“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
How could he break my heart like this? We have been through so much together, I thought he loved me. Why would he leave me like this? I hated myself. I resented my baby. This feeling of darkness surrounded me, heavy and endless.
They say there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Always reason to hope. But not this time. I had never walked through a valley this dark before. What’s wrong with me? Christians are supposed to have faith in their trials. They are supposed to find comfort in the words of Scripture. I had always been told that “God will never give you more than you can handle,” and “if He brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.” But this was not the time for overused clichés. I couldn’t bring myself to read devotionals, listen to sermons, or even pray. I was angry, and heartbroken. Scripture, devotionals, and worship music only seemed to deepen my wounds and just remind me of how far away God really felt.
My mind drifts back to when we first were told that a baby was coming. We found ourselves at the ER, as once again, my asthma had complicated a rather common bout of bronchitis. I figured this would be business as usual: breathing treatment, prednisone, maybe some IV fluids, and we would be sent home. The MD came in casually and leaned his back against the wall as if he were about to discuss something light with a few friends:
“So, your labs came back, you were a little dehydrated…and also you’re pregnant”
Philip and I had talked a lot about having kids. Both of us came from families affected by divorce and brokenness. If we were going to have kids, things would be different; we would be intentional, proactive, and filled with love. We would introduce them to a loving God, and be transparent about our own failures and weaknesses, but Satan is in the business of destroying families.
“When you is precious to God, you become important to Satan.”
Ron Hall, Same Kind of Different as Me
I knew pregnancy and raising a baby would be hard, I was prepared for losing some sleep, diaper blowouts, extensive crying. I didn’t know how hard it would actually be. The first few weeks of pregnancy I didn’t feel much different. No nausea, no cravings, no crazy hormonal swings that I could determine. I was thankful for the precious gift of pregnancy but none of it felt real yet. I knew the risk of miscarriage was real, especially in the first few weeks. I prayed almost every night, “God please let me have this baby, if you have to take her, take her sooner rather than later. If that be your will please give me peace. But if not please help me trust you in this process.”
A couple weeks later I got my assurance that I was, indeed, still pregnant. The morning sickness hit me and hit hard. Let me rephrase that: my ALL-DAY sickness hit and didn’t stop hitting. I knew this was common but I did not expect to be vomiting 24/7. Bringing a plastic bag or small trashcan with me where ever I went became the new norm. Philip and I took to google and tried every recipe we could find, and nothing worked… no matter how bland. Who knew plain water could make you throw up?! By week 8, I had suffered a decent amount of weight loss. I was thin, pale, and starving. My mind went to Jesus responding to Satan in Matthew 4:4:
“Man shall not live by bread alone…”
Jesus was facing temptation and describing the power of the Word of God, but Jesus was right in more ways than one. Our bodies need much much more than bread, and my weight loss reflected that. Prior to becoming pregnant my weight hung around 118 pounds. At only 12 weeks in I was 104 pounds. I knew if I kept losing weight at this rate I would not be able to sustain this pregnancy. My OB was concerned too. She told me we need to start a conversation regarding my potential need for a PICC line, which is basically a beefed-up version of an IV. The risk of getting a PICC line, like anything that is inserted in your body, is the high risk for infection.
It was around this time that my discouragement started to take root deep in my heart. Had God really brought me this far in pregnancy for me to lose the baby? Was I going to be on bed rest with lines and tubes, hoping to make it to 38 weeks? Was I ever going to eat real food again? When people learned of my situation they would try to give me hope and encouragement and I kept hearing the same line over and over again, “Don’t worry, it will all be worth it when you see your baby.” While I know those people who said this to me truly meant well and were simply trying to encourage me, this line soon became one of the most detrimental phrases in my journey. I could go on, sharing the other struggles I faced through my pregnancy. Health issues, family issues, more brokenness. But those no longer serve a purpose.
March 16, 2018 at 2:32 AM, Reagan arrived.
All the struggle, all the waiting, all the pain had led up to this moment. The moment everyone told me would be my reward; seeing my baby. As soon as I saw her I wept. I assumed these were tears of joy, but in reality, they were closer to relief. Relief that it was finally over, I had made it through the valley and now I would be able to enjoy all the blessings of having a baby. Looking back at the woman I was then, I so wish I could tell her how naive this thought was. I would hold her tight and tell her the struggles she would face. To reach out for help as soon as she could and to let go the lofty expectations she put on herself. Oh, how I wish I could tell her.
The postpartum weeks following Reagan’s birth were by far the hardest times I have faced in my life. I had ideals, expectations that I gripped so tight, breastfeeding being the first and foremost. I told myself “I’m certified in breastfeeding. I have helped so many women troubleshoot with their newborns, surely I would be able to help myself.”
I was only ever to feed Reagan via breastfeeding a handful of times. I tried almost every position, pillow, and hold I could find. I went to multiple lactation consultants, tried shields and creams, and nothing seemed to work. Meanwhile my baby was hungry, and the guilt I placed on myself for not being able to meet this need for her got heavier and heavier with every failed latch. Looking back now I see how much breastfeeding meant to me. In my mind, if I couldn’t breastfeed my baby, I wasn’t a good mother. Logically, I knew that didn’t make sense and was not true, but this was what I believed deep to my core.
If I could pinpoint the single most detrimental source that led to my postpartum depression it was this ideology of breastfeeding. This simple role of being the sole source of nutrition for my daughter became elevated so high to the point that I let it define me. Not only define me as a woman, but I let it determine my self-worth. When I conceded to bottle feeding my baby formula, I became my own worst enemy. In my mind I had failed as a mother. From that point on, I told myself I could never be the kind of mother she deserved or needed.
This seed of a lie continued to grow in my mind. She didn’t need me. My husband didn’t need me. Nobody needed me. Things would be better if I just left. If I just walked out the door and never came back they would be better, they would be happy, they could move on. But wait, if they went looking for me, it would make things harder on them.
If I killed myself, it would all be over, then they would have to move on. Reagan would get a better mommy, and Philip would get a better wife who could give him more children.
I hated myself. I resented my baby. This feeling of darkness surrounded me, heavy and endless. The closest thing I can compare my experience to is grief. It would build up like a wave. Slow at first, and then grow bigger and bigger. Then came the crash of the wave breaking. Heavy, violent, all-consuming. These dark thoughts and feelings felt like this. As soon as their intensity would begin to subside, in rolled another.
Philip was the first to notice me drowning. He was the first one to throw me a lifeline. He was the first one to make me call the doctor. Oh, how thankful I am that God let me be Philip’s wife. Even before marriage and kids were a thought, God knew I would need Philip. No matter how dark this season of life seemed to get, Philip was right there by my side, holding my hand, cheering me on, caring for our baby. I know I could not have made it through this season without Philip by my side.
Treatment was nothing like I expected. I thought for sure as soon as I told the psychiatrist how I actually felt, if I admitted the terrible, shocking thoughts I was having, two things would happen. First, those deep dark terrible thoughts would become real. It is one thing to think something that no one else can know you are thinking, but it is another thing to admit the awful thought out loud. Second, was as soon as the psychiatrist heard my deep dark thoughts, she would see me as psychotic and put me on a psychiatric hold. That would be the worst possible thing that could have happened. It would have meant that I would lose the right to choose, to participate in my care, I would be separated from Philip, separated from my baby, and treated like a prisoner.
Face-to-face with the psychiatrist I was much less nervous than I expected. It was a weird feeling. I had expected to have been terrified, anxious to hear her thoughts on my plan of care. But I wasn’t nervous at all. In fact, it was the opposite. I was, for lack of a better word, apathetic. Numb. I was so far from feeling like “me”, It seemed like the only emotions that existed in me anymore was sadness and anger. Any other emotion that I tried my hardest to get in touch with and feel appeared nonexistent. Maybe this is why I was not nervous or worried. In my mind, it could not get much worse for me than it was already.
To my surprise, she wasn’t shocked by my deep dark thoughts. In fact, If I had to label her response I would describe it as empathy. And she didn’t place me on a hold, she asked me what program would work for me and my family, and wanted to do whatever she could to help me. She diagnosed me with postpartum depression, placed me on a low dose medication, and I started my program two days later.
Therapy was two days a week for three hours this lasted a couple weeks. At the end of each week I met with my “team” that consisted of my psychiatrist, psychologist, and the program director. We would discuss my progress and determine my plan for treatment moving forward. When I started the program, I thought I would complete my two weeks and be magically healed. But I learned firsthand how psychiatric treatment is much more of a fluid process than it is a linear one. Emotional processing, talk therapy, antidepressant medications, all of these take time. Unfortunately, babies grow fast; no matter how hard you may try you can’t press pause and hang on to any one stage for longer than their little bodies were made to.
This rapid growth grate in Reagan made me anxious. Every day it seemed like Reagan was getting bigger, and each day it seemed like she was learning something new. The wheels in her little head were moving full speed ahead and the cloud of PPD was obstructing my vision. Couldn’t she just slow down and wait for me to catch up? This is why I made a commitment to take an excessive number of pictures. Even though I didn’t quite feel like she was my baby that I adored, I knew one day she may be, and I did not want to completely miss every little thing about her growing in the meantime.
I can’t pinpoint the exact day, but at one point in my treatment I turned a corner and in my best effort to leave apathy behind me I decided to give this therapy thing everything I had. Someday I would love my baby to pieces, and I was not going to let my body take its sweet time to catch up. Every session, every class, every one-on-one interaction with my therapist I gave 100%. Even when I felt like getting out of bed was the biggest mountain I could ever climb, I would try. I took notes like crazy, and spent intentional time practicing the techniques I learned in the program. Slowly I noticed progress.
Unfortunately, the nature of this beast called PPD looked more like a Cha-Cha than a tango. One step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one giant step back. When I expressed my frustration regarding this process with my psychiatrist she identified one consistent roadblock she felt was hindering my progress: time. I had this invisible time clock I felt I needed to keep up with. With every step backward, I was reminded of the race I was losing, only this race was against myself.
She would say, “Postpartum depression doesn’t care about your timeline.”
She was right. According to the CDC postpartum depression can affect as many as 1 in 5 women. And if you ask any psychiatrist that number seems pretty conservative. Postpartum depression doesn’t care if you are wealthy or poor, if the pregnancy was unplanned, or if you had struggled with infertility for years. Postpartum depression affects women regardless of race or ethnicity. Yes, some factors can make you more high risk, but in all reality sometimes it is just the luck of the draw. If I had no control as to getting postpartum depression or not, how could I expect to have any say in how long it got to last? “The best thing any woman can do,” she said, “is identify the symptoms as soon as possible and get help right away.” Okay, so I needed to let go and trust the process. This was much easier said than done, but I was willing to give it my best shot.
“Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.”
After I completed my two days a week for three hours I moved to three days a week for three hours. I did this for three weeks. I then went to another program that was a little more intense at 5 days a week for six hours. This program was long and very emotionally draining, but also the most beneficial. I had to face hard emotions, look face to face with some of my worst demons, but as difficult as it was it seemed to be working. At home I had been practicing holding Reagan. Sometimes I could only stand it for a few minutes without falling apart into an emotional mess, but the important part was that I did it. The idea behind this exercise was essentially “fake it ‘til you make it.” Even though my mind seemed to be against me feeding me a cyclical wheel of lies about myself and Reagan, the physical component of being a mother can do something powerful to our chemistry.
For example, in the beginning almost every time I held Reagan I would think “you are a terrible mother, you can’t even feed your baby how do you expect to raise her? She probably doesn’t even know you are her mom and even if she did, she wouldn’t like you.” My own inner monologue became my worst enemy, and every interaction with Reagan in which she cried or fussed (as all newborns do) just confirmed these beliefs for me. But the beautiful thing about motherhood is that we were made for our babies and they were made for us. The more I held Reagan, the more signals would ignite in my body causing it to respond to her. The more we were together, the more content she seemed to me. Sometimes simply smelling a shirt I had worn would calm her. This is God’s beautiful design. Every night, we made a habit of giving Reagan a shirt of mine that I had recently worn and I would sleep with either a onesie or swaddle that she had worn. This small intervention of scent aided in our bonding as mother and daughter.
During my weeks in this program I made one of my biggest breakthroughs that I will never forget. This particular night, I felt a little stronger than usual. I held Reagan and fed her a bottle, then rocked her through her fussy time. I was able to fight off the negative thoughts and overwhelming fear, and be authentically present there with her. Not long after rocking her I looked down to see her contently asleep. I thought to myself “I am holding my sweet baby…MY baby!” Up until that moment I knew in my head she was mine, but my heart didn’t agree. This was the first time my head and heart aligned and I was able to experience that sweet feeling of being a mother holding her baby girl.
The rest of my postpartum journey was a lot like that evening. Slow, and steady with sweet moments of tangible progress, similar to planting a flower and watching it bloom. I can proudly say now, Reagan is the light of my life; a precious gift from a good and merciful Father.
I can go on forever and talk about the things I learned during this season and the lessons God taught me through some of it, but instead, I will leave you with this passage. This was one piece of scripture that God kept bringing me to throughout some of my darkest moments. Even when I couldn’t bring myself to open my Bible this verse seemed to follow me, whether it be randomly quoted on the radio, or posted on someone’s social media. I knew God wanted it in front of me, so how could I not share it with you?
1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.
4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.