I am the mother to five children. Five tiny humans were grown in my womb and exited my body with stories as unique as each of their personalities. I will never understand how the same two people can create such a smorgasbord of offspring! Truly, there are no 2 alike in the bunch. We have everything from the sensitive introverts to the most outgoing spotlight-sucker. Somehow, they all came preprogrammed to be my favorite! We have also had several different experiences in how all these little people came to be. We have the “weren’t trying, weren’t preventing, but YAY!” baby. We have the, “were preventing, what the heck?” baby. We have the, “tried 1 time, so excited!!”, and the “we’ve been trying for 2 years, God’s timing is PERFECT!” babies. Then came #5. Baby 5… Baby Grace… broke me. I’ll never be the same.
In my head, 5 is just way more than I could ever handle. From the beginning, from the moment I saw those two lines on that blasted stick, I could only think of me, of how much I did not want to start all over again, of how insanely afraid I was to have another baby depending on me, and how tired I was of how much I fail at “momming”. It wasn’t until I was in my 8th month of pregnancy that I got really honest with God and saw the depth of my own lack of trust in who He is. By believing that I wasn’t capable of mothering 5 kids and that God let me get pregnant to teach me some sort of lesson and seemed to have forgotten who I was, I was basically calling God out on this major screw-up! I was angry. But the real truth is that I am the one who had forgotten. I had forgotten who He is, and who He says that I am. My identity can never be in what I believe to be true about myself. Identity isn’t found but is received. If I believe God to be my Creator, then it only makes sense that He would be the one to attribute the purpose and worth of His creation; Both mine and the child He had now chosen for me to mother. Yikes!
When my beautiful girl was born, I was enthralled. She was an immediate joy… so beautiful, and sweet. I was also very confused. I knew I loved her and was so grateful to have her, but after just a few weeks, I began to notice my severe inability to function in life. I was crying multiple times every day, I was all of a sudden anxious to the point of physically trembling at just the thought of social interactions. Things I had usually loved (like family dinners) now triggered panic and frustration, and my rage was out. of. control. Inexplicable fury. At my 6-week postpartum check, I filled out the Postpartum Depression Questionnaire. After reviewing said questionnaire, my midwife entered the exam room and basically said, “I’m going to give you my personal cell number…”. So, that’s a good sign. Right??
I am so thankful for a midwife who was so on top of my symptoms. We had a few more follow-up visits and often both of us would be weeping together as she shared her own past experience with Postpartum Depression. I believe that every story is unique, and the way PPD manifests is on such a wide spectrum, but hearing so many of her symptoms and stories that were near verbatim to my current situation was both comforting and deflating. There is no denying that I am among the approximately 20% of postpartum mothers affected by PPD.
The months since my diagnosis have brought me to my knees in desperation and exhaustion. I claim no expertise or professional knowledge in the ins and outs of how Postpartum Depression works. I am still in the throes of it… still praying for healing. PPD (and other postpartum conditions ranging from baby blues to postpartum psychosis) is painfully real. The embarrassment and shame that is often felt only drives an already suffering mom into a place of seclusion and loneliness; a place I have been before and refuse to visit again. As expecting mother’s, we plan and prepare for how to take care of ourselves during pregnancy. We research and prepare for labor and delivery. We spend countless hours making sure that we have, to the best of our ability, everything we need for our precious newborn to be well taken care of and comfortable when we bring him/her home. What we don’t prepare for is our own self-care during the postpartum period. We may go as far as freezer meal prep, but we have been taught that being a new mom means our own needs fall by the wayside, and as per usual, the bit of truth in that idea has been taken to an unhealthy level, and it’s hurt us. It isn’t usual for women to suffer alone after birth. In many cultures, it is normal for the mother to care for her newborn while the community cares for her. Our society, however, is prideful and taught to be entirely independent and trust only ourselves; that all we need is to muster up the willpower and believe hard enough in our own abilities and we can do anything. I reject that idea. I believe there is much wisdom in calling on “the village”. We are made to be relational and to function as a community. I know I would be lost without it.
My hope is to cultivate a place where the realities of postpartum issues can be openly discussed; where wisdom, insight, and comfort can be gleaned from the real-life stories of those who have gone before, or alongside, us, and where joy can abound.