“My brokenness is a better bridge for people than my pretend wholeness ever was.”
Reagan is ONE! This first year of her life has been one of the hardest years of my life. It has also been a year of God’s faithfulness battling my doubt. I do not believe anything could have properly prepared us for the events that occurred after Reagan was born, but I think if we knew it was coming, we would have relied on our own strength instead of leaning on Jesus. That sounds more spiritual than it was, because we tried to do it on our own at first. But eventually, we found ourselves broken at the foot of Jesus; the exact place we needed to be.
Before you read this, I would recommend reading Carissa’s (my wife) posts about her struggle with pregnancy and Postpartum Depression (PPD). I think what she wrote is so helpful for anyone struggling with PPD, but also any family members of people with PPD or anyone who remains uninformed about such a huge problem that is swept under the rug. She was so transparent and vulnerable, and I am beyond proud of her for opening up, and thankful for letting me share her story on my blog.
We found out in an ER that we were pregnant. This wasn’t planned. We wanted to have a baby after about 2 years of marriage, but apparently God had other plans. We began planning for baby Wiggins, and the excitement began to build. However, in the midst of our excitement, Carissa became very sick. She had hyperemesis for most of the pregnancy, which essentially means she was extremely nauseous all the time… it is like constant morning sickness that won’t go away.
Through constant sickness and other difficulties, especially financial, God was immensely faithful (I wrote in more details about this time in the post Just Wait). Suffice it to say that it was a challenging season, but was still full of excitement and joy. We found out that we were having a girl, we settled on a name, and began telling people that we were expecting. The sickness didn’t go away, the money struggles were still there, but we were doing our best to be faithful and trust what God was doing.
That brings us to March, when baby Reagan is due. Carissa wakes me up at 3 am on March 13th to tell me she is having contractions. That evening, the contractions finally reached the regularity and length that we were told to look for, so I called the hospital and they told us to come in. We drove to the hospital right away, experiencing a mixed bag of excitement and nerves. Upon arrival, we checked in and they examined Carissa. After this, the doctor said something we didn’t expect.
“Nope, you’re not ready yet. Go home.”
We felt so defeated. We thought it was finally time, but they assured us this happens a lot for first babies. They said call us if contractions continue for longer at this length and regularity, and they’ll give us the green light. We drove home, Carissa labored for 16 more hours, and when her contractions reached a certain point, we called and they told us to come back. They did another exam, and, to our surprise, again told us it again was not time. They gave Carissa some morphine to dull the pain so she could sleep, and then sent us home again.
We went home and Carissa slept some more, but I couldn’t. There is nothing that stresses me more than medical issues because I control nothing. Carissa labored at home more, and at around 3 am on March 15, we called and were invited back to the hospital. That makes 48 hours of labor, and very little sleep. I didn’t know if Carissa could handle being sent home again. However, upon being examined, she was dilated enough to be admitted and given an epidural. GOD IS GOOD!
Now that we were admitted, it was just a waiting game until Reagan made her appearance. One thing I was unaware of is that when the pushing process is happening, there isn’t a room full of medical professionals. Nope, just one nurse and myself. Then when the baby is on its way out, the doctor or midwife comes in, and the newborn nurse comes in to take measurements and do a quick assessment. So here I am, waiting for doctors and nurses to come in, and the nurse tells me I need to get up and hold a leg…
Finally, after 71 hours of labor, 3 trips to the hospital, and a whole lot of jello and apple juice (mostly consumed by me), our baby had arrived. Reagan Arley Wiggins was born at 2:32 AM on March 16, 2018 weighing in at 7 lb 2.1 oz, 19.5 in. She was beautiful, she was healthy, and we were relieved… exhausted, but relieved.
The next day family came and visited, which was great. The problem was that we weren’t sleeping. I was working on about 5 hours of sleep, and Carissa slept maybe 8. Her first night, Reagan didn’t sleep much, needing to feed every hour or so (which they claimed was fairly normal). Reagan had trouble breastfeeding, so we arrived home with a screaming baby, crying every 45-90 minutes for food. Carissa and I were both so tired and overwhelmed that within 2 hours of being home, we both were breaking down crying because we had no idea how to help Reagan if she couldn’t breastfeed. We decided to give formula samples we had at home, and she finally slept for a couple of hours. We felt woefully unprepared and exhausted, but we figured this would get easier as she was able to be properly fed.
We were wrong. Reagan would not sleep unless being held, so one or both of us were up most hours of the day and night with her. We were both getting maybe 2-3 hours of sleep at a time, and getting a max of 5 hours a day of sleep. We were so worn out. This lasted for the entire first month, and I eventually had to go back to work. We had friends pop in and help (which meant holding her while we napped), but we were fairly on our own. Our families live out of town, so we felt as if we were on an island. It was wearing on both of us, but Carissa felt particularly defeated by this. I figured it was just exhaustion, as was the case with me, until I realized it was something else.
There was one day in particular that stands out. I had been back at work for a couple weeks, and had actually stayed up all night so Carissa could sleep. She called me about 2 hours into my shift; she was inconsolable. Reagan was crying in the background, and Carissa was crying on the phone. Carissa was saying she was a terrible mom and that she couldn’t do this anymore. I left work an hour later and came home to find Carissa holding Reagan and sitting on the floor. Carissa was bawling her eyes out, and Reagan was asleep. Carissa handed Reagan to me and just cried into my shoulder for what felt like hours.
This was a red flag for me. There are some things in life I know to be true of Carissa, and one is that she does not cry easily. She prides herself on her toughness, and so this inconsolable weeping terrified me. I was told about baby blues, but this wasn’t any of that. I knew that there was some self-inflicted guilt about being unable to breastfeed and feeling a sense of detachment due to exhaustion, but this seemed different. I called her grandparents when she finally calmed down to take a nap and I told them we needed help.
They invited us to come stay, so the next morning, we went to their house and stayed a couple nights. I had to get up and go to work the next day, so I drove from the Bay Area to Elk Grove (65 miles) for work and back for the last couple weeks of work. My first shift at work, I got a call on my lunch from Carissa’s grandma, confirming my fear that something was off about Carissa. They said she had been sitting outside alone crying, and that she mentioned having some “dark thoughts.” Reluctantly, she told me what these thoughts were. Through tears, Carissa said something that I will never forget:
“I was thinking that you and Reagan would be better off if I wasn’t around…”
She went on to say that she thought about running away, but then Reagan might feel like she wasn’t worth Carissa staying. Then she said that if she killed herself, we could all move on and be happy.
This wasn’t something I was going to take lightly. I had Carissa call her doctor and schedule an appointment for the next day. We went to her doctor, I asked Carissa to tell them about how she’s been feeling. She told them everything. She explained the dark thoughts of killing herself or leaving. She expressed a need for help. Immediately, I realized just how serious this was. They scheduled her for a follow up with a psychiatrist, and at that meeting, they informed us that Carissa was suffering from Postpartum Depression (PPD).
We had decided, prior to this diagnosis, that I would leave my job to be a stay-at-home dad, and my last day was just before therapy began. When therapy began, I was driving Carissa from the Bay Area to Sacramento twice a week, then up to 3 times a week. These sessions were generally 3 hours, so I would drop her off, kill a few hours, and then take us back to the Bay Area.
Carissa was also very reluctant to be around Reagan because she was experiencing a lot of detachment, a common symptom of PPD. In addition, Reagan’s crying would trigger the PPD, so her contact with Reagan was limited. As therapy continued, this improved, but for the first month, it was very limited. While we had a ton of help from Carissa’s grandparents, I felt very alone.
Spoiler alert: there isn’t a manual for how to navigate PPD. I learned, mostly through failure, what worked and didn’t work for us. For example, I quickly realized how empty words of affirmation were for Carissa. I could tell Carissa that she was a great mom and wife, but that wasn’t helping. What she needed was my presence and attention. She needed to know I was all in on our baby and on her recovery.
After a month or so of this therapy, her doctor ramped her therapy up to 5 days a week. When Carissa began her 5 days per week therapy, she was well enough to drive herself a couple of days, but for most of her therapy, she was not allowed to drive. This was an intensive program that she took part in for a month or so. This was mostly group work for 6-7 hours per day. This seemed like too much for our family to manage, but Carissa needed it, and I was determined to figure it out.
While her other therapy sessions only marginally seemed to help, this new treatment was working. I could begin to see huge improvement in her. She began seeming more normal, and began increasing her contact and interaction with Reagan. She learned that while she felt detachment from Reagan, the fact she didn’t want to “screw up” Reagan was a symptom of her deep love for her. She actually improved so much that during the month of this 5 days per week treatment, we were able to move back home. We were so happy to begin our lives again.
She finished a month of this treatment, and did three more weeks of treatment (three days per week). After seeing her doctor again, they determined that her PPD was in remission! This didn’t mean that our journey with PPD was over, but we were out of the thick of it. They began ramping down her medication, and cleared her to return to work.
If you are a support person of someone who is going through PPD, I would offer one important piece of advice: get support for yourself too. I had constantly encouraged Carissa to reach out for help, but I never did. I did everything I could for Carissa and Reagan, but I was constantly pouring out and that was bound to come to a head. I began to notice my attitude becoming constantly negative, and I began to resent everything in my life.
I never resented Carissa or Reagan, but nothing else was safe. I resented family and friends for not stepping in and helping us more at the beginning (even though we didn’t ask). I resented people for offering advice and promising to pray, but without action. I resented prayer in general because nothing was changing. I resented opening my Bible because I didn’t see a point in reading about promises that weren’t happening for us. I resented God because He allowed this to happen to us. I was broken. I was hurt. I felt alone.
“Praise is the precursor to breakthrough”
This negative attitude and resentment remained in my heart until we moved home. Once we moved home, and Carissa was beyond the worst of the PPD, I began to pray again. I asked God to soften my heart and allow me to cherish the joy Reagan was in our lives. I realized that I was so focused on Carissa getting better, and Reagan being cared for that I missed the joy of being Reagan’s dad. Being a dad is challenging, exhausting, and messy, but it is also beautiful, and it brings with it tangible love and joy. When I began to focus on praising God, and seeing that praise break open my resentment, replacing it with joy. Once this took place, I was finally able to be the support person Carissa actually needed.
Everything isn’t perfect now. Carissa is still on medication (8 months after returning to work), and will be on medication for another few months. They told us if we decide to have another child, she will need to be on medication from the moment we find out, in order to balance our her body’s chemistry. However, I can say with great joy that PPD is in our rear-view mirror. Carissa is, and has always been, an incredible mom. She is selfless and patient, and I am so proud to be her husband.
This whole experience has taught me a few basic truths that, when I understood, can vastly help you when you deal with something like this:
1. Expectations often don’t meet reality. If we aren’t careful, the gap between our expectations and our reality can be a really painful place to be.
Isn’t it interesting that when you’re pregnant, you say that you’re expecting, but once the baby comes, it’s nothing like what you expected? I knew having a newborn would be hard, and I knew the exhaustion was going to be awful, but it was the things I didn’t see coming that hurt the worst. I never imagined my wife telling me that she thought about leaving or killing herself. I never imagined that I would spend my daughter’s first months driving Carissa to and from therapy. I never imagined feeling like a single parent for a few months because of the symptoms of PPD. Yet these were all new realities. The choice I had was to adjust or shut down. I chose to have perspective, and remember that this was just a short season. I was comforted by a song we played every night for Reagan:
It takes all the love I have to say
I know we’re gonna be ok
It breaks my heart
It breaks my heart
It’s just a wave
It’s just a wave and I know
That when it comes
I just hold on
Until it’s gone
2. Living in the gap between our expectations and reality can be incredibly formative.
While the first few months wasn’t what I expected, it was such a formative time for my relationships with my wife and daughter. Because of this season, me and Reagan are so much closer than I imagined, and Carissa and I know each other so much better. The little things, like Carissa rocking our little girl, now bring me so much joy.
On top of that, now that we are on the other side of this terrible season, we have a story that can help many others in a similar season. Because there isn’t a manual on how to navigate a season of PPD, I had to rely on being present and trusting that God would guide me and my family. I now realize that God brought us through this season in order that we might share our story with someone who needs hope. We are now thankful for this season because it has stretched us and refined us in ways we did not anticipate.
This truth reminds me of a quote I heard at a conference at the beginning of our PPD journey:
“God wants to do more through you than you think He can, but it is going to hurt more than you think it will.”
3. God is still good.
Through it all, God never failed us. He never abandoned us, and he never wished evil upon us. Sometimes, we need to trust that God has a purpose in the valley, and now that we are on the other side, we see that this valley is what shaped us and molded us into who God created us to be. In the middle of this experience, a new song at the time kept playing on repeat for me, and I clung to the words daily:
I count on one thing
The same God that never fails
Will not fail me now
You won’t fail me now
In the waiting
The same God who’s never late
Is working all things out
You’re working all things out
God didn’t fail my family by allowing PPD into our lives. He hadn’t left us to figure it our on our own. He was there. He never left us. I doubted how we would make it through, but I never doubted that God was working out the details of our breakthrough.
If you are in a season of doubt, brokenness, pain, or heartache, cling to God and to His promise to be with you. When He is all you have, you begin to realize He is all you need. I’ll leave you with a verse that God put on my heart during this season that served as a banner over my family. I hope it encourages you, regardless of your season.
“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Trust the process. Take your next step. Now is your moment.