for the new mom who can't....
- on motherhood and anxiety -
YOU CAN'T . (period, end of sentence, no ifs ands or buts)
... these two words whispered at my weakest hour have held more freedom for me in the past few weeks than any other. You can't. You can't. You can't. Let me explain;
I wanted to write this post 2 weeks ago. But I was. just. so. tired. (insert overly cheery smiley face here) Two weeks later I still feel just as convicted to write it so I am. However you will have to bear with me if my words are less than eloquent as sleep deprivation is still very much a reality.
I wanted to write this post because even though the consensus from talking to many new moms is that most of us spend at least a good week post partum struggling through some form of anxiety, we don't really talk about it. And maybe for some people it passes quickly, and is easily handled... but for others, myself included, it can be overwhelming. And exhausting. And scary. And sometimes the simple knowledge that you are not alone, that you are not the first to struggle, can be enough encouragement to lift the curtain and allow the light to break into those dark places. So... this is my story :
My beautiful healthy daughter was born 3 weeks ago today with a broken collarbone. Therefore I was sent home with a prescription to nurse her as often as she wanted to for a good week to combat any pain she might be dealing with. Oye. Enter one week of literally zero sleep. Then lets add normal new-baby worries + post partum hormones + a propensity towards anxiety to the mix and you have what I would call a perfect recipe for a breakdown (s) .
Now this was not a new experience for me. My son was born 4 years earlier and in many ways my experience with him was very similar. I couldn't sleep because I was worrying when I wasn't holding him. I worried about holding him and falling asleep with him in my arms because I was so tired and I couldn't sleep. Vicious cycle. Sleep deprivation + hormones equaled anxiety. LOTS of it. I think I cried for seven days, and that is not an exaggeration. However the similarities in experience stops there; the difference? Four years ago I was not in a place in my faith walk to even consider the possibility that God was powerful enough to handle my anxiety. I ended up on an anti-anxiety med that allowed me to sleep and as the hormones leveled out and my son gradually started sleeping, (as ALL infants eventually do.. believe me I know it might not feel like it right now but they do!) the moments of panic because fewer and farther between and I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
>>> fast forward 4 years <<<
After an x-ray to confirm a fractured collarbone, we brought our beautiful baby girl home. Oh I was so in love, (still am, although the desire to hold her 24 hrs a day has waned as the desire for 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep as increased) and the post delivery endorphins were still going strong. But after one night at home I could feel the anxiety creeping in. It started small, and quiet; the occasional fluttering in my nerves when I would put her down in her crib or pass her off to her daddy (my wonderful husband)... and I would allow it to sit in my heart for just a second too long, excusing it as being a "good mom"... worrying just enough. However as soon as I gave it a foothold it became louder, and more frequent, until it had a good "roar" going. Irrational fears set in and it was all I could do to not just sit and feel like screaming. And the worst part? I didn't want to admit what I was dealing with. I knew from prior experience that the anxiety would get worse before it got better, and I didn't think I could handle it. In fact I was pretty confident that I couldn't handle it. And that was awful for me, because I thought I was stronger. I thought I had learned more in the past 2 years, and I didn't understand why I couldn't cope. The breaking point came around day 3 in the middle of the night in the form of a panic attack. I don't remember the exact sequence of events, but I'm pretty sure I woke my poor sleep-deprived husband out of a deep sleep... crying. I remember thinking and telling him "I can't". I can't handle this, I don't know what to do, I don't know how to deal. What I do remember vividly is him praying over me; I don't even remember the words that he prayed but I do know that God used him powerfully in that moment, and that admitting that I was struggling allowed enough quiet in my heart to hear the answer the Spirit had been whispering to my heart all along:
"I know you can't. I can."
And I was reminded then and there that I didn't have to keep heading down the path that I had stumbled back onto; that God was still at work in sanctification in my life and there was another way.
One of my favourite pastors recently said this about sanctification: (and I'm paraphrasing so go listen to the full sermon here : http://www.thevillagechurch.net/sermon/sanctification/ )
"Last October my family and I moved to a new house. All that really changed was when I leave the church... and I come to the stop light... I used to make a left to get to my house, and now I have to make a right. And there was a season of about six weeks where I was cognitively having to tell myself, "Don't make a left here. You don't live there anymore. The renewing of our minds is the idea of pulling up to the light and going, "I don't live there anymore; I live there." This is why the Bible is so unbelievably important for the children of God. It reminds us where our house is and it reminds us of the streets that lead to our home. It reminds us, "We don't take a left here anymore; we take a right here." It helps us take every thought captive, where we go, "That's not true; this is true." "
So for the past 2 weeks I have been "cognitively having to tell myself" to make a right instead of a left. I have been leaning heavily on God, immersing myself in His word in every form I can get my hands on; daily devotions, streaming podcasts, worship music, even things as small as carefully screening the advice that I allow into my life. I have been making sure that I remember which street leads to my home. I have been fighting back, not by my own strength but by the power of Him at work in me
So my encouragement to the new mom who "can't" is this: you're right... you can't. But God can.
Anxiety can be crippling. Like... "brings your life to a halt" crippling; "wish you could sleep your days away because being unconscious is easier" crippling. But there IS another way. Our God is powerful and mighty, and more than able to walk the road out of anxiety with you if you will allow Him to.
And to the mom who, like me, has come out on the other side of the tunnel but knows she has a propensity towards anxiety... my encouragement is to keep turning right. And always keep your eyes fixed on the road that leads to home.
For His glory, always.