A word or two more on what I introduced in my last post as post-primary depression .
As many of you know I suffered from post-natal depression, or postpartum depression following the birth of our first child.
While the depression continues to be a reality for me, those early years were certainly a distinct stage of the ongoing difficulties I face. It was therefore quite a surprise to me to find myself experiencing a very similar set of symptoms more recently and also quite a help to me when I started to see the parallels that may have caused that.
I didn’t find pregnancy easy. I worried a lot. I felt so responsible for this precious bundle I was carrying and at the same time so impotent – so unable to help her if anything went wrong. But… in comparison to life after birth, pregnancy was never-the-less a time when I felt increasingly prepared and on top of things and bizarrely confident that this state of affairs was only going to improve as life as a mummy continued.
During pregnancy I planned and read and decided and studied and prepared for having a baby, for being a mummy. One month before my due date my bag was packed, the house was ready and I was as confident that I could tell the difference between a cry for milk and a cry of tiredness as any experienced twitcher distinguishing between the calls of different birds.
My due date came and went. 15 days later I was definitely not feeling in control. I ended up never going into labour and having an emergency Cesarean at three in the morning. As to discerning her different cries – all I could tell you was that it was either very loud, or very, very loud. I cried and worried a lot. I found myself at a complete loss and worse than that – I was completely surprised to find myself at a complete loss and even worse completely unforgiving of myself for being so.
A feeling that didn’t really let up! At no stage in the infant years do you feel an expert – the babies and toddlers are always ahead of you! You get one thing in place and they change all the rules!
Then suddenly – well about 9 years, 3 more pregnancies, and one very sad stillbirth later – I found myself in my children’s primary years.
Once again my sense of being on top of things tentatively crept out of its hole and showed its face. As time went on I once again grew confident that this more settled state of affairs might go on making itself more and more at home with us.
It isn’t that I found this stage a doddle. Not by a long shot. I don’t tend to do easy.
Life with me is rather like watching the England football team play: it’s a ‘never quite sure if they’ll pull it off, edge of your seat, watch it through your fingers’ kind of game.
Until Sunday’s 6-1 victory against Panama that is. What a totally different experience as a viewer. I actually enjoyed watching them!
No it certainly hasn’t been easy…
But it was a particular stage that, for our family at least, had a certain stability to it and which is now coming to an end.
As I planned and read and decided and studied and worked at being a great mum I was in a sort of second pregnancy. A holding, growing, and developing space within which I was still highly influential and where my intentionality could be put to work on the front line of our children’s lives, – spread out at the meal table, played with as a family in the sitting room and given pride of place in the family diary.
Releasing my eldest child into secondary school was (from the vantage point of nearly two years) rather like giving birth all over again – although thankfully she wasn’t two weeks late second time around time and it didn’t stop me driving for six weeks!
I have no idea whether this will ring any bells with anyone, but recognising the return of old struggles and feelings and anxiety within this context has helped me in lots of ways. Not least because I realise I have been here before – emotionally anyway.
What would I say to my new-mum self if I could somehow get a message to her across the years?
I would tell her to relax and play the long game. To not over analyse every cry and nappy and worry every time my daughter fell asleep in the ‘wrong’ place or at the ‘wrong’ time. I would tell her to enjoy the lovely moments and sit as lightly as possible with the trickier ones. To enjoy HER – not the baby from the book, but a unique new person designed from head to toe by God.
I look back now and see that I planned and prepared for a baby for me to be a mummy to and not for an individual to be in relationship with.
Of course I probably wouldn’t listen to myself even if I could send that message – in fact I’m sure plenty of people did give me that message!
BUT… I can listen to myself now.
And not only can I listen, but I might even believe myself this time.
So here I go, with the Lord’s help and remembering that I am still me and that’s o.k…I am going to relax and keep playing the long game.
I’m not going to over analyse every curled lip and ridiculous attempt to justify the unjustifiable.
I will help her with, but not lose sleep over, her sleep routines. At the end of that day (literally!) it is up to her to work out ways to get to sleep and she’ll manage and she’ll learn, and I’ll be there for her in her tiredness as she does so. And if it means ‘having to’ read Anne of Green Gables to her – well that’s a sacrifice I am prepared to pay!
I’ll enjoy the lovely moments with her – remembering to celebrate who she is. And I will run to the Lord with lament and tears and then patience and trust when those moments are overshadowed either by her rebellion, self-satisfaction and independence by my own many failings and fears. I’ll ask him to give me more love, more grace, more patience and more mercy and with his peace garrisoning my heart I’ll emerge, leaving my fears with him and myself free (or free-er) to parent without panic.
So does this mean I will not be at a loss? By no means. But it might mean that I am less at a loss at being at a loss and kinder to myself and therefore to those around me in my lostness.
Perhaps I have finally grasped that whatever books I read I’m never going to read the future and therefore I am going to need to be prepared to be surprised. And perhaps I have finally grasped a little more of the trust I can have in the one who is never surprised, who not only knows the future, but who writes it.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16
Maybe I have accepted that no matter how well-developed my theories and skills are they will be put into play not on a blank canvas that is mine to design, but poured into the melting pot of relationship and therefore into a complicated, unpredictable, beautiful mess.
Perhaps I have seen and repented that my preparation, my intentionality, was always too much about me. Our children are not our projects; our identity or our life’s work. They are individuals whom God has made fearfully and wonderfully and given to us for a time, with a remit to nurture and bring up in the training of the Lord.
Which brings us full circle back to…
Pitfall 1: Being intentional and being self-forgetful / humble is a tricky combination.
So I guess I will press on in my me-ish way – but just maybe I’ll manage to be a bit more intentional in avoiding the pitfalls of intentionality.