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In the Morning

Thursday, October 10, 2019

I just learned this morning that today is World Mental Health Day. Honestly, I wish every day were World Mental Health Day, as I think that we would all be a lot better off if we considered our mental health as important as our physical health. I think we would all be a lot better off if we treated mental illnesses as seriously as we treat physical illnesses like cancer. I think we would all be a lot better off if we felt as comfortable saying "I have an appointment with my therapist" as we do saying "I have an appointment with my dentist." I've written about mental health before, most recently concerning Bert's birth here.

After finding out about today being devoted to mental health, I thought it would be a perfect time to write about something I've been thinking about a lot lately, and that's what advice I would give a new mom. Let me say first that there is NO END to the amount of information out there that is available to new moms. Let me rephrase that and say: pretty much there is NO END to the amount of people out there who feel the need to tell you what you should be doing or should not be doing or questioning you or your methods. Truly, your mother, mother-in-law, neighbor, best friend, that lady at church, that woman at moms' group, granny in the grocery store, blogger on the internet (ahem), and random dude without kids "but I have two nephews!" (<-- true story) all have opinions about what you should do or not do.

And to that I say, Blessed are they who keep their mouths shut, for they will be able to visit baby Bert. :)

(I should also say at this time that the person in my life who is likely most qualified to give advice but who has truly kept her mouth shut unless explicitly asked for her input is my mom. Maybe I'll write more about that later since I have really appreciated that.)

The two best pieces of advice I have gotten are from my good friends and fellow moms of littles, Maggie and Catherine:

Maggie -- You are your baby's mom, and you know what's best.
Catherine -- Don't read anything on the internet.

So, with that in mind, I am going to tell you my advice for new moms whose babies aren't mine, and I'm going to do it here on the internet haha. But in all truthfulness, if asked for my input, and with today being World Mental Health Day, this is what I would tell any new mom:

Things always look better in the morning. 

My hardest times mentally so far as a mother have been during overnight feedings with Bert. I'm awake and alone, I am completely exhausted, it's dark, I have no one to talk to. Those things create the perfect conditions in which a storm of anger, doubt, and depression brews. When I think back over the past two months of mothering Bert to the times I've felt most hopeless, angry, and sad, they have mostly all been while breastfeeding him at 2:30 a.m., 3:45 a.m. or 5:15 a.m. Those are the times when I've thought to myself that I can't do this, that I'm a terrible mother, and that I am just so upset and sad. Those are the times when the anger inside me gets stirred up to a point that I just want to scream.

I do think it's important to deal with the underlying causes of those feelings and to talk to someone who can help. (I do.) But I would also say that in the morning when the sun is up and I've showered and had a coffee, those feelings that I had overnight seem so much more manageable. Even if the next night it all happens again -- and those feelings are very real -- I can tell myself that everything so far points to things feeling more manageable in the morning. And that gives me hope.

So if you are a new mom -- or honestly, any kind of person because I think this could really apply to anyone -- that is the advice I would give you: Things always look better in the morning.

That, and you are your baby's mom, and you know what's best, so don't read anything on the internet. :)


When you find yourself freaking out, picture Bert looking at you like this. "As if!"




Dignity in Diapers.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Joe and I were trying to calculate the other day how long it took us to go through a box of 172 diapers. We think maybe about 2.5 weeks. That's an awful lot of diapers to go through in one day.

Because I stay home with Bert all day, sometimes it feels like all I do is change diapers and feed him. Rinse and repeat. Some days it seems no sooner do I change a diaper than it's time to change one again. Sometimes it can feel, well, monotonous at best, defeating at worst, to reflect on my day and realize just how much of it is devoted to changing Bert and cleaning him up.

I recently read an article (and for the life of me I can't remember where, but I'm looking all over for it to give proper credit) that basically said that taking care of the hygiene of someone who can't take care of it for themselves gives that person dignity. At first I was like, well, yeah, that makes sense: someone with dementia who used to be able to do that but now can't take care of his own hygiene, it would give him dignity as a person to have someone else lovingly do that for him. It would be very hard -- and make someone very vulnerable -- to not be able to clean himself up after going to the bathroom, change his own dirty clothes, or give himself a bath. 

But, like, Bert -- I mean it's my JOB to care for him, right? He's just a baby. I mean, he's just small so that's why he can't take care of his own hygiene ... OH, RIGHT. Just because Bert has never been able to do it for himself doesn't mean that it's any less holy to do that work for him. I think it would be very hard -- and make him very vulnerable -- to not be able to clean himself up after going to the bathroom, change his own dirty clothes, or give himself a bath. 

Think of how horrified we are when we read a story about a neglected child, a child left to sit in a dirty diaper for days at a time, or a child whose clothes are filthy or has never been given a bath. We balk at these stories because NO ONE should have to experience that. When that happens, the victim is being treated as less than a person.

I am a believer in the value of human life from conception until natural death, and I am also a believer that ALL human beings have dignity -- whether they have a physical disability, are in the womb, or have Alzheimer's. Although Bert might just be a little baby, a way that I can protect and honor his dignity as a human person is to change his diapers, bathe him, and give him clean clothes to wear. These things sound so mundane out of context, but when looked at through the lens of the value of Bert's personhood, those chores take on a level of holiness that transform how I think about them.

This topic reminds me of one of my favorite pictures of Mary and Jesus. It's called "Polish Madonna," and it depicts Mary hanging clothes to dry on a line while baby Jesus sits nearby.

Source.

We honor Mary and think of her sacrifice in carrying Jesus and watching him die on the cross. But for years, like every other mother, Mary spent so much time changing Jesus's diapers, washing his dirty clothes, and giving him a bath. She might have been the mother of God, but at heart, she was just a mother.

It's so easy for me to fall into the trap of asking myself what I really did all day. My friend Maggie has talked to me about finding that question hard to answer too because what she did all day was take care of a child. How do you begin to describe everything that is? How beautiful, lonely, joyous, boring, taxing, fun, and overwhelming that is? I'm going to try and reframe my answer in my mind now. Instead of telling myself "all" I did all day was change Bert's diapers and feed him and do laundry, I'm going to remind myself that what I actually did all day was honor Bert's dignity as a person, made in the image of God.

Three Years Later.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

September 11 is of course an important day to remember in our nation. But it is also an important day in Joe and my life together because it was September 11, 2016 that we had our first date.

It was a Sunday, so I had gotten up and gone to church with my parents as usual. Later that day, I showered and got ready (wore a blue flowered dress and took a cardigan with me, naturally) and met Joe for lunch at 2 p.m. at Black Sheep Burrito in Huntington. (Old location for people who know what I'm talking about!) Joe was already there when I arrived, and we spent the next few hours sitting together talking, eating tacos, and drinking beer. We also went a for a really nice walk in Ritter Park.

The following year we commemorated our first date (although a couple days early since Joe lived in Georgia, and I still lived in West Virginia) by once again going to Black Sheep and sitting together talking, eating, and drinking beer.

Last year we were married, so for the first time we lived in the same place on September 11, so although we couldn't be at Black Sheep, the day once again found us sitting together talking, eating, and drinking our beer.

Yesterday as you know was September 11. This year was different, though. Although Joe and I were still sitting together and talking, it wasn't at Black Sheep or even at our house. 2 p.m. found us sitting side by side in a surgeon's office, our sweet Bert between us, listening to a doctor talk to us about another of Bert's health issues. In fact, the whole day went by yesterday without either of us acknowledging the anniversary of our first date.

Joe and I around the time of our first date.

On one hand, maybe that's a little bit sad. But on the other hand, isn't this what we're really all hoping for when we go on those first dates? Not to be in doctors' offices with our infants, of course, but I mean to even be sitting there together with a baby at all. Before we go on those first dates I think all -- or at least most -- of us are hoping that we will have finally found our person and that years down the road we may be too busy living our regular, everyday lives together to do more than smile for a moment when we arrive at the anniversary of that first hopeful date, if we even are able to take a moment to remember it at all.

Something else I thought about yesterday is how much life can change in such a short time. If you would have told me on my way to Black Sheep to meet Joe for that first date that we'd be sitting in the first home we bought together with our baby son just three short years later, I don't know if I would have believed you, but here we are. Three years ago I was Anna Lafferre, teaching at Fatima in Huntington, and living in my little apartment with Baby Snicks. Now, I am Anna Kraft, staying at home with my newborn son after teaching at Saint Jude for a year in Atlanta, living in my first home with my husband, son, and two dogs. Things really can change so very quickly.

Joe and I with newborn Bert, three years later. 

The beginning of a relationship is so exciting: getting to know someone, finding out how compatible you are, feeling that magic spark of something special. Those days are beautiful. But there is something magical, too, in the mundane day-to-dayness of life: paying your mortgage, buying the toothpaste, and talking about your worries and fears about a child. It was so fun at the beginning of our relationship when Joe would send me flowers or get me something he thought would help make my life easier. But I would trade all the flowers in the world for the Joe who changes Bert's diapers throughout the night, gets up and goes to work all day for our family, and changes his work schedule on a moment's notice to sit beside me at Bert's doctor appointment.

I once said to my friend Sarah about my friend Story that I felt like I owed Story so much for all she's done for me, but there was no way I could ever repay her. (Incidentally, Sarah, I owe you so much too for all you've done for me!) I made the comment that, "I mean, I keep showing up for Story's plays and things like that ..." And Sarah said those profound words that have continued to stick with me:

YOU KEEP SHOWING UP.

Amen, Sarah. Brilliant. That is how we show people we love them. Joe showed up to our first date fully engaged, never pulling out his phone or otherwise making me feel I wasn't worth his time. And I remember this, whether or not we were able to recall the anniversary of our first date this year. And Joe keeps showing up three years later. That's what real love is. Whether it's a romantic relationship or a friendship or a family relationship -- THAT'S WHAT REAL LOVE IS. You show up, and you keep showing up.

Grief ... It Just Is.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The son of a family member by marriage recently had his own son. We've never met the son or the new baby, but we love the grandmother, and we are so happy for her and her family. The new baby is about a month younger than Bert, and we've gotten to see a couple pictures of him.

A few days ago, Joe came home from work and, as we were talking, he suddenly told me he had a new photo that he wanted to show me. The photo was of the father of the new baby, shirtless and holding his new son skin-to-skin in the hospital.

Joe said, "I guess at this hospital they have the dads do that -- take off their shirts and hold the baby."

I couldn't respond. Because without me even realizing it or even any warning, I immediately started tearing up. I opened and closed my mouth a couple times, trying not to lose it, and Joe's face changed as he suddenly realized,

"... I was supposed to do that, wasn't I?"

I nodded.

"... But I couldn't because ..."

I nodded again. And the tears came.

As I wrote about here, there are a lot of things we didn't get to do with Bert when he was born because of his health issues. As I wrote about in that same post, I figured out that my post-partum healing would not be nearly as physical as it would be emotional and mental, coming to terms with what happened. Overall, I think I'm doing pretty well. But something I've also realized in all of this is that grief comes and goes in waves, it's not a straight line at all.

I think we usually associate grief with the death of a loved one, and, yes, that is such indescribably painful grief. But grief can also be associated with other things, such as when what you hoped, expected, or thought would happen in a situation turned out to be the complete opposite.

Some days I feel like I'm doing a good job of working through my grief, and other days some things will happen that just overwhelm me out of nowhere, such as the photo I just talked about or another health issue that Bert is dealing with. At his one-month appointment, Bert was diagnosed with an umbilical granuloma, which when treated, really is no big deal. The odds of getting it are 1 in 500, but as Joe said, if it's some crazy thing with crazy odds, Bert will get it. The granuloma was treated on Thursday, and we followed the instructions about giving it 24 hours, pulling the band aid off, and checking it. When I checked it Friday, I thought it still didn't look right, and it still had discharge coming from it. I called the nurse line at our pediatrician and left a message, and late Friday afternoon we got a call back that we'd need to take him to the Saturday sick clinic at one of our practice's other locations to be checked out and likely re-treated.

Like I said, this honestly is no big deal right now. But finding out that Bert had another health thing that required another "emergency" doctor's appointment hit me hard. It just took me right back to all the things that happened in the past five weeks of his life, and the overwhelming emotion this time wasn't sadness, it was anger. I told Joe I just feel so, so angry. I'm so angry about what happened to him, and that spiraled into me also being angry about what happened to Joe and me, angry about some things that went on in my own home after Bert was born, angry about something else that happened this summer that's unrelated to Bert's health but that I'm still dealing with, angry that I didn't stand up for myself in some situations like I should have. So right now, I'm angry. I'm angry, and I want a total do-over I won't get.

As I mentioned before, too, I know that life doesn't ever go according to plan, and I know that things could have turned out a lot worse. But I'm not sure in the history of time anyone ever felt better about their feelings after being told it "could have been worse." In reality, I'm pretty sure when someone is told that, all that happens is that they continue to feel their sad/angry/whatever feelings AND they now feel guilty for feeling those feelings, so now they just feel worse overall.

I am just trying to tell myself that grief is a process. Some days are great, some days you're taken right back to the thing or things that make you sad and angry. It's like this graphic that I've seen before:

Source.

Maybe it sounds like I'm whining or like I'm ungrateful for what I have. In reality, I am very grateful for Bert and all of the prayers for him and his current state of health. But, while my physical self is right on target for post-partum healing, my mental and emotional health is still a couple months behind. And you know what? THAT IS OKAY.

So if this is you right now, or past you, or maybe future you, please know that whatever you are feeling ... THAT IS OKAY. For as long as you need to feel it. I pray that you have someone to reach out to to talk to about it, and if not, I am happy to be that person because I understand. Talking about it has really helped me a lot. And if it happened to you five years ago and you still need to talk about it a lot ... THAT IS OKAY.

To be even more transparent, there is no happy ending to this right now. Right now, I'm in the middle of it, so it just is.



Here's a cute picture of Bert, though, because who doesn't love that? 

A Boy and His Dogs.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The last several posts have been (necessarily) serious, so I've decided to go with something a little lighter today.

We registered for some blocks for Bert. These blocks are plastic and of various shapes, sizes, and colors, so I thought -- great! These will be great first toys for our son. Earlier in the summer I was preparing for Bert by putting some of his things in different bins, and I pulled these blocks out of the plastic holder they came in. I BARELY squeezed one of them, and it let out the tiniest squeak. All of a sudden, Jane Austen came tearing down the stairs and ran right over to me. I realized she had heard this minute squeak from up under our bed (I had just seen her there), and then I realized something else: these blocks are basically dog toys.



Over the past couple of weeks, I realized that I wasn't wrong about those blocks, but I wasn't totally right either.

By that I mean ... ALL baby toys are essentially dog toys. So life is about to get really fun around here.

Think about it ... here is a picture of Bert's play mat thing. What do those toys hanging there look like?



Yep ... dog toys.

Here's an avocado that Bert's supposed to play with. What does that look like?



Yep ... a dog toy.

In fact, here is a photo of Jane Austen trying to share her favorite toy -- hedgehog -- with Bert. Because her toys are Bert's toys ... and more importantly, Bert's toys are her toys!



Clearly Bert is not playing with toys right now, but I can only assume that once he gets older and his toys are on the floor and Jane's toys are on the floor, well ... they will just be "their" toys then, won't they? 😂

Mental Health.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

When we took Bert to the children's hospital at 4 days old, we sat in the emergency room from about 9 p.m. to almost 6 a.m. After we were finally admitted and taken to a room, Joe and I fed Bert, ate some breakfast ourselves, and, thanks to a very nice nurse, were able to settle in around 8:30-9 a.m. to try and get at least an hour or two of sleep. The next thing I knew, I was being awakened around 10:30 a.m. for what appeared to be a very pressing matter: a lactation consultant wanted to see me. I tried to explain that we had seen a lactation consultant already a couple days earlier and received high marks and Bert was a champion eater, but I was pretty much forced to see this woman anyways. Of course, I was exhausted, worried, and irritated, but I tried to be nice even though I felt like it was a big waste of our time. But something important occurred to me mid-day that same day. 

In our stay at the children's hospital, we saw nurses, pediatricians, and this lactation consultant, but do you know what was never offered to us or even brought up or discussed?

A mental health professional.

Think about it: you have two brand-new parents with a four-day-old baby with many health issues unexpectedly in the children's hospital. The mother of this child already has documented mental health challenges and, like all new mothers, is at risk for post-partum mental health issues as well. To me, it's a no-brainer that some sort of mental health professional should be provided to us as parents. But no one ever came.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 9 women experiences post-partum depression. Additionally, these statistics vary by state, so in some states that number is as high as 1 in 5 women. (Source.) Post-partum mental health challenges can lead to everything from hopelessness and irritability to thoughts of harming oneself or one's baby. I think we can all agree that this is such an important issue -- as is general mental health in the United States, not just post-partum -- and it's important to closely monitor all new mothers. I would think maybe it's extra important to monitor mothers whose babies are experiencing scary health issues.

I feel fortunate because having dealt with mental health challenges for years before pregnancy, I already know signs to watch for in myself as well as have medication and a counselor who has known me for almost a year. But what about women who may, thankfully, have never experienced any sort of mental health challenge before and, therefore, don't know what to look for or understand what is going on with them?

I don't know what the solution is, and I don't pretend to. It was just something that hit me after how important it seemed to be to the hospital that I see a lactation consultant, yet my mental health -- and Joe's -- was never discussed or asked about.

Finally home after two hospital stays.

Rachel.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

For months before the birth of Bert, I prayed that God would just send us a "really nice nurse." I had heard from my mom and other people who'd had babies that a great nurse would go a really long way in making labor, delivery, and the first few days as a new mom more pleasant and smooth.

We were really blessed that this prayer was answered not just once but many times over. From our L&D nurses Cheryl and Ashley (Ashley is the one I mentioned in an earlier post who helped deliver Bert) to our post-partum night nurse Amanda, all of our nurses were truly wonderful, and we were so glad that we were blessed by them.

But although they were all amazing and we are so grateful to them all, there is one nurse who is now  buried so deep in our hearts that we will never forget her as long as we live. And this post is about her: Rachel.

Rachel was our day nurse the entire time we were in post-partum. When I think back on it, she was only our nurse for a total of 24 hours (7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday), but it seems like much longer than that. Rachel was all the things you'd expect a good nurse to be: kind, uplifting, capable, knowledgeable, patient. And we appreciate all those things about her. But Rachel was just so much more.

We know she had so many more patients than just us for those couple of days, but she never made us feel that way. Any time we called, she was right there, and we had to call a lot because of Bert's health concerns.

Speaking of Bert's health concerns, can you guess who had to be the bearer of pretty much all the bad news we got: Bert's blood sugar going back down, his strict feeding schedule, his bilirubin levels requiring jaundice lights? Or the person who had to come help us in the immediate aftermath of bad news delivered by others, as in the case with his multiple failed hearing tests? You got it: Rachel.

I feel for her because every time she walked into our room it seemed like we were upset or crying or stressed. And every time she came in, she was patient, optimistic, kind, helpful, and caring. She treated Bert so gently, like he was her own child and not just another patient in another hospital room on another day of work. Rachel spoke to us and Bert like she was part of our family.

We already loved Rachel so much and had filled out a compliment card for her ... and then she did the most amazing thing that we'll never forget.


The last day we were in the hospital we were scheduled to be released at 9 p.m. Unfortunately, Rachel's shift ended at 7 p.m., so she wouldn't be there to discharge us. Around 7:30 p.m. Rachel brought in the new night nurse, the one who would discharge us, to introduce her. When they came in, Joe and I were both sitting in my hospital bed, my mom was in a chair, and I was holding Bert. Joe was holding me. I was crying because although we were scheduled to be able to go home, they were still checking one of Bert's complications so even that wasn't a guarantee at that point. We were still worried about his hearing and his jaundice also, as well as just simply exhausted and overwhelmed by the unexpected difficulties of his two days of life. After Rachel introduced the new nurse to us, she asked her to leave the room. I looked at Joe because I was so terrified that Rachel had done that because she had more bad news to deliver about Bert and didn't want someone we had just met in there to witness it.

Instead, this happened:

Rachel stood by the bed beside where I was sitting. She looked at Joe and me and at a sleeping Bert and told us that Bert was such a special patient to her and that we were a very special family. She then asked us if she could pray for us. She put a hand on me and Bert, my mom came to stand by the bed, and we all closed our eyes. Rachel's prayer for Bert was beautiful. In fact, in her prayer she called him "perfect," and no one had said that about our son before that moment. She prayed for each of his medical conditions specifically, asking God to please heal him of them. But she also acknowledged that God had made Bert in His own image, and that Bert was exactly the way God wanted him to be. I thought I was crying before that prayer, but I was sobbing for sure during it. I wish I had a copy of it so that I could hear it again and again. Rachel gave us so much peace in that moment, peace that we didn't know at the time would also carry us through a stay at the children's hospital.

Joe and I have talked about Rachel so often since we left Bert's birth hospital. In fact, every time we'd talk about a nurse while at the children's hospital, we'd always call her, "Rachel ... no," whatever her name was. And so many times since we left his birth hospital we've said, "Remember when Rachel said ..." or "When Rachel told us ..."

Rachel was physically in our life for two 12-hour shifts. But she'll be in our hearts much longer. And as Bert grows older, we'll tell him about the most special nurse who thought he was so special, too.
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