My body and senses became so reactive to my baby’s needs that I soon found myself opening my eyes as soon as my baby begins to make the tiniest sound. She didn’t even have to wake up or cry. My eyes would just pop open and my legs would just leap out of bed.
Was this natural? Was this maternal?
To this day, I’m not quite sure.
One morning my baby began to cry, a cue that she was hungry or needed her diaper changed. I heard the same sound countless times before and it now became routine, the reason for my very existence. Yet this time my eyes wouldn’t snap open and my body won’t listen. My mind is saying wake up, but my legs feel like they weigh a ton.
I can’t move. I can’t get up. All I remember thinking is how I would like to just sink into the bed and disappear into another world.
I dragged my feet to and from her bassinet, head in a deep fog and heart without soul. I felt empty.
Clock stopped ticking.
That day, a switch turned off in my head. I’m not sure if the change was gradual or overnight –and must I remind you, these were days when my needs didn’t matter. It’s been too long since I stopped to think about how I was doing and over time, I had forgotten all about taking care of my emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
All I know is there was this dark cloud hovering over my head and it wouldn’t go away.
Read more about Postpartum depression.
Visit to the Psychiatrist
Luckily I was still sane enough to know my feelings were unusual and indicative of a deeper problem. After reading Brooke Shield’s Down Came The Rain and being unable to relate to her experiences as a celebrity mom with access to the best nannies and resources, I decided to seek professional help. At the time the term “postpartum depression” was rarely talked about and I didn’t have a single friend who had a baby. I felt utterly helpless, vulnerable and alone.
(To this day, I grieve for that young, lonely 24-year old new mother who knew nothing else but that she had to protect her child. She’s now older and wiser yes, but she still needs a hug once in awhile.)
Immediately I searched for a nearby psychiatrist, preferably a female, and told her I’d like an appointment right away.
The psychiatrist was a woman in her late 40’s or early 50’s, with an air of professionalism and hint of maternal softness. She sat at her desk with her big blonde hair, surrounded by pictures of her children and rows and rows of books. She gave me a short test with less than 20 questions. I answered honestly.
After carefully grading it like a teacher would, she told me that I am clinically depressed. I’m not sure what being “clinically” depressed means, but I’m assuming it means it warrants psychiatric medication and regular follow up. She also asked me if there was a history of depression in my family. I told her I wasn’t sure.
I picture even if there was, my poor mother and grandmother had to endure it all by themselves, in silence.
She went on to give me helpful tips on how to stay positive. She said I should maintain a high vibration in my actions, thoughts and words. She suggested I keep a gratitude journal when I told her I used to once enjoy writing (which inspired my very first blog, The Gratitude Tree). She told me to replace every “should” with “I get to.”
For example, instead of saying “I should clean the house,” say “I get to clean my house.” I had to rewire my brain. She said to avoid the word should.
Should is profane like shit. Funny, but it helped.
And with that, she prescribed me Cymbalta, an anti-depressant, and reminded me not to stop taking the medication without her approval. She said I should take it for at least one year.
Life On Anti-Depressants
I’m not sure if it was due to placebo affect or the actual medication, but I began to feel better immediately after the visit. Anti-depressants are supposed to take at least a week or two to kick in, but I felt better and more hopeful after a few days. I began to take medication at a set time and returned to my normal routine at home with the kids. I began praying more, writing in my online gratitude journal and reminding myself to stay positive. I continued my graduate studies and teaching.
My older daughter was still being seen by various therapists and specialists and just beginning to walk at age 2. My second daughter was growing as a normal functioning, healthy and happy child. By this time, I saw a clear difference between my two daughters’ development and knew that my first child was indeed, different.
While anti-depressants reduced my lows and feelings of hopelessness, lethargy and despair, it didn’t make me truly happy either. In fact, it masked my emotions and made me a dull and unfeeling individual. As a sensitive and perceptive child since birth, I hated feeling this way. I didn’t feel like my authentic self and I missed having feelings again…even the unpleasant ones.
To make matters worse, I began to exhibit odd symptoms. For example, my mind would begin racing, giving me a feeling of high like I’ve never felt before. I would sit down and write in my journal and all kinds of crazy yet profound thoughts would fill my head and pour out onto paper. I didn’t feel like my normal self but I didn’t hate it either. For a short time, I felt like a mad genius. It was the weirdest yet grandest feeling ever.
After doing some research (as an English-teacher-mom, I became very adept at this) I realized what I was experiencing were symptoms of manic episodes. Apparently manic episodes are side effects of anti-depressants and anyone can exhibit these symptoms. The medication that was supposed to help me was making me worse. Whatever caused the symptoms, it scared me. Plus I was tired of being dependent on a tiny yellow pill that makes me feel like someone else, and now makes me feel like a crazy writer person.
I never bothered to revisit the psychiatrist and just stopped taking the medication cold turkey after 3 months. I knew this was not recommended but I didn’t give a shit. This was MY mind, MY body, and MY life, and I was determined to regain control over my feelings and thoughts.
And I needed more sleep.
After a few weeks of brain zaps (the worst feeling ever) and a few emotional breakdowns, I began to feel like myself again. The medication was out of my system and I vowed never go back to that dark place again. I began to take care of myself again.
(I must add though, although short-lived, I created the most beautiful, crazy and profound writings during my manic episodes. It also gave me a deeper understanding of the close and intricate relationship between art and madness.)
All in all, it was one of the most turbulent time of my life. But I persevered. And conquered. Does this mean my trials of motherhood are over? Far from it. But I now have the courage to get over the fear of sharing my stories. As long as I can help some moms out there, I’ll try not to give into the pressures of perfection and false ideals about motherhood.
OLDEST CHILD: ELLE
At age 3, E was diagnosed with petit mal seizure disorder and takes daily medication. Petit mal seizures are tiny and often goes undetected by eye. It is controlled with medication but can lead to various learning disabilities and difficulties. Her gross motor skills have improved but her fine motor skills are still lacking. She has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that allows us to work alongside the school district to create a personalized education plan that is most beneficial to her. So far she has been lucky with supportive directors and teachers. But I also know how difficult this road is, as I’ve spent months fighting the insurance company to pay for her speech therapy and dealing with unsympathetic and incompetent gatekeepers of various institutions.
I am now her biggest advocate and it is my job to fight for her education and rights. And to protect her from evil stares and gossip of nasty mothers. (Unfortunately, it happens. You can read about one instance here.)
As a mom of a special needs child, I learned that a diagnosis is not as important as the child’s unique learning curve and needs. Every child is different and every child has different strengths and weaknesses. I’ve fought for the Apraxia of speech diagnosis for speech therapy and pushed for the Autism diagnosis to receive ABA services. These realities may sound crazy for parents of normal functioning children but all parents of special needs children understand that our children are more than their diagnosis and standardized test scores.
My child is unique and so special in her own way. She loves to sing, dance and has the biggest belly laugh and the sweetest smiles in the world. She is the hardest working 9 year old I know. She is truly a beautiful soul and those who know her understand what a blessing she is to our family.
I’ve wrestled with the idea of sharing her story with the public for a long time but never had the courage to do so. A part of me wanted to share and empower, while another part of me wished to protect her from public scrutiny. A part of me worried that she will be judged and treated differently, yet another part of me knew, deep down inside, that she was brought into this world to give voice to those without a voice.
SECOND CHILD: TEE
My second child T is smart, funny and insanely animated. She is full of expression and creativity and her energy radiates any room she enters. She is the perfect younger sister to Elle and explains to anyone who gives her weird stares that her sister has special needs, but she is just as special. To her the term special needs is a natural part of life, and she has no problem explaining this to friends who ask why her sister acts different sometimes.
Her love and eagerness to help her sister erases all my maternal fears and doubts, and I know God has a special plan for her in the future. At age 8, she is already an advocate with a huge heart and deep understanding.
She excels academically and is exceptionally good with art, reading and language. I always remind myself not to push her too hard because I want her to remember her childhood as one that is filled with enlightening firsthand experiences, natural curiosity and fun, rather than drills, worksheets and grades. Yet she carries a natural inner desire to excel and be involved in new, exciting endeavors and for that, I’m proud and grateful.
Currently she is a part of the school play and loves going to rehearsals and practicing her role as part of the younger ensemble in Peter Pan. She also loves roller blading, playing on the monkey bar, drawing, singing and dancing.
There was a period of time when I believed motherhood can be mastered. How foolish I was. Just when a mother thinks she has mastered the art of diaper changing, the toddler is ready to be potty trained. Just when a mother believes she has mastered the art of negotiation, the child throws an explosive tantrum like never before. Just when a mother thinks wow, my child is such a big kid now, he surprises everyone with his babylike emotions and regresses.
Just like this, motherhood seems to be a continuous, lifelong journey of ups and downs, trials and accomplishments. It is never finalized, never truly mastered. Just as it gets easier, something occurs, and motherhood suddenly feels like an impossible task again.
I do not claim to know everything about motherhood. One thing I do know however, is that motherhood is a journey that is meant to be shared. I also know that motherhood, as beautiful and rewarding as it is, can often feel like a lonely and confusing road with no one to talk to.
It is my hope that my honest stories can encourage others to share theirs as well, so we can begin to create a web of beautiful tales that can be remembered and celebrated.
Motherhood is meant to be celebrated, and in our story, truth prevails over perfection.