Friday, February 5, 2016

I'm Your Mom and I have Post Partum Depression (and a bunch of other stuff...)

This health class my oldest kid is in....goddamn. It is testing me in ways I wasn't really prepared for.

Seems that most of the time, all that parents are worried about these days is what content the teachers might cover when they are talking about that three letter word S-E-X. 

Yeah, that's not phasing me in the least. I've been talking to my kids about sex for a long time already and there isn't a whole lot in that department that could come as a surprise. I'm not a prude, I'm not delusional, I'm not living in denial of the fact that my kids will someday become involved in intimate relationships. I know I can't keep them young or little or naive or sheltered, and I know that any attempt to do that would be a dangerous disservice to them.

But this post isn't about sex.

It's not about drugs or alcohol either.

We've had lengthy conversations about all that too.

What threw me for a loop this week was something else entirely. Something that they never mentioned to us back in the 90's in health class. Something that people in general didn't seem to talk about much unless it was in quiet whispers away from the impressionable ears of young children. Something that most people still don't talk too much about, mostly now because of the stigma attached to it all.

Mental health.

Deep damn breath.

I'm glad they're doing it. Truly, deeply glad. Relieved is really more the word for it.

Maybe this generation of kids, exposed to these conversations at this age, won't grow up suppressing things, won't refuse to admit when something is wrong, won't hide it from other people, won't try to self medicate instead of realizing there is help. Maybe they won't have to deal with stigma and embarrassment and shame. Maybe they'll own their struggles, maybe they'll have wonderful support networks, maybe access to qualified therapists and doctors will be better.


God I hope so.

Anyhow, my son got in the car after school this week and mentioned the topic for the day in health class and my brain kicked into overdrive. It was just him and I and the baby in the back seat. We don't have too many chances to talk these days without all the other kids around.

I supposed that it was finally time to out myself. At least to him. He's older, he's more mature, he's going to be getting into relationships with other people soon. He's got a laundry list of issues in his family history, he's predisposed to plenty of it.

It was time.

So I told him.

"Yeah, so you know how I mentioned 
that I am going to a conference later
this year about maternal mental health?
I'm not just going because I am a doula, 
though that is part of it. I'm going 
because of postpartum depression. 
I had it. 
I have it.
I still have it right now."

He looked a little surprised at first. Asked me a few questions. Asked me if I was okay.

I explained how and why PPD happens, how it manifests, what the symptoms are. Told him the truth about how it hit me, how I hid it, how long I hid it.

I told him that I thought it would get better on its own, that I could make it go away. I told him that I refused to admit what was going on. I told him how I hit the wall.

I told him that my main symptom was/is intrusive thoughts. I even told him what some of them were. What some of them still are.

I told him.

And I told him for the same reason that I tell you all. So that he'll know that these things happen to people, that people he knows and loves struggle, that it isn't something that just happens over there to other people. I told him because he needs to know that when these conditions surface, there is help, but that I had to be willing to get help...and that if and when he needs it someday he needs to be willing to get it too. He needs to know that it might not just be him who has to deal with these conditions someday. His partners, his spouse, his children, his friends.

I told him because I want him to know that I'm a safe place.

I told him because I want him to know that I understand.

I told him because I want him to know that I'm here and I'll listen and I'll help however I can if he ever needs it, and then I'll help him get help.

Maybe he'll never need it, maybe he will.

I don't have a crystal ball. I certainly never thought I'd have PTSD and ADHD and anxiety and PPD. I'm like a goddamn potpourri of mental health issues.

I didn't think I'd be here.

But here we are.

And we're talking.

Keep talking, you guys.

Keep talking to your kids and your friends and your partners, keep talking even when it's hard and it's scary and you'd rather live in a world where conversations like this one didn't need to happen. It matters.

We're all in this together, and maybe someday it will be better.

Keep talking.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

On edging toward 40...

I'll be 39 in a couple of days. Birthdays don't bother me the way they seem to bother so many people. Age hasn't really ever been something I've been afraid of, though I would make an argument that it probably has at least a little bit to do with the fact that I've almost always been the youngest person in my circle.

I skipped a grade in elementary school, which meant that for a few years I was picked on a bit for being younger. I didn't get to drive the same time that most people did, I couldn't sign my own paperwork when I went to college for a while, was by far the last one to reach legal drinking age.

Those things were annoying, sure, but they were transient. Once I'd passed all the ages that we actually looked forward to turning, being young suddenly turned from a disadvantage into a distinct advantage. On top of that, we had kids way earlier than most of our friends did, so the new people we met because of the kids were all just a bit older.

We won't bother mentioning the fact that I lost any claim to being the young mom now that I have a small herd of children spanning a decade and a half, that I've now converted myself from the young inexperienced mom with a baby to the old veteran mom with a baby.


Anyhow, I was thinking about turning 40 a few days ago and I was thinking about it not so much in terms of myself as much as I was thinking about it in terms of my parents and my children. Where they were at that point in their lives. Where I am. How very different, and yet how similar those places are.

When my Dad turned 40, I was 15 years old.

My oldest child will be 15 when I turn 40.

On my father's 40th birthday, I'd already met the teenage boy who would eventually become my husband.

My son is happily single for the moment, though a lot could change in a year. (breathes into paper bag)

At 15, I'd been in and out of therapy already. I'd started and quit smoking, drank myself into oblivion more times than I could count, partied enough to compare to any college student and then some.

Unless something dramatic happens between now and then, I highly doubt my son will have done any of those things. He watched his grandfather die because of smoking. Watched his grandmother die in part because of smoking. Watched the front yard go up in flames (literally) because of smoking. I don't see him ever considering it.

By that point, my parents' marriage had survived more than a few major conflicts...but those conflicts and the way my parents dealt with them left me hanging out on a limb most of the time...hence the partying and the drinking and the general bad choice making at 14. I need to forgive myself more than I've been able for what happened in that phase of my life. I needed parents and rules and structure and boundaries and I didn't get any of that. Left to my own devices, I did some really stupid shit.

My marriage....let's just say, yeah. Major conflicts. Been there, done that, but (and this is a big but), I swore to myself that I was never going to let whatever was going on between us affect that kids the way I was affected. I haven't checked out on anyone, haven't left my kids hanging, haven't turned a blind eye because I had my own shit to deal with, haven't just dropped them off wherever because it was easier. I'm in it, with my eyes wide open, vigilant. On purpose.

By the time my parents turned 40, there had been a few midlife crises.

We've already been down that road a few times here too, went to the gift shop, got the t-shirt.

It's weird, because I knew back when I was 15 that my parents hadn't figured it out yet, but they wanted me desperately to believe that they had. At the same time, they seemed so old and weathered, so authoritative, so experienced with the world.

From this side now, I know that I haven't figured it all out, but I've learned a lot along the way. I never pretend to have mastered any of this life stuff, least of all with my children. When I screw up, I say I'm sorry. I admit when I am wrong, I own it.

I talk more to them. Tune in more. I don't push them away because of the demons I wrestle in my head. I don't because I know what it did to me when I was in their shoes and my parents were in mine.

I've been honest with them about what life was like for me when I was their age.

And I've learned.

We aren't destined to make the same mistakes our parents made. Our kids aren't destined to make the same mistakes we did, either.

My kids are way more stable, more grounded than I could have imagined being at 15.

Maybe I've figured out this life stuff more than I give myself credit for. Maybe.

Maybe I'm over analyzing it all.

I probably am.

It is, after all, what I do.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - the if we policed boys the same way edition

Welcome to Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday.

Though there are certainly other things in the world going on at the moment worthy of my attention, I wanted to do this. I've been meaning to do this for a while now, because it needs to be done.

It needs to be done because we are living in a time when people still seem not to understand that treating boys and girls differently is not just annoying, but wrong....and potentially dangerous.

We live in a time when girls are sent to the office, sent home, made to kneel before male principals and raise their arms to demonstrate whether their skirts are too short, where girls are kept out of proms and winter formals because they have large breasts, where schools have no issue mandating what girls may and may not wear, using the excuse that they might somehow be distracting.

Adults, disturbingly enough, almost always the ones deciding what is and isn't objectionable, which begs the question of whether they should be evaluating students about this at all. Adults, judging if children are too sexually appealing. Gross when you think about it that way, huh?

So, here we are. Let's talk about just how ridiculous these dress codes might be if we were policing the boys instead, if we were making assumptions about the ability of girls to control themselves, if the education of the girls was deemed more important than anything else.

Imaginary School District #173 Dress Code, Section 2.1.
This code section pertains to all students in the district, effective immediately. It has come to our attention that many of the male students have been dressing in ways that could be considered distracting to the female students. In order to remedy this situation, we won't be focusing on teaching the female students to avert their eyes and to focus on their own school work. We understand that the girls simply can't help themselves but stare, and that girls will be girls. We also understand that girls, once they become aroused based on the clothing their male peers are wearing, may not be able to control their impulses to talk, touch and harass the boys. The education of the female students is more important than any male student's desire to wear comfortable clothing. Teachers and all school staff will be on the constant lookout to determine if a violation occurs, even if it might seem a bit inappropriate that they are evaluating the clothing of male students excessively.
Any and all violations of the dress code will result in the offending student being sent to the office. Parents will be contacted immediately and given the opportunity to bring suitable clothing to school for the child. If the parent is unwilling or unable to bring appropriate clothing to school, the student will be given an option; either they will be forced to remain in the office for the rest of the day or they may choose to wear an exceptionally oversized neon yellow sweat shirt that has been labeled "dress code violation" on it. We don't really care if the punishment related clothing is actually more of a distraction or if the student sits in the office all day, because we're trying to make a point here.

a. Any type of compression gear or tight fitted shirts or tops are forbidden. Shirts, such as the Under Armor type are quite revealing, leaving little to the imagination. As boys approach puberty and begin to develop muscle tone, it can become quite obvious how much muscle tone they have. This is quite distracting to the girls in class. We know that in reality, some of the thinner boys or late bloomers won't have this problem, and so we'll probably let them wear whatever they want, and focus our energies on the boys who've developed more.

b. All athletic jerseys are forbidden, particularly those that might be sleeveless. All tank tops are prohibited. Upper arms and collarbones really are the gateway to sex, and we need to protect the girls here. They can't help themselves if they catch a glimpse of upper arms or collarbones.

c. All athletic shorts and sweat pants are forbidden. The way the material drapes on the body can accent the developing genital area and behind of the boys, which is clearly a distraction for our female students. Clothing doesn't have to show skin to be revealing, and the tightness and draping of these pants are a constant source of interruption in the classroom. The outline of the body can clearly be seen, which is vastly inappropriate. If a boy, for sensory reasons or otherwise, needs to wear these pants, they will be required to wear a shirt that hangs down below their crotch area. We will be measuring the length of the shirts and requiring them to raise their arms to determine appropriateness. Again, it's possible (and indeed likely) that those boys who are more curvy and/or developed may be targeted for dress code violations more frequently, but that's just because they are more of a distraction. The fact that people come in different shapes is irrelevant. The education of the students is our first concern, especially the vulnerable females. Showing too much leg is undermining our work here.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Kefir: What it is and How to use it

What is Kefir?
Kefir is a sour drinkable fermented beverage, made usually with milk, containing yeast and probiotics. It is made with kefir grains, milk and time, simple as that. It is very slightly alcoholic, just as a result of the yeast breaking down the sugars in the milk. The probiotics are abundant, and are the main reason I started drinking it myself, and then making it.

Kefir is available commercially, but can get quite expensive if you have several people in the household drinking it. This is the biggest reason I started making it at home. We were buying 4 bottles a week. Ack.

Kefir is traditionally made with cow's milk, but can be prepared using just about any drink containing sugar, including soy milk, coconut milk, fruit juice and more. Water kefir is something different than what I am discussing here.

In order to make it at home, you will first need to find kefir grains. The grains themselves aren't actually grains, just referred to as such. Kefir grains resemble small clumps of cauliflower, and are white or slightly yellowish in color. 

Here is a picture of mine at the moment, still coated in the last batch of strained kefir.

I know, I know....looks pretty gross. Hang with me, I promise it will be worth it. 

Anyhow, kefir grains can't be "made", you are going to need to find some grown from an existing batch. As you make kefir at home, the grains will multiply and grow. The extras can be shared with friends. I found mine online, but many people have luck looking on craigslist locally as well. Natural health food stores may carry them in your area, or be able to put you into contact with someone who has them.

Why Make Kefir?
Kefir is full of probiotics, the benefits of which are several fold. Most people in our society don't have a strong gut flora, leading to a variety of issues. Add onto that the existence of antibiotics, some of which can wipe out your good bacteria along with the bad, and you can start to have digestive issues, among other things.

Personally, I have a history of IBS and indigestion, among other things. Aren't you glad you know that? I kid...I kid.

If you have a personal or family history of digestive issues, I highly recommend you try this. Of particular interest for me personally is that I've seemed to develop a hint of lactose intolerance as I've aged. When kefir is made, almost all of the lactose is consumed by the yeast, leaving very little of it left afterwards. I don't have digestive upset when I drink this, but I do with ordinary milk.

How Do You Make Kefir?

  1. Procure some kefir grains.
  2. Spoon them into a glass container. I use a quart sized mason jar.
  3. Cover the grains with about 3 cups of milk. I use whole milk from our local dairy.
  4. Cover the jar with a cloth. You want it covered, but you want the kefir to be able to breathe. I use a washcloth, secured with a rubber band around the top. 
  5. Set it on the counter at room temperature and wait. The time will vary depending on the temperature and how active your grains are at that moment. 24 hours is good rule of thumb. It will take a bit longer when it is cold, can be quicker when it is warm. 
  6. When the liquid has thickened and you see chunks floating around the top, it is ready.
  7. Using a plastic strainer, strain the kefir into a new clean container, reserving the grains in the strainer. 
  8. Kefir can be consumed immediately or run through secondary fermentation at this point. Store in the refrigerator. Grains can be immediately placed into a clean jar and used to make another batch.

Secondary Fermentation
I prefer to use a secondary fermentation process for my kefir. I've used several different options to do it, and it's just a matter of personal preference which you might try. My favorite is to toss in some boiled lemon peel, but I usually use lemon juice because it is simpler. I have used fresh and frozen berries as well. All you do for secondary fermentation is to throw in something with more sugar (I only use fruit or fruit juice), shake it up and put it in the fridge for another few days. It thickens the kefir more as well as flavors it.

I Have SO Much Kefir. What do I do?
It can get ahead of you, for sure. As the grains multiply, you will need to pull some out to keep the ratios right or add more and more milk. If your ratios are off, it will start to separate into clearish liquid and thick chunks. If you have a fridge full of kefir and don't want to keep making more, strain off the grains and put them into a small glass jar, then put them in the fridge. They'll keep in the fridge for quite a while without feeding them. When you are ready to start making kefir again, know that it might take a little longer for them to "wake" back up. 

Kefir Smoothies
I tend to drink it straight, but most of the people in my house will only drink it in a smoothie. Here's my go-to breakfast recipe, and what I drink almost every morning. This recipe makes enough for 2 people. Toss it in a blender and enjoy. 

- 2-3 cups of kefir
- 1 large banana
- 2 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tbsp wheat germ
- 1 cup frozen berries
- 1 cup washed kale, stem removed

One smoothie, three of your daily servings of fruits and vegetables, lots of protein and all the probiotics you need! 

I hope that I've answered most of your questions! If you have more, please add them in the comments. 

Happy bellies = happy people. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Marianne Williamson is Wrong.

Up until yesterday, I'd never heard of Marianne Williamson.

She is a writer and a motivational speaker with over 600,000 followers, one that appeared on my newsfeed because of something she'd written about mothers with post partum depression. Here is the text of her post, taken directly from her Facebook page:

CODE ALERT: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says women should be "screened for depression" during and after pregnancy. Their answer, of course, is to "find the right medication." And how many on the "Task Force" are on big pharma's payroll? Follow the money on this one. Hormonal changes during and after pregnancy are NORMAL. Mood changes are NORMAL. Meditation helps. Prayer helps. Nutritional support helps. Love helps.

Her target audience is women. She writes her books for women. Thousands of women follow her. 

After perusing her page briefly, I knew immediately why I didn't know who she is. I would never choose to follow someone like her, someone that insists that prayer and faith and positive thinking seem to be the cure for all that ails the world. I'm far too much a realist to engage ideas such as the ones she promotes.

If they work for you, fine. It's just not my cup of tea.

Anyhow, after writing that post yesterday, a few of my friends, friends who are currently more vocal in the movement to ensure adequate care for postpartum mothers than I can be, friends who fight for women every single day, they started responding. 

They shared her post. They shared their stories. They took to Twitter like the warrior moms that they are and tried and tried and tried to make people understand just how wrong she was in making her statement.

By employing strategic quotation marks, she makes it seem like "depression" isn't real. That depression during pregnancy and in the postpartum period isn't real. That the feelings many of us endure aren't real. That those of us who've flirted handily with psychosis were just imagining it all. She insists that the goal here is to "find the right medication" for women who might be struggling, and that those on the "Task Force" must be on big pharma's payroll. 

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Asking, demanding, requiring providers at all stages in pregnancy care to screen women for mental health concerns is a huge step forward. Pregnant women can come into pregnancy with pre-existing depression, they can develop depression during pregnancy, they can develop it afterwards. Post partum depression can lay dormant for weeks or months after delivery. 

For many women, particularly those with otherwise uncomplicated pregnancies, those well-baby checks and single postpartum recovery visit may be their only contact with the health care system at all. 

Asking the providers caring for these women to run through some questions, take a few moments to evaluate how mom is doing emotionally, to check and see if she might have developed more than just the baby blues, and yes, in some cases, to recommend medication is not a part of some larger conspiracy to turn women into catatonic addicts at the mercy of big pharma. 

It is not. 

"Hormonal changes after pregnancy are normal."

Post partum depression is NOT normal. 

"Mood changes are normal."

Post partum depression altering mood is NOT normal.

"Meditation helps."

Of course it helps some women. It doesn't help them all.

"Prayer helps." (?)

Maybe it helps some people. A suggestion like that would anger me endlessly. I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a part of any standard medical protocol. Not everyone believes the same things. Not everyone prays. Women shouldn't be made to feel that some higher power could somehow remove the chemical imbalance in her head if she just prayed hard enough...because if you believe that, then you must also believe that the higher power caused it in the first place.

"Nutritional support helps." 

Of course a balanced diet and exercise help. Those things won't help everyone.

"Love helps."

Of course love helps. Love can't cure diabetes or cancer or depression. It can't. It's not enough for everyone.

The very definition of post partum depression involves the set of symptoms she ascribes to the baby blues, but lasting longer, or occurring in greater magnitude than she seems to realize exists. 

I was fortunate to escape PPD with my first child. With my second, the voice started whispering in the back of my mind. With my third, I fell down the rabbit hole, deeper and deeper and deeper still. I fell for over a year. I didn't get help even though I am a doula. I am trained to recognize the symptoms. I knew something was wrong. I KNEW. And I did nothing. It spiraled out of control until I ended up hysterical one night in bed. I suffered alone, in silence, for over a year.

When my fourth child was born, it didn't return as badly. My provider did an excellent job of following up with me. 

And then my fifth came. I prepared this time, knowing that it might come back again. I had my placenta encapsulated. I had long stopped hiding the condition, telling myself that I could keep it a secret and it would go away. It came back anyway. 

I wrote this last night on my personal wall. 

More people need to read it. 

Lots of mothers live with PPD. Some suffer with it more than once. I'm one of them. I'm making this public on purpose, because those of us who've been down that tunnel and escaped need to speak out now.
Some of us recover without any major interventions necessary.
Some of us seek therapy.
Some of us meditate.
Some of us encapsulate our placenta the next time in the hope it won't come back.
Some of us need medication.
Too many of us do nothing.
Too many of us don't have help.
Too many of us don't have support.
Too many of us are mocked for the ways we heal.
Too many of us are judged.
Too many of us are laughed at by people we consider friends, family.
Some of us never recover.
And because of that truth, some of us will die.
Some of us will die.
Do you hear me?
Some. Of. Us. Will. Die.
Can you hear me now?

To all the mothers out there right now, whether you're in some stage of treatment, whether you've just started to develop symptoms, whether you're trying to convince yourself that you're fine and it will go away...please, please, please know that Marianne Williamson is wrong. She doesn't speak for me and she doesn't speak for you. 

Please talk to someone. Please seek therapy if you need. Please ask for help. Please be open to medications if you need them. 


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