Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Not Ashamed

Many of you know quite a bit about the trials Kyle, Collin and I have endured since February, but few know the extent of the darkness we have walked through together. Between Collin's first stay in the hospital and his diagnosis of Infantile Spasms, our family faced a devastation of a different nature. I have been finding lately that it is difficult to write truly and accurately about Collin's journey and the things we are learning through it without referencing this time. So, consider it referenced.

When Collin finally came home from Children's Hospital in March, Kyle and I had very little knowledge and no medical support for helping us adapt to the feeding tube and Nissen wrap. We were only told by a well-meaning but misguided nurse to avoid 'gagging' (what we now call 'retching') at all costs, because it could break the Nissen wrap; this, in Collin's case, would mean aspiration and potentially pneumonia or death. So when, 10 days after we brought him home, Collin started to retch violently while he was in my arms, spewing milk through his feeding tube and up into the air while his face turned purple, my brain broke.

I don't mean to make light of the situation, I only mean to speak the truth. After the strain of a month in the hospital, fearing for my child's life and enduring countless tests, procedures, and surgeries, witnessing this much-feared event snapped something in my brain. I immediately started shaking and felt that I was going to throw up. I had to give Collin to Kyle and leave the room. By that night, we had determined that we should go to the emergency room, at which point we were admitted for a hellish three-day stay that determined nothing. By the third day, I was not eating, drinking, or sleeping at all. I could not stand to touch Collin and could barely look at him, yet I would not leave the room. I remember lying on the cot next to his bed planning my steps across the hall to the nurses' station to ask how I could get admitted to the hospital as soon as possible. At least there they would hook me up to an IV.

Luckily, Kyle got the name of a psychiatrist who specialized in postpartum issues and, by some miracle, got me an appointment for 2 hours later. When the minutes finally dragged by and I shuffled, hunched and shaking, out to the car and into her office, I learned that I was experiencing Acute Stress Disorder. This, she assured me, was a normal reaction to intolerable circumstances, and I would get better.

I wish I could say that that was the turning point - that knowing what was wrong helped me overcome my crippling fear and bewildering sadness. Instead, after a brief high following the appointment, I plummeted into a deep, dark postpartum depression. There are no words to describe the alternating numbness, terror, and despair I wrestled with during those days and weeks. I was consumed by irrational fears and thoughts. I woke up every morning positive that Kyle was dead. I had to talk myself into going downstairs, because I felt certain I would find something wrong with Collin when I got there. I thought I was going to die. And worse, I thought I would never be the same again.

My mom saved us by coming to live with us, because most of the time I could not even bear to be in the same room with Collin, much less care for him. I spent my time in the back room by myself watching nature shows over and over because anything with people caused too much anxiety and sadness, yet I had to have something on to keep me from losing the shred of control I was clinging to. By this time, I could barely even speak, for reasons I can't quite explain. My legs shook when I tried to walk, my throat closed when I put food in my mouth, and my body felt like I was constantly bracing myself for the next terrible thing. Yet, at the same time, I couldn't bring myself to care about the next terrible thing, because it all seemed pointless and hopeless. I won't even go into the implications all of this held for self-image and self-worth. I didn't feel like a bad mother - I didn't feel like a mother at all.

But slowly, bit by bit, and with the help of loved ones, I started to throw everything I had at this consuming monster. I got on some medication. I found a killer therapist. I got chiropractic treatment. I started to read books on postpartum depression. I wrote things on cards - scriptures, true and/or encouraging statements - and carried them with me everywhere I went because I couldn't see the truth on my own and needed to remind myself constantly of what it was. I kept a book in which every morning I wrote the things I would do to help myself get better and every evening I wrote my successes for the day. At the beginning, my goals were to drink water and go outside the front door for five minutes. My therapist taught me to celebrate every small victory, and I remember how excited everyone was the first time I ate a half turkey sandwich and how proud I was the first time I walked all the way to the corner. I like to look at the page when my main success for the day was: 'I smiled.'

Gradually, I started to sit in the same room with Collin for part of the day. I held him sometimes. The picture above is of one of the first times I held him - I couldn't stand to hold him in my arms, but I could handle having him in my lap. Then I started changing diapers. Then doing tube feeds. Then playing. Then cuddling. My mom started to go home on the weekends and Kyle and I slowly learned how to be parents in the midst of everything. Finally, we put together an exit strategy for my mom. I remember the day she pulled away for the last time. I stood at the front door, holding Collin tightly and making him wave and crying from happiness and sadness. It felt so strange to go back inside just the two of us.

I had been caring for Collin on my own for about three weeks when we got the Infantile Spasm diagnosis.

As I'm sure you can imagine, I thought twice about sharing all of this. But I didn't think about it more than twice, because I am not ashamed of it. I am thankful for the friends and family who pulled me through. I am more adoring and appreciative of my son than I thought possible. I am proud of myself for the lengths I went to for healing. But I'm not ashamed.


  1. Now that is what I call a testimony.

  2. You are amazing. Thank you for your refreshing honesty. Know that you are prayed for and loved. Eileen

  3. Wow. And you write about it in a way that inspires others. You really are incredible.

  4. "Sometimes the visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it, or it opens to you over time."
    — Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

    You have a lot to be proud of...

  5. Annie- I wish more people would talk about postpartum depression. I second the thanks for your honesty.

    I've been following your blog since you posted it on facebook. And the three of you have been in my thoughts and prayers since our childbirth class together.

  6. Amazing. I am so glad that you shared it, as I can imagine that it is not an easy thing to write about.

    I loved your description about the celebration of successes, both large and small.

  7. Annie--I realize that we are essentially strangers, although I do treasure our time as roommates at GSP. :) I've been following this blog after I saw a link up on Facebook, and tonight, after reading this, I feel compelled to leave a message to let you know that I believe you are one of the strongest, most courageous women I have ever met. I'll remember you and your family in my prayers.

  8. Dark times can make us strong. When you delve deep inside yourself, you learn your strenghs and weaknesses. Once you've been there and won nothing can stop you. I am very proud of you Annie. Your writing is pure prose. You should write books. Give Kyle a hug for me and Collin a big kiss.

  9. I dreamed last night that I came to visit and while Annie came to the door, Collin opened a window and was sitting up with the most glorious smile...I don't know what it means but I hope for you all the joy that was in it.
    Thank you so much for sharing this journey. Your bravery and honesty are a challenging example to me.

  10. thank you so much for sharing this, annie.

  11. You can never be ashamed of that which makes you a stronger person. Years from now, when Collin reads this blog, I know that he will feel the same pride and admiration for you that I do.

  12. All three of you are my inspiration...

  13. We can't explain why bad things happen. . . we just have to learn to handle it. I went through some of the hardest times of my life with you as a friend. I never understod why it had to "happen to me," but my faith in God has grown stronger. We have to believe that God knows what He is doing. I can't imagine what you are going through, but please know that you are in my prayers. Your writing is truly inspirational and could help so many other mothers that are sharing your same feelings. I remember when people would tell me to "keep my head up," and it would just make me mad! I would get furious because I didn't think they had a clue how I was feeling. Now I know that God puts those people in our lives for a reason and that we really have to "keep our head up" towards Him. So, KEEP YOUR HEAD UP Annie!! You are in my prayers!


  14. I wish I could've read this post about two years ago. It would've given me the courage to try the medication my doctors recommended. My in-laws were downright hostile at the prospect of me needing medication, so I didn't take anything. I am still struggling to shrug off the remaining depression. It's a little cloud that follows me around. I just now regaining some weight, but I still feel so tired. I always wonder if I would've been a better mom if I'd just done what was right for me (ignored my husband and the in-laws) and given the meds a shot. In hindsight, the failure wasn't in me. The failure was in THEM for not understanding.