How I’m Recovering from a “Mom Funk”

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Some swinging before church on Saturday, June 3.

If you read my last post, you know I’ve been struggling. I was very vulnerable in that post, based on my own need for affirmation as a mom (thank you to the wonderful readers and friends who gave it). But as dark as that post was, it didn’t share my darkest thoughts, thoughts like:

Am I going crazy? Do I need medication? Do I need a counselor? Are my kids going to end up seeing their mom in and out of a mental hospital as they grow up? 

Indeed, when I wrote that post on Mother’s day (polished and published later), I was in a dark place. At almost sixteen months after my second child’s birth, I felt less together than I did postpartum. My emotions felt too big to handle.  And Buc was asking where his wife had gone.

You see, Satan is so good at what he does. He plays on our worst fears to try to create the very realities we fear. My mom was diagnosed bipolar shortly after she birthed her second child, me, in the early eighties. My life was punctuated every few years with seeing her go into the mental hospital. And after several months of intense struggle this spring, I was worried I could replay the past. I was worried my best self had died on the delivery tables of my two boys.

I needed to figure this out–whatever this was.

Thankfully, in the weeks since Mother’s Day, God has given me a good update to share with you. Through “writing to my roots” (writing for clarity about the underlying issues), claiming Scripture promises, and reading and applying good counsel, I am happy to share with you that I’m not going crazy after all: I am in recovery from a “Mom Funk,” and I am now getting needed “treatment.” Read on for more.

Defining The “Mom Funk”

I give credit to psychologist, mom, and blogger, Amanda, for giving words and insight to my troubles with a post called “Are You Stuck in a Mom Funk?”

Mom Funks happen to all of us.  They aren’t a deep dark depression, they’re just a feeling of funkiness.

Instead of crying all day long and not being able to get out of bed, like depression, Mom Funks are like being in a bad mood for days, weeks, months.

Being in a funky mood can really impact the way you react to your children.  For me, I get angry.

I’ll never forget the day that I transformed into a raging Hulk Mom and screamed at my children.

I had been in a Mom Funk for months.  I was unhappy and walked around every day with a huge chip on my shoulder. I should have been wearing a sign that said: “Don’t Poke The Monster, She Will Bite Your Head Off”

I had been snippy, short tempered, and moody.  The negativity in my soul had been building up, just waiting to explode.

Then it happened.

[Amanda goes on to describe how, one day, her three-year-old son spilled coffee on her new computer and she became a raging “Hulk.” Click here to read the whole post: “Are You Stuck in a Mom Funk?”]

I saw myself in this description, and promptly signed up for her seven-day email series, “Banish the Mom Funk Challenge.” In her email series, she gave lots of helpful tips which I have been trying to apply, such as:

Start a gratitude journal

Find activities that bring joy and “fill your soul”

Find time to do said activities

Find the right “tools” for specific problems you are having (i.e., search out and gather activity ideas when you don’t know how to play with your kids)

Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts

And make all of these changes a way of life

(Take the “Banish the Mom Funk Challenge” for more help with these.)

I love all of her suggestions, and I think they address many of the roots of Mom Funks, but I have also identified a few more roots of my own. Below, I share what I’ve discovered to be the roots of my “funk” and how I am going about “treating” it.

Roots of my “Funk”

Stress

Sarah, a friend who had her two boys around the same times I had mine, said that adding a second child to the family (when you still have a toddler) is like trying to ride a bike while “the bike’s on fire. And you’re on fire too.” (Brilliant analogy, Sarah, brilliant.) That’s the first thing. Life is just at a hard stage.

On top of that, my husband’s company is getting bought out, and we have been waiting for months to find out our fate. Are we moving? Where? When? So, should I wait to wean Seth off the bottle? Should we wait to make a change with three-year-old Sam’s troubled sleeping (bed-sharing) until we are settled?

There is stress in such a huge unknown, and a sense of being stuck, not able to move forward with plans, because you don’t know what’s coming up and if it will undo any changes you make.

The answer here is probably just pray and wait it out. Thankfully, we are expecting to get news within the next month on the job (and living) situation. Whew. Deep breaths.

Lack of Sleep/Lack of Space

I haven’t gotten good sleep for almost three months, because Sam has been waking in the night and coming into our bed. First it was allergies, and then it was “monsters.” And I get it; a three-year-old is allowed to have those troubles and get comfort from Mom and Dad. The problem is, when he’s in our bed, or when I know he’s coming, I can’t sleep. I lie awake stressing because I worry I won’t be able to get out of the bed without Sam seeing and following me, and I’ll have no time to myself. And no time to myself feels like a desperate situation right now.

Lack of Morning Quiet Time

After going through these funky, sleepless months, I re-realized how essential it is for me to daily have quiet time with God (and frankly, just some quiet) before I deal with my family. My friend Naomi and I had a prayer session where I lamented to her that I really would like to talk to a counselor about my “Am-I-Crazy?” thoughts, and when she prayed over that, the phrase “Wonderful counselor” came up. I knew I needed God to speak into my funk—on a daily basis…before I deal with the family—and I knew I needed to make that a priority again.

Right now, the answer to this lack of quiet time is turning out to be the same as the solution to my lack of sleep/lack of space problem: I have temporarily vacated my bed to sleep downstairs in the guest room. My husband and I are sleeping in separate beds.

While sleeping apart from my husband makes me sad, it has helped my sleep…and given me back some morning quiet time in which I can pray, journal, and read uplifting things. Unlike mine, Buc’s sleep isn’t bothered when Sam comes in in the early morning, be it 2 a.m. or 5 a.m., so he lets Sam stay. And with Buc next to him, Sam will sleep until between 6:30 or 7 (versus 5:30 if put back in his own bed). And that gives me an hour or more to myself to mentally and spiritually prep for the day. Hallelujah. It’s been so long.

Although this is not ideal, right now, this is the solution I have.

Hunger

Moms shouldn’t try to parent on an empty stomach, and that’s that. Remember Amanda’s “Hulk” analogy? Well, I can easily become a hulk when I’m hungry (I’ve blogged about this before). So now that I’m “beating” Sam out of bed, I’m taking care of this basic need in mornings, pre-kids, and it is helping me to be a nicer mom.

Schedule Disruptions/Lack of a Plan/Lack of Confidence to Carry Out a Plan

We came back from a business/family trip to Texas in April, and after that, I felt our routines, and my confidence, shattered. After our routines had been disrupted for two weeks, I couldn’t seem to keep everyone fed, changed, napped, stimulated, you name it, without someone having a major tantrum (sometimes me). And in trying to deal with my son’s tantrums, I had my own. So my confidence nose-dived. I started to doubt every single thing I was doing in the day with the kids, from what time we ate breakfast each day to what activity should we do first?

It’s no wonder my kids were crying and acting up so much. I wasn’t giving them clear direction. I couldn’t give clear direction, or even make simple decisions, with my mind so cloudy. I was so beaten down by Satan’s lies (“I can’t do this”) that I didn’t even have the presence of mind to go back to the things that were working pre-Texas, or search out ideas and resources for problems that do have solutions.

So now I am getting back to the basics: setting mealtimes, sitting us down to mealtimes together (as much as I can when by myself), trying to stick to bedtime routines, and praying with the kids as a first thing. A new thing I am doing is getting on the Internet and searching for activities to do with my boys. For the first time, I’ve given Pinterest a good look. Why didn’t I do this before now? I refer back to my friend, Sarah. For sixteen months, I’ve been riding a flaming bike while flaming myself. Adding one more thing to do was too much until I could get my sleep back.

The Lie that “I Can’t Do It”

I can’t do it, is a common refrain Satan has run and re-run in my mind so much these last three months. But a few days after my Mother’s Day slump, I heard a different thought, one that had to be from the opposite source, God:

The only time to say “I can’t” is to say “I can’t give place to these thoughts, these lies, from Satan.”

If I let Satan into my brain, he filters through to all of me: my emotions, my words, my frantic, crazed, panicky actions in my parenting. And then, my worst nightmare as a parent is realized: I am a mentally distraught mom who can’t keep her kids emotionally safe. And Satan’s work filters through me into my sons. This is how the sins/tendencies/paths of the parents get passed down generations. Kids do what they see done. Kids emulate their parents, whether for good or bad. If I don’t want my kids growing up with a mentally unstable mom (or a Funky Mom, for that matter), I’ve got to stop the thoughts in their tracks.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” has become my replacement thought when I am tempted to believe the lie that “I can’t do it.

Conclusion

In short, my “funk” has mostly been a mix of stress, basic needs going unmet (food, sleep, “counseling time” with God), and a lack of knowledge in various areas of parenting, which creates more stress. Also, I cannot underestimate the effect of Satan’s lies wreaking havoc on my mind.

How glad I am to have been reminded of God’s truth (versus Satan’s lies) through this experience, as well as found two other Helpers in this time: the Basement (for adequate sleep and quiet time), and Pinterest (for ideas to keep my boys busy).

As I identify the roots of my funk…and combat them with God’s promises, common sense, and a “this too shall pass” attitude…things are slowly getting better.

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One of the greatest joys of having small children is snuggling them and laughing with them. As I experience the de-funking process, I am finally remembering this joy.

What I Wanted for Mother’s Day, Versus What I Got

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Disclaimer: I definitely want my two wonderful boys, Sam (3) and Seth (16 months). It’s the sometimes-harsh conditions of the job and the crazy emotions that go along with it that have me at my wit’s end some days.

I wanted a gold star, I suppose. Recognition for a job well done. I wanted black and white answers, adequate sleep, and my sanity. I wanted happily ever after in the here and now.

But on Mother’s Day I lay in bed feeling low, unable to post one positive thing about motherhood, or one cute picture of my kids (see end of this post for some cute pics). No one told me I was doing a good job, least of all the voices inside my own head. Instead, I lay there doubting that motherhood had yet brought out one good thing in me–and wondering if I was screwing up my kids because I couldn’t get it together. At three years in, I was sick in bed with a sore throat, unable to mother my kids well because of my pain–the physical pain symbolizing a deeper pain motherhood has brought. 

It’s the pain of realizing the pain of life isn’t over yet. Happy chapters may have concluded, they may have led us into new, hopeful beginnings…much like the picture of my life I presented at the end of my memoir, Ending the Pain. (I just want to say here that the editors chose this title. And I want to clarify that some pain did end for me. But not all pain.)

All my pain is not over–and all your pain is not over–because we are caught in a war, a great controversy, between Christ and Satan. And the happy endings that our culture–our movies, our books, our music–sell us are not the truth. Our ultimate happy ending is not to be found in the “perfect” mate, our darling children, a new job, or pursuing our passions. Our happy endings are to be found in Jesus, who is coming again one day to take us away from this sin-soiled world and wipe away all our tears. But that day is not here yet.

Oh, I have been disappointed so often in life, because I put my trust in the wrong things, the wrong people. I trusted in things and people.

When will I learn that I must trust in God for everything?

On Mother’s Day I needed comfort for all my fears, insecurities, and unknowns–and when my husband gave me time to rest, God led me back to three portions of Scripture I’d marked in my Bible (pre-kids, when I had more time to study the Bible) to strengthen my heart.

Psalm 91 was the first Scripture God gave me, for all the fear, loneliness, and fretful waking hours I’ve faced in motherhood: 

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
    and see how the wicked are punished.

If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
12 They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.”

(Psalm 91, NLT)

I wanted life to be smooth sailing when I became a mom. I wanted to have perfect children, predictable schedules, lots of sleep, and a yelling-free life. 

But that, obviously, is not what I have. I have two beautiful, healthy, wonderful boys, but they rarely act according to my ideas of how they should act.

With Sam in his terrible three’s, we are seeing new parenting struggles I never knew existed. Why would someone cry because I turned off the light? Why would he scream because I moved a rug? Why would the world come to an end because I just want him to eat pizza? (What kid doesn’t like pizza?) And then, why would he tantrum some more because I wiped his tears away and he wants me to “put them back”? Moreover, how do you get a three-year-old boy to keep his clothes on? And why, suddenly, won’t he sleep all night in his room? How is he raring to go by 5:30 or 6 a.m., when he doesn’t even nap? How can I possibly prepare myself to deal with him when he’s up till 8, in my bed through the night, and awake by 6? Lord, can I give him back?

Clearly, I’m struggling. I don’t know the answers to so many questions right now with my kids, mostly Sam. I know the phases are largely temporary, but man, will I even survive the phases before one of us gets killed? (possibly by me?)

The Bible says to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). But I’m so confused. I’ve tried everything I can think of: timeouts, loss of privileges, positive reinforcement, spankings, selective ignoring, you name it. And I still don’t get the results I want most of the time.

Hebrews 12:1-12, and James 1:2-4 are the the second and third Scriptures God gave me, to encourage me especially in the areas of motherhood and discipline and endurance.

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;[c] then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children?[d] He said,

“My child,[e] don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”[f]

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?[g]

10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees.

(Hebrews 12:1-12, NLT)

Hebrews says, “No discipline is pleasant while it’s happening.” And as I struggle to discipline my strong-willed three-year-old, I feel like the one God is disciplining. He is refining me, trying to scorch off the impurities through these trials. I want my three-year-old to have self-control. But I still lack it.

I got so angry at Sam a week after Mother’s Day that I threw his toy across the room and broke it. (It was a $1 water spray bottle, but still. I can’t believe I could act so childishly.)

While reflecting on all this, I remembered the words from the keynote speaker at the Texas retreat where I spoke over a month ago: of her young motherhood years, she said, “I grew up with my children.” Well, count me in that category, too. I still definitely have some growing up to do.

Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

James 1:2-4 (NLT)

God’s Words says, essentially, Be glad for the trials/temptations, for when they have had their perfect work, you will be mature and complete.

“You’re not mature and complete. You’re not done yet, Lindsey,” God says to me through these verses.

But it hurts so much, Lord, it’s so hard, I cried out to God on my Mother’s Day sick bed. Oh, I need it to get better, Lord! I need this to get easier! I need to go back to work, Buc to stay home, something to change. 

“Oh really? Or do you just need to learn to trust me? Trust that, when you reach a breaking point, Buc will step in; or Janice will ring the doorbell; or the tantrum will somehow subside; or, if you must, you’ll throw the kids in the car and one of them will fall asleep; or, at the least, you’ll sit down on the couch and just cry with them, all three of you, and the moment will pass.” (All of these scenarios have played out in my life, by the way.)

No discipline is enjoyable while it’s happening.

It hurts, Lord. I guess I have a hard time trusting you. I have a hard time not knowing so much about how my day will play out, each and every day. It hurts.

I have to believe the best is yet to come. I do believe it. Just like I believe God when He says:

The terrors by night will not overcome you [by “terrors,” I wonder…does he mean small children who won’t sleep?]…my promises are your protection and strength.

I wanted this to be easy, and I wanted only the good parts that come with motherhood. Much like I wish my Christian life would play out.

But being a Christian doesn’t guarantee fun, ease, enjoyability. Momming is a lesson in Christianity. (I’ve blogged about this before.) “Submit, submit, submit,” I keep hearing God whisper to me. I must submit to the Refiner’s fire. So, I say, I pray: Mold me, Lord. Burn me if you have to. Burn away the dross. Mold me into the mom you want me to be.

I guess the refining process is heartily underway.

So, I didn’t get my gold star on Mother’s Day. I didn’t get any recognition for a job well done. I didn’t get black and white answers, didn’t get happily ever after in the here and now.

What I got is the loud and clear message to “Hold on!” It might not be easy, but God will protect me, strengthen me, uphold me, and one day he will complete (perfect, mature) me. I may not be doing the job well, right now, but the job’s not done, and neither am I.

I guess this is enough, for now…as long as I get adequate sleep and keep my sanity–my other two wishes for Mother’s Day.

This blog post is To Be Continued, because I haven’t gotten adequate sleep for a few months, and I’ve actually questioned my mental health. With these two things in the balance, some days seem utterly dark and unmanageable (the water-bottle-throwing day was one of them). In my next post, I will write about mommy mental health and what God is showing me so far about how I can manage my Larger than Little People’s emotions.

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.

 

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:)

Better Reads for New Moms…Because “How-to” Books Don’t Always Cut It

In this post I review the precious few “New Mommy Memoirs” I have found, with some comments on the dearth of such books.

If you’re a new mom, love to read, and need some support, you’re in luck…sort of…depending on what you’re looking for. If it’s advice or quick snapshots of daily life you seek, “How-to” tomes and mommy blogs abound. If, on the other hand, you just want a girlfriend with whom to commiserate and cuddle up with (perhaps your baby has failed to respond to the wisdom of Ezzo, Ferber, Pantley, or Sears), the pickings are slim. Nonetheless, here’s what I’ve found–the good with the mediocre–because sometimes “how-to” books just don’t cut it.

Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, Brooke Shields

down came the rainThis high-profile account of post-partum depression probably got published more for its author’s celebrity than her writing prowess, still, it’s a fascinating read to a first-time mom, or a first-time pregnant lady. (I read it about halfway through my pregnancy and was hooked.) If you want to know some of the emotional risks that motherhood brings, or if you are struggling with post-partum depression, this is a good read for you. Most memorable for me was Shields’s description of visualizing her baby flying through the air, hitting the wall, and sliding to the floor–yikes! I had some hard days with Sam, but thankfully never anything as drastic as Shields describes. I appreciate her honest admission of how she fantasized not only about her baby’s death, but her own. I hope you never deal with this serious malady, but if you do, read this book. And after you finish this depressing read…

Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay (and Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom), Stephanie Wilder-Taylor

sippy cupsSome humor for you! I stumbled upon this humorous collection of essays at a used book sale while three months pregnant, read it within the month, and recently reread certain chapters when my sleep deprivation was making me cry. If you, too, need to come up for a laugh from the never-ending demands of your baby, this book is a good choice. But Christian readers, beware. Like almost every secular comedian I know of, Taylor relies on some profanity and crassness to make her jokes. I wish I knew of a funny, clean, book on motherhood to recommend, but since I don’t, and you might really need comic relief, I offer this one. An interesting side note: Taylor makes numerous references to drinking in this 2006 book, and in the past year, I saw her featured on the Today Show for admitting she actually had a drinking problem. Sad, but good comedy always has an element of reality, doesn’t it? (Her second book on motherhood, which I will probably read at some point, is called Naptime Is the New Happy Hour.)

Signs of Life, Natalie Taylor

signs of lifeMaybe I shouldn’t include this book on a list of motherhood memoirs, because the top story here is a young widow grieving her dead husband…but the sub story is a young widow adjusting to new motherhood…so here you go. I actually picked this one up in 2011, before I planned on becoming a mother, to read about a young English teacher (which I was at the time) dealing with the freak accident death of her husband (which is one of my bigger fears in life). Then, I enjoyed Taylor’s strong writing voice and her many literary references (she derives comfort from literature like Christians derive comfort from the Bible)…but more recently, when I reread this book, I picked up on the common struggles of new motherhood. My favorite image from the book: she mentions a glob of jelly on her kitchen floor that she just can’t find time or energy to wipe up (no doubt due to both the exhaustion of grief and the exhaustion of new motherhood.) So true! If you are a mom who appreciates literature reflecting real life, you will appreciate Natalie Taylor’s take.

Double Time: How I Survived–and Mostly Thrived–the First Three Years of Mothering Twins, Jane Roper

double timeThis is the most forgettable memoir in the list, but if you are a new mother, and especially a mother of twins, you might still enjoy it. Unlike Shields’s life-threatening depression, Wilder-Taylor’s comic slant, or Taylor’s added challenge of being a single mother, Roper doesn’t bring anything new to the table, except for having to do double duty on feeding, diapering, and everything else mom-related. Roper is a writer a by trade, and no doubt thought she could get a book out of her twins, which is fine, because we all have a story to tell (and hey, I probably would’ve done the same). On a side note, Roper throws in her story of depression, which is purely clinical and responds well to medication, so not that interesting, but I appreciate this alternate, less serious description of the disease. My fun takeaway from the book: “twin-yang,” or the phenomenon of one twin acting great while the other one is a terror. My next-door neighbor with twin babies confirmed that this is a real condition:)

The Second Nine Months: One Woman Tells the Real Truth about Becoming a Mom. Finally. Vicki Glembocki

second nine months 2My favorite, by far! This is the book that new moms will relate to the most (I think). This is for the mom who is not suffering true post-partum depression, but who wonders, in those early months, if she made a mistake by having a baby. I wish I would’ve discovered this book back then, and not nine months into motherhood, but since Glembocki ends her story at her baby’s tenth month, I was right there with her on the back-end of her story, as her “devil baby,” Blair, becomes more human and lovable, and as Glembocki finally settles into her new role and finds rhythm in her new life.

I knew I had found the right book from one of her first scenes: she is strolling her new, three-week-young, screaming baby down the street, exploding at her husband over the phone that she needs help–please come home! She is trying to accomplish one thing that day–dry clean a comforter–just ONE THING, dang it, because nothing gets done anymore; but the baby is screaming and she is alone and has no help and no idea how to comfort her baby. I related to so many moments in this book, and I’m sure many other new moms will, too. I give this book my highest recommendation and urge you to buy it for yourself or a new mom in your life.

In Conclusion

Unfortunately, the “New Mommy Memoir” looks to be a largely untapped market, probably because new moms don’t have time, energy, or ambition to write more than a blog post here and there…and by the time they do, they’ve forgotten the “bad old days.” That’s why all of the books above, though they may not be “great” literary works, are important.

Though some are not very memorable, and a couple are not particularly well written, they might be invaluable to a new mom who doesn’t need more advice, but who just needs a girlfriend who’s gone before her. The best part about finding this girlfriend in a book? She’s available anytime, anywhere, no matter if you’re stuck in the house or your baby is stuck to your breast.

Yes, I’ve decided that anytime a writer-mom contributes to this genre, she gives a gift to other new moms. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve found a new writing project to work on.

(Note: please don’t look for my “New Mommy Memoir” until Sam is in college. Just kidding. Maybe high school:)

Why All New Moms Need a New Wardrobe (and It’s Not Because We’re Fat)

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from theguardian.com’s Money Blog

When I signed on for motherhood, I expected a litany of new challenges; I just didn’t expect my wardrobe to be at the top of the list. Yes, as silly (and vain) as it sounds, for these nine months of Sam’s life, dressing myself has been nothing short of traumatic.

Please don’t get the wrong idea. I am not a slave to fashion by any stretch. In fact, I pride myself on not getting sucked into materialism, either by my clothes or anything else I own. After all, as one of my favorite Bible passages says, the Heavenly Father already knows what I need, so I shouldn’t worry about what I’ll eat or what I’ll wear (Matt. 6:25). It’s a really lovely, warm and fuzzy thought…when you have a full tummy and are comfortably outfitted. But when you are either starving or staring at a closetful of clothes that you’d love to wear but, darn it, they just don’t fit, this aphorism becomes kinda mocking .

So what’s a new mom with nothing to wear to do?

In the beginning of Sam’s life when I could only fit into maternity clothes, I felt depressed, but unwilling to invest in new duds. Later, when I got so depressed I decided to go shopping, I became frustrated both at the challenge of clothes shopping with a baby, and also thinking about the money I was wasting because I planned to fit into my old clothes again (it was just taking much longer than I thought).

I also began taking stock of my wardrobe and having somewhat of an identity crisis. I looked at the rack of teaching clothes–slacks, blouses, and skirts that didn’t fit–and wondered if it was time to just throw those out and usher in a new wardrobe. After all, I wasn’t teaching anymore, and I wasn’t sure when I would again. And what if, by that time, these clothes just didn’t “fit” me anymore–as in, didn’t fit my personality and style as an older woman?

As I’ve descended the scale over nine months to within ten pounds of my goal, I’ve figured out that my clothing dilemma is not  vain or materialistic. My need to fit into my old clothes, and my hand-wringing over whether or not to throw out the old and usher in the new is about figuring out who I am, now that I’m a mother.

But some have told me not to worry about getting to my original size. It’s okay if I don’t, they say, because “I’m a mom now.”

For me, who has always been a sporty girl, likes to exercise, and is health conscious, I wonder if motherhood means I can no longer be fit or healthy? Is it to give up the joy of exercise and feeling good and being a healthy weight?

For awhile, as I struggled to find time and energy to exercise, and as the weight lingered and lingered, I thought so.

Some have told me not to worry about fitting into my old clothes again; just get new ones, because “I am a mom now.”

Does this mean I pitch, along with my slacks and blouses and skirts, the professional identity that helped me grow up so much and that I’m so proud of? During my first teaching years, when I felt small and unsure of myself and my authority, I found strength in dressing the part of organized, got-it-together teacher. Maybe my classroom discipline was a mess, but at least I dressed the part. Looking good helped me feel good.

But does becoming a mom mean I should drop all expectations of looking put-together and just flash my “mom” card? Is motherhood a license to be frumpy until my kids leave the nest?

I felt like this is the message I received from at least a few older mothers. Mothers who, by the way, had a little junk in the trunk or, sorry ladies, looked kinda frumpy.

I think some women confuse motherhood and self-sacrifice with sacrificing their own health and/or their looks. It is virtuous, to them, to give all time to their families, and as little time and thought as possible to their looks–including their body as well as what covers it. Once you become a mother, it is selfish to take time to exercise and shop for well-fitting, flattering clothes.

But this is a terrible mistake. I think rooted below a frumpy and/or flabby exterior, are issues of low self-esteem, or perhaps an undeveloped identity that wants to hide behind the identity of a child.

One reason I waited for eight years to have Sam, besides the fact that I was emotionally unstable and emotionally unable to imagine having kids for most of my twenties, was I wanted to have a clear sense of who I was before bringing a child into the world. I’d seen numerous mothers relinquish the work of developing their own personalities, skills, and minds to the task of mothering. Their lives became their children. Without children, I’m not sure they’d know who they were.

I didn’t want to be one of those women.

I am a person, separate from Sam. And much as I love our growing attachment, it’s important for me to remember the parts of myself that existed before Sam, and that go on when he’s not in the room.

Losing weight and deciding on a post-baby wardrobe have not just been vain endeavors. They have been important steps to remembering who I am and who I was before Sam.

So what is the current state of my wardrobe?

Thankfully, I’d swim in maternity clothes at this point. Thankfully, most of my old shirts fit again. Regrettably, most of my jeans don’t. But for now, I am loving the reinstatement of my (mostly) daily workouts and our daily strolls, and to celebrate feeling comfortable in my own stretched-out skin, I have bought more stretchy pants–that is, I’ve invested in new workout clothes. I will make a determination on my teaching and church clothes when I can again fit into all of them, but for this season of life, I am getting skinny again, and I enjoy my “sporty,” not “frumpy,” clothes.

Now, I proudly wear spandex not of necessity, but of choice. I am embracing my new identity as “Sporty Mom.” This is an identity that combines my past and present lives, and anytime the best of those two worlds combine is a beautiful thing. As long as my hair doesn’t get three-days-greasy and I can slap on a little eyeliner, I can rock sneakers and ponytails.

A post-baby wardrobe, then, might not, for all women, be about getting back to their original size, depending on their values and lifestyles (either sporty or sedentary). Whether or not all moms care about blasting those last ten pounds, I think we owe it to ourselves to take stock of our wardrobes and, when needed, make updates. We are playing the biggest, most important role of  our lives as we enter motherhood, and when mama looks and feels good, everyone feels good.

So there you go, new moms. If you’re stressing over clothes you can no longer wear, stop it! If the decision to keep or to cut those clothes is too traumatic now, put them aside until you are in a position (and at a weight) to decide what to do with them. And until then, take this argument to the bank (or to your hubbies), use it to buy a new wardrobe for the new you (Goodwill counts), and feel great about yourself, no matter what the scale says.

 

 

On Reading while Breastfeeding (or My Forgotten Love)

Today I’m taking a break from the baby blogging, sort of, in an attempt to remember another love of mine: reading.

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A few of the books on my bookshelf. Most recently, I’ve read Anne Rice’s bland memoir on returning to her faith, Called Out of Darkness; Rachel Held Evans’s strange project, A Year of Biblical Womanhood; and Frank McCourt’s tale of his childhood in Ireland, Angela’s Ashes. As to the first two, I think you’d find the two books on housecleaning I read before my son’s birth, Sink Reflections and The House that Cleans Itself, more rewarding. Angela’s Ashes, on the other hand, is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Once I lowered my expectations for what I could get done in a given day, I settled in for feeding time, six to eight times a day, and reached for my “old friends.” I began to look forward to feeding time so I could get on with the story. I decided I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding just yet (unable to produce even one-third of what Sam needs though I am) because it was guaranteed quiet time in which I could read.

Reading has become my oasis in a sea of diapers, bottles, and upset sleep. It’s become the only thing able to remove me from my baby in our first six weeks together (at least mentally). That sounds kind of bad, but I assure you, it’s not. Babies are great, and they get greater with age, but moms need a break now and then. We need a chance to “miss” our little dears. And we need a chance to exercise our minds, and wrestle with words, beyond trying to decode “waaa.” We need a way to remember that we are intelligently human. Without some kind of mental stimulus beyond “ga ga goo goo,” we can easily become depressed, dull, or just unhealthily narrow-minded.

A week or so ago I typed a few blog-intended lines (quickly orphaned when Sam waaa-ed) about how I was unexpectedly finding joy in just turning on the Today show on NBC. I’ve never been a TV watcher (couldn’t even tell you what plays during primetime), but as a new stay-at-home mom, listening in on Savannah, Matt, Natalie, and Al’s cheery banter lifted my spirits a little. I liked to pretend I was sitting there with them, drinking their morning coffee, joking about unusual headlines, and looking professional and polished (not struggling to juggle a bottle and a bagel, grumbling about lost sleep, and looking bedraggled and frumpy). The Olympics also helped me to justify all my breastfeeding-induced butt time—hey, they only come on every four years—not to mention reintroduced me to ice skating, another forgotten love.

But asked to choose between TV and reading, I could do without those voices and faces. In the final analysis, I much prefer the mental dialogue between a book and myself to the mindless escape of the screen. This reminds me of one Thanksgiving when a family member caught me reading Pride and Prejudice and asked, “Isn’t there a movie of that? Why are you reading the book?” as if the movie destroyed the need for the book. Such people will never understand why the book is almost always better than the movie, which is why I didn’t waste time trying to explain. My blog readers understand, don’t you?

Anyway, I’ve probably left Hubby and Sam alone for long enough—it’s time to get back to mommy things. Before I return home (I’ve been sitting at Mcdonald’s, my old writing haunt), my quest is to pick up a soy-based formula (we suspect the little guy is lactose sensitive, and it’s interfering with his and our sleep—oh, I hope we’re right).

Once I get home, it will be time to breastfeed again, and (grin), get back to my two-dimensional friend. At the moment, I’m courting Angela’s Ashes—so good—and I wonder why I waited years to read it. I first read mention of this Pulitzer-prize-winning memoir in The Everything Guide to Getting Published in 2010, when I began researching publishing my own memoir. A recent review of Ashes from my blogging buddy Luanne reminded me of it, and now I’m hooked. I wish I had the luxury of finishing it off in one long stretch this afternoon, but like all activities these days, blogging included, it will probably happen over the course of many small sessions, steadily strung together as I have opportunity.

Below, feel free to tell me what you’re greedily reading right now—if anything—or what great reads you recommend to this landlocked mom (memoirs or true stories preferred).