My son Alexander turned 8 years-old today. I have told his birth story before. In short, my pregnancy was without incident. He came earth side fast, like he was on a mission. He was purple when he made his debut. He had severe meconium aspiration. My poor little buddy.
He was rushed off to the NICU rather quickly after a very brief plop on my emptied belly. We hadn't even named him yet. We were leaning toward Henry. It all happened very fast. My husband Dan named Alexander in the NICU in a moment of knowing that our little guy needed name. Once Alexander was settled into the NICU I got to see him again. He seemed to be nestled in a forest of machinery. A nurse asked me if I wanted a priest to come and baptize him. His little life was in danger. It was awful. A few hours later Dan and I squished together like spoons in my hospital bed. Sobbing.
Alexander was transferred to a different hospital as a candidate for ECMO - a heart and lung bypass procedure that might help his lungs to recover. My midwife discharged me several hours later so I could join him. Alexander was in a small plastic incubator when I saw him next. He was in a medically induced coma under a maze of tubes. We were instructed on the acceptable ways to touch him. On the top of his head and the bottom of his feet. I remember staring at his little body in utter disbelief. There were tubes everywhere. And needles. My heart was broken.
In the end Alexander didn't need ECMO. Three days later he returned to the hospital where he was born. His new NICU bed was one with fewer contraptions and the first order of business, according to his new nurse, was to be held by his parents. We were elated. 10 days after Alexander's birth we welcomed him home.
|Baby Alexander and his big brother James|
What I haven't really talked about is what happened once we came home. Things must have looked pretty normal. We were a happy family - a young couple with a pre-school son and a newborn baby. Dan had missed a lot of work while Alexander was in the hospital. He had to jump right back into his job. I was at home with my two little guys. Life moved on. Two years later we welcomed a baby girl, Sophia, into our family.
When I look back, I can't say I was unhappy. I loved my life. I'm not going to lie though, as anyone will tell you, it isn't easy being at home day after day with three small children. It is an emotionally and physically challenging undertaking - to grow people. No, I wasn't unhappy. I was numb.
I operated on auto pilot for another two years. I think I lived most of my life feeling more anxious than the average person. I didn't know I was "anxious" because that word wasn't even part of my vocabulary. I worried a lot, and mostly about things that would never happen. I felt things deeply as a child. I was told I was too sensitive, too nice, too quiet, too shy. I learned to adapt. I learned to hide my feelings. I learned to smile when people looked at me. It is amazing what one can hide behind a smile…
I felt incredibly lonely at times, usually in the midst of friends and family. When I felt uncomfortable - sad, angry, scared, and so on - I stuffed those feelings way down deep in my soul.
Next month it will be four years since I lost my dad. His death was a huge shock. It felt like everything I ever knew to be true came crumbling down around me. My dad's death was devastating, and what it stirred up inside me was painful too. Every little hurt I had ever buried, rose up and out of me. A miscarriage before Alexander was born, then Alexander's birth, and truly every bit of heartache that came before that. It all wanted to be healed.
My grief in the face of losing my dad gave me space to feel things I hadn't allowed myself to feel before. I couldn't stuff another hurt. I allowed myself to feel the pain of loss. It was really hard for me to feel AND to function in my daily life. I remembered a dear friend telling me about how she had started taking an anti-depressant. I'll never forget the way she looked at me as I told her some of my own stories about living with depression and anxiety (I had learned those words by that point). She said, "Anna, you don't have to live like that."
I come from a long line of Polish women. We are tough. We suck it up. When my dad died, I just couldn't suck it up anymore. I felt weak and tired and sad and I had no shame about any of it. I no longer felt the need to put on a happy face. I didn't care at all what anybody thought about any of it. I wasn't going to pretend that everything was okay. I marched right into my doctor's office and said, "I am sad and my husband can't sit here holding my hand anymore because he has to go to work. I have three little kids to take care of and my entire support system is grieving. I need help."
I started taking medication for my anxiety. At that point I didn't consider how it might impact me, I just wanted some relief. What I experienced was a newfound ability to be the me I always wanted to be - calm on the outside AND the inside. At last! My exterior reflected my interior. I wasn't faking it. I felt like a miracle was occurring within my very own body.
I know I was very lucky and not all people have a positive experience like mine. I know that if they do have a positive outcome, it might come after a lot of trial and error. It can be a long, painful, confusing road.
I am eternally grateful for my stroke of medicinal luck. Easing my anxiety about every little aspect of my life freed some space for me to dig deep into what needed to be healed with a therapist and in my own soul work. It may have even helped me to let go more and to reconnect with my creativity, which has been a very large part of my journey. Am I healed? I don't think it is that simple. For me, healing is a practice. Every day I try to do something that soothes my soul. I can't always get to it. The longer I go without it, the more likely I am to begin to feel anxious, and eventually depressed.
So, no, I'm not suggesting that if you are feeling depressed, you should absolutely get medicated. Not at all. I share this story here because I believe that in this time of celebrities overdosing on drugs and non-celebrities overdosing too, I think it is more important than ever to understand two things about being human. 1) Things are not always as they appear; and 2) It is actually a sign of strength to ask for help. Asking for help is one of the strongest, bravest things a person can do.
Please ask for help if you need it. Ask for help even if you suspect you might need it.
I am off to get the birthday boy off the bus. One last thing before I go - the greatest gift I receive in allowing myself to really, truly feel my pain is the opportunity to also really, truly appreciate my joy. Celebrations are sweeter than ever before.
With so much love… xoxoxo