"I know it's not hopeless, but it feels like it is." Tears pooled in my eyes as Jonathan pulled me into an embrace and just let me cry. Later I thought, How can life feel this heavy when everything is ok?
This has been an all too familiar scene in our house over the last eighteen months. I knew the transition into motherhood wasn't going to be easy. I braced myself for the exhaustion and change in lifestyle. I knew it would be hard. What I wasn't prepared for was the wave of depression that would descend on my heart. The funny thing is, I'm just now realizing it was there because it's finally starting to go away. I've tried my best to find a way help others understand how this felt for me. All I've come up with is that it's like suddenly bursting above water, gasping oxygen into my lungs and realizing I was underwater this whole time and didn't even know it. It wasn't constant, but it did heave in and out of my heart like some storm surge on the ocean. Sometimes I could stand it. Sometimes I went under. Never once did Jesus let me go.
I look at that first picture up there--the one with a tiny Behr wrapped on my chest--and a lump forms in my throat. That version of me was nervous and shaken up. She was just beginning to be able to stand or sit for long periods of time without pain because of the painful episiotomy she had during birth. She carried big emotions like weights around her ankles and, really, she was just so very tired. I'm writing this for her, the woman I was then. She needed to know all along that she would make it. That eventually, everything would be alright.
Before Behr was born, I was aware of the 'big, scary' hormonal shift that sometimes happens right after your baby comes. I expected it. But this was darker and heavier than what I was prepared for. I remember feeling completely undone when we brought Behr home. I was overjoyed by my son, over how our life had changed for the better, but I was an emotional wreck. One night that first week, I broke into sobbing, chest-heaving tears over how ashamed I was of the fact that I'd ended up getting an epidural. I stood, half dressed on one side of the bed weeping and apologizing to Jonathan for it over and over. It took him kindly (but firmly) speaking truth to me to calm me down. That was one instance, but I could list twenty more just like it. Things that should have been mildly upsetting overwhelmed me. It was scary.
It didn't help that I lived life severely sleep deprived for months on end. I became a shell of myself. I lost too much weight. I had sickening dizzy-almost-fainting spells. I got very angry over trivial things. Our home was in a constant state of chaos and clutter. And as much as I'm terrified to admit it, I didn't want to be mother at times. It breaks my heart all over again to re-live those emotions. It's still an open wound for me. I'm still healing from it.
And maybe one of the hardest parts was feeling like I was the only one in my circle of new-mama friends to feel overwhelmed and emotionally fragile nearly every day. One by one, I'd connect with my friends after they had their babies, expecting them to have similar stories, but everyone else seemed to be handling new motherhood so much better than me: "Sure we have our bad days but overall we're just fine!" or "I keep expecting to have some big, emotional crash but I'm actually doing really good!" I'd sit there after those conversations, wracking my brain in the hopes of identifying why I couldn't seem to get a handle on things. Why did I cry (sob) everyday? Why did I feel this underlying current of hopelessness dragging me down? Why couldn't I be like them? What was wrong with me?! At times, I felt like I was drowning in loneliness and isolation.
Allow me to mention here how faithful and patient my 'village' was through all of this. Firstly, my husband was present, loving and a needed voice of truth. I honestly can't articulate how grateful I am for him in a way that would do it justice. He was the steady hand I needed as I stumbled through the first stages of motherhood. I love him more than ever now for it. My mother and sisters were basically on call night and day to let me rant, cry or just get laugh if I needed it. I'll always be grateful for that. Jonathan's family would show up to bring food, clean the house, hold Behr and be there for me when my family wasn't able to be. I wasn't without resources, but this was largely a personal battle; one that crippled me for a season and changed me forever.
I realize maybe others reading this might take it as me just complaining about icky things we all go through "My recovery was awful, mom life is hard blah, blah blah..." But please, please don't take it that way. I don't want to complain. God is still (so very, very) good. I love our life, really. But going through postpartum depression changed me. I'm in a season now of finally being able to process and open up about it. Going back to my underwater analogy: I'm able to breathe again and it feels so good, praise Jesus.
Just last month I finally made an appointment with my midwife to try and get some answers. After getting some blood work done, it turns out I had developed a severe Vitamin D deficiency which had led to a nasty little bacterial infection and, possibly, my case of mild depression. I take Vitamin D every day now and I'm scheduled to go back in three months for more blood work to see if there's been an improvement. I can say that I notice a difference already. I feel motivated, confident, lighter. I feel like myself again.
If you follow me on Instagram, I hope you're not shocked by me revealing these things. I never tried to hide what was going on but, as I mentioned before, I'm just now realizing how dark things got because the lights are finally coming back on. Does that makes sense? It's why I'm sharing so openly about it now. And furthermore, I was in pure survival mode for over that first year (right when I made my account public) and Instagram was an outlet for me. It gave me a reason to write again, to craft and curate beautiful images that brought hope into others' lives. It was a daily exercise in focusing on the good and a tiny affirmation that maybe I wasn't failing at everything.
The first year was a swirl of heavy and confusing emotions that have just started clearing in the last few months. But after all I went through, I can say that I'm thankful for the last eighteen months. Truly. Of course, I'm glad things are easing up a bit, but I'm grateful to have been brought through such a sanctifying trial.
Let me say here that absolutely none of this diminishes the love I have for my child. I'm being completely honest when I say Behr has brought a deep, satisfying joy into my soul despite how hard things got at times. I'd willingly do it all over again because now I see how God used it in my life. My heart is tender and compassionate toward others. I'm slower and more aware of how I weak and dependent I am on Jesus Christ. I'm appreciate, now more than ever, the powerful truth of the Gospel.
So why write about it now? Because I needed to do it for myself. It's as simple as that. Writing brings about healing for me and I've found it does the same for others. Learn from my story and let it empower you. I know I didn't do everything right. I know I chose to believe lies and give into the darkness some days. But I can also see that it wasn't all my fault. I've given myself the same grace Jesus extends to me for that. PPD is a real thing and if you're reading this and thinking it sounds like something you're experiencing, you don't have to stay that way. Don't be ashamed. Don't hide it. Throw out your pride and say those three simple, freeing words: I need help. Please listen to me when I say it won't always feel like this. His Light will find you and heal you again. The storm that's beating down on you today will clear in time and you'll realize how strong you are for surviving it through His mercy.
And finally, know this: God is faithful. He always sees and pours wild amounts of grace over your situation. Seek out and apply His truth as you would soothing balm to a wound. Then, lean hard into the thrumming beat of His love and let Him heal you, sister. You are never, ever alone.
So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, "You are the God of seeing," for she said, "Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me. -Genesis 16:13
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. -2 Corinthians 4:16-17