Category

The Power of Story

The Unexpected Blessing, by Crystal Ascheman

By Birth, Down Syndrome, Medical Diagnosis, Parenting, pregnancy, Self-compassion, The Power of Story

This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

The Unexpected Blessing, by Crystal Ascheman

I remember it as if it happened yesterday, even though it’s been seven years now. My husband and I are sitting in our week 20 ultrasound, excited to find out the gender of our second child together (the third of four children in our blended family). We’re feeling so much excitement and joy and wearing the biggest of smiles. A boy! But then, our celebration is cut short as the ultrasound technician gets quiet while she takes typical growth measurements. As I look up at the screen, I see what has caused her sudden shift in mood. Having attended pre-medicine in college, before starting a family, I know that the measurements are not typical for the gestational age of our precious baby boy. She tries her best to explain the possible abnormalities to my husband and lets us know that she will be sending the image directly to our doctor for urgent review. I don’t add to her explanation as I am still trying to process this unexpected new revelation in real time and am in complete shock. My two previous pregnancies had been typical; with no reason for concern. One week from that first ultrasound, we received a phone call confirming a 96% likelihood of a Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) diagnosis. And so began the unknown journey into the blessings of the unexpected. Reflecting upon that overwhelming time in my life, I sometimes wish I could go back in time, sit down next to my 7-year-ago-self, look her in the eye, and reassure her. Here are some of the things I would say:

“I want you to know that it’s okay to feel all of these big emotions after the surprising news you’ve just received. It’s perfectly normal. It’s okay to not have all the answers right now. As parents, we will never have all the answers. Take your time to process and work through the whirlwind engulfing you. As mothers, we are the rocks to our families and we want to look strong and put together but, right now it’s okay to ask for help. (You will need to do this regularly throughout this special journey). You are not inadequate or failing. Just the opposite! You are strong and brave. In being so, you need support right now for your own mental wellness and health, so you can be the best version of yourself and be the mother you want to be. Please don’t suffer alone in silence trying to “hold it all together”. Extend the same grace and compassion to yourself as you afford to everyone else. Be kind to yourself. Little eyes and little hearts are learning from your example of self-care.

As you adjust to this new version of motherhood with a child with a disability, don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to the special community of parents and organizations who share your concerns, struggles, and triumphs. They hold invaluable experience on this extraordinary journey. They will truly be the only ones who will understand just how you’re feeling and the battles you will encounter. You are not meant to face these battles alone. You’ll need a collective community full of compassion and understanding. These will be your “people” and your precious son’s “people”. Embrace them with a happy heart. Learn from their experiences because they will help you to find your voice (for your son) and don’t be afraid to use it! You’ll need to speak up often along the way. And always trust your instincts as a mother–you can rely on them to carry you through.

As the weeks turn into months and months into years, you will encounter some hard days. On those days there will be many tears and doubts. Remember, they are but a moment in time and this too shall pass. There will be times when you feel like you’ve given your all and it’s still not enough. But I’m here to tell you that it is. You ARE enough. I’m here to remind you you’re doing a wonderful job, even though it’s a tough one. I want you to know that all the effort and hard work you’re putting in and all of the sacrifices you’re making DO make a difference. You might not be able to see it right away but, the most important difference you will ever make will be realized in the quality of life you’re giving to your children. There is no better reward in life than that. As you find your way through these hard days, you will also have days filled with a level of joy you’ve never experienced before. And, in the middle of all of it, you’ll have the subtle realization that you never would have found all this joy and strength and grace if you weren’t walking along this special path, holding his little hand in yours. While this journey is not one for everyone, it’s the journey you never knew you wanted, and it comes with the best unexpected blessings.”

 

 

Resources and Support:

To learn about statewide programs designed to help support families like Crystal’s, visit https://www.umt.edu/rural-institute/act-early-montana/resources/.  To find local resources, visit https://hmhb-lifts.org/ and search the term “child development”.

Crystal also highly recommends:

Community Children’s Pediatric Specialty Clinic: https://www.communitychildrens.org/services/pediatric-specialists/

Butte’s Special Riders program https://www.buttespecialriders.org/

Becoming a Dad, by Patrick Duganz

By Birth, Dads, Parenting, The Power of Story

Patrick and his son pause a game of football at their local park to embrace and smile for a photo.This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  Patrick also shared his story on our Motherlove Podcast –  Season 2, Episode 19.

Becoming a Dad, by Patrick Duganz

How can you tell a joke is a dad joke? It’s apparent. For people, it’s more complicated.

I don’t think you become a dad when a kid is born. Lots of kids never meet those he people who provided their genetics. Therefore, a child being born does not make a dad. So, becoming a dad must be something more. There’s a moment when a choice is made.

I was raised by TV in the 90s, so of course I wanted to be a dad. Sure, Homer Simpson was the most popular dad, but I also had Dan Conner, Uncle Phil, Jason Seaver, and Carl Winslow. Having grown up in a “complicated” family like I did, I looked up to these dad characters and how it seemed like they always knew just the right thing to say, or do, whenever a problem arose.

So years down the road, when we considered starting a family, I was pro “let’s have a kid”. My son is the outcome of a meticulously planned pregnancy process. We read books and went to a several-months-long birth class where we were free to ask any and all questions. We found a duo of midwives who his mom and I liked and who would, eventually, facilitate the birth. I was at every appointment, tracking our mixed-up RNA as it grew into something an ultrasound tech could identify. His mom wrote out a detailed and extensive birth plan and we carefully reviewed it with our midwives. We were going to go with the Bradley Method – a drug-free, low- intervention process.

If such a birth sounds intimidating to you, just understand that my son’s mom is fearless, and has a pain threshold far beyond us mortals. That’s how she was able to face 22 hours of labor starting and stalling before our midwife delicately advised that we might need to consider making a few changes to our very particular plan. From there, as is common, things got more complicated.

An annoyed anesthesiologist arrived in flip-flops to administer an epidural, and delivered a few doses of Pitocin. After several intensive interventions plus one final delay from shoulder dystocia, our son was here. It had been 25 hours.

The process of his birth was difficult for all involved. His initial Apgar score was low and his mom was exhausted. I felt useless and helpless as my son and his mom faced this incredible task of birth. Obviously, my experience pales in comparison to what she went through, and it feels wrong to say it was hard for me too. But it was terrifying to be that helpless when my family faced a crisis. I didn’t even know what “Apgar” meant.

But both were okay.

My son was the largest baby born at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital in 2013. I know this because, in those days, the nurses kept a sandwich board of height and weight statistics just outside of the nursery. While holding my newborn, I watched our nurse wipe away the high score of some smaller baby and replace it with the new champion: Baby Duganz at 10 pounds, 11 ounces, and 22 inches in length.

I remember thinking that he was a miracle, and that he was terrifying.

I was 28 and in the hours after his birth, it began to occur to me that I had no idea how to handle a baby. No idea how to comfort. No idea about needs. No idea about cues. No idea about anything because most of the books told me to, “follow mom’s lead.” So, as the nurses took his mom to recover after her feat, I realized the awful situation unfolding.

“You’re not leaving me alone with him, are you?”

“Yes,” a nurse said. A door shut behind her, and we were alone.

He cried. I cried.

Eventually, he ran out of energy and fell asleep in my arms. I felt like I’d failed my first test as a dad. My baby had to exhaust himself to find peace. Oof.

As we sat there alone, waiting for whatever was next, I was nearing 48 hours without sleep and started thinking of random nonsense until my brain fell on lighthearted fare like The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a father and son story set in a post-apocalyptic world. There’s a bit near the beginning that stuck out to me when I first read it: “[T]hey set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”

Each the other’s world entire. Heady stuff to consider, but that’s what my anxious and sleep-deprived brain spat out as I worried about who I’d be as a dad. Is the role of a dad to be the leader after a calamity? Is it more? Changing diapers? Making Money? Baseball coaching?

“I’ll get better,” I said to my kid, just hours old.

Like most men, I didn’t get paternity leave. However, my employer at the time did kindly lay me off for two weeks so I could go broke while learning basic parenting tasks like diaper changing and swaddling. The kid mostly breastfed and slept, with some interruptions from me to change his diaper, or swaddle him. I brought his mom water and snacks.

Soon I was back to work. The two of them were alone at home. It seemed like he’d change between the hours when I left and when I’d return. He was a new person every day and I was missing it. I began to feel useless to my family’s needs just as I was beginning to understand how to be useful.

This, of course, was a symptom of my own postpartum depression which is more common than most people want to talk about. I’d later learn that 1 in 10 dads experience similar thoughts and feelings during this time. Since I was still so focused on my time at work, I was ignoring these symptoms and was, unfortunately, unable to recognize that his mom was dealing with similar symptoms during the 10-12 hours I was gone each day.

When his mom returned to work a few months later, I adjusted my schedule to be home with our son on Mondays and Tuesdays so we could save on daycare. With her at work, the kid and I suddenly had 16 terrifying hours together. From what I’d been told, parenting was so good you could set a laugh track to it. Instead, mine felt like an episode of Lost, complete with decoding cryptic messages (infant cues) that were crucial but made no sense to me. It took weeks to even begin to understand just what the hell I was doing. I had missed a lot by going back to work.

But I had made a promise to him. So, I worked on it. It wasn’t fun or easy.

All of this is to say that the question “When does a guy become a dad?” remains complicated. Maybe it was that first night, but to me it’s waking up every day and making a choice to try and be better than yesterday. I try to engage with what he’s into. I try to lead my son through the calamities of everyday existence – a rude kid at school, his parents divorcing, or the frustration of losing at Rocket League. I try to be a better dad, and a better man. That’s the choice I make.

In that way, I become a dad every day.

A graphic displaying a list titled '8 Things I Wish I Knew as a Dad'. The text is bold and centered, with each item numbered sequentially. The background is likely a neutral color to enhance readability

Visit: https://hmhb-lifts.org/ services page and use the term “dads” for support groups and resources specifically for fathers and “counselors” or “mental health providers” if you or a dad you know is experiencing similar symptoms like depression or anxiety.

To learn about Patrick’s work as a Fatherhood Engagement Specialist and read more of what he’s written visit: https://www.healthygallatin.org/family-health/for-dads/

Valentine’s Day and the Seasons of Date Nights

By Parenting, Self-care, The Power of Story
Two parents find solace in each other's arms, dancing in their kitchen amidst the chaos of parenthood.

A moment of respite, a reminder to cherish the simple joys amidst life’s challenges.

Date nights. Self-care. Scrapbooking. For me, there was the daily to-do list (you know, like, survival stuff) and then there were the “extras.” These were the back burner items, the shoulds, the negotiables. But, as our first post-birth Valentine’s Day approached, my husband and I felt pressured to do what we’d always done in the past: dress up and go on a real date, only this time it would mean leaving our 3-month-old baby in Grandma’s care.

I remember it vividly. I wore black tights, a gray dress, and tall leather boots. The tights were nearly impossible to hike up over my still-healing postpartum body, the dress was tighter than I had hoped, the boots felt ridiculous and showy. As we entered the busy restaurant and made our way to the table, I realized that I no longer knew how to be confident in public. After months being isolated at home with our new baby, I suddenly felt raw and exposed. I was exhausted beyond measure, still bleeding, thinking about my baby every three seconds and the only thing on the menu that sounded good was strong, hot coffee with lots of cream. 

I also remember feeling so relieved to be out of the house. That’s the thing with being a new mom. You learn to hold tension between completely opposing emotions All. The. Time.

My husband cracked jokes with our waitress. Drank cold, delicious beer, relaxed. I watched the tiny bubbles rise in his glass in a sleep deprived fog. I was anxious and envious but tried to act like I was relaxed too. I glanced around at all of the women in red, heard the sounds of easeful laughter and glasses clinking together in holiday spirit. My breasts were on their own schedule and I began to long for my sweatpants and the latch of our sweet baby. Is this what date night would be like from now on?

It was one of those stark contrast moments. The split that happens the moment you become a parent. The before and after. Everything you thought you knew will be revised. Camping as a form of rest and rejuvenation? Sorry. Taking a nap on Thanksgiving Day? Nope. Night as a time to sleep? Forget about it. 

But, as one wise mom pointed out, there are seasons. And when you have a new baby, it’s not peak date night season. Things won’t always be so intense, so demanding, so full of love and exhaustion and devotion all at the same time. We won’t always be up at midnight on Christmas eve wrapping presents and filling stockings and bracing ourselves for the next sugar cookie crash.

So, because it’s Valentine’s Day, we wanted to celebrate the fact that date nights don’t have to be fancy and luxurious to be successful. What matters most is that we make time for quality connection and slow down enough to really see each other. Whether you plan a date with a partner, friend, your own little one or even just with yourself, spending quality time and honoring your relationships deserves a spot on the to-do list, even if that means that the dishes stay piled in the sink and the laundry gets all wrinkled and your un-walked dog gives you a dirty look.

Going out might be just what you need and if that feels good and exciting and fun – do it! Wearing something you love and having the guarantee that it will remain spit-up free for at least a couple of hours is indeed quite glamorous. Being served when you spend all day everyday serving a tiny human feels wonderful. Oh, and eating a meal that’s actually still hot while being able form complete sentences and have an entire conversation with another adult (especially one you love) is pure gold.

But, staying in counts too!  Just giving each other permission to take the night off and snuggle up with a movie and bowl of popcorn can be super romantic. Sometimes, it’s just about being close and remembering that raising kids is hard work and that you’re in this together and that you both deserve moments of peace. Chocolate and roses and written words never hurt. You might as well hold hands, too, and laugh about how crazy kids are. Because they are CRAZY and laughter is medicine.

If you have more than one little sweetie on your hands, you’ve probably learned the value of planning special one on one dates with each of your children. In this case, you’re the expert on what would make you both light up and, truthfully, they don’t really care what you do together, they just want your undivided attention. Go for a manicure or dress up for afternoon tea or a Shirley Temple with extra cherries. Swing on the swings, build a snowman or draw with sidewalk chalk- they just want our eyes and ears and heart all to themselves for a little while. When it comes to special time between parent and child, a little goes a long way.

Dates with friends are important too but they don’t have to be elaborate and if anyone understands that, it’ll be your closest friends. Do whatever sounds nourishing and try to laugh and cry and give voice to your experience. It’s important to know you’re not alone and it’s really important to find friends who will understand if you need to cancel or reschedule. As a new parent, these are your people. 

Valentine’s Day, ultimately, is supposed to be one day out of the year when we celebrate love and if there’s one thing every parent knows, it’s unshakable love. So today, let that love be unique to you and those closest to you. Let that love carry you through. 

Believe Her.

By advocacy, Birth, Maternal Mental Health, pregnancy, The Power of Story

Recently, I’ve been listening to women. And, you know what strikes me? That really listening to women is a radical act. Believing them without minimizing or dismissing their experiences (even if what they’re saying makes you uneasy) is downright revolutionary. This is especially true when it comes to experiences around pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum journey. In many cases, women are second-guessed in crucial moments of their perinatal experience. There seems to be an inherent mistrust when it comes to a woman expressing and advocating for her own body. I’ll give you a couple examples.

I have birthed two babies in two very different ways. My first was reluctant to emerge. Ten days past her due date, she was still hanging out in there. She likes to do things on her own watch, still. The more you pressure her, the more she resists. Her entrance into the world was no exception. I tried everything, I hiked up a mountain, I ate an entire pineapple, I choked down the spiciest food I could find. Hell, I even went for a run which is not something I recommend doing when you are a week overdue. But, what I didn’t know, is that I could have, and maybe should have, just chilled out and trusted my body. I didn’t know that listening to my own intuition may have been the best choice of all. And when I begged and bartered for a few more days, my doctor didn’t listen. Instead, she presented me with facts and figures until I was scared enough to agree schedule an induction, which led to lots of other medical interventions, me feeling incredibly disconnected from my body and, ultimately, an emergency c-section that felt to me like a monumental failure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful we all survived, but I can’t shake the feeling that things may have gone very differently had I trusted my own instincts, had my doctor given me more space to voice my needs and taken them seriously.

My second is an entirely different story with the same theme. Let’s start with the fact that, in my town, I couldn’t even attempt a Vaginal Delivery After C-section or VBAC. It’s against hospital policy. Let’s continue with the fact that I had to talk my husband into driving an hour and a half in February to the next town over that would allow me to birth my baby the way I wanted to. Let’s go even further to the part where I show up at that hospital in labor, with actively intensifying contractions and the nurse doesn’t believe me. She instructs me to take a hundred laps around the labor and delivery ward to see if I’ll dilate more. I circle around the nurses station and pass by the rooms of real patients, which feels ridiculous and embarrassing considering I’m getting ready to bring a new life into the world. She is unimpressed by my lack of progress. The pain is coming regularly now. She tells us to leave, go out to dinner, maybe come back later but says we’ll probably just have to head back home and try again another day. Go out to dinner? Um, yeah, no thanks. The noise, the smell of food, the niceties, the people all around me just, ya’ know, eating dinner while I’m enduring labor pains? Maybe some other night. So, we check into the Super 8 Motel (that’s currently ongoing construction) but is closest to the hospital and cheap. At least there’s a bathtub, I think to myself. A few hours later, when I can no longer stand the pain and the intensity increases to what feels extremely urgent, we go back to the hospital. They allow me to lay down in the sort of limbo room and check me. Apparently, they aren’t going to let me in to have a baby unless I can prove myself through ample vaginal dilation. I can’t. But after they poke and prod at my most sensitive bits with no sensitivity at all and leave the room to compare notes my water breaks and I think, Well,  they can’t turn me away now. I’m in.

All moms have a different birth story, it’s true. But, one thing I hear all too often is, “They just didn’t listen. They just didn’t believe me.” This isn’t right and it isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be normal for women feel bullied, pressured or neglected during labor and delivery (or at any other time in their lives). They shouldn’t have to prove they’re in need of care. They deserve to be heard. They deserve to be trusted and honored. They deserve to be praised and supported in their process. They’re trying to tap into a deeper wisdom than that of policy and procedure. These are our life-givers. Hear them, believe them, please.