ideas soon. This is a favorite activity of mine!}

The same goes for the depressed mother. I like to send belated gifts because once the routine has set in, it's nice to receive something to know I remember that they have a baby at home and I am thinking of them. I tend to send mother-centric gifts, because she needs to know that people care, even when she feels alone and overwhelmed. Babies are need love, feedings and changings, and the emotional energy is going 24/7.

When in doubt, if money is tight, just send a card.

It really is the little things.


**

My "rules" for this series are short (especially before commenting): this topic is personal and I am currently living in it. This is not an abstract for a dissertation. I do not have 20/20 hindsight yet. I don't need any medical advice, as I keep in close communication with my own PA + Dr., as well as being married to one. My husband and I practice many different types of coping mechanisms as well, which I will write about too. My situation is 100 percent unique and I am writing only about myself. These posts are directed at no one, and still, I am opening myself up to share my experiences. If I can help one person, it will be worth it. Please respect this adult conversation at face value.

**

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