The Dos and Don’ts of Recovery

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On July 11th,  I had my fourth open heart surgery to replace my tricuspid valve.  I am grateful to have had one of the best surgeons in the country in an outstanding hospital.  The surgery went extremely well and I hopefully have about twenty surgery-free years ahead of me.

My cardiologist did his job.  My surgeon and his staff did theirs as well.  The P.A.’s who followed me in the hospital after the surgery and the incredible nurses who took care of me day and night did their job.  Now it’s my turn.  My job is to recover.

And that means I’m lucky.  I’m lucky enough to be able to recover and to know that once I do, I’ll be healthier than I was before.  But I can’t lie.  That doesn’t mean recovering is easy.  It isn’t.  But since this is my fourth time around the block, I have an idea of how to do it right.  And while I don’t necessarily believe myself to be an expert, I do think I have some valuable advice to share with others.  Some of you may face major surgery in the future; some may recuperate from an accidental injury or a medical condition.   For those of you who will face such a situation, here are some of my dos and don’ts that I have learned during my weeks of recuperation.

  1. Do push yourself – What do I usually feel like doing after surgery? Absolutely nothing.  I feel like laying in bed, curling into a ball (if my incisions will allow me to do so) and watching hours upon hours of television.  I don’t want to read.  I don’t want to write.  I don’t want to talk on the phone.  I don’t want to get up and take a walk.  I usually don’t want to eat or drink.

    All of this is normal after surgery of course.  Not only does a major operation take a physical toll on your body, but an emotional one as well.  Depression is a common symptom during recovery and loss of interest is a common symptom of depression.

    However, one cannot give into these feelings while recuperating.  Instead, it is necessary to push through the depression and the overwhelming apathy and do what needs to be done.  Pull off those covers, rise up and put on your slippers.  Despite the pain in your chest, legs, back or wherever,  take a lap around your hospital wing and eventually your living room.  Sit up in bed and eat those Cheerios one spoonful at a time; even better, sit at the kitchen table to eat if you can.  Get on the phone when your best friend calls and have a normal conversation.  Push yourself.  Push yourself until you feel like yourself again.  You’ll get there.

  2. But don’t be too hard on yourself – It is okay to be depressed.  It is alright to feel like doing nothing and for part of the day, you should do just that.  Watch your guilty pleasure on Netflix; read Us Weekly and In Touch.  Play Candy Crush until your lives run out.  Allow yourself to recoup.  As I just said, you must push yourself but you can also take some time each day to do nothing and let yourself wallow.  You deserve it.  Your body has been through a lot.
  3. Do have visitors – It is very possible that the last thing you’ll want to do while your recovering, and your hair has air dried, your clothes are basically pajamas and you desperately need a manicure and pedicure, is to have company.  The thought of carrying on a conversation, laughing at jokes, and talking about nonsense may seem completely daunting.  Do it anyway.

    Do you now that one of the mantras of Alcoholics Anonymous is “fake it ’til you make it”? The same phrase has been used in the treatment of depression.  The idea is that by pretending to be confident or happy or just okay, one will eventually become that way.  I am an avid believer in this concept.  While I’m recovering, even when seeing friends and family is the last thing I want to do (No offense, everyone), I find that when I do see them, I am forced to act normally.  I am forced to fake it.  And after a little while of pretending to feel like myself, I don’t have to fake it anymore.

  4. Do start a project – A project is a great idea for two reasons.  One, you’ll have plenty of time on your hands that you need to fill.  Two, your mind needs to focus on something other than your woes.  After my 2010 surgery, I scrapbooked the time between Anthony’s proposal and our one year anniversary.  I spent hours sitting at my dining room table sorting pictures and mementos.  I took short trips to Michael’s and A.C. Moore to buy the perfect accents.  Then I constructed each page carefully and by the time I enclosed the finished pages into a fabric covered book, I was pretty much recovered.  This time, I am crocheting a blanket for Rosemarie and working on a writing project as well.

    You don’t have to be crafty to complete a project.  You can do whatever it is that interests you.  Reorganize your file cabinet; design and display (with some help) that photo wall in your upstairs hallway.  Do that project you’ve been putting off for so long.  You finally have the time.

  5. Don’t watch sad movies or read sad books – This may really depend on an individual’s personality.  I suppose some people would find a fictional tragedy comforting in comparison to their own circumstances.  If you’re anything like me, though, you’ll want to stay away from Terms of Endearment, Beaches, and pretty much any Jodi Picoult novel. 

    After my surgery in 1997, I watched Daylight with Sylvester Stallone in which a group of people are trapped in the Lincoln or Holland tunnel after an explosion.  The film is certainly not considered a tearjerker but in one scene an injured man must be left behind to drown for the good of the group.  I cried for hours.  I sat on the beige carpet of my parents’ bedroom and sobbed in the front of the television.  Long after the movie ended and I went downstairs for dinner, my tears continued to fall.  My depression was more intense that night and a few days following.

    That is why after my 2010 surgery, I enjoyed the ups and downs of college life on Felicity and why I’ve been watching Carrie prance around Manhattan on Sex and the City for the past two weeks.  Remember, light and funny television = a happier patient.

  6. Do laugh as often as possible – It’s cliché to say, right? That laughter is the best medicine? But often clichés exist because they’re true.  Laughing lightens my load even if only for a few minutes.  I advise you to laugh whenever possible during recovery.  First, laugh at yourself.  There must be something funny about your recuperation.  Maybe it’s the way you walk hunched over like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein. Maybe it’s the fact that you can’t put on your own socks.  Maybe your medical condition has made you clumsy and you knock over an object every time you move.  Whatever it is, laugh at it.  Out loud.   Watch TV that makes you laugh.  Call your funniest friends.  Tickle your toddler under her chin.  Just laugh.

Honestly, for me, the hardest part of recovering this time around is not being able to take care of my daughter as I normally do.  This is the one aspect of my recovery with which I have no experience, but I’m doing my best to make it work.  Fortunately, I have full-time help from my mother at home and my sisters, in-laws, and friends are all more than willing to lend a hand.  I can’t do my normal with routine with Rosie.  I can’t give her a bath, dress her, or even get her out of the crib in the morning, but I have found other ways to spend time with her while I recover.  We sing songs together every day.  She sits with me in my recliner to take a nap or watch Barney.  In the evenings, she holds my hand while I take my daily walks outside.

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Recovery is hard.  Recovering with a child is even harder.  But there are ways to make it somewhat easier.  Lucky me, I have plenty of people around me who make it easier as well.


Birthmother Mythbuster

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On July 23rd of last year, Oxygen premiered its six-part docu-series I’m Having Their Baby.  Each episode of the show follows two expectant mothers who have chosen adoption for their unborn children.  Season 2 of the show began last month.

I personally began watching a couple of weeks ago when I purchased the first season On Demand.  I am almost done with it now, and I must say that I’m hooked.

This show is not about adoptive parents.  It is about prospective birthmothers, some who ultimately choose adoption and a few who do not.  Filming usually picks up when the expectant mother is about seven months pregnant and ends shortly after the baby’s birth.  A brief catch-up segment some months later concludes each episode.

I am not a birthmother; I do not understand how it feels to place a child for adoption.  Thus, I can’t really say whether or not this show does a good job of portraying the experience.  But I can say that as an adoptive mother, I do like how the birthmothers themselves are portrayed.

In my experience, people outside of the adoption community often have little understanding and a lot of judgement about birthmothers.  I don’t discuss Rosemarie’s birth family with many people as I believe that is her private business and sharing it should be up to her.  But people usually have no qualms about bringing up her birthmother to me.  Usually, they ask about her age, her financial situation, and her reasons for choosing adoption.  I appreciate their curiosity but keep my answers limited.   Sadly, these conversations often end with a comment such as “I just don’t understand how she could give her away” or “She gave her up so why would you care about her?”

Of course, I do my best to defend not only Rosemarie’s birthmother but birthmothers in general.  I explain how in my whole adoption experience, almost every prospective birthmother I met considered adoption for one very simple reason—love.

It makes sense that those who haven’t been involved in adoption and don’t have the same experiences as I have likely never met or spoken to a birthmother.  That is why I am so glad Oxygen created I’m Having Their Baby and why I hope it continues to air.  The show gives adoption outsiders a glimpse into the lives of these women, these brave women who have to make such an impossible decision.

I hope that by watching, people’s negative perceptions of birthmothers will change.  Perhaps by witnessing the struggles of the birthmothers on this show, viewers will start to learn that many preconceived notions about women who choose adoption are simply not always true.

Here are just a few of the birthmother myths dispelled by I’m Having Their Baby.

    • They are all teenagers:  “So was her birthmom really young?” I can’t tell you how frequently I hear this question.  For some reason, when people picture a birthmother, they see the wide-eyed, sixteen-year-old girl, her young, petite frame interrupted by her basketball of a belly.  Some birthmothers do fit this description.  In the first season, three of the twelve mothers showcased were teenagers.  But the other nine were not.  There was a 21-year-old college student named Megan and Sidney, a recent college graduate.  We saw 27-year-old Jamie and 29-year-old Lindsay both already raising children on their own.

      When Anthony and I met our adoption attorney for the first time, she explained that today, the typical birthmother is in her late 20s and already parents one or more children.   While we were waiting, we received phone calls or emails from over sixty prospective birthmoms.  Of the 38 that shared their ages, 10 were teenagers, 22 were in their twenties, and 6 were in the thirties, the oldest being 39 years old.Birthmothers come in all shapes and sizes.

    • They are irresponsible:  Everyone makes bad decisions.  In some cases, a birthmother did make a poor decision that led to her being pregnant.  However, if you listen to these women during their interviews, it is evident that they are taking ownership of their actions and making a choice that they now feel is the most responsible.   They have clearly sat and thought fully about this decision.

      They discuss the different options they considered.  In Episode 3, Sidney explained how she considered abortion but believed giving another woman the chance to be a mother was a much better decision.

      They list the reasons they chose adoption.  In the second episode,  Amanda explained how she already struggled financially raising three children; she believed they and her unborn child would suffer if she chose to parent.

      And they explain why they picked the adoptive family.  During the fourth episode, Brandalynn tell us about her childhood with a single mother and her desire to give her unborn child a two-parent home.

      Perhaps they did act irresponsibly once; perhaps they didn’t.  But choosing adoption does not equal irresponsibility.

    • They don’t care about the children they place for adoption:  As a mother whose daughter will one day likely ask me if her birthmother loved her, I find this myth the most upsetting.  The love birthmothers have for their babies is immeasurable.  The carry them for nine months; they feel them kick inside their womb.  Despite their attempts to stay detached as explained by many of the women on the show, the moment they hold their newborn babies in their arms, they fall deeply in love.  They want so much to keep them; they yearn for the ability to do so.  In the first episode, we watched Mariah sob outside the hospital room where her son waited for her to say goodbye.  We watched Jamie cry her way down the hallway after leaving her baby with his adoptive parents.  After she gives birth, we see Brandalynn yearn for her older son, a distraction from the pain she clearly feels watching the adoptive mom cradling her newborn.

      This pain does make them doubt their choice of adoption because they so badly want to bring home their brand new baby boy or girl.  They have to fight every instinct.  They have to fight every pang of love because they believe adoption is the best, not for themselves, but for their children.  They break their own hearts to give their children the best life possible.  In this way, they are as much a mother to and have as much love for these babies as any other mother in the world.

    Of course, I’m sure there are some birthmothers in the world who are not good people.  Just as all mothers who parent their children are not good people.  However, choosing adoption should never be seen as the reason a birthmother may be considered a bad person.  In fact, when making this choice these women are often using the best of themselves to make the decision.

    I’m Having Their Baby shows that to its viewers.  It helps us see the truth about birthmothers.  It helps us see their pain, new and raw, and their amazing courage for pushing past that pain to do what’s they believe is best for their babies.

    We should not judge birthmothers; we should admire them.  I certainly know I do and will teach my daughter to do the same.