Black Lives Matter

I stopped posting on social media at the end of 2019 when my best friend lost a baby in the third trimester. I would scroll through and see photo after photo of families – pregnancy announcements, newborn babies, growing babies – and think of how that must smart when you have just had a horrific pregnancy loss. And then I started thinking about how every post could be hurtful to someone – anniversary posts to the single/widowed/divorced, Mother’s and Father’s Day posts to those who have lost loved ones or never had them in their lives, and on and on. I never post now, but I do continue to follow certain platforms to access mom and professional groups, keep in touch with international family, crowdsource, etc.

Recently, there have been times when I have wanted to write something here, but it didn’t feel right to do so without first addressing racial injustice, police brutality, the senseless deaths of Black men and women in America. I don’t have anything particularly enlightening or unique to say on the topic. I am not Black and, because I look white, I have benefited from white privilege in ways that are glaringly obvious to me. So I am appreciative of people who are more knowledgeable than I – learning from their experiences, taking in information that I am privileged to have been largely oblivious to. I am making my way through recommended reading lists and curating the kids’ bookshelves to be increasingly diverse. I am becoming more involved in diversity initiatives at work and challenging my own beliefs and implicit biases. I’ve spoken up at times when I would have previously remained quiet so as not to rock the boat. I have stopped following and supporting individuals, blogs and accounts who have not explicitly stated that Black lives matter, or who have skirted the issue by speaking in vague generalities. I recognize some may label this judgmental, but if someone can continue to post on a regular basis during this time without calling out the elephant in the room, then it is clear to me that this issue is not a priority for them.

The above doesn’t feel like much, but it’s a start.

No more cornflakes

Today is Day 38 of no school for my kids and Day 33 of shelter-in-place. It’s 1:48am and I am up again. We’ve been battling bedtime with one of my kids for what seems like an eternity (a year perhaps?). With the extra time at home, less need to be at work first thing in the morning, and generally more exhaustion, I have started falling asleep on the floor of his room (his preferred sleeping arrangement) more often than I would like to admit. After sleeping a good 3-4 hours, I find it tough to seamlessly transition to my own bed. Thus why I am up right now – writing for the first time in ages.

The past few weeks have been an adjustment, to say the least. Before I go into details, I first have to say that we have been very fortunate. My husband and I are still employed and no one we know or love has been ill with COVID-19, despite much of our family living in New York and New Jersey.  I work at a hospital but my department has made patient, faculty and staff safety a priority, and this has helped to relieve a lot of exposure anxiety. I am also 19 weeks pregnant and my colleagues immediately volunteered to take over some of my riskier patient care responsibilities, as the evidence regarding COVID-19 and pregnancy continues to evolve (fortunately, it has been mostly reassuring, but we are learning more each day).

We are very blessed and acutely aware of this, but also affected by the monumental change that occurred in our lives these past few weeks as well as the uncertainty regarding the future. What began as a two-week hiatus from school after there was a confirmed positive in the larger school community was gradually extended, until they just recently announced that school would be out until the fall. Summer camps have started to cancel. There is talk of the 2020-2021 school year looking dramatically different.

I do feel fortunate that my children are young (1, 3 and 5). Mostly they have reacted to the news with glee. For them, it is an extended vacation and their parents are home all day on most days (I am currently going into the office one day a week for essential procedures). They say they do not miss school or their friends. We live in a warm climate where they can go outside each day – even if it is only in our backyard or a short trip around the neighborhood. But I do worry about the change in structure. This week in particular was tough became it came with some change in behavior. My 1 year old is undergoing a sleep regression – often crying before bed, waking up in the middle of the night (he woke up as I was typing this), and a few mornings waking up before 5am. My 3 year old finds his way into our bed more often than not (perhaps related to my falling asleep on his floor most nights?). My 5 year old, who is generally very well-behaved, started to act out this week. Small things, for sure, but they pile up quickly when my husband and I are home all day, trying to fit work into any snippets of time we can find, and generally exhausted/operating on fumes. Parenting 3 kids 5 and under while both working full-time was hard at baseline and then COVID happened and it seemed almost impossible. (But I remind myself daily that at the height of my struggle with infertility I would have prayed for this conundrum. No matter how many kids I’ve had, there is no way to forget that burning desire for motherhood, the disappointment that came with every negative pregnancy test, and the fear of it never coming to fruition.)

And yet. Today was a hard day (also a hard night, it seems, with 2/3 of the kids already up 2 times each) and I started thinking about one of my favorite books from childhood – No More Cornflakes by Polly Horvath. I had forgotten the general plot and had a good chuckle when I read the Amazon synopsis: “Hortense seeks the advice and friendship of her eccentric Aunt Kate when her mother spends her days eating cornflakes and hopping around in public, pretending to be a rabbit”. It is about a girl growing up in a changing household – her mother is pregnant (and apparently losing her mind?  I should go back and read this now that I am an adult), her older sister is out more/becoming more independent, and she finds solace in a deepening relationship with her quirky aunt. The one thing I vividly recall, even decades later, is her aunt’s advice to find an “oasis”, a small ritual you have for yourself each day – one that is yours and only yours, one that brings joy always.

I love this concept even more now. As our world has become smaller – confined largely to the walls of our home – as our social interactions have become non-existent, as our opportunities for experiences, vacations, etc., have dissipated before our eyes, how do we find solace in our day? What can we do to bring a sense of peace, calm and fortitude into our lives? I’ll be thinking about this deeply in the next few days, as we continue to refine our daily schedules, to bring small rays of sunshine into our lives.

For now, I am trying to focus on the positives. I have had the opportunity to experience staying at home with my children (I went back to work with all 3 when they were ~4 months old). They have had the opportunity to experience a different childhood (I sometimes joke that it is my childhood) – one without planned activities, playdates, structure. We, as parents, are working on encouraging more creativity and independent play. We are trying to find small pockets of time for ourselves while the kids are awake, so that we don’t have to cling so desperately to the post-bedtime hours. My 1 year old’s language has taken off exponentially now that his brothers are home full-time. My 3 year old rode his bike for the first time today without training wheels. My 5 year old has been reading on his own and doing math. We are eating at home every night (we always ate together, but did often eat out) and I am so incredibly fortunate that my husband cooks for us every day. We are finding the time to complete random items on our to-do list that always fell to the bottom of our busy days.

One day, as long as everyone stays healthy and safe, we may look back on this time with some degree of fondness. I wonder if it is the closest we will ever be as a family. Soon, if we are still sheltering in place and socially isolating when this fourth baby arrives, we will be even closer!

Nervous Nellie

I’ve had anxiety most (if not all) of my life. Some of my earliest memories are anxiety-laden:

  • sitting in my father’s car while he was outside talking to my uncle, feeling worried about being alone in the car
  • in elementary school, feeling worried about a state project due in May…during the month of December
  • the night before I turned 10, feeling intense worry that I would never be 9 years old again

I could go on and on.

There were times in my life when my worry worsened. A few weeks to months each year during my childhood when I would be exponentially worried – we began to call these episodes “La Etapa” (a stage of my life). I remember the worry intensifying in high school. I moved to a new school district during my freshman year and I would feel intense dread in the morning when people loitered by their lockers since I didn’t (really) know anyone. I remember hiding in the bathroom during this time, as this was preferable to socializing. I experienced intense anxiety during freshman year of college- fear of meeting new people/would I fit in/etc. I drank too much and gained a ton of weight which only made things worse. My anxiety worsened in medical school, especially on rotations where I had less control over my schedule/time. One way of dealing with my anxiety was through food restriction and overexercising – I could have control over one area of my life, even when everything else was in disarray. I started dieting in high school, so that need has been there for a long time.

I did speak to a few people during these years. In college, someone tipped off a counselor that I may have an eating disorder, and so I started seeing her. She would weigh me facing backyards so that I couldn’t see how much I weighed. I lost more weight when I stopped weighing myself because I was afraid of gaining weight, so clearly the anxiety was still there. I then met with a psychiatrist in medical school, during my surgical rotation, because I was incredibly moody and would break down over the smallest things. I remember running to the first appointment so that I wouldn’t miss my workout that day. He started me on Celexa. I took this for a few weeks, maybe 1-3 months max? My husband (boyfriend at the time) thought it helped, but I wasn’t so sure and stopped shortly after starting. The third time I reached out to get help was when I was struggling with infertility due to hypothalamic amenorrhea. I met with a therapist a few times near my residency program, pretty much crying the entire time through those sessions. That also did not last long.

Why did I “quit” so many times? Probably because I have pretty high-functioning anxiety. It never stopped me from accomplishing my goals or having (mostly) healthy relationships. It’s an ever present background hum, but in many ways it has driven me to succeed. I excelled in school, attended an Ivy League college, graduated medical school and matched into a competitive residency. In other words, even though I personally suffered, my goals did not. I was still able to interact normally with others, connect with/take great care of my patients, and perform daily activities with little interference. However, I have recently started wondering whether things could actually be better. For years, I thought being thin had led me to succeed. Part of the fear of gaining weight was that I would lose everything I had worked for. This was obviously a lie I had been telling myself and the world did not end when I gained weight. And so I started thinking: what if life could actually be better with my anxiety under better control? What would it be like to live in the moment, to not have the ever present buzz of worry, to not feel imminent doom over every little thing?

The other tipping point was this: my 4 year old has started to show signs of anxiety and it is heart-breaking. Yes, it could be hereditary. My whole family deals with anxiety, so maybe it would have been passed on anyway. But I also wonder whether an anxious milieu of the womb or anxious parenting (my husband, too, would factor in here; although normally a very calm person, he is quite an anxious parent) had any effect. I feel intense guilt over this. Although I can’t change anything I’ve done, at the very least I can do my very best to control my anxiety as my kids begin to grow and understand more.

Finally, I think it will be good for my marriage. My husband and I love each other dearly, but our differing personalities (mine characterized by anxiety) have definitely led to some repetitive arguments.

And so I scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist specializing in women’s health, particularly around birth and motherhood. I met with her last week and she agreed I had generalized anxiety disorder and recommended three pillars of treatment:

  1. Medication
  2. Psychotherapy
  3. Self care

She said we could do any combination, so I am started with medication and trying to incorporate self care into my life. I opted for medication because, if I am truly honest with myself, I am dog-tired. I’m tired of always worrying about everything, of making to-do list after to-do list, of constantly playing out scenarios in my head. It is absolutely exhausting. And I want to get better as fast as possible. My father, a psychiatrist, always said that medication could be incredibly helpful to patients, to normalize their brain chemistry while they utilized psychotherapy to change their thought patterns. I picked up Zoloft right after the appointment and felt a huge sense of relief as I swallowed it. Obviously all of my feelings were still there, but I was relieved to finally be doing something about it.

I am holding off on psychotherapy for now because of the time commitment, but I am trying to do some self care. My family is in town this weekend so it’s a wonderful opportunity. I am taking the time to write this, and I also scheduled a couples massage for this evening. In the past week I’ve made time for mom/baby yoga and a stroller workout class.

And so I am trying and hoping for the very best outcome here.

To have and to hold

I love weddings. It is so magical to watch people embark on their “happily ever after”. When I was single, weddings gave me hope that I would find the love of my life. When I was newly married, weddings were a joyous occasion with the knowledge that these newlyweds were as happy as we were. Now, more than half a decade into our marriage and brimming with children, weddings are a reminder of those exciting honeymoon days of a marriage. I love my husband dearly but I have to confess that marriage is very different with children than without children.

As a newlywed, my husband could do no wrong. His quirks were endearing, and I’m sure he felt the same way about mine. Now, after a full day of chasing after my toddlers and feeding/changing/rocking my baby, one of my husband’s quirks can quickly send me over the edge. After a full day with all three boys, my cup is empty, and I often feel like I have nothing to give to my husband. He too seems to need some time to unwind after the kids fall asleep. Don’t get me wrong – we love each other more than we did as newlyweds, but we have found that we need to be more intentional about conveying that love. We also need to take a step back to truly see and acknowledge one another. Most parents find that they have less time for self care once they have children and the same is true of spouse care!

When we argue, one of us may break the ice by bringing up two of the tricks we learned at our Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend, prior to our wedding. Both have always made us laugh. The first is to hold hands while arguing. If you try this, you’ll quickly learn that it is impossible to truly be angry at someone if you are holding their hands. The second is to consider whether your words are “life-giving”. If they are not, consider how they sound to the person hearing them.

We haven’t mastered the art of making time for each other since this last child was born (9 weeks ago). This is partly due to the fact that we live far away from family, but mostly due to the fact that we are exhausted. For now, we are focusing on not being short with one another, spending time together after the kids go to bed, finding joy in the mayhem, and allowing the other parent to rest when one of us feels more energized. This is about as “life-giving” as we can manage to be at the moment.

Adult friendships

This article resonated with me.

It is tough to make adult friendships. I have wonderful friends from childhood, high school, college, medical school, and residency. But as happens with life, I now live far away from most of those people.

In my post-residency life, my friendships have fallen primarily into the following buckets:

  1. Husband’s friends
  2. Mommy friends
  3. Work friends

I have had the opportunity to meet wonderful people in the past 3 years and I feel fortunate to call these people my friends, but the process has been quite different than in the past. In every other situation, my friends and I spent HOURS together. We talked about everything and knew the most intimate details of our lives. We shared in huge successes and massive failures. We participated in the most mundane of activities and also the most exciting. My friendships now are different. We see each other less often. Our knowledge of one another is based off of brief interactions – a few hours here and there spaced weeks (sometimes months!) apart. We are often engaged in other activities when we spend time together – working, chasing after kids, etc.

It is a truth that I recognize but also not sure where to go from here. I miss those deep friendships from my past. It would be so wonderful to have some of those friendships around to complement my new friends!