"God Gave Me Gracie"
I think it’s safe to say that most people know me as a happy person. I mean, I have so much to be happy about. And I know that, so it makes me hesitant to talk about times when I’ve struggled to feel like myself, or find that happiness, even in the midst of being surrounded by so much love. I know, I know…I deserve the eye roll that comes with this hashtag-blessed statement…but it is genuinely how I feel. Life has not always been easy but God’s hand in it all has always been obvious. With each curveball thrown my way comes a person to hold my hand through it, and my experience with postpartum depression came with an army.
PPD was not even something I had on my radar. When I first became a mom to my daughter Ava, it was the new-mom bliss I had always dreamed of. The second I got to see her and hold her, all I wanted to do was cuddle and stare at this perfect little girl we got to call ours. I remember needing to put Ava in her swing one day so that I could eat lunch, and then sitting on the floor inches from her while I ate, just staring in awe of the way she slept! No words for that kind of love.
So needless to say, as we were preparing for Ava’s little sister’s arrival, I was looking forward to round two of that same crazy-love.
In November of 2015, I was almost 9 months pregnant with Gracie, and had this big idea that I should start selling signs as Christmas gifts. I could make a little extra money for my own gift-buying budget, and if there ever was a perfect time to start your own business being on the verge of a brand new baby’s arrival has to be it right?! I know. Huge face palm. Some of you might already know this, but that little sign business, KRorerDecor, has since allowed me to leave my job teaching, work 2 days from home (thanks to my mother-in-law, another answer to one of those curveballs), and be home with my girls more than I could have ever hoped for. In retrospect, this new business was, and still is, such an incredible blessing. However, it also initially added more change to an already big, life changing shift.
Fast forward to January 6, 2016. As expected, everything about Gracie’s birthday was different than I had expected. The delivery was so quick that Troy and I looked at each other and joked, “Hmm…what else should we do today?” Every first moment was so sweet, and I can still picture Ava sitting on Troy’s lap and rocking her baby sis for the first time. I had all of those beautiful, sweet, small moments, but something just felt different.
It is still hard for me to admit to myself without a wave of guilt rushing over me and tears stinging my eyes, that even though I had this beautiful, perfect, head-FULL-of-hair baby in my arms, I couldn’t seem to feel a connection to her, my hours-old, little Gracie girl. I knew she was mine and my love for her was so big, but it was almost like I wasn’t emotionally capable of fully embracing this beautiful perfect baby like I instantly was able to with her sister 2 years earlier.
I want to stop right here and just tell you how hard this is to talk about. If you know my Gracie, you know she deserves the world. I don’t even have words to describe the joy I now feel when she squeezes her tiny arms around me and nuzzles her head on my shoulder. The GUILT that I feel about the fog I was in when we first met is so incredibly heavy, and still comes in strong waves that I have to sit through, reminding myself that this wasn’t my fault. Reminding myself that I am still a great mom. But reminding, and re-reminding yourself things like this can be really hard and exhausting.
I can still feel the tears that welled up in my eyes one night in the kitchen. I can still feel Gracie against my chest as I held her and found the bravery to talk to Troy about what was going on. Troy. The leader of my support army. The person who knows me better than anyone else. It was hard to talk to him about all of this, but not because of anything he did or didn’t do…it was hard to talk to him about it because saying it out loud was a step towards admitting to myself that something was wrong.
I fought past all the shame and guilt I was feeling and I asked him if he felt the same bond with Gracie as he did when Ava was born. I felt like I had just admitted to him that I was failing at the biggest responsibility ever given to me…because that’s what PPD felt a lot like, failing. Troy put one arm around me and the other around Gracie. He of course felt that indescribable bond, but I didn’t need to ask him that, I knew.
I blamed the exhaustion, and hoped I would “snap out of it.” As you can guess, the exhaustion stayed, and I was still feeling less and less like myself. The blame then shifted to the transition from one to two kids, or to leaving my job as a teacher and settling into that new identity, and then back to the lack of sleep or regular schedule…I wanted to blame something tangible so badly, but as the days blurred by, and things didn’t get better, I started to wonder what was going on. I started to worry that I had somehow slipped past the window of “baby blues” and still didn’t feel like myself…in fact I was having trouble really remembering who that person even was.
“Sunshine” came as my bond with Gracie soon started to grow, but unfortunately so did anxiety. It felt like I had gotten one plate to start spinning, but dropped seven others in the process. Things just felt hard. I didn’t have any authority figure (like the teachers or bosses I’d had for as long as I could remember) telling me I was doing a good job, or giving me steps to assure I would succeed, so I placed that role on my own shoulders and held myself to impossible standards that not even Beyonce could ever achieve.
The dishes that had piled up in the sink, the smelly laundry left for days in the washing machine, the dog-hair covered carpet that desperately needed to be vacuumed, it all seemed to represent ways I was failing as a mom. Then came the relationships I had left to crumble. The texts I kept forgetting to respond to, the invitations I turned down, the ways I wanted to be there for others but couldn’t. I learned the hard way that you cannot serve from an empty vessel, but in that moment, I blamed myself for not being able to do just that.
Conversations continued with Troy about what was going on, because (like a lot of people) I sort through things by talking them out. He held my hand, supported and gently pushed me every step of the way. I’ve heard there is an ebb and flow of support in marriage and this is such an obvious time when Troy had no choice but to be the strong one for all of us.
I can remember rocking Gracie in her room, while Ava cried in the playroom because she didn’t want to take a nap, and praying out loud, “God, I’ve heard this is supposed to be hard, but I just don’t think it is supposed to be THIS hard.” And I think that was the moment that I fully admitted to myself that I needed help. I bravely let go of the idea that I should be able to handle it all, and stopped fighting the help waiting for me.
That week I found a therapist who I would continue to meet with every week for the next seven months. I reached out to my friend Haley, who was graciously open with her personal experience with postpartum depression. She shared her hardest moments, encouraged me, told me I was brave for reaching out and assured me that taking those first steps towards help is often the hardest part. Most importantly though, she made me feel normal. The shame and embarrassment that came with PPD made it pretty easy to convince myself that I was the only one, easy to believe that everyone else was able to handle it and that something was wrong with me. Unfortunately staying quiet only strengthens that isolation. Thankfully Haley bravely stepped up and said “me too.”
Haley was another big part of my “support army,” along with so many others who hugged me and loved me as I slowly shared with some of the closest people around me what was going on.
Sharing wasn’t easy. Again, it was never a fear of what they would think, or a concern that they wouldn’t be able to support or help me, but more a fear of admitting to myself that I was dealing with postpartum depression. That was by far the hardest part. But admitting what I thought was a sign of failure, ended up showing me that it wasn’t failure at all.
As I started to own the fact that I am human, and just can’t do it all, I found freedom in the support waiting eagerly to help. I wish I didn’t fight it for so long on my own, but I did, and I learned from that. If we are lucky enough to be blessed with more beautiful babies, I have already promised myself that I will be just as (if not more) aware of my mental health as I will my physical health. I want to have my therapist’s number ready right next to my doctor’s, and I want to lean into that support army surrounding me sooner than later.
I can genuinely say that I came out of my postpartum depression thankful for the new perspective it gave me. I want friends, strangers, new mommies, and most importantly, my daughters, to know that if you are not feeling mentally healthy, you are NOT to blame.
Asking for help is not the sign of weakness that it can so often feel like, but instead a sign of strength and bravery.
It happened, and it was hard.
I’m so, SO incredibly thankful for my support army, that so many were a part of without even knowing. I’m so thankful for the smiles, giggles and cuddles that I now get to fully enjoy and dwell in. I’m so thankful that I had help, and feel like myself again. But most of all, I’m thankful that in a time where I needed SO much grace, God gave me Gracie.