The Art of Perseverance

How Nursing Taught Me Hope and Perseverance in the Midst of Struggle, Part One

I always planned to nurse my children, and when I was pregnant with Madeleine, I anticipated the bond nursing would bring with great joy. I knew that it would not be without its challenges, but I was certain that those challenges would be temporary.

When Madeleine was born, I had an hour of skin-to-skin, or kangaroo care, with her before she was taken away for newborn checks. The hope of kangaroo care is that it will help the newborn regulate her body temperature, encourage bonding between mom and baby, and establish the nursing relationship if mom wishes to nurse.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Madeleine didn't latch on during that hour, but did after her newborn checks. In that moment, I felt gratitude and elation. I felt profound wonder at what my body was able to do. After having grown a child within me, my body now had the ability to nourish that child. I was overwhelmed with joy.Madeleine didn’t latch on during that hour, but did after her newborn checks. In that moment, I felt gratitude and elation. I felt profound wonder at what my body was able to do. After having grown a child within me, my body now had the ability to nourish that child. I was overwhelmed with joy.

Nicholas captured that moment in a photo. Throughout the next three months, that photo became a reminder. That photo became my why.

Because that joy didn’t last.

Eager to move me out of the labor and delivery room and into the postpartum unit, my nurse told me to unlatch Madeleine so she could transfer me to a wheelchair. It had been fifteen minutes, she told me. That was enough. Never mind the fact that Madeleine was still actively nursing in that moment. And feeling caught off guard and vulnerable, I went against my gut, and I listened.

I have regretted it ever since.

In the postpartum unit, Madeleine wouldn’t latch. When she did latch, she wouldn’t suck. I was handed the pump and pumping parts and told I needed to pump every four hours minimum. Bottle feeding was not an option due to nipple confusion, so I had to syringe feed Madeleine anything I pumped. It was tedious. Because I didn’t anticipate having to pump while in the hospital, I didn’t have a hands free pumping bra, and so I had to attempt to nurse Madeleine, and then place her in her bassinet and hold the pump for the next fifteen minutes. I felt humiliated and vulnerable.

Getting Madeleine to successfully latch took pillows placed all around me, the IBLC (lactation consultant), and my husband, both of whom were doing different things to either support me or readjust Madeleine to encourage a proper latch. When she did latch and suck, it was incorrect and caused significant pain.

We stayed the maximum amount of time just so I could get as much help from the IBLCs as possible. One of them finally ended up getting Madeleine a pacifier because it seemed Madeleine didn’t know how to suck. She hoped that the pacifier might encourage the sucking reflex.

I will always wonder if unlatching her before she was finished in the delivery room caused some sort of negative association for her. If it somehow disrupted our relationship. We never found any sort of explanation for all the issues we had, and so I will always wonder if it all went back to that moment. That photo was the last positive picture of me nursing Madeleine until Madeleine turned four months old.

When we got home, it became worse. Trying to get Madeleine to eat resulted in crying. She would latch, suck for a minute, pull off screaming, and repeat. Getting her fed took upwards of an hour or more.

Madeleine holding onto my scapular after nursing.

I spent a lot of time crying. I had anxiety attacks before going to bed. I worried about ever getting sleep. I worried about getting her fed. There were times when she wouldn’t eat and we would have to feed her from a syringe. I would frantically pump while Nick tried to keep her calm. The only thing that gave me any hope, that brought me any peace, was seeing Madeleine repeatedly grab hold of my scapular during or after nursing.

Madeleine was born on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel after I prayed a novena to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. When I saw Madeleine holding my scapular, I knew that Mary was telling me that all would be well. I didn’t know how, but somehow, all would be well.

We saw the lactation consultant at the pediatrician many times. She could not figure out what was going on with Madeleine. Overactive let down was a suggested possibility, but it didn’t quite fit. They said reflux didn’t fit either. I was finally handed a nipple shield and just told to use that, but even that had mixed results. The only thing that ever worked was getting Madeleine to suck on her pacifier and then rapidly doing a “bait and switch” so that she ended up nursing without noticing that she had latched.

When she was between two-three weeks old, she was nearing four or five hours of refusing to eat. I called her pediatrician, and was told to pump and give her a bottle. I didn’t want to do so, because I was so worried about making it even harder to convince Madeleine to nurse. But I was more worried about her being fed, and so I immediately listened. I was home alone, and so I pumped while Madeleine cried. I remember feeling like I had failed her, and wondered why I hadn’t just given her the bottle sooner.

Nick giving Madeleine a bottle at around four weeks old.

When we were out of the house, it was worse. My arms and hands ached from holding her. To even consider feeding, Madeleine required that I stand and rock her while also quickly switching out the pacifier, keeping covered, keeping her properly supported, and ensuring a good latch. I remember feeling so weak and hating how much it all hurt my hands. I didn’t know it, but I had Rheumatoid Arthritis. Nursing Madeleine made that pain even worse.

She nursed best in the rocking chair at home, which made my whole body stiff and achy. At the time, I thought this was normal. I thought it was because of sitting so much.

I don’t know why I didn’t quit. It would have been easier. But during the hardest moments, during the moments when Madeleine would scream and scream, during the moments when I would cry, during the moments when I felt so deeply broken and that I had failed, I found myself praying.

Somehow, there was this quiet stillness. Somehow, I had hope and trust that it would get better. And I was determined to help it get better. I set goals for myself. Make it to three months. Make it to six months. Make it to a year.

I wanted that quiet time with my daughter. I wanted that bond. I wanted those memories. And so through prayer and sheer grit, I made it happen.

And somehow, magically, at three months, Madeleine decided that nursing wasn’t so bad. Something just clicked for her, and things became easier. There were so many moments before then when giving up seemed the better option. In those moments, however, my heart would whisper, “No, not yet. Try another day. This is not the end.”

Milk after a pumping session at work.

And it was not.

I pumped every two to four hours at work for six and a half months. I dealt with low supply and researched methods and supplements needed to ensure I was able to keep feeding Madeleine. I had to advocate for myself and ask for a space to pump. At one point, I was given a space filled with windows and no curtains and had to ask for curtains. I dealt with students ignoring signage and walking in unannounced while I was pumping. I dealt with adults not understanding what the sign was for and coming in anyway.

It was all worth it.

Nursing Madeleine at 11 months old.

I ended up nursing Madeleine until she was 19 months old. It was a beautiful gift to us both. I learned so much about giving of myself to others and persevering through difficult moments.

I had hoped that nursing with Mariana would come more easily. And while at first it did, my experience with Mariana taught me about a different sort of perseverance that I will explore in the post next week.

A quick note: to the mothers that wanted to nurse but could not, to the moms that exclusively pump, to the moms that use formula for any reason: you are enough. You have not failed. You are loving your child by keeping them fed. You still know the sleepless nights. You still know those quiet moments. None of you are less than any other mother. You are beautiful, you are a daughter of God, and you are still giving your child the gift of yourself and life, no matter how your child is fed.

Babies and Dreams

When talking about Babies and Dreams, there’s a side that I think is often missed: you can’t have it all, all of the time.

I wasn’t the girl who dreamed about staying home with my babies, though I did always want to be a mom. I didn’t dream of messy days baking in the kitchen with little ones at my feet. I have never been good at cleaning or homemaking. And my decorating skills involve finding something on Pinterest, saying “I like that,” and then having no idea how to make it actually materialize. My husband does that part, as he is talented in having a creative vision and executing it.

Instead, I dreamt of teaching. I dreamt about having both worlds: home in the summers, working in the school year. But for many reasons, that dream is not right for our family right now. So for now, I am home with my girls and teach one homeschool class a week. That hour and a half of teaching is deeply fulfilling; I love sharing my gifts with students and helping them to grow in wisdom and knowledge.

Staying home with my girls brings me more joy than I ever imagined to be possible. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more.

I want to get my master’s degree and eventually my doctorate. I want to teach at the college level. I want to help form young adults and encourage them as they prepare to enter professional life. I want to write a book. I want to be a part of the intellectual life of our Church. And when I look at charisms that I have—teaching, wisdom, encouragement, knowledge—this dream is a direct expression of those charisms. I know that I can serve God, my family, and the Church through this dream. But now is not the time for it. To this dream, Christ is not saying “no”, but rather, “not yet.”

It is hard sometimes to see college classmates starting their PhDs, graduating from Master’s programs, going on to big things. It is so easy to compare. To think, “look at all they are doing. And what have I done?”

I am raising two daughters of God. I am raising them to look to Christ for their answers. I am supporting my husband in his career, so that eventually, we can make my dream happen when the timing is right. I am supporting him so that we can raise our daughters not for this life, but for eternity.

God does not tell us that we will not have to make sacrifices. He does not say that we will be able to have it all, all of the time. The idea of “having it all, all the time” is a lie. A deceptive, attractive lie that encourages selfishness and greed. It’s the lie of the feminist movement, that encourages women to pursue “having it all” at any cost.

What cost is worth having it all, all the time? Not my peace. Not my faith. Not my mental or physical health. Not peace in my marriage. All were on the table when I was teaching full time. Perhaps some would not struggle as I did, but for me, the cost of having all of my dreams right now was too high.

And so my dream changed. I still want to get my doctorate. I still want to teach at the college level. But I also want to be present to my girls, in a way that I couldn’t when I was working full time. I want to stay home with them in their early years. I want to support my husband by striving to create a peaceful home. I want to focus on raising our girls to love Christ, remembering that the purpose of this life is to love and serve God, and not to store up accolades and awards.

And, when it is time, when it won’t cost me my peace, I will go on to get my doctorate. I’ll pursue this other dream, because I see that it uses my talents. I have so much I want to share with others, and I believe Christ wants me to share my talents with others. I do not believe these dreams are fully my own. But I can see that “for everything, there is a season” and that now is not the season for that dream.

It is ok to have dreams that are bigger than your babies. To have dreams that you know you can’t pursue for a time. The key lies in accepting God’s answer of “not yet, my beloved” and then being able to be present to where one is in life now. It is not always easy, and comparison often sneaks in.

I see the mothers who are working full-time, and I struggle not to envy them. I wonder at how they are “doing it all,” until I remember—most of them aren’t. Some may have hired help. Others will let dishes go undone, laundry unfolded, may be dealing with high levels of stress or anxiety—whatever it may be, there are crosses that come with working full-time when one has little children at home. Of course, there are many crosses that come from being home full-time with little children, and the laundry often goes undone anyway, but for me, the crosses of being home full-time right now are less than what I’d have to ask my family to give up if I were working full-time. It has been a long road to come to peace with that and to own that.

So when we speak of babies and dreams, we should be careful to avoid the attitude of “women can have it all.” Motherhood will demand sacrifice. Those sacrifices are often difficult and will often demand that some of our dreams have to wait. But the joy in motherhood comes in finding a new dream, in finding the joy in simply being present to our children, in the joy of the sacrifice. For love is sacrifice, and so the more we love, the more we freely sacrifice. And in doing so, we become free. Free of false attachments, free of pride, free of vanity, free of selfishness.

Perhaps that is the beauty of motherhood, of being asked to delay our own dreams. For when the time is right to pursue the dream to which God has said, “not yet” we can pursue it more freely. We can pursue it having been made more selfless by the hard work of motherhood. We can pursue it not for our own gratification, but for the glory of God.

And that alone will make the wait for my other dreams worth it.

Lies I Believed

I have always had grand plans, high ambition, passion, and a desire to do it all myself. When I set a goal, I pursue it ruthlessly, and if you stand in the way of my plan—look out (I remember a college friend describing me as “bulldozing,” which upset me at the time, though I now see she was right). And so, in 2019, I got my teaching license. That same year, I began my first full time teaching position. When my husband told me at the beginning of 2020 that I needed to change something or resign, I accused him of being “stifling” and “controlling.” I could do it all, why didn’t he see that? I could be an excellent teacher, a great mother, and a wonderful wife. He just had to give me more time to figure it out—why couldn’t he be more patient with me?

And then in 2020, a series of unexpected, uncontrollable events happened. The pandemic, school shut downs, teaching from home, being pregnant with our beautiful baby girl. Suddenly, I couldn’t just fight my way out of my problems. I couldn’t ignore what was in front of me, although I sincerely tried to do so. All of it wore on me and finally culminated in PPA and PPD after the birth of our beautiful daughter in October.

I found myself having to stare in the face of the lie that I told myself over and over: I can do it all, I do not need help, and I will just power through everything and make it all work.

Slowly, I began accepting this as a lie. I resigned my teaching position and didn’t return from my maternity leave. I had planned and hoped to return to full time work in the fall. I began treatment for my PPD and PPA, but often stubbornly insisted that I was “just fine” and sometimes failed to schedule appointments. I threw myself into blogging as a creative outlet.

I found myself crashing again. I was still trying to do it all and do it without help. Suddenly, everything fell away. All the threads of my identity, all the things that I considered to be myself…they fell away. I wasn’t teaching anymore, I didn’t want to teach anymore, I was now home, I was struggling, I didn’t recognize my physical body in the mirror, and I suddenly found myself looking in the mirror and wondering: “Who am I?”

I threw myself into reading. I read The Anti-Mary Exposed by Carrie Gresser, The Sunshine Principle by Melody Lyons, Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Larraine Bennet, Eat Smarter by Shawn Stevenson, In Over Our Heads by Robert Kegan, and a few others. Slowly, I began to see that I had been seeking to define myself by my roles and by what others think of me.

I had been asking all the wrong questions.

I had been asking, “Who do others say that I am?” and “Who do I say that I am?” instead of “Who does Christ say that I am and wish me to be?”

I worked through childhood wounds. I worked through negative patterns of behavior. I am still doing this work; it is difficult and painful. But most of all, I worked through the lie: that I can do it all myself, that I do not need others, that I can power through all my problems instead of facing them in humility.

The Anti-Mary Exposed showed me the lie of the “I can do it myself” attitude. It showed me the bitterness that I had carried into my marriage and life as a mother, the poison that I was willingly drinking. Her work showed me that my resentment toward the work of my home came from a den of snakes that wished to devour myself and my children. I began to see that my rebellious spirit that wished to rebel against the leadership of my husband was a result of a dangerous message fed to us by our culture: that a woman does not need a man, that she do can do everything, that woman should not be “imprisoned” by her spouse.

The Sunshine Principle and Eat Smarter challenged my thoughts about food, medicine, and healing. I began to see the opportunity to practice St. Therese’s little way even in my choices around food and exercise, seeing that choosing health is choosing the ability to better serve my family, and that I can choose health through the small, daily little things.

I am still working through In Over Our Heads, but I know it will challenge my patterns of thinking and encourage me to stop defining myself through the lens of my relationships with others and instead seek to engage in Christ motivated self-authorship (an area of scholarship my husband explored in his Master’s thesis).

We carry lies with us constantly, accepting them as truth. When dealing with anxiety or depression, these lies become our reality: You are not enough. You cannot be enough. Nothing will change. You cannot change. You have to do this all by yourself.

There is a reason that Satan is called both the Great Deceiver and the Father of Lies. He seeks to whisper these deceits into our ear as if they were sweet nothings, repeating them again and again to our hearts until our hearts begin to repeat them as a beating drum, sounding in our ears, deafening truth, drowning us in despair.

Untangling these lies within our hearts requires staring them in the face, recognizing them as false, and humbly handing them over to Our Blessed Mother. She whose heel crushed the snake will gently hold our hearts, rooting out all the painful deceits we have come to believe. It is not always easy work, but it is work with doing. If we are to truly live out our faith, we must live it out in truth. We must truly know ourselves, and that means understanding our deepest faults and wounds. For if we cannot know our faults and wounds, we cannot bring them to Christ, and if we cannot offer our wounds to Christ, he cannot pour His Mercy over them, and if our wounds are unable to receive Christ’s mercy, they will fester, spreading to our whole selves, poisoning not only our own body, but the Body of Christ itself.

In our baptism, we have died and been raised in Christ. Our struggle is in continuing to choose that self-death, so that Christ may live in our hearts rather than trying to fill our hearts with empty and vain things. For Christ can only fill what we have emptied out, and his Divine Mercy reaches into our hearts only insofar as we allow Him to reach. We must return again and again to the Cross, embracing our sufferings, embracing our vocations, and asking Christ to reign over us. For our identity can only be found in Him, and we must always be first a son or daughter of God. Our hearts yearn for truth, who is Christ, and Christ, who is Love. In finding our identity in Christ, we answer the deepest longings of our hearts and crush the lies that Satan wishes to feed our souls, and in doing so, we can allow others to do the same.

Allowing Christ to form me is not an easy task, and often my pride gets in the way. Frequent confession (minimum once a month) has helped in increasing my willingness to serve my family. For in that sacrament, I am humbled. My soul is laid bare before Christ, and he loves me, even in all my sin and littleness. Confession helps to keep me humble, to help me to say “Fiat” rather than “Non serviam.” Little by little, Christ chips away at all my attachments, and I am made new. I am made whole. And in that wholeness, I find I am better able to serve, to be present, to love.

When You Feel that Rage

Please note: The following discusses postpartum depression in great detail and may be distressing to some. I want to note that at no point was anyone hurtaction was always taken prior to that point for the safety of both parties.

When I planned for the birth of both of my daughters, I made not one, but two, playlists for labor and delivery. The first playlist is likely what you would expect: soft, calming Christian music and some chant to calm me and help in breathing through contractions. The second playlist for both girls: hard rock music.

I make the second playlist because I have always used hard rock to power through hard things: late night papers and studying, workouts, cleaning my room, breakups. The second playlist is my “backup” playlist to pull out if the calming Christian music just isn’t cutting it.

Prior to Mariana’s birth, my husband sent me a song by Halocene titled, “Rage.” I listened, and put it on the backup labor and delivery playlist. At the time, I had no idea the role this song would end up playing after Mariana’s birth.

I felt isolated after Mariana was born. No one had offered to set up a meal train for us—I did it myself and pretended others had asked. Five people brought us meals after her birth (two of those were my parents and one set of my grandparents)—we were on our own beyond that. Additionally, doctors were excessively concerned about Mariana’s weight, so much so that I ended up taking Mariana to the doctor every day for four days in a row after her discharge from the hospital. At the final appointment, I was instructed to begin triple feeding: nurse, bottle feed, pump, every two hours. They had wanted me to come in yet again the next day, but Nick said that was enough and that we would seek a second opinion.

The regimen left me exhausted and with no time for naps or to myself whatsoever. I went the first six days home from the hospital without any naps. I was constantly anxious about Mariana’s weight gain. The extreme concern expressed by the doctors had led me to feel that Mariana might just waste away if I failed to continue this strict regimen. I have no doubt that this contributed to the development of my PPD and PPA. When we saw her new pediatrician, we were told that all of it had been unnecessary. I then spent the next month and a half working with an IBCLC to ensure that my supply didn’t drop off after weaning from triple feeding and helping Mariana learn to nurse.

When Madeleine was born, people stopped by and stayed with me for a bit. People helped unload our dishes. Meals came for the first four weeks after her birth. Beyond just one or two people took the time to really check in with me. Covid robbed all of that from us this time.

At first, I thought that my generalized anxiety was just getting worse. But, one night, after multiple night wakings and a day with no naps, it became very clear that it was more than that. This ran deeper.

Anger is an emotion that often points us to deeper issues. It is often an alarm telling us, “something’s wrong. This isn’t right. I need x, and I’m not getting it.” But if we don’t know that, when we feel deep anger, the type of anger that makes your blood boil, your cheeks flush, and drives your fist through a wall…it can scare us.

And that night, everything snapped. All illusions that I was ok went away. Exhausted, alone, and disconnected, the rage overpowered me. The intrusive thoughts began—those thoughts, the ones we are afraid to speak, afraid to ever admit (if you know, you know). I watched, as if outside of my own body, as I screamed at my sweet little baby and then realized I had terrified her. I tried breathing. I tried to calm myself. But the baby was still crying and my whole body was hot and shaking and I knew I couldn’t calm her in that state. And I felt like a failure for it.

So I took her downstairs, put her in the crib in the room down there, gave her her pacifier (I had already fed and changed her), shut the door, turned on the sound machine, went upstairs, cried, and took a twenty minute nap.

The next morning, I told my husband that I needed to get help.

I spent that day researching therapy options. I knew that the anger was an alarm signal that I was not ok, and prior to losing myself to that rage it had been easy to keep myself in denial. It was easy to pass things off as just a phase or as something I could power through. The fit of rage and screaming was my wake up call.

I began seeing a therapist through Talkspace. We went through some breathing exercises and made a plan for what would happen if I felt the rage and intrusive thoughts again. We worked through my guilt of leaving Mariana in her crib to cry when she was still a newborn so I could get even twenty minutes of sleep. We talked about my needs and what wasn’t being met, and brainstormed solutions to better meet those needs.

I remember feeling so alone and ashamed. I felt like a terrible mother. I felt like a failure. How could a mother scream at her baby? How could a mother have these thoughts about her baby? I wanted to just sink into a hole and go away for a long time.

The first time I no longer felt so alone was during another night waking. I was exhausted, and I pulled out my phone to keep myself awake. I found myself on instagram, and I searched, “postpartum rage.” And I read those posts, watched those stories, and I cried. It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t something I was doing wrong. I screenshot the stories that resonated the most, the ones that put into words what I did not know how to say, and sent them to my husband. “This is what I’ve been feeling,” I said to him, “I feel this rage, I fight these thoughts, I spend my whole existence fighting to keep these thoughts and this anxiety at bay, trying to convince myself that being here is better than being elsewhere, and I’m tired. I’m so tired.” It was the first time I’d been able to express myself to him in a way that he understood, because prior to that point, I hadn’t even understood it myself.

The first fit of rage wasn’t the last. But there was a plan: breathe, put the baby down in a safe place, put in ear plugs, set a timer, meet the need that isn’t being met, return to baby. It didn’t make the fits of rage any easier at first. But it made them something that I was gradually able to manage with more grace. I became better at identifying my needs. I started noticing triggers for the rage. The biggest one: lack of sleep. I made a plan to sleep train as soon as Mariana was five months (the age I’m comfortable with for sleep training. If you don’t support sleep training, fine, do what works for your family—I’ll do what will give me my sanity back). I started taking naps whenever possible and asking for the opportunity to nap. I let things go around the house so that I could focus on meeting my own needs. These were basic needs: shower, a nap, food, five minutes to myself. I’d been so depressed and anxious that I would forget to eat sometimes.

Through it all, I kept listening to the song “Rage,” as I focused on the refrain, “This ain’t the end, we’re here to stay / We rush into the unknown /Fearless and brave / So don’t throw it away, that rage / Won’t stop until sweet victory.” I tried to redirect my rage towards healing. I used it as motivation to be better for myself, my husband, and my two sweet girls. I worked through the guilt and the shame. I took a hard look at my wounds and brought them all to the Blessed Mother. I asked her to undo the knots of my heart.

As I worked through healing my mind, I worked through healing my body as well. And, after switching my meds again, I found myself able to walk and work out again. So, at the beginning of April, I began going to CrossFit. Suddenly, there was an outlet for all that energy and anger. I knew that at CrossFit I could show up, listen to loud music, and drop heavy things. At the end of some workouts, I found myself laying on the floor exhausted, but feeling better physically and mentally than when I had walked in the door. I found that I was getting stronger, and as my body became stronger, my mind did as well. I developed healthy outlets for my anger. I prioritized taking care of myself—which is more often self-discipline than bubble baths and manicures.

As my anxiety has eased up, I find that often anger has taken its place. Rather than becoming anxious about things, I become angry. While different in some ways than the blood boiling rage that happened in the height of my PPD, it is still new to me. I continue using many of the exercises I used at the height of my PPD to deal with this new type of anger. Prioritizing caring for oneself is not always easy, but it is always worth it.

As a Catholic and a woman, this type of rage carried a particular shame: the feeling that I was not only failing as a wife and a mother, but as a woman and as a Catholic. I felt that my rage embodied everything a woman, wife, and mother should not be. I felt that I was failing not only my spouse and my children, but God. I felt so deeply alone and ashamed.

So, if you have dealt with this, if you are experiencing this, I need you to hear me: You are not a failure. You are not alone. You are so incredibly strong. Through the grace of Christ with the Blessed Mother, you can get through this. You will get through this. It is ok to feel this rage. It is ok to need a safe outlet for the rage. It isn’t your fault—it’s lack of sleep, hormones, and the PPD or PPA that is causing this. It’s having unmet needs. So, first, get the help you need. Get medication if you need it. It’s ok if you need it. It’s also ok if you feel confident that you can address this without medication, so long as you are getting help and your psychologist/therapist agrees and supports you in that.

I am going to tell you what I would have wanted to hear: so many women deal with this. This is your Calvary right now, but we are an Easter people. We may not know when the resurrection will come, but it will come. You are so beautiful and you are the best mama for your kids. You are not a failure. By the grace of Christ, you are always enough, and Christ can heal all your wounds. Though it may not feel like it now, you are a great wife, and when you get through this, your marriage can be stronger if both you and your husband seek healing and the sacraments. Your life is worth living and worth living well, so don’t give up. Push through, and be amazed at the beautiful, strong, perservering woman that emerges in the end.

Go to the Blessed Mother, and tell her all your fears. Hold the rosary when you can’t pray it. Cry when you need to cry. Scream (away from others) when you need to scream. Be vulnerable—with Christ, with your spouse, with trusted friends. Though your world may be in darkness, I promise you—the resurrection will come. Dare to ask Christ to help you make it to the third day, and He will answer your prayers.

Precipice

Please note that the following discusses PPD and PPA and was written in part at the height of my PPD.

I will never forget the words that pierced my heart in December 2020. I was barely two months postpartum, in chronic pain, struggling to even care for myself, when from the mouth of my husband came the words, who did not know I was struggling and in crisis, “You need to step it up.”

Words meant as encouragement and a call to action became a drumbeat in my mind, “must step it up, must do more, must try harder. Must step it up, must do more, must try harder. Must step it up, must do more, must try harder.” On and on went the anxious song in my heart.

I became obsessive about cleaning, unable to relax or take a break, unwilling to care for myself. I slipped further and further into depression, losing touch with myself, unable to recognize the person I was in the mirror. While not suicidal, I felt that my husband and my girls would be better with anyone but me.

The full story of my postpartum anxiety and depression is one that is still being written, but as I worked through it and sought help, I came to the heart of my PPD and PPA: all the things that had grounded me, all the strings that I identified as myself—were gone.

I was no longer teaching. I didn’t (and still don’t) fit into any of my clothes. I found myself thrown into stay-at-home parenting during a pandemic. I found myself questioning why, with all my flaws and failures, my husband would wish to remain with me.

I had the distinct sensation of floating midair with nothing to ground me, nothing that I might hold. The winds were strong and picking up, ready to carry me with them, floating me away to a land I did not know. And upon coming to that land, I stared into a mirror. Seeing nothing, I was forced to ask myself, “Who am I? How can I even begin to know myself again?”

And so began the journey.

It is a harsh and cold journey, one for which I was not prepared and one which I did not expect. I have entered into an unknown wilderness, the skies shaded deep blue as purple streaks dance through the sky, the path of possibilities open before me.

The way forward is a journey into my own heart and the heart of Christ, a rediscovering of myself, a radical transformation. In choosing the journey, I choose to die to my old self and allow myself to be made new in Christ. I must expose all my wounds to the abyss of Christ’s Mercy, allow myself to drown, like in baptism, in order to be healed.

I feel I am standing at the edge of a precipice, the wind wailing and moaning around me, staring down into the dark abyss below as waves crash against razor rocks. Behind me, there is a well-beaten path, the only one I have known. There is no alternative path, and so I am left with two options: return to the old path, or step out over the precipice. 

The return to the old path means no change, but it will be familiar. It will be dull with no bright or new spots, familiar to the touch as a worn out blanket, its beauty faded with the passage of time. This path thrives on the repetition of the known. The same grayed colors, the same trees, the same plants, the same animals. The seasons here do not change; they are always the same. There is no growth here. There is no change. 

Yet, the precipice exposes all of my trembling fears and suppressed emotions. Going over it means leaping with a radical trust, a trust that the fall will not kill me, a trust that the rocks will not break me, a trust that the waves will not drown me. With so many risks, the old path appears as a warm and familiar embrace, though it will be filled with the same pains that have long haunted my heart. Choosing to fall into the abyss means choosing the unknown, foraging forward on a path that is strange and unwelcoming. But what life lies ahead of the abyss? What life may I find beyond the rocks and crashing waves? What calm may be found beyond the storm? 

Truthfully, I do not know and cannot know what lies beyond the precipice, beyond facing all the pains and fears that hold me back. But I do know that while there may be pain, there will be growth, that where there is the wild unknown, there will be newfound delights, that where there are crashing waves, there is the Lord’s mercy as He speaks boldly, “Put out into the deep.” 

And so, in an act of radical trust, I step forward. 

If this has been your journey, do not be afraid.

Christ sees us in our brokenness, and says to us, “Behold, I make all things new.” For though you may be in darkness now, there will soon be light. The journey to Calvary is arduous and painful. Death and dying to self in PPD and PPA is painful.

But you will see the resurrection, and you will be all the stronger for it. 

Do not be afraid to step over the precipice. I have been to the bottom of the abyss, and I have opened my wounds to the sea of Christ’s Mercy. And I can tell you that Christ is waiting to embrace you with open arms, to lead you to become the saint He has created you to be, to help You carry this Cross, and to make your heart become more like His.

The Power of “And”

I sat at my six week postpartum checkup and expression frustration to my midwife, “I’m upset by where my weight is right now. I want to be healthy. It’s so important to me to be healthy and strong. What can I do to help make that happen?”

The midwife looked at me kindly, and said, “Sweetheart, give yourself some grace. You just had a baby! It’s ok. Just stop thinking about it right now. Promise me you won’t worry about this until at least twelve weeks postpartum?” I promised her, and left. I left without any advice on small steps I could take, small changes that could help me be healthier.

I expressed the same frustration to a friend, and the response was similar, “Give yourself some grace! You just had a baby! Besides, our bodies are never the same after we have babies. “

In a culture that puts pressure on moms to “bounce back” after birth, we often go the opposite direction in our advice. We say things like: “Your body is beautiful right now; look it gave you these two beautiful babies,” “give yourself grace,” “your body will never be the same after babies.” All of these are true. But to the mom that doesn’t recognize herself in her own body, to the mom that desires strength but is struggling to fit in workouts, to the mom that just simply wants to be healthy, these platitudes miss the point.

I’ve been struggling with PPD and PPA while dealing with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Excess weight is not an option for me: it means greater weight on my joints, which means more pain, which means more days where I struggle to walk. Having the days where I have more pain leads to more depression…and so it spirals. When I was expressing frustration at not being able to workout due to pain and exhaustion, I was expressing a deeper need: a need for the basics like sleep, better meds for my RA, and time to take care of myself. But, instead of hearing that frustration, we tell new moms not to pressure themselves. It’s a needed message, absolutely, but it needs to come with an “and.”

“Your body is beautiful right now, and you can work towards health and strength when you are ready.”

“Your body will never be the same after babies, and you can still work towards being stronger than ever.”

“Give yourself some grace right now, and know when to challenge yourself.”

What if we used these messages to postpartum moms? And what if we followed up with, “it sounds like you have an unmet need for ______. How can I or someone else help you to meet that need so that you can be healthy and strong?”

Unmet needs are at the root of my anxiety and depression. When a mom is telling us that she desires to be strong and wants to work out and eat healthy and we respond with, “give yourself some grace, you just had a baby,” what we are actually saying at times is, “wait until your baby is older and then you can meet your needs.”

Wait to exercise until you can get more sleep. You don’t want to exhaust yourself. Wait to eat healthy until you’re not overwhelmed by anxiety and depression–you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself.

Without even meaning to do so, we end up sending the message to new moms that their desire for health and fitness is something that can wait. We try to tell her to take care of herself, but fail to recognize that working out and eating healthy can be a vital part of self care. We don’t seek to reach out and ask, “is there anything I can do to help you meet some of your basic needs?”

A few weeks ago, my therapist suggested medication for my PPD and PPA. My response was simple: a pill isn’t going to give me more sleep, better food, and exercise. A pill isn’t going to give me friendships or a better prayer life. I have to do those things. I have to put in the work. And I need to reach out and get the support I need when I’m struggling to do the work. For some, medication may give the needed mental break to do these things without overwhelm! I did end up trying medication, and found that the side effects (for ME) were not worth the potential benefits.

I needed my healthcare professionals to not just give me a pill for my anxiety. I needed them to look at me holistically. I needed the encouragement that I could become stronger than ever and the guidance on how to do it. I needed to hear that wanting to be healthy and strong isn’t vanity.

When you know what it is to live in daily pain, to wake up unable to walk, to struggle with constant fatigue, you want to do anything you can to counteract that. And that isn’t vanity; that’s a desire to be strong so I can serve my family. So I can play with my daughters. So I can be ready for another pregnancy and minimize risk of injury and fatigue. So I can make the days where walking is difficult few and far between. So I can conquer my RA instead of letting it conquer me.

If you’re newly postpartum, know this: you are beautiful and your body is a gift. Your body speaks to the truth that we are meant to give new life. Your body will be forever changed, AND you can still become stronger than ever when you are ready. Give yourself some grace, AND know when you’re ready for the challenge. You are beautiful and worthy, AND you deserve the support you need to pursue a healthy and strong life when you feel you are ready. It is ok to take your time in your own wellness journey, AND it is ok to take small steps to wellness now and ask for the support you need to do that. You don’t need to get your old body back AND you can still desire to pursue strength, however that may look for you. Your needs are not invalid. Desiring health and strength is not vain.

For, “Do you not know that your body is a temple[a] of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19 

We glorify God with our bodies in so many ways. Through the act of giving birth. Through nursing and feeding our babies. Through offering our physical sufferings. Through choosing to live out St. Therese’s Little Way when it comes to health and wellness: focusing on choosing one thing at a time that will lead us to greater physical healing and strength.