What the hell just happened?

I’m writing this as Dempsey sleeps on my shoulder, my computer balanced precariously on the Boppy pillow on my lap, and wondering…how did we make it through this past month?
He is 5 weeks old now, 5 weeks that simultaneously dragged and flew by. And I have to be honest-the first 4 were incredibly rough. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have in adjusting. On top of the garden variety lack of sleep, I couldn’t even sleep when he did, because I had such bad anxiety. Trying to recover from a c-section and care for a newborn, dealing with my mother’s death, and just generally worrying about how I was going to adapt to it all, really took a toll on me. I frequently felt sort of out of my mind, and yes-I was suffering from a little depression as a result of it all. And just as swiftly as it all hit me, it all lifted, on the day he turned one month old. I’m not sure what was responsible for the flipped switch, but I am incredibly grateful to be feeling like myself again, happy, much more rested, and able to more freely enjoy the experience.

It got me thinking about the messages that we’re sent about parenthood, and what to expect. I got the impression that sure, I would be sleepy, but life would be so lovely with a new baby, all mushiness and love. And while there were those moments, there were more frequently really difficult ones. I would cry uncontrollably in response to a simple inquiry of “How’s it going?” And no one ever talks about those things, which then makes you feel like there is something wrong with you. I started to feel like a bad parent for feeling like that, for wishing at times that I had my independence back (or even just a free pair of hands), that I could have even one more night of uninterrupted sleep.

Once I started feeling normal again, I felt more comfortable coming clean about these feelings. As I talked to other moms, I began to hear a lot of my statements echoed in their own stories. So many people said that they experienced the same thing, and that those who had multiple children recalled feeling incredible anxiety when they became pregnant with their second child, unsure if they could do it again. So, the lesson in all of this becomes: talk about it. We as women need to share our stories with one another, support each other, validate what others are feeling. Because if we don’t, we continue to perpetuate feelings of isolation, shame and guilt. Women need to know that they aren’t alone in those feelings, that it’s OK to ask for help. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you normal. Healthy, happy babies need healthy, happy parents, and that’s ultimately what we all want for our families.

I’m amazed everyday at how much easier it gets-how we just adapt to this tiny (yet huge) little person in our lives. I look at Dempsey, watch the way he changes each day, see him growing and developing and becoming his own little person, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be his mom. Even more so, I’m grateful for the support of everyone in my life that supported and encouraged me in those first few weeks-it lifted me up at a time when I needed it most.

“It’s cancer.”

There sat my mom, on her hospital bed, digging through that overstuffed purse of hers. After two weeks of having a hard time breathing, she was admitted to the hospital. That morning, she had a bronchoscopy, which revealed a tumor in the airway leading to her left lung. I had just walked into the room to see her, and out it comes, very first thing. “It’s bad. It’s cancer.” Like she was saying something as simple as, “It’s Monday” or “It’s so nice out.” Matter of fact. No tears, no real discernable fear, just those three words. Even though I had been steeling myself for this all morning (and really, for the past few days), it made me dizzy. In typical Patti fashion, we were being no-frills about this. “I’m just going to fight this as hard as I can, and that’s it.” Back to digging through her bag. I looked at my dad, who was looking at me, presumably trying to gauge my reaction. Nodded my head. I went into the bathroom and cried, grateful for the loud fan that was muffling the noise. It struck me as almost laughable that after quitting smoking nearly five weeks ago, this is happening now. What horrible luck. Now can’t be the time to ruminate on such things, though. My parents need as much of their stress absorbed as possible, I have three younger sibling that, while adults, I feel the need to support and guide through all this, and everything is about to get busy. And difficult. Maybe it’s the nurse in me kicking in, to help me refocus my energy from fear, to action.

I went back out, and I asked my parents if I could tell Kate when I met her in the lobby, and they agreed, so I went down to wait for her. The anxiety that surrounds having to tell someone such a horrible thing is unbearable, but I was glad to shoulder that burden for my mom, maybe it would make it a bit easier for her. I can imagine that when you’re scared and still processing information yourself, sharing it with others is probably nearly impossible.

Katie came, and I asked her to sit down. I explained the events of the past few days, and told her that our mother had lung cancer. She stared for a minute, and then began to cry into her hands, her tears sneaking through her fingers and dripping onto her pant legs. In that moment, my heart hurt, because I saw her as she was at nine or ten, not as she is now. We went together back to my mother’s room, and I think being able to see her, and see what great spirits she was in made her feel better. The four of us had a good afternoon together. My dad stayed the night at my house, and all night I slept fitfully, constantly listening for his horrible snoring, to know that he was actually asleep, and not up worrying.

My mom is back home now, and despite the addition of oxygen, is getting back to her regular routine. She will find out next week where she’s at in terms of staging, and her treatment options. It’s difficult to wait, but there’s also an odd comfort in at least knowing why she hasn’t felt well. I’m not sure what the road ahead will look like, but I do know that this illness has one hell of a fight to come up against, in my mother and the medical team she has in her corner.

And if you could offer up a kind thought, good energy, a prayer, whatever it is in your heart, it would be greatly appreciated.