Love and Marriage, Week 2
This week we’re talking about trials we’ve dealt with in/during our marriages.
Jon and I have dealt with many trials throughout our marriage. Some short-term, those that had a beginning and an end. Some of those included: dealing with Jon’s parents divorce during our first years of marriage, living with roommates, the death of my grandmother, extended family fights, our own fights that couldn't be resolved in a day, etc.
We’ve dealt with ongoing trials, such as our finances. I’ve mentioned before that we’re both spenders, and it can lead to some lean times. I won’t even bore you with some of the more hair-raising financial decisions from our earlier years, but one thing you won’t find here, financial advice. My sister jokes that we’re the poster children for what NOT to do with finances, and she’d be right. We’ve gotten better, but still have a long way to go.
But there is something I need to talk about this week. Its not pretty, its seldom discussed, and I knew the minute this came to mind that I needed to write about this… post partum depression.
(Side note. I’d intended to write about post-partum depression all along. But with the recent, tragic death of Rick Warren’s son, and beautiful posts by Beth Moore and Ann Voskamp, this seems most timely.)
Before I jump in with my story, I’d like to preface with a few bullet points:
- Post partum depression is not baby blues. As your hormones start to even out after giving birth, some will experience the highs and lows called baby blues. It can last up to a month, but this is not post partum depression.
- Post partum depression does not look the same for everyone, or look the same after every child.
- Post partum depression does not make you less of a mother, a woman, or a Christian.
- Post partum depression does not make you weak.
- Post partum depression doesn’t make you ungrateful. I was still very aware of the blessings of my beautiful babes in the midst of the depression.
When Devyn was six months old, I started sleeping all the time. ALL the time. I chalked it up to having a baby and being awakened several times a night for feedings. I honestly didn’t see anything wrong with my behavior, I was genuinely tired. But Jon felt there was something wrong and he approached me with concern in his eyes.
“Jenn, something’s not right. I think you need to go to the doctor.”
I was startled but agreed to go see my doctor. Jon went with me. As the doctor asked me question after question, my eyes started glazing over and Jon stepped in to answer the questions for me. Her diagnosis? Post-partum depression. I was given a low dose of antidepressants and Jon was charged with watching me closely over the next few weeks. Within a matter of about 10 days, I started feeling like my old self again. I had energy and I was ready to tackle my to-do lists. I was ME. My doctor weaned me off the meds soon after Devyn turned a year old and I was doing well!
About six months later, I got pregnant with Hudson and my doctor and I came up with a plan of action for my post-partum depression. I started on the same low dose in the hospital after he was born. And for six months, the meds did their job.
Then I got cocky. Since I was feeling so good “I must not need them any longer,” I thought to myself. And I took myself off the meds.
BAD IDEA. I highly, highly suggest never doing this. It quickly became apparent that it had been a bad decision and I started taking them again.
However, the damage had been done. And this is where things went from bad to worse.
I’ve never been in such a dark place as I was during this time. Every single task took so much energy, I felt overwhelmed, anxious, under qualified, and that I was a complete failure. Life took too much work and I didn’t have the motivation or desire to do it. I would sit and stare off into space, simply incapable of putting one foot in front of the other. Little hands would be pulling at my legs and arms, desperate for attention or help, but there were hours/days when I was only capable of taking care of basic needs. It was dark. And painful.
Jon noticed and did his best to help, but my biggest mistake was keeping the darkest part of it from him. I don’t know if I didn’t want to burden him with it, or if I was unwilling to admit just how bad it was, but regardless, he had no idea just how bad it had gotten.
Then one morning, I laid in bed during the early morning hours and contemplated killing myself. I had Devyn on one side of me, Hudson on the other, and Jon had left for work. I had to get up, get myself ready for work and the Littles ready to go to my parents. And suddenly, I didn’t want to do it anymore. I’d thought about killing myself numerous times (side note, I never once thought of hurting my babes, just myself) and for the first time, I was seconds away of following through with my plan. I just wanted the pain to stop. I knew if I didn’t show up with the kids, my mom would come looking for us and the kids wouldn’t be alone for long. Instead of following through with my plan, I called my mom and in-between sobs explained she needed to get to my house. Now.
It was the single most terrifying moment of my life.
What followed was an intense debate of being admitted to a local mental health hospital, or an increase/changing of meds and counseling. We chose the latter.
Jon shed many tears, the vulnerability of his need for me, his fear, his inability to take it away for me, his love, left an indefinite mark on my soul. He was an unshakeable foundation for me during this time. Never did I feel judgment or ridicule, just unwavering support. He held me up when I couldn’t stand, and for that I will be forever thankful.
I’d like to say my story ends here, but it doesn’t.
About four months after the new meds/increase in meds, Jon started noticing that I was “off” again. I distinctly remember Christmas shopping with Jon and as he held a toy in each hand, asking which one Devyn would like better, I couldn’t formulate a single thought or opinion. I simply stared at him. At which point, Jon came over and shook my shoulders lightly, bringing me back to reality. The next day we were in the doctor’s office getting my meds changed again. It turns out that I’d been overmedicated and on the new meds, I was soon myself again.
Since both Reagan and Ashlynn were surprises, I was still taking anti-depressants when I found I was pregnant with them. Both times, I was weaned off the meds for the majority of the pregnancies, then put back on during the last weeks of the pregnancies.
Post partum followed me after the births of Reagan, then Ashlynn. But it never got as bad as it did with Hudson. It just looked different… I got spacey, easily distracted, unable to concentrate, easily overwhelmed, anxious, unable to deal with the day to day, etc. My go-to coping mechanism is to bury my head in the sand. However NOT dealing with things, catches up with you eventually. Ha!
A few things to note about post-partum depression:
- I am NOT advocating medication as the only answer to post-partum depression. I AM advocating talking to your doctor and figuring out the best solution for YOU. Sometimes a change in exercise and diet is all a woman needs. But please, PLEASE don’t think that taking meds is a weakness. I liken it to being a diabetic… you wouldn’t deny your body insulin if it needed it. The same is true of anti-depressants.
- Find a support system. I have an amazing network in my husband, family, and friends. But I know not all women are so lucky. In fact, I’ve had a number of women reach out to me whose husbands would not support them taking meds. I don’t have answers for these situations… But I beg you to find a girlfriend, a confidant, a therapist, someone who can support you through this difficult time.
- You are NOT less of a Christian if you’re struggling with depression. During this time in my life, I actually had people in my church, of the church, tell me that if I truly believed Jesus was my savior, then I wouldn’t be struggling like this. This is simply NOT true. God is close to the broken-hearted! Psalm 34:18
- I know people shake their heads and utter, “Suicide is so selfish!” And it is incredibly selfish. But after my experience, I won’t dare speak those works out loud again. Simply because I was there… and at some point, the pain is so bad, so unbearable, that you just want it to stop. And you’ll do whatever it takes to make it stop hurting. Instead of passing judgment, perhaps we can start looking at those around us and seeing how we can reach out to someone who might be hurting.
Now that I’ve written a book… I’ve said before, and I’ll say it until my dying day… I believe that it’s the hard times, the dark times, the valleys that make a marriage stronger. There’s something reassuring about reaching out your hand in the night and feeling his hand clasp yours. It says “I’m here. I don’t know how to fix it, but I’m here.”
Jon David, I don’t know if I’ve ever said the words publicly but I need to do so here. Thank you! Thank you for your unwavering support in my pain. Thank you for standing by my side, thank you for being willing to be whatever I needed in each moment. Thank you for loving me, for believing that I could conquer something as big and deep as this. Thank you for helping me realize that depression didn’t define me, that my old self was still inside. I couldn’t have made it these past eight years without you. You were Jesus with skin to me, and I am better for having you as my partner.