Hard Lessons (Heed the Signs)

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from Creative Commons

My life recently has been hard. But not because of hard circumstances. It’s been hard because I’ve made it hard.

 For the past six months, I was trying to do too much (story of my life), and my family suffered, and I suffered. I was always stressed. Couldn’t sit still with my kids. Always angry at Buc, always nagging, always criticizing. I got angry even if Buc joked with me or tried to be funny with his answers—and his sense of humor was one of the things that  attracted me to him in the first place!

“I don’t have time for jokes,” I’d snap, literally racing around the house trying to get it livable in time to win maybe fifteen minutes of reading time at the end of the day.

“I can’t take this anymore,” Buc told me one morning. “It’s got to stop. You’re driving yourself crazy. And you’re not nice. It’s not fun to be married to you. You finish the projects on your plate and don’t take on anymore, not until you can deal with what you’ve got.”

I was overloaded. Overtaxed. Strung out. And I wouldn’t admit it, until that sobering talk with my husband. That stressful morning, I finally admitted that the pace at which I’d been living was insupportable. And I admitted that it was time to accept a new reality. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, but I knew it would involve letting go of a lifestyle that just wasn’t working.

Roots of Imbalance

If you’ll recall, we hired a part-time nanny last August so I could get some help with the kids and resume some writing/ministry projects. We hired her for fifteen hours a week, with the intent that I’d be gone for most of that time writing or doing other ministry related things; but when her other part-time family let her go (the child went to preschool), she needed more hours. So we gave her more hours. Some weeks it was around twenty-five, more often it was closer to twenty.

At first, I thought this was great. I felt incompetent at home, and my kids stressed me out; I felt like I wasn’t a very good mother anyway. So when I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat and co-write a book and pray with three women at my church and form those women into a prayer group last fall—things at which I felt much more competent—I thought life was falling into place swimmingly. We had money to pay the nanny; she wanted more hours; and I wanted to go do what I knew I was already good at. So, I started leaving the house. A lot.

During that period of six months, when I often left home, one-third of a book got written. Four talks, complete with powerpoints, were prepared and delivered in Florida at a women’s retreat.  And I got invited to do some similar things that are coming up this spring (a magazine cover story, a TV appearance, another women’s retreat). These were and are all great things. But, I discovered, they came at a high cost to my family.

Although I believe God has given me a writing/speaking ministry, I started to sense I wasn’t getting the balance with my home life right. And the more stressed I got, the more I sensed I was using the good work/ministry as an excuse to run away from my first work—my family.

Signs Something Was Wrong

The first sign that something was wrong was that Buc and I couldn’t stop arguing about housework. I’d hired the nanny to watch the kids, not do housework, and when I started leaving the house more, more domestic things went undone—piling up for me at the end of every day, leaving me perpetually exhausted and resentful. I thought Buc should be happy to help me pick up the slack in the name of the good work I was doing. He thought otherwise; he’d hired the nanny to make his life easier, too, and that shouldn’t include more housework for him.

Another sign was Sam’s attachment problems. Shortly after I started leaving the house to go to “work,” Sam gave up touching me. He wouldn’t let me touch or kiss him for a couple months. But in other ways he became clingier. Where I’d previously been able to put him down to bed, no problems, now he screamed and cried when I left, as if scared I was abandoning him. I started staying in his bedroom until he fell asleep every night just to avoid these heart-wrenching scenes.

Beyond that, the nanny setup wasn’t training Sam to be self-contained—wasn’t training him to amuse himself while I got house things done during Seth’s naps. No, having the nanny to play with all day made him clingier to me. But it’s not realistic for a mom to play with her kids all day.

When the no-touching phase ended (after I made a concerted effort to sit and have more quiet times with Sam), he swung the other way and clung even tighter. He’d learned to expect that I was always leaving the house—so he started keeping tight reigns on me when I was home. And I’d let him, because I felt guilty for being away. He also started waking and coming into our bed in the middle of the night, possibly because he didn’t get enough mom time in the day. And then I resented him because I couldn’t get a moment to breath on my own.

As for Seth? He didn’t suffer as much as Sam, because he napped away much of my absent time. But because I felt guilty for being gone, I indulged him more than I should have. As he neared one year of age, I kept getting up with him in the night when he’d mutter, whimper, make little noises, even though he really didn’t need me to. Buc said I’d let him work it out himself when I couldn’t take it anymore, and finally a couple weeks ago, after our nanny quit (read on), I turned off the monitor (our room is next to his, so any loud crying I can still hear). I didn’t hear him at all that night. Or the next. Better sleep is mine.

But, for too long I was needlessly wearing myself out.

The worst part of the past few months was the stress on my marriage. It felt like there was no tenderness anymore, only rough edges. And that’s because I had not allowed time for tender moments. In order to keep up with my brimming agenda, I had to keep moving at all times—had to keep busy, had to keep on task. And those are not good conditions for growing love and affection. It was another hard lesson, of many. Thankfully, now that I’m heeding the warning signs, things are looking up.

Learning my Lessons

Our nanny quit recently,* and though I greatly admire and respect her, it was actually a relief. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe hiring help was the right thing to do. Back in August, I was a new mom of two without family nearby who felt overwhelmed and needed help. And I would still give the advice to “Get Help” to other new moms. But make sure it’s the right kind of help, and in the right amount.

Over the past six months, I discovered that what is most valuable to my family right now is not twenty hours of babysitting a week, but several hours of housecleaning a month (so I can be with my kids more) and one or two babysitting sessions each week to get my other things done.

I didn’t know, when I hired my nanny, what kind of help I most needed, so I didn’t set up expectations and schedules in the way that would most benefit my family. After our recent hard lessons, though, I am able to make much wiser decisions when it comes to hiring help for my family. And I have a happy update about this.

If you’ll also recall, we hired a cleaning lady last summer to clean twice a month. Well, after the nanny quit, I knew I would probably need some kind of babysitting to replace a little of what I’d lost (still no grandparents here in Missouri). My biggest problem was I didn’t want to introduce a new person into my kids’ lives after Sam’s separation issues. I mentioned to my cleaning lady that the nanny had quit, and what do you know? In addition to cleaning houses, she also nannies, and she offered to spot me one or two sessions per week of babysitting, fitting it around the cleaning schedule. Best part? My kids love her. And bonus: she’s one of my readers; she understands my non-housework “work,” and she wants to help me continue it (in the appropriate balance, of course). I am so thankful for God providing Janice right from under my nose! Thanks, Janice, for stepping in!

Parting Lessons (Heed the Signs)

I wish I would learn earlier the lessons God is trying to teach me. I wish I would heed the signs that life is spinning out of control before I come unglued. Unfortunately, I don’t often “get it” until I break down, or wear out, or get to the end of my rope. That’s when I finally seek God and really listen to my husband’s assessment of my current crazy; that’s when I’m open to change.

Now that I’ve gotten really honest and admitted these hard lessons (i.e., my mistakes), I hope I have encouraged you to learn your lessons sooner than I did. To heed the signs. And what are the signs? If you find yourself knocking your head against a wall every day and night, if you easily explode at your family and have no reserves of peace (and no time to build up those reserves), if you are running on empty and the pace of life seems insupportable and just too hard…then it is. I encourage you to admit the broken pattern and do something about it.

When You Know Something Needs to Change But Don’t Know What

If you realize that something needs to change but don’t know what it is, spend some time in prayer asking God what your first steps should be. (Prayer is always a great first step.) If you are having a prayer block, which can happen when we are too busy and strung out to sit still and listen to God, start by asking some godly friends or family members for their take on what needs to change; perhaps they can spot the problem you can’t, and get you back on the right track, as Buc did for me.

May God help us all to heed the signs when life not going as it should (and when we have power to do something about it). The quicker we are to obey God, the faster we will be to learn his lessons, and they won’t have to be so hard. May he help us to listen to his good and perfect plan and be obedient to live it out.

(Psalm 119 is a beautiful chapter about getting our priorities straight; I encourage you to read it in full. For now, below are a few of my favorite verses.)

“Happy are those who obey his decrees and search for him with all their hearts….Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your principles! Then I will not be disgraced when I compare my life with your commands. When I learn you righteous laws, I will thank you by living as I should. I will obey your principles. Please don’t give up on me….If you will help me, I will run to follow your commands.” (Psalm 119:2, 5-8, 32, NLT)

“Before I was afflicted I went astray. But now have I kept they word.” (Psalm 119:67, NKJ)

“The suffering you sent was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your principles….I will never forget your commandments, for you have used them to restore my joy and health.” (Psalm 119:71, 93)

*We traveled too much, our nanny said, and she needed more regular income. When a full-time family came along, she took a position that fit her needs better. I am glad for the time she gave us and for what I learned from her. I am also glad that now we’ve both found situations to better fit our needs.

Is it Postpartum Depression…or Postpartum Drowning? (How to Know, and What to Do)

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New babies can bring the biggest thrills and blessings of our lives…as well as the most stressful periods we’ve ever faced. Here are my biggest blessings: Sam (2 1/2) and Seth (6 months)

Last February I gave birth twice: I delivered my second son, Seth, and I published a memoir on “overcoming depression.” This double blessing felt awesome…until four months later when I found myself drowning—in babies, book messages, babysitting jobs, and ministry engagements—hiding from the kids in my bedroom and texting my husband, “I can’t do it anymore! It’s just too much! I need to escape from life!”

Do I have postpartum depression? I wondered, aghast at the thought. What would my readers say? I didn’t really think it was depression, because unlike in my former, suicidal state, I didn’t want to escape life itself as much as I just wanted to escape my messy house. But if it wasn’t PPD, what was I to make of my regular exhaustion, tears, and adult tantrums? For the sake of myself, my family, and my readers (who wanted to know overcoming depression was possible), I knew I had better figure out what was going on, and fast.

When We Can’t See What’s in Front of Us…We Might Be Drowning

I didn’t figure it out right away.

My good intentions to pray into my problems got buried in a busy summer of business trips with the hubby and daycare for four kids—my baby and toddler, plus a 7- and 11-year-old from our church. Added to these disruptions in sleep schedules and household routines, I was fielding new questions and calls from sincere book readers who deserved sincere responses, as well as returning to the time-intensive prayer ministry I’d facilitated pre babies.

I didn’t realize it, but little by little, the demands of my beautiful life, lively kids (plus two), and lovely readers had been drowning me. To the point where I was tired all the time. Drinking too much coffee. Unable to get literal rest, or the spiritual rest of prayer and Bible study that had once brought healing from my decade of pre-partum depression.

After a few too many blowups at my husband, one July night I took said hubby’s advice and made a thorough inventory of my bursting life—and I finally realized my problem. It wasn’t postpartum depression. It was postpartum drowning. (“I could’ve told you that,” Hubby said. “I did tell you that.” Oops.)

So now I knew what my problem was. And I was on the road to fixing it. But if you’re not sure, maybe you can do what I did to figure out if you’re depressed…or drowning.

 Do You Have Postpartum Depression…or Postpartum Drowning?

First, I took a hard look at what was going on in my life, and what moods or emotions I was experiencing. Next, I did some research on the symptoms of PPD. Finally, I asked myself: Is what I’m experiencing in the realm of normal for a new mom, or is it in the extreme? Once I’d asked and answered these questions, I knew how to proceed, and you can too.

According to mayoclinic.com, if you have PPD, you have a depressed mood or severe mood swings, excessive crying, fatigue, energy loss, intense irritability, and anger. You also find it difficult to bond with your baby, you withdraw from family and friends, and you eat too little (or too much). You aren’t interested in, or don’t enjoy, activities you used to enjoy; you have severe anxiety or panic attacks; and you have recurring thoughts of harming your baby or yourself.

If I had looked at these symptoms in isolation, I might have falsely concluded I had PPD, because some of them described what I was going through. But because I looked at these symptoms along with my situation, it seemed pretty clear that my problems were tied to normal mom stuff, not necessarily PPD.

While my fatigue, irritability, and anger were common to PPD, they were also natural results of being a mom of littles: namely, I had choppy sleep due to baby wakings, and I had poor nutrition because I didn’t have time to cook very good meals, or helping hands to allow me to eat what I cooked.

In contrast to the various “losses” the medical description gave (loss of appetite, loss of interest, loss of friends), I realized I just wanted to be able to enjoy those things I already enjoyed even more. Instead of losing my appetite, I wanted to find time to eat. Instead of inability to sleep or sleeping too much, I just wanted to sleep a normal 8 hours, for crying out loud. Instead of difficulty bonding with my baby, I wished I had some extra hands around so that I could bond (instead of hurtling like a crazy woman between my toddler and my baby). Instead of reduced interest in activities I used to enjoy, I just wished—for the love of God—that I could get away and do my pleasurable activities (visit a coffee shop, write, exercise).

As for the more severe symptoms, I didn’t want to kill myself or my kids, I wanted to live my best life and help them lives theirs. Admittedly, I wanted to live life a little more the way I remembered it before babies, but the important thing here is that I had desire for life, a passion for my kids, and a passionate desire to live my life and raise my kids well.

So I concluded I did not suffer from postpartum depression, but rather postpartum drowning. I wasn’t depressed in the giving up sense; I was simply unhappy because taking care of my baby, toddler, and two more kids—plus the handful of women I was mentoring through prayer ministry—left no room or energy on my plate to do those things that had previously saved me and made life enjoyable. (It’s worth noting that I felt the negative feelings dissipate whenever I could get a babysitter for an hour or two to write, bathe, or eat a full meal.)

The crux of my postpartum problem, then, was this: I didn’t have enough hands. I didn’t have enough hands to both carry (care for) my kids and also tread the waters of my own (perfectly normal) postpartum emotions. At this point, it was obvious that I was drowning, and it finally became obvious what I needed to do.

What to Do if You’re Drowning (or Depressed)

Whether you are a depressed or drowning postpartum mom, first and foremost you need to Get Help. And I don’t mean mental help. I mean physical help. You need someone who can hold and feed your babies for a few hours, or clean your house, or cook, or do whatever, so you can do what you need to do to get healthy.

For me, getting healthy entails writing. As I learned during my pre-mom depression recovery, writing not only helped me cope with life, but it also gave me deeper life satisfaction, because I was good at it…and I realized God was calling me to bless others with it. And I bet you have something you do that helps you cope, brings deep satisfaction, and possibly helps others, too. But if we don’t have time to write, or do whatever it is that gets us “healthy” (as we usually don’t during the crazy postpartum period), then it’s no use.

First, we must get help.

So, as my summer babysitting job wound to a close, I searched for a part-time nanny to hold down the fort so I could go write for a few hours a week. And (cringe), while I’m being honest, I also hired a cleaning lady twice a month.

Before you slam down your computer in disgust—because who can afford to hire a cleaning lady? much less a part-time nanny?—hear me out.

First, I know. I know I am extremely lucky to be able to afford this. Many moms can’t. Which is where I say use the resources you have. Some of us have family nearby who can babysit, or friends with whom we can trade services for babysitting. I don’t. My closest family members are 500 odd miles away, and I’m still new to this area and meeting other moms.

What I do have is a husband with a good career, a little mad money from babysitting, and some modest earnings from a book. So I have chosen to use my resources to get the help I need. And I’m trying not to feel bad about it. (Despite that friend on Facebook who pooh-poohed my “need” for help because I am a stay-at-home-mom.)

Second, if you face naysayers who say hiring help as a SAHM is too indulgent, or too much “pampering” of oneself (or if you feel that way, yourself), consider two things:

One: Are you sure you really can’t afford it? As my new nanny, Paula (how I love her), says, “A lot of people who think they can’t afford this actually could afford it…if they made it a priority. The question is: what else are you willing to give up?” A good point.

And two: Is hiring help actually spoiling yourself, or is it just helping you take care of yourself in a necessary way? After deferring my mental and emotional needs in my pre-mom life…to the point of attempted suicide and bulimia, I’m choosing to take myself, and my self-care, pretty seriously. If you have a history of depression, are depression prone, or more sensitive than the average woman, you should too.

If you identify more with the depressed version of myself I just relayed, I can certainly give you the advice that helped me in my pre-partum depression days, and which I wrote about in my memoir:

  • Form new and better habits.
  • Read and memorize Scripture.
  • Pray to Jesus, who understands everything we’ve gone through.
  • Spend quiet time in prayer and ask God to show you his blessings—then ask him what your barriers are.*

But if you are depressed and also a postpartum mom—which I was not when I took all that good advice—then you still need to get help…because no matter whether we have depression or not, all postpartum moms are drowning—drowning in armloads of babies, dishes, and laundry (and other stuff) that we need someone to take care of before we can take care of ourselves.

Which brings me to my final point…

If You Only Read One Section in this Article, Read This:

If hiring help is what it takes to get you the relief you need—to keep you sane and functional—It’s not indulgent. It’s necessary.

So, go forth, Gentle Mom…

(Drowning Mom),

(Depressed Mom),

(Angry…Weepy…Raging Mom):

Be kind to yourself.

Take my advice.

And Get Help!!!

 

*Read my memoir Ending the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression for more details.

 

Growing Experiences We Don’t Want

Right now I’m going through a growing experience I don’t want, and I haven’t blogged about it because I’m struggling to talk positively about it. “I don’t want this situation,” I keep thinking, keep telling my husband and God, but so far no rope ladder has dropped from the sky to rescue me. What does an inspirational writer who writes about her own life say in such a situation? Just this: I don’t want this, but ultimately it will be good for me, because in order to survive, I have to grow.

What is this situation that has me spouting negativity from my first waking moments these days?

Outwardly, it’s embarrassingly mundane.

I’m in Texas again for a two-week business trip, sharing a house that puts my husband and me in separate beds, each in a room with one of our children (FYI, Sam is 2 1/2, and Seth is 4 months). Outwardly, I don’t have my vehicle here to jaunt off when I want; I don’t have my own stuff around me, I don’t have the baby equipment that makes life with a four-month-old a little easier. Outwardly, I’m doing a tricky, recurring trip with two kids instead of one, we’re out of our routine, and I’m getting less sleep. Outwardly.

I want to say the situation is outside of me.

But after all that I’ve learned about roots (our negative thoughts and feelings, which lead to our behaviors–and which rear their ugly heads when we are put upon or pressed), I know the situation is deeper than that.

My Roots

The real situation has to do with a woman who loses it when things don’t go her way.

The ugly, inward situation is a woman who wants to be in control realizing, blatantly, painfully, that she can’t be.

And yes, if you’ve read my book, this should be a lesson I’ve already learned. It’s in part 3 of my book, where I relinquished (some) control of my life’s plans, deciding to “just stay home and write, and have some kids” instead of pursuing a PhD and job security (which I then viewed as Life Security). Well, here I am. At home (but not at home for these two weeks)…with my kids…writing (very sporadically)…and realizing I still have a lot of control to give up to God.

Guys, internally, I’m a mess right now.

I’m facing the fact that when I said I wanted to stay home and write and have some kids, I wanted those things on my terms–impossible terms that no parent gets, unless they are rich and famous and can afford around-the-clock help. I didn’t want to stay at home and, I guess, actually parent 24/7. And I sure didn’t want to keep having to readjust things I’d already figured out for these annoying, recurring, every-two-month trips that always throw us out of our pattern. Especially when there’s a baby afoot.

But guess what? This is the outward situation right now. And it’s here, I think, to expose the inward situation. The woman inside me.

My Rope Ladder?

Brief pause here. A month ago, I thought maybe my rope ladder had dropped. An old professor from my alma mater contacted me to tell me about an opening in the English department here in Texas; he wanted me to apply; he gave me reason to hope. The month before that, I’d been struggling just to “woman” the home back in Missouri with my own two kids, and then with two more whom I’m babysitting for the summer. I’d been feeling like a failure, a bad SAHM, a woman who wasn’t meant to stay home. Was this job my green light to move back to Texas–to the helping arms of family–and to go back to “work,” where the work seemed so much easier?

I waffled back and forth, thinking maybe this could be a good thing. I submitted my resume and we prayed that God would open or close the appropriate doors.

In the past month, I also read Dr. Laura’s book In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms (one of many books I checked out about all types of moms and work situations). Dr. Laura makes a convincing case for staying at home with one’s kids, and she uses a lot of the same arguments I used before living the difficulty of staying home with kids. Long explanation short, I felt increasingly convicted over the past month that staying home was and still is the right thing for me to do in this season of life.

And then, as if to punctuate my findings, I didn’t get the job. Door closed, prayer answered.

So here I remain, at home (yet not at home), in this (on some sleep-deprived days) excruciating growing experience. This past month of pondering going back to work has taught me I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere other than at home with my kids (most days). It is the best job I could have, I have to agree with Dr. Laura. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean I always want it; it doesn’t mean I want to talk positively about it, or even find it within myself to do so.

So how do I wrap up this post on a positive note?

I guess this: God doesn’t always ask us to like our mission on earth (think of Jonah in Nineveh, think of Jesus in the Garden); he just asks us to accept it. So no, I don’t like this situation–being not-at-home in Texas, and, at the root of it all, being never-in-control of my life–but I am trying to accept it. I am trying to accept that I need to grow, and I need to let go of control, and maybe this is the best way God could design for me to do that.

Lord, help me to remember that you are in control, you know best, and you have my back. So I will praise you, Lord, even though I don’t feel like it. I praise you for what you can see and I can’t; I praise you for the work you are doing in me and in my family right now. May my words and thoughts center on you today, my hope and my salvation.

 

Four Good Memoirs for Moms (or Anyone Who Has a Mom)

One thing I seem to always make time for, even with new babies, is reading memoirs. For moms who are postpartum, or who get little adult interaction, reading true tales from other moms doesn’t just offer recreation; it provides a lifeline. Here are four memoirs by moms that I’ve recently read and recommend, not just for moms, but for anyone who has a mom:

White WallsWhite Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess in Between. I read this pretty thick memoir in the last months of my recent pregnancy. Not only did I relate to the writer’s story of reluctant motherhood in her adult life, but I also resonated with her parallel tale of growing up with a mother’s mental illness (in this case, hoarding). If you are at all interested in the psychology of hoarding, or the complex scars it leaves on kids, give this a read.

glitter and glueGlitter and Glue. I read this one in the week after I brought Seth home from the hospital, during my one and only week of breastfeeding. An easy, breezy read about the author’s summer as a nanny, this book had me crying at the last page–when she finally tied together her story of nannying in a home where the mom had died with what her own mother meant to her, so many years later. (You have to read the whole book to get the poignancy of the ending.)


the year my son and I...The Year my Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery.
I am currently charging through this one as quickly as my sons’ sleep schedules will allow, and having an emotional time comparing my three-month-old Seth to sweet little Thomas, who was born with Down Syndrome. This book is a record of the author’s first year navigating the exhaustion, disbelief, and other conflicting emotions that her disabled baby brings her. Beginning with a heart-stopping scene of premature labor, this one grabbed me right out of the gate and hasn’t let go since. Read this to understand the challenges of having a disabled child, and to feel grateful for what you have.

Ending the Pain Book CoverEnding the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression. Yes, my book. While my tale ends before I officially become a mother (I am pregnant with Sam by the end), mother-daughter relationships play a big part in my story. My parents always had a troubled marriage, and when I am fourteen, it finally blows up with an affair and illegitimate child (my half-brother) whom we hide in our home until he is eight months old and my mom leaves. After that, my relationships with both my mom and my dad become complicated, and I carry my new resentment for happy families into my new marriage and new, happy (husband’s) family. Read my story to learn not only how I healed from suicidal depression, but also how I learned to make peace with my parents (and parents-in-law).

When you have limited time to read, make sure you choose well. Happy reading!

A Peek Into (or Out of?) the Postpartum Cave

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From Hello Dearest, the official magazine of MOPS.

Yesterday while Seth slept on my chest, I finished an article and submitted it to a website. I think it was the first creative thing I’d done postpartum, besides drawing a breakfast menu for Sam. To say I’ve been residing in a cave feels about right. It’s not dark and depressing, but it is a tunnel, and it does block my vision of things I used to see, and bars me from things I used to do. That’s why finishing that article yesterday felt so good. It helped me glimpse the creative side of myself again

IMG_3641I’ve found it hard to write since Seth’s birth. Mainly because my hands are always full, but also because I haven’t felt I had anything new or edifying to say about this period in my life. What I’ve managed to scribble in my writer’s notebook lately mostly goes something like this: “I didn’t know what busy was until I had two kids.” “I am exhausted.” “My brain is on the fritz.” “I feel like a crappy parent.” “I wish I could relax sometimes.” “Life is beautiful, but this is just a hard season, you know?”

Another thing that’s been hard during this postpartum period is reading my Bible. I’m too distracted. Too busy. Too bursting with my own unexpressed, unprocessed thoughts to take on the grand themes of God’s Book. And I was having a lot of guilt about this lack of Bible reading, as we “good Christians” do, until I sat down and examined this feeling, and had the following inner dialogue.

My faith feels stagnant right now. Maybe even in remission…because I’m too busy feeding my children (literally) to be fed spiritually. So how am I supposed to grow in my faith?

Share what I already have.

But how can I share my faith right now, when I’m in a “cave”? (Literally, when I don’t see people besides my kids on a daily basis?)

Write. Write about what you’ve experienced God doing in the past; also, write your experiences now. Maybe these daily details don’t seem edifying today, but later, when you have time and perspective, you can help others who are muddling through the same tunnel.

Indeed, the literature that has touched me during this postpartum period has come from other mother-writers, writing of their years in the trenches. I recently joined MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), and besides the moms-in-the-flesh I’ve met at our physical meetings, I’ve become connected  to a number of mom-writers, through the MOPS blog and Magazine, Hello, Dearest, who have inspired me. 

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The current theme of Hello, Dearest is rest, with a number of articles about reawakening the creative parts of ourselves and doing activities that truly rest our souls (not just numb our brains)–and this theme was something I needed to attend to. I’ve needed to rest, through creating, again.

And so I wrote that magazine article yesterday–I created something–and because I couldn’t write edifying things about my current cavewoman state, I wrote about lessons learned in the past.

In time, I’m sure I’ll gain the needed perspective (and empty hands) to be able to write inspiring things about these postpartum days and beyond, because God has proven faithful to me in that way before.IMG_3614

If I’m tempted to forget that hard moments can make for inspiring stories, I just have to look at the stack of boxes filled with my first memoir…currently sitting in my cave…(in other words, not being circulated except by my dad, who is lugging a case of books around Minnesota on radio advertising sales calls for me…thanks, Dad!). Anyway, my first memoir is making the rounds among Adventist Book Centers around the country; with Paul Coneff and Straight 2 the Heart Ministries (whom I wrote The Hidden Half of the Gospel with); and finding its way into the homes of friends, family, and a few unknown readers who’ve left me good reviews.

All in all, despite my current cavewoman status, I am feeling good these days: still no postpartum depression (although people keep asking me because of my history with depression), and forming some thoughts about parenting…which I’m jotting in my writer’s notebook until God tells me it’s time to polish them up for the public. I can’t see much yet from within the tunnel, but one thing I know: I’ve started the process of crawling out.

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My little cavemen. Pretty good guys to be stuck in the tunnel with:)

The Second Baby Difference

First family pic out of the hospital–taken February 13th, the day Seth and I came home.

I held two-week-old Sam in my arms, and he wailed and wailed.

“What is it, baby boy?” I wailed too, rocking him, bouncing him, doing anything I could think of to quiet him.

It was 9 a.m. on Buc’s first day back to work, and I was already at my wit’s end. Sam would not stop crying.

“Are you hungry? Tired? Cold? Mad?” I swooshed Sam in big circles in the air, dipped down low, stood on one leg. I rocked and walked from one end of the living room to the other and back again. Sam was now screaming in short, staccato shrieks, his face candy-apple red, his mouth wide open and his tongue trembling like screaming babies’ tongues do.

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Fussy Sam

Suddenly, I saw a CD my mom had sent: Baby Lullabies.

“Maybe you want to listen to some music?” I grabbed at the CD desperately and jammed it into my CD player.

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I bounced Sam in time with the music, trying bravely to sing through my tears (but inevitably failing). “Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.”

Little ones are weak? I thought. How about their mothers? Oh Lord, help me! I prayed. But Sam wouldn’t stop crying. I looked at the clock. Barely an hour had passed since Sam’s last feeding. “You shouldn’t be hungry yet, Sam!” I cried. My boobs ached from all the recent feedings. But after several more moments, I took him to his room and I fed him. I knew it was the only way he would quiet.

This is a memory from my early postpartum days with my firstborn, Sam—days I remember like a dark cloud. They were desperate days. Dark days. During those days, I didn’t sleep for more than two-hour increments. I didn’t get regular showers. I didn’t get to finish entire meals. Buc and I wondered if we’d ever eat a meal in peace (and quiet) again. Because all Sam did, it seemed, was nurse…or cry.

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More fussy Sam

Truthfully, I feel bad about how bad those first weeks with Sam felt—and how bad those days still feel in my memory. I think we probably had plenty of delightful moments, moments of oohing and aahing over our new, beautiful baby. But all I remember is the desperation. Which is why I was never too excited for a second baby.In fact, I was preparing myself for the worst. I was expecting my life to be thrown into turmoil—and actually preparing to hate my life for awhile (before the baby/mama attachment and sustained sleep kicked in).

But you know what? That line that every parent of more-than-one-kid says—“Every child is different”—is so true!

At three weeks old, Seth is so much calmer than I remember Sam being; and at three weeks postpartum, my overall experience is so much nicer than it was the first time around. Thank you, Thank you, Jesus!

I think it’s possible that the difference I’m seeing between my two babies is tied to different personalities. Sam seems sanguine, while Seth seems phlegmatic—and that would account for Seth’s more laid-back, content disposition. (Would you believe he doesn’t really cry, except for when he’s hungry or poopy? Thank you, thank you, Jesus!).

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Sam
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Seth

But if there’s more to the difference than differing personalities, it is adequate nutrition. Unlike Sam, whom I breastfed exclusively for the first three weeks–until his pediatrician sounded alarm bells on his weight and told me to start supplementing with formula—Seth has had the benefit of enough food for his entire life.

Thank prior experience for that.

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I vividly remember this moment with Sam at three weeks old: We had just come from another weight check at the pediatrician’s–the one where she told me to start formula–and this picture captures a finally-calm Sam after having two ounces of Similac. We later settled on Enfamil Soy, six formula tries later.

I tried again—put Seth to breast every few hours in the hospital and again at home. But after hour-long nursing sessions when Seth was still fussy, still wanting to nurse (and this after my milk had “come in”), I knew what to do. Because of prior experience, I knew it wasn’t normal for babies to be fussy after eating…unless they were still hungry. So I gave him formula. By day 11 I stopped nursing to formula feed and “supplement” with what breast milk I could pump. And now I am down to pumping a few times a day. But given the small return I was getting for hours of nursing, I’m okay with this. Unlike the first time around, this was an easy decision to make.

Thank prior experience also for that—for my own more laid-back approach.

Seth and me
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Sam and me

Frankly, it’s just plain great to have prior experience—to not be navigating parenthood for the first time around. Even if I had a tough second baby, I think I’d be doing better, simply because I could see light at the end of the fussy, sleepless tunnel. I look at two-year-old Sam and can’t believe all the milestones he’s leapt through in such a short a time—and the amazing little guy that he has become.

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Sam still is, and always will be, “my baby,” too.

While I don’t remember Sam’s beginnings happily, I am happy to say that today I absolutely delight in his personality, his growing communication skills, his laughter, his life. Thank you, Jesus, for the passage of time, and for difficult babies growing up and maturing and developing. And thank you, Jesus, for the gift of easy babies—and the fact that I HAVE ONE THIS TIME!

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Seth is so easy on us, in fact, that that’s why I started this post with a memory of Sam. I have stronger emotions, memories, reactions, to Sam than I am having with Seth…because Seth doesn’t do much. He likes to be held, but he also likes to be put down; and he likes to sleep! (Right now, in addition to sleeping a ton during the day, he sleeps in three- and four- hour stretches at night, and after feeding, he goes right back to bed.) What I’m saying is that he’s not as interesting to write about as Sam. But his different personality has sure spurred comparisons with Sam! And in this case, even though they say you’re not supposed to compare your kids, I am really gratified to do so! Thank you, Jesus, for different personalities!

As a coda, how is Sanguine Sam handling his new brother? (I didn’t realize that that’s the most frequent question I’d get after baby #2. Kid conversations will always be about comparisons from now on, won’t they?)

So far, he’s doing well. Since I came home from my three-night hospital leave, Sam has been more difficult to put down at night, worried I won’t be there in the morning. But otherwise, he’s been holding his own and maintaining a healthy play life. He keeps his distance from the new baby, but gradually he’s mentioning him more and more, and I think he might even be starting to like him.

Now. One caveat.

The other HUGE blessing in this period is that I’ve had my eighteen-year-old niece, Megan, here with me through it all. She came mainly to care for Sam while we went to the hospital, but she was also here for the last two weeks of my pregnancy, bonding with Sam, and she has been here for the three weeks since Seth’s birth. And Sam really likes Megan. I hope I’m not just fooling myself, thinking life is easier with baby #2, when, really, it’s just been Megan here that’s made the difference. Because, really, when littles are afoot, extra hands make such a difference.

(On that note, Thanks so much, Megan, for sacrificing your social life and your family for these crucial weeks to make our load so much lighter. How would you like to be a full-time nanny? Just kidding. [Not really.])

Megan and Sam

But seriously, Megan has been a huge blessing. Seth has been a huge blessing. And so has Sam. And no matter how life plays out after Megan leaves next week-ish, I hope I will remember how happy I was for these first postpartum weeks—and realize how blessed I’m sure I’ll still be after they’re over—even if I’m a little more frazzled for watching two kids on my own. One thing I’ve learned from prior parenting experience: when the going gets rough, just wait it out…kids change all the time, and if you give them time, they will get easier. (If they don’t, I can still rejoice that one day they’ll graduate and move out, right? [Just kidding…maybe.]) For now, I’m loving the second baby difference, and I will try to enjoy every moment. Stay tuned!

Welcome, Baby Seth! (Sorry, Michael Bolton)

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Photo Credit: Baby Bella Photography

February 11, 2016. I planned on seeing Michael Bolton in concert, a rare date made possible by my homebody husband’s sympathetic, last-date-before-my-due-date Christmas gift. Instead, I found myself in a hospital bed, welcoming my second baby into the world.

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We bought the tickets because I kept seeing the concert advertised every time I drove Sam, my firstborn, to Parents’ Day Out. “We never do stuff like this,” I told Buc. And, “It’s so close to our due date.” I was trying to convince myself I didn’t want to go. “But you want to go,” he said, “Don’t you?” I did. My husband did the only thing a good husband does in this situation: he bought the tickets.

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One day before the concert I had an ultrasound to check Seth’s growth. I hadn’t been having serious contractions, and I didn’t expect any exciting news. I got it wrong again.

“Did the sonographer tell you you’re having your baby today?” My doctor quipped, blunt as ever, as she walked into the room. This is the same way she had announced my pregnancy. My mouth hung open. “What?” Surely, she was kidding.

She was not. My fluid was low, and they needed to induce today. “Go home and get your hospital bags and head back up here. We’ll start your pitocin tonight. I expect you’ll give birth sometime tomorrow morning.”

I glared at Buc in the doctor’s office. “You did this. You willed Seth to come on the concert date so you wouldn’t have to go.” (Buc had joked many times in the past weeks: “Come on, baby Seth, come on February 11th so I don’t have to go see Michael Bolton, that ‘no talent hack’ [reference to the movie Office Space].”)

Last home prego pic before heading to the hospital.

I both laughed and cried on the way home. Yes, I saw the humor in the situation, but I also was truly disappointed. I was so close! So close to getting my last date before the due date. So close to seeing one of my favorite singers. So close to having this first-time experience with my husband. (Trust me, we don’t get out much.) Second on my mind to Michael Bolton (or probably first, really, but we’ll just keep this post light), was my mom, who wasn’t going to be there for the birth.

And one last pic in the hospital room…

Third on my mind was, Thank you, Lord, for helping me get ready this week. Almost as if I’d known Seth would come early, that week I’d stocked up on last groceries, hung up last things in Seth’s room, finally taken the birth suites tour the night before, to know where to go and what to expect at this particular hospital. So yes, I was disappointed that Seth couldn’t have waited one more day…but I also knew God was in control, and his timing is perfect.

Expectant parents!

On Wednesday night,  February 10 at 8 p.m., I was induced. I was given low doses of hormones every hour, with the plan that the doc would break my water by 6 a.m. the next morning if need be. But baby Seth was quicker. By 4 a.m. Thursday morning, February 11th–or the day of the concert–I felt the need to push, and felt him pushing against me. By 4:51, he was here!

Resting after birth.
Father and son.

Seth has been with us for just over a week now, and I’m in love. Aside from missing Michael Bolton and a nap the day before, I couldn’t have asked for a better birth experience. Plus, I’m enjoying this postpartum period so much more than my first time around. I know stuff to do this time. I know how to tell if he’s full enough (yes, I am feeding him formula along with breastmilk; don’t hate). I know how to hold him and comfort him and rock and feed and change him. And whether or not he’s calmer because he’s fuller than Sam was for the first three weeks (while I breastfed Sam exclusively), he is definitely an easier baby. God is so good.

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Sleeping peacefully after a feeding.

And now to answer the one burning question that remains: How did I ever get into Michael Bolton, that “no-talent hack” who is the same age as my dad, anyway? (Buc later rescinded his criticisms, saying he had nothing against MB–“I actually think he’s a very talented singer”–he just thought the Office Space movie line was funny.)

I can’t quite remember why, but throughout the early 2000s I started buying MB’s CDs on clearance at Half Price Books, started listening to them, and realized this artist had a really good voice. And then, this year, I saw that he was coming to my neighborhood the week before my due date, and wouldn’t that be a fun outing before our second baby comes and we can’t get out for dates anymore?

So we took a chance. And our son stole the show.

I’ll try to catch you next time, MB. For now, I’m going to enjoy the new man in my life, my seven pounds, three ounces of pure joy. I love you so much, baby Seth. Welcome!

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Back home: Loving my little boy!

(Stay tuned for more on our new baby transition…and if you’re looking for some good tunes, you know who I recommend:)

The Pain When Real Life Unravels…and Why I Write About It Anyway

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“By a Thread 5” by TACLUDA

Something frustrating/painful/paradoxical about writing books about your life is that storylines you had sewn up at book’s end can, and do, unravel in real life. I’m dealing with that now.

My memoir is sewn up, edited, on its way to press…as far as paper and ink go…but in real life, this one thread of my story is refusing to stay put. That thread is a “character” in my book, a family member, whom I left at a good spot–and whose relationship with me ended in a good spot. But now the relationship…the character…it’s all just unraveling. And I am crushed.

That’s the thing about a happy ending in a work of non-fiction. Unlike the ending of a novel, the story can change. Happy can turn to sad, resolved to unresolved.

It’s times like these when I can start to wonder, Why did I even bother? Why did I go to the trouble to try to organize and understand and “sew up” my story? Happy endings in real life can’t really be sewn up anyway…can they?

Can they?

I wrote a book about overcoming depression. About moving past family dysfunction. About finding joy and new starts in the sinful, yet beautiful world around me.

And now this piece of my conclusion is unraveling, a piece of my life that originally caused much of my depression, contributed to my family’s dysfunction, and seemed to suggest that life would never–could never–change for the better.

What does that mean for my book, and for me? Does it mean that I am a fraud, my book a farce? Does this make my message of “new life” a bunch of baloney? Does it mean that depression can’t be overcome? That dysfunction can’t be left behind? That joy can’t be found?

If I give in to my gut reaction (this is terrible!), if I listen to my heart (I’m so sad, I feel so depressed), or if I trust the words Satan whispers in my ear (why get up today? Look at the junk I have to face…), then I can easily jump to those conclusions.

But if I remember the most important storyline of my book–the real message–then hope revives.

My Reasons for Hope

One of my favorite chapters in my book is my chapter called “Rebirth,” where, amidst the backdrop of this same thread unraveling that I’m currently blogging about (it’s been a recurring, unraveling thread in my life story, you see), I begin the habit of daily prayer, Bible reading, and Bible memorization. As I learn, my attitude, my mood, and my inner peace (or lack thereof) do not have to be determined by my outward circumstances. After three weeks of me meditating on God’s promises, that stubborn thread remains as stubborn as ever…but I have experienced a genuine heart transformation: after ten-plus years of depression, I no longer feel depressed!

And that is the overarching thread in my story–that we can learn to hear and operate in God’s truth even when Satan is attacking us with his fiery darts; we can embrace a new life on the inside even when life on the outside hurts. 

Beyond that, if we are faithful to God, he promises that one day we can have a new life not only on the inside, but also on the outside. The Bible says that if we believe in Jesus and give our lives and hearts to him, these sad stories down here are not our final stories. One day Jesus will “wipe away every tear”; in other words, he will sew up our stories for good and lay to rest those stubborn threads that keep tripping us up and pulling us down.

These truths are narrative threads that can never unravel.

And yet.

Sometimes hearing these truths don’t help much. Sometimes these Bible promises, if spoken lightly and out of context, seem like an insensitive slap in the face of our very real, very present pain. And that’s exactly why, I maintain, we need the sad stories along with the Bible promises.

My story of overcoming depression, moving on from dysfunction, is not a farce, and I am not a fake. The fact that one of my threads has unraveled again, again causing me much pain, is not a reason to hide my past story of suffering and overcoming; it is a reason to celebrate it. My story Ending the Pain has become a precious record of the Lord’s intervention at a desperate time, and now I can reread it to find hope for the present and future.

If I had not written the story, I might be tempted to forget that the Lord works in wonderful and mysterious ways even when, especially when, the threads of our lives seem to be unraveling.

Here on planet earth, until it becomes the New Earth, threads unravel all the time; things fall apart. So let’s not to forget to celebrate those strong, unbreakable cords of love that have held us together in the past…and that can hold us together today and tomorrow, no matter what falls apart around us.

 

 

Something of a “Second Baby Strategy”

“Life is gonna go crazy!” “I’ll get no sleep!” “I’m gonna go crazy!” These are some of my thoughts lately. No matter how excited I am for my second son to make his appearance, I’m also anxious. I’m not deeply worried about any longterm disasters–because I survived the infant stage with my first son and because God is on my side–I’m just anxious. At the end of a pregnancy, when you can’t sleep well, when your hormones are running wild, and when your body tells you “things they are a changin’,”  it’s hard not to be a bit on edge.

But it’s kind of cool, too, to see how God has designed mothers to go into this preparation stage. I’ve been doing things lately that I never do–all because of an instinct I believe God planted in us women.

Not only have I been scouring thrift stores for baby things, buying non-perishable groceries in bulk, and deep cleaning my house–making physical preparations–but I have also been laying plans to help me cope emotionally. Namely, I am enlisting as much support as I can.

Enlisting support in a new state, Missouri, is not as easy as it would be in Texas or Minnesota. Here I don’t have any family nearby, which is a bummer. But I do have resources. And I’m trying to learn from my past fails of going it alone that I need to use what I have.

The Strategy

  • Keep up Parents’ Day Out. A couple months ago Sam started a twice weekly Parents’ Day Out program. I thought of discontinuing this when the baby comes (because it will be harder to get three of us out the door, and will it really be worth the three hours’ break once I drive across town and drive back home and drive back to get him?), but then I thought better of it. It’s not just good for Sam to get out and about, it’s also good for me. When Sam was an infant, I was afraid to take him places because I never knew how he would act. I was unsure in my mothering and my ability to handle him. But I am vowing not to be so scared with Seth. It’s better for us to get out and about sometimes, and for Sam to interact with other kids and adults, and we will.
  • Join MOPS. I inquired on a MOPS group near my home several months ago, only to be told it was full. But two weeks ago they emailed and said several mothers had dropped out, and they invited me to join. Again, I considered skipping this extra hassle (too much work to get the kids out the door, and who knows how they will act when we get there?), but then wisdom convinced me otherwise. If I shunned this group, I would be shunning just exactly the kind of support I’ll need at just exactly the right time–I know, from my first baby, that I’ll need other mothers to talk to. And without family or many friends nearby, how else will I get this if not from a group like MOPS?
  • Lower Expectations at Home. This is a constant project in my life. I’ve always been an overachiever in my life’s pursuits, and once I became a full-time homemaker, it was no different: I wanted to have a clean house, healthy home-cooked meals, and an orderly schedule for my family. And after the first year of Sam’s life, I was starting to learn how to achieve these things (though not always simultaneously). But once #2 comes, I know all of these things won’t be possible, not right away. Maybe not even for a couple years. So I am praying for God to relax my perfectionism, and I am practicing being okay with some convenience meals and messy counters and laundry that waits until the weekend.
  • Make the Most of Weekends. With less ability to get house things done by myself, I plan to make the most of my weekends. Buc has been a great help while I’ve been pregnant–he’s helped with laundry, watching Sam, and random nesting projects when I’ve asked him–and I intend to keep enlisting his help when life gets even crazier. That will mean saving projects I can’t get to for nights and weekends. At the same time, I don’t want to put undue demands on my husband, who works hard at his job to support us. So, after I have prayerfully decided what expectations I can lower or drop, I will calmly and nicely ask Buc to help with what remains.
  • Bottle Feed as Soon as I Need to. I don’t want to even attempt describing the emotional roller coaster that breastfeeding Sam (or trying to breastfeed Sam) sent me into two years ago. It’s something I’ll write more about in my second memoir. But I learned this: I’m going to save my family the stress and struggle this time around. Yes, I will give breastfeeding a try while I have extra help at the house. But when my sweet niece leaves to go back to Texas, and when Buc goes back to work, if I don’t have enough milk, I won’t hesitate to introduce formula. God has blessed us with the money to afford this, and I will do what is best for all of us.

For now, those are the big strategy items. Oh yes, and prayer. I will be relying on lots of prayer for strength, energy, and wisdom. If you believe in the power of prayer, I wouldn’t mind if you sent up some extra prayers for me. Beyond that, I’ll also take your second-baby tips in the comments! Thanks in advance; and thanks, as always, for reading.

Living Large: Awaiting a Book and Baby!

Somewhere between 34 and 35 weeks. I keep losing count.

Two big and awesome things are happening in my life right now: I am expecting my second son and my second published book sometime next month. Currently I don’t have many words available to describe my feelings–what with prego brain and book revisions squeezing me dry–but I can say this: “Thank you, Jesus.”

I am thankful that two of the best parts of my life are converging right now.

I am thankful that a publisher, Pacific Press, picked up my book so that I don’t have to keep lugging around an unfinished dream…and so I can now concentrate more fully on my kids.

And I am thankful that God continues to surprise me with this life I once thought I didn’t want to live.

This past week as I reread my manuscript in a breathless four days, scouring it for last-minute corrections, I had fun remembering all the  delightful surprises God had laid in store for me years ago.

The manuscript, now entitled Ending the Pain: A True Story About Overcoming Depression, begins with me, a depressed college student, giving up on God and giving up on life. The first chapter ends with me writing my suicide note. Then we jump chronology back to age seven so I can explain how I got to this point.

Once back to the suicide scene, the manuscript chronicles my failed attempt and then moves through the tough year after–a year in which I emerge from the mental hospital disgusted with my new start. It’s a new start I don’t want, with a clean slate that is “blank, but not in a good way.” I have no goals, no plans, no dreams. The one goal I had, to end the pain, has been taken from me by doctors, nurses, and family members who say I cannot kill myself. But there’s absolutely no one who can give me to will to live…no one but God.

After some futile attempts to numb my pain (sleazy guys, bulimia), things start happening in my life that can only be attributed to the Divine: I meet a great Christian guy from Texas, doors literally start closing in Minnesota (I go to work one day to find my restaurant has closed), and I am compelled to pack up my rusty Cavalier and move my sorry life 1,000 miles from home to start over again. One year to the day after my discharge from the mental hospital, at a measly twenty years old, I find myself in the “Gendke Love Chapel” (my now-in-laws’ living room) getting married to a man I’ve only known six months.

Lest you think the story ends there–because so many stories end with a wedding–know that we are only one-third into the book…and I am still w-a-a-a-y depressed beneath a good-churchy-girl-looking exterior.

What follows is the rest of the story of how I got un-depressed–a story that is often simplified or glossed over in Christian literature. We’re supposed to accept Christ and have a new life instantly, promise so many preachers and Bible teachers. But real-life recovery from depression (and crappy childhoods, I’ll just add) is slow and hard; often it seems unattainable. My goal with the last two-thirds of my book was to explain just what it looked like to find God and gain a new life in Christ when, for so many years, I felt him doing nothing.

It’s too much to describe in this blog post, but if you suffer from depression or just need a new start in Christ, I hope you’ll stay tuned for more details on my book’s release.

Until then, if you want a preview of what’s in my book, check out my seven-part “Ugly, Messy Rebirth” series–or, if you just want to get to the heart of matter, read this post for some practical tips on what most helped me turn a corner in my battle with depression and in my relationship with God.

Here’s to a God who “makes all things new” when we let him (Rev. 21:5), a God who has prepared a future for me–and for you–that we haven’t even imagined (1 Cor. 2:9).