Jessica Pridemore

@jessica-pridemore | contributor
Jessica Pridemore (Vandiver) lives in small town Illinois with her children and husband. She has worked with adults with developmental disabilities for many years and plans to do so for the rest of her life.

Why I Say More Than 'Congratulations' to My Pregnant Friends

Recently my youngest daughter turned 1 years old. But as I looked back on pictures from her first days on Earth, I didn’t feel warm inside. Instead, I felt fear — a familiar fear that prickled the back of my neck, making my heart beat accelerate. I should be able to look back on her birth with an overwhelming sense of happiness. I should be able to talk about those days with a smile on my face. But I don’t. I can’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter. She’s a beautiful, chubby, soft little ball of love and I can’t imagine my life without her. But our first months together were spent on rough, uncertain seas. And despite the passage of time, I cannot yet look back on them and remember anything but how terrified I was. I hope someday I can. While we were preparing for her arrival I had a lot on my mind. Will her siblings accept her? How will we survive the teenage years with only one bathroom? Will I go into labor early? Will she have hair, or be bald like her sisters? Will she have her daddy’s big brown eyes? One question I didn’t ask was, what happens if I develop a postpartum disorder? I didn’t think it was something I needed to worry about. Had I known then what I know now, it would have been the first question I asked. I thought I knew everything there was to know about pregnancy, labor and delivery. Having already gone through pregnancy and delivery twice, with one vaginal delivery and one delivery via C-section, I thought I had experienced it all. Needles, IVs, episiotomies, catheters, epidurals, spinal blocks, breast feeding, bottle feeding, abdominal surgery, gas. I was, I thought, a seasoned professional. Ignoring a history of anxiety and depression in my family, I couldn’t imagine feeling anything other than love and happiness after giving birth to a baby. Of course I’ve heard about postpartum depression, but my head was filled with stereotypes. I didn’t know anyone who had actually experienced it, and even considered myself to be above it. I thought there was no way it would actually happen to me. Due to her position, and to my previous C-section, I was scheduled for a repeat C-section at 7:00 a.m., September 16, 2014. I was nervous about getting a spinal block, but I felt calm while I waited, posing for photos in my hospital bed with my oldest daughter and fiancé. One of the nurses even remarked she had never seen anyone so calm. I had no reason to believe this would be any different than last time. When it was time to head into the operating room, although my nerves started to peak, I didn’t think much of it. But as my heart started racing I felt something terrible building inside of me. A feeling I tried to rationalize, and then tried to ignore – terror. Not fear. Terror. I tried to breathe and wait for it to become manageable, but it never did. It just got bigger with every step I took. I could not, physically, make myself walk into the operating room. Even with the help of several nurses and promises my fiancé could come into the room with me, I dissolved into screams. I started screaming that I wanted to go home, that I couldn’t go through with it, that I was too afraid — I should have known right then that the intensity of my feelings meant something deeper was going on. I went back to my room and laid down with my fiancé who was able to calm me down. The nurses told me I had a small window of time before I would have to reschedule the C-section. But I had already been in the hospital for hours. I knew I had to do it now. Eventually, when it was all over, someone held my daughter up. I could see even through my terror that she was beautiful. But the moment I had been waiting for, through nine long months of pregnancy, through the terrifying hours leading up to her birth – it didn’t come. Seeing her didn’t make everything better. Seeing her didn’t make my fear go away. There was no explosion of love that made everything OK. I was still scared. When they finally wheeled me out of the operating room and back to my room, I was scared. When our family and friends came to visit, when she met her siblings for the first time, my heart still raced. I still felt trapped. My brain was like a TV full of static.  Something was wrong. I didn’t know what, I didn’t know why. I just knew that something was wrong. I did my best to have the necessary conversations with our family; I did my best to smile for pictures like I knew I was expected to. But with every second that passed I felt more disconnected from the real world and more lost in my feelings of terror, which were just growing larger by the second. I managed to stay in the hospital for around 48 hours before I decided that the problem was the hospital itself. But when we got home I didn’t feel better and the two weeks after the birth of my daughter were without a doubt the worst weeks of my entire life. I’ve never experienced a fear so intense. I hope I never do again. Though the days felt like years, it was eventually time to go to my follow-up appointment with my doctor. I had, by then, adjusted as well as anyone can to living in a constant state of never ending terror. There was no part of me that connected it to a postpartum issue. I almost didn’t say anything about it to my doctor. But I did. There are a lot of things I can’t (or don’t want) to remember from the days and weeks shortly following the birth of my daughter. But what my doctor said to me will always stand out. I think you have postpartum panic disorder. What? I had never heard of it before. He prescribed me anti-anxiety medication, which ended up being like water in a desert to me. Just knowing there was a name for what I was going through, that I would be OK – those things made me feel a little bit better, instantly. It wasn’t an easy fix, but my panic attacks dwindled from constant, to just a few a day, to just a few a week, to rare occurrences. Postpartum panic disorder robbed me of so much, but I consider myself lucky to have a few dim good memories. Like how soft skin of my daughter’s face when I put my check to hers, when she was like my little raft in an endless sea of terror and uncertainty. I often wonder what would’ve happened if I had educated myself about postpartum disorders sooner. Maybe I could’ve recognized what was happening and gotten help sooner. Now, when one of my friends announces a pregnancy, I usually blurt out my congratulations and follow up very quickly with, “Have you read anything about postpartum panic disorder?” And then I tell them my story. Having a postpartum disorder changed my life, but if I can educate even one woman it was all worth it. Despite all the stigma that surrounds these conditions, there’s no reason to be ashamed. There’s no reason to feel embarrassed about not feeling the “correct” way after giving birth. My daughter was immediately adored by all of her siblings. She was born with a head full of beautiful black hair and a red birthmark on the tip of her nose. She has her daddy’s big brown eyes. As for making it through the teenage years with four daughters and one bathroom? After surviving postpartum panic disorder, I can live through anything.

To the Daughter I Feared Would Have a Disability Like Mine

I remember the moment I fell in love with you. It wasn’t as soon as I saw the positive result on our pregnancy test, it wasn’t during the weeks I spent the majority of the time hugging our toilet, it wasn’t when I developed heart burn for the first time in my life or suddenly couldn’t go five seconds without having to pee. It was when I got my second trimester sonogram and could see clearly that you were a real baby, a little human – it was when I heard the sonogram technician whisper to me, “It’s a girl.” My eyes filled with tears, my heart exploded and I immediately thought, I love her. Followed closely by a smaller thought, I hope she isn’t like me. I have a learning disability, which all but defined my childhood. I also had a pretty bad speech impediment and went through five or six extremely frustrating years of speech therapy. Not only was it almost impossible for me to read, but it was difficult for me to pronounce things correctly – almost 30 years later I still remember the horror of attempting to read out loud in front of my kindergarten class, how it felt when the other kids laughed at me. I wasn’t good with social interaction, to put it mildly. I was singled out, ridiculed. When I was 5, a group of fourth grade boys beat me up. They pulled out my hair and made me eat sand. All because I wanted them to play with me, and I couldn’t pick up on the fact that they didn’t want me around until it was too late. I had great parents and teachers who worked with me, and though I was never a straight-A student, I learned to read, write and talk, and my speech has improved to the point that most people don’t notice I still have a problem pronouncing g’s. As an adult, I like that little quirk about myself. It reminds me of the little girl I once was, the difficulties I overcame, and if anyone were to make fun of me for it today – it wouldn’t hurt me. I survived summer school, tutoring, speech therapy, the days when I couldn’t make it through a school day without crying.  I’ve made it through years of depression, anger, eating disorders, victimization. I’m a better person now because of my struggles; I wouldn’t trade them. But I never wanted that for you. You met all of your developmental milestones on time or early. You looked so cute walking around at 9 months old, without a hair on your head. When it was time to talk, you talked. A lot. You used big words, you talked in sentences. You knew all of your colors and your ABCs when you were 2. I allowed myself to hope, to let out the breath I hadn’t been consciously aware I was holding since the day you were born. When you turned 3, you started to experience what I thought at the time were just tantrums. You were my first child; I don’t know if I really believed  it was normal or if I just couldn’t admit to myself that I knew it wasn’t. You would get mad and dissolve, pull your own hair, pinch yourself. You would scream for hours, lie on the floor and thrash your entire body. There was nothing I could do to help, nothing I could do to stop it. Sometimes, your tantrums lasted for hours. Sometimes, you would have more than one a day. I refused to even think that something was wrong. If anyone suggested to me there was a problem, I would let them know in a colorful way there was nothing “wrong” with you. You were just a little kid. It was normal. I waited for you to grow out of it. Three turned to 4, 4 turned to 5. I gave birth to your little sister. You adored her. So did I. You both grew. You started school. When we went to open house or to parent/teacher conferences, I looked at your papers and I was proud. I tried not to notice how different they looked from those of your classmates, how your words weren’t formed right, how some were huge, some were tiny, some were capitalized and some were not. You left vowels out of everything. You wrote letters backwards. I hesitantly asked your teacher if that was OK, and she reassured me it was normal for your grade level. I let myself believe her because I didn’t want to think of you struggling. I waited for you to grow out of it. As your sister grew, I waited for her to do the things you’d done at her age. I waited for her to start throwing tantrums so severe that I worried about the structural integrity of our house. I waited for her to try to hurt herself. I waited for her to lose herself in her emotions, to dissolve into tears and screams and anger. But while you continued to do those things, from kindergarten, to first grade, and then to second grade – she never did. At school, they started pulling you out of class to give you extra help in reading and math. You started to come home crying, telling me the other kids were making fun of you. During second grade, you went as far as faking incontinence to get out of school. The school told me you had a UTI; I didn’t believe them, but I took you to the doctor anyway. They tested you and everything came back clear; they said it could be behavioral. But I already knew that. I wanted to live with you in denial for as long as possible, keep us both in a safe little bubble where I could believe you would never know what it felt like to feel stupid, to feel less than. I never wanted you to know what it was like to try as hard as you could try and still get a bad grade. I never wanted you to know the sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you realize someone you thought was being nice to you was really making fun. All I’d ever wanted was for things to be easy for you. But eventually that changed, and I wanted to find you help. I wanted to find answers; I wanted someone to tell me what to do. For over a year, we went to school meetings, doctors’ appointments, therapy appointments. We heard things like, “She just needs more time with you,” “The school evaluation says nothing is wrong with her, she doesn’t qualify for services,” “There isn’t a big enough deficit,” “We don’t test for dyslexia,” “She doesn’t act like that at school,” just to name a few. I became obsessed with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004 and Section 504; I spent hours a day reading laws, typing your symptoms into every search engine I could find. We were met with one dead end after another, while you just became angrier, sadder and farther behind. Finally, just a few weeks before you were supposed to start third grade, my searches led us to a neurodevelopmental pediatrician. They gave us a packet of papers to fill out before your appointment. I filled out those, and then I compiled a detailed history of your life and issues from birth to age 8. I included everything, even things I thought didn’t matter. Instead of rushing through your appointment, this new doctor listened to everything we said. He read the information I provided, he talked to you, and he started testing you. While he was testing your reading, he was purposely invading your space to see how you would react. He made jokes but kept a straight face to see if you could pick up on his sarcasm. I watched you so closely to see how you reacted, to see what answers you gave to his questions. I worried he would miss the little things that pointed towards the bigger issues. But every time I looked at him he was already looking at me as if to say, yes Mom, I noticed that, too. You were diagnosed with dyslexia and an anxiety disorder on that day. I can’t explain the way I felt. It was the strangest mixture of relief, joy and sadness. Relief because finally, after years of trying, we’d found someone who wasn’t afraid to give us a straight answer, because our searching was finally over. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders; all of the late nights of obsessing about laws and possible reasons behind your issues had paid off. Joy, because I knew I now had the tools I needed to get you the help you deserved and needed to thrive. Sadness, because you and I cannot live in our safe little bubble of denial anymore. There will be times when you want to give up, and that is OK. It’s OK to give up. Sometimes, it’s all you can do. But you’re strong, and I know you will be able to pick yourself back up and keep going, and if you can’t, I will be there to help you stand up. There will be times when you wonder why you can’t be like everyone else, why things can’t come as easy to you as they come to everyone else. Always remember everyone has their struggles and a person is not defined by the things they find difficult. I promise to do my best to look beyond your anxieties and your difficulties, to see you’re just a little kid who wants to have fun, that although the things you’re going through are familiar to me, you’re going through them for the first time and they’re new and scary. I promise to put away the things I learned through my own difficult experiences and to see you as your own person who will have her own struggles, her own triumphs and her own unique life, who has to learn the lessons of life on her own terms, in her own time. I promise to always be there to lend support and to never forget that before I’m your teacher or your therapist – I’m your mother. The most important parts of my job are just to offer you my arms to lay in, a safe place to come home to and lots and lots of love. If I could go back to the moment I fell in love with you, to the first time I worried you may struggle with the same problems I’ve had to learn to overcome, I would tell myself not to worry.  Yes, there will be sadness, frustration and anger along the way. But through those emotions you will be given many chances to learn just how strong, smart, beautiful, funny and unique you are. You may think it’s a bad thing, to see the world differently than your peers do. But I can assure you, someday the very things that make you stand out, that make it hard to fit it, will be the things that draw people to you. While they will not be your defining characteristics, they will be the things that make you into the amazing, independent, strong-willed, compassionate and wise woman whom I’m already beginning to see forming. You were not made to fit it but to break the mold. And I don’t know why I ever thought that was something I needed to worry about.

What It's Like to Work With Developmentally Disabled Adults

I don’t remember the exact moment my life was changed by someone with a developmental disability. The memories seem far away, blurry, as if they don’t belong to me. But this is what happens after you’ve been working with adults with developmental disabilities for eight years. You change. They don’t tell you that when you’re filling out your application. Instead, they tell you about the hours, the health benefits, the 401(k) plan, the programs and the strategies. But they don’t tell you about the fact if you do it right, you’ll never be the same. They don’t tell you it will be the most amazing job you’ve ever had. On other days, it can be the worst. They can’t describe on paper the emotional toll it will take on you. They can’t tell you there may come a time where you find you’re more comfortable surrounded by people with developmental disabilities than you are with the general population. They don’t tell you you’ll come to love them, and there will be days when you feel more at home when you’re at work than when you’re at home, sitting on your couch. But it happens. They don’t tell you about the negative reactions you may face when you’re out in the community with someone with a developmental disability. That there are people on this earth who still think it’s OK to say the R-word. That people stare. Adults will stare. You will want to say something, anything, to these people to make them see. But at the end of the day, your hands will be tied because some things, as you learn quickly, can’t be explained with something as simple as words. They can only be felt. And most of the time, until someone has had their own experience with someone with a developmental disability, they just won’t understand. They train you in CPR and first aid, but they can’t tell you what it feels like to have to use it. They don’t tell you what it is like to learn someone is sick and nothing can be done. They can’t explain the way it feels when you work with someone for years and then one day they die. They can’t explain the bond direct service personnel develop with the people they are supporting. I know what it’s like to have a conversation with someone who has been labeled non-verbal or low-functioning. After working with someone for awhile, you develop a bond so strong they can just give you a look and you know exactly what it means, what they want and what they’re feeling. And most of the time, all it boils down to is they want to be heard, listened to and included. Loved. When you apply for this job, they do tell you you’ll be working to teach life skills. But what they don’t tell you is while you’re teaching someone, they’ll also be teaching you. They have taught me it’s OK to forgive myself when I have a bad day. There’s always tomorrow and a mess-up here and there doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. They have taught me to slow down, to ponder, to take the time to just look around and take in this beautiful world and all of the simple joys we are blessed to encounter every day. So when did I change? I realize now there wasn’t one pivotal moment. Instead, it was a million little moments, each important in their own way, that when added together changed me. And I’m grateful for each one. The Mighty is asking the following: Tell a story about a time someone helped you and/or your child when you needed it most. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “ Share Your Story ” page for more about our submission guidelines. Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images