the winding road to postpartum depression

You never really pay attention to the signs, even when they’re staring you in the face. Carlos kept asking me what was wrong. I could feel my mom tiptoeing around me, always around the corner making sure I was never left alone with the girls for too long. My dad made sure to make himself scarce to avoid my wrath. And my poor baby girls got a shadow of my normal self.

Postpartum depression hit me hard. I didn’t notice it right after Catalina was born, it could be because my sister came from Holland and I was distracted, or maybe it was something that developed later on. All I know is that in the beginning of May I started secluding myself. I hid in the bedroom under the guise that I was breastfeeding the baby but really I just wanted to be alone. I couldn’t handle leaving the house unless it was absolutely necessary, and even then every outing was full of anxiety and self doubt.

I couldn’t bring myself to take a shower because the water on my skin felt like knives. I wanted to eat any and every thing I could get my hands on. No amount of sleep was enough and so I just wanted to be in bed all day hiding, trying to sleep while Catalina slept. I couldn’t be bothered to cook or clean, let alone keep up with my own personal hygiene.

I kept apologizing to Carlos. I kept telling him I would get better eventually. I kept telling him how much I loved him and our girls but I just wasn’t myself…and I didn’t know how to get back there. And my husband lovingly replied that there was no need to apologize and reminded me that adjusting to a new person in our family was going to take it’s time.

Finally, my mom sat me down and told me I needed help. Not just help around the house but professional medical help. I broke down crying because I knew it was true. I knew that this wasn’t going to go away on it’s own. A few days later I was seeing a psychiatrist who sat down with me and after listening to me cry, rant, and rave for what felt like forever prescribed me an SSRI and told me to come back to her in ten days.

Here I am, about six weeks later and I finally feel back to normal. Taking  a shower isn’t torture, I’m working out and eating right, and most importantly, I’m able to be present when interacting with my family. I feel free.

To all my fellow mothers out there, please do not be afraid to ask for help. Do not be ashamed or bound by the stigma society has placed on depression/mental health. Finding help makes you strong and honestly will give your children just another reason to look up to you.

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What I wish I knew…

I always find that around this time of year my social media timelines are full of an array of engagement and pregnancy announcements.

As Christmas and New Years came and went I patiently waited for my Facebook friends to start boasting about their new life adventures and it made me start thinking about where I was when I got engaged/married/pregnant. What I wish I would’ve known before hand and what I wish people knew that isn’t shown in Instagram posts and vague Facebook statuses.

  • Marriage isn’t work. It’s a choice. If you go into your marriage thinking something along these lines, “Uhhhh…I don’t really want to do this. Not sure if I want to be here. Well, if it doesn’t work I can always quit later on.” Then you probably shouldn’t be getting married to that person. Your marriage is a choice, not a chore. You chose this person. You need to choose them more than just one day in your lifetime, but every day.
  • Marriage isn’t 50/50. It’s 100%. It’s easy to say marriage is 50/50. But it really isn’t. It wasn’t until I wasn’t able to give 100% of myself in my marriage that I realized that my husband gives me 100% of himself. Without complaint and without anger, but rather with total compassion and understanding does he pick up when I fall. And the days when he can’t give 100% of himself to our marriage, I pick up where he can’t. If each of you is only giving 50%, it will seem like work when you have to pick up for your partner. Or you’ll constantly be thinking, “Well, I wash dishes and pick up the dry cleaning. What do YOU do?” That’s not a healthy mindset for your marriage. And for the days when neither of you can give much to the stresses of daily life, say “Screw it!”, order takeout, and watch Netflix all night.
  • No one is obligated to love your kid except YOU. I’ve had trouble truly accepting this. I’ve had issues with my in-laws and how I don’t feel they treat my kid the same way they treat the other babies in the family her age. Sure, it could be because of the distance, but that doesn’t take away from how much it angers me  when I see that they regard her with apathy as opposed to the love and kindness she deserves. But it makes me all the more aware and grateful for my parents that think the sun shines out of my kids butt.
  • Stop comparing your partner to other people. Seriously. Don’t do it. Just because someone posts the amazing things they do/their spouse does all over social media doesn’t mean that they’re happy or that their husband is any better/worse than yours. Your husband may not buy you flowers or expensive jewelry, but does he help you wash dishes, do laundry, help with groceries and dinner? Yeah, I’d pick that over dead flowers any day. And even if he doesn’t, I’m sure that comparing him to others isn’t going to make YOU or your marriage any happier.

It’s not a long list but I know that these are things I wish I knew before I entered my marriage/parenthood.

Feel free to share any advice you may have for those about to get married or become parents!

Happy Birthday PJ!

I can’t believe my baby is two years old. I know that every mother looks at their child and wonders where the time went. It feels like just yesterday Carlos and I were bringing her home from the hospital.

But here we are…two years later. So much has changed and yet everything is still the same.

Our days are just as busy as ever, having moved from two hour feeding schedules and nap times that never lasted long enough to rolling over, tummy time, standing, crawling, and now running and jumping in muddy puddles. I can still remember her newborn cries and it surprises me how her cries have changed so much since then. When she was first born she looked so much like Carlos but now she looks like neither of us. She’s her own person with her own distinct voice, traits, and views of the world.

It’s crazy how much has changed in the four~ days since she turned two, as if a switch turned on internally alerting her personality of the “terrible twos.” She started doing this fake cough/cry mix when she wants something where she slyly opens her eyes to see if I’m buying her crocodile tears. Or how about she used to be so good about telling us when she was done eating but now would rather throw everything onto the floor, climb out of her high chair and try to jump off?

Would you believe me if I said that I love this stage though? I love seeing her personality shine through. I love how she laughs at things she finds funny, how fiercely independent she is/wants to be, how fearless she is, and especially how she shows her love. Every time I see her face light up when she sees me, every unprovoked hug or kiss, or even when we’re watching tv and she holds my fingers, those tiny moments make my heart swell and it’s as if I’m seeing her for the first time all over again.

No pictures please.
No pictures please.

This little girl has completely changed my life. I always thought I knew what unconditional love was and that I was the type of person to lay my life down for someone I cared about but nothing prepared me for motherhood. Giving birth to her was the first step in learning the true meanings of grace, patience, love, and kindness. And there are days when I feel like a total failure and have to constantly remind myself that I’m doing the best I can and I wouldn’t change this job for the world.

Happy Birthday to my Dove, my guiding light and peace.

Hospital Blues: My Week of Unwanted Mommy ‘Vacation’

The past week has been a total whirlwind. I don’t know where to start.

I’m pretty sure I mentioned a few posts ago that Paloma caught a bit of pink eye and I thought it had rubbed off on me. After about a week of eye pain, I went to the eye doctor in my town to get it checked out. After a quick but thorough exam, the opthamologist sat me down and told me I had what she thought was optic niuritis and should head to the ER right away.

I honestly thought she was exaggerating but decided to just heed her advice and get rechecked just incase. Carlos and I left the baby with my parents, we made dinner plans and thought we would be home by bed time. No big deal, right?

Wrong. Within two hours I was checked in and on a corticosteroid drip to ease the tension on my optic nerve and a team of doctors checking me on all fronts. The first doctor told me I should expect to stay at least three days. The next doctor told me five. And the next one told me seven. I was a wreck.

I remember looking at them and saying, “No, I’m sorry you’re wrong. I have a two year old at home I need to get back to. You’re going to have to find a way to fix me in the next few hours.” I realize now how dumb it is for me to have thought that but in that moment my only thought was PJ.

The doctors started spouting medical mumbo jumbo at me; optic niuritis is a condition that happens when the optic nerve becomes inflamed. It can cause temporary partial blindness and intense pain. And at its worst it is commonly seen as a precursor to multiple sclerosis.

Hearing that I was stunned. How did we go to an inflamed optic nerve to MS? I’m 25. I’m generally healthy. I exercise, I try to eat right, and I’ve lost a lot of weight. I swore the doctor was joking but considering his next plan of action was a lumbar puncture I was pretty sure this was pretty serious to them.

After several painful attempts at collecting the spinal fluid, the doctors had everything they would need to run their tests. Our main job would be to sit and wait. Sit…and wait.

I spent most of my days telling Carlos to stay home so that PJ wouldn’t really notice my missing. The ladies I shared a room with would pity me, whisper things like, “I can’t believe they would just leave her alone like this. Poor girl.” But of course my main priority was making sure PJ was okay. I would try to FaceTime as much as I could just to see her laugh and play but it would kill me.

Can I point out that you never actually realize how fast your kid grows until you’re forced to NOT be there? I came home and this kid was running and jumping and saying things like “NO!” and putting her toys away before bed on her own. Crazy how much kids grow in just a week…

I’ll spare you the boring details but just know that the tests all said I had a massive inflammation of the optic nerve which caused my temporary loss of vision (duh) and that I tested NEGATIVE for MS. I can’t tell you the immense weight that was lifted off my shoulders when I heard that. The doctors feel positive with how I responded to the medication and are planning on keeping me on the steroids for a bit along with biannual check ups with the neurologist.

I’m feeling pretty rough on the meds and the after affects of the lumbar puncture but obviously happy to have my vision back and a relatively clean bill of health.

But moments like this always bring on the awareness of ones mortality, don’t they? I started freaking out picturing what my marriage would look like in the future, my daughter having a ‘disabled’ mother, a diminished quality of life for all of us. Then you feel guilty for thinking things like that, knowing that you are one of those people that always thought it happened to other people but never to you.

I’m feeling blessed/lucky right now that everything turned out the way it did though. It really made me think and reevaluate how I’m living my life, how I want the rest of my life to turn out. I need to start focusing on the future. Set goals and try to make them happen.

Change is coming. I don’t know who, what, where, or when. But I know that I need to shape up.

it’s the little moments

Every day that passes I am in awe of how much PJ has grown. Whenever I close my eyes, I still see her as the tiny bundle we brought home from the hospital. I still hear her newborn yawns in my sleep. And when I try to get an unwanted hug in, I can still smell her newborn smell on the back of her neck.

A few days ago Carlos and I were discussing second birthday plans. I was rattling off about Care Bears versus Lady Bug themed parties for CAIF when he stopped me and told me to look at PJ. She was sitting on the floor in the living room just rambling in her own language playing with her Cinderella doll and this pink cat I’ve had since I was a kid. When she noticed our silence she looked at us, smiled and ran over to give us each a kiss.

This past week we were on Netflix and she saw the Curious George icon and started pointing at it and said, “ooo ooo oooo!” (that’s my way of writing monkey noise). It made me beam hearing her tell me that she wanted the monkey as opposed to her normal jelly flop and tears routine.

Last week she started eating with a spoon by herself. It’s something we had been working on for months but just one afternoon at CAIF and watching her friend Micaela eat with a spoon and now she’s a pro. She even offers us some of her food if we’re not eating at the exact moment she is.

It’s in these small moments that it truly dawns on me that my child is not going to be a baby forever. She will one day converse in full sentences, be able to serve her own food, use the bathroom by herself, and even go out on her own. Eventually she will be a full fledged adult and not NEED me anymore. I know that this is what growing up is, this is what being a parent is. She will always be my baby though.

At the end of the day when my husband and I are in bed talking about what cute thing Paloma did while we were alone with her we look at each other and know that moving to Uruguay was the best decision. We get to be here for her 24/7. We’re the ones that are able to raise her, attend to her, and love her. We talk about where would we be had we stayed in Miami and know deep down that she wouldn’t be the same effervescent and lively tiny human she is today.

I’m so thankful for the life we are building and all the blessings that God has given us.

i’ve got the blues

I haven’t written in a couple of weeks due to some personal issues. I’ve debated writing on the subject, afraid of being too honest in such a public forum. 

I’ve been going through an inexplicable wave of depression for the past few weeks. All I’ve wanted to do is stay in bed, watch Supernatural, and sleep. 

At first I thought it was due to the impending arrival of Aunt Flo, but after her usual visit I’m still feeling blue. Then I figured it might be due to the wet weather we’ve been having but on sunny days I feel just as down. 

I suffered from depression as a teenager. I went to several therapists, was put on multiple mood altering medications, suffered from the effects of said drugs, and eventually quit it all. I blocked a lot of that time in my life from my memory. I couldn’t tell you why I started going to therapy to begin with even if I wanted to, but I can tell you that it wasn’t something I had to deal with often after I graduated from high school. 

It wasn’t until recently that I started feeling it weigh on me. There hasn’t been a major catalyst in these feelings. Carlos and I haven’t been arguing. Things with my parents are normal. Vanessa and I are good even with the distance. Paloma has just been her usual vivacious and loud self. But somehow I can’t find a way to get through this period.

I keep getting asked, “Are you okay? You don’t seem okay.” Those are the questions that make my skin tingle, my blood boil, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s a ridiculous reason to get upset. They mean well. They’re my family and they love me. However when I’m in this dense fog of depression it’s difficult to see their good intentions. 

The worst part of feeling this way is how I feel when I’m around Paloma. My patience is thin and my temper is roaring. The more frustrated I get, the clingier and more emotional she is, causing me to get even more frustrated than before. I’m beyond blessed to be in a situation that I can leave her with my parents of her dad for a few hours so I can take time to collect myself. It breaks my heart every time I walk away, hearing her cry and reach out to me. But I know that I need to take a few moments to myself so I can be the best mom I can be to her. 

Even knowing that those few moments are what’s best for BOTH of us, I still get hit with mom guilt if I’m not with her 24 hours a day. I feel inadequate as a mom. I see these YouTube vloggers or other bloggers sharing their stories of their life with their littles and I feel like being depressed is something that just doesn’t happen to them. I feel as  if they’re constantly smiling, doing cute activities with their littles and their lives are peachy. I know, logically, that it isn’t true. Logically, all kids throw tantrums. Logically, all moms lose their cool. Logically, not everyone has everything together. Again…logically. 

Depression isn’t logical though. It has no rhyme or reason other than a chemical imbalance. I’ve been debating going to a therapist but finding one that speaks English is going to be difficult. I could attempt to see one but I feel like most of the sessions would be spent trying to make our way through my nervous and broken Spanish. 

I often wonder if this is what postpartum depression feels like. Drowning in a glass of water, feeling completely alone and misunderstood. The more you try to explain the more people look at you with concerning eyes that are secretly saying, “Bless her heart. She has everything she could ever want and she’s here complaining.” Fearful of the backlash of sharing this very real crisis.

These are things that I FEEL. Having them, let alone sharing them, doesn’t make me dysfunctional. It doesn’t make me spoiled or flawed. I am many things: a mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, but most of all I am human. Like most things in life, my emotions go through hills and valleys. I just so happen to be going through a valley right now. I look forward to the day when I’m back on the hill. I’ll be okay if it’s not today or tomorrow because I know that one day I’ll feel like myself again. 

Somewhere in the middle: My cultural identity

A couple of weeks ago Carlos and I were invited to a dinner party thrown by the gallery owner Carlos is set to show at in October. A small get together to meet up and coming artists in Montevideo along with local art buyers. I’ve been to a few things like this back in Miami, always the same pretentious art talk being thrown around, where I normally spend half the night trying not to throw up from all the bullshit. 

But this time, there was something different. Very early on the group divided between the art buyers and the art makers, those of us falling into neither category floating in the middle. Right at the beginning we met Juan, a Cuban artist that married a Uruguayan and has been living in Montevideo for a little over a year, and Nathalia, a psychology student from the department of Artigas living in Montevideo for over 11 years. In true man fashion Carlos and Juan pulled out their phones and started showing each other pictures of their work, leaving Nathalia and I to “ooh” and “aah” at every picture. Shortly there after we noticed that Juan did not have a typical Uruguayan accent leaving us to ask, “Where are you from?” Cuba. I quickly got excited telling him that my parents are Cuban including the towns they hail from but not before he asked, “Were you born in Cuba?” “Well no,” I responded. “I was born in Miami.” Juan, very politely, responded with, “Bueno entonces no eres cubana, tus padres si, pero tu eres estadounidiense.” (translating to: So then you’re not Cuban, you’re from the United States.)

My husband looked at me, waiting to see how I would respond, knowing that hearing that stung. I wish I could say that was the first time I had heard it. He’s not wrong in saying that I am in fact not Cuban but American. but as with everyone else who has told me that it was as if I was hearing, “You aren’t worthy of identifying yourself as Cuban. You are not one of us.” 

Growing up in Miami you would expect the melting pot of Hispanic ethnicities to create a warm and welcoming environment. The idea that they’ve all immigrated to the United States in search for a better life would bring them together. But it never really worked out like that. I grew up in an environment that divided Cubans from everyone else. Miami Cubans—and yes I am generalizing here—overall had this air about them that because Miami is known to be a Little Havana, that Cubans are THE best and all others are second class citizens. 

But I remember growing up and while I identified as a Cuban-American I never really fit in with the Cubans in school. I hadn’t immigrated to the States and while I may have spoken Spanish at home it wasn’t as if I was fluent. You would think that I would have found a place with other Cuban-Americans or Hispanic-Americans going through the same plight but I just didn’t. I didn’t listen to salsa or reggaeton, I didn’t watch Sabado Gigante or telenovelas on weeknights, and I didn’t go to loud family get togethers on Sunday afternoons. 

Then there were the American kids telling me that I was too brown to be their friend. That I wasn’t American enough to be American. “You came to this country for the ‘American dream’ well you’re not welcome here go back to your people.”

I spent most of my youth listening to bands like N’SYNC or the Backstreet Boys. I watched T.G.I.F. religiously and read Judy Blume books. Even when I did manage to build my tribe from 6th to 12th grade I didn’t have the same Hispanic experiences as them. Their parents made their culture known but apart from delicious Cuban food and my parents speaking in Spanish to each other, it wasn’t something that was common for me. My friends spent their summers in Cuba or Nicaragua, they only spoke to their families in Spanish, and they strongly identified as whatever their nationality is.

But me? I didn’t know what to identify as. I come from a blue-collar family. My dad worked three and four jobs at a time while my mom worked a steady 9-5 with good benefits but lacking in decent pay. We wore used clothing, had used toys, and my sister and I were constantly reminded that we needed to be better than our parents. I don’t feel like this struggle is a Cuban struggle or an American struggle because this is a human struggle; making ends meet, putting food on the table and providing for loved ones. At home we listened to oldies and classic rock. We watched English programs and my mom was active in my school work. If you asked me who Justin Timberlake was dating I could tell you Britney Spears in two seconds flat but ask me about whatever popular hispanic power couple and I would be as quiet as a country mouse.

It wasn’t until I met my husband that I had found someone other than my sister that felt the way I did. He was born in Nicaragua but raised in the States. When we go to Nicaragua they don’t consider him one of them, rather he’s a “gringo.” But if you ask any American if my naturalized husband is American they make it a point to differentiate themselves from him. 

The easy way to deal with this is to say, “I identify myself as a human. I have no cultural patrimony.” But that’s far from realistic. I think for right now I am comfortable knowing that I’m currently in-between cultural identities. My parents are Cuban, each with their own eclectic cultural backstory, I was born and raised in Miami but now I live in Uruguay. There are parts of each currently embedded in who I am and how I interact with others. I hope that one day I can figure it out, that I can give an answer that can please myself and not offend others. 

I’m thankful that I can have so many cultural influences, and that while my daughter may come across the same issues, that she will be proud of where she comes from.