Thursday, May 15, 2014

LTYM Wrap Up: The Truth Will Set You Free

For me, the early years of motherhood were isolating.  Being a stay-at-home mom definitely attributed to my feelings of isolation, but adding to that was Marie’s scary medical condition that I didn’t’ really understand.  My mind was clouded, which I thought was my new normal.  Turns out, I was probably suffering from PPD with a pinch of PTSD.

And I said nothing. 

I took a shower every day, put on my makeup, and then pretended that everything was fine. 

For eight years, I harbored feelings of guilt and confusion and self-hatred.

Until I let it all out at Listen to Your Mother in front of almost 300 plus people.

Speaking my truth was such a powerful experience; I’m still having a hard time putting it in words.  It felt exhilarating to go up there and share my story, but it was scary to feel that exposed.

Listen to Your Mother Metro Detroit Mommy on the Spot Erin Janda Rawlings
Here is my exhilarated/scared face.

But most of all, I felt freedom - freedom from carrying this burden around with me.  I could almost see the energy of those words swirl up and out of me.

The freedom cracked me wide open.  In that space where guilt and fear dwelled, there is now room for positivity and light.  I am not afraid anymore.  I let go of fear – fear of being judged, fear of not being enough – and invited acceptance and peace.

Thank you again, Angela, Jessica, and Angela for this incredible opportunity, and thank you, Ann Imig, for creating a space where mothers can feel connected and support each other.  It has changed my life.

Here is the piece I read at Listen to Your Mother:

I held my breath, sharp and heavy in my chest.  My daughter sat calmly in my lap on the examining table, and I could feel her body, soft and delicate from low muscle tone.  The neurosurgeon reached for the dreaded measuring tape to measure the circumference of her head.  

 Every time I saw that measuring tape, I could feel the bile churning in my stomach.  We had been coming to this office for the better part of my daughter’s short life, all of eighteen months, and this appointment would determine whether or not she would need to continue under the care of a neurosurgeon or if she would be discharged.  I could feel the anxiety prickling my skin, but I clenched my jaw and focused on my daughter so she couldn’t sense that I was worrying.  My gaze was fixed on her head and then darted to the doctor’s stoic face; I searched for a clue - a grimace, a smile – anything that would reveal our fate. 

“Mrs. Rawlings,” he said indifferently, “based on the MRI and that her head growth has followed the same curve, your daughter no longer needs to be seen by me.” 

I exhaled for the first time in over a year.  I tried to wrap my mind around this closure, but the whole experience just seemed surreal. 

I never thought my journey into motherhood would include a side trip into a neurosurgeon’s office.  Just over a year and a half ago, I left my job as a junior high teacher (or fled, as some people might say, some people being me).  I was ready to experience my perfect natural birth plan perfectly.  I was ready to dive into my new role as a stay-at-home mom with all my lovely expectations of bliss.

But that did not happen.  I had an unplanned C-section and a baby born with a mysterious condition called macrocephaly, which is a medical term for a big head.  While I lay on the operating table, the doctor uttered, “Uh, do not be alarmed, but your daughter’s head is shaped like a banana since it was too big to fit through the birth canal.” 

What?!  Not be alarmed?!  If I wasn’t so drugged up on pain meds and exhausted from fifteen hours of labor, I might have had a more verbal reaction.  But I felt defeated.  This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go.  I come from a long line of perfectionists, and this, quite frankly, was unacceptable. 

As a perfectionist, I labored under the allusion that I could take command over my world.  When I wanted to accomplish something, I would zealously research the best path, follow each step precisely, and reach my goal.   

I approached life as a sailor charting her course; with the right map, I could get anywhere without fail. When I pulled my boat into the dock after successfully arriving at my destination, I felt invincible.  I was in control. 

Yet nothing made me feel more out of control than a failed birth plan and a baby with a scary medical condition.  Navigating through the medical and special needs systems was not my plan.  In my daughter’s first year of life, terms like hydrocephaly, shunts, and cerebral palsy were thrown around during her numerous doctor and physical therapy appointments.   

The responsibility of shepherding this precious little being through a situation I knew nothing about made my stomach and chest hot with anxiety.  I held my breath for the next eighteen months.I could feel myself cracking under the pressure.  Not only was I scared about her prognosis, but I was exhausted and distressed; my reality looked nothing like my fantasy, and in my book, that made me a complete failure. 

In these dark moments, I knew I had two choices: sink into darkness.  Or put my feelings on the shelf so I could focus on making sure my baby received the help she needed. 

It didn’t seem like much of a choice. 

So it began, a shift that happened with one little choice – to be present.This was difficult since being present meant I could not wade around in my worries; yet all I wanted to do was let go, jump in, and drown in the sea of my anxieties, but who would sail the ship safely to shore?I dutifully stayed at the helm, white-knuckling it the whole way. 

That day my daughter was released from her neurosurgeon, I wept.  Her ship was now safely docked.  The fear that I suppressed worked its way up, and I let out a loud wail from deep down in my belly.  I became unglued. 

I reached out to my therapist and made an emergency appointment for the next day.  There wasn’t much accomplished during those early visits, but eventually I began to work through the guilt that I did not enjoy my first year of motherhood.  I felt like a horrible mom.  I mean, who says that?!  Who says she did not enjoy her first year of motherhood?! 

I began to drift, my boat bouncing in the thrashing seas as waves of self-doubt and self-hatred overcame me.  How could I fail at creating my utopian version of motherhood?  How could I fail this perfect, little person as her life was just beginning? What I eventually would begin to learn is that ego and its expectations are what present the conflict of a peaceful life.  Once the ego lets go, reality can be accepted.

Luckily, I had little ego left.  It pretty much went out the window during the birthing process and nursing and being pooped on and spit up on.  But obviously, the shred of ego that was left was hanging of for dear life of that perfect picture of motherhood. 

With the same grit and focus I used to deliver my daughter safely through her struggles, I steered my own ship through the choppy waters. 

It was not easy to give up control of charting the flawless course, and it was not easy to accept anything less than my ideal vision.  But releasing control and perfection and dwelling in the moment offered a glorious freedom that I had never before experienced.

It changed me – I am now closer to the person I always hoped to be – kinder, more compassionate, less anxious. 

In the chaos of the unexpected hurdles of motherhood, there is a gift that lies on the other end of the struggles — the knowledge that the power of presence is a far better focus than the elusive quest for perfection. 


New York Mama said...

This is so eloquent, beautiful, & beautifully written!
<3 <3 <3

Angela Youngblood said...

You did such a great job in the show. Thank you for being a part of it. I am so happy that you feel free!

Erin Janda Rawlings said...

Thank you, New York Mama!

Erin Janda Rawlings said...

Thank you, Angela!