I shared on my Instagram a week or so ago that I (along with my 1 month old daughter, Nora) had left Virginia to be with my family in South Carolina for two weeks. It may have came as a shock to family, friends and loved ones in VA and NJ; and many of you were undoubtedly concerned. In an effort to be transparent, here’s a little backstory:
After my second child, Noah, was born in 2016, I suffered from Postpatrum Depression. It lasted for the first three months of his life and I suffered in silence. His reflux and colic has forever eclipsed that time in our lives. I recall underplaying my symptoms when completing a mental health screening at my 6 week postpatrum checkup. My poor infant son cried most of the day and slept very little. My husband and I spent those first few months sleeping on seperate levels of our home; him downstairs on our worn recliner in the living room and me upstairs in our bedroom (in order to be within ear shot of our 2 year old daughter’s room next door). The “fog”, as I referred it as, was so thick…and my husband and I are finally able to blithely joke about having PTSD from his newborn days.
Fast-forward to the day Nora turned a week old. It was as if she woke up and demanded the world from me. Although I loved her small face and hands, cute button nose and soft curly hair, her cries pierced through a deep part of me. And I could feel a bulding panic rise inside everytime she cried.
At the time, she wasn’t taking a pacifier or a bottle, and could not stand being held by anyone other than me. I was chained to this child. And the only thing that seemed to soothe her momentairly was breastfeeding. So, in an attempt to keep my anxiety at bay, I nursed her every single time she cried. (For any mothers or persons with knowledge about breastfeeding…you are aware at the issues doing this causes.) I was, unknowingly, binding her tighter to me, just so I would not hear her cry. Nights were awful. She cried from 10 pm to 2 am for the majority of the next 3 weeks. My days were spent holding her close to my chest, ready to nurse whenever she woke up. I felt that as long as I kept her happy, she wouldn’t need to cry.
I am unsure of the exact number, but I am almost certain I got 2-3 hours max of sleep each 24 hour period. This went on for 4 weeks. I knew that this was not as bad as things had gotten with my son, but what my body was enduring felt entirely different. My brain and body ached all day long. I was not recovering as quick as with my first two children and I struggled to process responses to questions. Conversations with people and reading comprehension was difficult. I could not write. This alarmed me.
The night before I left Virginia, I had begged my husband to stay home from work to help me do overnight care for the baby. Once 10 pm came around, she naturally began to cry. Between 10 pm and 4 am, she slept in 10-15 minute intervals. At 3 am, Nick took her into the living room to try and rock her while she cried, so that I could try and close my eyes and rest. I can still vividly remember what happened when he brought her into the room an hour later….
He opened the door to our bedroom and whispered, “I think she’s asleep now.” Looking down at my sweet daughter’s face, she started to squirm in my husband’s arms. I felt panic creeping up my throat. I asked to hold her and tried to nurse her before she started to wail again. Against my better judgement, I looked over at the clock, which dimly lit our bedroom. It read “4:08 am”. Something in my heart unhinged and I sobbed.
“I can’t do this anymore.” I repeated over and over to my husband.
I reached for my phone and called my mother; she answered before the second ring.
“What’s wrong, Brittney?” she asked softly, before I could say anything.
It was 7 hours later that I was on the road to SC.
I was scared of the path I’d found myself on and full of anxiety of how to be a mother.
For the next two weeks, I not only hit the restart button on being a mother, but I was mothered. My family (mom, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) took care of us. My mother, not only helped me with that dreaded night shift, but I had company during the day, numerous arms available to hold Nora while I rested, showered, walked, prayed and ate. They made sure I got adequate sunshine, laughter, and food. My mother held my hand as I cried and took Nora when I needed a break. I know I had an entire support system at my disposal in Virginia. Up until that point, my wonderful church family had already provided meals and much needed adult conversation in those very early weeks. But it was being with my family, particularly my own mother, that comforted an innate part of me.
It was very hard to leave my older two children behind with my husband. And it was only my level of trust in him that settled my heart while I was gone (Extra special thanks to our friend Shauna that helped in a major way). I facetimed with them almost every day and recieved lots of pictures and videos on my children enjoying playdates, playtime at home, and the Winter season’s first snow. My heart ached considering what all I was missing, but I knew that sacrificing those weeks would mean more in the long run.
This time around, I have dealt more with Postpartum Anxiety — brought on by extreme sleep deprivation. After a few days in SC, I was getting at least 4 hours a night straight of sleep; I felt the fog begin to clear. I started to see this season, and the lessons attached, through a much clearer lens. I was able to read my Bible and write. I recieved spiritual counsel from trusted sources almost on a daily basis while at home. God spoke to me through the obvious and the strange. I started to see what artist Emily McDowell wrote, “The darkness is not a dead end. It’s a hallway.”
In retrospect, my hands still clung to many aspects of my life that I needed control over; motherhood included. Speaking honestly, I do not enjoy the newborn period. Because I am at the whim of a little being; having to forfeit my schedule, my priorities, and my preferences. I do not see myself as an entirely selfish person, but I had not yet surrendered to my weaknesses and frailities. I was at the point where I secretly boasted in my Superwoman complex:
- Mother of two small children.
- Wife of a man who started a nonprofit.
- Worked two jobs, averaging 50 hours a week.
- Multiple volunteer and community interests.
- High career prospects.
I took pride in these things; attaching my identity to how sucessful I am in my roles. So, when I enter probably the most vulnerable period that a woman can face, despite it being the third time (ha. amnesia?), I tricked myself into thinking that I could handle the postpartum season just fine. I would have time to study for my LPC exam. I would make sure all the other pieces of my life stayed neatly in place; even things that are put on pause would only stall for a moment.
But the more that I have boasted in my weaknesses, the more I have found strength. I need the daily reminder, still, to let go of the need to be strong every second of every day. Just last night, my infant daughter went the entire day without crying — I had fed and cuddled her to sleep by keeping a close eye on her cues. She didn’t fight any of her naps and happily cooed at me and her siblings when awake. I felt the day was a huge success….until I placed her in her swing to take a shower that evening while my husband watched television. She started to cry without warning…and I fell a part.
My husband reassured me that her crying is not hinged on my presence, or my abilities. That often she will cry despite what I do and will be comforted by others.
It is okay that I am weak.
And need a break.
And get angry.
And not have the answer.
Being in those spaces….surrendering to this season…has meant finding a strength that does not originate with me. Thus, giving me permission to be imperfect. To not just be a safe space and rest for others, for my children and husband, but to find rest for myself. To seek to be filled as much as I give out.
How are we doing now?
Nora is slowly starting to sleep better at night (averaging 7 hours broken into a 4 hour and a 3 hour stretch). I am not exhausted throughout the day anymore. I have a month left before I go back to work (which I’m looking foward to) and we are enjoying the daily smiles and glimmer of personality Nora is giving us. She will be 8 weeks old tomorrow; 2 months old on January 6. The days feel long but also go by so quickly… Where it used to be we could watch a movie from start to finish cuddled on the couch, now there are sitcom episodes playing in loops in the background. My quiet time is usually traded for monitoring arts and crafts time and listening to my kids’ happy squeals. I’m okay with that, because I know that we are finding a rhythm; this new normal that will eventually include getting more sleep. Until that time, I will rest in the midst of the busy. What’s important is that I have peace now in my home, where anxiety had full reign. But not anymore, and not in 2019.
This is our #yearofjubilee .