My husband never gets time off from work- I mean ever. A few years ago we had even booked a cruise, deposit included, with my sister’s wedding party. Even as a financial and wedding obligation his job rejected his vacation request. I ended up going on the cruise with the wedding party, but had to room alone. He’s missed birthdays, events, and milestones. This made last weekend even more exciting when he surprised us with a full week off of work!
Mike’s birthday is May 4th, and we hardly ever get to celebrate it. In previous years it was just a grocery store cake after a long shift at work. You’d think after years of this, he would enjoy his time off by taking a day for himself. Not Michael. Instead, he planned a trip to Pennsylvania so Anna could see Elmo at Sesame Place. He’s a great dad, and I’m a lucky woman.
Initially Mike had planned to surprise me at the very last moment with the trip. He wised up as the weekend got closer, and remembered how triggering deviation from our routine can be for me. He let me know a few days in advance, and it was perfect. It was enough time for me to feel organized, but still surprised.
I think the biggest change I noticed was in my obsessive compulsions to over-plan, and over-indulge. In the past I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself (and the family) to REALLY enjoy our vacations. This inevitably ends in disaster when the stress pushes everyone to the limit, and we all fall apart. For our trip to Disney, I had made multiple outfits for the kids ahead of time. It’d cost a small fortune, and I had no confidence in my work. Some of the costumes were uncomfortable for the kids, and refusal to wear them broke my heart. There was high tension and high pressure, and everyone had to walk on eggshells around me. This trip I still handmade celebratory apparel, but I was able to focus on one thing. Scaling back kept the cost much lower, and meant that I could put a lot of focus and effort into what I was doing. We were all much more comfortable in cute little sweatshirts than in head to toe costumes. I had much more pride in my work, and the confidence really helped my mood. It changed the entire dynamic of the day.
I was also able to let go of a rigid schedule. I still downloaded the map of the park a few days before, and I looked at the restaurant menus ahead of time. I sincerely feel like this was necessary, as I eat such a strict diet and they don’t allow outside food into the park. I was, however, able to skip making reservations, or pre-planning the kids orders. I’m so glad I did because part of the fun was watching the kids choose elaborately decorated cupcakes and Elmo-shaped food. They would have missed out if I’d micromanaged their meals.
I usually obsess about getting pictures with all of the characters. I keep a pre-written schedule of where they are, and at what times. Then I drag the whole family across the park several times, only to end up with miserable faces in the photos. Talk about an emotional break down. The disappointment haunts me, and I ruin the day for everyone. This time I was able to let go, relax, and follow the kids’ cues. I let them go on the rides they wanted, and when we passed a character we popped in. The only exception I made was Elmo, and they were more than willing to compromise for my one request. I got awesome pictures, and (more importantly) a TON of awesome memories.
These are obviously huge changes for me, and they had an incredible pay off. We have not had a relaxing vacation in many years, and we were able to come home feeling refreshed instead of defeated. I accomplished these changes by participating in EMDR for the last year. In therapy I have processed trips of years past- how going over the top and stretching myself thin impacted my family. By reprocessing these memories I was able to learn from them, and let go of them. I no longer feel the need to top past vacations, or redeem myself for failed costumes. Redeem. Let me tell you how much that word weighs on me! I constantly beat myself up over the past, and feel the need to “do it better” this time. It compels me to obsess over the details, and I end up missing the big picture. EMDR changes this for me. I no longer compare myself to the old Kate. I can leave her in the past. I have a fresh start every day, and I can let go of my processed memories. I am able to be mindful, enjoying today. It has changed my life.
At the end of our trip, the kids were still laughing and smiling. We were able to do everything we wanted, even without the schedule. Going with the flow let them REALLY enjoy themselves, stress- free. I work every day at making myself a healthier, better mom. These are the things that keep me on track, that keep me motivated. My children will always be my driving force, and I will never stop wanting to do better for them. I’m so glad I got to see some progress in myself, and our whole family dynamic. I’m looking forward to checking in with my therapist, and to continue processing the old stuff!
My small steps and changes yielded an incredible pay off. What steps are you taking today to better yourself?
[Recently I have been blogging in response to a reader request. Part 1 covered my infertility and journey conceiving Anna. Part 2 described my pregnancy as an untreated bipolar. This is my 3rd and final piece in the series, Anna’s stay in the NICU.]
The first question they ask when you get pregnant is “when was the date of your last period?” Prior to getting pregnant, my PCOS had prevented me from getting a period for months. My due date had to be calculated via ultrasound measurements. According to those measurements, my water started leaking at about 36 weeks. We were expecting Anna to be a lot stronger, considering she was practically full term- but she ended up having respiratory issues at birth. It was later determined during her NICU eval that she was actually only 34 weeks, and her lungs were slightly underdeveloped.
In my last post I had explained that my October 17th had started at about 4AM. It was at this time that I had a major manic episode. It turned violent, and the physical exertion was enough to break my water. I stupidly waited until my OB office opened at 8:00 to call the doctor. I was seen at 9, and sent immediately to the hospital for an emergency c-section.
I had mixed feelings while waiting in pre-op. On one hand I was over-the-moon excited to meet my daughter, but I was also carrying a ton of shame that my behavior had caused early labor. My husband was the voice of reason, keeping me excited about our future and letting go of the past mistakes. There was nothing we could do to change our situation, so we made the best of it. We were expecting a small baby, but we were also expecting a healthy one.
I have an extremely low tolerance to medication, especially narcotics. As soon as the anesthesiologist started my IV, nausea came in like a tidal wave. I was sweating, crying, and trying not to vomit. I was completely disoriented, and voices sounded very far away. The surgical drape was practically on my face, tricking my mind into claustrophobia. I wasn’t completely aware of what was going on around me, or what anyone was saying. I felt the pressure change as the surgeon pulled Anna out, and listen for her to cry. Silence. Why was it taking so long?
Mike stood by my head, and watched the nurses. They took her right over to an incubation bed, suctioned fluid out, and immediately listened to her lungs. I told Mike to go take pictures for me, but he hesitated. I didn’t understand why. He kept his hand on my shoulder and watched from across the room. I started to notice how quiet everyone was. The room was spinning, and I couldn’t see anything while strapped down to the operating table. My thoughts raced with disorientation from the drugs. “What was going on? Had she made a sound yet? I think she had. No wait, now I don’t remember.” Finally, a cry. A nice, loud, distinct cry. The nurse came over with my daughter, and placed her on my chest. Mike and I cried together, relieved she was here and okay.
Coming out of the operating room is still kind of a blur. I was so tired, and so confused. Mostly, sooooo nauseous. I kept asking to nurse the baby. I’d previously struggled breastfeeding Jacen, and had done a ton of research to be more successful with Anna. It was important to me to get a good latch right away. I just wanted my baby, but the nurses kept saying, “As soon as we can. We’re just getting some numbers.”
When the pediatrician came in to evaluate Anna, the nurse expressed her concerns. Anna was visibly “tugging.” Tugging occurs when the respiratory muscles are not strong enough to maintain air pressure in the chest cavity. The skin and muscles sink in, and you can see movement around the intercostal spaces of the ribcage. At first, the staff had hoped this would be temporary. They even let Mike and I hold her, but I was not allowed to nurse her. They continued to monitor closely.
My mom, son, and sister had just made it to my hospital room when they came in to evaluate her again. They barely had a chance to meet her, only holding her for a minute or two each. The doctor told us she needed intensive care- something they did not have at this hospital. We were offered several local NICUs. I was still disoriented and confused. I didn’t know how to decide. My mom was the one who stepped in and said, “If she’s going to be transfered, she’s going to the best NICU. We want Women & Infants.”
The nurses got right on it, making phone calls and arrangements. The pediatrician immediately prepared Anna for transport. It was my OBGYN who made things difficult. Apparently he had gone home after completing my surgery, and coming back to the hospital was a major inconvenience. He told the nurses to have the pediatrician sign off on transporting the baby, but he wasn’t able to come in and validate my transfer quite yet. All I could do was cry. They were taking my baby away, even taking her out of the state- and I was trapped here. I was still sleepy from the drugs. I couldn’t speak, only silent tears ran down my face. I was terrified, devastated and completely lost. Thank God my mom stepped in again.
She told the staff that his answer was completely unacceptable, and he either needed to come in and get the paperwork done or find a doctor who could. She fought for me to be transferred that night, knowing the pain I would be in if they really made me wait until the following day. Mama knows how to get shit done, and that doctor came right back to the hospital with his tail between his legs.
During all of this, Anna began to deteriorate. She wasn’t maintaining her oxygen levels on her own, and the maternity ward did not have the equipment to breathe for her. My amazing nurse MacGyvered a contraption with items from a code-cart, and manually pumped air into her lungs until the NICU transport team got there. She saved my baby’s life.
Anna and I were still transported separately. Her condition was too severe to wait for my paperwork to go through, so my husband went with her. I followed just an hour later (instead of the 24 hours my obgyn had insisted I’d have to wait.) The drive from Wareham, MA to Providence, RI was the most painful experience of my life. I felt every bump and turn in my abdomen. My nausea was out of control, and my heart ached for my baby. I was still so confused- the day had moved so quickly and unexpectedly. Part of me still thought I was having a nightmare.
I didn’t get to see Anna again for several hours. I needed post transfer care, and her NICU setup was quite time consuming. I still begged to nurse, but was only allowed to pump.
Seeing Anna for the first time in the NICU is something I’ll never forget. There were so many wires and tubes, and she just looked tiny. She was quiet, and still. I just wanted to hold her close, but I wasn’t able to.
Within hours of making it to Women & Infants, a social worker came to see me. She immediately evaluated my mental health- going through what had caused my water to break, and how I was feeling at the time. I was started on psych meds right away, and even offered inpatient care that would allow me to keep the baby with me after her discharge from the NICU. I declined, just wanting to stay with Anna at the hospital. I also wanted to get home with her, and put all of this behind us.
Anna stayed in the NICU for over a week. When I was discharged from post-op, the hospital put Mike and I up in the Ronald McDonald House across the street. We were given a free place to stay, meals, toiletries, and resources- all within a 2 minute walk to the hospital. Words can’t express how lucky we were to have been able to stay there. If we had to go home, the commute would have killed me. Honestly, I would have lived on the couch in her room. I probably wouldn’t even have left to shower. I certainly wouldn’t have been in good conditions to heal from my c-section.
Most of the people in the house were parents of NICU babies. Usually, we were quiet and kept to ourselves. We were all stressed, scared and tired. A lot of us were recovering from surgery or complications from birth, and yet we were still neglecting ourselves to be with our sick babies. We could come and go as we pleased, and take whatever we wanted. There was food to go, things we could take with us to the NICU, and also sit down meals. Every night, there was a hot meal prepared and waiting for us. We could eat in the kitchen together, we could take it to our rooms in privacy. We could even bring our own groceries and use the kitchen to cook whatever we’d like. We could have family visit. There were video games for siblings, TVs, donated clothing and toys. They had everything you could think of to support breast feeding- extra pumping supplies, special refrigerators, milk boosting foods – everything. Mental health specialists and support groups were offered. I knew nothing about Ronald McDonald house before our stay, but I can tell you first hand how important it is to NICU families. It kept us together, fed, safe, and close to the baby. I have no idea what I would have done without them.
It takes a long time for psych medication to build up in your system. I struggled every minute of every day, especially with the astronomical stress of having a sick baby. Being in a new environment and living somewhere other than my own home gave me a ton of anxiety. I was severely depressed from the events that led to Anna’s birth, and constantly beat myself up for it. I tried my best to be strong, but it didn’t seem like it was enough.
There were moments of happiness. When Anna was 4 days old, I was finally able to feed her for the first time. Granted, “feeding” was rubbing a q-tip moistened with breast milk on the inside of her cheek, but it was something! There was the day they removed the feeding tube, and the day they disconnected the oxygen. She got stronger and stronger. Finally, they cleared us to go home. It was a happy day, but inside I still was not happy.
In addition to my existing mental health issues, I was consumed by postpartum depression. I could not forgive myself for going into labor early. My heart ached for the days I’d lost while she was in the NICU, instead of being home. I wasn’t making enough milk, and had to supplement with formula. It killed me inside. I religiously pumped, never deviating from my schedule. I also woke up with Anna any time she cried, cooed, or moved. I worked off no sleep at all, and still felt like a failing mother.
I tried to kill myself a few times. I genuinely thought my family would be better off without such a horrible mother. My moods and self confidence were permanently at rock-bottom. I questioned my choice to decline the impatient care that was offered to me in the hospital, and wondered if I needed to be institutionalized. I used the suicide hotline daily. I cried to mike constantly. He tried his best to help, but eventually had to turn to me and say “this is out of my realm of being able to help. WE need professional help.”
The rest is kind of history. WE got help. Not just me, the family. I am the one on medication, I see the therapist, but my whole family has been on this journey with me. They support me every day, and I’m finally feeling like a successful, healthy mother. My husband has done anything and everything you can think of, and stands by me no matter what. I would have been lost to my mental issues without him. He is the only one who turned around my suicidal impulses.
I work every day at being healthy. It’s a constant battle. My kids are my life, my husband is my world. I have no intention of going anywhere any longer. I still think about the mistakes I’ve made in the past- but in a way where I can learn from them instead of just being ashamed of them. My mental health issues put both Anna and my own life at risk. Going back to being reckless and untreated could do the same. I’m staying on track. I’m staying positive. I’m staying healthy.
[I recently blogged in response to my first reader request- conceiving Anna after my struggle with infertility. It turned into a long post, and was harder to write than I’d anticipated. After a little break, I’m finally ready to continue! Here’s my SECOND content request – my pregnancy with Anna.]
Pregnancy with Anna was not easy. My body had gone through a whole lot of physical changes with my recent weight loss of 100 pounds. I struggled emotionally with the hormonal changes that come with typical pregnancy, but also learned about the mental side effects of drastic weight loss.
I went to my doctor in the beginning of my pregnancy after a large-scale breakdown. He informed me ( for the first time ) that as fat burns, it can release hormones like a time capsule. Because I gained most of my weight in my childhood and teenage years, I was releasing hormones that had been stored during puberty. It caused some major mood swings, especially with my underlying bipolar disorder. I also had some crazy acne and BO. Flashback to high school misery- but releasing the stored estrogen gave me the boost my body needed to conceive Anna. At the end of the day, second puberty was totally worth it. I got my baby, and that’s all I really cared about.
Unfortunately, my physical health wasn’t the only thing flashing back to my teenage years. In March, just weeks into my pregnancy, there was a bridal shower that needed to be thrown. My sister is the most important person in my life, aside from my children. She deserved the best shower in history, and I was obsessively stuck on it. My OCD reared its ugly head, as I became fixated on certain tasks and struggled to release any responsibilities to the other bridesmaids. I fought with the other girls constantly, then called my sister in fits of rage. On a 1-10 scale of mental stability, I was at negative 60. I couldn’t pull myself out of it, especially since I’d given up my rescue anxiety medication for the safety of the baby. I tortured everyone during the planning stages- including myself. Unfortunately my actions can’t be undone, and have left some permanent marks on those relationships. Obsessive compulsions can literally destroy lives, or in my case, destroy friendships.
My body struggled to keep up with the changes, and I developed orthostatic bradycardia. I lost consciousness several times daily, fainting when I moved positions, got active or even took a hot shower. I was in and out of cardiologist offices, tests, and emergency rooms for weeks straight. I even had to wear a holter monitor for a few days (which was absolutely miserable. 0/10 – would not recommend.) Soon my heart rate even triggered fainting with drastic mood shifts. Not ideal for an untreated bipolar.
By spring I was slapped in the face with multiple big events. We had my sister’s bachelorette party, friends visiting from California, her wedding, and our cruise to Bermuda. Nothing went smoothly. I was physically sick all the time, either passing out or throwing up. Again, I could not keep up with the major events. My emotions prohibited my enjoyment, and I managed to dig myself deeper with my troubled friendships. The depression and loneliness consumed me.
It was around this stage that my doctors began getting concerned. I was struggling with my weight. I monitored the scale daily, and went out of my way to make sure I wasn’t gaining. On the other hand, I melted down on a regular basis because I was not gaining the weight my baby needed to thrive. I fought mental and emotional eating for my whole life, and I just wasn’t able to put my feelings on the back burner for pregnancy. I was being torn in two different directions, provide for the baby or restrict to stay thin. Mistakes were made. I obsessively refused to finish meals, stayed busy to avoid eating all together, fasted, and meticulously counted calories. It didn’t help my bradycardia or my depression. I couldn’t provide nutrients to my baby. I felt like a failed mother already, and I wasn’t even in my third trimester yet.
By the fall, my body had been through so much. My abdominal tissue had changed drastically with the weight loss and pregnancy, and the ligaments were fatigued. I developed a massive hernia. It was super painful, and definitely limited my mobility. I felt worthless as I was able to do less and less around the house. I was so sick, all the time. I flew off the handle with every mild inconvenience, and sunk into rock bottom depression every night. My poor family went through so much with me and supported me until the bitter end, despite the terrible way I treated them.
We were leaving a party one night in October, about a month before Anna was due. I had one leg inside the car, the other still on the pavement. When I sat down, there was a pop. On the way home, Mike and I laughed about it- I thought I had peed myself a little. We really didn’t take it seriously. I watched throughout the night, and there was a bit of fluid every few hours. I called my doctor and debated going to the hospital. I still had a little over a month to go, so he told me it was unlikely my water broke. I felt stupid, and stayed home. This was Saturday night. I spent Sunday feeling depressed and disgusting. I was appalled that I was peeing myself continuously, and wound myself up into hundreds of small anxiety attacks throughout the day. I took the kids to a theme park and tried to stay busy. It seemed like that day went on forever, that I felt every single minute go by. It was an exhausting day, but I still found myself unable to sleep that night. Again, I watched every hour on the clock tick by.
It was about 4AM when I had enough. I jumped out of bed, turned on all the lights and cranked my ‘cleaning playlist.’ There was a fireball of energy in my chest, and I was compelled to get everything baby-ready. I woke Mike up, and demanded he go install the car seat immediately. It was one of the only times in our whole relationship that Mike said “no.” He went back to bed. I turned my music up louder, started the washing machine, dryer and dishwasher. I slammed doors. I opened the bedroom door and yelled at Mike to get up and help me. I did everything I could think of to wake him up.
At one point, I left the bedroom to get more cleaning supplies. While I was out, Mike jumped up and locked the bedroom door. He put earplugs in, and tried to ignore me. He had to work in the morning. (This is when things get real embarrassing, and really emotional for me.) There’s no doubt in my mind that I had been experiencing a manic episode- the energy, the obsession, the outright insanity- but the moment I heard the door click to locked, my brain flipped the switch from manic to rage. I found super-human strength and became violent.
First came the most awful, hurtful words I could think of. I went right for the kill shot, insulting Mike’s relationship with Arielle and his parenting. Then came the actions. I banged on the door as hard as I could, even when I felt the side of my hand start to bruise and swell. I screamed so loud that the dogs woke up, and barked along with me. The older kids woke up and came down to investigate. Unfortunately what they saw when they rounded the corner was my all time mental low.
There I was, eight months pregnant. Face so red, it was practically purple. Tears soaked my face, neck and even my chest. Snot ran everywhere, and I spewed spit with every word I screamed. I held a bar stool in my hand, and used it as a battering ram to break down the locked door. I got several holes busted into the wood before I realized Jacen was watching. I sent him back upstairs without even slowing down. With one final swing, I hit the door hard enough to really do some damage. Mike unlocked the door, and wrapped me up in a bear hug until I calmed down. With my arms pinned to my sides, I couldn’t hurt him or myself any longer. I had no choice but to calm down. I listened to Mike tell me over and over again how much he loved me, and instantly felt like the dumbest person on the planet. How could I have done all of this? How could I treat my family like this? My house? My unborn baby? Myself? My energy plummeted, and exhaustion finally hit. I remembered what Jacen had witnessed, and literally vomited out of shame. Then I realized the small “leaks of pee” had turned into much more during my outburst. My pants and the floor were all wet. It never was pee, and my amniotic fluid had now been leaking for 36 full hours.
There are major concerns regarding infection after your water breaks. Ideally, a baby is to be born within 24 hours of the rupture. I was far past that by the time my OB office opened. Things moved pretty quickly after my 9AM appointment, and soon enough I was being wheeled into the operating room for my emergency c-section, a whole month early. I hoped this was the end, that I could close the chapter of my miserable pregnancy and start fresh with a happy little fairy tale and my new baby. Unfortunately, the end was quite farther away than I’d thought.
I’ll be honest- I wasn’t looking forward to my latest therapy session. I’ve only been sleeping 2 or 3 hours at night, and it’s messing with both my mental and physical health. Lack of sleep affects memory, body sensation, focus, and so much more. The migraines have been terrible, and my patience with “mom problems” has run quite thin.
Like any parent, I carry a lot of guilt when I lose my cool with the kids. I don’t want them to feel like they need to walk on eggshells because Mom’s in a bad mood, but it’s easy to blow your top when you’re running on fumes. For a few days our home was caught in the vicious cycle of mom is tired-> mom yells -> mom can’t sleep at night because she’s anxiously beating herself up for yelling -> mom is tired.. etc.
While we are on the topic of vicious cycles, sleep has also sucked me into a physical-mental spiral. I physically feel crummy between the headaches and over all exhaustion, which makes me feel guilty, anxious and depressed. I make poor food choices, which physically makes me feel sick. I emotionally beat myself up for my bad behavior, then once again want to comfort myself with food. Some days I stay in bed because I’m “sick,” but the lack of productivity makes my depression worse. The depression manifests with body aches, tiredness and nausea- which tricks me into thinking I’m sick again. I stay in bed all day to recover. As much as I want to pull myself out of the loop, I just haven’t been able to.
There was a familiar cloud of dread when I looked at the calendar on Sunday night and saw my Monday therapy appointment. That old temptation to cancel it and stay in bed crept into my mind. Even on Monday morning I had debated blowing it off completely and sucking up the no-show fee. I’ve worked so hard to improve myself, why was I falling back into my bad habits? Getting there was 90% of the battle, but the moment my hand touched that office doorknob some of my positivity returned. I was making the decision to change. I was taking back control.
I find EMDR to be the most effective therapy, but it’s also emotionally taxing. In the past I’d jumped right into a session when I wasn’t ready, and it resulted in physical symptoms. Trying to process on low fuel gives me vertigo, weak knees and shaky limbs. I have poor depth perception, and sometimes bump into the doorframe on my way out or trip over flat ground. It isn’t safe to drive home like that, and it’s not conducive to emotional healing.
Now that I’ve spent about a year doing EMDR, I’ve learned what to do and what not to. I’m finally in tune with my body and can say “you know, I don’t think I can handle EMDR today. It’s a session for talk therapy.”
I definitely had enough to fill a session- good news, vacations planned, exciting Auntie updates over my beautiful niece, stress with the kids, non-scale victories, and hurt with absent family members. We talked a lot about my sleep habits, and some options for breaking the cycle. I’m hoping some of them will work, and I’ll be able to get back to my EMDR next session.
I wanted to share this to let everyone know that progress does not have to be tunnel-style linear. To heal emotionally, be open to more than just one type of therapy. Do not push yourself too far, or burn yourself out. It’s okay to take a small step, or even a slow step on your journey. Resting and recovering is a crucial part of long term success. Listen to your body.
Talking out some of the current emotions and thoughts lifted a bit off weight off of my shoulders. It was enough to motivate me to clear off my desk, and tidy up the clutter in my office. I’d been avoiding writing and keeping up with the administrative tasks of running a family because I didn’t want to deal with the mess. A clear desk literally gives me a fresh start, and opened up channels for productivity.
After writing, I found myself preparing healthy dinner plates for the family instead of giving into take-out.. (something I’ve regrettably indulged in for a few days out of laziness.) Anna and I picked up the living room together, laughed, tickled and snuggled. It was a nice change from the nights I’d passive aggressively chucked toys into the bucket from across the room, muttering under my breath the whole time. When the kids were in bed, I even spent some time with Mike instead of rolling over and hiding in a cocoon of blankets. Sleep still has not found its way back into my life, but I’m trying to stay positive and hoping for a quick return.
Small changes are still changes. Just getting to my therapy appointment was enough to veer away from my depressive cycle, and inspire healthy decisions this evening. It wasn’t the ultra-effective trauma processing I’d hoped for, but it was something. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and recovery does not happen overnight.
I had my very first content request this week! I couldn’t be more excited. It means so much to me that I have some seriously loyal readers, and having feedback from you all really makes me feel like you’re an active part in my healing journey.
Easter is a very special time for me. In 2017 we were able to make the EXTREMELY emotional announcement that we were pregnant with Anna. It was a long road, and one I still think about every day. I take every opportunity I can to share my Facebook memories of my pregnancy, and to appreciate the gift of my rainbow baby. It was on one of these posts that my follower had requested the whole story- so here we go!
Backing way up to 2009, I unexpectedly got pregnant with Jacen. I certainly was not trying. I was 19, and in my very first relationship. We had been together just a few weeks when I came down with a terrible case of Mono and resistant strep throat. For just over three weeks I took high doses of antibiotics and could not manage to get out of bed. I slept for huge blocks of time, and my whole schedule was thrown off. The days blurred, and I became super irresponsible with my birth control. I couldn’t remember when I had taken it or missed it. I’d sleep through days of doses, then try to make up for it by taking multiple tablets to catch up. This erratic schedule messed with my hormone levels, and the antibiotics I took lowered the effectiveness of the few doses I did manage to get down. That’s all it took. Bam! I was pregnant, just two cycles in to a new relationship. It was quite a shock.
Being a young, single mom wasn’t easy. I no longer took contraception lightly, and had an IUD placed. I met my husband, and we started talking about the future. We each had a child from a previous relationship, and had learned our lesson from previous “surprises.” We took our time getting to know each other and built a strong foundation for a good marriage. We decided to start trying for a baby right after we were married, and I had my IUD removed just a month after our wedding. This was December of 2013.
Just a few weeks later, we were preparing for a trip to New Hampshire for my birthday. We had booked a big condo with a group of friends, and planned on spending a beautiful weekend being snowed in on a gorgeous mountain. I was looking forward to it, and nothing would stop be from going.
Unfortunately, right before we were supposed to leave for the trip Jacen and I were in a car accident. The weather was horrible this particular day. It was snowing thick, heavy, wet sludge and it immediately froze to ice when it hit the ground. Traffic slowed as the conditions became more dangerous. The road had turned into a parking lot. Tons of cars had lost control, and other drivers were stuck as tow trucks and police squeezed in to do their jobs. We had come to a stop behind a line of stopped cars, right at the base of the Sagamore bridge. There was a new, teenage driver behind us. She was going a little too fast over the bridge, not expecting traffic to be at a complete halt when she got to the other side. She tried to hit the breaks, but the bridge was too icy. She slid all the way down, picking up downhill momentum. She was going pretty fast when she rear ended us. My car lurched forward and to the left, bumping several feet in front of her Jeep, and my front end turning to hit the guard rail. We were completely perpendicular to traffic when her Jeep caught up to us, and she slammed into us a second time.
Jacen and I went to the hospital, where they told me I had a bad case of whiplash and sent me home. Mike and I decided we still wanted to go to New Hampshire with our friends. If anything, I needed an escape to relax after the accident. Thinking I only had a case of whiplash, we headed out to our scenic condo in a snowstorm. It didn’t turn out to be the birthday I had expected. I could not stay awake, and the room was spinning. I was nauseous and confused for days. My friends were drinking, and the roads were iced over. There was no way anyone was driving me to the hospital.
At one point, my sister and her (now) husband jumped into my bed to check up on me. I was mortified when the sheet pulled back, and revealed I had been bleeding while I slept. I originally thought it was just a period. I was embarrassed and just wanted to forget about it. On the way home from our trip, we decided that my sleepiness and pain had gone on too long. I went into the emergency room, with terrible head and abdominal pain. I had a severe concussion, and discovered the bleeding was actually a miscarriage. We were devastated.
I ended up with PTSD from the accident, and had a hard time driving. I couldn’t make it in to work without major anxiety attacks on the bridge, and had to change jobs to avoid the accident route. I also could not shake my miscarriage, and the depression dragged me down every single day. We just kept trying for a baby, and I convinced myself that pregnancy would heal my emotional wounds. I really thought that it was the only thing that would help me get over the anxiety and depression.
I was training at my new job just a few months later when I suddenly felt a gush of blood. I went immediately to the emergency room and discovered I was having a second miscarriage. I couldn’t understand why it was happening, there was no accident or trauma this time. Depression consumed me. I withdrew in my marriage and became distant with the Jacen and Arielle. My binge eating was out of control, as I self medicated with the endorphins from carbohydrates. I put on weight rapidly, and my mental state quickly spiraled. My OCD reared its ugly head, and I became fixated on getting pregnant. I took daily ovulation and pregnancy tests, hoping for the best. I put a ton of stress on Mike with scheduled sex, home remedies and a TON of vitamins and supplements. We fought, a whole lot. There was a lot of blame and sadness, and we were not kind to each other.
I hated being at work. Every time I walked by the chair where I had felt that gush of blood I flashed back to my miscarriage. I had daily anxiety attacks, and was uncharacteristically irritable and confrontational with my coworkers. Every single day was miserable. I spent the days wound up at work, and the evenings fighting with Mike. I did not seek mental help, and food was my only comfort.
I ate myself sick. My A1C and blood sugar were completely out of control. I had high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The weight caused huge issues with my hormones, resulting in skin issues, a fungal BO smell (no matter how many showers I took) and uncontrolled, miserable periods. My self confidence plummeted. I felt worthless, ugly and smelly. The physical pain from my PCOS made every single day a battle. Doctors didn’t offer much help, they just told me to lose the weight. I was stuck in a depression/binge cycle that got worse every day.
After months of trying, Mike and I sought intervention with IVF. I was put on Metformin (a diabetic drug) to manage my sugar and insulin issues. It took months of adjusting, and I ended up on the highest recommended dose. Imaging revealed several issues. I had masses on my uterus, cysts and polyps. I went for multiple surgeries, a ton of appointments and imaging, and buried us financially with meds and treatment that our insurance did not cover. Eventually, the doctor sat down with us and told me she had to stop intervention. She was out of ideas, and I needed to get my weight under control before proceeding.
If I thought I was at rock bottom before, I must have been in the negative at this point. I mourned, but eventually it was the wake up call I needed. I made some serious lifestyle changes, and started therapy for my binge eating. We took a break from trying to conceive, and started using birth control from again. I focused on getting healthy, and saw every pound lost as a step closer to pregnancy. Taking the stress of baby planning out of the picture gave Mike and I a chance to meet our relationship, and we were happier than ever.
When I lost 100 pounds, Mike and I booked a weekend getaway. We forgot the contraceptives, but figured it didn’t matter anyways with our history. When we got back home, we resumed trying to NOT get pregnant. It was quite a shock when I ended up with a positive pregnancy test just one month after our trip. We were overjoyed and over the moon. It was hard to keep our secret, but we didn’t want to get our hopes up and end up with another miscarriage either. Those first 12 weeks went by so incredibly slow, but finally announcing felt amazing. I’ll never forget my mom’s reaction, or the happy tears my sister shed. It had been such a long road, but I still feared future loss every single day. It was a very long, very difficult pregnancy.
Confession time- I’m detoxing from sugar again. There’s a big difference between a lifestyle change and a diet. A diet has an expiration date, an ending. Some kind of time limit or numerical pound goal. A lifestyle change is forever, which includes holidays for the rest of your life.
I am proud to say that I (most importantly) had a great Easter and school vacation week with the kids. It was only the second holiday in seven years that did not include a fight or emotional breakdown. I even mingled with my in-laws without a panic attack. All good things.
The other thing that I’m very proud of is my ability to refrain from binging. My previous “all or nothing” mentality would have set me off for the whole day, not being able to stop the sweets after dessert. In private, I would have consumed a bucket of Easter candy, emptied the fridge, maybe even stopped to load up on fast food on the way home. I would justify this behavior as a “cheat day” that I should live up before getting back on the diet tomorrow. No more of that.
Something I would like to get better at is being able to eat mindfully at family gatherings. Mindful eating at home has changed my life, and has empowered me to control my portions without going hungry. I still struggle with this at holidays. My social anxiety prevents me from ever reaching my baseline calm, and prohibits me from being mindful. I can’t focus on my food because I still hold that cloud of self awareness, self consciousness and defensive thoughts. Most of the time I’m actually just trying to hold my plate without dropping it, or getting the fork in my mouth. (When my anxiety is at its worst, I dissociate and have poor depth perception. I can’t control my hands, and often embarrass myself.) I noticed this Easter that I cleaned my dessert plate for the first time in years. I really feel that if I had be able to focus, I would have felt satisfied sooner and ate a smaller portion.
It’s done, it’s over with. It’s a new day.
My sugar goal is always less than 21grams per day, and no more than 6grams at once. Since most food has naturally occurring sugar, it’s impossible to meet these goals while consuming refined sugar. My diet is usually made up of protein and fibrous vegetables- although I do love my fruit. One banana can mess up my whole day, so I have to pay close attention to the choices I make, and the portions.
I’m mentally okay with my sugary decisions over the holiday. I knew when I ate them that I would need to detox eventually, and that I’d probably be sick for a few days. I still wanted to enjoy myself, and that’s allowed. As long as I do not allow myself to be completely derailed for long periods of time, things are acceptable in moderation.
It’s not required, but I like to start my detox on full liquids. There’s a huge misconception that this means you’ll go hungry, but it’s not the case. Obviously liquids include water, broth and sugar free drinks. It also allows sugar free jellos and puddings. Most importantly, it includes high protein liquids- creamed soups, protein shakes and low sugar Greek yogurt (check your labels! Some yogurt has a ton of sugar.) If I’m really hungry, a sugar free chocolate pudding and a scoop of natural peanut butter really hits the spot! It’s one day, and it’s worth it.
Starting a detox on a liquid diet will lessen the impact of sugar withdrawal. The biggest complaints of “Keto flu” or sugar detox are headaches, mild nausea and sweating. Staying hydrated will make each of these symptoms less painful, and prepare your body for the most success.
The next few days, (usually day 2-4 depending on my body cues) I transition to easily digestible proteins- soft foods, fish, and nut butters. These items are easy on your stomach if you’re experiencing flu symptoms, low in sugar, and will satisfy hunger with their high protein count.
By day 5 my body can usually handle the full keto diet, even tough meat like steak or dry protein like chicken. I’m back on track, and feeling great!
Exercise really helps move the sugar along. Activity will get your circulation going, moving those cells that have stored glucose. Sweat removes toxins and sugar from the body, and staying busy lifts your mood, re enforcing positivity and increasing your chances of success.
Today is a new day. This moment is a new minute. Forgive the choices you’ve made in the past, but don’t forget them. Learn from them. I’m starting my sugar detox today. Who’s with me?