I recently recorded a TV interview with 3 Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN), and it was turning point for me, a non-TV watcher. For a long time I’ve denigrated TV and avoided it, but as I prepared for my interview, watching the program I was going to appear on, something interesting happened: I realized that Christian programming was filling two important needs for me: One, spiritual uplifting, and two, human contact.
I also realized, like never before, what an important role Christian TV and radio fill at large. As a lifelong writer and reader, I’ve always favored getting my dose of God—and relaxation, and entertainment—through books. But now that I am a mom of small children, AKA a woman who doesn’t get out much, I find myself craving human contact via sights, sounds, faces, and voices—things I don’t find in a book. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m committing to watch more TV these days…and maybe you should, too.
Please don’t take this as permission to just switch on the TV and zone out. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about watching uplifting, positive programs and filling a void in your life, or bridging a gap, that pertains to family and spiritual life.
In my case, I don’t have family living nearby to just drop in on me and my little ones—and one-year-old nap schedules and three-year-old temperaments make it hard to go out sometimes. So I don’t see other adults much. Additionally, I’m finding it hard to read my Bible and pray like I used to (since the babies)…so I have some voids.
Put another way, it feels hard, sometimes impossible, to build and sustain non-immediate family relationships right now (including with God), with the kids so needy and my energy and waking hours so spoken for. Yet it’s a time when I could really use relationships (and God’s Word) to encourage me and lift my burdens. I need to be around other humans, or at least hear their voices and see their faces through some medium, to remember that my perspective isn’t definitive, and I don’t have an endless supply of hope and joy to draw on. I speak a lot of uplifting things to others (including my kids), but sometimes, I need to hear others speak words of life to me. But when you’re stuck at home, how?
I didn’t quite know how to bridge this gap, until I started watching 3ABN two weeks ago…and discovered TV really does deserve a place in my schedule. At least for now.
Later, of course, when the children are older and it doesn’t hurt my trust levels with them, I need to get back in the saddle of courting friends and social circles and Bible studies and prayer groups—things I love and desperately miss. But for now, flesh and blood human contact is sparse, and I need to bridge the gap. Thanks, 3ABN, and all the Christian TV and radio programs that fill such an important void for so many. I’m honored that this nearsighted writer was able to participate in creating some God-centered TV programming, and I’m tickled that God used my witnessing assignment to witness to me!
If you feel a spiritual void in your life, or a need for human contact, I hope you’ll tune in to some kind of Christian programming that can uplift you. While it’s not a substitute for a relationship with God or anyone else, it can help bridge the gap when we’re literally stuck at home or stuck in a rut spiritually. Happy TV watching!
I sat in the bathroom last Sunday sobbing. The words I feel so alone and abandoned throbbed in my heart.
Buc was leaving that morning. I’d known it was coming, but it wasn’t supposed to happen so soon. He was supposed to stay with me for at least half the day before leaving for his eight-day trip to Texas. Instead, he’d woken up worried about a rumored buyout in his company, saying he had to get on the road by 8 a.m.
Don’t leave me! My mind screamed, and I’d frowned at him and wrung my hands and then run to the bathroom. Don’t leave me all alone with our two small children.
It felt, at that moment, like the worst thing in the world to be left alone, although I didn’t know why I was reacting so strongly to this planned business trip.
Maybe it was because, for the past week, worried about the buyout, he’d already been gone—mentally. Maybe it was because I already felt like I was failing as a mother, even with him here. What was I going to do with him gone?
Maybe it’s because I have a negative root* in my heart, I finally thought, and asked God to talk to me about it.
Roots of Abandonment
No doubt my reaction of abandonment stems from roots laid early in life, when my mom left our family to start another, and when my shattered family left me without a safe place to call home. Those roots don’t go away very easily, I’m finding, as I tie other behaviors in my current life to fears of abandonment and aloneness. (Who knew I drank coffee because I don’t want to be alone? Because I just want to have a tangible comfort available to me at all times?)
Silly as it may sound, it came as news to me that I—an authority on “ending pain”—still suffer from a fear of abandonment.
It is humbling, being attacked head-on by an old fear I thought was gone. It is a call to pay attention: pay attention to the beliefs in my heart, and pay attention to the Author of my soul, who can right any wrong beliefs.
Over the last five years, I have learned that I am never alone; God is with me, and he even provides the human support and support systems to help me where I lack. I believe this with every breath of my body. And I am so relieved to have met my Lord and Suffering Messiah, Jesus, who also suffered being alone and abandoned in his time of need so he could identify with me. Now that I have re-realized the roots of some of my behaviors (fear of abandonment and being alone), I can pray through them, and I can connect my story to Jesus’ story, and ask him for his strength when I feel alone and abandoned.
This doesn’t mean the sense of aloneness and abandonment will ever, completely, go away on this earth. It does mean I can trust Jesus to comfort me in my heart, and I can also ask him for wisdom to get help in the physical world when I need it.
Seeking and Accepting Help
So I poured out my heart to Jesus sitting on my toilet last Sunday, telling him I didn’t want to be alone for the next week, that it felt like more than I could bear.
I sat and cried and prayed a good while, until Buc knocked on the door. “Are you alright?”
“No,” I sobbed. Not yet. “But don’t come in, I’m using the bathroom.” (With two little kids, you have to use every available opportunity.) Still waiting on you, Lord.
Then, a crazy idea sprang up. What if I went with him? This, despite my vow four months ago, the last time we did a family business trip, that I would not subject my kids and myself to the craziness of traveling so far away, for so long, again, if I didn’t have to.
If I went, sure, we might mess up the kids’ sleep schedules again. There might be hours of crying in the car. I’d lose a week of writing time to travel. These things were certain. And I might go a little nuts at my in-laws’ house for a week.
But then again, I might not.
And if I went, I wouldn’t have to be alone.
I wouldn’t have to be alone.
That settled it.
My writing and house projects could wait, as could our week’s planned menu and errands. As long as I could have help with the most difficult part of my life (my parenting), I would forgo my happy writing plans and comfortable kid setup at home.
I was a little annoyed remembering how many times my plans had been stalled over the past two years for these family business trips; but the state of my mental health told me that going with my husband was the most important thing right now. And so I write this blog post from a hotel room after our life’s latest interruption.
Tomorrow I will head back home to resume my Writer plans and projects, namely preparing four talks for a women’s retreat this month and a new book I am co-writing (more on that later)– AKA, the professional parts of my life, or the parts of my life where I feel most comfortable and polished and put-together. Strangely, I haven’t written anything about these projects on this blog since beginning them because it has taken every ounce of energy I have, after mothering and wifing, to do them. It has been hard juggling all of these parts of life–so hard that I don’t know what I have left to offer blog readers.
Maybe this admission is enough (and I guess I felt that it was worth posting): that I am still struggling with bad roots. They still strangle me at times. But I am still trusting God, and by His grace, I continue to take the next breath.
By the next time I post, I will have spoken to a large group of women four times at an inspirational women’s retreat. Please pray for me as I prepare for this exciting, yet intimidating errand for God. I look forward to seeing him show up yet again in my messy life!
*On this blog, I use “root” to refer to a negative past event or lie from Satan.
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 yourselfin 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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: 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!
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
I’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.
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.
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 Gospelwith); 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.
What a month! After three years of blogging and writing about God’s intervention in my messy life, the uncut version of my story is out there for the world to read. And I’m at home, four weeks postpartum, wearing sweatpants and trying to keep up with dishes. Somehow, I thought this moment would feel more climactic. But hey, I’m four weeks postpartum and not depressed, even after a history of life-threatening depression (the topic of my book), so I’ll go ahead and say life is great!
If there’s one malady I’m suffering from, it’s postpartum brain failure, or what I’m calling “Mommy brain.” I’m not sure what the technical term is, I just know my mind is scattered these days–I’m forgetful, absentminded, and spacey–and I don’t like how that feels. I think I read in some pregnancy book that this is normal; and I suppose it’s probably worse because I’m currently preoccupied with not only my new son, but also with the release of my new book. So it’s not a tragic condition, just annoying. As long as I can keep my kids, my husband, and myself cared for in this season, I suppose we’re good.
Needless to say, I don’t have much time, energy, or brain capacity to promote my book. And at first this distressed me. (Because doesn’t everything written about book publishing stress “promotion, promotion, promotion”?). But then I decided maybe the timing of this book release was for the best. If I had more available brain matter right now, I think I’d be stressing over book promotion a lot. And I’d be tempted to forget one of the main lessons I wrote about in my memoir: learning that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.
So here I am, bedecked in stretchy pants, hands full of babies, sink full of dishes…just stealing a moment away from momming to tell you my book has been published, and I’m leaving the rest up to God (and you, dear reader!).
And with that book announcement made (a week late, nonetheless), I’m getting back to my two tiny tots–they will never be this little again–to try to embrace a life that continues to be messy…but now, messy in a wonderful sort of way.
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.
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.
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].”)
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.
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.
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!
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 isdefinitely an easier baby. God is so good.
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!
(Stay tuned for more on our new baby transition…and if you’re looking for some good tunes, you know who I recommend:)
“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.
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.
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).