The Other Side

My beautiful babies —

There are few sort of “side note” letters about various topics I’m hoping to write for you as I have time, and now seems like a good occasion for one of them. Today, Alex & Charlie ran their first race with me. I chose this particular race not only because it was super kid-friendly (pumpkin decorating! cookies! face painting! moon bounce! rock climbing wall! LOL), but also because it was put on for a cause that has become very near & dear to my heart since I became a mother… postpartum mental illness. The beautiful mother who this race is in honor of tragically lost her battle with this illness, leaving behind her husband and three young children. I was especially touched by her story because, frankly, that could have easily been me.

Postpartum depression, anxiety, and/or psychosis (for the sake of my typing fingers I’m going to say PPD from this point out) affects 1 in 5 new mothers as of when I’m writing this letter (I hope & pray the statistics are better by the time you read this). There are a number of factors involved in how & why this happens (physical as well as environmental), but I believe that the extraordinary pressure women of my generation, especially mothers, put on themselves to “have it all” and do everything Pinterest-perfectly by the book is a huge factor. The ridiculous lack of postpartum support in this country has a lot to do with it too. But the fact is that PPD can happen to any new mother within the first few years of their child’s life, no matter what their circumstances are. I think I’m a pretty good example of that.

PPD nearly broke me. Well, the truth is that is DID break me– several times really, starting from when Alex was a newborn. It began as mood swings and anxiety, which I chalked up to hormones and exhaustion. Over time it became more severe. I was crying all day and awake with anxious thoughts all night. I kept telling myself that I needed to “snap out of it,” that this is how parenthood was and I was being weak. Those thoughts eventually lead to me thinking that I wasn’t fit to be a mother. That you three deserved better. That you would be better off without me. You can probably imagine where those sorts of thoughts lead to. 😦

I am blessed to have Dad, who saw what was happening & helped me put the pieces back together every time I fell apart. He is the one who dealt with me in my darkest days and weakest moments, even when that meant that I treated him poorly, or I was too broken to function through normal daily life. He is the one who wrestled the phone from my hands so that he could call the suicide prevention hotline while I sobbed and begged him not to because “I’m NOT crazy!” and I was convinced that such a phone call would brand me with that label, get me “drugged up,” separated from my babies or worse. He is the one who was eventually able to push me into seeking help from my doctors, friends and family. And of course, he is the one who has been an amazing partner and father to you three from the moment I showed him our first positive pregnancy test. And with each new baby he’s gotten more & more awesome at it.

I am blessed to have your grandparents, who did not hesitate to help when I finally started to ask for it. It took me awhile to get to that point because the anxiety made me feel like I needed to do everything myself, even though that mentality was drowning me. We’ve since set up a system of regular support in the form of your monthly grandparent visits– raising you three without any family or close friends to rely on nearby makes dealing with PPD that much more difficult, and frankly those regular stretches of time alone to “recharge” have become key to my sanity.

I am blessed with a multitude of “mom friends,” both online and locally, who understand my situation and are always available for words of advice, support, and empathy… when I have the courage to reach out to them. I didn’t for a long time, you see, because I didn’t want to look weak. I didn’t want to appear “abnormal” or “less-than” and ESPECIALLY not “crazy.” So for a long time, only a few people knew I had PPD, and even fewer knew the full depths of what exactly I was going through. With time and many conversations with these friends I’ve come to learn, as I mentioned before, that PPD is a lot more common than most realize. I’m not alone in this fight, and that knowledge in & of itself has put me in a much better place.

I am blessed to have access to medical care, although it did take a great deal of phone calls and independent research to figure out what I needed and where to go to get it, which is unfortunate to say the least. And I didn’t even get to the point of admitting that I needed that kind of help until Charlie was over 6 months old, so by the time I finally started receiving medical care for my PPD it had gone untreated for almost 2 years. Nevertheless, I still consider myself more fortunate than many others in my situation.

Even with all that, I broke time & time again. It’s still a very precarious balance, a fight against the darkness that even now is always in the forefront of my mind. And even when I’m past this “baby stage,” past the hardest part as far as PPD goes, I think it will always be at least a small part of who I am.

So why am I telling you all this? Why did I want to write you a separate letter about it? Well, above all else it’s because these letters are part of our family’s story. I promised in the beginning to share with you how raising you was from my perspective, and this is a big part of it… even though it’s not sunshine & rainbows & cute baby pictures. I also wanted to tell you about my PPD experience because if you ever become parents yourselves someday, I want you to know that this is something that can happen, and it’s not such a crazy, weird thing. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. And should this happen to you or someone you love some day, I hope this letter can help you recognize it for what it is, and seek help accordingly.

I also wanted to use this letter as an opportunity to let you guys know that it had nothing to do with you and everything to do with me, my body, and my particular set of circumstances. And above all else, I have no regrets as far as becoming a parent goes. I’d go through it all again in a heartbeat to have you three. I know I say this in my letters a lot, but you guys truly are the lights of my life. Despite its challenges, I have no doubt that I was put on this planet to be your mother. And I thank God everyday for it.

All my love,
Mom

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Bows Before Bros

Dear Emma,

How quickly your first year is flying by! You’re just shy of 7 months old now. So much has changed these past few months since I last wrote, yet so much has stayed the same. You did eventually get a helmet to help address the skull asymmetry caused by your torticollis, as well as starting physical therapy to help stretch & strengthen your neck muscles. The helmet isn’t exactly the cutest baby accessory out there, but we’re making it work. 😉 Part of being the first girl after two boys is that you end up getting dolled up quite a bit!

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You’ve also started eating solid foods– no teeth yet, so just soft foods so far. I haven’t pushed this as hard as I did with Alex & Charlie… maybe because you’re my last, maybe because I haven’t had the time/energy to deal with it as much as I did with the boys. But you do seem to enjoy most of what you’ve had so far…  except green beans. You put those in the “hell no” category!

Also in that particular category is dairy. You’re still on a dairy-free formula because the consequences were disastrous when we tried to switch you. We also let you try some cheese (on pizza) recently, with even more disastrous consequences. :-\ So I feel pretty certain in saying you’re lactose-intolerant, much like Alex & Dad.

Milestone-wise there have been lots of changes & developments too…. you’re starting to sit independently, just for a few seconds at a time. You have been able to roll back to tummy as well as tummy to back. And oh my, can you babble! You LOVE to “talk” to yourself and to anyone else willing to listen. Wonder who you get that from? 😉 You’re able to hold things and enjoy toys more these days, but your favorite things to play with are still (1) your feet and (2) your brothers.

What hasn’t changed: you’re still large & in charge. At your 6 month checkup, the pediatrician said your height, weight & head size were that of an average 10 month old. =-0 Another constant is your happy-go-lucky attitude. You have a smile for just about everyone and are a generally content baby, only fussing when you’re hungry, tired or sick. You recently went through a pretty long & crazy bout of illness that involved croup, a double ear infection, pink eye, and general cold symptoms all taking place over the course of 2 weeks…. and even through all that, you were a trooper!

Thank goodness you’re still a wonderful sleeper as well. You go to bed around 6 and sleep until 7ish, sometimes waking up for a quick bottle around 5ish/sometimes not. And you always, always greet us with a big smile first thing each morning. It’s my favorite way to start the day. 🙂 Life with three little ones gets pretty hectic, but Dad & I have been working hard on making sure you each get some one-on-one time with us. For you & I this is usually bedtime. I look forward to it all day– a bottle, stories, & cuddles with just the two of us.  I also usually take some of that time to catch up on current events while I hold you until you fall asleep (thanks YouTube). I’m trying to soak in every little bit of baby-ness that I can!

And I know Dad feels the same way. You are such a joy to all of us. 🙂 It’s only been 7 months but it already feels like you’ve always been here– the icing on the 5 layer cake of our family. We love you so very much!

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All my love,
Mom

The Adventures of Alex

Dear Alex,

Where did my baby go? I think this constantly, just about every time I look at you. You’ve grown into the most kind, creative, brilliant little boy I’ve ever known (perhaps I’m biased…). We’re getting to the point in your childhood where I genuinely enjoy conversations with you, as you always have an interesting perspective to share. Seeing the world through your eyes really does brighten my day & ultimately make me a better person, as cheesy as that sounds. In you Dad & I are starting to reap the benefits of our efforts as parents, and I know it’s just the beginning. I’m so excited what the future holds for you & what you choose to do with your life as you grow. 🙂

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I do see more of the Pacheco in you– as I’ve mentioned before, you are very sensitive. You can have a bit of a temper at times, and most often it’s directed at yourself. I’ve never met such a self-critical, perfectionist child before. You’re also extremely smart, creative and artistically talented, which you get from Dad & Nana. You have a steel-trap memory and impeccable attention to detail. Nothing gets by you these days! All of this has lead to you discovering the concept of dishonesty and “tall tales,” much to my dismay. We are working really hard on that with you right now.

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You started your second year of Pre-K at a new preschool this year, which you’ve really been enjoying. Honestly I think you’re more than ready for kindergarten (you know SO MUCH and are very close to reading/writing independently already!), but since you have a January birthday you’ll have to wait until you’re almost 6 to start. And that’s fine– you have many, many years of school ahead of you & a limited amount of time to just enjoy being a kid. 🙂

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That said, I do see that you have a maturity about you that other kids your age don’t have. You are extremely thoughtful/empathetic and do what you can to help take care of the people you love. Your teachers and classmates adore you (and Lord help me, you’ve already received a marriage proposal. LOL). You’re an attentive and helpful big brother, especially with Emma. You & Charlie are typical brothers who fight hard, love hard and play harder. 😉 Both of them adore you as well, and are incredibly lucky to have you to look up to.

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Dad & I are pretty lucky too. 🙂 We love you so much, and are so very very proud of the amazing kid you’re growing into!

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All my love,
Mom

NEVER!!!

Dear Charlie,

You are on the fast track to 3 years old and in many ways I think you’re already there. I can’t get over how smart you are, which is becoming increasingly evident as you get more and more clear with your words/talking. In terms of personality, I think you’re more Stoddard than Pacheco– strong-willed (stubborn as an ox really, haha), impulsive, a natural leader and problem-solver, but still incredibly sweet and caring… and really quite charming. You love your brother and playing with him is your favorite thing, but you’re also not afraid to stand up for yourself. You take no shit from anyone. 😉 As far as stereotypes go, you’re doing a pretty good job of fulfilling those of being left-handed + red headed + the middle child.

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Your favorite things are still sports, cars and animals. You’ve become very attached to a little gray stuffed kitten that you’ve cleverly named “Cat.” Cat goes just about everywhere with you.

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You’re also starting to get into legos and drawing, I think because Alex is so into those things. This summer you’ve also developed a love for the water– you fearlessly jump in and swim in a pool whenever you get the chance (with the floatie on, of course, but I think swim lessons will need to be in your near future). I’m glad I only worked part-time this summer so that I could spend more time with you guys…. but if I’m being honest, you’re the reason I ultimately decided to go back to full-time. I wouldn’t say that you’re a bad kid, but you’re so inquisitive & fearless that I can’t take my eyes off you for a second or you’re into something messy, dangerous, or otherwise inappropriate. My strategy for this has been to just involve you in whatever I’m doing, which luckily you usually are happy to do — my big helper! — but Mommy really needed the mental & physical break I get when you’re at preschool.

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Speaking of preschool, you are doing so well with it! There were some tears in the beginning but you rallied quickly, and now you run into class without so much as a goodbye or backwards glance. It’s been a great outlet for your energy and creativity, and you’re learning tons. I’m so incredibly proud of you!

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Another thing you’ve been making leaps and bounds with lately is potty training. We’ve had to take a step back with it since school started because they require you to be in a pull-up (and you take that opportunity to just go in the diaper :-\ ), but when you’re home in undies you do really great with it. As with Alex, it was really just a matter of waiting until you decided you wanted to do it.

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Overall I’m really enjoying this stage of your life, even with its challenges (which we’re getting better at dealing with). My favorite part of every day is the smattering of hugs and kisses I get from you pretty much constantly throughout the day. And that sweet, devilish grin of yours. You’re growing up so fast, and my reaction to that is much the same as yours when I tell you to put your toys away and get ready for bed– “NEVER!!!” 😉 But alas… I know better.

All my love,
Mom