I keep fairly tight lipped about my job. There’s a reason for it. Number one, I deal with very confidential information and can only share so much. Number two, teachers are held to pretty high standards and it’s not hard to get pulled into the gossip train without even knowing. The past few years have been rough on all of us. Multiple professions are seeing burn out and people leaving the career at a rapid pace. We don’t have a monopoly on it and I won’t even guess as to who “has it the worst.” Quite frankly it doesn’t even matter. People are still leaving at a faster rate than people are entering. I’m going to mainly speak on teaching because that is what I have first hand experience in. In no way does it diminish or invalidate the burn out in other careers. Before continuing, I ask that you take off your glasses that color your frame of reference from your own school days. Just like being a patient does not give you a great indicator of what doctors, nurses, lab techs, OTs, PTs, etc. go through, being a student gives you very little indicator of what being a teacher is like. That and the education field is rapidly evolving. With an open heart and broadened mind, I invite you to the REAL world of education.
We all know teachers do not go into the profession for the money. I realize the vast majority of us are in it for our students. I’m not any different. I promise I don’t willingly take on all of the “hard” kids for some crazy power trip. That does not mean we should sit down and shut up because we “chose this.” This is the excuse given to all fields experiencing burn out and it’s not a valid explanation for any of us. So, if that’s your answer… congrats you’re part of the problem. Those of us who “chose this” are now “unchoosing” because you’re 100% right. We don’t HAVE to continue. Which is leading to shortage of workers and a decrease in quality from those that remain. Think of any field with a mass exodus. That excuse has been worn out and it’s time to actually do something.
Let’s look at all of the demands on teachers right now. Teach the standards so kids all learn the same things (I’ll come back to THESE later.) Differentiate the lessons to reach all learners, but keep it to the standards. Don’t forget to post your learning targets and success criteria. Go over them before every lesson but make sure you get all of the content plus intervention time for struggling learners and extension for the gifted kids. You have to cover math, language arts, science and social studies. There are standardized tests that we’ll use to judge your abilities. Teach that but don’t forget to teach real world stuff. People are going to complain if these real world skills are embedded into core subjects, so better figure out how to fit those in too. Social Emotional Learning is key to a well rounded learner so do that. However, we don’t have the funds to properly train you on how to recognize deficits in social and emotional cognition. You can spot learning disabilities so that should be enough. If there are behaviors set realistic consequences, nurture the kid, but we’ll reward the kid if they get sent to admin. We won’t ensure all teachers are consistent with that kid though, so have fun. Oh, don’t forget to make a goal for yourself and provide monthly data as to how you are going to reach it. Your pay is affected by it. Don’t ever take a day off because there aren’t any subs. By the way can you cover your class plus the class next door? I know you only have a short prep, but you need to deal with this situation during it. You can prep before or after school, right. Just so you know you’re only paid from 8 to 3:30 though. Find time for “fun” things like art and activities. You need to make school fun. That kid didn’t sleep so figure that out. That one hasn’t eaten since before the weekend so might want to find some snack. Her mom was high all weekend. His dad beat his mom last night. Her mom OD-Ed two months ago. His dad went to jail. Don’t forget the paperwork. The state regulations say the paperwork needs to be done for all 25 of those kids by next week. Don’t forget the added piece to show you are addressing learning loss from COVID. Don’t indoctrinate the kids, but make sure you teach in an ethnically sensitive manner so all students feel welcome. That’s a controversial topic so stay away from it, but you must address this controversial issue. Purchase hundreds of dollars of supplies from your own wallet because we don’t have the funding to give you a bigger budget. That’s not too much to ask right? Just so you know we care, don’t forget self-care.
Y’all, I wish I was exaggerating or making this up. The demands are asinine. Most laws regarding education are made by non educators. Many in administration were never teachers. Some are on a power trip. You will get some awesome admin, but there’s only so much they can do when everything is stacked against them too. They aren’t any less overwhelmed. The public constantly blames the teacher’s union for problems, but that union is what keeps the admin on a power trip or those who only see dollars from taking advantage of the highly educated professionals who deal with the day to day. Many teachers end up with a master’s or two by 30. Even more will get one before retirement. You’d think we’d be consulted on various initiatives being taken. That just doesn’t typically happen. That’s why even if we don’t agree with every stance the union takes, many still will join. The protection is essential.
Remember those standards? Basically it’s a statement about what students should know by the end of the year in specific skills. It doesn’t say HOW you should teach it, but we all know how it’s going to be presented on the standardized tests. There are way more standards than one can possibly teach in a year so we have to find the “Essential Standards.” These are the standards they absolutely must know in order to successfully complete grade level assignments moving forward. Why did they not just make these? No clue. What about the kids who cognitively will never meet grade level standards? You still need to expose them to it. And they take the same tests which judge your teaching even though they won’t meet the standard. 80% of students should meet standards using typical lesson materials. 10-15% more should require only minimal in classroom interventions. 5-10% can have intensive pull out interventions. I work in a school with 30% special education students. Native American students make up the same percentage as white students. We are serving kids who live on one of 2 nearby reservations and have great grandparents who attended the forced boarding school. There is so much distrust from their families in the education system and we have so little we can do to ensure them things are different now. This “ideal percentage” model doesn’t take things like that into consideration.
I don’t want to pretend there aren’t awful teachers, groups that want to push their political ideology in the schools, and other such things. There are. However, the vast majority of teachers do not share their political beliefs with their students and take great care not to influence this. I know my goal is to teach them how to examine the facts and reach a well-supported conclusion even if that conclusion differs from my own. My students haven’t any clue who I’ve voted for or what I think of various controversial topics. They know I care about them and that I will do my best to teach them. I am not some shiny outlier either. Most of us are like this. I couldn’t tell you most of my colleagues’ political leanings. I could guess on a few, but I doubt I would get even 50% correct as a whole. There are more than 2 stances on any given issue and I’m sure my coworkers fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes. Yet listen to people talk about the education field on social media and you’d get a very skewed view. Social media is toxic in every area of life, but I promise its influence is leading to the burn out. Please don’t take everything on social media as fact. Verify it at the source. It’s what we expect the kids to do anyways. Kids are doing awful things on social media. Parents are doing awful things on social media. The community is doing awful things on social media. It’s becoming a toxic waste dump with very few redeeming qualities. I promise, unless people start to show some digital citizenship, social media will become a monster that can’t be contained.
One thing I hear almost daily is we can’t complain because we only work 9 months a year. Oh, the ignorance of that statement. We get PAID for 180 days. 180 eight hour days with prep and student free lunches and supplies provided merely teaching. What the reality is… most get to work significantly before our contract time. Most either stay beyond that contract time or take work home to do after hours. I don’t think I know any teachers who merely do their contracted time. Prep time is often filled with meetings or parent phone calls or other such things. However, we still have to plan lessons and interventions, get the materials set, and ensure we have clear lesson targets. There’s also this little thing called grading and paperwork. Needless to say those are some of the things done after hours. I shut my classroom down for 10-15 minutes daily to pump, but I do paperwork at this time. If I didn’t need to have my chest exposed, I wouldn’t even take that. Most teachers don’t end up with duty free lunch. Kids come in for help at recess. Teachers may have lunch duty. I don’t typically eat anything until after work… that includes breakfast. What teacher doesn’t end up spending $500 on stuff that will be directly consumed by the students? That is equivalent to expecting doctors to pay for the sutures and antibiotics they use on the patient. Or expecting a car mechanic to buy the oil and fuel filter they put into a customers’ car. Or a waiter paying for the napkins and condiments for the patron’s table. Teachers also are dealing with mental health needs, food insecurity, etc of their students on top of educating them. It’s just becoming too much.
I don’t have a solution for this problem. For now, I even plan to keep trucking along trying to keep my head above water in a job I truly love. However, we all have a breaking point. I know so many teachers getting ready to retire without looking back. I know teachers new to the field already leaving. On a given day, I’m close to 4 paras short. So now, the support we need isn’t being covered either. Yes, I chose this. But that doesn’t mean this is ok. And one day, I might decide it’s just no longer worth it. What happens when too many leave any one of the fields experiencing burn out? We’re drowning. People in other areas need to start throwing out a line, or there will be no one left.
If you’ve never heard the term before, describing myself as a Zebra may be a bit confusing. Obviously it is a metaphor, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out why I’m considered a zebra. This past week I finally got the diagnosis that put everything into place. However, to get the full story, we have to go back over 20 years.
My early childhood was fairly normal by all accounts. I had frequent “growing pains “ asa young child, but I was given Tylenol and told it would pass. Truth be told, I didn’t think much more about it. I was always quite flexible and my parents affectionately called me their pretzel. My grandma has always been an easy bruiser and I appeared to have inherited that trait. My parents thought nothing of any of this. When I was in fourth grade, I began having intermittent insomnia episodes. We’re talking up ALL night even with Benadryl and Melatonin. Nothing could get me to sleep. This was a bit unusual to my parents as I slept through the night at 2 weeks old and took literal 6 hour naps as a baby. This was never followed up on so to me it just became my new normal.
When I turned ten, I began to complain more and more about my “growing pains.” My parents chalked it up to my age and perhaps entering puberty. I had no reason to doubt this so I figured it was normal. When I was in 5th grade, I suddenly developed a very swollen right knee. I explained it had kind of bobbled out of joint. My parents had my uncle who was a surgeon take a look. He diagnosed it as patellar tendinitis: aka swollen tendons under my kneecap. He did say he wasn’t sure why and advised my parents to have me get it x-rayed. News flash: I did not get an X-ray at that time. The swelling eventually went down, so my parents figured it was fine. The pain never truly went away.
By 6th grade, the throbbing in my knee had only continued plus there was a new grinding pain. I noticed a lump on the side of my knee and brought it to my parents’ attention. Again, they referred to my mom’s brother. He said, and I quote, “When was the last time you had an X-ray?” When I explained I never had, the look he shot my mom was scorching. He told my parent I had an osteochondroma on my knee and it would likely need to be surgically removed. An X-ray confirmed this and a month after my 12th birthday, I had it removed. We were all hopeful this would solve all of my knee pain and I could go back to being a normal kid. Guess again…
In 7th grade I continued to complain about the knee pain. In fact, it was no longer just my right knee. I was taken back to the doctor who had done my surgery. She told me that there could be scar tissue and we could do an exploratory surgery to see. She also suggested I would grow out of it and it likely was all in my head. I don’t think I need to tell you I didn’t go back to her. That was the first time I had a medical professional not believe me and brush aside my pain. She was far from the last.
As I went through high school, more and more joints joined the painful party. By the time I was in 9th grade, it was every joint from my jaw down. I tried not to let it control my life. I still did figure skating, swimming, and cheerleading. It was somewhere in this time frame where I was now considered to have hypermobile joints and not merely flexible. I did physical therapy on and off, but there was never really any change. My dad began to take me to various specialists to try to figure out what the heck was causing my pain. I saw a neurologist. My brain MRI was completely normal. I saw a rheumatologist. My blood work and full body bone scan was also normal. Again, I was told I’d grow out of it as it was all in my head. When I was 16, I said forget it. I was done with doctors. It was challenging to get me to go even if I had something obvious like an ear infection. I frequently would sprain and dislocate various joints, but I delayed going in when at all possible.
This is also when others began to think I was faking it too. I would have what I called, “joint attacks” where everything would be in excruciating pain for days. It was so bad I could barely leave my bed and even something as simple as sitting on the toilet caused me to tear up. Coaches started rolling their eyes. Friends and teammates thought I was over dramatic. Needless to say, by 14 years old my mental health issues had begun and by 16-17 they were in full swing.
When I graduated and went to college, I chose to not let anyone know about this chronic pain. They knew I was hypermobile as that much was obvious. I also wore specially made orthotics to help with my severely pronating ankles caused by flat feet. The only thing about my health people ever noticed was my chronic bronchitis: I would get that crap 4-5 times a year. I just chalked it up to getting sick. When I was suffering from a joint attack and/or insomnia, they noticed I wasn’t feeling well and told me to go home and rest. Yeah… that didn’t actually improve anything though it likely also didn’t hurt. On a few occasions where my joints would just not stay in place, I would wear braces to help stabilize my joints. Even in college that got some weird looks. I went through all of college without looking into my chronic illness at all. I had given up on doctors.
Right after college, I got a job working for a local newspaper. That is a whole different story in itself that I doubt I’ll be sharing, but suffice to say I learned a lot in that time frame. My pain had still not gotten any better, but I just was living with it. I was only 21, but dealt with pain every single moment of every single day. In July of that year, I suddenly came down with bronchitis again. I was fairly worn down at this time as I had recently gotten out of an abusive relationship. It got so bad that my parents brought me to the ER. I finally figured out why I got sick like that so much. I had uncontrolled asthma that was triggered by allergies. Well, my main allergen is dust so you can imagine how easily my asthma was triggered. I started to gain a bit of trust in doctors again. Not enough to do much about it, but enough to at least get a primary care provider. It was also around this time that I met the man who would one day become my husband. Truthfully, I didn’t really tell him much about my chronic issues at this time. It’s not that the pain was any better. It’s just I had learned to pretend everything was fine. I didn’t even really tell anyone my internal organs had joined the party to being painful too.
In January after I graduated college, my then boyfriend and I moved out of the area for his job. I got a job as a paraprofessional in an alternative school. I spent my 22nd birthday in the ER for severe abdominal pain that was chalked up to “gastroenteritis.” I was diagnosed with GERD and told to find a primary provider in this new area. While he wasn’t the one to fully put the puzzle together, this new doctor I saw was the first one who believed me and started to figure out what he called my “lifetime hobby”. I will forever respect that man. He first noticed that I had gotten the family inevitability of a hypothyroid. This wasn’t a shock as nearly everyone from both sides of my family has it. He began looking for everything he could. I got blood tests, colonoscopies, physical exams, you name it. Nothing came up abnormal. I had a slow gallbladder, but a very rude general surgeon said it wasn’t severe enough to take out. A gastroenterologist told me she didn’t suspect the pain had anything to do with my GI tract. Finally, that wonderful primary of mine diagnosed me with fibromyalgia and an anxiety disorder. (Please note, I’m not entirely sure if I actually have fibromyalgia or if I only have the main condition I’ll reveal later. I may well have both, but since the diagnosis is so new I am not sure.)
This was also the time frame I started having trouble opening up my mouth fully. I went to the dentist and was told I had severe TMD to the point my jaw had locked. My jaw had been popping out of place so frequently that my jaw disc had warped causing it to get stuck and lock my jaw. This was the first time I began to notice I didn’t digest things normally. I was going through an awfully stressful time and I noticed I would either vomit up undigested food (my ED was in recovery at this time) or it would go through my entire digestive system undigested which was extremely painful. Eventually, I got the jaw unlocked and the digestion flare up ended. My now fiancé and I had moved back to our hometown when I experienced a digestive flare again. My gallbladder was found to be even slower, but the general surgeon wanted to do a gastric emptying study to make sure my vomiting wasn’t something else. Well, it was and that was what was causing my gallbladder to slow. I was diagnosed with moderate gastroparesis and began working to control that. That was my first “rare” diagnosis. Now, if you know anything about chronic illness, you may wonder why no one figured out what was going on with me. I have no idea. With fibromyalgia, anxiety, hypothyroidism, gastroparesis, joint hypermobility and instability, TMD, Reynauds, etc. it should have been pretty clear what my symptoms and conditions were pointing to. But it wasn’t caught.
During this time, I found a new primary provider who was beyond amazing. She believed me and even acknowledged that I knew when something was up with my body. Yeah, she’s still my primary and even is the provider for my kids. I absolutely love that woman. However, I never really highlighted all of my issued in one solid conversation. She knew of a few of them, but I never really pushed to figure out my health issues. I knew the puzzle hadn’t been completed, but I was content. Not long after I began to see her, I got pregnant with Sophia. From that point on my main focus became my kids. I sort of let my health issues fall to the wayside. I kept up on the necessary medications (and I mean only the absolutely necessary. I’ve always refused pain meds.) Did anything improve? No. I just had gotten really good at hiding it all. My husband would know when I had a gastroparesis flare up or when my pain was extra bad, but we really didn’t talk about any of that.
Once Henry was born, I started contemplating finding the missing piece that linked all of my chronic issues together. I had watched a few YouTubers with this specific genetic condition that sounded eerily familiar. I decided to look up the diagnosis criteria when Henry was about 2 months old. Well, that search hit me like a ton of bricks. It explained everything from my lack of coordination that was so bad I had coordination testing in kindergarten to my easily bruised skin. I made an appointment with my primary to finally rule it in or out.
Don’t take the above image too literally, as all I had to do was mention I suspected this condition and she immediately pulled up the diagnostic criteria. As she and I went through the list, she looked at me and said, “Well, this is very much you isn’t it.” I had prepared all of my research to show her why I suspected this, but turns out I didn’t need it. Just like she always has, she trusts my knowledge on my own body. She had absolutely no problems putting that diagnosis down as it was so evident this is what I had.
What is this mystery condition that took 20 years to diagnose? Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome; a genetic connective tissue disorder that affects many parts of the body. I don’t believe my heart is affected at least, but I did have an echocardiogram last Friday to be sure. There are heart issues on my mom’s side of the family and since we are currently unaware of which side gave me the hEDS, it was safer to rule it out. If anything changes with those results I’ll let you all know. Now, this diagnosis isn’t going to change my way of life at all. There is literally nothing more I can do aside from what I’ve already been doing. It’s a sucky revelation, but I’ve long since come to terms with the fact this is a forever thing.
How does this affect me as a busy full time working mom of 3? And why on earth do I call myself a zebra? Stress makes my pain worse. The more stressed I get, the more I clench my jaw. The more I clench, the worse my jaw gets and the more headaches it causes. This then affects my sleep which makes my joints more painful. This tends to set off my gastroparesis. Basically, I had to find systems that work for me to attempt to keep my life in check. I probably come across as very type A sometimes because of it. Truth be told, I’m actually very type B. I just have to figure out back up plans for my back up plans because I have become used to my health taking me down for a few days unexpectedly. When I feel like I’ve been run over by a ten ton truck driven by a 50 ton gorilla, I still have kids who rely on me. I have to have my ducks in a row. People ask how I do it. I wasn’t aware I was given the choice. Life goes on whether or not I feel good. And since I haven’t had a pain free day since I was 10 years old, I don’t know any different. I choose to be in control of my body, not let my body’s dysfunction control me. Of course, it means many people are unaware just how impacted I truly am. But that is a trade off I’m willing to take.
Hey, Breann! Why the heck are you a zebra? Well, in the medical world, doctors are taught that if you hear hoofbeats, don’t expect a zebra. It means that look for the most common and obvious answer (aka a horse). However, there are the occasional zebras who do in fact have the conditions considered rare. EDS (there are actually 13 subtypes) is one of these medical zebras. The zebra is often used to represent those of us who have one of the subtypes of EDS. The doctors looked for the horse with me. They just were never going to find it because this was one of the times the hoof beats belonged to a zebra.
Being a mom with a chronic illness is not easy. I don’t get sick days even though sometimes I can barely function. Thankfully, my husband knows if I’m actually mentioning my pain it is beyond bad. I’m lucky to have him be able to take over much of the duties during that time if I can’t function. I hate having to need it. Will my kids get it? I don’t know. There is definitely a possibility and I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thankfully my diagnosis paves the way for any blood relatives to have a much easier time getting a diagnosis of EDS. However, I pray I have a bunch of little horses in my house and I’m the lone zebra.
My girls are still pretty young so they would never know if their birthdays passed and we didn’t do anything. They also wouldn’t notice if their party didn’t have a theme or any decorations. So why bother? My husband even thinks I’m a little kooky for putting so much effort into parties for kids under the age of 5. I planned Sophia’s first birthday party before she had even reached 8 months. Her first and second birthdays were Sofia the First and Tea Party. The only year we didn’t do something with a fun theme was last year due to COVID, but we still had some simple dollar store Princess decorations. That was Nina’s first birthday unfortunately, so she hasn’t had many themed parties yet. But I digress. Why do I get so into these parties?
My parents did give us birthday parties every year for family and friends, so I definitely didn’t go without. Hubby Stanzell (HS) got birthday parties where his grandma hung a birthday banner and his mom homemade the cake. However, neither of us had the cutesy themed birthdays. HS couldn’t have cared less. I always loved looking at the magazines with party supplies dreaming of some themed event. I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone that I ended up pursuing a degree in theatre and writing a book. Admittedly, I may be living vicariously a bit by doing these, but at the end of the day, my kids ENJOY getting this little thing I had always wanted. It’s a good outlet for me. We really don’t do much for toys and asked others to do the same. Therefore, I think it only makes sense we put the effort into the experience. As I always tell the kids, it’s about the others’ presence not their presents. Plus, they get to feel really special for that brief space in time. That will make a more lasting impression than the most expensive gift any day.
Being the girls’ birthdays are 3 weeks apart in June and July, they will never get to celebrate during school time. They are also going to likely share a party until the day they specifically request not to. Our summers in Minnesota are so short; why not throw a big get together for the two of them to get the maximum amount of fun? Sophia starts preschool this fall, so next year we could be inviting school friends, but as of now it’s church friends, neighbors, family friends, and family. Around March every year, I start thinking about what I want to do for their party. I have the invitations out the beginning of June typically even though I throw the party in early July between their birthdays. Figuring out how to make a memorable experience for my kids gives me a thrill wedding planning or planning events for myself never did. This year, I talked to my girls about what kind of theme they wanted. When they became deadlocked on mermaids or unicorns, I decided to just do both. When I found the amazing banner on Amazon, I knew it was meant to be.
This is where the fun came in. I began to look for anything and everything that could go with the theme. I found invitations that had a mermaid tail on a unicorn. Pinterest became my go to for snacks. Not to brag, but I think I did pretty well: unicorn horn chips (bugles), homemade unicorn popcorn (popcorn with candy melt and sprinkles), salt water taffy, goldfish crackers, homemade mermaid ice cream, and rainbow fruit and veggies. I also served a few different colors of Hawaiian Punch. The decorations looked way more expensive than they were. Most things were from the dollar store or were under $5 from Walmart. I used some craft supplies from the dollar store to create personalized unicorns with the girls’ names and birthdates as well as mini canvases with their theme of choice. Nina had everything mermaid and Sophia had everything unicorn although both do like both. I also made a bunch of melt and pour soap as party favors for the guests. Sophia had a blast helping with this one nap time. HS cleaned the garage which he uses as a wood working shop in the summer and I got to work. Even though I had spent the day prior to the party deep cleaning my house, I got up early the day of the party to set up. I wanted to beat the heat and not be rushed. HS thought it was a bit much, but I transformed the garage into a magical paradise for our girls.
The party started at four so Nina could still have her nap. At 3 o’clock, I got her up and got the girls dressed in frilly skirts and custom mermaid unicorn tshirts. They LOVE matching so this was an exciting moment for them. I also got the cakes out of the fridge to start acclimating to warmer temps before I would eventually bring them out to the 85 degree party space. At 3:30, all of the food minus the cakes were brought out. The soaps were too , but I think next year I’ll wait on that. They ended up melting a bit on the table from the heat. Not that anyone cared, especially since some where still under the table and the guests went home filthy. More on that in a bit. We also took this time to give the kids their big present from us as their Daddy was setting it up in the back yard. The kids now have an awesome wooden playhouse to call their own. Along with an inflatable pool, trampoline, swing set, and mini basketball hoop, our backyard is a kids’ summer adventure zone. This is why I never plan games or activities. I just let the kids loose in the backyard. And I can assure you this has never failed yet. At 4, the guests began to arrive and the party began.
They didn’t have to wait long to get their first present from a guest. When their “Uncle Eric” came (HS’s best friend), he immediately put up their new ladder for the trampoline so they could get on by themselves. He had been on HS for months to do something. Apparently, he didn’t want to wait any longer and just got the kids’ one himself. This was an excellent thing as at one point 6 or 7 little girls between the ages of 2 and 7 were on the trampoline at the same time. Most of the little boys chose to play in the dirt. I’m not even a little bit kidding. So many people they care about came to celebrate. Sophia’s best friend was sick, but her mom (my best friend) and one of her younger sisters (Nina’s best friend) still came and surprised them. Unfortunately there were a few people who had prior engagements or had come down with an illness, but I can honestly say I was so pleased with the turnout. The “piece de resistance “ was when I brought out the 2 custom cakes. My friend, Taylor, is a very talented cake decorator. I had arranged to pay her for 2 cakes made to the girls’ requests. A chocolate cake with raspberries decorated like a unicorn for Sophia and a vanilla with Bavarian cream dyed blue (Nina wanted a blue cake) decorated with chocolate sea creatures and mermaid tails for Nina. These cakes tasted even better than they looked. In all of the years I’ve known “Uncle Eric”, I’ve never seen him eat cake. He doesn’t like sweets much. However, he had multiple pieces that day. The girls were pleasantly surprised to have gotten many gifts themed to their party including clothing, water bottles, umbrellas, and books. Below is a brief overview of some of the amazing nontoy gifts they received.
I was beyond glad at the lack of toys. Sure, there were a couple, but nothing big. My girls have very different present opening methods. Sophia opens them as fast as she can, throwing the previous gift to the ground in order to open the next. I’m not even sure she knew what half of the items were. She certainly didn’t open the cards. I still don’t know who all of the gifts were from. Nina on the other hand, opened her first gift which was a little mini Anna doll from Frozen and showed very little interest in opening anything else. We got a look when she opened Princess goldfish crackers since she loves those, but she was too in love with her Anna. She even fell asleep with it clutched in her hands. Unfortunately the very next day, her Anna doll disappeared without a trace at church so Momma had to go get a new one. We learned a valuable lesson in watching our things and how material possessions are temporary. Did her devastated two year old mind comprehend that? Probably not. But her sister’s did. Might as well turn negative experiences into a lesson.
At the end of the day, everyone had a great time. There was so much laughter from children which is the best sound in the world. Even HS talked about how much he enjoyed seeing so many kids have so much fun. It’s easy to go to bed happy when you just had a bunch of smiling, tired, and dirty children leave your house. Throwing themed parties may not be for everyone. But it is good for my momma soul. I’m already thinking about Henry’s first birthday which isn’t even until February.
Well, it is done. My publishing agreement with Christian Faith Publishing (CFP) has officially ended and all of the digital files that I own have been returned to me. My book is not in distribution currently because without paying them the 100 dollars, they won’t distribute it. What’s next for my book and The World of Ternaro? Do I have any regrets? Was CFP everything I hoped it would be? Ladies and gentlemen, it’s story time.
The Beginning: Writing and Starting with CFP
I’ve talked some on the Facebook page about how “The High Queen” and Ternaro came to be, but to sum it up, it was a dream I had one night about 7 years ago. It was so vivid and so captivating, I knew I had to write it down. It took almost 2 years as I was working on my Master’s degree at the time, but in the winter of 2016 I finally finished. On a whim, I decided to try submitting it to a publishing company. I will admit, I did not do enough research before blindly sending my manuscript to various places. I had no idea what a vanity publisher was nor what the various avenues of publishing were. I had seen commercials on TV for CFP since at the time it was a new company. My book does have some Christian themes, I’m a Christian, I naively thought that label meant something. Therefore, CFP was the company I sent it off to. Now I am well aware that traditional publishing companies do not typically accept unsolicited manuscripts. I also know that they don’t require you to pay anything and they pay you for the rights to your book. I was very protective of my work and when I saw in the commercial I kept the rights, I was super excited about it. I really did think CFP was a traditional publisher that just allowed you to keep your rights. Their website claimed they only accepted the best submissions so I truthfully was not overly optimistic. However, three days later I got the call that they had accepted my submission and were willing to move forward with the publication. The catch: I had to pay a few grand to cover the editing, ISBN registration, etc. since I would be keeping the rights. CFP would keep no part of the royalty until I recouped that cost. It sounded like a great deal to me. They did all of the work, but I got to make all of the choices. My fiancé at the the time (now my husband) was skeptical. There was little to no information on CFP because it was so new and the president had recently left a publishing company that was similar but was in hot water for unethical business practice. CFP claimed he left when he saw the problems at Tate Publishing and started his own. I was convinced. It sounded great! A Christian company that allowed me to retain the power. The only problem was the money. My fiancé was not for it. When my dad offered to pay for my book to be published, I took the offer gratefully. My book was about to become a reality.
Publishing and The First Two Years
The publishing process was truthfully very easy. I worked with their editing team to do any editing. This is something I have no regrets for because my book has gotten good reviews for great editing. A well edited book definitely is not a bad thing. I was not overly impressed with their graphic team’s work for the cover art and still don’t love it, but it sufficed. I handled none of the nitty gritty involved with copyright and such. In May/June 2016, “The High Queen” was a reality. I even gave copies of it out to the ladies in my wedding as a thank you. I saw the press release made when the book was officially launched. I was told it was distributed to bookstores nationwide as well as most online markets. While I never saw it in the nearest Barnes and Noble, it was online as promised. I figured I just didn’t see it. Shortly after it was published, I started a new job and got pregnant with my first child. I had figured everything was being handled by CFP, so I didn’t think much of it. This was a rather dark time in my life as highlighted in a previous blog. I definitely was not in a space to focus on being an author. I did receive a (albeit small) royalty check in 2017 so I figured it was doing ok. I never checked in with any sales sheets because my mental health was down the toilet. Once I started stabilizing, I realized CFP did absolutely no marketing for my book. I looked into it and was told that for an extra fee I could get some marketing materials from CFP, but I would be in charge of distributing it. I also was eligible for a discount with the preferred marketing firm they used. Well, I wasn’t about to pour more money in. I began to get a little skeptical. It was at this time my website and Facebook page were created to help do a little marketing. I do actually have a minor in business so I put what very little extra time I had into setting that up. CFP wasn’t at fault for my poor mental health so it was my fault sales weren’t great, right?
Second Wind: Trying Again
Around this time, the publishing agreement was up for renewal the first time. My husband was not thrilled with how they had turned out, but I wasn’t willing to admit defeat just yet. I decided to give it one more go. After signing the agreement and paying an additional $100 that hadn’t even been recouped from royalties yet, I was determined to really put in the effort to market my book. I started posting much more frequently on the Facebook page. I paid to boost the posts so more people saw them. At the time, Facebook allowed you to schedule posts so I had things set up to
post almost daily. I was pregnant with my second child at the time so I made sure posts would still be going up after she was born. Once she was born, I went on Facebook live to introduce her. I continued to push the book. Money was paid so my book could be officially reviewed by Online Book Club. It received a great rating. When Nina was about 8 months old, COVID hit so I began to put even more time into promoting my book. I started the YouTube channel to make videos there instead so more people could access it without me paying money. I got the idea for Magix Marketplace to help with promoting the book (which will still be continuing). Almost exactly one year ago, I did an interview with the marketing company CFP uses and got a free professional video out of the deal. What better time to promote a book than during a global pandemic!
A few weeks after doing the interview, I learned I was pregnant with my third child. Having a 3 year old, 1 year old, morning sickness, and preparing to teach in person during a pandemic meant I again needed to take a step back. Once I was able to keep food down consistently, I went back to posting more frequently and making some videos. When school started back up I wasn’t able to be available daily anymore, but I still was available. How many more royalty checks had I seen? Zero. Now I knew there were sales due to having friends and family purchasing as well as purchasing some myself for reviews and other marketing things. I finally looked into the sales report from CFP. Something was NOT adding up. They claimed only 15 books TOTAL, including both print and ebook, had been sold. Keep in mind, more than that had been purchased by myself and people I knew. I began to take a good hard look at this “publisher” I had signed up with. It seems others had been having a problem with sales reports not adding up a well. CFP always had some excuse how it was the distributor or Amazon only reported that many or something stupid like that. I began researching this “hybrid” publishing company and learned about the term vanity publisher. Turns out, this is a pretty unethical form of publishing. Sure, you keep your rights and they do all of the initial leg work, but they do Jack squat for marketing so they can pretty much keep the thousands of dollars you sunk into the project while you have to foot the bill for any marketing… but they don’t tell you that. They rope you in with, “keep your rights”, “we distribute it to all sorts of retailers”, etc., etc. CFP uses the term “Christian Faith” to promote themselves as more trustworthy. Y’all, I had fallen hook, line, and sinker for a marketing scheme.
Cutting Ties and Moving Forward
Obviously from the end of February onward, my life has gotten exponentially busier as my third child was born. My second was only 20 months old and my oldest was 3.5. I did begin to look into what other publishing routes were available as I was pretty sure I would not renew the publishing agreement. When I got the letter to renew in May, I tried to call the company. No answer and there was initially no returned message. I tried emailing, dm on Instagram, leaving a review on BBB. Yeah, that didn’t work. This is when I really began researching what I could do. I knew self-publishing was an option. It wouldn’t change much from before, but I would no longer have to pay CFP. Not ideal, but doable. I could find a traditional publisher, but I likely would need to find a literary agent first. A lot more work upfront, but likely would show more results in the long run. When CFP finally returned my call, I gave them one last chance to make things right. Nope. Same old excuses that everyone else had talked about. I officially told them I would not be renewing the agreement and began to wait for my digital property to be returned. I learned my book would be pulled, but I knew I could self publish once I got it or send the manuscript then. Given I have no literary agent at this time, I’m likely going to need to self publish for awhile until I find one. I may also need to pay a marketing firm for a bit to get sales rolling. At least then I’d see the return. My end goal is still to publish with a traditional publisher. Free batch of custom soap to anyone who can get me a literary agent or publisher to take on my unsolicited manuscript. I’m not even kidding. I really would like that to happen. But as of now, it’s like I’m almost at square one.
What can we expect from you now?
It is still summer break, so I plan to really look into the self publishing this week. I received the digital property today, so I can hopefully get that started relatively quickly. Hopefully by mid-July, my book will be available as an ebook again. I’ll have to look into the marketing side of things. Truthfully, I don’t know what I’ll do there. Once I have that set up, I’ll begin the process of finding a literary agent. I’m hopeful I can find one. Again, any and all advice is appreciated. I messed up with the initial launch. All of these things should have been done 5 years ago. If anyone knows my husband, you can say I’m publicly admitting he was right and I was wrong. CFP totally fooled me. But I’m not giving up. I’m going to keep trying. Quitting is not something I typically do and I don’t feel like changing that now.
Would I do things differently? Absolutely! Am I happy with CFP? NO! The editing and initial logistics were awesome, but aside from that it was not worth the 3 grand. Have I seen any more royalties since the first $50? No. Even though they still owe some. Will I fight that? I’m not sure yet. Would I recommend CFP or any other vanity publisher?
Mother’s Day is tomorrow and maybe you’ve been thinking of what to get that special lady in your life. Maybe you’re the mommy ready to receive a wonderful gift celebrating the gift(s) you brought into the world. Whatever the case, there is one thing mom’s everywhere can agree on: a good night’s sleep.
The First Was Indeed The Worst...
Sleeper, I mean. Sophia was up every 15 minutes that first night in the hospital. Unfortunately, that was just the kind of sleeper she was. I was a first time mom and I was stumbling through it all. A good night was getting 2 solid hours of sleep in a row and having wake ups only lasting 45 minutes. I remember one night spending two hours getting Soph back to sleep. As soon as I placed her in the bassinet, my husband passed gas and woke her up. I quite literally cried with the baby. Sleeping for an hour, being up for two, and repeating the process was beyond exhausting. I put on a brave face, but I would have done questionable things for more than 4 hours of sleep.
As Sophia got older and still wasn’t sleeping through the night or even more than 3 hours at a time, I decided to try sleep training. I tried so many different methods I read about online. I was never a huge fan of the cry it out method, but I even tried that. Nothing was even remotely successful. None of the methods really fit my unique life or my very strong willed child. I even paid for a sleep training program. To give an idea of how well it worked for us, I can’t even remember the name of it. I eventually gave up and decided I just wouldn’t be able to sleep train her. I even began to doubt sleep training was even something that worked. Sophia finally slept through the night for the first time at 14.5 months, but didn’t do it consistently until almost two. When Nina was born, I resigned myself to the notion sleep was going out the window for a couple of years.
The turning point where my belief changed
Nina turned out to be a far milder mannered child than Sophia and a much better sleeper. I thought she was a “good” sleeper. Turns out, she was average but compared to my previous experience, she was amazing. One thing Nina wasn’t good at was self soothing. It took awhile to get her down and she had to nurse. She spent many nights next to me in the bed so I didn’t have to wake up fully to nurse her in the middle of the night. It was a method that worked. Well, at least until February 2020.
A month before the whole world shut down, Nina spiked a high fever and just cried. I took her to urgent care right away. She ended up with Influenza B and a double ear infection. I was pretty much nursing her around the clock for a week. It was the only thing that comforted her. Given she was actually quite sick, I have no regrets about doing this. However, it caused her sleep to get really bad. She was getting up constantly at night and needing to nurse. The illness had caused her to go through a sleep regression. However, now I had two kids to care for and I became desperate. One day when I was talking to my best friend right after COVID hit, I confided just how bad my sleep had gotten.
My friend Jen had recently done training to become a sleep consultant and immediately began suggesting sleep training. I was skeptical to say the least, but I figured since I was stuck at home anyways I might as well give it a shot before the “15 days to flatten the curve” ended. Now, I had no idea just how much time I had really had, but it was a decision I would never regret. Jen’s method wasn’t just another black and white method online. She tailored the plan to my needs and to Nina as an individual. It took only three days and Nina was sleeping through the night in her crib in her own room. It didn’t take long before she was sleeping better than Sophia.
Sleep: An Investment Worth Every Penny
I was now a firm believer in the amazing thing that was sleep training. Nina still is a better sleeper than Sophia and is so easy to get down. Even her daycare comments how easy it is to get her to nap. When I found out Nina would be a big sister at around 20 months old, I no longer feared the horrible lack of sleep. Jen told me there were things I could start when the baby was a newborn that would make sleep training down the line that much easier. I was confident a I could handle whatever Henry could throw at me. Turns out Henry is an amazing sleeper and super easy going, but I still am using some of those things to set him up for success later. He’s only two months old so I can’t sleep train yet, but I know who to turn to when I do.
If you had asked me before I had kids what I thought about paying someone to help teach your child Yao sleep through the night, I would have thought you were crazy. I no longer have that opinion. Having help does something the articles online could never accomplish: tailoring the method to the child and being there through issues for morale support. On paper, it may sound a little far fetched, but in reality, it’s the most amazing investment you could ever make.
Full disclosure, I am clearly not objective as this is my best friend’s business. However, I am getting nothing for promoting her. It wasn’t even her idea; I told her this was something I was going to do. I also would never promote something unless I truly believed in it. She frequently posts helpful hints on Facebook, writes articles in a local paper, and has a website set up for parents in need of sleep. Follow the link below for access to the website, links to the Facebook page, her email, and phone number. Consultations are done virtually, so it’s even pandemic friendly! I promise, it’s a gift no mother will regret... or father for that matter.
Everything about Henry’s entrance in this world was surrounded by one adjective: unexpected. It’s taken me awhile to write this, because it’s taken me time to come to terms with some of this as well as digesting that he is likely my last baby. I’ve never told my girls’ birth stories and I may do so later, but this is Henry’s.
When I got pregnant with my girls, neither time was what you’d call a complete surprise. In fact, when I told my husband I wanted to talk to him when I got home to tell him I was pregnant with Nina, he searched the bathroom for a pregnancy test. Henry, on the other hand, took ever careful tracking me by surprise. I had only had a couple of periods since Nina was born and they were barely trackable. I was trying to get a handle on ovulation and such since we used natural family planning, but I really wasn’t paying super close attention. It was June of 2020 and due to the nose dive of the world, my mental health was also very poor. On Nina’s first birthday, I began the weaning process to help track cycles more. I really had only dropped one feed but it ended up being a super easy weaning those first two weeks which is not what I expected after my experience with Sophia. Little did I know I had already conceived by her birthday.
Two weeks after Nina turned one, I woke up feeling hungover and like my pelvis was being hacked in half. Now, I’m not a big drinker and it had been months since my last alcoholic beverage at this time. I also was confused because the pain felt like the Symphysis pubis dysfunction I get while pregnant and deal with for a few months after. That was the light bulb. I had one lone pregnancy test left and figured it would be a waste, but I’d try it anyways. I mean, I hadn’t gotten my period but it was still all over the place. No surprise to anyone reading this, but that test was positive. My husband says the same thing daily when we see each other after work; “Anything new?” I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I’m pregnant again.” He was definitely taken aback. He wasn’t upset or mad or anything juvenile like that. He was just surprised. However, he would never let anyone refer to Henry as an ooops or anything like that. Henry was just conceived earlier than expected in his mind.
We decided early on with this pregnancy that we were going to be done with 3. There were many factors that played into this unanimous decision but it was never even argued. We just knew we were a three strikes and we’re out family. After having two girls, I was convinced I would end up with 3 girls like my best friend. I never even let myself think I would get a boy. Truth be told, I was ok with this. The sex of our kids has never mattered to us; we just liked knowing to get things ready. Dan was getting frustrated with people assuming he must be desperate for a boy and we looked forward to finding out to just shut people up. His sister was also due with a little boy 8 weeks before me so we wondered what kind of playmate our nephew Hudson would have. Due to Dan’s work, I went to the ultrasound alone. Henry was not shy about his boy parts and I saw it before we even got to that part of the scan. We were surprised but thrilled that we were expecting our first son.
The rest of my pregnancy went pretty similarly to my girls with the exception of my pelvic issues being worse and gaining far less weight than with my girls. The entire time I had a feeling he would be early. I was hoping he would come March 3rd. That would be at 37 weeks 6 days which is almost exactly the point at which Nina came. It is also my grandma and aunt’s birthdays. As I neared my due date, it became more and more obvious my gut feeling that I would not make it to 40 weeks was accurate. Many people close to me became to speculate he wouldn’t even wait until March. I figured he’d be a very early March baby.
At my 37 week appointment, I told my doctor about the discomforts I had been feeling. While I knew it sounded like I was in the last few days before labor, I wanted his opinion. Well, he and my cervix both agreed with that. It was decided that February 26th, the next day, would be my last day of work. My work is 30 minutes away from home and an hour from my doctor. Nina was a short and fast labor so I was no longer allowed to travel. Before I left, my doctor said he figured he’d see me over the weekend. He never says things like this so I believed him. Plus, he was on call and he always is on call when I go into labor and my husband was on nights and that is the shift all of my kids were born during. Well, he was only partially right on this one.
Saturday night, the 27th, I started getting contractions around 9:20 pm. They were very spread apart so I didn’t tell Dan when he left for work. I figured it would taper off. At 12:20, I let him know I was now having contractions every 5-7 minutes and I may need to call him home. By 1 am, it was clear that’s what was happening and I called him and my mother in law. After Dan got home, I called the hospital to let them know we were on our way. Curveball number one: this particular weekend was a full moon and the hospital was full apparently. They turned me away. My doctor was on call, but I would not get him. I would not be at my familiar hospital. I had to find somewhere else to deliver. I had a complete anxiety attack. While I knew it made the most sense, Dan insisted we go to the hospital I did not particularly like.
I had no idea where the maternity ward even was here, but thankfully the security guard guided us. This hospital was also bursting at the seams, but unlike my regular hospital, they didn’t turn away women in labor. They just moved women who already had their babies to other rooms. When I got there, I was taken to what I assumed was a triage room like my regular place. Nope: it was their COVID screening room. I would not be allowed into a labor and delivery room until I had a negative COVID test. So there I am, barely holding it together and getting a COVID test. They’re trying to get my records from my regular place and also rerunning some tests I had already had done. I am a phlebotomist’s nightmare and so I typically opt out of an IV during labor if I’m strep B negative. Well, this hospital didn’t let me do that. It took EIGHT separate tries to get it in. This isn’t a new thing and wasn’t their fault, but it was not enjoyable while in labor. Finally, a nurse who got called in 4 hours early due to how busy it was (it was 2:30 am by this time) finally got it in shortly before 3. She said she would be my nurse and she really had this awesome demeanor. Kathy was a God send and the real MVP of nurses.
After my IV line was finally placed, I received word my COVID test was negative and I could go to a regular room. I hoped this meant labor would finally really kick into high gear as the cortisol from the stress was preventing too strong of contractions. That and I make amniotic sacks of steel and they never break without the doctor. Kathy called the doctor, who was an hour away, and I began prepping for the real deal. Around 5 am, the doctor arrived and said she would break my water since as expected I had a bulging bag but it wouldn’t break on its own. However, she quickly realized Henry had his arm over his head. If she broke my water, his arm could get stuck and he could end up with shoulder dystocia. As this can cause injury to mom and baby, I had to wait to see if he would move. I was told to lay down and relax. At 6, she came back in and told me she was going to check his position. However, because the monitor was showing I wasn’t having contractions anymore (I was, the monitor had slipped), if I hadn’t made any progress, she wasn’t going to do anything as I was only 37 weeks. Cue major stressor again. At this point I felt it was one thing after another. Thank God I had actually progressed to 6 cm dilated and 90% effaced so it was clear labor had not stopped. My water was broken, I got some lavender essential oil to breathe in during contractions, and I sat on a ball to do my thing.
At about 7 am, Kathy came in and said the monitor either slipped again or Henry was moving away from it as they weren’t picking things up again. She readjusted the sensors and I continued my zen handling of labor by deeply breathing in the lavender oil and praying for women experiencing infertility. However, Kathy came in once again at 7:30 because those sensors on my belly just weren’t picking Henry up well. Little stinker kept moving. So, much to my extreme enjoyment (cue sarcasm), I had an internal fetal monitor placed. This was the first time with any of my kids I had any issues with monitors. They had been having so many issues they hadn’t unhooked me the entire time yet even though I was supposed to go without continuous monitoring. At first this seemed to do the trick and I continued with the most zen labor I’ve ever had. This was more due to me trying to over come the craziness so far and knowing how to handle contractions than anything else. At around 8:45, I was told it looked like he might have really gone into my pelvis as his heart rate kept dropping to below 100 during contractions. However, when they checked me I was only 7.5 cm dilated. The good news was, the internal monitor came loose during this time and when it was replaced it seemed to be working properly.
With the dips chalked up to a poorly set monitor, I was once again left to my own devices. We all were getting impatient as this was ending up to be a much longer labor than I’d ever had. I was very concentrated on keeping calm because I knew it was due to the stress I was dealing with. I have read books by Ina May Gaskin and I knew labors required you to relax in order for things to progress normally. I personally have always chosen to go pain med free during labor so I did this with breathing and other such methods. I was really doing all I could to help my body progress. The contractions were big and I was doing what I could to overcome the cortisol. Unfortunately, it turned out the dips in Henry’s heart rate were not a monitor problem. By 9:30, it became clear this was continuing to happen during contractions. I was hooked up to fluids and told to lay down to see if this would help. At this time, my best friend asked if they had suggested the dreaded pitocin yet. I always text her throughout labor and she always has good advice and encouragement. I said no because I was having good contractions. I had spoken too soon.
Sitting on an exercise ball is a great way to open up the pelvis and use gravity to keep labor going. Laying down in bed doesn’t work as well for me. My contractions started to go back to where they had been earlier in the day: just not strong enough to make any progress past a certain point. However, Henry’s heart rate would drop if I moved out of the position I was laying in. I had stalled out at 7.5 cm and I couldn’t do the natural things to progress my labor. This was at 10 am and I was exhausted. I was told they wanted to start Pitocin. Kathy, bless her soul, knew this was not what I wanted and she told me to think about it and come get her. I texted my best friend who texted her sister with 9 kids of her own. Both of them told me what I already knew but needed to hear from them; I needed the Pitocin to help get Henry out before he really went into distress and a c-section would be needed. In fact, my bestie told me to prep for the possibility. We have a mutual friend whose son was stillborn due to lack of action and a delayed c-section when he went into distress so this was something she couldn’t leave unsaid. She knew I needed that so I would be ready to ok the action if needed.
When I got hooked up to the Pitocin, I had another anxiety attack. Kathy was amazing and talked me through. She told me I had everyone fooled that the curve balls weren’t shaking me and I was one of the calmest natural laboring mothers they had ever seen. She also encouraged me they wouldn’t give me more than needed and she figured it wouldn’t be much. That amazing woman was right. They started Pitocin at 10:30 and by shortly after 11 I was making the noises I do shortly before I need to push. Dan even told Kathy this. All of a sudden at about 11:17, the look on my face changed and both Kathy and I realized I needed to push. Kathy had realized at this time everything I told her about my body was accurate and since Nina was 30 seconds of pushing, she called the doctor in immediately. The doctor assured me I was still only 9 cm and asked if I would move to my back from my hands and knees. Well, I hate pushing on my back and I knew I had a mere seconds before we were at the point of no return. She tried telling me I had a greater chance of tearing. Given I had Sophia in this position with no issues, I ignored her and said I’m pushing now. Well, I beat my own record of 30 seconds. Henry was born a mere 15-20 seconds after I told the doctor I was going to push. It was so fast they put on my file “fully dilated 11:18, delivered 11:19.” And like with my girls, there were no issues to me.
Henry’s birth was a roller coaster ride. My first thought after was, “Thank God I never have to do that again.” However, Henry Albert Stanzell arrived safely on February 28th making my doctor correct that he wouldn't hold out through that weekend. Unless the big guy upstairs intervenes, he will be my last baby. If I ever do happened to get pregnant again, I’ll have to seriously consider delivering at the same hospital as Henry (incidentally also where I was born) because Kathy was the best nurse I’ve ever had and I’ve never had a bad one. It just goes to show there are silver linings even in the craziest of situations.
In some ways, my mental health journey with Sophia was the worst because I didn’t say anything and took no steps to help or prevent the fallout. I also was in a toxic work situation which meant I was a mess all around. With Nina, in many ways I was so much better... until COVID hit. Given my pregnancy and beyond journey until I got pregnant with Henry goes until this June, the world falling apart came into play. TW: I will continue to talk about mental health issues as well as potentially triggering events in the world.
I got pregnant with Nina in October once again and shortly thereafter I lost my milk supply completely. While bittersweet, my nursing journey with Sophia had ended. I was just as anxious and full of Googling, but I was able to function better. At 4 weeks along, not only did my Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction return, but the next day I fell down the stairs and broke my tailbone... again. I had broken it twice in high school and it was definitely a longer heal time as an adult. I decided to give Baby Center forums a try again, but was very careful to avoid triggering posts. That did help, and for awhile I was actually able to handle the forum. When I was 9 weeks pregnant, I took the Sneak Peek DNA test to find out if Sophia was getting a sister or brother. I told no one I did it. When the result came up girl, I was hesitantly thrilled. I knew there was a chance it was wrong, but I also knew girl results were more likely to be correct. This was something I enjoyed talking about on the forum.
During this time is also when things with our home build went from bad to worse. I won’t go into many details, but I will say there was a major personality conflict between my husband and the contractor. About a week before moving in (2 months behind schedule), the contractor said something to my husband that was beyond unprofessional and we had to fire him. Dan finished the last essentials required for us to get our permit of occupancy a mere ten days before we needed to be out of our apartment. The carpet literally was put in the day prior. Moving while 11 weeks pregnant, having a 17 month old, and racing against the clock in Minnesota winter is behind miserable. The comment made also affected my husband more than I think he wanted to admit and I felt the need to give him more support.
This is when I realized how bad Baby Center really is when you are struggling and reaching out for support. I had talked a bunch about the things I was experiencing and how my mental health was tanking. Cue the sancto moms and mental health shamers. Apparently they missed Thumper’s lesson on not saying anything if you can’t say anything nice. I’m not talking constructive criticism here. I’m talking pure, unadulterated mean. I realized then and there Baby Center was poorly moderated and in a community of vulnerable pregnant women it was a toxic waste dump. I left that forum and have never, even to this day, returned. However, the damage was done. I had hit the spiral.
In March, we got to get the anatomy scan to find out (or in my case confirm) the sex of our baby. She was 100% girl, but there was also a problem. Her intestines were showing up as bright as her bones; a condition known as an echogenic bowel. This can be an indication of many issues. While I had gotten the quad screen at 16 weeks that was clear, the MFM (due to family history on both sides of my family of spina bifida, I always have one present at the anatomy scan) felt more in depth testing was necessary. This meant many blood tests that checked for multiple genetic conditions. While they came up normal, we did learn that as I do not carry the gene for Cystic Fibrosis like Dan’s sister, we would not have to worry about having a child with the condition. Multiple ultrasounds followed to keep an eye on the bowel. At 30 weeks, her bowel mysteriously corrected and we never found out the cause. The many prayers seemed to have worked.
Thankfully my current job is not as toxic and work life was much better. There were some issues going on that thankfully were just specific to that year, but I just kept doing what I knew I needed to. My boss is amazing, so I was able to leave that drama at work. I did have a student in severe mental crisis which was extremely hard. I’m talking a very young kid trying to kill himself at school, spending time at a child psych ward in Mayo, and still being aggressive beyond belief. I promise you, having to tell parents that their child’s needs cannot be met in a regular school and he needs a higher setting until he stabilized is no fun task. It isn’t the first nor last time I’ve had to have that conversation, but I never enjoy that part of being the social, emotional, behavioral teacher. I was already pregnant and emotional so it was something that did follow me home.
Eventually that school year came to a close and I was good to enjoy the rest of my pregnancy at home. Right after work ended, Dan and I took a baby moon to Quebec City. I was 34.5 weeks pregnant, but we had so much fun. Apparently I like to prove I can still hike like the rest world while pregnant because I hiked the water falls there and walked the Old Town portion with minimal sitting. It was a great trip and we returned refreshed and ready to wait the next 5+ weeks until Nina arrived.
Now, I was doing fairly ok at this time. I had prepared myself to go right up to 40 weeks again so while I was feeling very uncomfortable, I wasn’t impatient. I did start to doubt this theory at 37 weeks 4 days though when she dropped significantly. We’re talking waddling to the 200th power here. However, I just blew it off... until around 3 am the next morning when I started getting prodromal labor. I went to my dentist appointment and everything because they weren’t major. Just every 7-13 minutes for about 30 seconds. Nothing was progressing so I just chalked it up to false labor. Again, until 4 when they switched. Suddenly they were pretty regularly at 5-7 minutes and I couldn’t talk through them easily. I didn’t even eat dinner as I wasn’t hungry. Finally when we put Sophia down around 8, I decided to call the hospital to see what they said. They suggested coming in. They figured the false labor had started to move to early labor and since it was a 2nd baby better to check. We left around 8:30ish after I sort of threw a bag together. I figured I was going to get sent home anyways. I have friends who have had false labor for weeks before it does anything. Yeah... that didn’t happen.
When I got to the hospital, I was decently dilated and showing signs things would move fast. My contractions were much more minor than they wanted, but they figured that would pick up. My doctor was shocked to hear I was there. The nurse told him to come right away as she didn’t think it would be long. I’m super thankful for her intuition. He decided to break my water around 9:30 to increase contractions. That did the trick because they picked right up... so much so that around 11:30 I had reached the very dreaded transition and was no longer rational. I’ll spare the gory details, but at just before 12:10 am the nurse had to yell for the doctor to walk across the room because she was coming. He barely made it across the room in the 30 seconds from that announcement to her being completely born. I’m not exaggerating. She was born so fast she didn’t get the fluid out of her lungs and had to be put on the CPAP for an hour to clear her lungs. This is something that is typically only needed for c-section babies who aren’t “squeezed”. This meant I did not get my golden hour, nor was I really able to process I had just had a baby. I went from thinking I was going to be sent home at 9 pm to showering after giving birth and not seeing my baby at 12:30am. This messed with me a bit. I was so sad I didn’t get that time.
Things were pretty decent at first. I had a bridesmaid dress to fit in 13 weeks later and I wanted to lose weight. However, I wanted to be healthy so I set small goals for all the way to the end of the school year to reach my goal weight. My first goal was my sister in law’s wedding. I made that goal and fit perfectly into the dress that was a typical size too big for me. Until November, I continued with this method and I was doing awesome. Then the holidays came... I wasn’t doing things right anymore. I wanted the delicious holiday food. So I would eat what I wanted then purge. Yep, my eating disorder resurfaced. I told myself it was just until after the holidays. Well, it didn’t happen in January. Too much trying to compensate for the holidays. It didn’t happen in February: Nina had the flu and it took a full 6 weeks for her to recover from influenza b and a double ear infection. She stopped all milestones at that time. She just moaned on my lap for a week and wouldn’t do anything but nurse.
Finally Nina started to get back to herself. Any guesses as to when this was? Yeah, it was March. Right around the time the whole world shut down. I won’t go too deeply into what made me such a mess since we all know what a disaster 2020 was, but suffice to say the stay at home order, teaching from home with no notice or training, taking care of a toddler and an infant, etc. was not conducive for good mental health. I did seek counseling online at this time, but BetterHeath isn’t the best platform. I had more therapist no shows than appointments. However, I was trying. In May, people started showing the effects of social isolation. So many things happened in the world, especially in my home state and the division and hatred became way too much for me. Think of the world I created in my book. Peace, kindness, helping more than harming. Our world was (and still is) the stark opposite of Ternaro. I decided the best thing for me was to stop looking at the news and to limit social media. This was an excellent idea. I still was purging, but I was better. Nina’s first birthday came (she started walking at a very young 9 months and was very active) and my best friend had her 3rd little girl. I was feeling baby fever but thought maybe a bit more stability was warranted. Plus, I wanted an April or May due date. This is like prime teacher due date time. There are 2 teachers at the school I’m at due this school year at that time.
He big man upstairs did not agree. One morning between Nina and Sophia’s birthdays, I woke up feeling hung over and like someone had taken an axe to my pelvis. I rarely drink let alone enough to get hungover. It had been months since I had any at all. And the pelvic pain was just like the SPD I only get when pregnant or healing postpartum. My thought, “No, I can’t be.” I had one test in the house and figure I was about to waste it. I didn’t. Dan came home from work that day asking his usual “what’s new.” He was not expecting the answer I gave. And that starts the mental health journey with Henry. He’s not due into March 2021, so you’ll have to wait for that one. But I promise, it is no less a journey than with his sisters.
Awhile back when I announced my third pregnancy, I mentioned I would be talking about my mental health journey in response to motherhood. Originally I had planned to do a YouTube video, but I have decided to dedicate that channel to things specifically for the World of Ternaro. Anything about being a mom or perhaps even a teacher will go here. I’m more than just an author, so I would like to share that with you all. TRIGGER WARNING: talk of mental health issues, ED, suicide, pregnancy loss.
I’ll start this journey when I got pregnant with Sophia in October of 2016. I will mention that I’ve struggled with anxiety and eating disorders since high school, so this is important to note. I also should mention I have a few chronic conditions that are always at play as well: fibromyalgia, joint hyper mobility, gastroparesis. Dan and I had only been married a few months and I had just started a teaching job at my own former high school teaching high school special education. We were very excited to find out we were expecting the Friday after Election Day. My nephew’s first birthday was that weekend, and while I had wanted to keep our news a wee bit quieter for awhile, everyone at the party was told. Because I’m a very realistic person, I knew the risk of miscarriage and it made me nervous for so many to know when I was only 4 weeks.
This is where the anxiety began. I had been very stable prior to this and had even gone off of my medication for it. Every waking moment I spent agonizing over whether or not everything was going ok with the pregnancy. I installed the Baby Center app on my phone and obsessed over the forums. If you don’t have kids yet, I will caution you to stay far away from these. There are truly great people on the forum, but there are nasty, petty people as well who love to sancto-mom those who are truly struggling. Reading horror stories, dealing with mean ladies, etc. only added to my falling mental stability. While I had a history of anxiety, I did not confide into anyone about how bad it was. I just continued to obsess over whether or not I was showing signs of a miscarriage.
Looking back now, it’s extremely embarrassing, but I was not doing as well at work due to the mental health issues as I thought. No one at work knew at this time, of course, but I’m sure my work performance showed a sudden change. Unfortunately, the mentorship program at this school was not great. My mentor never really checked in on me, made sure things were good, etc. I didn’t know there were things I should have been asking about due to being new to the world of high school sped, so I never sought her out. Add the not knowing what I didn’t know to the obsessing and, well, I’m sure my professional performance was downright awful. I said and did things on the job that now I’m ashamed of. I was so all consumed, I literally wasn’t processing building a career. Knowing what I know now, which I will talk about in a bit, it set me up for failure in that district. The climate at that school was not one of supporting each other. A staff member, who I do not know which one, went to someone and started the rumor mill about one of the things I said and it got to the principal. Well, a twisted version was reiterated to me by the principal. However, she could have been the one to twist it. This is when I started to become aware of the toxic climate, though perhaps not consciously. She guilted me into breaking my keeping home and work separate and I started to have lunch and socialize with the paras and teachers.
On it’s own, this doesn’t sound like much. When there are who staff events where I am now, I happily join. However, the daily sharing of personal information and such set me up. I’m sure they witnessed my mental health descent, but looking back at least one of them just used it as a dirt gathering technique. I wish I could tell you I got better, but as pregnancy progressed it actually got worse. After some therapy, I’ve also realized that on top of the prenatal anxiety a toxic work environment contributed. I was bordering on thinking about whether or not life was worth living. Not quite to suicidal ideation, but I was well on my way. Again, due to shame, I told no one. At this point I had taken myself off of Baby Center and social media in general, but that only led to me keeping more inside.
I was dealing with significant pain at this time as well. I knew the risk was there due to my hyper mobile joints, but I developed Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction very early in pregnancy. I started feeling it around 6 weeks in this pregnancy, and my pelvis had begun to separate with severe instability around the halfway point. In true Sophia fashion, she was stubborn and picked a spot to live from the beginning and stayed there. Unfortunately for me, that spot was her head resting in my right hip area directly on my sciatic nerve. Once I got to around 24 weeks, she was heavy enough to cause sciatic nerve pain down my right leg 24/7. And by 24/7, I mean I felt it nonstop until 30 minutes before she was born. Chiropractic care helped, but only minimally. Her position also started swelling fairly early on. I was a mental health mess in severe pain.
Throughout all of this, I continued to work in fear of the toxic work environment that I hadn’t even come to realize the extent of. One Friday afternoon at 3:15 as I was talking to one of my students who happened to also be on the speech team I was heading out the door to coach subsections for, the principal came in. She informed me in her fake saccharine way that my contract would not be renewed the next year and at the end of the school year I was unemployed. She did not tell me why and I didn’t have time to ask due to needing to go to the speech meet. I highly doubt this was not the plan. No one had ever sat me down in the last few months to give me things to improve. Everything they had talked to me about in November, I had fixed. Here I was, almost 6 months pregnant and having to look for a new job. I called my husband hysterical. I had skipped a cousin’s wedding that weekend so I could prove my dedication and not miss work. I also called my parents who were in Nashville for the wedding. This started the darkest of my descents.
As I was coaching the speech meet, I didn’t find out this happened until almost 9 pm, but my husband called the principal and left a very not so nice message for her about her cowardly and unprofessional way of firing me. He wasn’t exactly proud of doing it, but in the moment he was very upset someone hurt his wife that way. Given the way she had done what she did and my husband’s call, I called the union president that Saturday. He said that the phone call was no biggie as I didn’t do it and that while there was nothing the union could do as I wasn’t tenured, she had behaved in a very unprofessional manner. However, what no one knew is this led me to becoming full on suicidal. I turned off my phone and parked by a reservoir telling myself I needed to wait until after Sophia was born then I could let the world be better off. I was also not wanting to go back to that school. If it weren’t for my students I wouldn’t have. I was determined to not tell them and keep their world stable.
That Monday walking into the school was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Every part of my brain told me to run away. Mental health wise, it would have been better for me. As I was walking in, a former teacher of mine talked to me about my firing. I had no idea how she knew, but I was too depressed and focused on climbing 4 flights of steps to dwell on it. I tried to pretend like things were as normal as possible. I spent less time eating lunch with coworkers, but my students were completely unaware anything had changed. What I didn’t know is that Dan’s phone call had become common knowledge in the staff without my consent and many things (some of which I’m only partially aware of today) Ahmad been added to the story. Two weeks passed and I thought the worst was passed. That is until I had my final performance evaluation with the principal. She did not speak to me about my performance or how I could improve. Not that she was ever great in that department, but today was different. She confronted me about knowing I knew about the phone call. She told me everyone was talking about it and touched slightly on things that were being said about me. She went on and on about all of these things and how the superintendent said if it was proven I would be escorted out of the building for insubordination. I was speechless. Largely because none of this was true and she told me even the principal (who had recently left that school and was a former teacher of mine) for a job I had applied for knew about it.
From that moment on, I was fearful to be at work. I had no idea who was talking about me, who was starting rumors, and what they would start next. I stayed in my classroom and talked to no one aside from what was required. I was 7 months pregnant, very swollen, extremely sore and looking for a new job. Work was hell on earth and for my students I pretended all was well. However, I was able to make it through once I did find a new job. This principal it turns out did NOT know about the rumors or at least didn’t buy into them as I had been told. I would be getting a very large pay raise for this job, I’d be doing elementary special education, and working for a former teacher of mine who I respected greatly. This got me over the hurdle enough to survive.
Once the school year ended, I basically coasted. Sophia was due July 20th which was 6 weeks before the start of the new school year. As I was starting a new job, I had absolutely no leave accumulated. I was very anxious for her to come so I could have as much time as possible with her. She ended up being born on July 21st, which meant with staff workshop days, I’d be returning to work at 5.5 weeks postpartum. I put that notion aside and tried to enjoy my new life as a mom. I had gained 50lbs during this pregnancy, so I was anxious to be active. I barely rested so I could show I wasn’t a failure. Sophia proved she was still not going to be an easy child. She was colicky and severely refluxy. Her first night after birth (and I had been in labor all night the night before) she got up every 15 minutes. It took until 2:30 am the next night to get her to sleep once we figured out she couldn’t sleep flat. She cried 24/7 for the first 3 months of her life, unless of course she was nursing or in the stroller. I went back to work not recovered physically, mentally, or emotionally. Shortly after I went back to work, Dan had surgery which left him unable to work for 6 weeks or do anything physical at home. He did, however, get to stay home with Sophia. My position at work was my dream and I had a great team behind me, but it was a new position. I had to create the social, emotional, behavioral program from scratch. It was a very interesting spot to be in, but I was managing.
In early October, the straw that broke the camel’s back finally came: my grandpa finally lost his battle with cancer. Most of the family was able to get to his bedside that night to be with him in his final moments. I had a colicky baby and I couldn’t leave. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I was now really struggling with losing the weight. I felt like an utter failure and a waste to the world. One morning, Dan noticed me acting strange and came out to where I was getting ready for work. He caught me writing a suicide note. I had planned on never coming home. At that point I got put on medication and was able to finally stabilize. Sophia got passed the colic. She still was an AWFUL sleeper and didn’t sleep through the night for the first time until 14 months old. I was ok.
In May, I got permission from my primary to start weaning off the meds for the postpartum depression. This is also when we started our home building project. I’m not going to get into the nastiness that was our building experience, but let’s just say I’ve never been more stressed. My eating disorder relapsed. I continued to wean, but I wasn’t doing well. Then I felt I had to started weaning from nursing Sophia at 1 year. She fought it. I wasn’t ready. It was a disaster. I knew I wanted another child in the near future. I was spiraling. I had another suicidal episode. Dan insisted that not only I get back on meds, but I start therapy. I started getting even better than I had been previously. I figured out a process for weaning Sophia from nursing that worked for us. Things were finally getting better. I was getting impatient with not being pregnant, but in October of 2018 (while I was still nursing Sophia) that all changed and my next chapter of mental health and mommyhood began.
If you are pregnant or a parent and feel lost, please tell someone. My entire first two years on my parenthood journey I hid how bad it was. It didn’t help. Things can get better, but only when you are brave enough to ask for help. If you notice someone may be spiraling, reach out. Don’t be like my former coworkers at my old job. Even the ones who didn’t take part in the rumor mill never tried to see if I was ok. Prenatal and postpartum mental health issues are common and nothing to be ashamed of. We need to end the stigma together.