Concerning Boobies

So I’m going to write about boobs, specifically about breastfeeding. If you’re weirded out by that, (a) might be good to talk to someone about why breastfeeding weirds you out; and (b) you may want to skip this blog.

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I’ve always been on the Bigger Boobs side of things when it comes to my own development. For a long time, I still fit into the “big but can still shop at Victoria’s Secret” category, a category that ends with the letter D; but weight gain and eventually pregnancy showed me a whole new set of letters to describe my chest flesh. At the moment, I’m squeezed into an older bra that’s a bit too small for my “pregnant with twins, what’s your excuse?” chest because I really don’t want to get measured and refitted when I’ve still got a while to go yet in this pregnancy.

People talk a good game about wanting gazongas like mine, but they aren’t fun. On the most pragmatic scale of all, affordability, they’re a nightmare. Some maternity stores do go up to my size for cheap(ish), but if I really want to wear something that’s cuter than beige, I have to go online to find it, and it always costs ~$50-60, which is why I own three bras and three bras only. Objectively cuter bras that exist to make me feel good about myself don’t really come in my size, or if they do, they don’t come easily (though I will say that once the twins are born, I’m totally getting a galaxy bra from Torrid and you can’t stop me).

Less pragmatically, my back hurts. A lot. Contrary to what animes would have you believe, big boobs do not function like helium balloons. They consist of fat and sinuses and chest flesh and thus actually weigh something, and that weight must be supported by something, namely your back muscles. Consequently, I’ve noticed that since I went from my high school size of “appropriate” to my postpartum size of “even turtlenecks give me cleavage,” my upper back hurts a lot more. It’s not excruciating, but it’s enough that, when lying in bed at the end of the day, I pray for the funds to get a breast reduction sooner rather than later so that I don’t develop a hunchback before I’m 40.

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(no offense Quasimodo)

Now, you’d think with these gazongas, I’d be an enthusiastic heifer, udderly producing way too much milk for one baby, let alone two.

And you would be wrong.

I felt encouraged in this direction towards the end of my pregnancy with Sam. Nobody mentions this, but you leak a lot the further along your pregnancy gets, and I kept developing stains on my favorite shirts and bras (which were more numerous then). It was frustrating, but I felt like it was a good sign: if I’m producing enough to leak right now, I’ll surely be a dairy farm for this kid, and we’ll never have to spend a cent on formula.

Ha.

Fast forward to Sam’s birthday, the day of his actual birth. After 45 minutes of pushing, the nurses lifted my child with his enormous head and baby slime to my chest, and it was time to breastfeed for the first time. This practice is encouraged for understandable reasons: breastfeeding causes your body to release oxytocin, which causes your uterus to contract, which helps expel the placenta and slow your bleeding. If, for whatever reason, you can’t breastfeed or your uterus isn’t contracting, you’ll get a dose of synthetic oxytocin (known as pitocin) to speed the process along and hopefully prevent your delivery room from turning into that scene from The Shining.

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So anyway, I tried to breastfeed. I’d read all the videos, knew all the tips, and figured it couldn’t be that difficult. I held my boy tenderly against me and gently guided my huge freaking gazonga titty towards his face and his face towards the huge freaking gazonga titty. For about half a second, he put in a valiant effort of latching onto the bulbous orb that was suddenly coming towards him… but then that second ended and he decided that no, he did not want the orb.

In the moment, it wasn’t a big deal. I was still on an IV that gave me a steady drip of pitocin because of my induction. The placenta came out, and I didn’t die of too much bleeding, and Sam and I had those moments of bonding together–albeit minus the breastfeeding.

But it’s cool, it’s cool, I told myself. I’ve been in labor for 24 hours, Sam is brand new to breathing, we’ll just keep trying until we get it.

Back in those days, hospitals didn’t really go for the baby-friendly hospital movement thing, so we had the option to let Sam spend the night in the nursery and get some sleep. Exhausted from having been pregnant for what felt like 18 years and going through 24 hours of labor without having slept at all in the 36 hours beforehand, I gladly took advantage of this program. The nurses fed Sam formula while I slept and recovered, about six hours a night.

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During the day, we worked on breastfeeding. A steady stream of lactation consultants came in with various tools to help Sam realize that breastfeeding was awesome, but nothing doing. Our most elaborate attempt involved a syringe with a long tube attached that went into Sam’s mouth at the same time as my boob. The idea was that he theoretically wasn’t getting into breastfeeding because my boob wasn’t producing immediate results, which I still think is true, but the syringe didn’t help with that at all. Sam just got angry when the syringe stopped and screamed instead of trying harder, a strategy I can definitely relate to.

But we went home, and I tried to put Sam on the boob every time he needed food. These sessions were, to put it gently, miserable. They lasted at least an hour and a half apiece and needed to start all over again when they ended.

See. First, I’d put Sam on the boob with the mindset of “maybe he’ll get it this time.” Breastfeeding involves a LOT of moving parts, and trying to get your infant to understand which moving parts are which is an exercise in having the patience of a saint and the stamina of a tank. And I did everything the lactation consultants suggested. I used the syringe. I avoided pacifiers at the very start and used breast-shaped bottles to avoid “nipple confusion.” I massaged and focused and switched boobs and did what I could, but even after 45 minutes of wrestling, Sam was screaming with hunger and I was exhausted.

But we still weren’t done, or well. I wasn’t done.

For the first couple of weeks, I had Kyle with me to help, since he had a week of paid paternity leave and then worked from home, returning to work in gradual steps. He would go and mix up a bottle of formula for us, and I’d get out the pump. Breast pumps are kind of weird machines, and it’s impossible to use one and NOT feel like you’ve devolved into some sort of human-bovine hybrid. Even with the most modern and discreet models, you’re being milked, and there’s no way for that to NOT be awkward.

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(sorry to shatter any illusions; it’s exactly like this)

So Kyle would take Sam and sit on the couch with pillows and give Sam a bottle so that the poor child would stop being so hungry. I would get myself hooked up to the milk machine, which was… an adventure, to say the least. I’m not sure if it’s easier for people whose breasts don’t fall into the huge freaking gazongas category, but getting everything aligned properly was always a Process for me. After that, I’d sit and pump for a total of 45 minutes, half on the left and half on the right. I couldn’t do anything else during these pumping sessions, because I had to hold the cups in place or else they’d just be trying to milk air, and that’s not very good. And the end product was always roughly 15 drops of milk–a generous amount for, say, a pet mouse, but not very useful for keeping a child alive.

It was exhausting. And by the time I was done pumping and Sam was done eating, we’d have a reprieve of maybe half an hour before it was time again.

I hated it.

What’s more, I hated myself for hating it. Breastfeeding, feeding in general, was supposed to be this wonderful bonding time with the two of us, but I dreaded the very thought. The best part for me was when Kyle would give Sam back to me, after all the pumping and eating and wrestling and angst, and my baby boy would curl up against me and fall asleep to the sound of my heartbeat. The worst part was literally everything else about it. I was miserable.

If I’m honest, the beginning of the end came about 3 days after Sam was born. Maybe four. Our hospital had a policy that if you left before the 48 hours you were allowed to stay following your child’s birth were up, you could have a nurse visit you at home. Sam was born at around 5:45 p.m., which gave us a solid two nights in the hospital, and we didn’t want to deal with rush hour traffic on the ride home, so we left a good four hours before we had to… and two days later, the nurse came.

She brought a scale with her and blood pressure monitors and all sorts of portable tools to measure Sam and measure me and make sure that we weren’t secretly dying. Sam went first; she took his blood pressure, checked out his jaundice (a lot of babies are jaundiced when born, but most end up better after getting some sunlight), and then weighed him. “That’s really impressive!” she remarked. “He’s gained back all of the weight he lost after birth. He’s back to his birth weight. Whatever you’re doing to keep him growing like this, keep it up!”

The remarks were both flattering and embarrassing. We were about 50/50 formula and breast-wrestling at that point, and even Sam’s pediatrician said at the one week mark, “If you want to start starving him a little so that he’ll take to the boob easier, he’s got more than enough weight on him.” But for my own sanity, I couldn’t do that, knowing what it took to get him to even breastfeed for a solid ten minutes.

I don’t remember the specific day I decided to quit breastfeeding entirely, only that Kyle was there and asked if I even wanted to try to put Sam on the boob. And I took a deep breath and I said, “You know what, I think I don’t. Let’s just give him formula.” The breast pump parts started to gather dust, and although my ginormous freaking gazongas still leaked like a haunted faucet (leading to at least one incident of which Kyle has said he learned a valuable lesson about not honking your wife’s boob affectionately while she’s lactating), things started to look up.

Sam kept up his pace of growth, and he was a much happier baby now that he was able to actually eat and not have to deal with having a boob thrust in his face whenever he got hungry. Kyle and I were actually able to function better as well, especially once we discovered various charts describing how much formula we could give Sam based on how big he was and how long we wanted to go between feedings. We were able to take shifts at night, so we both got about six hours of sleep, which wasn’t great but was a huge improvement over the three we’d been getting before.

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And, blissfully, Sam started sleeping through the night around three months old. That night is burned into my brain: Kyle and I both decided to crash around 10 p.m., and when Sam woke us up fussing at 5 a.m., we both looked at each other and asked, “Did you get up last night? No, did you?” And then came the realization of what had transpired and life was good.

Four years later, and Sam’s a healthy, happy kid whom his teachers describe as “scary smart.” He is absolutely average in terms of height and weight, and aside from a bout with ear infections well after I would have weaned him anyway, he’s been fantastic all along. I have zero regrets.

And I could go into all of the other things that contributed to the zero regrets: how I had to have gallbladder surgery when he was three months old, how I started antidepressants shortly after that, how scientifically speaking, babies who are formula fed and babies who are breastfed have negligible differences, but… why? What matters here was that breastfeeding was making us both miserable, and everyone was much happier when we stopped.

It’s all making me lean towards not breastfeeding the twins, which is a horrifying prospect when you consider the cost of formula for two babies, but at the same time…

Well, I look at my boobs. They’re still enormous. They could have their own gravitational pulls. I look at how hard it was to convince Sam to even try the boob and imagine doing that, with all its moving parts, for two babies. I look at Kyle and Sam, with their incredible bond that I don’t believe would be nearly as strong if Kyle hadn’t been able to be so involved with Sam’s care in those early days. I look at the almost certain chaos of those early days with two newborns instead of one.

And then I go to the store and buy a dozen more bottles (20% off at Babies R Us!) and say, you know, I think they’ll be alright.

In your head

If I’m being completely honest, I don’t remember hearing about it. It wasn’t an event like 9/11, where the shock and growing horror you feel as you watch events unfold in real time burn everything about that moment into your memory: where you were, what you were doing, what happened before and after, how you felt.

It was the spring of 1999, and I was a sophomore in high school, watching all of my friends who were born earlier in the year getting their learners’ permits and getting our first tastes of that irresponsible freedom that comes with being a teenager. I used to tell my mom that people called them “LPs” for short, but nobody called them that, learners’ permits, I mean. And anyway, I wasn’t really focused on world events at that point in time, except for when I had to be, like in AP U.S. History.

Most of my attention was focused all over the place, because I was a very busy high school sophomore, fifteen and not-quite-sixteen. I had a pretty big supporting role in the school musical that year (stepmother in Cinderella), I had a boyfriend who was in college (automatic cool points and elimination of dating as a distraction in anything ever), I sat state standardized tests (the MCAS exam, which is highly mockable and always has been), I was miserably failing Algebra II, life was busy overall.

I wasn’t thinking at all, of course, about school shootings.

They were on everyone’s radar, sort of, not like they really are today. We all knew about Paducah, we all knew vaguely that this was a Thing That Happened, but it wasn’t something that anyone thought about. School shootings seemed like flukes, like something you’d say “damn that was crazy!” about but then move on with your life, assuming that the perpetrator was bullied or had some sort of vendetta or something.

Somehow, Columbine changed that.

I don’t really remember hearing about it, but I remember the impacts. Not long after Columbine, we had something that was like 50% fire drill but really more of a school shooter drill. This was before you had lockdown practices, of course, because we thought it was a fluke. We all wandered aimlessly out of the buildings, accompanied by our teachers, and hung out on the front lawn until we got the all-clear. It may have been a real threat; I heard rumors that someone had left notes somewhere about shooting up the school, bombing the school, but nobody was really scared by it. Columbine was a fluke, after all.

I remember about six sprillion 20/20 esque programs dedicated to Why This Happened, and everyone had a different thought process. Violent video games! Bullying! The goth subculture! And therefore Satanism (Satanic Panic 2.0?)! Marilyn Manson! Trenchcoats (I’m not kidding)! My boyfriend at the time wore a trenchcoat like it was his job and played Resident Evil almost religiously, so I got a kick out of those theories. I think the newspeople eventually settled on bullying as The Reason, and after that, everything faded… but then later research revealed that the perpetrators were actually more often the bullies than the bullied, so that’s probably not it.

I remember the weird capitalization on certain victims’ lives and deaths. Cassie Bernall was the big one. The story went that she was asked, “Do you believe in God?” and said yes before being murdered. It was a great narrative from a Christian perspective; it turned her into a martyr of sorts, ostensibly killed because she said yes (which was the name of the book her parents wrote about her). Christian recording artists wrote songs about the incident, it was this great wonder and beautiful tragedy and… it didn’t even happen. Students who were with Cassie when she died reported that the shooter only said, “Peek-a-boo!” before murdering her.

But it was still some good music.

And it kind of… went away. Not completely, of course, and certainly not for the victims and their loved ones, but school shootings just anywhere near as common back then as they are now. Oh, they happened. Thirteen shootings happened between Columbine and my graduation from high school two years later. That seems like a lot, but then you realize that 2018 is so far 46 days old and there have already been 18 school shooting-style incidents, and suddenly, 13 over two years doesn’t seem as high of a number.

Next year, it will have been 20 years since Columbine. A lot has changed since then. The weirdest thing to me is that if you go to certain places on the internet, you’ll find pockets of people who are huge fans of the Columbine shooters. I don’t mean assholes who say, “Man, I wish I could shoot up a school!” I mean people who look at the shooters, say they were well within their rights to massacre people or that they did nothing wrong, coo over how attractive they were, and so on and so forth.

It’s… strange.

*

I always talk to Kyle about meta-fears I have for our kid(s). I call them meta-fears because the likelihood of them ever happening is statistically small, but as a parent, you still sometimes lie awake at night and wonder, “but what if…?” But they’re fears that you have to put on the back burner because if you let them, you’ll become irrational and incapable of functioning because they’re fears of such HUGE things that you have so little control over.

Meta-fears are things like “what if some random person grabs my kid off the street?” Statistically, this isn’t very likely to happen. The vast majority of kidnappings are perpetrated by members of the victim’s family, and while you have some pretty famous stories where that was not the case, they’re famous because they’re so rare. So you hold your kid’s hand and watch them when you’re out of the house, but you can’t let this fear consume you or else you’ll end up locking your kid in a tower, growing out their hair to about 70 feet, and only visiting them on weekends and bank holidays.

Things like “what if my kid gets cancer?” Statistically, this isn’t very likely to happen, even though we all know someone or know someone who knows someone whose kid got cancer. We’ve all contributed to fundraisers and all watched hashtags. One of the towns around here had a big rally for a kid that had one of the worst forms of childhood cancer, DIPG. Their hashtag was #whynotdevin, and it was HUGE around here. And it was heartbreaking, and of course, it made me wonder in my parental way, what if Sam contracted DIPG? 100% fatal, a disease that deteriorates who you are, and the only thing you can do is try and make your kid comfortable until they slip away in less than a year. It’s ridiculously rare (200 cases a year worldwide kind of rare), and you theoretically worry, but you have to put it on the back burner or you’re going to end up losing your mind because it’s not something you can predict or protect against.

Things like “what if this plane we’re on crashes?” Things like “what if there’s a drunk driver?” Things like “what if an asteroid crashes through our roof spontaneously?” Things like “what if nuclear war?”

Things like “what if my child’s school gets shot up?”

This wasn’t a worry when I was a kid. We had fire drills, of course, and those were usually pretty chill. One time, we had a fire drill while we were watching a video about volcanoes, and everybody thought that was hilarious. Another time, some kids brought a ouija board to recess and apparently, the ~spirits~ told them that the school would burn down that afternoon, and when we had a fire drill that afternoon, they all freaked out and that was also hilarious.

But it’s a worry now.

One of the things I’ve had the hardest time reading lately is the swath of accounts from teachers, telling the world who’s never experienced such a thing what it’s like to have a lockdown drill. They talk about kids not knowing it’s a drill, big and tough kids bursting into tears of absolute terror when the assistant principal rattles the doorknob to make sure it’s locked. They talk about teachers not knowing it’s a drill and screaming at their students in a panic, telling them to be quiet and stop talking and giggling, because if there is an active shooter, their silence could be their lifeline.

Fearing that your child’s school could be shot up should be a statistically rare meta-fear, like cancer or a plane crash or nuclear war. It should be something that you can just put in the back of your mind and worry about that bridge if you ever come to it, but it’s not.

Lockdown drills are pretty standard across the board nowadays. I don’t know if our town’s schools do them, or how early they start, but I imagine that they do and that they start very early. It adds a new layer to the meta-fear. It adds a thousand new layers to the meta-fear. I imagine, without wanting to, my sweet little boy with big hazel eyes and blonde hair having to hide in a closet behind locked doors. I imagine him being so terrified that he can’t fall asleep for weeks. Worse, I imagine him having a hard time comprehending what’s going on, being the loud and silly voice, and it not being a drill, and suddenly, I’m planning a funeral for my first baby.

I don’t want to imagine this. I don’t want this to be a fear that we have to take logical preventative measures about, like choking hazards and SIDS and batteries in smoke alarms and car seats.

But here we are.

*

Of course I have opinions about the whole thing. Anyone who’s known me for more than five minutes knows what those opinions are, but I’m not throwing them out here because I don’t want to attract That Crowd, if you know what I mean. I’m also not throwing them out here because I don’t want to sit around and debate and throw statistics back and forth and scream ceaselessly into the void at a group of people who just will. not. care.

I do want to scream into the void. But I’m tired.

So instead, I take a deep breath. I take comfort in the people I love. I hug Sam extra tight, even when he’s spent the entire day being a little shit (true story: this blog was initially going to be about the emotional weirdness of being angry with a toddler over something they don’t know any better, and it was going to be about poop). I listen to the Cranberries singing, “But you see, it’s not me, it’s not my family,” and wonder what happens to That Crowd when it is their family.

Sorry about the lack of entertaining or diverting gifs; they seemed inappropriate.

Sweet dreams are made of this…

To preface, I love my antidepressants/anti-anxiety meds, which are really just one drug, an SNRI by the name of Venlafaxine/Effexor. It has its side effects (risk of high blood pressure, drowsiness, absolutely wild dreams), and withdrawal is a b i t c h (migraines, severe vertigo, and then night terrors forever, and that’s just with missing one dose), but my god does it help. Since being on the current dosage, my panic attacks have completely evaporated, and I haven’t had anything remotely close to a depressive downswing. As the joke goes, if you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store-bought is fine.

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(also if you’re one of those people who posts the memes about how mountains are antidepressants and meds are shit, I will personally come to your house and make you touch old wet food)

The weird thing about Effexor is that the anxiety ends up manifesting when I’m sleeping instead of when I’m awake, which is both nice and annoying. It’s nice because yes, I’d much rather have anxiety dreams than a panic attack. I’m pretty sure everyone who’s ever had a genuine panic attack would rather have anxiety dreams than a panic attack. With an anxiety dream, I can wake up and reason with myself: “It’s okay that you didn’t buy the calculus book because (a) you’re 34 years old and not in school;  (b) you never took AP calculus to begin with; and (c) the math teacher that’s featuring in this nightmare has probably been retired for almost 20 years now.”

With a panic attack, there’s nothing to do but ride it until it subsides–the chest pain, the feeling of being unable to breathe, the heat and claustrophobia, the desperate need to get out even though you don’t know where or why. Your stress response goes absolutely haywire for no goddamn reason, and no amount of logic or reasoning makes it calm the fuck down because it’s coming from your most base instincts that are trying to save you from a deadly threat that doesn’t fucking exist.

My last real panic attack happened right around the time I started Effexor, just after I’d started taking it regularly. It was the weirdest thing: my stress response was still going haywire, but I was looking at it objectively as it happened and acknowledging that this was entirely pointless, body, there’s nothing threatening us and we’re absolutely fine. Before being on the Effexor, the stress got to my brain as well, as it does for pretty much everyone who’s ever had a panic attack, because it honestly feels like you’re dying. You can’t reason it away because you are having chest pain and trouble breathing and the walls are closing in, of course you’re dying. But being on Effexor, it was so bizarre, just looking at it as an outside observer and saying, “Idiot, you’re not dying, your stress response has just decided to fritz out, you’ll be fine soon.”

And after that, it’s been mostly smooth sailing. I think I’ve had one panic attack since then, and again, it was just the same thing: “calm down, body, there is literally no reason for you to be doing this.”

Which brings me to the dreams. The dreams are always vivid, and I always remember them. From what I’ve read, that’s the norm on Effexor. Usually, the dreams are just weird like “we’re at Disney World and I’m juggling bananas while Mickey Mouse cheers for me!” but since this pregnancy started, things have taken a decidedly more anxious turn.

The most common dream is the school dream. Naturally, I’m running through the halls naked, but that’s not the anxious part. The anxious part is that I get to my AP calculus class (again: I never took AP calculus because math and I are not friends), and there’s my high school math teacher, glaring at me as always. He announces that it’s time to take the final exam, and I feel all confident… until I realize that I never bought the AP calculus textbook and never came to class and never did any homework and never studied. I’m pretty sure literally everyone on the planet has had a variation on this dream, but it’s been especially recurrent in the past ~4-ish months.

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(actual footage of me in honors pre-calculus)

A couple of weeks ago, as I got my ducks in a row to leave work (which I have since done, yay!), I dreamed that I was in a graphic designers’ version of Chopped. We were each assigned a different document to produce and refine, and we had 8 hours in which to do it. Objectively, for me, producing and refining a document probably would take about ~4 hours, maybe less, but in this dream, eight hours was nowhere near enough. Worse, there was this table on the document that was all horribly misaligned, as if someone had just drawn a bunch of squares and haphazardly stuck them together and I could not get them to realign, and time ran out and I had to turn in a document that looked like complete ass.

Last night’s dream was the worst, if only because it was so real. I dreamed that Sam was in kindergarten, that he had a group of four friends and that teachers called the lot of them the “Fab Five.” Sam wasn’t in school for the day–it was Halloween, and I think we’d taken him to Texas again in the dream story. Regardless, I dreamed that while Sam was out of school, a maniac came and shot up the place, badly injuring the rest of the Fab Five and one of their dads. The rest of the dream involved me in a rage, going to dispense some justice to the inexplicably noseless shooter with my fists. I woke up right as I found him and couldn’t go back to sleep for another hour because the emotions I felt were so awful. Instead, I got up and made sure Sam was still asleep and in bed (he was) and then quietly played with my phone until I relaxed enough to fall back asleep.

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(look at these adorable pandas)

I have no idea where all of this latent anxiety is coming from, honestly. My stress levels have dipped way down in recent weeks. We’re done traveling for the foreseeable future, so that stress is missing. I left my stressful job, so that’s done. We’re not in the best place financially, but we’re stable. Sam is healthy and mostly happy (though impatient to stay home with me). It’s the holidays, which makes me happy, and I’m objectively and at least to my overall knowledge stress-free.

Of course, there’s the meta-anxiety that comes with raising a kid nowadays. Everyone’s always had multitudinous fears for their kids; the fears just change shape depending on the world overall. School shootings are now so common that seeing one in the news barely registers as a blip on my radar; it’s become like seeing “there was an accident on 495 during the morning commute,” where I objectively know it sucks for the people involved, but it’s so damn common that I don’t have the emotional energy to work up a major shock and horror every time it happens (which is complete and utter bullshit because this should not be a common thing). And that commonality obviously translates to anxiety as a parent; what if Sam’s school is next? And there are other fears: what if Sam gets taken in by a predator online? What if he’s the unlucky child to contract one of six billion forms of brain cancer? What if he’s bullied into suicide when he’s older? What if, what if, what if…

But I call it meta-anxiety because I have to push it to the back of my mind to even function during the day. Everything is terrifying, and if it’s constantly at the forefront of your mind, you can’t live your life. You can’t help your kid to cope or teach them to deal with the bad things that come their way. You’re just always afraid. So the meta-anxiety lurks back there but doesn’t rear its head often, except apparently in last night’s dream.

More specific anxieties also get pushed to the back of my mind lately, largely because again, I need to be able to function. Those anxieties are all tied to this pregnancy and how Sam will cope with everything. They edge into health concerns, emotional concerns, and the overall how in the hell am I going to take care of twins panic that’s always lurking whenever I tell someone how excited I am.

Health-wise, it doesn’t help at all that 99% of twin birth stories you can find online are honest-to-god horror stories or stories of someone having a completely unassisted homebirth in a stream or something with a dolphin doula and little birds singing.

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(no offense if a stream birth is your dream birth, but all I can think about is EELS)

I have exactly zero interest in the latter–I’m a big fan of giving birth in a nice, sterile hospital with a wonderful doctor at my side–so the former is what I get. And these stories are basically all the same. Mom goes in, somewhere during labor we realize that the twins aren’t getting born vaginally, it turns into a C-section, everything seems fine but then Mom’s vision gets blurry and lots of people yell and the next thing she knows, it’s four days later and she’s been given like 72 gallons of someone else’s blood and half of her internal organs are removed. But the twins are fine!

Obviously, this is not the norm. Obviously, it’s not even close to the norm. But goddamn, would it hurt for people to write about a completely boring birth experience, even if it’s twins? “They gave me a spinal block so I was numb from the waist down, I didn’t feel any pain, they took both twins out, the bleeding stopped very quickly, and I recovered in a pretty typical way.” My kingdom for those stories, because at this point, I’m at least 75% convinced that I’m going to spend a month in the hospital after these babies are born.

And, of course, there are other health concerns. What if I get a pulmonary embolism and randomly die? (having a cold is really helpful when you’re worried about that, let me tell you) What if my blood pressure skyrockets and I develop pre-eclampsia? What if my liver decides “you know what, no” and I have to deal with that? What if I just randomly stroke out? What if, what if, what if…

Again, these are all just in the back of my mind because I couldn’t function otherwise. But that doesn’t mean my dreams aren’t tapping into them for material.

And then there’s Sam. Objectively, I know he’ll be just fine with the transition from only child to oldest sibling. Kyle and I both were. But he’s still my baby and I still want to do everything in my power to keep him from experiencing things in a rough manner, to keep him from feeling jealous or left out or lonely. And I know that’s not necessarily possible, but I still sit there and worry about it… in the back of my mind, where apparently my brain is going to get dream material.

Pregnancy is a weird time for dreams anyway. It’s common for folks to have weird-ass dreams while pregnant, because hormones be like that sometimes. But oy, I wish that my brain would just clue me into what’s the matter and let me fix it so I can have some less stressful dreams. Like ones about Disney World. Those would be good.

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(and hey brain, if those dreams can be vivid enough that I wake up tasting churros, that’d be great)

Magic in a Jar of Dirt

So there’s a scene in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies where Jack Sparrow is trying to avoid Davy Jones. Tia Dalma, a voodoo priestess and otherwise witchy character, gives him a jar of dirt, as Davy Jones can’t set foot on land.

“Is the… jar of dirt going to help?” Jack asks, utterly skeptical.

Tia Dalma stares him down. “If you don’t want it, give it back.”

Jack clutches the jar to his chest protectively. “No.”

At that, Tia Dalma smiles and steps back. “Then it helps.”

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There’s a weird sort of power in that kind of talisman, in a real life kind of talisman. I don’t necessarily mean an actual power, but that comforting power… the idea that maybe this will help, that maybe it will make things go right. It’s come into play both in my infertility journey and in my parenting.

I had a lot of talismans for my infertility journey; the most important were green fingernails, for fertility, and my Princess Leia socks, for strength. I started wearing them this year, after last year’s IVF treatments kept falling flat on their faces. I don’t think they really necessarily did anything, but then again, I could be wrong. I wore them to my two embryo transfers in the first half of the year, but both of those failed. But then again, I also wore them to my egg retrieval and transfer for this actual pregnancy, so who knows? The point is that they made me feel better, good luck charms, if you will. They made me feel like I had some control over a situation that has long been completely out of my hands.

In truth, the success of this IVF cycle was a combination of things: Kyle’s semenalysis had much better results this go-around, we used the right medication cocktail, I took it easy and carefully throughout the earliest days. Did the socks and the fingernails have anything to do with it? Probably not; but you bet your ass that if something happened and I had to go through this again for any reason, I’d be wearing those Princess Leia socks and painting my nails green.

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(which is to say, next time, I’m totally going for beetle wing green)

Talismans, rituals, magic, all of that is pretty important when you have a little kid, too. They need things to comfort them, because they don’t always understand the world around them. It’s big. It’s weird. It’s sometimes scary. And they’re small and often powerless, so giving them something to hold onto that makes them feel more powerful, even if it’s not really magical or powerful… it helps.

When I was really young, I was terrified of thunder. Absolutely bananas terrified. My parents gave me magic to help with it: they called it a thunder stick. It was really just a paper towel tube, sometimes even a toilet paper tube. It was my weapon against the thunder, though. I could shake it at the sky, and I could yell, “Stop that thunder!” and eventually, the thunder would stop. I was powerless, really, against the weather (sadly, I was not a pint sized shaman), but believing that I had that power made me feel less afraid.

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(I was not this vulgar as a three-year-old, but if I needed a thunder stick nowadays, I would be)

Sam has his talismans, three that we see regularly and a fourth that we consider breaking out the big guns. The three regulars are his lovies: Puppy, the ubiquitous stuffed husky that Kat got him for his first birthday; Pillow, which is literally just a Star Wars pillow; and Blanket, one of the Aden and Anais receiving blankets we were given when we were expecting him. They obviously haven’t got any real magic or power to them. They’re tools of comfort, things that make him feel safe. And he won’t go to bed without them.

The big guns talisman is his Darth Vader bear. That one, though, I actually believe has magic in it.

Eleven years ago, when Kyle and I first started dating, a lot of people in our community cheered us on. We were pretty well known in the small, tight-knit group of RPers, and it seemed like everyone was thrilled to see us together. None, however, were more thrilled than our guild leaders, Veri and Ged. They lived thousands of miles from both of us, but we may as well have been down the street. They cheered us on more than anyone; I swear, when we announced our engagement, we could hear Veri’s squeal of delight from across the country.

And that’s to say nothing of when we told them we were expecting Sam. Veri greeted us whenever we talked by asking, “Are there going to be any baby bears?” (Kyle’s nickname among the group was Kody-bear… it’s a long story) When we told her that yes, a baby bear was imminent, I’m amazed that the joysplosion didn’t take out half the country.

A couple of weeks later, a package arrived at our doorstep, our very first gift for Sam. It was a box from Build-A-Bear, and inside was a black bear dressed in Darth Vader’s robes. The bear was, of course, from Veri and Ged, and came with warmest wishes for a healthy pregnancy and greetings for our new baby. As soon as Sam was born, I started to introduce him to the bear; in recent months, it’s his greatest comfort when all else fails.

Like tonight, when the wind and rain were making him nervous. I rocked him in my arms for a while and let him talk out his anxieties. He wanted some of the stuffed animals that he knew he’d tossed out in the hallway, so we walked over to inspect them, and then he asked me to bring them into his room while he got into bed. He didn’t even ask for Darth Vader bear, but when Darth Vader bear came into his line of vision, it was all he cared about. He touched the mask, the hands, the feet, gently and almost reverently. He asked me to tuck him in (moments before he’d been asking to go downstairs), and his eyes closed as I slipped out of the room.

So Darth Vader bear is special, even more special because Veri passed away last year. She was this beautiful light of a person who could make even the most stubborn of skeptics believe that magic was real, and there’s an ache whenever I remember she isn’t here anymore.

Darth Vader bear may be just a jar of dirt. It may be special because it’s a gift from someone who loved us, who’s gone now. Sam may feel comforted by it because it’s a plush Darth Vader, the only one he has at the moment. He may feel comforted because it’s been part of his life since before he was born.

But for my own sake, I like to believe in a little bit of magic. I like to believe that the most magical person I ever knew put love and blessings into this sweet keepsake, and that maybe, when Sam hugs Darth Vader bear at night, a little bit of that love and magic is hugging him back.

 

Just a little anxious

The fact of being pregnant with twins keeps hitting me roughly every 90 minutes, which is about when my stomach acid bubbles up like some sort of asshole Old Faithful. “Gaaaargh,” I say, feeling as if I’m about to start breathing fire, and then, “Why do I feel like this?” and then I remember that oh yeah, I’m pregnant with twins. This sends me into a mild panic spiral because I still don’t know how to process this fact, that there are two fetuses in me, that both are healthy, and that come probably somewhere between mid-March and early April, I will be responsible for the lives of not one but two potato humans.

(I call them potato humans because let’s be real: newborns don’t do much besides lie around and be fleshy potatoes. I mean, they also eat and poop and puke and cry, but most of my potatoes do that too, so)

I can’t really figure out a way to come to terms with this because it’s never happened to me or anyone I’m really close with before. With one baby, I could look at the roughly six gajillion friends I have who’ve had exactly one baby, or I could plumb the depths of my babysitting experience, or I could even look back on when my mother had my sister and brother and say, “Hey, I know something about that.” With two, though? Honestly, I think the only example I can think of off the top of my head is Full House, and much though I’d love to have John Stamos come help me with twin care, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

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(but, I mean, John Stamos, if you read this and you’re like “hey, I want to go help that chick out with her twin care,” I will not complain, like. At all)

So I imagine it’ll be a lot of flying by the seat of our pants and a lot of swearing (newborns have the benefit of not understanding swear words yet and not being able to repeat swear words yet, so you don’t have to worry about embarrassing Target trips where they remark, “I have a mosquito bite. What the fuck?” and you realize that maybe you should start censoring yourself a little bit), and I don’t imagine I’ll feel very sane for at least another three years after they’re born. Once they’re born, I imagine all attempts at planning anything will go straight out the window, and we’ll just be improvising a lot. We’ll survive, and we’ll be stronger and better for it, but it’s going to be chaotic getting there.

That said, to my absolute delight, I can start planning for some things, and that’s heavenly. I haven’t been able to plan for things since we started this process, so being able to say, “Alright, in Februaryish we’ll do a maternity shoot and we’ll need to get a minivan by late February at the very latest, and we’ll learn the genders sometime in November, and I’ll have energy for the holiday season” and things like that is awesome. I can say with absolute confidence that I’m not making any plans between March 1 and April 25 but that other days and times are theoretically open, particularly before the first of the year.

And I’m making lists of things we need two of, like two car seats, a double stroller, two bouncer things, two new sets of bottles, two million white onesies…

So all of that planning is keeping me from panicking too much about other scary aspects of this, specifically the health aspects.

My pregnancy with Sam was probably objectively an easy one for at least the first ~8 months. I didn’t have nausea so much as I had fullness (read: I could only eat one taco at a time 😦 ). My emotions were chaotic, and towards the end, I got REALLY tired of hauling around all that baby; but for the most part, I was pretty healthy. I didn’t gain too much weight until the last month, I maintained my usual levels of activity, I got enough sleep, and much though I hate pregnancy (and I do; I’d like to skip the next 30 some odd weeks and just get them here), it wasn’t a bad time.

At least until the last month. The last month, my body just got fed up with housing my adorable squatter. I ballooned right up, gaining a good 50 lbs over the course of a month. I never had swelling above the waist, the general ticket to ride a train to Ohshitsville, but my feet and legs were so swollen that we could draw smiley faces in them with our fingers (by “we” I mean me and Kat and Kyle). My liver enzymes were pretty elevated, and my blood pressure kept skyrocketing briefly before going back down to pregnancy lows again.

It was miserable.

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(this is funny because no, I could not even move like this for half a second)

And that was just with one baby! I’m looking at a pregnancy with two babies and feeling pretty concerned because twins make basically everything more likely to happen. On the one hand, you have things that are fairly common anyway like gestational diabetes and early delivery; on the other, you have panic-inducing conditions like preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome and oh, just about every other bad juju pregnancy thing you can think of. Scientifically, pregnancy is already an extremely risky prospect for anyone; but when you add double babies to the mix, things get dicey real fast.

Even assuming everything goes really well throughout pregnancy, there’s also the realization that 60% of twins are delivered via C-section. Now, I’m not a natural birth junky by any stretch of the imagination. I loved my epidural (I wanted to take it home with me), and I’m very glad that medical interventions exist. I’m absolutely fine, on an emotional level, with doing whatever it takes to bring my babies into the world safely and without incident.

That doesn’t change the fact that a C-section is major abdominal surgery.

I’m not really wigged out at the surgery aspect of it; the only thing that’s been an issue for me in previous surgeries is the general anesthesia, which makes me nauseous. I think surgery’s kind of cool, honestly, and wish that I could simultaneously be on the operating table and watching my operation take place.

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(if only to avoid the possibility of being operated on by Weird Al)

It’s really more the recovery that’s got me skittish.

Because recovery is the hard part of any surgery. During surgery, you’re blissfully pain-free (in theory; I’ve read horror stories) and often times in dreamland. Afterwards, things get dicey. I know I take a while to recover from surgeries; when I got my gallbladder out, I didn’t really feel even close to myself again until a week later, and that’s comparatively minor surgery. What’s going to happen when they have to slice me up like a Christmas ham to get the babies out? How miserable am I going to be, and how much shit is going to end up on Kyle’s shoulders because I’m just not capable of doing things?

I kind of long for the days of families all living together in communes and being able to really rely on each other wholly when things got rough like this. I feel shitty putting a lot of the baby and house care on someone else when I’m recuperating; people have their own lives and shouldn’t have to spend their time helping me with mine.

Maybe I could hire someone?

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And of course, there’s Sam. Transitioning into life as a big brother was already going to be hard on him (we spoil him quite a lot, which I think happens even more when you’re infertile; you don’t know if this one is the only one you’ll get, and you’re so thankful that he’s here that you’re like, “Sure, absolutely, take all of my time and have a brownie and why not, you can totally have that four-foot-tall Darth Vader”), but even if I manage to deliver the twins vaginally, he’s going to be competing for attention with two newborns, not just one, and he may find himself wholly at the mercy of his mother’s C-section recovery.

I know that once we’re out of those first wild and crazy weeks of newborn-ness and into the baby life, it’ll be a little easier to make sure that he has time with us, just with us, but I still hate the idea of him feeling left out or neglected. And I shouldn’t be so concerned about it because I survived it just fine and Kyle survived it just fine and every oldest sibling on the planet survived it just fine, but you know. I want to make sure that he knows that he’s always our baby, even though we’re bringing more babies into the house.

ANYWAY. There are all my anxieties. These are not going to go away and will be hovering like a cloud of gnats basically for the rest of my life. And that’s not even touching on financial worries (I’m leaving my job, because daycare for one toddler plus two infants would be about twice what I take home in a month; also we need a minivan; also how are we going to pay for diapers and formula–because lol I’m not even bothering with breastfeeding this go-around–and also diapers and clothes and diapers and wipes and diapers for two infants?) and emotional worries (I AM FAT AND JIGGLY AND MY LIFE IS CHANGING) and more meta worries (I am bringing two new humans into a world with a Doomsday Clock two minutes to midnight and recurrent giant hurricanes because of global warming).

I think the only reason I sleep at night lately is because I’m on Effexor and am so tired from growing two humans that my brain starts to be like, “Let’s go over your anxieties!” and the rest of me responds, “Yeah, no, we’re sleeping now, bye.”

I’m being suppressed!

Your average IVF cycle starts with a month of hormone suppression, typically by way of hormonal birth control. Well. Actually, it’s not quite a month, it’s more like two and a half weeks, and you only know if you’re properly suppressed after a suppression check around the two and a half week mark.

Today was my suppression check. I’ve been on oral birth control for about three weeks, maybe a little less, and it’s made me into a beast. I don’t mean that in a positive way; I mean I’ve been as volatile and sensitive as I was when I was a delicate teenager, known for days of emotional pique that left my family sighing and saying, “She’ll grow out of it.”

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(side note: Heathers is a very wonderful movie)

Which is mostly true. I’m far less volatile, by and large, than I was when I was going through puberty. Except when I’m on hormonal birth control.

Even then, I don’t quite reach the same heights I did when I was thirteen and sobbing because I don’t know why except nobody understood me except you, Michael W. Smith, and the toy horses that I couldn’t tell my boyfriend I still played with. I did at one point, when I was on clomid, the cycle before I got pregnant with Sam. Kat was visiting us from California, in preparation to move out and live with us, and on day two of clomid, I had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde moment, in which I completely lost my fool mind sobbing because Kat and Kyle were bonding over their shared love of Pokemon, something that I do not and never will understand.

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(this is me when Pokemon is the topic of conversation)

I felt left out, and my poor, hormone-addled brain turned this mild feeling of “well, it sucks that I can’t relate to that” into a disaster. They were now best friends because Pokemon, and I was no longer a friend, and I would die miserable and alone while they played Pokemon as best friends forever. I told them to leave me behind and go get lunch while I buried myself under blankets and sobbed.

Obviously, none of my fears came true, but man, was I a wreck over them. And thankfully, Kyle and Kat are super understanding and brought me back my favorite meal from Chili’s and then we all three went on a trip to Salem for no reason other than that it was there and had neat stores.

Hormonal birth control is sort of a gentler version of that. I’ve yet to have that level of meltdown while on hormonal birth control (come close, but usually over my work in a call center because that’s just… it’s a terrible place to work, y’all. Also, if you’re the type of person to take out your frustration with a situation on a call center worker, I don’t like you), but I’ve noticed that I become more prickly and more apt to overreact to things.

In some cases, I figure it’s just that my tolerance for bullshit goes way down; and it’s already pretty low. Traffic on the Mass Pike goes from minor annoyance to, “Are you kidding me?! You’re doing 40 MPH in the passing lane, and there’s nobody in front of you and your car appears to be in good working order?! WHAT ARE YOU DOING.” Telemarketers go from “what you’re doing is probably illegal, and I’m just not going to answer the phone because I don’t recognize that number” to “I will find you where you live and personally force you to walk barefoot on wet food.” I avoid all discussion of politics and religion; if you ever find me recusing myself from such discussions, it’s less that I don’t care and more that I like you and don’t want to lose my temper either at you or where you can see.

In other cases, I overreact to perfectly reasonable situations. About a week ago, for example, Kat asked when I got home from work if we could run out to the store. This is a perfectly reasonable request, but my hors were moning, and I managed to turn it into a Thing. It was a very fraught grocery store trip, not much helped by Sam’s quintessential three-year-old behavior or the traffic I’d endured to get there; the primary good that came out of the whole thing is that I now text Kat on my way home every day to see if she needs a store run, or even for me to pick up some food for her.

My biggest fear with these hormone issues is that I’ll end up scaring or hurting Sam–not physically, but with angry words and, worse, angry tone of voice. Growing up, I always had a tremendous fear of my dad’s yelling. He didn’t yell terribly often, but when he did, we knew that shit had hit the fan, and it was not good times. I don’t want Sam to ever fear me or my voice for any reason. I want him to respect me. I want him to know that when I tell him to do something, it’s for his own good. But I don’t want him to fear me.

Sunday, we went up to Target as a family. Sam had been in a State all day–he’s going through a growth spurt, and he’s three, which combine to form a Perfect Storm of rage. We never quite know what will set him off–will it be that he’s wearing the wrong shoes? Will it be that he doesn’t want to be buckled in his car seat? Will it be that there are caterpillar remains on the car? Who knows? And when he’s in a State, anything can set him off, even more than usual.

So he was in a State on Sunday. He was hungry, so Kyle took him to the Pizza Hut in Target to have something to eat while Kat and I did a quick shopping run. I met up with Kyle and Sam as the run ended, Sam cheerfully clutching a bottle of fruit punch and Kyle less cheerfully carrying a bag of popcorn. “Can he stay with you?” Kyle asked. “I need to grab a few things.”

Sam latched onto my cart, cheerfully munching popcorn as we slowly walked down the aisles featuring arts and crafts and party supplies. I tread carefully, knowing that any misstep could cause a meltdown, and meltdowns aren’t my favorite thing, especially in my emotionally volatile and hormonal state. We almost made it, too. Kyle grabbed whatever it was he needed, and we found a line. As we were waiting, Sam let go of the cart and started poring over the candy, finally deciding that he wanted a Kit Kat for dessert.

Understand: candy is a treat. It’s a sometimes food. Sometimes, he gets candy as a dessert if he finishes his entire dinner. Sometimes he doesn’t. But he wasn’t hearing that on Saturday, and when I took the Kit Kat bar away and placed it back on the shelf, meltdown mode activated. He dropped to the floor, as if he suddenly weighed a thousand pounds, and sobbed. “But I doooooo!” he protested, trying to grab the Kit Kat again (“but I dooooo” here means “but I do want the candy bar”). “I don’t care,” I told him and looked at Kyle, who’d gotten that world weary look on his features.

“Should I take him to the car?” I asked.

“NOOOOOOOO!” howled Sam from the floor.

“Yes,” said Kyle, rapidly trying to get our merchandise on the conveyor belt.

I’ve not become an expert in many things over the last three years, but one thing I’m adept at is sweeping up a reluctant child in one arm and carrying him out to the car. Sam’s body is a great deal bigger than it was three years ago, but I’m still able to football carry him across the parking lot without dropping him or anything else I’m holding, even when he’s kicking and screaming.

And I do mean that literally. He stopped kicking once I shifted him to my hip–I think that might be some instinct like when you pick up a kitten by the scruff of their neck and they just go limp–but he screamed as mightily as before, especially when I told him that I was going to put him in his car seat.

“I DON’T WANNA BE BUCKLED!” he screamed in my ear, which started ringing like I’d survived a movie explosion and Chris Pine was trying to tell me he loved me.

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(I love this movie and had a dream about him last night)

Sam continued to scream once we got to the car; I put him in his seat, and he began to writhe and twist like Luke Skywalker being attacked by the Emperor, with comparable screaming to accompany. “I DON’T WANNA BE BUCKLED!” he continued to yell, sobbing at the same time. I gently but firmly guided his arms through the straps on his car seat, and he kept pulling them out and hitting me. It was hot and humid. I didn’t once consider hitting him, but I wished that I could consider it, if that makes sense.

Instead I yelled, and I don’t remember what I said. Nothing nasty. I didn’t call him a little shit (he was very much acting like one) or berate him or insult him. I think I told him to sit down. The problem I felt wasn’t in the words I used, but in the tone, the same tone my father used to use when he yelled at me as a child, the one that terrified me.

It didn’t affect Sam at all, of course. He’s the kind of kid where, if we did spank him, he’d probably say something like “is that the best you can do?” The only thing that really works on him is a logical and immediate consequence for his actions–you hit Mommy, you go to your room to calm down. You throw a toy, the toy gets taken away. You refuse to clean up your mess (which happens so rarely lately–it’s a miracle how well telling your three-year-old that it’s a race works in getting him to clean up after himself), the toys get put away for a while. Yelling, especially when he’s already screaming and sobbing with a tantrum, is about as effective as spitting in the ocean.

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(this is the first image that comes up for “spitting in the ocean” and I’m not sorry)

I’m not worried about him, but I did scare myself, not from my words but from the tone. Kat, who was in the car towards the end of this (and was eventually instrumental in calming Sam down–she’s amazing at that, gets him distracted by pointing out things like hey, look, a ladybug, and then he sniffles and quiets and then asks questions about ladybugs), said she’d never heard me that angry before.

And it’s been a really long time since I’ve expressed anger that way. I think the last time was long before I even met Kyle, during a hot and exhausting wait for a bus at Disney World, when my sister and I were screaming in each other’s faces for no good reason (well. It was hot and exhausting). It used to happen more often. It was normal where I grew up. Yelling was how you took out your frustration and anger. We all yelled at each other at some point. We all had screaming fights that left our throats sore and our heads pounding and were ultimately completely pointless.

My home now isn’t like that. We never yell; we holler across the house, “Hey, do you want any of this pork?” or “Could you grab me some toilet paper?” or occasionally “I’m leaving now, whether we’re ready or not!” Anger isn’t a rare thing, but we handle it differently, depending on who’s angry at each other. Kat and I snipe at each other, more sarcastic than anything, but then cool down and talk things through. Kyle and I don’t even snipe at each other; we both just take deep breaths, express our frustration, work through it, and move on.

So yelling like that was… I didn’t like it. I don’t like it. I wasn’t ever afraid that I’d hurt Sam or lose control, but I didn’t like the tone that came out of me, something that scared me when I was younger and something I didn’t want to scare Sam.

I feel like I’m probably overreacting to it. Kyle pointed out later that night that Sam loves me, that we got home from Target and Sam immediately cuddled up on my lap with his head on my shoulder as if nothing had happened. Sam didn’t even flinch in the moment; his tantrum continued uninterrupted, as if I wasn’t even there trying to do anything about it. I really did scare myself more than I scared him, which isn’t good, but it’s better than if I’d actually scared him.

I don’t know. I do know several things, however.

First, I’m relieved to be off birth control. That shit is a menace. I’d have requested that they switch me to a different hormonal birth control (NuvaRing and Ortho Evra tend to be my favorites), but it didn’t seem worth it for two and a half weeks. I know I’m not as beastly when I’m just on stims, for some reason; they just mostly make me tired and bloated.

Second, I’m glad to be on antidepressants, because they really do help with mood regulation. Sometimes, when I feel really tired or really bummed out about something, I wonder if they’re even working… but then I remember how many years and countless nights I couldn’t fall asleep because of anxiety about any number of things; I remember the panic attacks that I had after Sam was born, and before, and how they’ve stopped almost completely; I remember how I couldn’t feel anything except that everything was meaningless. I’m pretty sure that, without them, I’d be even worse on any hormone medication than I already am.

And third, if this is the worst I ever am to my kid, I’m a damn good mom.

Hormone injections start Thursday, first monitoring is Monday. Until then…

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I belong to quite a few miscarriage support groups–groups where people share their experiences, comfort each other, give advice, etc. For the most part, I post there to try and give advice on the medical side of things, as after nearly half a dozen miscarriages under my belt over the course of a year, I feel like I have a bit of experience in that area. I’m no expert, but I feel like sometimes, you don’t an expert so much as you need someone who’s been in your shoes before, like when you want to know how to distinguish contractions from gas or whatever. If you’re afraid of going in for a D&C, it helps to read about someone’s experience rather than just the pamphlet they give you beforehand. It’s all well and good to know that your cervix will be dilated by a series of rods called laminaria and that the remaining fetal tissue will be removed with a curette, along with the uterine lining and remains of the placenta; but it’s even better to hear, “It was like I blinked and it was over. There was far more blood than I expected afterwards, but it stopped by the next day. I didn’t have much cramping, and the cramps I felt were minor. Everyone was really nice and understanding on every level.”

So I like to post about those things. And I occasionally like to post about some emotional stuff, but not a lot, which I’ll get to shortly. Namely, I like trying to help people to understand that in 99% of situations, your miscarriage was not your fault. You’ll have the miscarriages that you know were caused by something external, but they’re comparatively rare. Nearly two-thirds are chromosomal abnormalities, and another sizable chunk are other biological issues–physical issues with the uterus or cervix, immunological issues, myriad other things that can’t be helped.

And the other thing I like to help with is telling people that it’s okay to feel what you feel. That it’s okay to cry, that it’s okay to be furious, that it’s okay to question everything, that it’s okay to grieve.

But that’s the flip side of things for me, because I feel weird on these groups. I feel like there’s something wrong with me.

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Nearly every post about a newly recognized miscarriage talks about devastation, heartbreak, being broken overall, just all this pain that makes it difficult to even get up in the morning, let alone live the day after and the day after that. And I get that. I objectively and intellectually understand this level of pain, because it seems like the correct reaction to a miscarriage, even a really early one. You’ve pinned your hopes on this life growing inside of you, and then it’s not there, and that’s logically devastating, heartbreaking, and painful.

But that’s not what I feel.

I don’t know why I don’t feel that. I don’t know why I never felt that.

My first miscarriage was very early, just a week after I found out I was pregnant. It was a chemical pregnancy, when an egg fertilizes but doesn’t implant for whatever reason. If you test early, you’ll get a positive, but the line will get lighter and lighter and eventually, it will just be gone. In that case, I didn’t feel sad. I just felt embarrassed; after all, we’d told so many people and now had to go and tell them, “just kidding, not pregnant after all!”

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I chalked the lack of emotion about that one up to it being so early on; I hadn’t been able to let the enormity of pregnancy sink in yet, so of course I wasn’t going to be miserable at the loss. Logical.

I didn’t experience any more losses until last February-Marchish. I was pregnant after my first IVF cycle and only found out that I was losing that baby at the 8 week ultrasound, which showed a tiny disc, like a flying saucer with a slowly flickering heartbeat. When we’d seen Sam at that point, his heartbeat was so fast we could barely see it at all, 179 beats per minute, perfectly perfect for that age. With this one, the heart beat about once per second, which is expected for a six week fetus, and that’s what this fetus looked like–a six week fetus.

The trouble was, of course, that we knew for a fact when we’d conceived. We’d been in that very clinic, me in a gown that didn’t cover my ass and slipper socks and a funny hat. We knew when the baby had been conceived, and it was eight weeks ago, not six.

And another ultrasound showed nothing there whatsoever. Not even a hint of a heartbeat, no more little disc, barely enough tissue left to scrape away and take to the genetics lab for a karyotype analysis. I had my D&C. I found out that the baby was a girl. I called her Finley.

The trouble was that I never felt devastated. Sad, sure. Disappointed, you bet. Angry, absolutely. But I didn’t reach those depths of emotion that people seem to feel over their miscarriages, despite that I probably should have. Finley was the girl we desperately wanted. She was our hope; we were sure that she’d be born. If she had been born, her name wouldn’t have been Finley. It would’ve been something like Evangeline or Arielle or one of my other girl names that I keep stored for such an occasion. There are so many reasons I should’ve been devastated and heartbroken and all those things.

But I wasn’t. I kept waiting for it to come, but it didn’t. I cried when I got home from the D&C, before I fell back asleep. That was it. I felt a little remorse when I found out that she was a girl, but it didn’t send me into any sort of spiral whatsoever; maybe it should have. I don’t know. I felt more like an adult celebrating my first grown-up birthday–no, you’re not really expecting anything, but you’re still a little bummed that nobody bought you a cake or flowers or anything.

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(my birthday is November 5, by the way)

The next miscarriage was an even shorter window. I wasn’t supposed to know that I was pregnant yet by the time I miscarried; I tested on my own, and by the time I went in for the blood test, I’d already started bleeding. That one was a disappointment on a different level–I’d made some good friends in my hopeful birth month birth club on BabyCenter and didn’t want to leave them behind.

(thankfully, I didn’t; we’re still in touch on Facebook and regularly update each other on our lives and ask for advice and are basically awesome with each other ♥)

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(I love you ladies ♥♥♥)

And then the third miscarriage, earlier this year. I didn’t feel really sad over that one, either. I felt fascinated at seeing what was probably the gestational sac come out of me. I felt frustrated that this had happened to my “perfect” blastocyst. I felt even more frustrated that I’d been at the whole IVF thing for more than a year with no results.

But sad? Devastated? Heartbroken? Agonized? No.

Instead, I find myself wondering what’s wrong with me that I don’t feel these things. Am I just so used to disappointment because of infertility that it’s basically the expectation now? Did I lose my ability to feel heartbroken over a miscarriage a long time ago? Am I just a heartless human being?

I get up every morning just fine. The miscarriages aren’t even on my mind. Sometimes, I’ll pass by the baby clothes section in Target and get angry–I should be buying those for one of the miscarried kids right now–but usually, I scoot on past to grab another Target thing.

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(I feel personally attacked by this gif)

I go through my day just fine. Sometimes, I have to explain to Sam that I’m not pregnant (he doesn’t have a very good sense of time; I was pregnant at one point in my entire life, so to him, I’m always pregnant), and that’s annoying, but it’s a dull annoying, more like an unidentified bug buzzing around at the barbecue.

I sleep just fine. Work fills my dreams because it’s stressful. My last thoughts as I drift off to sleep are of stories I’m writing or what the next day will bring, not of what I’ve lost. Day-to-day, I usually forget that I’ve had this many miscarriages. I’m focused on work or on the next steps in the IVF process or in my frustration with those steps or Sam or writing or gaming or any number of things.

I read about people who can’t stop thinking about it, and the promises that the pain will go away or change or something. And I wonder: what does it say about me that I never felt an unbearable pain at these losses? Am I heartless because I felt nothing but a dull ache?

Or am I just so used to loss by this point that I can’t feel it anymore, like a frog boiled alive in a pot of water?

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(anyway, pandas are cute)

Glitter

Today is Star Wars Day, celebrated in the tradition of the date: May the Fourth, as in May the Fourth (Force) be with you. I’ve been telling Sam about this for roughly a week, and he’s not a fan of the pun, mostly because he’s not quite at a point where he understands that it’s funny when one word sounds like another. Still, he’s come around somewhat–this morning, he did say “May the Fourth be with you and may the Force be with you!” so he’s not a total lost cause when it comes to our great family tradition of punning.

This Star Wars Day is special, in that a lot of people are wearing glitter today, in memory of Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia. Carrie spent most of her life struggling with mental illness, specifically with bipolar disorder. There’s a great video of her explaining what that entails here; it basically boils down to her brain chemistry either pushing her into “really fast and impulsive” or “really sad and slow.” (“Or both. Those are fun days.”) Outside of Star Wars, her most enduring and fantastic legacy has been as an advocate for mental health. She did so much to normalize mental illness, to remove the stigma and say hey, just because your brain is a little off kilter doesn’t mean that you’re broken as a person or a bad person in any sense of the word. I only really became aware of her advocacy in the last couple of years, and I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t spend more time loving her for it.

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Anyway, glitter. In one of her memoirs, Carrie talked about how her therapist always knew if she was having a bad day because she’d be wearing copious amounts of glitter. Glitter was her way of adding brightness to the world when she found it to be dark and difficult. She was notorious for glitter bombing people at conventions, and it was her way of trying to cheer people up if they seemed to be having a bad day (and I will tell you, having Carrie glitter bomb me would absolutely make any day 6000% better). You can find all sorts of pictures and anecdotes about this across the internet.

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SO. Today I am wearing glitter for Carrie, to memorialize her and to bring awareness to mental illness. In particular, I’m going to talk today about postpartum depression and anxiety, my own two personal shoulder demons.

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Depression and anxiety have been companions of mine for a long time. When I was really young, seven or eight or nine years old, I’d spend sleepless nights praying for God to forgive me of anything I couldn’t think of because I was terrified that I’d done something bad and would end up possessed by demons or sent to hell. When I was eleven, just as puberty was starting to hit, I entered one of the more hellish years of my life, overfull with bullying, bad grades, and lost friends. In any given week, I’d spend nights curled up on the bathroom floor because I felt like I was going to throw up from all of it together. One time, riding in the backseat of our family minivan, I heard a woman on the radio talk about how she’d been sick for so long that she couldn’t remember what it felt like not to be sick; I could relate.

I don’t think I had my first bout with depression until college, and that particular downswing was a long one. It started in bits and pieces during my freshman year; I started sequestering myself in my room, not eating meals with my friends but instead microwaving whatever I could find. Sophomore year it got worse, and then, the summer after sophomore year, I was in an emotionally manipulative relationship with a guy I met at work. He used to keep me on the phone late at night–on our house line, mind–trying to get me to talk him out of killing himself. It was exhausting. It dragged me down.

In a desperate bid to come back to myself, I spent a semester abroad in England (after, thankfully, dumping the boyfriend), and that helped, but when I came home, I was still in that place.

The imagery we use when we talk about depression is so dark, and that’s not what depression is like for me at all. Really, it’s more like a foggy day where you can’t see more than a couple of feet around you. You know there’s something on the other side of the fog, but you can’t see it and you can’t get there. If you’re stuck there long enough, you just want everything to stop because what’s the point? There’s no tomorrow that you can see. There’s nothing but the monotony of right now, and tomorrow will be like it, and the next day, and so on. You don’t want to die, not necessarily, but you want to stop, and what way is there to stop but to die?

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(this is a kitten and a deer and they’re friends)

I don’t remember how I pulled out of that particular downswing, but I did. I finished school, I graduated, I flailed around looking for work for a while, lowkey depressed all the while. I wasn’t quite in the same place I’d been, but I was low. I didn’t really have anything to look forward to, and I always felt like I was on that precipice, like I was verging on another downswing.

Something that helped was Kyle; he gave me something out of the ordinary to look forward to. Traveling to see him, having him travel to see me–they broke up the monotony. I had someone telling me that, hey, on the other side of the fog is someone who loves you, and you get to see him.

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(coming later: me analyzing this entire movie and the amazing way these two played this scene)

It helped. It helped a lot. And for a long time, I was out of that downswing. I finished my master’s degree, I started working, I got married, I started trying to get pregnant.

I don’t know if infertility increases the risk of postpartum depression, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does, particularly because you’re afraid of losing what you’ve got, and that quickly turns into anxiety.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My pregnancy with Sam was great, up until about the last four weeks. My body was SO done with being pregnant. My liver was the most frustrated with the situation and just sort of lost its fool mind. I ballooned up with excess fluid; my calves were so swollen that Kat and I spent many afternoons drawing pictures in my legs by just pressing down on the skin. I was physically miserable, and when I finally gave birth, I was relieved. So relieved. Within a day, I lost 30 pounds of water weight. Boom, gone.

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(late pregnancy in a nutshell)

Early motherhood didn’t come particularly easy for me. Some parts of it did; Sam was a delightful baby overall, a unicorn, really. He only fussed or cried if he was hungry or needed a diaper. He slept easily. He loved being held and was so curious about the world. He learned to smile at six weeks on the dot, and he learned to laugh about two weeks after that.

But other things were more difficult. Breastfeeding was hard. For the uninitiated, it involves so many more moving parts than you realize, and if your kid is not interested in latching, you’re up the crick without a padoodle, as my history teacher used to say when warning us to study for tests. And Sam? Sam did not want to latch. He didn’t want to breastfeed. He had no interest. He wanted to eat, that much was true, but he didn’t want to breastfeed at all. We ended up switching over to formula when he was two months old, and thank God we did.

And even with an easy unicorn baby, the transition from no baby to baby is difficult. You go from having moments to breathe, think, be yourself to having none. You go from understanding your body to inhabiting a monstrous form. Hell, you go from knowing when you need to use the toilet to peeing your pants because you didn’t know that you needed to use the toilet.

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And all the while, your body is having this enormous hormone crash. Everything that went into sustaining a human life for the last 40 weeks suddenly drops off, and your body flails in confusion, like what am I doing with myself anymore?

Your entire identity changes. You promise yourself beforehand that you won’t be one of those people who’s wholly consumed by motherhood and loses yourself, but in the first couple of months, you can’t do otherwise–unless you want to pass your baby off to a nanny or wetnurse and have done with it. The person you were before is gone, and if she does come back, it won’t be for a while.

So with all of that going on, it’s no wonder that postpartum depression and anxiety are huge things. It’s no wonder that, when you have a prior history of depression and anxiety, your doctor gives you pamphlets of things to look out for. The real wonder is that PPD/PPA numbers aren’t higher, and sometimes, I wonder if people just underreport.

The tipping point for me, the point where I decided to get help and end the fog and nausea, came about a week after my gallbladder surgery. I was at about 80%, health-wise, but I was still off-kilter and very high key anxious about everything. I was having panic attacks every night, lying in our queen-size bed by myself while Kyle slept in the living room with the baby so that I could rest and heal. My usual coping mechanisms weren’t working at all, and I didn’t know what to do.

It was a Sunday, and Kyle wanted to go to my parents’ house to do laundry, like we always did. I wasn’t going to join, because I still wasn’t feeling well, and Kyle wanted to leave the baby with me so that he could have some alone time for the first time that week (my parents were out of town). The idea of being left alone with the baby sent me into a panic. I didn’t know what to do. What would happen if a sudden complication from surgery came up and I got sick? What if I panicked and hurt the baby? What if I couldn’t do it? What if I took one of the vicodin they’d given me and it made me too tired to take care of the baby? What if? What if? What if?

I was shaking and crying, and Kyle said to me, “Look. I’ll take Sam with me, but you have to promise me that first thing tomorrow morning, you’ll call your doctor and use the words, ‘I think I have postpartum depression.’ Do you promise that you’ll do that?”

He had me backed into a corner in more ways than one. I promised.

And I got help. My doctor took one look at me and put me on one of the stronger antidepressants out there, venlafaxine (or Effexor). When the first dosage didn’t seem enough, she bumped me up and referred me to a therapist. I found things to look forward to, like moving into a new house, celebrating Sam’s birthday. I got a job so that the daily monotony could be broken up. I started to feel better.

I’m not out of the woods, honestly speaking. I still have days where I feel that fog coming back, and there are still things I need to work through. Lately, though, if I have one of those days, I’ve been drowning myself in Wet N’ Wild glitter and taking moments to think of what I have to look forward to: Sam’s birthday, trips to Texas, the hypothetical next child, etc. It’s a short term solution (and I do need to find myself a new therapist, though blogging helps a lot), but it works to break up the fog on all but the very worst days.

So here are my takeaways.

First, if you’re feeling that fog or that nausea, if you don’t think you have anything to look forward to or if you’re constantly afraid, you don’t have to feel that way. Talk to someone–call a doctor, find an online resource if you can’t speak with a doctor, talk to a friend or family member. Ask them to help you find something that shines through the fog so that you can keep going. Ask them to help you find your center again. Douse yourselves in glitter, and remember that depression and anxiety lie. Good things will happen again. Not everything in your future is bad, and you’re strong enough to withstand any bad that does come.

And second, if you know and love someone who’s dealing with that fog or nausea, help them. Talk to them. Give them something to look forward to. Sit with them when they panic. Help them find the strength to keep going. Step in and help them. Be the glitter for them.

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