Monday, May 23, 2011


When I was in college, training to be a social worker, I remember a professor telling us that you had to learn to mentally compartmentalize the emotional stress that comes with the job.  She suggested having a specific routine every night after work to help you mentally "put away" your work (that was pretty heavy emotionally) so you would be yourself for the rest of your day.

It was (and is) wise counsel from an experienced professional who has skillfully helped many people through some very very difficult situations.  It helped me--the greenie social worker--to soften some of the emotional turmoil that came with dealing with children who had gone through horrific experiences.  It was (and is) a useful skill.

Except when everything comes back out.

Let me back up a bit and explain.

Dr. C and I have had the unusual habit of getting a degree and moving across the country every time we've added a child to our family.  With T-Man, we moved from Utah to Missouri when I was 38 weeks pregnant.  With Fearless, we moved from Missouri to Nebraska when he was 3 weeks old.  With Miss B, we moved from Nebraska to The South when she was about 4 months old--3 weeks after major open heart surgery.

With each move, I compartmentalized the stress that came with place.  For example: In Utah--I was working 20 hours a week; taking 22 credits; doing an internship 20 hours a week and was pregnant.  Locked that away. In Missouri--being a first time mom, Dr. C in grad school, pregnancy...etc.  Close that one up.  The feeling were put into a little mental box and closed up until time and distance shrunk them to nothingness.  And the compartmentalizing worked out okay because now I remember that there was stress associated with those times...but all I feel when I look back is happiness and fond memories. 

But the last year in Nebraska was the most stressful time in my life ever.  So when we moved--when we left my beloved Midwest and headed to a state that I'd never even stepped foot into before--I compartmentalized the unknowns in Miss B's pregnancy, the long hours alone with two young boys and a complicated pregnancy while Dr. C finished his PhD, the stress and worry and fear that came with open heart surgery, the emotional turmoil that Miss B's diagnosis threw me into.  I guess I thought I could just lock up all those feelings, move across the country, and over time and distance they would be gone.

I was wrong.

A few days ago, for the first time since Miss B's pregnancy, I met a mom, in person, who is pregnant with her third child.  A girl.  Who will have special needs.  Previously, I had only had the privilege of talking with other moms that are expecting children with special needs through email or blogs--but this time, in person, seeing her cute baby was so much more real and personal.  And while the specifics of her pregnancy and the special needs of her child are different from mine--the unknown-ness of the situation is still the same.

And that little compartment where I had stored all those feelings--all the emotions that came with Miss B's pregnancy and heart surgery--came rushing out.  So I did what any sensible person would do in the middle of church right before you have to go sing happy songs with 30 children.

I burst into tears.

Perhaps it was a bit of PTSD? or maybe it was just pure empathy that could express itself in no other way.  I don't know.

But my compartments failed and I wished with all my heart that I could have taken the stress and worry away from that momma, added it to the suddenly-freed stress and worry that came with Miss B in Nebraska, shove it back into the compartment, slam the door, and never have to see it again--to let it shrink to nothingness without any effort on my part.

But since that meeting...there have been little pricks--a tv show depicting the passing and funeral of a sister with Down syndrome, a talk in church about overcoming trials and another one about the lessons we can learn from children--that have me in tears again when usually I would be fine.

Maybe it's time to purposefully open the compartment and empty it out permanently.


krlr said...

Oh - HUGE virtual hug. I completely get this. I'm the most stoic, hardened, cynical person ever but I have these "moments" in the car. And I just watched the worst music video ever made but got weepy because it involved a kid w/SN. I don't know if it's my daughter specifically, my daughter's dx on top of everything else, just being a mom now, or maybe even (*gasp*) getting "older" (surely I'm too young for THAT?! Probably not), but, yeah, there we are - Shamelessly avoiding baby showers and pregnant women. Normally I'd make a joke about red wine's curative abilities, but this probably isn't the right blog for that.

Jill said...

Amen, amen and amen!! I had the same thing happen during this last hospital stay. We were in the elevator and a dad was there with an empty car seat. A clueless hospital employee looks down and says "Looks like you're missing something" (seriously?! who says that?!!) and the dad was instantly in tears and said his little one had been life flighted to the NICU, his wife was in a hospital in Utah County and he had a 3 year old at home that he hadn't seen in 4 days. It broke my heart and I was nearly in tears myself. All those post diagnosis and NICU memories/anxieties came right back to me and 4 weeks later I still worry about that little family who I never saw again.

I think it's called "empathy" Care Bear. While most everyone else is feeling sympathy for this sweet mama, you know exactly what she is going through and I think it brings emotions right back up to the surface. And it allows you to be someone who actually knows the "right things" to say to her.

Olivia and her heart condition has made me so much more sensitive to other people and what they are going through. In fact, I quickly started to kick myself for some of the stupid things I probably said to you when you told me about Anna's diagnosis. It's always in the spirit of trying to "help" but people really do say the dumbest things sometimes, don't they? I'm sure I was totally of guilty of that with you. One nice thing for this mama is that you will be one person who will know what to say. And some times that makes a world of difference.

I wonder if those feelings/fears during the first year of Anna's life will always stay with you? Part of me thinks that those feelings I had after Olivia's diagnosis will always be there. Of course its nice to be on the other side of some things and know that she's truly okay, but those fears still linger, you know? I wonder if we'll always be stuck with them in some way. Maybe they won't come flooding back so aggressively but I think they'll always be there.

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