It was about 60 degrees, my favorite temperature. The afternoon sun peeked through partly cloudy skies, and the air was fresh, having just been cleansed by the past few days of springtime rain. I was thankful for the opportunity to get outside again. My little princess thrived every time we stepped outside. She was creeping up on five months old, and watching our two big dogs wrestle in the open field of our backyard was her current favorite activity.
I simply bent over to pick up the red frisbee my German Shepherd had just happily dropped back at my feet. My daughter was safe in my arms, wrapped around my left hip. I threw the frisbee once again, and as I felt the weight of it leave my fingertips, a different, yet all-too-familiar weight swallowed me whole.
I looked down, and there she was - my perfect baby girl - body twisted and broken and smashed on the concrete 10 feet below me at the bottom of the basement staircase. I couldn’t run to her fast enough, couldn’t scream loud enough, couldn’t stop the bleeding, couldn’t force my fingers to dial 911 when I already knew she was gone. I lost myself in the sheer agony of the greatest pain I had ever known, not able to conceive which direction was up or down, choking on air that refused to reach my lungs, blind with disbelief and rage at my unthinkable mistake. It was all my fault...
In reality, I didn’t slip, or stumble, or come even remotely close to dropping her. Both of us remained in the middle of the landing, three solid feet away from the railing and the steps. Yet in my mind, the irrational scenario began to play itself out just as it had thousands of times before since she was born, in endless locations, with countless variables and subtle differences in how the tragedy unfolded. Nothing ever started it, but it seemed not much could ever stop it either.
My baby girl giggled at a nearby bird, and adrenaline surged from my core to the tips of my toes as I realized I was not, in fact, staring at the 21-inch-long casket my mind had taken me to. She was clapping her tiny hands and the red frisbee landed with a quiet thud at my feet once again, delivered by a smiling, wagging, 70 lb. furry friend. I nuzzled my face into perfectly squishy cheeks and breathed deeply, becoming grounded by that intoxicating baby aroma every mother knows. I begged God for strength and deliverance, and for the first time in my motherhood journey, I thought, “Maybe I’m not okay after all.”
I wasn’t naive to the possibility of postpartum depression. I had done my research. I listened to all the podcasts, read the blogs, heard the stories, knew the signs. I passed my postpartum check-up assessment with flying colors. I was the most in love, elated, and overjoyed with thankfulness that I had ever been. Sure, I was exhausted, but I wasn’t sad. Not even a little bit. My fuse was a little shorter with my husband over the lack of sleep, but I never felt anger towards my baby. The thought never crossed my mind to hurt her, or myself, or anyone else. I had zero trouble bonding with my girl. Actually, I was obsessed with her, in the best way. And yet, something was just... off.
I didn’t know how to communicate it, and I guess nobody in my world knew the right questions to ask. I guess I thought the constant hum of worry over everything and nothing in the back of my mind was just... motherhood. I guess I thought debilitating clouds of panic over the lady who coughed 15 feet away from us in the checkout line at Target was just me being aware of my new responsibility to look out for this tiny human. I guess I thought every new mom had constant nightmares and woke up each morning feeling like an elephant was sitting on her chest. I guess it never occurred to me that maybe regularly spacing out in the middle of a conversation or task to wage war in my mind over yet another made up car accident, fall off a balcony, choking emergency, secondary drowning in the middle of the night from swallowing one too many gulps of water in the bathtub, the UPS man breaking into my home and abducting my baby if I left her alone for 90 seconds to use the restroom, fatal allergic reaction to that random weed over there, etc. was all... normal.
But it wasn’t.
Anxiety is a funny word in our society. It’s used so regularly and with such a wide variety of meaning that sometimes it’s hard to determine when to take people seriously. And when it comes to mental health, it’s becoming almost so normalized that you might be afraid to seek help over fear of people thinking you’re just seeking attention. At least, that’s where I found myself. Stuck in this new, bizarre, treacherous pit of mind-funk, but not wanting to overreact, believing I could just will-power myself out of it like I tend to do in every other area of my life. If I could just try harder, be more courageous, and schedule more “me-time,” I could conquer whatever “this” was.
All I ended up doing was suffering in silence for too long.
At the time of writing this, I am 35 weeks pregnant with our second baby, a precious boy. Naturally, labor, delivery, and the unknowns of postpartum are heavy on my heart. What’s going to happen to me? Will I face this again? If it does, will I be aware enough to notice? Will I be brave enough to speak up?
I’m looking around our living room, and I notice the largest plant we have in our house right now. We got this little friend of ours on clearance for six bucks. It was dying, but such a nice size that my husband saw the potential for it. He has a green thumb, not me. I’m looking at it and remembering how I laughed at him when he picked it up, all yellow and withered. I thought it wouldn’t last a week, let alone flourish and become the focal point of this happy, life-giving corner in our home.
I guess that plant was stronger than I gave it credit for.
Kind of like me.
The Word of God says, “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT).
My faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the anchor of my soul. Being deeply rooted in Him is my hope for enduring postpartum anxiety. Like the withered plant in our living room was revived by water and sun, so I am revived by the Living Water and the Son of God. My strength comes from Him. I will not be bothered by the heat, nor worried by the drought. He will hold me when I can hold on to nothing else. He will keep my leaves green. He will produce the fruit of life in me.
This time around, I refuse to be a slave to shame. I will ask for help if I need it. I will not be a prisoner of my own mind. I forbid panic attacks from stealing the first precious months with my baby boy. Anxiety will not get the last word in my postpartum journey.
A mother’s overwhelming love will.
Gummy smiles, snuggly, sleepy night-time feedings, and tiny fingers wrapped around mine will.