When Sunshine Was Diagnosed With Mental Illness

Sunshine was sick for December. Not just sick in December. She spent the month in various stages of sickness. She said, “I don’t feel like myself” on our Nutcracker date, prompting us to leave a little before the end of the second act. She did not eat much for days at a time. She vomited without having a fever. She seemed better for a day or two. Then, she vomited again. She missed four days of school during the two and a half weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. At one point, she even developed a limp because she was experiencing leg pain that I at first attributed to growing pains.

She saw the pediatrician four times. She did not have the flu. She did not have strep throat. She did not have a fever, but she definitely had a virus. Viruses, Saint Daddy and I learned, can sometimes cause pain in the major joints, like the hips. No one else appeared sick until Sleepy vomited for twenty minutes and we celebrated the fact that Sunshine was contagious. Being contagious meant she would recover, even if it was taking a long time.

Shortly after this illness passed, we noticed that Sunshine felt sick regularly. At least three days a week, she did not want to go to school because she felt sick. Sunshine felt sick while we ate dinner. Sunshine felt sick as we prepared to leave the house. Sunshine felt sick around bedtime. Sunshine felt sick.

Then the nightmares came. Sunshine had a terrible dream that someone tried to kill her. It kept her up for a couple of nights with horrific “maginations.” She imagined that a man with a gun crawled into her bedroom window and took her away before Saint Daddy or I could stop him. She wanted to know how Daddy could save her if he was all the way across the hall. She imagined that someone was hiding under her bed, waiting to kill her. She imagined that no one would be able to protect her.

We bought her a new nightlight that projected beautiful stars across her ceiling. We gave her a sound machine. We even let her pick out a scary demon statue that she said would scare anyone away. It was her suggestion. He faces the window she is most afraid of. She calls him Mr. Scarypants.

These things helped for brief amounts of time. Inevitably, their usefulness would wear off and she would be imagining something even more horrific.

Sunshine’s fears increased as the year continued to progress. She stopped eating some of her favorite foods after she felt sick shortly after their consumption. Bananas, an absolute favorite, are a no-go for her now. She became afraid of the dark, of corners where spiders may lurk, of water being poured over her head, of walking within a foot of grates in the street. She refused to let us leave her room at night without a fight.

She associated “Sucker” by the Jonas Brothers with a particular magination about her swim instructor being a zombie and required that it be turned off if it ever played, and I do not know if you have noticed, but that gets played a lot.

About six weeks ago, Sunshine came to the living room where Saint Daddy and I were watching television after getting our babies in bed. She had a magination that she did not want to tell me about. She said it would make me scared too, and she did not want me to be scared. She was crying and wanted me to cuddle with her some more.

I followed Sunshine to her room. With her sound machine going and her stars projected on the ceiling, Sunshine gripped me and told me her magination. Someone had come into the house and had lined us up by age and had killed Daddy and then Mommy and they were going to kill her next and each of the brothers. She ran to me.

I felt grateful because she knew that she could come to me. I stayed with her that night, letting her feel my presence and know that I would always be there, choking on my tears, aware of my shortcomings.

It was that night that I knew, without any doubt in my mind, that Sunshine needed help. She was not going to get better going the way that we were going. She had spent eight months getting progressively worse, and I needed to do something. I needed to help her in ways I was never really helped.

Sunshine was formally diagnosed with anxiety in a therapist’s office on July 8. Her therapist noted that Sunshine is particularly afraid of being separated from me and that these fears manifest in recurring intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and a growing number of fears.

In my last post, I wrote about my diagnosis, but it was not that easy as a mother to admit that I could not save Sunshine on my own. I had tried. I knew what it was. I saw in her so many of the same issues that I saw in myself. The recurring belly aches, the incessant fears, the sleeplessness, the hesitation. I knew I had passed these to her in my blood. I wanted so badly to be the one who could help her figure out how to manage them.

But Sunshine and I are different people. She is an extrovert. She thrives on social interaction. She spends much less time in self-reflection that I did, even at her age. Sunshine needed help, and I, her mother who wanted to save her, got it for her. In many ways, my personal experience with anxiety helped me to know that the only way that I could help my daughter was to find someone else who could do it for me.

Sunshine did not let me out of the room for her first two sessions with her therapist. She was worried about where I might go while she was in this strange new place with this strange new adult who asked so many questions.

During the third session, Sunshine relinquished her grip on me and let me sit in the waiting room.

Her therapist has been amazing. She has helped Sunshine to evaluate good and bad emotions. She has her focusing on ways to lessen her fears as they happen. They talked about making scary things funny, like Harry Potter does in Prisoner of Azkaban. She taught Sunshine belly breathing, which Sunshine asked to do while listening to “Sucker” play on her therapist’s phone. Sunshine imagined that her swim instructor was a smiling zombie that was going to save the world, not hurt people.

They have worked through so much in so little time.

Today, on the way home from therapy, “Sucker” came on the radio. I did not realize what song it was until the chorus began to play. Sunshine did not yell about the song. In fact, she sang along with it and yelled at me when I changed the station when I realized what we were listening to. When we stopped at the store to pick up a few things, Sunshine walked on a grate. In fact, she stood on it long enough for me to snap a picture for Saint Daddy. “It’s not even scary, Mom!” she said.

Sunshine’s bedtime routine has also improved. She sleeps with a picture of the two of us nearby in case she feels lonely. She keeps a large book to use to practice belly breathing if the maginations come, but they are not coming, not like they were. We play lullabies instead of white noise (this was actually a friend’s suggestion, but her therapist said it was a suggestion that she often gives herself).

Sunshine is still afraid. I do not count her as cured or anything, but I am so grateful for her diagnosis. In many ways, Sunshine’s diagnosis has changed her life.

I pray that this experience helps Sunshine to understand her mental health in ways that I never could at her age.

As we were leaving her appointment today, her therapist told Sunshine, “Remember, you can’t make all your fears go away, but you can learn to not be afraid of the ones you can’t control.”

I am so happy to have found this woman who has helped my baby to learn what to do about the fears that she cannot control.

When I Was Diagnosed With Mental Illness

As a child, I was often sick on major holidays. I felt nauseated as we prepared for Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house. I was not quite myself on Easter Sunday. It was a pattern that I had come to accept. Sometimes, I would power through. Holidays were special, important, not-to-be-missed. Sometimes, I spent Thanksgiving afternoon napping in Grandma’s bed, surrounded by my extended family members’ coats.

Remarkably, I often felt much better by the evening. We would go home, the guests would leave, and I would be ready to enjoy what remained of the day.

As a child, I often felt sick on my birthday. I often felt sick when my family made their once yearly trip to my dad’s favorite restaurant for a big family dinner. I often felt sick in the days leading up to vacation. I often felt sick on the first day of school. I often felt sick when we went to the theater on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a family movie. I often felt sick when Grandma picked me up for a night at the symphony. I often felt sick.

I felt sick. My belly hurt. I felt sick.

Many years would pass before I knew why that pattern existed for me. As a child, though, I just felt sick.

I rested my head on the coolness of the glass in the backseat of my mom’s mini-van. I wanted to lay down. I wanted to sleep. I felt sick.

In an effort to not be a bother, sometimes I told my mom, but I usually kept quiet. I have spent much of my life going out of my way to not be a nuisance to those whose affections I crave.

I did not know why it was, but I felt sick.

I suffered from recurring nightmares that I never spoke about either. I dreamed that my parents, surrounded by their multitudes of children, would take us somewhere fun. A festival, a fair, an amusement park, the mall. And when it was time to go, they rounded everyone up, put them in the car, and drove home. I was left behind. I believed they would come back, but time would pass and they would not. I would be there on my own, entirely forgotten, because I was easy to forget, to ignore.

I would wake from these dreams in a panic. They were so real. I could not quiet my brain. In an effort to not be a bother, I told no one, not even my mom. Instead, I went to my brothers’ room, their floor covered in linoleum, crawled under their bunkbed and let the cool floor take some of the edge off my fears. I would lay there like that until the grayness of morning began to spread throughout their room, and I would go about my day, pretending that I did not believe that I was so easily forgotten, so easily left behind.

I had terrible thoughts. I once imagined biting my little brother’s ear off. Not maliciously. It was an accident. We were playing. I did not know what to do. I was afraid of how my mom would react, so I took his little ear, placed it in the bathroom waste basket, covered it with toilet paper, and hoped my mom would not notice.

This vision comes to me still, even though that baby brother is now a grown man with children of his own. I am haunted by it and others like it. Some worse, some better. Always constantly with me.

I dealt with my first “prolonged illness” when I was fifteen years old. It began in the summer. I was reading eight different books for Honors English 11. I was overwhelmed because school would begin in four weeks, and I had three books left to read. I went to a friend’s birthday party, and of course, I felt sick. Because that is what I do. I feel sick. I had decided that I was dying. This was no ordinary sickness. This one would probably kill me.

I stopped sleeping at night. I ate poorly. I was sick for months. I suffered from constant tension headaches, my thoughts raced, I felt I was always no the verge of vomiting. I needed to escape, but there was nowhere to go. Wherever I went, this illness came with me.

I told my parents that I needed help, and they told me it was all in my head. They told me it would be fine. They told me that I was just a kid and kids have nothing at all to worry about. They told me it was nothing. Nothing at all.

Just feel better.

And it went away. Not quickly. Slowly, over time, I felt better.

I dealt with my second “prolonged illness” when I was seventeen years old. I did not believe that I was dying, but I did believe that I would never recover. I believed that the way I felt was the way that I would always feel. Sleep came in fits and spurts. I ate only what appealed to me, which was mostly potato chips. I cried a lot. I cried often. I was irritable, moody, and completely wrecked.

I told my mom that I was afraid, and she sent me to my pastor’s wife for comfort. It was the best she could do for me.

Saint Daddy was there that time. He held me through it. It was hard, but I knew, because of that experience, that he would always be the one for me. Who else would love me through a complete mental breakdown?

These prolonged illnesses came a few more times.

About two months after Saint Daddy and I got married, one began. My boss had told me that he had received a complaint after someone did not get me to agree to her terms. He did not believe the complaint, but he wanted me to be on my best behavior to prove that I was not what the complainer had said. When I entered my first meeting the next day, I felt sick.

I had to go home.

I left for the day and rested on the couch. Miraculously, I felt almost entirely recovered as soon as I walked into the sanctuary of my home.

Weeks went by as I suffered daily with frequent runs to the bathroom in case I vomited, which I never did. I slept less. I felt like I could not find my footing. I was drowning. I could not rise above it.

By this point, at the age of 22, I knew what I had. It was not a prolonged illness. It was panic disorder. I was not physically sick so much as I was experiencing physical responses to being mentally sick. I knew by this point that all along I had been dealing with anxiety. That I had a disorder that made me susceptible to panic disorder. I knew then that I could have been helped, that I needed help, and that it is okay to not suffer through it in silence.

I did not have a diagnosis, but I knew.

After a month, Saint Daddy urged me to call my doctor and talk about getting myself some help.

Within a few days, I had been formally diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder.

My treatment was to take up exercise, to give up caffeine, to cut back on alcohol, to talk about it, and to take a little pill once a day.

I took up running. I gave up coffee. I held onto my wine. I became so much more open about my experiences. And I took that little pill every day for a year.

Thank God for that little pill. It helped me to set myself to rights. It was not a miracle, but it was like someone had thrown me a life preserver as I tossed in the turbulent sea of mental illness.

And suddenly, with that diagnosis, I felt that it could be okay. For the first time in my life, someone with real knowledge in that sphere said, “This is a real thing you are dealing with.” It was not “all in my head,” even if it was in my head.

I was sick, but I was not actually sick.

In the last ten years, I have had other bouts of panic disorder. But I have talked about them. I have learned to cope better so that they last less time. I experience symptoms of my GAD almost every day.

But one of the best things that happened to me was being given a name for why I felt sick on special occasions and why I could not push aside visions of terrible things that came to my mind.

My mental illness was normal for me, even if it is not normal for the world.

My diagnosis changed my life.

Sunshine’s Summer Swimming Sessions

Sunshine is taking swim lessons right now. She has always been terrified of the water. Absolutely. 100%. No doubt about it. Terrified.

We have been swimming, and even with her trusty Puddle Jumper there to protect her, she would cling to me or simply choose to sit on the steps. She has always been content to watch her friends have fun frolicking in the water.

Saint Daddy and I recognized that she needed lessons a few years ago, and we signed her up for lessons at a new area swim school a few months after her brothers were born.

The lessons were okay, I suppose. After a few weeks of twice weekly lessons, Sunshine was not terrified but she was also no more willing to move away from the steps of the pool at her best friend’s house.

Now that she is six, we knew it was time to try again. So we signed her up for the best lessons to be had. Everyone says so. People come from counties around for these swim lessons. This method was developed here and has been imitated throughout the region.

Sunshine’s lessons began on Monday morning. They last for an hour and occur every morning.

She was nervous on Monday morning. She did not eat much breakfast because her belly hurt, which she often says when her anxiety is piqued. It is the only way she knows how to describe her feelings. I hear her clearly when she says it. She is really saying, “I’m scared.”

I convinced her to put on her bathing suit, and we drove over to the local college’s pool together.

She sat next to me on their bleachers, pretending to not be scared. But I knew. Her fear was palpable, and I was nervous for her. When they called her name, I squeazed her hand and promised her that she would be okay.

Sunshine followed the other children down to the pool, away from their parents. I knew that many of those children had more experience than Sunshine, but I also knew we were in the right place.

I watched from afar as Sunshine was evaluated and then shifted to another area of the pool. She was not ready for whatever they had put her in initially. I was not surprised to see that. She hates even getting her face wet during bathtime.

I watched her, and each time her instructor turned his back on her, she climbed out of the pool. I watched her pull away from him as he tried to bring her back in and another instructor had to pick her up and hand her to him. I watched as she gripped his neck when he tried to have her bob into the water. I watched as he pried Sunshine’s tiny arms from his own so he could give another kid his time.

When that first lesson was over, Sunshine came to me in tears. It was too hard. She was too scared. She did not want to go back.

We walked out to the car. I opened the back hatch and placed Sunshine in the trunk space. “Tell me about it,” I said.

Sunshine said that swim lessons are a big thumbs down. The other kids were better. She was so scared. Her instructor was nice, but he kept asking her to float and she did not know how and she would never know how. I held her cold, wet self for a few minutes and we got into the car.

“I don’t want to go back tomorrow,” she announced a few miles into our drive home.

You have to…

I turned down the radio, rolled up the windows, and slowed down the car.

“Listen, baby,” I began. “I know it’s hard, but… Do you remember the first time you read Big Pig on a Dig? Do you remember how hard you thought that was? Do you remember how you yelled because you didn’t think ‘ground’ made any sense? Do you remember?”

Yeah…

“Do you remember how it felt when you figured it out? You read the whole book and you felt awesome?”

Silence.

“There are going to be thousands of things in your life that you think are too hard. Things that seem impossible or really scary. Things you are convinced you can’t do. But you’re going to work at those things. You’re going to practice. And one day, you’ll do them and you will realize that they are not so bad. Because you can do that scary thing, and just like reading Big Pig on a Dig, you’re going to be so happy with yourself once you see what you can do.”

But…

“This happens to everyone, baby. We all get scared sometimes. Mommy has this thing. I have never really named it for you. It’s called anxiety. It tells me that things will be too hard and that they won’t be worth it and that I can’t do them anyway. But I can. I just have to tell my head to let me do it. That’s what I want you to do, baby. I want you to tell your head that you can do this. Because I know you can. I know it’s not too hard for you. Your teacher won’t let it be too hard for you. You’ll do it. So will you go back tomorrow and try?”

Okay…

She did not seem entirely convinced, but she did not fuss in the morning when we returned.

It took her instructor a few minutes to convince Sunshine to get into the water, but he did. Somehow. And once she was in, she stayed in there with her group for the remainder of the class.

After class was over, there were no tears.

I again sat her in the trunk. She said that she hated bobs but that class was a thumb to the side. Maybe it would be a diagonal up tomorrow, she said.

On day three, she was the first member of her group to get into the pool.

On day four, she began to practice bobbing with her group members while they waited for their instructor, who was working with other students.

When she joined me on the bleachers she announced that class was “finally fun today.”

When I sat her in the trunk on day four for our post-swim class ritual, she told me that her instructor told her he was proud of her and that she thinks she could probably bob for five (seconds) during the next class.

Outside of class, Sunshine’s baths have become much more pleasant. She puts her face in the water. She does not scream when the water runs down her face. She told Saint Daddy that she wished our tub was deeper so she could swim in it like she can swim at swim class.

Within class, she has become far more confident. She bobbed up and down enough times for me to get a video for Saint Daddy. She laughed with the other kids. She put herself into the pool.

She will most likely never request to join a swim team, but she is not terrified of the water. Maybe, just maybe, she will play with the other kids the next time we go to a pool.

Sunshine’s swim lessons are a great example of how facing the scary thing makes us better versions of ourselves.

My anxiety has told me thousands of times that it would be better to not go again tomorrow than to keep trying. My anxiety has told me to quit and stop making a fool of myself. My anxiety has told me that I am not worth the improvement.

But I am. Sunshine is. We all are.

I know I gave Sunshine my mental illness. I passed it to her in my breastmilk. I did not mean to, but I did.

I hope that she hears the lessons that I have learned and can learn from some of them so she does not have to spend so much time figuring it all out on her own. If she cannot learn from me, at least I can say that I will always be there to love her though it.

My Timehop Story

There is a story that Timehop tells this time of year that makes me remember that I never really told it. Two years ago today, I posted pictures of my sons to Facebook. They were a couple of weeks old, and I posted a couple of weeks’ worth of pictures. I had not posted them previously. There was a reason. A dirty truth. One of those things that mothers rarely speak of but that many of them feel.

For the first few weeks after my sons were born, I was not happy. I was the precise opposite of happy. I was overwhelmed and broken. I felt that I had disappointed me and them and Saint Daddy and Sunshine.

I was not sure what I felt for them was love. In fact, I was not sure at the time that I would ever feel love for them.

It was something. It was awe at their existence. It was longing to feel something for them. It was responsibility for their lives. It was commitment to their protection.

But love? I do not think it was love.

That was strange for me. When Sunshine was born, I held her close and felt that immediate connection.

When Grumpy’s first cries filled the room, I cried real tears because he was real and alive and safe. I had done that.

But it was harder. Delivery was less painful but more difficult. The effects lasted for a while. I could not get out of bed. I could not hold both of them easily but I wanted to.

Feeding them was hard.

It was that last point that changed on this day two years ago. It actually changed the day before. That is the story that Timehop tells.

Neither Grumpy nor Sleepy was very good at eating. Of course I was going to breastfeed my sons. That is what good mothers do. That is what I did for Sunshine until she was eighteen months old and weaned herself.

As soon as I left the operating room and was wheeled across the hall to recovery, I was handed two absolutely perfect miracles and Grumpy latched on. Sleepy, of course, was too sleepy, but he rested his little head on my chest and we all knew that he would do it soon.

He did.

But he never did it well. It was really Sleepy that was the issue, but I did not know that. I would not know that for weeks.

Everyone told me to feed them individually at first. I was not ready to tandem feed them. But when you have two crying newborns and you are the source of comfort, the creator of the food, the pacifier, the only thing that they have every known, that is easier said than done. So I tandem fed from day one. When they cried, Saint Daddy brought me one at a time, I latched them on and waited, trying to enjoy these sweet moments with them as I had with their sister.

But they were not sweet, they were stressful. Only one position worked and I needed a million pillows. And I was sore. And I was tired. And I could not help thinking that I probably would not be able to tandem feed in public so we were stuck together in the house for the next four months or so until they could figure out how to wait their turns or could help me in the process of latching them on. And I would be sore until then because that is how long the vasospasms lasted with Sunshine.

They ate every 2.5 hours around the clock for 20-30 minutes at a time. That is what my Facebook status said two years ago yesterday, according to the story that Timehop tells.

I remember their cries waking Saint Daddy and I as we set about the process of changing and comforting, feeding and swaddling. Saint Daddy did diapers while I set up my nursing pillow in bed. I was sore from my incision and bone tired. He handed me a baby, letting me know which one he was based solely on the nail polish on his big toe. I recalled which side he had the last time and offered him the other side. Saint Daddy brought me another baby, and I latched him on too. Saint Daddy fell asleep for thirty minutes. I swaddled the first one, handed him to Saint Daddy to return to his cradle, and moved onto the second one.

That was just at night. While Sunshine slept, and I felt overwhelmed. I felt exhaustion in my soul.

During the day, this pattern took place on the couch. Except I would let them sleep on me in whichever position they landed after they stopped nursing.

Timehop showed me the picture I sent to my mom, who was in Florida at the time. Both boys curled in a ball on my lap, my shirt a little disheveled still from being quickly pulled down to cover my twin mom body.

And here is the thing, despite the constancy of it all, despite the exhaustion, despite the fact that it was all that I seemed to be doing, both boys were losing weight. Both boys were struggling with lethargy. Both boys were not eating well enough.

The nurse practitioner at the pediatrician’s office said she knew I was working hard. She held me as I cried. She told me she knew it would work. She sent me home with two formula samples and said to consider an ounce or two twice a day, just until they get up to birthweight. Then they would do it, she said. She knew they would.

I had seen lactation consultants. That is what Timehop tells me. I had seen five different ones before that tearful meeting with the nurse practitioner. They all said the same things: “They’re both latched so well. They’re little champs. Just keep doing what your doing. They’ll get it. Then it will be so easy.”

But it was not easy. If it was going to get easy, I wanted it to get there much more quickly than it was because I was suffocating under the weight of it all.

When we left the pediatrician’s office that day, I called another lactation consultant. I begged to be seen as soon as possible. It was not an emergency, but it was an emergency. I had twins. I wanted them to eat. I wanted to feed them. I wanted them to live.

And under these circumstances, how can the word be called love? Responsibility for their lives is not the same as love. I did not feel love. I felt weighed down by the responsibility of being the one who gave them life.

That lactation consultant worked with me for two hours the next morning, according to Timehop. She weighed my sons before and after a feeding. She watched me latch them (perfectly) and watched them suck. She checked for ties and felt their little sucks with her pinky.

“This one doesn’t have a very strong suck. That’s probably the issue. I bet this one is working really hard to make enough milk for both of them to eat, and it’s not working. That’s the problem. He’ll get better when he gets stronger. Birthweight will change him. But you’ve got to get him there first.”

She asked me what I wanted.

“To sleep. I want to sleep. I want to breastfeed my sons for as long as I possibly can. But right now, I want to sleep.”

Saint Daddy came back and she told him that she wanted him to let me nap. As soon as we got home, he was to let me go to our bedroom and let me nap.

She handed him formula. She said that if they needed to eat during my nap, to give them the formula but not to wake me until I woke on my own.

Then I was to pump. I should pump every three hours or so and bottle feed them when they were hungry. She told me how much they should eat at a feeding and we should supplement with the formula until my supply met their demand and in a week, if they were at birthweight, I could try to latch them or I could pump forever until I felt I had met my goal but nipple confusion is a myth and babies will latch and she knew I could do it. I was in the right mindset.

She hugged me. She gave me her personal cell number if I needed her for anything.

She sent us home, and I… I napped.

I woke up and I pumped. I fed my babies, who were finally getting enough milk during a feeding that they also slept. We slept.

And the weight, almost immediately, lifted off of my shoulders.

We did not sleep long stretches, they were newborns after all. And I needed to pump regularly. If that was the thing I intended to do, I needed to pump every three hours around the clock. Eight times a day for the first twelve weeks.

The lactation consultant did not tell me that. My sister in law, who was pumping for my niece at the time, added me to a Facebook group where I learned that. I learned all about exclusive pumping. I learned about what supplements might help and about water intake. What I really learned from that group was that there were thousands of women out there breastfeeding their babies through bottles. It was not easy, but they were doing it.

And the next day after that nap and the feeding and the sleeping? That very next day? I posted pictures of my sons to Facebook. Not because that is what new mothers do, which was the case with every picture I had posted previously, but because I felt that maybe I could love them. Maybe I did love them.

The next year of my life was filled with ups and downs when it came to breastfeeding. Saint Daddy and I bought a chest freezer to store my milk because I was overproducing by more than fifteen ounces a day for a while, but then their demand went up and I watched that supply dwindle. They needed more some days than others and I became nervous that I might not keep up. The stress of returning to work hurt my supply, and I had to give up middle of the night pumps and running and the very notion of losing weight. I pumped on work breaks and lunch breaks. I missed meetings. I pumped in my car in many parking lots. I pumped in a restaurant booth. I was a pumping mom and that meant battery backs and sanitation and labeled bags.

But the year went quickly. And exactly one year after that meeting with the final lactation consultant, I fed my sons the last bag of frozen milk. I had stopped pumping a month prior to that bag being used, but we made it to more than a year of breastfeeding.

I never thought we would. When I met with that lactation consultant, I had already told myself that if I made it to six weeks, I was a winner. But I made it a full year.

And you know what? I love my sons.

I love them with every fiber of my being.

I love the way they like to tickle my toes. I love the way that they call my name. I love the way that they stare out the window at the cars. I love the way that they laugh at each other when they should be sleeping.

I am glad to see this Timehop story each year. It reminds me of how far we have come. It also reminds me that new motherhood is harder than any of us can imagine sometimes. It is not just soft blankets and warm snuggles. It is sometimes desperation and hopelessness. It is anxiety and fear.

One of the comments that I make in my Timehop story is that my pressure was both internal and external. I wanted to breastfeed my sons because it mattered to me. But it was so necessary for me to not look like a failure to those witnessing my motherhood from the outside.

Motherhood is full of judgment. It is full of people who know how to do it better than we do. People who have never experienced our struggles but insist that they would know how to handle them if they did. People who are forthcoming with their criticism masked as support. People who think they have the solution.

Sometimes the solution is not the one we had hoped for, but it is the one we need. Timehop tells me that. I am glad that it does.

Normal Twin Language Delays and Their Mother’s Anxiety

Sunshine began speaking shortly after she turned seven months old. Her first word was “duck,” but she picked up new words so quickly that it was hard to maintain a solid list. By her first birthday, she had multiple sentences under her belt. She could count to thirteen by fourteen months. She said “I love you” by eighteen months. She responded to questions. By her second birthday, she recognized twenty letters and could read her own name.

Once she knew a word, it was hers forever.

She was verbally advanced. We knew it. We nurtured her language development through talking and singing and reading with her as much as we could.

I told my oldest sister that she should not compare Sunshine to her second son, who was born exactly seven weeks after Sunshine’s birthday. It was not fair to him. Sunshine was very verbal. She understood language.

She still does. Now that her kindergarten teacher has put a few tools in her hands, she is advancing quickly with her reading.

Grumpy and Sleepy are altogether different. Grumpy spoke first. Coincidentally, his first word was also “duck.” He and Sunshine had both fallen in love with the same stuffed duck in their infancy. While Sunshine was seven months when she grabbed onto that word, Grumpy was nearly ten months old.

Sleepy did not find a word until weeks after that. It was “mama,” but he lost it. I posted a while ago about both boys calling me “dad” for months and breaking my poor mom-guilt-ridden heart.

That is another thing about my sons’ language development that separated them from Sunshine. They have lost words over time. “Dog” faced a similar fate. It was an early word for both of them, but they lost it along the line. Instead, they have used “cat” to mean any animal. They both agree that all animals are cats, even ones that do not look even slightly like our pet cat.

Timehop continually shows me videos of my very verbal Sunshine, who was born six weeks later in the year than Grumpy and Sleepy, and was therefore younger than they are when I watch these videos. Grumpy and Sleepy are not where she was verbally, and I have found myself tempted to compare, which is precisely what I told my sister not to do five years ago.

I need to take my own advice.

This post is for mommas of multiples. If your babies seem behind, do not compare.

I first questioned the possibility that twins might sometimes be delayed with our pediatrician when Grumpy and Sleepy were nine months old. They were late crawlers, especially compared to Sunshine. (There I go again, comparing them.)

The pediatrician said that many multiples reach milestones in the “late average” range, meaning that the concern is likely to be my own and not truly medical/developmental in nature. I did not find any research to support the fact that full-term twins walk later than full-term singletons.

For language, though, there is research that suggests that multiples do develop later. This issue is more likely to appear with identical twins, and may be linked to complications related to multiple pregnancies and deliveries. However, fraternal twins, like Grumpy and Sleepy, are also more likely to develop speech deficiencies than singletons.

The reasons why are so logical:

  1. Multiples spend more time with each other than anyone else. Since they speak at an underdeveloped level, they tend to mimic each other’s methods of communication. My best friend told me that she has a local friend with twins in speech therapy who was told that her sons are reinforcing each other’s poor language skills. It makes perfect sense. If language is developed mostly by interacting with people who speak it and their primary interaction is with someone who does not speak it well, children will struggle to develop language quickly.
  2. Multiples get less one-on-one time with adults than singletons do. This is actually the reason I believed my sons were late to sitting up on their own. I could not easily get on the floor and play games with them for as long as I did with Sunshine because there were two of them that needed my support. I blamed myself for their poor core development. It was not actually my fault, but mom guilt is real. However, much like the first reason listed above, multiples spend less individual time than singletons with people who do speak the language well, so the correct methods of speech are not modeled as much for them.
  3. Multiples also tend to simplify their language in the essence of efficiency. Because they get less individual attention, multiples tend to stick to short sentences. They also tend to be louder. I did not realize that was a legitimate twin thing until I began to research it. They do this so that they can say what they need to say in a way that will be quickly heard and understood. Unfortunately, it can delay their development further.

Grumpy and Sleepy also have what is called a Shared Understanding. This means that they understand each other and use sounds that they have developed to stand for objects that are not true language. Around their first birthday, they were referring to each other as “ahgugug.” Other shared understanding words that they have had include “dee” for anything that they like to throw, “guy” for sock, “psss” for star, and “guk” for boat. They both agree that those are the words that mean those objects. Shared Understanding is something that develops largely because twins spend more time with each other than with anyone else.

There is also research to suggest that the mental health of the parents plays a role in language development as well. Parents of multiples have a higher incidence of mental health problems than parents of singletons, and when parents have a difficult time taking care of themselves, they have a difficult time supporting their quickly developing children.

(Holy link share in this post!)

Here is the thing: Even with all of this information, it is hard not to worry. It is particularly difficult to know when that worry becomes something worth bringing up with a doctor. We are not at that point of worry with Grumpy and Sleepy. I feel like they will be fine. They are working on it. Grumpy is starting to pick up words more quickly right now. Suddenly, he knows that the animal that came with their Little People farm is a “cow” instead of a “cat.” He began saying “sock” the other day, which was a major turning point in the Shared Understanding department. Sleepy is always a couple of weeks behind Grumpy when it comes to language, so I assume he will catch up to Grumpy soon.

There are services for delayed children, whether they are multiples or singletons, and concerned parents should talk to their pediatricians about beginning evaluations.

I worry, though. Each time a Sunshine video comes up on Timehop, I cannot help but wonder when her brothers will get “there” because they are not there yet. It is not fair. I know it.

As with most things related to my anxiety, I have little ability to control that worry, those nagging thoughts that something is not right, that I could be doing more.

I love my sons. I love them up and down and all around. I love them from the ends of the hair on their head to to their tiny tickle toes. I read to them every night and as much as they will let me otherwise. We sing and eat dinner together as a family. We try.

But the people they spend the most time with are each other, and they are both at the same developmental age. They reinforce each other’s speech patterns.

And I wonder… What more can I do? Could I do better? Could I be better?

This is anxiety meeting motherhood. I have read the research. This is normal, natural. Twins are more likely to have a slight delay in language development. I know it. I understand it. My sons are developing language every single day. Over the last week, Grumpy picked up four new words. Sleepy found two of his own. They will be fine.

If only I could make my brain believe it.

This happens to me time and time again. My sons’ speech is not the beginning of this, and it will not be the end.

Having twins has certainly impacted my mental health. My heart is full, and my anxiety is in overdrive. I pray that it gets better.

Twin language is a story that twin mommas should hear, but this story–one of knowing the truth but struggling to really believe it–is one that I am sure that all people with anxiety can understand.

Sometimes, when I learn something that will assuage my fears, I spend time telling myself to “believe it, believe it, believe it.” Eventually, I can.

Soon my sons will say “I love you.” I believe that. They are close. They respond to the phrase now. I say “I love you,” and they give me kisses. We are communicating a beautiful thought.

One day, they will say it too. And I will cry. With joy and with relief. Because that is what I do when the thing I tried so hard to believe finally becomes a truth.

We Will Figure That Out When We Get There

If I had a dollar for every time I said that, we would have so many fewer things to figure out when we get there.

I have been thinking about this a lot over the last month. It has been more than a month since my last post. Allow me to explain…

My best friend was sick. Not, like, a little sick, but really sick. It started as a cold that would not quit. She was diagnosed with various issues that seemed to be related to a cold. Bronchitis, laryngitis, a pulled muscle from the cough. And you know what? They would not quit either. She saw specialists. They told her it was anxiety. “It’s probably panic attacks.” My best friend does not have anxiety. She has had panic attacks. She knew it was not panic attacks. “Maybe it’s heartburn.” She saw a cardiologist who essentially told her she was too young to have any real issues, but if it would make her feel better, he would run tests. It was not serious enough to rush anything. Two weeks’ wait was fine. The next day, I drove to her house to spend the night with her while her husband was away. She wailed in pain while I held her baby and felt helplessness. Three days after meeting with that cardiologist, she had heart surgery. She gave her stent a name. That stent saved her life. It deserves a name.

If I could have put into words my feelings about it when it happened three weeks ago, I would have waxed poetic about a life spared. I would have praised God above, the universe around us, and medical professionals who finally hear a young woman when she says, “This isn’t normal. Something’s wrong.” I had so many feelings. Relief, joy, gratitude. I love her very much. I need her very much. I could have lost her, but I did not. We did not.

Before she saw that cardiologist who brushed her off due to her young age, she told me she feared that she would die. She told me that she feared that she would have to give up so much about her life that she loved. She told me that she was scared. And I thought, “We’ll figure it out when we get there.”

Sunshine was sick. She first became sick on the second Sunday in December. I took her to see The Nutcracker at a nearby college. We go every December. When intermission ended, she asked me if we had to stay for the second half of the play. I was surprised. She loves the ballet. She said, “I don’t feel like myself.” We did stay for the remainder of the performance. When we arrived home, however, she put herself to bed. It was 4:30 PM. She would not leave the bed for dinner. That night, she threw up in bed. She was sick for most of the next day, but that dissipated as the day progressed. She went to school the following day. She had a cold, but her belly was fine. No one else was affected.

A week later, she threw up in bed again. She spent the next day at home, but she was fine. She returned to school. At 2:00 that next day, her school called me. Sunshine needed to be picked up. She did not have a fever, but she had thrown up in the classroom. She was not permitted to return to school the next day. Saint Daddy took her to the doctor that night. The doctor suspected a lingering virus from the week before. Again, no one else was sick. She had no fever, but she was lethargic and nauseous and, occasionally, vomiting. She spent the entire day after the one when I picked her up at school in her bed. I could not get her to open her eyes long enough to eat a few bites of food.

I was scared. I was scared about all of the things that can cause nausea and lethargy without a fever or being contagious.

Saint Daddy swears up and down that this is not true, but he is a bit of an alarmist when it comes to medical stuff. He swears this because his mom is a much more extreme alarmist. She is a nurse and she sometimes diagnoses our children via Facebook posts. Shortly after Grumpy’s stitches episode, she babysat the kids while Saint Daddy and I went for lunch to celebrate our anniversary. She said she noticed that Grumpy tripped a lot and wondered if we ever considered the possibility that he might have cerebral palsy.

I truly appreciate her concern. She loves our babies and worries about them. But she is definitely an alarmist.

Saint Daddy does not consider himself to be an alarmist because he is not that extreme. But as I sat there watching Sunshine sleep, unable to rouse her, crying and praying, Saint Daddy came to me with theories. “Maybe we need to have her tested for the serious stuff.” Maybe it’s a tapeworm, maybe it’s another parasite, maybe she has… The last one is one I cannot even put into writing. It is too much.

What will we do?

We will figure that out when we get there.

That night, as I put Sleepy into his crib, he vomited all over their bedroom floor, his crib, and himself. I did not think I would ever celebrate a vomiting one year old, but there I was thrilled.

If Sunshine is contagious, Sunshine has a virus. We will never have to figure that out. Praise God. Amen.

Sunshine’s issues did not end there. Her cold remained. She felt periodic nausea over the following two weeks. We believe that Grumpy and Sleepy did as well, based on their appetites, but they could not tell us themselves.

That is when Sunshine began limping. She could not step over the baby gates anymore. Her leg hurt.

We took her to the doctor. “Maybe it’s the virus. Sometimes viruses in children can affect their hip joints.” The same virus that began three weeks ago? When do we worry that it might be something more? “Call us if it is still bad in two days.” She continued to cry out in pain and to limp around the house. She did not run around. She barely stood up at all. Two days passed. My mind went crazy places. I called my sister and she said the thing I was thinking. She did not say it, just as I would not write it, but we both thought it.

How will I live?

We will figure that out when we get there.

Sometimes, I feel like Saint Daddy thinks I do not care the right amount about certain things. I think he wants me to worry about things in the same way that he does. I know he knows that I spiral. When my best friend told me she was afraid that she might die, I told her that I refused to think about that. I could not think about that. I could not imagine that as a possibility. I would spiral. I would lose my footing. I need her to be okay because she is such a monumental part of my life. I needed to think about that only if it would actually happen, not just in case it would. The same is true of Sunshine. I needed to pray for both of them. I needed to do what I could do. I needed to drive to her house and spend the night. I needed to make Sunshine chicken soup and spoon-feed it to her as she laid down with her eyes closed. But I needed to not think of the things that could happen.

I am great at the worst case scenario. If you are ever looking for someone to tell you what the absolute worst outcome could potentially be, I promise to be that person for you. Trust me. I have imagined some horrendous outcomes to completely innocuous situations.

The last thing that I need in these situations is for someone to remind me that there are things that could go wrong. I can do that myself.

With that in mind, if I can somehow shut down that part of me that will focus on every negative outcome imaginable, I want to do that. When I manage to do that, I say, “We’ll figure that out when we get there.”

Five years ago, when I was nine months pregnant with Sunshine, I planned a major event at work. It took me nearly six months of concentrated effort. I made phone calls, organized teams, and formulated plans. It was a massive undertaking.

Whenever my second-in-command asked me very specific questions, I tried to answer them to the best of my ability, but sometimes I said, “We’ll figure that out when we get there.”

it was my way of telling her that I believed our preparation would lead to a smooth event, even if I had not ironed out every single wrinkle in the fabric table coverings. The following year, as we planned our final event together before we both moved on to different ventures, she said our motto would always be “We’ll figure that out when we get there.” Ultimately, I believe that hard work and planning can lead to it all “working out” in my favor.

I have to believe that way so I do not obsess over the details. Sometimes, I get lost in the details. My anxiety makes me get lost in the details. My anxiety tells me that I need to think about every little detail. My anxiety tells me that I need to be in control. Over time, i have been able to tell myself that I do not have to be in control. It is a coping mechanism to say these words and give myself time to deal with what will come my way.

These situations are not the end of this either.

How will we handle twins? What will we do with the dog when we go on vacation? How will we get there? What if the boys do not walk before fifteen months? What if the car breaks down? What if? What if? What if?

We will figure that out when we get there.

I promise.

I Will Get There

I had twin boys eighteen months ago. Sleepy and Grumpy are wonderful little terrors, constantly working to destroy our home and bring joy into our hearts.

During my pregnancy with Sleepy and Grumpy, I gave up on all forms of exercise. My high risk doctor told me to stop running at the end of my first trimester. At twenty weeks, he told me to stop lifting anything over ten pounds, including Sunshine. By twenty-four weeks, I weighed more than I did at forty-two weeks with Sunshine and most yoga poses were nearly impossible.

By the end of my thirty-eight week pregnancy with my sons, I had put on sixty-two pounds.

That is eight pounds more than the recommended amount for a twin pregnancy, but I was not concerned. My doctors were not either.

While pregnant with Sunshine, I ran 2-3 miles three days a week until my thirty-sixth week. I delivered six weeks later. I had gained thirty-five pounds, the upper limit of the recommendation.

I lost all but five of those pounds before returning to work at twelve weeks post partum. I returned to running at six weeks postpartum. I kept those extra five pounds until I stopped nursing Sunshine at eighteen months old, even during half marathon training. Then, they melted right off of me.

With Grumpy and Sleepy, my C-section meant not returning to running until ten weeks after delivery. Because I was so completely out of shape and thoroughly exhausted by newborn twins, it was slow and horrible.

When the boys were four months old, they entered the four month sleep regression. I lost sleep and precious ounces in milk output. I started eating my feelings and I stopped running. I needed to consume a minimum of 2500 calories and drink a gallon of water each day to maintain my supply.

I lost fifteen pounds between two and four months, and I gained every ounce of that back between four and six months as I ate more and exercised not at all.

I have been running again for ten months. Seven months ago, I cut my calorie intake back down to my pre-pregnancy levels.

I reached my goal weight three months ago.

But I am not happy with my body.

It will never be the same.

After Sunshine, I lost the weight and my body was only a little worse for the wear.

Now I am soft and doughy. There is extra skin that droops. I look like someone who lost weight too quickly and her skin did not get the memo until it was too late.

Which makes sense because I did and it did not.

It is demoralizing.

Because I am not happy with my body, I am having a hard time focusing on my fitness goals.

In my mind, I should be able to easily run six miles at this point. The boys are eighteen months old. Six miles is no big deal. I have done it countless times before. And I have done it a handful of times since the boys were born.

But I keep accepting excuses.

I often quote Wedding Crashers, saying, “No excuses. Play like a champion.”

But I am not playing like a champion.

I have a great long run. Hitting my six mile goal. I feel awesome. I know I can do it. I am proud of myself.

But the next weekend, it does not go nearly as well. And the following weekend, I convince myself that four miles is enough. That it is okay. I am still working on my comeback.

It is not until afterwards, when I am home again, that I realize that four miles is not enough. I could be better. I could do better.

The thing is, what sucks the most is that, no matter how hard I work or push or try, I am probably still going to be soft and doughy. I hit my goal weight and I do not look anything like what I think I should.

This is not a cry for compliments. I know I look good. About six months ago, people stopped adding “for having twins” to their comments about how good I look. I just look good.

But I do not feel good.

I am not happy with my body.

It is not just the running. I am not strength training because I do not feel strong. I am not eating well because I do not feel like it even matters at this point.

I have become incredibly cynical about my body, and it is being a twin mom that did that to me.

Now, while I have said before that there are experiences that are unique to being a MoM that non-MoMs cannot appreciate, this is not one of those things. I believe there are millions of moms who feel this disconnect with their own bodies. Women who love their bodies because of the babies that they brought into this world but hate them for what they look like afterwards.

For me, though, I believe I feel this way expressly because I am a MoM. Carrying Sunshine did not make me feel so uncomfortable in my own skin. My stretch marks never made me feel uncomfortable. I still only own bikinis. But I am afraid that I will never truly feel comfortable in one again.

For me, my journey to accepting my body has been rife with highs and lows. I first started questioning its value when I was very young.

My skin is pale. Very pale. It makes getting blood work easier because my blue veins stand out against my white skin. I am paler than all of my siblings. They pointed out my Irish skin frequently. How I burned and they tanned. How I needed my own beach umbrella.

I was always chubbier than my next older sister. She was athletic from a young age. I was not. And my mother pointed it out to me on more than a few occasions. Grandma took me to her TOPS meetings where she weighed in and women sat in a circle and discussed how disappointed they were with their bodies.

Dislike of our bodies is ingrained in the minds of young girls so thoroughly, and I was no exception.

I did not buy my first bikini until I was in my mid-twenties. I was “too fat” before that.

But I had taken up running to combat my anxiety at my doctor’s suggestion (exercise, he said, may help if medication was not something I wanted to stick with). And running did something for me that nothing else could have done.

Running showed me that my body was capable of amazing things. My body could run miles. My body could go farther than I could have ever imagined. My body is wonderful. It is spectacular.

I was proud of it.

I remained proud of it until about a year ago. It brought me three children. Two at once.

But then I was thoroughly post-partum, and it feels less mine than the one I used to have. I feel less capable and less amazing.

I want to love my body again. Sometimes, I am afraid that I never will.

I keep trying to.

One day, I will to write a love letter to my body. One day, this will merely be evidence of where we once were.

Today, though, I am feeling that disconnect from what I see and what I am. From what I did and what I can do.

I hope that I can find my pride again. No, I know that I will.

For any mommas reading this post who understand, I see you. Your body is amazing, but I know that it can be hard to see that when you spent so much time sharing it with other people. You will get there.

I will get there.