Sometimes, the darkest times require hindsight to become clear.
I had brutal pregnancies.
I threw up the entire time. I developed complications that landed me in the High Risk Ante-Natal Unit on weeks of bed rest. With our second child, I found myself hugging the toilet until I thought I’d puked my toenails up. My eyes stayed bloodshot for weeks from violently vomiting.
Yes, I know, more information than you wanted. #sorrynotsorry
My hormones and emotions went crazy, and I felt completely out of control. I’m not talking normal pregnancy mood swings. I’m talking about deep, dark depression. Blackness that pulled me down so low I began to wonder if life was still worth it.
I’d married two days after college graduation. A few weeks later, we moved across the country for his graduate school. I went back to school for my own masters degree. Then I got a job beyond my wildest dreams – working for an international non-profit research center, traveling, directing teams of young media professionals, creating out-of-the-box training resources.
I was fulfilled. I was happy. I wanted nothing more.
For almost seven years, this was reality.
Then one work trip to London, I couldn’t get over the jet lag. Every three hours I was starving, and no amount of sleep was enough. I sneaked out of bed to take a pregnancy test before dawn. Two little blue lines stared back at me. For three days I told no one. Thoughts, questions, anxieties swirled over me.
I felt numb.
I had a very rigid and narrowly defined idea of good motherhood. Good mothers don’t work outside the home. They don’t travel the world. They abandon all their own interests.
I felt like my identity was a rug being yanked out from under my feet. Without the team of friends I’d invested my last several years into, I didn’t know who I was, or who I could become.
I didn’t realize that much of my depression was also chemical. I’d never encountered an emotional obstacle I couldn’t conquer “mind over matter”. It didn’t help that my all-day, all-night nausea lasted the entire pregnancy. It also didn’t help that I suffered severe insomnia and went for weeks with less than 8 hours of sleep a week.
I didn’t have the courage to tell my husband – every night I’d lie awake listening to him sleep, and the vicious cycle of negative mental talk would pull me deeper into despair.
“I’ll never be a good enough mother.”
“I’ll never be able to work or travel with my team again, because now I’ll be a mom.”
“I hate myself for not being more thrilled about this precious gift of life.”
“What kind of awful woman isn’t ecstatic to be a mother?”
“I’m a pastor’s wife, how can I possibly have these shameful feelings in the first place?”
“If I tell anyone the thoughts that go through my mind, they’ll think I’m a terrible person.”
“If I’m honest about this, will anyone still love me?”
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t “snap out of it.” The guilt was drowning me alive. I felt all these emotions, and then felt shame for feeling them in the first place.
Six weeks before our son was born, I finally starting sharing what I was going through. Anger, desperation and discouragement poured out. Then they asked, “Why have you carried this weight alone for so long?”
Because I was ashamed.
Because I didn’t want to let others down.
Because most of my adult life I’d been terrified of displeasing others.
Because I was angry that nobody in my inner circle had figured it out and stepped in to help me, already.
Because, though my values were strong, I’d never integrated them into my own identity enough to release my fear of judgment by onlookers.
Because I wanted to be liked more than I had the courage to lead.
Then, one late fall morning, HE arrived. A 7 pound, 12 ounce, olive-brown bundle, with wide gray eyes and a Kewpie doll fauxhawk, staring up at me like he was soaking up the world’s genius with every waking moment.
They laid him on my chest in the operating room, and I was mush. I stared at him, like new mothers do, inspecting each miniature finger and marveling at this tiny person who’d just rocked my world.
In that moment, my fear of anyone else’s judgment evaporated.
With vivid clarity, I knew that I’d never give quite the same weight to external opinions again. It was as though my entire identity snapped into place for the first time in my life.
I parent differently than you? No problem.
My house isn’t as nice as yours? Big deal.
You hold a contrary opinion? It’s a free country.
I didn’t care about peripherals any more. My identity was clear. If something didn’t directly affect the well-being of my family, my children, or the projects I’d chosen to accomplish for clients (I launched my own company two years later) — then it wasn’t worth losing sleep.
Oddly, my depression disappeared within 48 hours after delivery. The next year, while expecting our daughter, I wasn’t ashamed to get help when prenatal depression loomed again.
It‘s taken a few years to share this story. It isn’t easy to delve back and relive the darkness. The good thing? I’ve learned that time can change perspective on things that seem unbearable in the moment.
As I look at my amazing and beautiful children, I can’t imagine each day without their charm and zest. I’m a single mother now, and I’ve experienced what it means to fight tooth and nail to keep your babies safe and protected. When our family life fell apart due to the consequences of addiction and abusive cycles, my children gave me the strength and determination to rise above, to pursue healing, to find forgiveness, to rebuild from the ashes (that story’s here).
Despite all my fears, I discovered a new life track that I’d never known was an option before. God has worked out ways to minister to other women in difficult or abusive situations, while meeting our essential needs and still homeschooling my children to meet their special needs. The good thing about being on the other side, is now I can see where God was leading, what I was learning — though I was blind to it then.
Sometimes, hindsight makes all the difference.