Taking a moment today and the last few days to reflect on this year has me feeling all kinds of crazy emotions about 2018. I guess I would describe 2018 as a new best friend, the one who, after getting to know each other better you admit… “I really thought you were a bitch when we first met.”
But I think to be really raw with you here, I should back it up a bit. There are a few things people who know me well know…
- I have never wanted anything so much my whole life, as I wanted to be a mom.
- I have suffered from anxiety most of my life. I went on medication around the age of 16 when my anxiety became dangerous to my health. I was having panic attacks, that lead to fainting episodes. I just couldn’t manage the anxiety, and some days it really consumed me. The medication was a low dose, and took just enough of the edge off that I felt like me, but a version of me who could cope and wouldn’t faint so much.
At the start of 2017, Shaun and I decided we wanted to start trying to get pregnant, I re-visited the side effects of the medication I was taking for my anxiety. It was considered technically “safe for pregnancy” but not advised. We spoke about a few other options I could consider, but ultimately I really wanted to see how I could do. I had been on this particular medication for 12 years and I thought it was time I try out my sea legs.
Coming off my medication took about 6 months, and was one of the hardest things I had ever physically done to date. I wanted my pregnancy to be clear of any questions that I could be harming my baby, so it was beyond worth it. Initially I gained some weight, and felt dizzy a lot. About 3 months later, we started to try to get pregnant. That didn’t take long… by September 2017, we learned we were pregnant!
Fast forward to January 2018, I am 20 weeks pregnant, so excited about this little baby, about the nausea finally subsiding, and the bump that had started to show. We were planning a gender reveal and going in for an anatomy scan. My anxiety at this time of my pregnancy was beginning to heighten and I should admit, I was not always easy. When I’m feeling panic, I want control and order, I want simplicity. But our life didn’t feel like any of those things. We were planning a kitchen remodel, and we didn’t agree on baby names. A gender reveal was being planned but I wasn’t allowed to be involved. My mom and my siblings were so far away, and I couldn’t find a sense of calm.
We learned Patrick would be born with a cleft lip on January 11th, 2018. It was confirmed with a second ultrasound on January 12th. My family flew into town for our gender reveal on the 12th.
Shaun and I decided that we would wait to share the news after the parties we had that weekend, we wanted more time to digest, and felt talking about it, might spoil the mood.
Looking back, I wish I did this differently, maybe the weekend would have been able to go differently, maybe we could have had an adjustment in the plans where I might have felt more comfortable. But I didn’t and that’s life.
We’re having a boy! I knew the whole time, I could feel it, or sense it, I was sure this little baby was a boy. I wasn’t surprised, but I was exhausted with fear and crimpled with anxiety. I wanted to run away and hide under blankets until I could process, until I could come up with a plan. But I was at a party and people wanted to hug me, and talk to me, and rub my belly. I smiled and I hugged people back. I could feel my knees want buckle underneath me and I could feel my armpits tingle with sweat. Everyone was so excited, but no one knew what we just learned. I held my belly hoping I could protect my son from what people might say, what people might think, how the world might accept him, from the surgeries he would need, from the extra care I didn’t yet know I would need to give him.
The next few weeks after this party I did just what I had wanted that night, I hid in my blankets and I researched, I planned, I called doctors, and googled bottles, I scheduled meetings, and I researched questions to ask. I was game planning, I needed a plan and I needed to make order of what I didn’t know.
I spent the following 4 months of my pregnancy in various states of anxiety, and calm. After meeting his cleft team at Stony Brook Hospital I felt confident in what we needed to do, I felt relief that we had such an amazing team so close by. I felt an incredible sense of warmth and community when we first publicly shared the news of Patrick’s cleft. Our friends and family reached out to us with such acceptance, support, and love.
Patrick’s birth was not at all as planned. Obviously! We were separated for the first 7 hours after he was born. He was taken to NICU for feeding evaluation and I had a low temperature they had to bring up. The day after he was born was our “initiation” I like to think into the life of a baby born with cleft. We saw more doctors and specialists each day than I ever expected, some I didn’t know existed, and others I didn’t know to plan for. I remember my mom standing at my side, anxious to hold her grandson, but more concerned with taking care of me. She and Shaun ran all over the hospital to make sure I got my pain medicine, enough water, what pump should I have, and she hasn’t eaten yet today. She was my rock and I knew the question was coming… do you want to talk to someone about managing the anxiety?
I should have, right? I mean one of the biggest concerns for moms post-partum is mental health. But I felt this strength in me that I hadn’t before. I didn’t want to give in now, but I promised we could keep talking about it. (** I should say, that mental health is not a game of strong enough to beat it! What I felt was different that just being strong, I had known in the past when I truly needed the medication and I don’t believe it’s a sign of weakness to accept help medically when it comes to mental health. If you or someone you know if struggling, please reach out to someone and get help, take the pill, and be proud you’re doing the right thing for yourself and your family.**)
The next time I really thought about medication was right before Patrick’s surgery. It was the hardest thing to imagine. I didn’t want to change his face, I didn’t want him to look differently, and I absolutely didn’t not want him to be in pain. The recovery for this surgery is hard, and I had been prepared for the physical and emotional pain moms feel. So many incredible women who have gone before me, were there by my side, texting, and sending their support and their advice. I really thought about it. Not that I was trying to be a hero, because I’m not, but I still felt that new strength I hadn’t felt before, I felt centered, and focused.
The day of surgery was a test of mental stamina for the best of us. Handing your baby back and walking away for hours, sitting, waiting, wondering. I asked that Shaun and I be alone. It was advice I was given, and grateful for. It was important that we do this together for our son, and that we do so without any extra voices. Good or bad, it was the best thing we did.
In the days to come, we needed those voices, and hands, and hearts, and legs. For about 2 weeks Patrick only slept for 1-2 hours at a time. He would wake and cry to be held. He hated eating and it was a real fight to get every ounce into him. His reflux was so bad he couldn’t keep anything down, and we were all concerned about his weight.
I took more help in the 3 weeks after Patrick’s surgery than I have ever accepted in my life. I have never been more grateful for people in my life! My husband who constantly asked what I needed and never got mad when I lost my patience, our family who checked in, and stopped by, our friends who came over to cheer us up, and distract us, the incredible support from everyone online, and in our support group!
We rolled right from 1-2 hours of sleep to just days later, Patrick started sleeping through the night. Once he was truly recovered, once we made it through the weeds, he was better than ever!
2018 took me from one of the hardest, most difficult weekends of my life just 12 days in, to the happiest day, the birth of our son, and then the hardest days after surgery, to the best most incredible Thanksgiving with all of our family, a memorable trip to Buffalo, and a beautiful Christmas with the Houlihans.
2018 you were a bitch, and a blessing, the hardest year, and the best year. Now that we have survived you, I think we can survive anything.