When I tell other moms that we have five children, I usually get one of two reactions. Most smile and secretly think we’re crazy (we must be either penniless or independently wealthy?); others wonder what kind of a person I must be to carry that off… are they “less than” a good mom not to want a large family, or are they so very thankful they’re not me? Moms are so hard on themselves, and I am the guiltiest of them all.
Finding my identity in this busy life has been a very long journey, and I have had the most faithful of husbands to walk with. Together, we navigate our life, our faith. We’ve experienced the wonder of natural child births, and the pain of losing a twin in the middle of a pregnancy. We’ve marvelled at how on the fourth go round, an epidural gives a most welcome ethereal quality to the birthing experience. We experienced the shock of a postpartum depression that felt like it would never end. It’s been a wild ride.
I think throughout the first years of motherhood, I put my head down and just lived my life with conviction. I didn’t think a whole lot about myself, but so much of my identity was wrapped up in being “mom”. We chose for me to stay at home, we chose to homeschool during the early years. Life was beautifully full. Not glamorous, not without its major setbacks (Norwalk virus x 7), sleepless nights, sick children, but life was full. Our children were happy and healthy. The week we moved into our new three bedroom home that we built, we found out that we were expecting our fourth. Two girls, one boy… We could find a home for a third girl in that one room, or add another boy to the other. She came in April. Three girls and a boy it was.
I don’t know when it truly hit me, but I knew that four children under 6 was busy for me. My threshold. I was teaching piano, doing school, managing a house on one salary – earnestly trying to be the best mom and wife that I could be. My husband was ready to make a permanent decision about our family size, and although I went along with it, when the day came for his operation, I cried (messy cry) and didn’t know if I was ready. We postponed it. We were careful. We got pregnant. For the first time, I bawled when I took the pregnancy test. Mom guilt. My husband had his operation during the pregnancy.
I loved being pregnant, and always had. This time was no different. This was before the time the hospitals were allowed to tell parents the gender of their babies in utero. My ultrasound technician and I hit it off. She had had an unexpected twin pregnancy, and we chatted about what life looked like for her. She asked me if I wanted to know the sex of the baby, and I cried again. She told me it was a boy. No question about it.
We welcomed our newest boy with delight – a brother for our eldest son. From the beginning he was pure sunshine, an easy baby, nursing well, growing stronger every day, loved by everyone. And I was slowly falling apart inside. I told my dad that I felt like I was flat-lining, as if I were watching my life from above the room. Putting in time, going through the motions… I did my best, but I could not shake the feeling. Visiting friends from the UK, both of whom were psychologists, recognized my depression and suggested that I see my doctor. I had not even considered that. So, I went, and the doctor offered me antidepressants. I would have to stop nursing my baby, the one child whom I would have likely nursed the longest. I was devastated. A wonderful older friend from my church came and had coffee with me every week. She encouraged me to take care of myself, told me that my son would be just fine not nursing. She took the time to sit with me, to show me how valuable I was apart from my being a mom, she spoke words of life over me, showed me how God saw me. On July 22nd, 2006 I stopped nursing and took the antidepressants. I remember it like it was yesterday. And in one week’s time, I felt like I could feel again. I felt more alive than I had in a long time. When the three month mark came, the time the doctor suggested I try coming off the medication, I declined to do so. I felt better and I didn’t want to go back.
After a year, I decided that I would try to come off the medication. I had terrible withdrawal for two months, even at half a dose, and when I went back to my physician, he suggested going back up to the starting dose. I was frustrated and felt ill-informed. I came off the medication cold turkey. That wasn’t a good idea. I asked to see a psychiatrist because I wanted to know why this “post-partum” depression was going on for such a long time. I needed to know. I didn’t want pat answers. So I pressed for an appointment. That was November, and I was given an appointment in March. In January, my husband and I agreed that I should go back on the medication until I could see someone. In the beginning of March I received a phone call letting me know that the psychiatrist I had been assigned to switched to geriatric psychiatry, and that I would have to get on a waiting list again. I had never felt so low in all my life.
I phoned a psychiatrist myself and pleaded for an interview. I showed up for the appointment with as objective a summary of my situation as I could write. He had never had anyone give him a three page letter on their first visit. I asked the questions I needed answers to – was this postpartum gone wrong? Did I need to be on medication for the rest of my life? Was there something else going on?
He agreed to meet with me, and I will forever be grateful for that. We determined that the pregnancy had triggered the depression, but that its roots were further back. We began weekly intensive psychotherapy sessions. It has been by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and is not for the faint of heart. It has required brutal honesty with myself, staring my ugliness right in the face, and letting go of all that I thought I was…In the process I have begun to understood the magnitude of guilt that I have lived my life under, and slowly and painfully I have learned to see myself in a new light. This journey has taken years. I do not consider them years lost, but gained. I am still on medication, and I have battled major anxiety through all these years since. I have had many friends who have journeyed alongside me, with no judgement, just affirmation. I have had spiritual mentors who have continued to help me press in and discover who God has made me to be. Such a gift. Lifelines.
My children and husband are the joys of my life, and I am blessed beyond measure. They have endured this season of life with me, and I am hopeful that I can share with them what I have learned. I hope that some part of my story is an encouragement to you as well.