I used to think that having all the things meant that I'd be prepared.
Oh sure, the stuff can prepare you, equip you in some ways. But stuff can also fake you out by making you think you're more prepared than you actually are. One of my life's major milestones – the birth of our first baby boy – came with this massive accumulation of stuff. I had four (four!) baby showers, and Marty and I received such an incredible outpouring of love and support from everyone we knew. We were given the crib sheets, the strollers (plural), the clothes, the car seat, the toys, the books. As far as the baby stuff went, we were set. And because of that, I thought that I was set, confident in my ability to mother well, partly because I was physically equipped to do the job. I was so grateful for all the things we were given, overwhelmed by everyone's generosity and kindness. I only wish I would have figured out that having all the things doesn't really mean much when it comes to raising a child. (Here's the spoiler: having a baby knocked me flat on my back.)
I'm not sure what I could have done to prevent those days of depression that hit me after Charlie was born. Postpartum depression is a strange, wiggly thing, hard to pin down, difficult to describe. I've read the statistics that show lower rates among women who hail from more family-oriented cultures, particularly those living in multigenerational households. I've researched placenta encapsulation. I've experienced the cultural lack of postpartum care that seems to be found only in America. And then there's that strange, terrible feeling, where a perfectly healthy baby is placed in your arms after you've been given everything on earth that you could possibly need to care for him, and still, you feel alone, unprepared, and absolutely terrified.
It was worse with my second baby. Again, all was well: we still had all the things, we knew more than we did the first time around, and I prepared for the sleep-deprivation with bags of coffee and a list of Netflix series, all ready and waiting. Our second boy was born, healthy and happy, perfect in every way. But the depression came back, harder and blacker than before. While Charlie was born in February, just one month before spring, Joshua was born in September, and the Chicagoland winter stretched long and dismal ahead of us.
So it might have been the weather. It could have been the tough transition we had from one child to two, or the difficult family issues we were wrestling through. Maybe it was Marty's work schedule. Much of it was probably hormone-related. But, it was bad. I remember this one morning vividly: I woke up, and couldn't make myself get out of bed. I felt like there was no point to life, like there was this blackness hanging around the edge of the room. I had a newborn and a two-year-old, and literally could not do life that day. Marty was standing in the doorway, dressed and ready to leave for work, and I just pulled the covers over my head and cried. (It sounds pathetic and underwhelming, talking about it now, and that's one of the reasons I'm grateful to have experienced it. Pre-depression me would have said, “Snap out of it.” Post-depression me says, “Yes. I know what that feels like.”)
With this third baby, I feared depression. I prayed. I talked openly to other people about it. I sought advice. I took active steps to prevent it, as much as I could, knowing what I know now.
It's pretty typical for new moms to deal with the “baby blues” – a very trivial-sounding name for something that feels anything but trivial – after their baby arrives. During the week after Lily was born, I had one really bad, dramatic night where it felt like my life was ending and I was heading into a dark tunnel. I was watching Fixer Upper and crying into my dinner, and there was Marty, standing in the doorway of our bedroom. He walked in, looked me in the eye, and said, “I don't care what it takes. I won't let you go back there. We'll get whatever help you need. I'm here.” Those words helped, so much.
Maybe sometimes, we just need to hear truth spoken to us for the hundredth time.
I'm so thankful -- I've been depression-free in these few months since Lily was born. Others have said this, and I agree: I believe in Jesus, and I believe in the very real power of prayer. I believe that depression can be a spiritual issue, a chemical or hormonal imbalance, and a whole host of other things. I believe that we as human beings are wired to be happiest when we're giving our lives away, but I also believe in the importance of self care. Counseling helps. Sometimes, one person or a change in circumstances can make all the difference in the world. Other times, no matter what your circumstances might be, nothing helps. (Here's another thing that doesn't help: looking at someone's life from the outside and saying, “I can't understand why you're having such a hard time. Look, see? You have this, and this, and this all going for you. Your life is great. So explain to me: what's the problem?”)
A week or so after Lily arrived, our neighbors, a retired couple from down the street, dropped off a little gift for our new baby, and a bouquet of lilies. A week or two later, they dropped off another bouquet, and a few weeks after that, another. A week after that, one more. The flowers have varied, but lilies have been typical. Our piano has had a vase of flowers on it since early February, and every time I see it, I'm reminded: spring is coming, and winter doesn't last forever. I see those flowers, and the kindness they represent, and I remember all over again that I'm not alone.
I went to a baby shower last week for a new mom at our church. My friend did a beautiful job of coordinating the whole thing. There were bunches of tulips and pots of chocolate fondue, and I ate a whole plateful of pound cake. I sat near other moms, and we talked about babies and sleep schedules and mom craziness in general. While the new mom opened her brightly-wrapped gifts, another friend held Lily for me, bouncing her gently, skillfully. There I was, surrounded by this village of women, all supporting each other. I left feeling happy, lifted up, encouraged in the very best way.
We weren't meant to do any of this alone.
My neighbor walked into our backyard again the other day, holding out another bouquet of sweet-smelling lilies. He offered them to me with a smile and a wave, then made his exit back through the gate. They're on our kitchen counter now, and I can smell them from where I'm sitting.
And they're making all the difference in the world.