Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Anniversary of Sorts

I hope you have a nice warm mug of tea handy because this is a long one!!

January is such a cold, long month. The snow keeps piling up around my house, a familiar sight in West Michigan. I snuggle down with my blankets and my books and my tea and try to make the most of it. Hibernating has it's fun points. Somehow my daily activities like knitting, baking and reading are even more enjoyable and add to the cozy feeling of being home.
Each winter is a bittersweet time for me. I can't help but remember what life was like last winter and the dark days we were brought through.
December 19, 2007 we welcomed Sam and his chubby self into our family. He was perfectly healthy and beautiful. The delivery went remarkably well and our first few days together were just as they should be.
However, my body does not like having babies.
After delivery the estrogen levels in a woman's body drop. That is when most women experience the "baby-blues". When my estrogen levels drop like this it sends me into severe Post-Partum Depression. After I delivered John, the depression hit almost immediately. With Sam it struck a day or two after we came home. Some women can experience this kind of depression up to a year after they deliver.
My depression, as with most women, began with anxiety. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I was in the middle of a panic attack. My heart was racing, I couldn't catch my breath, I was nauseous and my thoughts were racing. I had experienced a panic attack before but this was different. The panic was constant and inescapable. This made rest and sleep impossible.
Both of my babies were great sleepers but while they slept the night away, I was up pacing the floors. With John, I went an entire week without any sleep. After too long without sleep the body begins to shut down. I began to hallucinate and my immune system weakened so I came down with all sorts of odd issues that I won't get into.
Anxiety led quickly into despair that was a living hell. I can only describe it as putting on a pair of dark colored glasses. No matter what you look at, you see it through a dark shadow. There seemed to be no way out. Soon I was run down by the physical and emotional effects of the anxiety and I lost the strength and will to fight.
This was when we sought medical counsel. My Doctor took swift action to get me sleeping and on the way to feeling better. There are many opposing opinions on the use of anti-depressants. All I will say is that I am confident that the course that God enabled us to choose saved my life.
It was a month or so before I felt consistently better but the relief came quickly with a few nights of good sleep. I was soon able to enjoy life again. I loved every day I got to know John and all his little ways. He was a wonderful baby and I was so grateful to be able to enjoy him.
When we discovered that we were expecting again we were excited but nervous about the possibility of a similar experience. My Doctor assured me that we would be taking the proper precautions to prevent anything like what had happened before.
So I prayed that God would make this experience completely different and that he would allow me to enjoy the first few months of my baby's life.
He did not choose to answer my prayer the way I wanted Him to.
When things began to go down hill after Sam's birth we were quick to seek medical help. This time around I was a mystery to the Doctors. My body didn't respond as quickly to the medication they had prescribed and they began switching medications with every phone call. I was sleeping a few hours each night because of the medication but the sleep was not restful and as soon as I opened my eyes the panic was back. Because of the medication I had to give up nursing which was something I had really enjoyed with John but there seemed to be no other choice.
My days became long and very dark. I obsessed over every little thing. I was so afraid of doing something wrong as a mom and I felt like such a failure. Life was stripped of its hope and joy and the future was a tunnel of inescapable darkness.
It was many long months before the cloud lifted.

In each experience my faith was tested in ways I never thought possible. I knew God was in control. I knew His plan was what was best for me. I knew that He would never leave me or forsake me. But every feeling within me cried out that I had been abandoned. I was all alone and there was no hope. But in those moments all I could hold on to was the Truth. And it was enough.
God was there. He held me every step of the way. One morning the only thing that kept me going was repeating the phrase "I have hope in Christ. I have hope in Christ.". God showed up in many ways.
Chris was the greatest demonstration of the love of Christ that I have ever known. He held me, prayed with me and reminded me of what was True. He took care of the boys and made sure I got the help I needed. He never let me down. And I thank God for him every day.
Our families took such good care of us during these hard days. They made meals, listened, took care of the boys and lifted us up in prayer. We never knew how blessed we were until the bottom fell out and they were there. We are so grateful for our families and our friends.

It is so wonderful to feel joy again. You never know what a blessing that is until the ability to feel joy has been taken from you. Every day I find myself being grateful for a laugh or a smile or a ray of sunshine. The blessings of each day are breathtaking. God is so good.
I find myself now in a time of rebuilding. An experience like this has a way of stripping everything from you and building something different in its place. I had always thought of myself as a fairly strong person. I do not like asking for help. I like to be the one giving help. This experience took away any confidence that I had in myself. I truly know now that anything good that is in me is because of God. I am now well aquainted with my own weakness. You cannot be the same person after walking through valleys like these.
I found a quote that captured that thought while watching Lord of the Rings. (I freely admit to being a Tolkien nerd).

"How do you pick up the threads of an old life?
How do you go on when in your heart
you begin to understand,
there is no going back.
There are some things that time cannot mend.
Some hurts that go to deep,
that have taken hold."

I am trying to move on from this experience in a way that does not dwell in the past but instead, uses it to shape the future in positive way.
God has been so faithful.
I know this is an abrupt departure from my usual posts of crafts and the boys. But I want to be more real and open about what God is doing in my life. And writing this tonight has been somehow theraputic. Reliving the pain of the past and dwelling on God's faithfulness throughout gives today more beauty and purpose. Each day has become a gift because of these experiences and I wanted to share that with you.

"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may recieve mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
Hebrews 4:15&16


At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Heidi V. said...

I love you RaTchel.

At 12:28 PM, Blogger shanpop said...

Oh, Rachel!! I did NOT know about this experience for you. I'm so sorry that you had to experience, but so thankful for the ways God has provided for you and how the experience has been a catalyst for more joy.

I just love to watch you watching baby Sam. You already know how I love his personality... But I love to watch you delight in him. Now, I have new context for that delight... and it makes me more grateful for our great God.

Thank you SO much for your vulnerability. We need more maskless posts and more blogs that point people to the source of all joy.

At 11:33 PM, Anonymous Laura Siegrist said...

rachel...first, i am thankful that God has brought you through a truly difficult time(s) in your life. that is an experience that forever changes you, but makes you stronger in the end because of it. second, i applaud you for choosing to write such a vulnerable blog. it takes a little bit of courage to write about these things. especially when you don't know how people will react. and third, although it wasn't as severe as you went through, i also suffered from post-partum depression for several months (7, 8, 12?? i don't know) after Ari was born. i know the hopelessness and the black hole that surrounds your soul. i did not know how much i could take. i eventually went on zoloft, and it helped a little, but over the 7 mos. i took it, caused a bit of weight gain (the downside of some antidepressants) that i still struggle to lose. but i am glad i went on it. i believe God used it for the time to help me work through the hormones and the issues that started it. and i too worry about the next time i get pregnant....what will happen to me after. once you have been depressed, the risks of being depressed again are very high. i am encouraged to hear that you made it through and the end that never seems in sight, actually came.
i hope to meet your 2 boys someday!! we just moved to NW Indiana...Valparaiso area. where in MI do you live? i wonder how far away we are.

At 3:37 PM, Blogger Between Hitching Posts said...

You certainly are not alone. I too have had post -partum & still struggle with it 4 years later. However, I am thankful for the medication that is working & everyday has its joy. Thanks for sharing.

At 7:40 AM, Blogger Andrea said...

It has been wonderful to see God bring you through the dark moments and restore joy within you. You are loved by all of us here in the Ross household and we miss you and your 3 boys dearly. By the way, you were in my dream the other night. I'll have to call and tell you about it.

At 5:22 PM, Blogger Aunt Mel said...

Rachel Beth, I love you! I am so thankful that you have been able to grow through the path that God has taken you! Thanks for encouraging me!

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Melody Joy Francis said...

Rachel, Thank you for sharing this! I so appreciate your vulnerability and honesty. While I have not experienced post-partum depression, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder last April after battling severe insomnia and depression since the previous August. Things have gotten much better but I still have depression and insomnia one week out of every month, so the Doctors are still looking for the correct balance of medications. I just wanted to write to thank you for being so open and honest, this post was a blessing to me. ~Melody

At 4:47 PM, Anonymous Jeanine Holquist said...

Rachel, Sherrie Willson gave me your blog address - she thought I'd enjoy it. And I did. Thank you for your post on the baby blues. I had 2 difficult deliveries and post-partum experiences. This last one was particularly hard. Unlike you, I didn't FEEL like I was acting differently - but apparently I had my whole family very worried and praying. My conscious mind finally connected the dots and I have had frightening episodes of anxiety attacks and OCD. After one particularly bad anxiety attack my husband made me go to the doctor. I hated to admit my frailty. I've always been one of those "soldier on no matter what" kind of people. I hated to be weak and especially for people to see me as weak. But, like you said, God had a way of forcing me to seeing myself as He sees me -- strong only through Him and because of Him. I'm still working on the medication part, but so happy that I live in a time when these solutions are available and thanking the Lord that He causes them to work.

At 12:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

such a lovely post. Thanks for reminding us we are in His hands.


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