I don’t give a lot of marriage advice. I mean, every couple is different, and you have to find your own groove. The most I’ll usually say is “Marry someone you truly enjoy spending time with” and “Be most excellent to each other, and party on dudes.” But, I’ve been married going on 11 years now, and there’s one piece of ubiquitous advice that has always rubbed me the wrong way: “Never go to bed mad.”
This is really dumb advice.
We tell people all the time to “sleep on it” when they’re facing a big decision, and it’s because we know that sometimes you just need to let your brain work on something while you stop thinking about it, and maybe things will seem clearer in the morning. We know that big decisions take time and marination. But we tell people in a relationship that they have to solve all their differences and arguments before the sun sets on them?
Sometimes the thing you’re fighting about is just stupid, and you’re so far in that you forgot that fact, but you’ll realize it when you wake up in the morning and it no longer seems to matter as much.
Sometimes, particularly if you have small children, you’re not really so much in a fight as you are sleep-deprived and irrational, and after some sleep you’ll realize that the whole thing wasn’t even a disagreement.
Sometimes one of you is a hot-head and needs some cooling off time.
Sometimes one of you is an internal processor, and you’ll be able to work stuff out and communicate your side more clearly after you’ve had some time to work it out in your own head for a while.
Sometimes everyone will be able to be calmer and more receptive if you continue the discussion over a cup of coffee the next day.
Sometimes, going to bed mad may even mean one of you storms off to bed and the other conks out watching TV on the couch, and you both wake up missing each other and in a more loving frame of mind the next day.
Sometimes, without the pressure of WE HAVE TO SOLVE THIS RIGHT NOW BECAUSE WE CAN’T GO TO BED BEFORE WE RESOLVE IT, you can actually have the space to come up with a better, more amicable resolution.
Sometimes you really should just go to bed mad. Because in the morning, you’ll find you just aren’t mad anymore.
So, there’s my new piece of relationship advice. Screw “never go to bed mad.” Sometimes you should just sleep on it.
My last post here was over a month ago, and that was technically a guest post. Moving 1,000 miles keeps you pretty busy, I guess!
We’re settling in nicely to our new house and new city. There’s just a handful of boxes still lingering around. We successfully navigated the DMV, and are now licensed drivers with little green mountains on our car instead of my beloved plaid Lyon College Alumni Arkansas plates. We’ve toured schools and applied to a great one for the girls. (Best quote overheard while touring hippie Montessori schools: “If you’re going to choose to go meditate, I would encourage you to put away your polo bat so you can truly focus on your individual self.”) We’ve welcomed my sister and her husband to Denver, too, and helped them move into their apartment just 1.5 miles from our house. I got a bike! We got little trailers for the girls to ride behind us so we can be a family of cycling urban explorers.
Perhaps the most unbelievable thing? Me, anxiety ridden me? I feel pretty great. Maybe it’s just the Effexor, since we haven’t made new friends yet or really developed a routine, and Jon’s been off for the last month, but I actually think we’re starting a really great new chapter here. I love the weather. I love the mountains. I love the feeling of a million new restaurants just waiting to be tried. I miss Little Rock a lot already, and I reallllly miss our friends and family in Arkansas, but I am feeling bizarrely optimistic.
Yesterday Jon and I celebrated TEN FREAKING YEARS of marriage. I had a big realization as I was writing Jon’s card– usually at such milestones, we’re like “I can’t believe we made it this far!” But as we hit 10 years, for me, it’s more like “I don’t believe I would have made it through the last 10 years without this strong rock of a relationship at the center of our shared life.” This marriage is GOOD. Everything else in my world may be uncertain, but this is the place where I feel loved, supported, understood, and buoyed to face whatever comes. Even stuff like moving all the way to Denver, apparently.
Now that we’re settled, I hope to get back into writing more and sharing with you as we build a new life in a new place. I think we’re going to be writing another great chapter of our story here.
As he mentions, I’ve been trying to get my husband to write down the story of the girls’ birth and my near death for a while. I’ve written extensively about the experience and its aftermath, but my perspectives are blurred by my trauma, my sedation, and my lack of a medical degree. Here we are four years later, and both Claire and I are healthy and strong. I will always have a heart defect, and she will always have spina bifida, but it feels so good to take a moment and realize how far we’ve come from those very scary early days. Here is that story in the words of my husband Jon, pediatric ER doctor, love of my life, and amazing dad to two very lucky little girls:
I told Sarah I’d write this down over 4 years ago. To be a guest blogger.
I’m not the writer she is (obviously), but she’s not the doctor I am (thankfully).
I have told the story of how I spent one terrifying night in the hospital with all three of my girls in three different ICU’s many times. However, I was recently telling someone, and was having difficulty remembering the sequence of events, and I knew I had to write it down.
My first feeling after Etta and Claire were born was that of overwhelming joy. My first thought upon seeing Claire, was about how much worse her spinal defect was than I was expecting. Her defect had been, after all, so small that all we had seen on prenatal ultrasound was a subtle finding of her head being slightly more oblong than expected. While trying to look at her spine on ultrasound, nobody was ever able to see the defect. Therefore, we assumed it was very small. I was not prepared to see her open spine seemingly taking up her entire lower back.
She was whisked away to children’s hospital, where she was expertly taken care of, had an amazing course, and is exceeding all expectations.
The story I want to tell, though, is about Sarah.
In the first 2 exhausting days, she was learning how to breastfeed. She had lost so much blood during the C-section that she required a transfusion. She was dealing with lots of pain, both physically as she was recovering from surgery and adjusting to the huge shift of fluids and weight, and mentally, as she was separated from Claire. However, she was slowly improving and gaining a small amount of endurance, and gaining hope that we could all go visit Claire, who was recovering from her own surgery, soon.
Sarah was doing so well that they asked us if we wanted to go home. We decided to stay for one more night, to work on breastfeeding another day with Etta and the lactation consultant, and to gain a bit more strength before giving it a go on our own.
Thankfully, we stayed.
The next day, on a bright, sunny, Sunday morning, Sarah was walking the 8 feet back from the bathroom all by herself for the first time, and she started feeling short of breath. “Well, that’s OK,” I thought. “You made it! Way to push yourself!” Sarah sat and tried to catch her breath, but couldn’t, so we called the nurse. She came in with a pulse ox monitor and put it on Sarah. It read 80. I knew something was wrong.
“Take some deep breaths,” the nurse said.
“No, you go call the doctor, right now” I responded. You can’t deep breathe out of a pulse ox of 80.
The OB intern entered next. She looked at Sarah from the doorway (never got close enough to listen), and seemingly nonchalantly (although I’m sure she was terrified) said “I’ll order an EKG.”
I’m not sure what she was thinking, because I was only thinking one thing. PE. I thought Sarah had a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in an artery to the lungs, a possible surgical complication), and needed a CT scan of her chest at minimum, if not just starting treatment for it.
During all this time (it felt like hours) Sarah was slowly getting more short of breath. I was desperately trying to remain calm and let the doctors and nurses do their job, but I also requested that the intern please call her attending.
I happened to have her attending’s cell phone number, so I also called her. She didn’t answer, and I’m sure I left the most pitiful, desperate message about the poor state of my wife’s health she’s ever heard.
Well, Sarah became more short of breath, and they called a MET call, meaning a rapid response team that included ICU nurses and respiratory therapists came to help. They applied more monitors and attempted to place an oxygen mask on Sarah. However, at this point, I could hear crackles when Sarah was breathing from the doorway, and realized she was getting worse. She was hypoxic still and likely in her oxygen hunger, she felt smothered by the oxygen mask and was pushing the respiratory therapists away. She would occasionally steal panicked looks to me with her expressive eyes saying “Help. Please. Now.”
I felt helpless, though. At some point (I can’t remember when) the nurses took Etta away from me and to the nursery. I stood there and knew what needed to happen. Sarah needed to be sedated and intubated. I didn’t know what was going on exactly, but I knew that. The respiratory therapists called the ICU residents, who came, evaluated Sarah and talked to me. They recognized me. I recognized them. They said “We need to intubate your wife, are you OK with that?” Which is crazy, because why would they ask my permission? But it was an awkward situation for them I’m sure. I said “yes, please!”
I certainly didn’t watch them sedate and intubate my wife. I pushed back the thoughts that this might be the last time I saw my wife alive. That I might be tasked with the job of caring for my two beautiful babies all on my own.
A CT got ordered, and Sarah was taken to the CT scanner, which is by the ER. I somehow met up with her dad, who is also an ER physician, and we headed to the ER to get a first look at her chest CT, fearing we would see a PE. We found a resident, who scanned through the images with us, and we saw nothing. No answer. Why then?
Sarah got moved to the ICU, and I met Mack, her nurse. I also saw a frantic intern who scrambled to examine her, attempt to get enough of the story to get some orders in and present her during rounds, which were starting. I was allowed to listen in on rounds, and was able to ask for a lactation consult—knowing that her milk was just coming in, and not wanting her to be in pain. I’m sure they had to tell the lactation consultant how to get to the ICU-they don’t go there much.
I then remember the OB attending, Sarah’s doctor, meeting me in the ICU waiting room. Saying how sorry she was to miss my call and having rushed in to see how Sarah was. So sweet. Everyone cared so much.
They asked me multiple times if Sarah was an alcoholic… because Sarah took such a high dose of sedation to keep her calm. She was calm, but quite awake. We would tell her where she was, and she would answer with her eyes and her eyebrows. Quite lucidly. She seemed to be aware.
At some point during that Sunday, she had a bedside echo performed by the first year cardiology fellow. The report was: it was a limited view, but looked OK. Still, no answer.
I took a break from her bedside and her mom stayed with her. I went to see Etta, who was in the nursery ICU, as they no longer have a regular nursery. She was in a crib all alone in a big room. I held her and sat and tried to process, but couldn’t. What was wrong with Sarah? Would she pull through?
I think it was later that night when we got word that the cardiology attending had looked at the echo and said no, it wasn’t normal. Sarah in fact had exceptionally poor function. The pieces started coming together.
I stayed with Sarah that night. When the night respiratory therapist came in to evaluate, I had seen that they had taken about 6 liters of fluid off of Sarah and she was breathing very comfortably. “What’s the plan tonight for weaning her vent support” I asked. “Oh, I guess I can work on that tonight” was the reply. She started bringing down her support to “normal” levels throughout the night.
Then, when I just snoozed at about 1am, I woke up to beeping. I found Sarah, with her eyes wide open, holding her breathing tube out to the side of her face. She had a look of shock and confusion I will never forget. She had pulled out her tube! I called the nurse to evaluate, and he put her on oxygen, but she continued to breathe easily. They reduced her sedation and she slowly became more cognizant and talkative. I was so relieved that she was back.
It was only 9 a.m., and I had already screamed at every single member of my family and had just broken down in tears. I could see in my husband’s eyes that things had gotten bad.
“I see the way you look at me, like you don’t like me very much right now. I don’t like me very much right now either, but I don’t know how to feel or do any different. I feel out of control all the time.”
He wrapped his arms around me as I cried and cried. And then he gently told me that while he knew I had an appointment in a week or so to talk to my doctor about my anxiety, but that he thought maybe we should talk to her about doing something NOW. I could only agree. I talked to my doctor on the phone, and after I described how I’d been feeling, she gently suggested that I start taking medication that night, so I could be on it for several days by the time my appointment came around.
As I took that first pill, I felt more hopeful than I had in a while, even though I knew it might take a while for the medication to begin to help.
The last few months have been very hard for me. I am not generally a person who yells at people or regularly breaks down crying, and it had begun to happen a lot. It was like I was walking around all the time at stress level 8, and every small setback, even things like my kids refusing to put their pants on or my inability to parallel park, would trigger explosive rage or tears as my stress level hit 10 again and again. My whole body vibrated with tension. My muscles in my head, neck, and face were so tight, my teeth hurt. And I was having to take melatonin every night just to slow my racing mind down enough to fall asleep.
I know it’s normal for people who are preparing for a big life change like a cross country move to feel tension and stress, but my feelings had become overwhelming past the point of my control. I felt awful most of the time, unable to find bright sides or hope, unable to feel anything but scared and angry and sad. Not a good way to live.
Within a few days of taking the medicine, I was sleeping much better, but still feeling very easily triggered. We have eased my dose up a little bit, and now that I’ve been on it for longer, I feel maybe 70% of my normal self? I hope to get to feeling even more back to myself as I am on the medicines longer, and my doctor says if I’m not feeling 85% or so in a month, to let her know. Already, I’m not screaming at my family constantly. I haven’t cried in days. I am so glad I had people in my life who encouraged me to get help.
And I’m sharing this with you because we don’t talk about this kind of stuff often enough. First, you feel bad because of the anxiety, and then you feel bad because who wants to admit that they keep finding themselves yelling at the people they love most, blinded by rage and fear, falling apart at every turn? But that stuff wasn’t ME. That stuff was anxiety. And for me, this anxiety was a sickness that needed medicine.
And I want to talk about this so that anyone out there reading who is feeling awful most of the time, who is feeling panicky and fearful and rageful and wired, knows that it’s not just you. You don’t have to keep feeling terrible all the time. You don’t have to be ashamed to ask for help. And you deserve to feel better.
I was having a chat with a friend the other day about being vs. feeling like a grownup. I have realized something crazy lately, mostly since becoming a parent, but also since turning 30: the big secret of being an adult is that almost no one actually feels like one a lot of the time. That and the fact that the only major perk of being an adult is getting to have ice cream or popcorn for dinner if you want to. But mostly the thing about not feeling like a real grownup.
At least I don’t. I find myself, 30 years old, mother of twin three year olds, married, homeowner, scheduler of important things, manager of some serious medical issues, meal planner, writer, friend…and feeling like I’m playing house. I look around at all my responsibilities, which I usually handle just fine, and often wonder, “Who the heck decided I could handle all of this?” It’s like I’m waiting for the real grownups to show up and take charge, only to realize, the grownups ain’t coming. The grownups are us.
I’ve even realized that I seem to think of “adulting” like others might think of playing video games: I’m earning or losing points along the way, and occasionally leveling up. Remembering to pay a bill: points. Actually calling and talking to the insurer or medical supply guy or specialty nurse about something: points. Doing all the steps of my skincare routine for more than three days in a row: points. Exercising, even with kids underfoot: points. Eating the recommended servings of vegetables: points. Remembering the paperwork for the kid thing: points. Not getting sunburned or allowing my kids to get sunburned on the beach vacation: points. Not letting the clothes get funky in the washing machine before switching them to the dryer: points. Hosting actual adult parties: points.
Getting married? Leveled up. Buying a house? Leveled up. Moving halfway across the country? Leveled up. Dealing with loss? Leveled up. Facing my own mortality in a major way? Leveled up. Becoming a parent? Leveled up. Twins? Leveled way up. Having a kid with a disability? Leveled up. Managing my own chronic health issues? Leveled up. Realizing what I do or DON’T want to do with my life? Leveled up.
It’s like I think that if I collect enough points or get to a final level, I’ll stop feeling like I’m pretending at being a grownup and actually feel like an adult. This probably makes me a stereotype of a Millennial, but what can I say, I graduated high school in 2003. My generation allegedly feels like adolescents forever. Guilty as charged. The thing that really lets me know that I’m a grownup is that I now know it doesn’t matter if I feel like an imposter, because I still gotta get shit done. It turns out being a grownup is a lot like being brave: it’s about feeling one way but doing the damn thing anyway. Brave people are still scared. Real grownups still feel like kids playing house a lot of the time. You just don’t tell anyone you’re secretly earning merit badges in your head and move along your merry little way.
I can’t really say I was ever around friends and had a husband remark upon his wife’s body to me, but if I were ever around a couple and the husband smacked his wife’s booty and told her she looked hot in her yoga pants, as our toddlers played nearby, as I examined the stain on the knee of my own leggings and wondered if it was snot or what, exactly, I would think, “Good for them. They’re adorable.” And maybe also a little bit of, “Gag, get a room, you two.”
Yesterday afternoon, something I’ve waited actual years for happened:
My child said “I love you, mama.”
Etta and I had just picked up Claire from preschool, and we were driving to the gas station when she looked up from her snack (peanut butter cookies), caught my eye in the rearview mirror, and said, “I love you, mama.” Pure. Magic. I tell her I love her all the time. I sing her a little song that goes, basically, “I love my Bear Bear, my Bear Bear loves me.” But I’ve never coached her to put those words together, wanting it to be truly her idea when she finally said it. And then she did. And I melted into a puddle and seeped onto the floor and still somehow managed to type a blog post.
I know it will be a while yet before my Etta girl puts those magical words together, as she’s been on her own little path, speech-wise and has only just recently started putting words together into phrases. Some notable Etta utterances lately: “Uh oh, I broke it” (her perfect first sentence), “Trolley, where are you?”, “My hands are dirty,” and “Otter, come here.”
I just love the things they say, and I’m high on the love from my Claire Bear, especially.
I’m also feeling the love because my husband and I will be celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary on the 29th and are headed out of town this weekend for a little getaway road trip, just the two of us. My bags are packed, and I am so excited to get to have this time together. I’m feeling the love all the way around. I just love this little family of mine.