BY: Kathleen E Frey
“I have made you and I will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4
“I’m not okay,” I say to my mother over the phone, pressing my infant son tightly against my chest. This is my fifth experience with postpartum depression: four births and one miscarriage. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s any less painful, any less wrought with irrational guilt and shame this time around. Even logically understanding the symptoms does not lessen their weight on my heart. It does not ease the concern of my loved ones, my support system.
It does, however, lessen the amount of time it takes me to cope with the condition. I know the signs. I didn’t always and not all women do, regardless of how many times. Thankfully, I know not to wait before telling my husband, “I’m struggling.” I know not to wait to call my doctor to adjust my usual meds. I know not to wait to schedule a session with my therapist. It is through these measures, endurance, and prayer that I know I will feel better eventually. I know to pray for comfort and guidance rather than forgiveness for being the way that I am, the way that God made me. And that is what’s at the crux of it all—God made me this way.
I am a person with depression and anxiety, and the severity of these illnesses is compounded by the aftermath of pregnancy and childbirth. On the flip side, I’m also a person of profoundly deep feeling. I empathize with people who otherwise feel misunderstood and alone. In many ways, this makes me a more aware educator, mother, wife, and friend. In many ways, this also makes me somewhat of an outsider, an introvert. I know I’m not alone in being this way, but it sure feels like it sometimes. Maybe someone reading this knows exactly what I mean?
When I leave a crowded room, I feel hungover from the joyful, insecure, sad, excited cocktail of vibes swirling through me. It is a lot to stomach, and so I often choose the solace of my own home over group gatherings. (Empaths know: the struggle is real. I feel ya. Pun intended.) I’m learning to hone my empathy and protect my state of mind from the influx of others’ coming at me full speed. But, not today. The happy screams, let alone the whining and bickering typical of three boys 6 and under, are too much for my system today. The people I love more than anyone on the planet feel like too many people. Hell, I feel like too many people.
I try to hide my tears from the boys. Not because “we don’t cry” in our family, but because I don’t have the energy to explain after they’d inevitably ask, “What’s wrong momma?” My mom gets it and she’s on her way. The baby is sleeping soundly against me. My arms caress his back, his chubby fist lies against my chest. I can feel his hummingbird heartbeat flutter against my own pounding pulse. His sweet, soft breaths cool against my fevered skin. I’m holding him, yes, but really he’s holding me. This defies the properties of mass and the capability of his gross motor muscles. Nevertheless, he’s holding me. Like a warm, comforting, small blanket that occasionally burps and toots, he’s holding me.
And I ask myself, is this fair? Is it fair to put such a heaviness on his tiny shoulders? He doesn’t know he holds me, carries me through the day. He doesn’t know how I depend on him to pick me up. He doesn’t know, and yet, he never fails me. It’s not his job, and yet he never fails me. It’s not fair, and yet he never fails me…but maybe, just maybe, this is how it’s supposed to be? God works through those who make themselves available. My son has no reason to thwart grace, no pride to block good works. And so, maybe it is God holding me, holding my son, holding us.
I carried this child within my body for a time. He nestled in my womb, shared my life force for longer than he’s been earth-side so far. He was a part of me, and I, a part of him. Now, he carries me for a time. It feels right to hold one another, to match each other’s breaths with the tempo of our spirits, trying for a moment to remember the comfort of safety in the womb.
Have you been recently pregnant or know someone who has been recently pregnant?
Please, know the signs of postpartum depression :
PPD is a taboo topic, like so many mental health conversations that go unspoken. I share a snippet of my story, hoping it will help at least one momma feel validated. Your story could be the one someone needs to hear. Even if it’s anonymous. Even if it’s just to say, “I’ve been there” and nothing else—someone needs to hear it. Please, feel welcome to share by commenting below and/ or sharing this post on social media. Help normalize mental-health-talk one word, one phrase, one conversation at a time. Thanks for being here.