Unspoken Battles: Why I’m Terrified of Suicide and Why We Must SPEAK UP!

About a couple of months ago, an acquaintance of mine killed herself. I didn’t know her well, but we often talked about our similar struggles. We would vent about how our life before kids was easier and how we thrived. We would share stories of battling depression and other forms of mental aggravations. We would share our stories of joy and how we conquer our demons.

But then her demons got her….

Because of social media, I have been seeing conversations with this woman pop up. We are chatty and silly and she seemed so far from darkness. I just don’t know how to handle the fact that a year later, she is gone. Every time I see this, I cry. Not just for her, but because I see myself in her. I’m relatively stable and have a huge support system, but these demons seem so apparent in my isolating life as a stay at home mom. Sitting. Waiting. They came for her and she couldn’t fight them off anymore. What happens when we can’t fight ours?

I used to think suicide was something that you did. We had a family friend that died many years ago from this affliction and I just thought it was selfish of him. “How could he do that to his family,” I would say, before I really knew better. You don’t DO anything. It comes for you, sneaky and slow, always around the corner.

I’m sure this is probably terrifying for my friends and family to read, but it NEEDS to be said. Living in a constant state of healing yourself means damage is always happening to you. I have been struggling with mental health disorders since my first child came into my life. I could have never seen this coming and might have even given my life circumstances a second thought. I wanted to be home with them for years and years, but I can’t survive that so they will have to share me with my own passions and career so that I can thrive again.

I’m choosing to see this darkness in me as an opportunity to be brave and speak up. I KNOW of many people who have fought these demons and survived, but kept quiet until long after they needed support. “Fake it till you make it” is not a thing. The reality is that you fake it until you have a mental breakdown or major health issue. It’s seen as weak to be in this state and that is so far from the truth. Its strength that faces the demons. It’s so, so hard and I cannot do it without the army of support around me, so they must know what they are battling with me. I’ve faced darkness before and prevailed. I do it now and I’m scared, but know deep in my heart that I, we, can prevail again. I’m not asking people to fix me or cushion my life. I think Glennon, from Momastory (a massive inspiration to me), says it perfectly: “I used to say: I’m broken. Fix me. Then I grew up a little and said : WAIT A MINUTE. I’M NOT BROKEN. And now I’m a real grown up so I say: Of course I’m broken. And I love, love, love myself that way. If you’re comfortable with that – come sit with me and we can laugh and cry and be broken and beautiful together. But don’t try to fix me- I didn’t ask for that. I just asked for some good company in which to be human.”

I just want to be human with everyone.

Hopefully this can be an inspiration and we encourage each other to speak up about our demons. They come in many forms from suicidal thoughts to addiction. We should be able to talk about this without feeling weak and unstable. Being in battle with ourselves is more common than we think. Admitting it makes us human. We HAVE to start talking to one another. Once a story comes out, more will follow and soon perhaps we won’t feel so alone in this epic battle of life.

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Newborn Sleep CAN Happen: How I helped my daughter learn to self-soothe.

10487182_10203763406777975_5428785870809281767_nSome babies respond just fine to rocking or nursing to sleep. Then there are the babies that you help into a floppy, blissful state of sleep and set them down ever so carefully only to have them WAKE UP the second their little bodies touch their bed, leaving you in frustrated tears. That was the story with both of my children. With my son, we suffered through four sleep-deprived, tear-filled months (him and us) before making some changes. With my new daughter, I wanted to avoid creating parent-led associations that hindered my son’s sleep and instead, give her the confidence to trust her own body.  Lisa Sunbury, who was a great support, reminded me that Magda Gerber often said to “start as you wish to continue.” That was exactly what I was trying to achieve: long-lasting habits, right from the start. Newborn sleep CAN happen, and it can happen respectfully.

Getting To Know Her

With my son, I was so stressed about his crying that I tried everything to just get the tears to stop, without actually listening to what he was telling me. In contrast, with my new baby, I did not immediately try at all costs to make the crying stop, but rather approached the tears in a calmer and more intuitive way. When she cried, I held her and told her I was trying to understand what she needed. Instead of trying to shut her down, I spent my energy listening to her tears and learning about what they meant. As a result, I found that I bonded with her sooner than I did with my son, because I had viewed my son as an infant in distress, and anxiety about my failure to stop his tears clouded our bond; with my daughter, I understood that her crying was communication and that it didn’t threaten her attachment to me.

Preparing the Day for Sleep

Babies are so easily overstimulated. Anything from a lamp to the sound of a passing car can be too much for some. Try to keep your baby in an area that has low lighting and minimal sounds. When feeding or changing, move slowly and use a gentle voice. It can be challenging to provide the optimal setting for a newborn 100% of the time, but you can do the best you are able. It’s also important that you let your baby release their frustrations, kind of like a friend that needs to cry on your shoulder at the end of a hard day. Being a newborn is so emotionally exhausting with the huge amount of newness in every little thing they experience; so everyday for them is a long, hard day. With my baby, I would snuggle up with her and let her cry out all of her frustrations. As soon as she was done, she would finally relax in my arms, ready for peaceful sleep.

Falling Asleep with Mama*

I wanted to avoid giving my daughter the habits that had made my son’s sleep so hard. I made sure to nurse her while she was awake and to avoid rocking, bouncing, or wearing her to sleep. Once I learned my daughter’s tired signs, I would go to her calm sleeping place, hold her, and allow her to fuss if she needed. I would not try to MAKE her sleep; instead, I gave her a quiet and peaceful space where she could fall asleep easily. She could snuggle in my arms and cry out her tensions, and then drift off to sleep. For the first week or so, we co-slept because I was recovering from birth and in bed most of the time anyway.

Once my daughter was used to falling asleep in my arms easily, I began putting her next to me. I would lay my hand on her while she fussed or cried to sleep. Gradually, I started moving my hand away and just watching her while she fell asleep. Eventually, this made for a lovely situation where she would coo and try to smile before falling asleep. She was learning that sleep was a wonderful thing and that it was in her power to drift off as she liked. She was learning to trust her body. This step worked for us because I was still in bed most of the time and slept with her.

*This would be a step you can skip if you don’t want to co-sleep.

Supported Self-Soothing

Once I was recovered a bit and ready to re-enter my daily life, it was time for her to sleep on her own in the co-sleeper. When my daughter was drowsy, I would put her down in her bed and sit by her. I would rub her head and say soothing things as she drifted off. Sometimes she cried, and sometimes she simply closed her eyes and fell asleep. Once she was calmer about her bed, I started putting her down without physical soothing, just singing to her until she fell asleep so she knew I was still there.

She would fuss a bit while she worked on finding her own methods to soothe. It took some practice, but eventually she learned to put her fingers in her mouth for comfort. After she made this discovery, I would just lie in my bed while she fell asleep, helping only if her fussing turned into full-on-crying. If, at any point, she got very upset in a way that did not sound like a tired cry, I would help her by starting with minimal support (singing or stroking) and then eventually picking her up and holding her for a bit before trying again.

Trusting Her Self-Moderation

I still don’t try to force sleep on my baby. If she is genuinely having trouble settling, I trust that she’s telling me that she’s not tired yet and bring her out to play until a bit later. She has gained the confidence to fall asleep on her own and knows that I respond to her if she needs me. This means that some days she sleeps less, and some days more. At this point, I can put her in her bed, kiss her sweet head, and walk away. Sometimes she fusses a bit before finding her thumb and soothing herself to sleep, but most of the time she smiles as I lay her in her bed. She loves sleep and loves her bed; it’s a comforting place for her. Sleep has never been something that must happen to her, but something wonderful that she gets to give herself.

Coping with Setbacks

Of course, although my daughter can now fall asleep without my help, we still have setbacks and fussy or troubled sleep times. My daughter still wakes 1-2 times a night for a feeding, and sometimes she needs more snuggles when she’s teething or going through a milestone. What helps is making more time during the day to see where the real challenge is coming from and then supporting that. For instance, she’s working on crawling now so I’ve been giving her ample opportunities to practice. The biggest help during setbacks will be this kind of observation and adjustment to her daily routine. They are always changing their needs and often times troubled sleep is the first indicator that minor changes might need to happen to their day.

There is no magical solution that eliminates all night wakings for any child. Even when they CAN fall asleep on their own and soothe themselves to sleep, they will still need us often over their early years as they go through milestones, developmental leaps, illness and other stressful events. Helping my children with their confidence to fall asleep without parent-led associations is not just for me and my sleep (though a well-rested mother is important) but it’s for their own well being as well.

How Do You Keep The Holiday Season Calm?

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Today marks the beginning of a month packed with holidays and parties. Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years and all of the gatherings and such in between. Usually this means the start of a packed schedule and more chaos during the month. However, this year I am determined to keep a calm and peaceful atmosphere for my family. Part of the reason for this is that I’m 20 weeks pregnant and my son is very sensitive these days. Though the main reason is that I am always wanting to actual imbue the season with the peace that the season is meant for.

So this whole month I will be working on a series about my journey to balance the excitement that comes from mainstream Christmas with the inner calm that comes from it’s spiritual counterpart. Hopefully this will not only keep me more relaxed, but instill different values in the season for my son to grow up with.

The Bad Sleep Habits We Taught Our Newborn

334808_2242411812124_180247475_oWhen my son was born I was a nervous wreck. I had many years of experience working with babies but they always started with me after 6 months. I had no idea newborns cried so much. I was lost. So I searched the internet. I found so many opinion articles and blog posts telling me how it was NOT okay for a baby to cry as much as my son was; how it was damaging his brain. I even had a woman leading an infant group tell me that babies experienced pain when they cry. Nonsense! These things are the worst things you can tell a new mom, especially one prone to anxiety. What I needed to hear during this time was that some babies just cry a lot (my son now talks constantly) and that my anxiety was making it worse. I needed to hear that babies fuss in their sleep. I needed to hear about purple crying.

So in an (often failed) attempt to have a silent and peaceful newborn as I imagined should be, we made a lot of mistakes.

I nursed him to sleep and then let him stay latched on for hours. Often holding in pee or literally starving myself as I sat there unable to move lest I wake him.

My husband bounced him on the ball so that he would stay asleep. This meant an hour or so of just movement to keep him in a state of half sleep. 

We followed the 5 S’s, also known as The Happiest Baby on the Block.

Even when he was asleep and made fuss sounds I would get nervous and nurse him. I was literally waking my child every 45-minutes to an hour to nurse him when all he needed was sleep. 

Why were these bad habits? Because my son got used to this way of sleeping, which was not his way, but our anxiety-filled minds solution to a problem that was possibly never there. Every single time he fussed we didn’t listen; we just jumped in and tried to solve the problem based on what outside sources were saying.  At 4 months, when things were really bad and we were all frustrated, we changed. I had a good talk with my pediatrician about purple crying and I found Janet Lansbury’s post on why I could calm down about the crying. So we slowed down. When he cried, I paused and listened to him. I calmed down enough to pay attention to what he was really saying to me. We had to face the fact that we had gotten him used to certain habits that did not actually allow him to get proper sleep. We realized that what he needed to get his sleep was to fall asleep on his own, in his own quiet and dark space. Not because someone told us that this is what babies need, but because we payed attention to him and followed our intuition. We went through a 3-day process where we explained the changes to him and supported him as he struggles through these. After a few days he had recovered from sleep deprivation and finally became a happy baby.

This was a hard process for me because at that time I was surrounded by parenting advice that said the only way to be a gentle and compassionate parent was to sleep with your baby and wear them and hold them all the time. This was terrible advice because it just didn’t fit our temperaments. My son is now 2 and very independent. He likes to do everything on his own and will often go into his room to play quietly by himself. We do have lots of quality time together, but it’s crystal clear now that he just wants his own space from time to time. Even when he is sick we try to sleep with him and he pushes us away. I mean, I prefer to have my own space when I sleep and also love time to myself to decompress so it would make sense that my son is like this as well.

We have another baby on the way and I plan on doing things differently. It’s not that I plan on NOT doing any or all of these techniques to help my new baby. Maybe they will work for this next child or maybe they won’t. The change I will make will be a mental one; this time it won’t be a parenting method that I listen to.  I will allow myself to calm down about the crying, pause and actually listen to what my new baby has to say.

How to Survive Sleep Deprivation and Be a Successful Parent.

970474_10201080480306490_1195714514_nI have no idea. Do you?

Seriously.

Most of us parents have had to deal with short or long term sleep deprivation during our parenting. Whether you have a newborn, a child with sleep issues or you just had to stay up until 2 finishing your novel, we have all been here. After years of off and on insomnia (my child sleeps, I don’t) I have yet to discover the secret.

But here’s what I HAVE discovered (or am constantly working on believing). Even when I am an awful mom with a short fuse, my child still loves me. I just love the viral video going around of the moms who doubt themselves and then see that they are SO amazing in the eyes of their child. They completely love us, so much! 

We are never going to be the mom we want to be. We cannot raise our children in a vacuum free of the unpredictable upsets of daily life. We all WANT to be kinder, more empathetic, have more patience etc; but then your own tired, out-of-control emotions override you and you see the worst parent you can be. You don’t want to wake at 5 and be a mother, you want sleep; you don’t want to read the pre-nap book for the 20th time, you want to go take a nap. Its okay, time to forgive yourself and move on. You’re doing your best and they see this. I’ve been loosing my temper with my son more (preggo hormones+little sleep=bad news!) and feeling absolutely dreadful about this. Last night he got mad at my husband, screamed and ran into his room. A minute later he came out and said “sorry yell daddy. ‘mere, hug”. So there’s the silver lining to my own sleep deprivation. Being grumpy with my son (and apologizing, of course) has shown him the model for being a human being. We make mistakes, we are accountable for our actions, we apologize and move on.

Well, I actually have learned some tricks; little ones that may not make me a perfect parent while super tired, but make things a tad less intense.

1. Drink water, lots of it!

2. Don’t over consume caffeine, it will only make you edgier.

3. Get outside, fresh air will do you good.

4. Don’t dwell on the negative. The more energy you spend fretting over how you are tired or messing up, the less energy you have to parent well.

5. Accept that you will not achieve much. Sit and relax and play with your kids. This may seem super tricky because most of us really want to get stuff done. But the fact is that stuff is not going to get done anyways, so let it go.

6. Lastly, HAVE FUN with your kids. (Here are 15 joyful tips on how to do so) Do silly things that make you all laugh. It will balance out the grumpiness your ids may feel from you and laughter is actually the best medicine.

So please, I would just LOVE to hear how YOU survive the sleep deprivation that comes with parenting. I’m still learning and as always, value your input. :)

 

When Are We ‘Giving In’ to Tantrums?

Question from Reader: “My child is 2. He has been throwing lots of temper tantrums. I wanted to ask, Shouldn’t we just ignore temper tantrums? I sometimes try to hold my kid but he refuses to be held. Sometimes the tantrums are about a reason I cant comprehend and sometimes its about going for a car ride or playing more outside. Do I give in or ignore these issues or just watch him cry which makes the situation worse. Also could you please tell me how and when to say no to my two year old. How to deal with temper tantrums he often cries unconsolably or lies on the floor in protest. My younger baby is nine months he hits him too, when he sees him crawling he sometimes randomly goes and pushes him. I don’t hit, scream less but I give in to threatening like I will not take him to places or hit. Which I feel is wrong”

Dear Reader,

I completely understand the worry of ‘giving in’. I think when we are addressing their emotional need this is perfectly acceptable AND helpful; going back on the limit you have set in order to quell the tantrum is what I would consider giving in. Follow through with your limit. Then offer support in a way that feels right for your child. Some children do need hugs and snuggles during a big emotional upset, like hugging it out. Some like my son, and possibly yours, do not want this and prefer space. I first ask my son if he’d like me to be by him and he usually says no if it is me he is mad at. So I let him know that I’m near and here for him right when he needs. So I’ll sit and wait and usually within a few minutes he has released the big feelings and comes back to me. So I think perhaps there is this fine line between ignoring and giving the space they need. If our child does not want our help, we don’t need to fix the tantrum but let them have their emotions and be nearby when they do want us. If this is challenging emotionally to hear their big voice and feel discomfort, say to yourself and even your child “It’s good to have emotions and to release them and I will give you the freedom to express yourself.”

Life is hard with 2. Sounds like you are doing a great job and I agree that the hitting and knocking over of the baby is not ok. So keep setting those limits to hitting and perhaps even offer up what he CAN do, like give toys or talk to the baby. Stay close when you notice the behavior and gently, physically stop the hitting and say “I won’t let your hit, you may do a or b instead”. Your 2 year old is testing you to see what behavior he can and cannot do.

Here are some additional links to help with tantrums and hitting:

Biting, Kicking, Hitting and Other Challenging Behavior

Coping With A Toddler’s Emotional Outbursts

Handling Strong Emotions

5 Easy Tips to Help You Connect With Your Toddler

1. Get on their level.

2. Make a gentle physical connection.

3. Meet them where they are.

4. Affirm their feelings.

5. Set clear boundaries.

I know for some this level of communication with a toddler seems silly, but I assure you that they understand. Toddlers are much smarter and more attuned to their surroundings than we give them credit for. When we take the time to really connect with them they appreciate this and the result may be a more harmonious space in your home.

Why I Changed my Mind About Vaccination

ImageSo if you have followed my blog you’d notice that most things I do are pretty ‘crunchy’ and you are correct to make that assumption. We use floral remedies and homeopathics, eat whole and local foods and my method of parenting is one of boundaries (not punishment) with love and respect for my sons needs. I even had a home birth and went to Waldorf teacher training. Well, along with all of these things it comes as a shock to some that I am very PRO-vaccination. Not to fear if you are not pro-vax as I won’t be bombarding my blog with this topic in the future, but I wanted to share my journey from anti-vax to very pro-vax.

When my son was born I lived in Seattle where there were a few cases of Pertussis and pneumococcal and HiB were threatening to come back, so at 2, 4 and 6 months we had only these 3 shots. I never worried about him going about public with me or frequently visiting a Waldorf school where most do not vaccinate. Now I live in Portland where 5.8 percent of kindergarteners entering school in 2013 chose vaccination exemptions; this does not even include homeschool and private school numbers! This rate is so shockingly low that ‘herd immunity‘ basically does not apply to us anymore and the risk of an outbreak is terrifyingly high.

“If enough parents in a community refuse or delay their children’s vaccinations, an infectious disease can spread among many individuals. The outbreak can threaten all unvaccinated children, vaccinated children and adults who have weak immune systems, and babies who are too young to get their shots.” (Scientific American) Do you know what this means? I AM currently in the group of those who have weak immune systems and soon my newborn child will be as well. Measles is contagious 4 days before any signs/spots occur, chicken pox is contagious 1-2 days before any rash appears and whooping cough is contagious for up to 2 weeks before- all according to CDC sites. The problem is that you can catch these illnesses and be spreading it before you know and before there are signs.

Mostly the reason why I care so much now is that it’s not just about myself and my family, its about doing my part in society to help eradicate these illnesses. Sure, you can survive these illnesses if you are a healthy person with a strong immunity, but you cannot prevent yourself from catching and spreading. There are MANY out there that cannot vaccinate because of health issues or age and these are the people I worry about. After selectively vaccinating my son the first time around with very minimal complications, I have no problem doing this with my second as well as keeping my family up to date with boosters. Even if we may be strong enough to fight these diseases, not vaccinating makes us possible carriers that could infect those who are not strong enough to fight these off. I’m Pro-vaccination because I care deeply about the people in my society and not just about my loved ones.

I’m not writing this to ‘convince’ you about vaccinations and especially not shame you for your choices as this is not my style. I understand that you are making the choices you believe are best and respect that. If you really don’t believe in vaccines there is nothing I can say to change your mind. I won’t even try. I am sharing my story to those on the fence who are or were in my shoes. You CAN be crunchy and vaccinate, it’s perfectly acceptable to be a walking contradiction. Once you live in an area where ‘to vaccinate or not to vaccinate’ has REAL consequences it’s pretty easy to allow your mind to change towards supporting your family and your community in a different way than you imagined.