NEW COLUMN ALERT
Words and Photos Provided by Stacy Pandya
November is a rearview mirror. November calls us to fall back. It reminds us to look at the first November, and all the November’s after that. It’s the 11th month, so we reflect on the year, and all the ones before. Our clock strikes midnight soon and this sun-trip becomes no more. I think of November ‘12 and the November to follow. I see myself and all the Stacy’s she’s been.
I hope to remember tomorrow. -Stace
I’m standing in a CVS Pharmacy bathroom trembling with a fresh c-section scar, enormous engorged breasts and a magic wand wrapped in a brown paper napkin. I opened the napkin and I see there’s an announcement inside. Two faint blue lines are waiting in the window. I take all of my pregnancy tests in the CVS bathroom because patience is not a virtue, but courage is. My 4 month old daughter is at home with my husband and I had made a quick trip to CVS for diapers. I kissed them and jokingly said before I left, “I have a new baby. Driving to the store by myself feels like heading to Burning Man!” I think it’s so liberating because sometimes the long days feel like I’ve been stranded at The Fyre Festival. I don’t know what compelled me to take a pregnancy test this day because I was still breastfeeding, and the books say you can’t get pregnant, but on the drive over I settled into the silence of the car and I thought I heard a soft murmur in the distance. It sounded to me like the breath of a mother’s soul connecting with a new soul.
Like a movie, I watch my life flash before me. This was my fifth pregnancy in two years, three were devastating losses. I envision Carter’s snaggle toothed grin. I see the top of Makinley’s head, snuggled in the crook of my neck. They are my dream catchers. Our bond is as deep and powerful as the ocean.
I see myself vomiting in the parking lot of Candler Hospital overcome by grief. Our 16 week old baby didn’t have a heart beat any more, the DNC was scheduled and she was dead. I never got to see her, but I did feel her. She felt like a tiny baby butterfly fluttering within me. I wish I could have been a better cocoon for her. And the others? I think they just weren’t ready for their hearts. I can’t say I blame them. Having a heart is risky. It’s love and war.
Overcome by fear, I fell to my knees, right in front of the sink and choking sobs filled my throat. I wanted this child more than anything and I begged God to let me have him. “Please let my baby live!” I cried. That afternoon on the CVS bathroom floor, I bowed as low as I could go and prayed a desperate prayer. I prayed and prayed until I prayed my heart out. I wanted it out so he could have it, just in case he needed one. It already belonged to him, any way. I think he’s a boy. I want to name him Mattox.
Recounting this story, I cringe because I’m a nagging mother who shudders to think of the germs crawling on the CVS floor. How many warnings have I doled out to my children in public restrooms? But this day was different. I would have stayed down there for 9 more months if I had to. Chain me to the sink, leave me in the dirt and shove a tray under the door.
Mattox Andrew Pandya was born August 14, 2013
My mother in-law, Kusum, taught me to say, “Today is the best day of my life,” on the birthday of someone you love, because their birth filled you with irreplaceable joy and gratitude. I agree with her. I’ve always thought Happy Birthday was insufficient…..
The Emerson poem is one I say to myself regularly and it reminds me of the fierce courage every mother shows the day she brings a child into the world, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage Rage against the dying of the light.” A woman gives her body away, lays her life on the line, and willingly surrenders herself to serve the highest calling. And she doesn’t stand as one, she stands as ten thousand, protected by the ones who have gone before us. I think of my grandmothers’ mothers, and their mothers and their mothers and their mothers. I can see them holding my butterfly girl and her sisters. The ancestors are always guarding us all, gathered round, singing our battle hymns.
I went to the emergency room today because I was dying. My husband, who is also a doctor, was worried and called my friend, Dr. Secrest Sutherland. She rushed to the hospital to meet us. I learned later it was her day off and she drove over an hour to be there. “Secrest,” I wept. “I’m dying.” is all I say. What I really want to say is, my brain feels like it’s on fire 24/7 and it taunts and torments me, like I’m living in hell. My husband tells me I’m in a hormonal flood after having two babies in a year and several miscarriages. The chemicals in my brain and body are on overdrive and I’ve been in constant fight or flight for weeks. I’m so humiliated by my own terror. Thank God for Secrest. She is the most compassionate doctor and friend you could ever have.
After running several tests she gently touched my arm. “You do have some significant findings, but everything checked out ok on my end. Why don’t you call your OB tomorrow?” Her eyes were full of concern, but she doesn’t pity me. She respects human beings too much for that. “Is this postpartum depression?” I asked her in disbelief. Along with my mental state, I had full blown physical symptoms. My arms, face and shoulders were literally vibrating. “It’s possible, Stace. I think so, yes. But I’m not a psychiatrist.” She pushed my hair back out of my face. “But take heart, last week, I was in an MRI chamber convinced I was dying with knee cancer, so always remember, you are not alone.” You are not alone. It ran through my mind 1,000 times during the coming weeks. I whispered it to myself as a mantra.
Hoping to level out my hormones, I embarked on a juice cleanse and booked a Mexican mud sweat in a yurt. Then I tried the vegan diet, keto, pescatarian, paleo, Whole 30, Orange Theory, Tai Chi, acupuncture and Bikram Yoga— all in the same day. I needed efficiency! I also had my vagina steamed as recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow for GOOP. Nothing helped, but I must say I felt fresh as a daisy. However, the depression and anxiety still gnawed on my insides.
So, I threw myself into the healing world of The Real Housewives. Don’t hate me, but I love Lisa Vanderpump! She’s so pink and pretty. Who could have postpartum depression at Villa Rosa?! Not me! All the flowers and puppies and pink Louboutins should surely cure me. I wish I could live in the Vanderpump Cocktail Garden permanently. No, that’s disgusting and shallow. I would definitely die in there, drunk and alone. Maybe I could live in a Mocktail Garden? It is more kid friendly.
All the Real Housewives are successful business women, so maybe I should open a business? I could start a line. They love launching lines! Skin care, dresses, shoes, shapewear, toaster ovens, luxury dog collars, candles. I also think there might be “other types of lines” being launched, if you pick up what I’m putting down. I’ve never done drugs before because I don’t know how, but I did see drugs once and I ran away screaming, arms flailing like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. It was very Shannon Beador of me.
If I were a Real Housewife, I would launch a line of invisibility cloaks for women with postpartum depression. Just something to throw on when you’re looking homeless and don’t want to exist any more. They could also come in handy for running in the grocery store naked. All you have to do is just slip it on like Harry Potter, swipe your card and scribble your name on the pen pad. To the outside world you would look like Thing, the hand from the Adams family, but really it’s just my new line of apparel. Invisibility Cloaks By Stace: When you just need to disappear! Poof!
But, not even the Housewives could cure me, so I began to self medicate by taking Benadryl at 6am in the morning to calm down. Then I would go on long runs to amp the endorphins, followed by copious amounts of coffee to combat my drowsiness. Then, I would drink wine at night to relax and help me sleep, which is a whole story in itself. Uppers and downers and uppers and downers. It was a disaster.
One morning, after one of my Benadryl Jogs, I could not shake fight or flight. I was so anxious, my soul was shutting down. I wanted to die. I choose flight, I whispered to God. My sister, Jessie was upstairs helping with the babies. She had just gotten them to sleep, so I gave into my PPD and walked into the room to be with her. Without a word, I laid down on the carpet face down and sobbed uncontrollably. Jessie wasn’t alarmed, she simply knelt down beside me, rubbed my head and let me cry. Empathy is her super power. She is Empathy Girl! I need to get her a cape and some goggles. “You’re ok. You are not alone.” was all she whispered gently, over and over. She was present and strong and simply held the space for me to let go.
For that day, Jessie was my strength and her banner over me was love. She has so much to teach us with this act. Most of the time, all we need is someone to listen. She didn’t feel sorry for me. She didn’t give me advice. She didn’t try to one up my pain. She didn’t pity me. She just sat quietly and said, you are not alone. And she said it until I believed I wasn’t.
Jessie and Secrest are showing us the way of the masters. They are Yodas. This is the way a warrior woman holds the sword and shield over another. Yodas don’t use your misfortune or your craziness to make themselves feel better. Yodas just hold the space like ancient columns for us to be wildly and bravely imperfect together.
NOVEMBER 2019, SIX YEARS LATER
Lucky for me, because my problem was a transient hormonal imbalance, it corrected on its own. I got better in a few months time. But, I have never forgotten the darkness of those days. Postpartum Depression is real and it’s frightening. Hopefully, I can somehow hold the space for others, by sharing my story, as other women did for me. I have so many stories left to tell.
After living through all these Novembers again and putting them into words, I hear the love of God reminding me, do not be ashamed. There was a time, I might have wondered if Dr. Kavorkian could squeeze me in, after outing myself in such a way, but I have grown. Glennon Doyle writes, when she started putting all of her secrets into stories and publishing them, she thought she would be shunned and despised. But as it turned out, she just received more love and acceptance than ever before. Very few were vicious and those who were simply revealed their own character flaws. The courage of Glennon Doyle’s writings, have transformed my life and millions more. Her stories are healing, radiant rain.
This holiday season and evermore, I want my new mantra to be courage. I stand for courage, not because I am courageous, but because I choose to practice it. There aren’t cowardly people and courageous people in the world. We are all both. It is something everyone can choose to start or stop at any time. The root of the word courage is cor — the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, it meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s story.”
And so I will tell mine, and maybe I can hear yours, and we can have the courage to leave in the not so pretty parts together. Because the not so pretty just might remind us we are all the same. We strive to deliver to the world our glorious uniqueness, but the truth is, we are not unique. We all carry within us the gifts of imperfection. I doubt if I took the time to tell you how great I was in a thousand words, or impenetrably positive, or fascinatingly together, it would lead us to a deep and meaningful connection. Perfectionism is its own fakery. It’s the courage to be vulnerable that will make us lasting friends, lovers and leaders. To say I love you first, to forgive and let go of a grudge, to tell a friend I’ve been drinking too much (I actually had to quit...again) to hold the hands of the dying, to initiate sex, to release the comfort of being right. All of these are rejection traps that can lead to tremendous pain, they all require courage. But maybe in the end, it will be our good grit, our not so pretty parts that make us beautiful.
My favorite quote by Leonard Cohen is this:
“It is in the broken places that the light gets in. “
You are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone.