The Month of May in My Household
National Mental Health Month is also National Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month, which is definitely fitting – well, at least for my family.
If you saw my Instagram post a few days ago, then you know that I am attempting to simultaneously work and watch a three-year-old most days during the week. Thankfully I have help from my mom, his former babysitter, and my husband, as he watches Rye when I go to conferences early or have networking events.
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A month ago Rye started a new school after his old one closed down because of black mold.... he had to be potty trained, so we gave ourselves two weeks to attempt to do it. . The problem was he was just fine at home, yet when he went to school he was so distracted that he had several accidents throughout the first week and a half. So much so that if he was asked to leave. It was embarrassing to say the least. . Since then I took a step back from a lot of projects that I had in the works to watch him three days out of the week. Thankfully my mom was able to watch them for a few hours twice a week (and @jeffbulltech is able to help out a bit also... but he just got promoted, so it is harder for him). . I know that this is only temporary. And it’s gonna make a great chapter in my upcoming book... But it doesn’t make it easy. . Attempting to watch a very rambunctious three-year-old, while having deadlines for my writing projects, my Instagram class, a conference last week, a speaking gig this Thursday, and my day-to-day work for a few clients means later nights and writing during nap time. . So if you see extra Instagram stories about our trips to the library, it means I’m trying to wear him out for a good nap so I can get some work done. ❤️
This definitely isn’t the hardest chapter in our lives with Rye. Don’t get me wrong – it’s hard to watch a kid all the time while trying to work. But I look back on the last 3 1/2 years, and there were times that tested Jeff and me even more.
Being new parents to a baby with cystic fibrosis
The beginning was rough. We were trying to figure out how to be new parents in addition to learning how to deal with Rye’s diagnosis of cystic fibrosis.
Cystic Fibrosis is a serious, but thankfully now (mostly) treatable life-threatening disease. It is a progressive disease that impacts Ryeson’s lungs, and pancreas - which essentially meant that we were giving him enzymes every single time he ate, and doing twice a day daily breathing treatments since he was two weeks old. He was 2 and 1/2 for his first surgery, a feeding tube that he needed for supplemental calorie intake.
For the first two years we spent hours attempting to feed a kid who didn’t want to eat, but needed to eat three times more than other kids just so he wouldn’t LOSE WEIGHT. We would wake up in the middle of the night twice simply to feed him so he would consume extra calories.
And we dedicated even more hours toward practicing breathing treatments on a screaming baby, or wiggly toddler, which broke my heart. In the beginning it took both Jeff and me to hold him and put the mask close to his face so he would be able to breathe in the albuterol and saline mist.
On top of it all, I had postpartum depression.
This is a subject I have not talked about in public before. It’s not that I’m embarrassed; it is something that a lot of women go through after they give birth. I mean, the hormones, the lack of sleep, the lack of your personal identity... (You are no longer JUST your own person. You are a mom, too, and it does take a while to figure out how to be both.) So, it wasn’t that I didn’t talk about it due to embarrassment. I just wanted to wait until after it passed, so I could speak from the other side of it and provide some guidance. And maybe some hope, too.
My postpartum depression would peak during times when I had PMS.
This occurred both before and after my period came back. There was a switch in my head, and it felt like I went from being Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll. I was no longer myself, and I could feel that in every part of my body. I would just be so angry. And sad. And helpless. Whereas before, I just felt helpless. My first reaction to the idea that I had postpartum depression was simply, “Of course I do.” I was dealing with a baby with a terminal disease, on top of the regular parenting challenges that accompany having a new baby. I was now in charge of someone who needed extra help, and even with support and love from my family and friends, I needed extra help myself. I talked to my doctor and determined that it wasn’t me...it was my hormones.
So, I went on the antidepressant Celexa. My doctor also prescribed exercise, healthy eating, and sunshine, but I knew I was not in a position where I could take care of myself like that. I didn’t have the mental energy to put into things like food and exercise. And while I still eating healthily in general, I didn’t have the mental capability to plan ahead, and I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles in the way of healthy eating. At least for me… Planning ahead is essential to making sure I eat healthy vs eating a quesadilla for dinner, because it is one of the easiest things to make.
“It gets better.”
As Rye got older, his breathing treatments became much easier, and he started eating a little bit better (at 3 1/2 he still isn’t great, but the feeding tube that we got when he was almost 3 has helped tremendously). I was able to slowly wean off of the antidepressant. And I found that my PMS symptoms were just normal PMS, with cramps, irritability, and a headache. Something I’ve managed pretty much my whole life. Ugh.
But either way, I was back. From there I was able to spend time focusing on myself – Jeff and I created goals to lose weight and feel healthier. And it definitely worked. There is definitely something to the whole concept of eating healthy, whole foods and exercising every day.
Eventually Rye was able to go to school, and I was able to work normal days for 8+ months.
Fast forward to this past February, in which Rye was sick constantly, then his school closed down because of black mold, which led us on the expedition of searching for a new school, followed by him being asked to leave because he wasn’t fully potty trained, and now I find myself as the main caregiver each week.
This is my current chapter in life, and I am doing what Sheryl Sandberg suggests in her book: I am leaning into my new life right now. But instead of pursuing career ambitions, I am taking on fewer clients, spending more quality time with Rye, and focusing on myself. I make sure to tire him out so he can sleep really well, which allows me to spend an hour and a half in the middle of each day writing.
I understand that this can happen because I have a few privileges such as being a white, middle class, bay area woman with family nearby, great health care and an amazing supportive partner. I feel like I need to say this, because my experience would be vastly different if any one of these things were not true.
As for my work self: I am also focused on time management because I have a lot less time to devote to my work then I did before. I write down all of my tasks so I can go down the list and check them off, versus not being sure what to do and wasting the time Ryeson spends sleeping by looking at social media.
So this May, I am focused on my kid, and my well-being, too. Because chasing around an active three-year-old takes a lot of mental energy. And when I don’t feel good, that is even harder to do.
Action item for anyone who just had a baby:
If you even slightly suspect that you are suffering from postpartum depression, talk about it. Talk to your doctor(s). Talk to your significant other. Talk to other friends who have had kids. Please do not suffer alone because you’re unsure about what’s happening or think you are feeling this way because you’re struggling with sleep deprivation. This goes for dads as well.
In addition - to my working mothers, dads who want to do your fair share of taking care of the mental load at home, or my stay at home mom friends. Know that you are NOT ALONE. There are plenty of other moms out there that are ANGRY by how we are being treated in the workplace, or by the government. And the way we can continue helping ourselves, and others is by talking about what we go through.