One Hour ~ Jen

I struggle to read the stories. Not the ones where the mom made it, got help, survived. I can handle those, like the many you can find here. It’s the ones where she wasn’t helped, and someone didn’t make it, that I can’t handle. It hits too close to home.

This week it was three beautiful little girls, ages 2, 16 months and two months.

I didn’t read the story, but my mom brought it up. She has learned like the rest of us to be so very angry at these stories.

“Her husband was right across the street.”

“I know mom, but she was probably listening to the voices in her head.”

Pause. Loooong pause. Then, “Did you hear voices?”

They weren’t really voices. They were more like thoughts. What if? And one of those was What if I can’t take it anymore? I knew one thing: I wasn’t leaving my kids behind.

Yeah, it’s horrifying. And someday I will have to explain it to my kids. But I keep saying it because you need to know. From the outside I looked and sounded normal. It was my inside that was all messed up and there was a part of me that knew it and was scared and so worked very hard to keep it all bottled inside. The only one who saw a hint of it all was Shea.

And he didn’t know what to do. We thought the baby blues was something that happened in the first two weeks, not something that dogged me for years after my first two pregnancies and then exploded after Annie.

So here’s my contribution to Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s not a story, even though the stories are so important. There is strength in numbers.

But I have a suggestion. A call to action. And it’s easy.

At our local hospital, there are all kinds of classes to prepare families for the birth of a new baby. Sibling classes and daddy diaper classes and nursing classes and labor classes.

I think we need one more. One hour. One person, preferably the spouse or partner. If not, the adult who will be closest to mom after delivery.  All the information they need to recognize and intervene in case of a maternal mental health issue.

What to look for (depression, anxiety, withdrawal, inability to sleep). Who to call (first, the OB/GYN; then, Postpartum Support International). What to say (This is not your fault. You will be ok. We are going to get help).  A magnet with PSI’s 800 number to stick on the fridge.

So simple. We can grass roots it, one hospital at a time. We’d need just a few women willing to talk once a month on a rotating basis. I would do it in a hot second. For free. Because if we empower one spouse to help one mom beat back the voice in her head saying What if?, then we win.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety after the birth of a baby, even months and months after the birth of a baby, you can visit or call 1-800-944-4773 for help. They will help you. I promise because I know. They helped me.


PSI Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Hop

Be ~ Jen

Multi-tasking is bad for us, right? Big bad. Stress-us-out-and-give-us-cancer bad.

We try to make multi-tasking into a badge of honor, but that’s crap. All it does is place our need for validation in one 90 mile an hour basket.

This used to be my life, when I was a teaching, mothering, wifeing, friending, volunteering fool. I could teach the children, answer email, shop for shoes, plan vacation, grade papers and mentor colleagues all before lunch. Then I came home and worked out, answered texts, baked cookies for the bake sale, helped the kids with homework, did the laundry and cooked dinner. My life looked like this:

graph 1

Check me out. Man, you either got on board my crazy train or got run over. C’est la vie.

Then I one day I told Shea “Sure, I’ll have another baby, if I can stay home.” He called my bluff and two years later, I was a stay at home mom with a newborn. I hadn’t quite considered all the consequences:

graph 2

Some people may see those gaps as an opportunity for rest.  But the Master Multi-Tasker has no idea what rest is. To me, those huge gaps look like wasted space. Just having a newborn was for rookies. I would have a newborn and serve on the PTL and a corporate board and turn laundry into an insane art form. I would blog and post on Facebook three times a day and monitor the weather and traffic for all my close friends and family.

Do I have to say that this level of go is not sustainable? For anyone? Something will give. In my case, two somethings before I paid attention.

I was doing too much. Way, way too much. I was trying to be all things to all people. I didn’t want to let anyone down—not my husband, not my kids, not my students, not my colleagues, not my bosses, not my neighbors, not my family, not my kid’s school, not my church, not anyone.

You think that list is crazy?

What does yours look like?

We do too much. And in order to do too much, we multi-task. That means we do none of it well, because we’re moving too fast to really have a care. There’s no time for care! We say yes to everyone on that list, and then we short change them all, because that’s the only way to do it. We train ourselves to believe that rest is sloth, and we forget how to be. Still.

Then we are diagnosed with anxiety disorders and get cancer and divorces and we turn around one day and our kids are grown and we cannot for the life of us account for the years.

What if we just didn’t. Didn’t try to be all things to all people. Didn’t say yes. Didn’t try to balance our lives so that all things are equal. Yeah, that’s right. All the things in our life are not equal. The boss does not deserve the same time and attention as the spouse or the kids.

And what if we just be. Be the one who learned to say no. Be the one who cut some things out, like team parent or coaching or that committee at work. Be the one who made room for rest who took our charts, cleared them out and made some space. And then, instead of filling the space right back up, did this:

graph 3

We can do less, but do it wider, slower, better. We can take only the things we need, the things that make our lives lovely and amazing, and fill them up and out. Maybe–probably–we would feel less hollow, guilty and not enough. Instead, we could have more space and feel more fulfilled.

The thing I loved the most about this Christmas season was the ground swell of voices talking about less and slower. We can carry that momentum into 2014 and into all parts of our lives.

Do less. Be more. Happy New Year!

Tree Climbers and Raw Chicken ~ Jen

This is Door County Kona blend with hazelnut creamer. Good coffee helps me keep my tree climbing feet on the ground!

This is Door County Kona blend with hazelnut creamer. Good coffee helps me keep my tree climbing feet on the ground!

As you know, I’ve been working on letting go of my fears. This is the non-medicinal part of my recovery from postpartum anxiety. Turns out popping a Zoloft every night is not the work.

My friend Lara and I were talking about being more fearless, since we are both very worried about what might happen. And I said “We just have to rub the raw chicken on the kitchen counter! And trust that when we clean it up, we’ll get it all. And if we don’t, what’s the worst that can happen?”

This was met with silence. I know, because I have been friends with her for almost 20 years, that she was resisting the urge to curl into a fetal position at just the thought of raw chicken on the kitchen counter. That’s her THING. And even though I know that she knew that I wanted her to laugh and say “That’s right!” she couldn’t. Could not.

What she said was “Well, you might die.”

Which made me immediately obsess over the state of my kitchen counters.

In my defense, I come by this genetically. The women in my family go from zero to end of the world in five easy steps:  “Where are the dinner rolls? We forgot the dinner rolls! No one set the timer!! They almost caught on fire!!! WE ALMOST BURNED TO DEATH ON CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

We call it tree climbing. Like monkeys, who climb to the top of their trees and screech (or do worse) when agitated.

When I was pregnant with my son, I had contractions at 26 weeks, three days before Christmas. I called my mom on the way to the hospital. Two minutes after hanging up with her, both my sisters-in-law and my cousin called to see if I was ok. By the time my dad called, I answered the phone and said “I’m sure I’m fine. Everybody needs to relax.”

My dad said “Relax? Are you kidding me? Your mother is so far up her tree, she has a STAR on her head!”

Yes, that’s how we roll. You remember Swine Flu? I just knew that if I didn’t get my kids vaccinated, I was inviting death and destruction into my home. I checked the CDC website daily for an update on the spread of the flu and the availability of the vaccine. I called the people at the county vaccination clinic so often that they knew me by name. Shea will tell you he was out of work at the time, but that’s not true. It was his job to GET THOSE KIDS VACCINATED. I didn’t just climb the tree, I built a tree house and strung lights.

In the words of Truvy Jones, I now know that I was suffering from a case of postpartum anxiety. Nevertheless.

I want to argue that tree climbers make life easier, because we see things coming and we get out in front of them, but it’s not true. The truth is we invent stuff to see at the top of our trees because we’re so shocked by the fact that when we get to the top, there’s nothing there.

Like the Christmas rolls. I am sure somewhere in history a family has burned to death on Christmas day from an oven fire, but probably not since ovens were made of adobe. And don’t get me started on what I found when I looked up the facts from the swine flu pandemic in 2009. More dangerous to drive a dang car down the street.

So listen up anxiety sisters and fellow tree climbers: cut down the blessed tree. Don’t bark at shadows. Don’t kill your chickens before they’re hatched. Or whatever other messed up metaphor you want to use for maybe being the biggest source of your own stress and anxiety.

Oh yeah—mom laying on the beach on a perfectly beautiful day when the sun is shining and the kids are playing, and instead of relaxing, you find something to worry about? I’m talking to YOU.

What if, instead of the creepy dark belief that evil is lurking around every corner, the truth is that real life is mostly less stressful than most of us make it out to be? I’m not saying there are not horrible times in life, but what if we make it worse by constantly imagining the worst?

In my life, tree climbing is both chemical and emotional. Nature and nurture, baby. So I medicate and meditate: Do not be the source of your own stress. Do not be the source of your own stress.

There’s no shame in being more peaceful.

And no one gets any awards for being out in front of nothing. Just saying.

Joy wins ~ Jen


Joy: the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying

The last few years, anxiety has become a constant in my life. The doctors speculate that this is partly due to the stressors in my life, the synthetic thyroid hormones I take to replace my missing thyroid, and my fine family history of anxiety and OCD.

I am better now. The kind of better that helps you see how bad it really was and for how long.

In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown nails my anxiety on the head. She calls it foreboding joy. Every time something wonderful happens, or a moment of deep satisfaction or gratitude, it is followed by a sense of dread. What will happen to balance this? When will the other shoe drop?

I lived in fear and didn’t realize it. I felt joy, but then the forebodings crept in and my fear made me feel out of control. I got angry and demanded order. Once everything was in its place, I felt some sense of control again.

On birthdays. Anniversaries. Vacations. Holidays. As you can imagine, this was very fun for my family.

I’m tired of fear winning out. The constant tension between enjoying my life, and being scared to lose it. Trying to control everything so we are predictable, quiet, safe.  This cannot be my best life.

A month ago I asked myself a question: Can I choose joy? Is it that simple?

I made myself get inside my fears. I have never done that, because of my superstition that if we say things out loud, we call them to our lives. Now I realize that if I let them lurk in the corners, they are always threatening me.

Then I had to face down what I really believe about how God loves me. I have issues with Christians who camp out in the Old Testament, as if Jesus never made a new covenant through his life and death. But I did that, too. Fearing the vengeful God of the Hebrews, the God of Job. I can’t just say that I accept God’s love for me. I have to do it.  And I have to know that God loves Shea and my three babies even more than I do.

And I have to live Here. Shea and I like to dream—five years from now, ten years from now. But I always take it a step further and start planning. Planning for ten years from now. And the planning causes me anxiety, because there are so many variables and I can’t plan for all of them. Then I worry about things that have not happened, and probably won’t.

This steals my joy. I do it to myself.

So enough. Enough planning, enough anxiety, enough fear.

I think we can make this choice. I think we can say that fear doesn’t win. Even if the last few years have been hard. Even if there is sickness, or failure, or betrayal. The fear costs us too much. It costs us sleep and health and relationships. It costs us opportunity. It costs us love. What are we doing?

I say, let’s be brave. Let’s choose joy. Let’s choose to be joyful Here.

I don’t think it’s easy, but I know we can do it. We can choose joy. And when we do, joy wins.