A few months ago, I came across a 'patient stories' call from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologist (ACOG). They were looking for patient stories that dealt with birth, birth complications or trauma, mental health (postpartum and pregnancy), etc. I signed up to tell my story. A few weeks later, I got a call for an interview where I tried hard not to cry to the sweet lady on the other end of the line. Covid happened somewhere between our "thank yous" and "we'll get in touch."
And to be honest, I forgot about that day and what I shared because I was too busy dealing with life in the pandemic homeschool trenches. The other day, I got an email that my story was up on their website. So thank you for reading this far and for allowing me to share my story.
I recently did my first podcast interview ever with Mom&Mind. We talked about my birth story, my preeclampsia diagnosis, subsequent Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) stays for my premature babies. My eventual postpartum depression story in 2016, a small tidbit of my book, and the advocacy efforts I'm engaged in now.
The thing is.....I feel overwhelmed. There are so many things I want to do, I wish I could do for mamas and babies, and especially women of color, like me. But where do I start?
Some days, I feel like I am truly just shouting from the rooftops and screaming into the void, only to hear just echoes of myself.
Some days, I do absolutely nothing.
And I wonder if my volunteer in peer support is doing anything at all. I almost feel like I'm letting my peers down but simultaneously sharing my lived experience and not.
Mental Health advocacy is exhausting. It truly is never ending and I have to wonder if I'm making any difference at all.
So today was supposed to be the second day of Champions of Change Summit. I loved the energy from last year and I wanted so much to refuel and remember "my why."
Covid took us online. It wasn't the energy that mirrored last year but let me tell you, if I could capture the passion emitting from the screen, I would bottle it up, hold on to it and remember the reasons for why I always leave my inbox open for mamas, why I keep speaking up, even if no one is listening.
There will always be that one. The one who needed to hear my message.
So even if I have been lacking on social media - some of it intentional, some of it...well homeschooling has kept me busy - I will continue to advocate in any way I can.
So this is YET ANOTHER "website under construction" notice. But I won't be changing too much around. I'll be adding resources for maternal mental health and premenstrual dysphoric disorder tabs.
My FB social media post
What do you normally want to see on a lived experience advocacy page?
The story of ours began like most; I heard your heartbeat and joy propelled me from dreamlike stupor to scheduling baby shower and maternity photography sessions, deciding on nursery decor and what names would match you.
When I received my preeclampsia diagnosis, my heart sank and everything on my carefully crafted to-do list dissipated, along with the idea that this story of ours would be easy.
Motherhood welcomed us at 31 weeks.
It also welcomed strength, unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. There would be no crying at our reality or our missed bonding time as you were wheeled away into a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) over an hour away. Instead, I had to summon whatever will and adrenaline coursing through my body and demanded it heal so I can be closer to my heart. Tears would come later. And as I sadly learned, tears would come in waves that crippled and made me wonder where that strength went all those days and weeks I spent by your isolate in the NICU.
The story of ours paralyzed me.
I don’t know for sure how I lived to see you celebrate your first birthday, when every image I’d see, you were surrounded by tubes and wires and your heart monitor constantly beeping.
Somehow I did learn to move freely. I learned to save my tears in the shower. I learned to whisper prayers of gratitude every night as I watched you sleep.
As I started to accept the idea that there would only be the three of us - you, me and your dad - I learned I was again expecting.
This did not bring me joy. I met this news with anger and I tried for a long time to be happy. You were a beautiful four year old. I survived our first year and I was becoming less afraid of your future.
When I heard the heartbeat, I didn’t want to know the sex. I couldn’t give this heart a name.
I didn’t want to write to-do lists and there was no dream like stupor, either. I was a mom on a mission and my mission was to live so I could go home to you and our life.
A history of preeclampsia could mean I was a ticking time bomb again.
A history of premature birth meant I would be revisiting my nightmare in an enclosed NICU space.
A history of traumatic birth meant the possibility of not surviving.
And history usually repeated itself.
I packed my bags at 30 weeks and waited anxiously for 31 weeks.
It came and went. I wept and almost believed we were going to make it to ‘full term,’ at 38 weeks.
When I woke up with a headache and felt nauseous at 34 weeks, I knew it was time. My vision blurred and my blood pressure was elevated. My heart had already shattered when I was told I’d be welcoming another bundle in a few hours.
I thought I welcomed him in my arms. I thought I kissed his head as he was wheeled to the NICU. I thought I was doing okay until I wasn’t.
Until I didn’t hear him crying even when he was next to me.
Until suddenly, the idea of leaving you and him seemed like a rational action.
Motherhood has defined me in ways I never knew I'd be defined by.
While I knew motherhood gives you a different identity and purpose. Mine came with a two time Preeclampsia survivor, a parent to premature babies, and NICU graduates. I also had to include on postpartum depression survivor - an identity that I didn’t know I’d endure and survive.
And while the story of ours is still writing itself, I am hopeful that you and your brother can overcome any obstacles in life. After all, the strength I had to push through my storms were reflected in your eyes. You gave me courage. I choose to live bravely because of you. My purpose isn’t to understand why the story of ours began the way it did but how our story could give a voice and comfort to another.
My purpose in advocating for maternal mental health came because of the way our story began.
For more of my preeclampsia and postpartum depression story, please see here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B073MVG4R4/
**preeclampsia survivor mamas + postpartum depression survivors, please message me for your free copy**
November is coming up and it's always been rough. One the one hand, it's Prematurity Awareness month. The day before I see images of cute 'trick-or-treaters' and then all of a sudden, my feed is inundated with mamas and pictures of their preemies. I remember it all over again; the NICU, the isolette, the alarms and my two premature babies.
On the other hand, I post my gratitudes as a daily reminder that I am here. They are here. It's helped me over the years but I still second guess the 'why NOT me?' 'why NOT US?' that survivors often wrestle with.
A few weekends ago, I attended the Champions for Change summit and I heard so so so many stories of near misses.
I was lucky.
My OB knew at 26 weeks and told me that my birth plan needed to change.
She knew at 31 weeks that I was not doing my care at home and I needed to be on strict hospital bed rest.
She knew when it was time to deliver Ellie. And because of her, I knew to do my research.
I advocated for myself and knew to seek a high risk pregnancy doc for the second one.
I knew to do my daily blood pressure readings and let the nurses know when it would spike above average.
I knew to pay attention to my body and knew at 34 weeks and change that my headache, my blurry vision and high blood pressure reading meant it was time to go.
And the nurse who triaged me in the emergency room knew to call my doctor and start prepping the labor and delivery room.
Women who knew versus others who didn't know or couldn't have known or choose not to listen.
I was lucky.
And I count my daily thanks.
But that doesn't mean it has gotten easier. I've often heard well intentioned friends and family asking, "why are you not over it? it's been years." How could I get over trauma so easily when I see my trauma daily? When I hold my what-ifs daily? When I take my miracle to her monthly hematologist and wonder was it because of her being premature? Because of my preeclampsia that caused this blood disorder? What did she do to deserve every bruised arm from nurses who can't find her veins?
Was it because of me?
And so the guilt keeps coming back around and around,
But I can change guilt to action
I can change guilt from weighing me down and make it become something. I can funnel my words for change, I've been so inspired about the stories I heard and I know my story can't stop now. Especially, since looking around the room, I never saw another 'me.' I saw so many white women and I wonder why there was so few black women? Why so few latinas? Why not another one of me? Another Filipina.
Where are we in the community of mental health advocates and preeclampsia survivors?
A few projects
So next month is also National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I'm still converting my novelette into a Christmas themed novella. I started on it a few weeks ago and then my ever so distracted brain decided to put it down and start working on a journal prompt book idea for mamas. Motherhood is tough and we so desperately need community. I want my community to be filled with Filipina mamas navigating mental health challenges, life after diagnosis - be it a preeclampsia diagnosis or postpartum diagnosis. I want community and I want it filled with mamas that look like me.
So I don't exactly know what that looks like.
But I do know that I am lucky to be surrounded by women who do. I just need to get over the guilt and grab some courage and ask questions.
What are you working on friends?
Any other passion you have that you can incorporate writing into?
I drink too much coffee, read too many books, and in between raising miracle babies, I find time to write.