She.

She sat in the darkness of the parking garage, in the back seat of the Jeep, shaking and huddled over her 3 week old baby girl -tears streaming down her face.  She looked into those beautiful blueberry eyes, rocking the infant, saying over and over again, “We’re gonna be OK, you and me.  Yes we are.  I love you so much.  Don’t you worry.”  Christmas shoppers buzzed by the car, carrying packages and beaming with holiday cheer.  Christmas shopping was not going to happen for her.  She had tried, and found herself barely able to focus, dizzy with fear and short of breath at the sight of the crowds.  Fifteen minutes earlier she was sitting in a  small cafe with her baby in the car seat next to her because if  she had stood for one minute longer, she just might have passed out.

Her miscarriage had occurred in November of the previous year, 2 days before Thanksgiving.  After the ultrasound confirmed that the tiny heart had stopped beating, she was taken to the OR where the fetus was removed, and then transported to the postpartum floor where she would stay for a few hours.  She could hear the cries of newborn babies from her room; the laughter and palpable joy of new moms, dads, and grandparents.

She never fully grieved the loss of that fetus.  She had been sad, but ‘kept going’ for her 2-year-old son.  Finding out 3 months later that she was pregnant again was good news, but also marked the beginning of the scariest time in her life.

The pregnancy was filled with anxiety.  She became convinced that her baby would never take a breath.  She hardly ever left the house, but occasionally would look out of her bedroom window and see her pregnant neighbor.  She watched enviously as her radiant friend worked in the yard and tended to her flowers – happy to be alive.  “Why can’t that be me?”  She would say, her heart heavy with sadness, her body burdened with physical pain and completely isolated.  Feelings like this grew so strong that thoughts of suicide entered her mind.  “Something is wrong with me.  I am not healthy.” she pleaded  over and over.  “My family is better off without me.  I am a burden.  They will be OK.”   The doctors she saw told her she was a healthy, pregnant 29-year-old woman with a little anxiety.  In her mind, however, her baby girl’s strong kicks were the only thing keeping her alive.

She delivered an 8 pound baby girl almost exactly one year after her miscarriage.  She’s “perfect!” the doctor said.  Forcing a smile, trying to ignore the pressure in her chest, she felt a twinge of happiness that her baby did indeed breathe.  Filled with fear, and barely able to carry on a conversation with visitors, she survived the next few days at home.  Three days after she came home her mother found her hunched over in the stairwell, crying and grasping onto one of her old nursing books, desperately searching for an answer to her pain.  Anxiety had progressed to paralysis, and she was afraid to be left alone with her children.  Overcome with guilt at her inability to take care of her 2-year-old son, she would cry, and he would tell her, “Mumma, it’s OK.”

Maybe you wonder, but maybe you’ve figured it out.  SHE was ME.  Me during and after the pregnancy of my second child, Hope.  My father and I had chosen the name for her before she was born.

I was taken to the ER that night my mother found me, and referred to a doctor who labeled my suffering.  You have “generalized anxiety disorder” and most likely postpartum depression.  “OK,” I said, all the while the voice in my head saying, “you don’t get it either…I’m dying.”  I was in a black hole, a deep black hole, and there was no way out.

Enter Dr. Ruta Nonacs.  I refer to her as the woman who saved my life.  At my first visit, I sat comatose in a chair as she asked me questions and patiently waited for responses.  Severe Clinical Postpartum Depression.  That’s what I had.  The question of medications was a difficult one for me.  I thought, “If this stuff works on my brain, am I even the same person anymore?”  I chose not to take the medication; to do just counseling sessions.  One week later I found myself in the parking garage mentioned above.  At that moment, I decided that this had to end, and I paged Dr. Nonacs.  “I’ll take the medication.”  I said.

After saying ‘yes’ to medicine, I would count the hours from Wednesday to Wednesday (my doctor visit day), and woke myself in the middle of the night to take pills.  After weeks on medicine, coupled with weekly counseling, I noticed something the tiniest bit different about the world.  A glimmer of possibility that things may not be as bad as they seemed.  People often ask me how I knew the medication was working and the only way I can describe it is to say that I started seeing things differently.  Ever so gradually, my life was not about surviving.  It began to be about living, and my family became a part of it again.

It will be 15 years in November 2012 since that night in the parking garage.  Postpartum depression is more openly talked about today, and a much greater awareness of this illness exists.  During my last pregnancy 8 years ago, I was happy to see signs in the clinic asking questions that I should have been asked during my pregnancy with Hope.  This is such a good thing.  The acceptance of all types of depression is a necessity.  The mind is a wonderful, powerful thing for sure, but it can also be one enemy that you do not want to have.

That’s my story. Thank you for reading it.

For anyone suffering with Depression, or questions about Depression, I know this wonderful author of a great book…

A Deeper Shade of Blue: A Woman’s Guide to Recognizing and Treating Depression in Her Childbearing Years, by Ruta Nonacs, MD, Ph.D

Hope and me. Photography by Ingrid

Photography by Ingrid.  Wellesley, MA

A James Joyce moment.

Hi Dad.

Nobody told me how hard nights like this would be to get through.  I expected sorrowful moments to happen on special occasions when the seat that used to be occupied by you was empty.  Not nights like this one…nothing special, just me and my pjs and my computer and my thoughts of you.  I feel your presence every day, and I hear your words so much it sometimes makes me laugh out loud.  But it’s when I stop “doing” and just “be” that the realization you are not coming back here really hurts.  I think about how lucky we were to have had you.  Of course I do that.  I think about how happy you were here with us, and how happy you made your grandchildren.  Of course I do that.  But I think that you never were able to see Shane wrestle.  I never heard you yell “Go Shane-o!”  from the bleachers.  We never heard you say how strong he is.  I want to hear you tell him he should be a running back, like you did hundreds of times; each time with such conviction.  I want those things on nights like this.  I want to hear you talking with Greg on the couch while Sixty Minutes is on in the background…ticking away- that tick that always drives me crazy.  I want you to come into the kitchen and open my cabinets and grab some Cheez-its.  I want to hear you say “I think Mum and I are gonna go now.”  I am sad because you didn’t get to congratulate Hope and Emma today on their first airplane flight without any parents.  I want to hear you tell them its a “nice country, huh!” because they are in Naples swimming in the pool and driving the golf cart.  We took Chad to Bertucci’s tonight and he ate two slices of pizza.  I want you to ask me if he’s eating any better.  I want to hear you say to him,  “You gotta eat Chad.  You gotta eat.”  Shane is out on the town with his friends, but if you were here, I’ll bet he would be here too.  He keeps close tabs on Mum now that you are not here.  He makes her laugh. I want you to bear witness to Emma’s continued drama.  God love her, she’s a sweetheart,  but man can she turn on the drama.  I want you to chuckle to yourself at how many times a day Emma cries…like you did when you would work here.  I can hear your laughter now.  I read something that basically said, “missing someone is not about the last time you spoke to them or saw them…it’s about being in the middle of doing something and looking up, expecting them to be there.”  I miss you tonight.  Just a regular old Sunday night in February with nothing going on.  Nobody told me that these would be the hardest kind of nights.  You are in my heart forever….on my mind always.

Love,

Carolyn

p.s. Chad loves almonds!  Who would have guessed.

Should You Go First

Should you go first and I remain

To walk the road alone,

I’ll live in memory’s garden, dear,

With happy days we’ve known

In Spring I’ll wait for roses red,

When fades the lilac blue,

In early Fall, when brown leaves call

I’ll catch a glimpse of you.

Should you go first and I remain

For battles to be fought,

Each thing you’ve touched along the way

Will be a hallowed spot

I’ll hear your voice, I’ll see your smile,

Though blindly I may grope,

The memory of your helping hand

Will buoy me on with hope.

Should you go first and I remain

To finish with the scroll,

No length’ning shadows shall creep in

To make this life seem droll.

We’ve had our cup of joy,

And memory is one gift of God

That death cannot destroy.

Should you go first and I remain,

One thing I’d have you do:

Walk slowly down that long,lone path,

For soon I’ll follow you.

I’ll want to know each step you take

That I may walk the same,

For some day down that lonely road

You’ll hear me call your name

~A.K. Rowswell

50/50 (as I saw it.)

 

I hesitated, staring blankly at the TV screen, wondering…do I really want to watch this movie right now?  I was about to go on the treadmill for what I hoped would be a good 5 mile run, and I really didn’t want to watch a sad movie. Was this movie even sad?  I wasn’t sure, but I clicked “buy now” and started running.

50/50 tells the story of Adam Lerner, an endearing young public radio producer (with a winsome smile.)  At 27 years old, Adam is diagnosed with spinal cancer.  Although the movie covers an obviously serious subject, the comic relief is hilarious, and perfectly timed.  In my opinion, the movie’s main focus is on relationships, and is so well acted that there are times when, through mere facial expressions, you “get it.” You understand what remains unsaid.   This is especially true if you have had personal experience with the familiar battle that cancer has thrown so many of us into.  What I liked most as I watched his story was how my mind became flooded with memories and feelings that I hadn’t thought about or felt in a long time.  The feelings that had softened with the passage of time.  The memories that humble me as I trek my own journey through this life.

My father lost his courageous battle with cancer in October 2010.  I am grateful for many of the moments that my family and friends shared as we traveled that arduous road together.  Using 50/50 as my inspiration,  I would like to share some lessons I learned during the months of his illness.

Lesson #1: Not everyone can  “jump right in”  to a given situation and be fine with it. Patience and understanding are essential so that we may help others adjust to what is happening.  There is a scene in the move in which Adam is talking with his girlfriend Rachel.  She tells him she does not want to go into the hospital because she doesn’t want to mix the “negative” hospital atmosphere with the “positive” atmosphere  present in her life.  “It’s an energy thing.”  she states.  I bet that many moviegoers were upset with her at this moment.  I thought about it for a while after she said it, and concluded that she wasn’t crazy for thinking that way.  I felt the same way during the early days of my father’s illness.  I remember walking into the hospital for one of the first “post diagnosis” doctor visits with my dad.  I was thinking…”Here we go.  My life will be forever altered starting now…no matter how this thing turns out…and guess what, I’m not ready!”  So for everyone who was upset with Rachel in that scene, I understand, but beg to differ.

Lesson #2: Listening is important.  It is never just about “you.”  That “you” includes the patient as well.  Adam’s relationship with his mother is strained.  Communication is difficult, and many things remain unsaid.  I learned that everyone matters and everyone feels… so everyone hurts.  My family and friends needed to talk to each other, and we needed both to listen and be heard.  Yes, love triumphs over all between Adam and his mother, but I won’t give away what happens.

Lesson #3: One good friend is all you really need. (family aside)  Nobody is perfect, but in his or her own way, that friend is walking the road with you as best he can.  You can accept your own fate, but you cannot accept your fate for a friend. That is something a friend needs to do on his own… and man…it’s not easy.

Lesson #4: Out of the bad always comes some good.  During difficult times like Adam’s, we meet new people, who may even become permanent parts of our lives.  The truth is that even if they don’t, and you never see those people again after your experience together…they have left an indelible mark on your heart forever. Believe it.

Lesson #5:  This life does not last forever.  Yes, we stare our mortality right in the face.  I learned that death is not something to be feared.  I am not afraid to die.

These lessons may not ring true for everyone, as I can only speak from personal experience.  The days, weeks, and months spent in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices that accompany the diagnosis of any illness are difficult for everyone affected; the patient, the family, the best friend. The world looks completely different through the eyes of a family battling disease.  Our experiences can teach us during this time if we choose to be open to learning.

Nicely done 50/50…and thanks for the memories.

P.S.  The greatest thing about this post is that I did not know the movie was based on a true story when it wrote it.  That just makes the movie even better.