You are there for a Purpose

It had been about 4 weeks since I returned to work and I was completely overwhelmed. Between 2 kids, nursing, working, trying to fix our house, and simply staying alive, I was beat. On top of just trying to figure out how to be a working mom of two, I was also facing an up hill battle at work. Both my home life and my work life seemed completely daunting – where do I even start?

How can I leave this cuteness???

Sometimes you just need a friend to speak truth, amiright? I called a mentor and friend of mine and we talked for a long time. We strategized and planned and it helped, but I still was feeling burdened, until she said one line… “You are there for a purpose.”

“You are there for a purpose”

Guilt and disappointment followed me on my way into work most mornings. Coming back to work after my first baby was a necessity, in more ways than strictly financial. I needed the human adult interaction and to use my brain again. I needed the challenge and I enjoyed showing the world that I could do it and be successful. But after my second was different. My first baby made me a mom, but my second baby helped me realize the small joys that come with babies, kids, and motherhood. All of this made returning to work really difficult. I felt guilty that I wasn’t at home raising my children. Shouldn’t they have their mom around all the time? Why am I paying someone else to raise my kids?

Now, the saving grace of this situation is that we were able to move home where our parents live. My mother in law graciously agreed to watch the boys when both Bryan and I are working. I can’t explain the peace that I feel knowing that we get to leave our boys with family. I am so thankful, but I still feel guilty! I never wanted to be a mom that depended on someone else to raise her kids (really, I am so fiercely independent that I hate admitting I need help or assistance with anything – but that’s for another blog post).

So all these feelings were building and building. I felt guilty, ashamed, overwhelmed, exhausted, I was at the end of my rope. But then truth was spoken, “You are there for a purpose.” I believe that no matter where life takes you, God has a purpose. Every circumstance, every encounter, every stressful or challenging thing can be turned over to Him and is an opportunity to turn toward Him.

This is the truth I want to tell you today, YOU ARE HERE FOR A PURPOSE.

Whether you are a college student, a working mom, a stay at home mom, a single woman, or a widow, you are HERE for a purpose. And more specifically, you are in exactly the right spot to be used for a purpose. It may not be immediately visible to you and it might take some thought or reflection, but I know it is there.

And more specifically, you are in exactly the right spot to be used for a purpose.

Here is one more opportunity for me to turn toward God. Every morning I get to demonstrate His love and grace (however imperfectly) to a group of adults that otherwise I would have zero connection. I cannot tell you the number of conversations I have had in my office and I leave thinking, that was a total God thing. I also get to have the experience of being humbled almost daily, my pride checked, because I make mistakes and fall. Whether noticeable to others (and sometimes VERY noticeable) or in the silence, I am consistently reminded of God’s grace with me and therefore how much grace I need to have with others. Most notably, my 2-year-old who literally does not listen to 80% of what I say.

So for this season of littles, babies, working, surviving, and figuring out what my purpose truly is, I will continue to turn toward God. He has a purpose for me, and I believe he has a purpose for you. How can you turn toward God today? What would that look like? Let me know in the comments!

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me

Psalm 57:2

We Are the Face of Motherhood: a Series on Postpartum Depression

I have to admit that I have been putting this off for some time.  I first heard about this endeavor in late 2016 and wanted to share and be part of this movement. But, figuring how and what to share has been difficult.

I had another post written. I detailed those first few days and weeks after the birth of my first son and explained to all you beautiful, wonderful people how much I was going through. I expressed in my best words how it felt, why it was happening, and all the things that were working against me.

And then I stopped.

If we are going to end the stigma, we must begin by ending the thought process that our feelings need to be justified or validated by others.

I stopped because I was justifying my feelings. I was trying to justify the fact that I struggled for months with undiagnosed postpartum depression. I explained everything that was going on because I didn’t want you to think I am weak.  I so want you to understand my deep struggle and the visceral heartache that still plagues me that I wrote a very meaningful piece that did nothing.  I think it would have been fine, or even good, to share all of those things for the simple fact that I know other moms feel the exact same way right now [and dare I say that moms well beyond those newborn days feel the same? Moms of toddlers, elementary school kids, preteens, teens, and beyond? Moms who have lost children, moms who never got to meet their babies, moms who adopt, moms who perhaps never got to have children at all?].  My post was true and deep and meaningful and difficult, but I do not believe it was the right post for this cause.

This cause is about ending the stigma of postpartum depression – PPD – and postpartum anxiety – PPA.  If we are going to end the stigma, we must begin by ending the thought process that our feelings need to be justified or validated by others.  It certainly feels good when we someone else understands the way we feel and why we feel it, but even if no one else ever understands the way you are feeling, you are still dealing with depression, and that’s okay.

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This is after we got to our recovery room. I had been awake for about 36 hours at this point and just had a C-section. 

I want you to know that it is okay to deal with depression even if you had a beautiful birth, just the way you wanted.  It is okay to deal with depression even if you have a beautiful baby that you cherish, love, and adore. It is okay if you have depression even though breastfeeding went well for you.  It is okay to have depression even if your baby sleeps through the night.  It is okay to deal with depression whether you prayed for your child for years or you had no idea motherhood was before you. It is okay.

Our first picture as a family of 3

There is no qualifying list, no one way depression manifests itself.  In the midst of postpartum hormones and sleep deprivation, depression can seem like it will take care of itself if you can just sleep, just relax, just get away, just have one minute to yourself.  And sometimes it does, but other times, in darker times, it sticks around.  It follows you like a lurking shadow.  No matter how bright the lights are, the shadow is still there, attached to your every move.  The shadow is not nimble, it is cumbersome, it is exhausting.  Your shadow is a physical weight that you carry on a daily basis, an emotional sink that you keep pouring into, but never fills up.  The shadow clouds your judgement, you ability to think and concentrate, your patience and ability to deal with your ever-changing emotions.

One of my favorite pictures, but one that I forced myself to take because I knew, someday, that I would want to see pictures of his little face.

There are signs of PPD/PPA, certainly, and I had many of them.  I felt disconnected and numb. I told myself I HAD to take pictures and I HAD to tell Vincent that I loved him everyday because I didn’t feel like doing either of those things. I wanted to get away from the baby, but as soon as I was away I dealt with anxiety that something terrible would happen while I was gone.  I was irritable and impatient with the baby, but as soon as I felt myself snap I would melt into a big ball of tears. But the fact of the matter is, you can hide these things if you really want to.  The shadow can continue to follow you if you let it, and many times, no one else realizes it’s there except for you.

We must act. We must speak out. We must advocate for each other. And in order for women to seek the help they need, we must end the stigma.

You can read more about my newborn experience here.  I won’t detail it in this post, but I will tell you that I was struggling and I didn’t know how to tell people I was struggling. How do you verbalize a change that happened so quickly you don’t have time to process it? It’s more than, “I’m having a hard time.” I wish I would have said something. I wish I would have had help. I wish I would have known how to do more than take the 2 minute survey at the doctor and be told my feelings were normal.  [and yes they are normal, but there was MORE going on and I wanted SOMEONE to see it and identify it FOR me, I just wasn’t able to do it myself]

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So what I want to share is this: it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to struggle. And it’s okay to ask for help, even if you don’t know what you need or what help looks like. If you start to ask for help you will find relief and reprieve, you will find healing. The road will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

I would also add that as a culture, WE MUST SLOW DOWN.  If you know a new mom, slow down enough to look her in the eye and say, “How are you doing, really?” And when she says, “Oh I’m fine, just tired,” look her in the eye again and repeat, “Really?” I fear that our culture has become so fast, so focused on posting the perfect Instagram picture, so busy, that we won’t slow down enough to see people who are hurting, struggling, and in need of a friend.  New moms especially fit into the category. Your ENTIRE world was just changed and now you have the responsibility of raising a tiny human. The pressure, the loss of independence, the sleepless nights, the physical recovery that has to happen all while caring for a newborn is more than anyone has ever dealt with before and it is okay to not be okay.

I give you permission to not be okay.

So, mama, I give you permission to struggle and need help. I want you to know that people see you and hear you.  We know the heartache and we are here for you. We want you to feel free to share what is going on so that we can better help you.  We are here, and we are here to stay.  It’s okay to not be okay.

{Think you or someone you know may be struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, or another mental health disorder? Please contact your health provider including your OBGYN or family doctor. Need more information? Visit Postpartum Support International for great information on maternal mental health disorders and more. If you fear you or someone you love may be contemplating suicide or facing a mental health emergency, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline and get to your nearest emergency room.}

 

I’m GREAT at Religion [but I’m a struggling Christ follower]

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Here are some facts about me:

I am efficient. I strive to do things better and faster and have no patience for anything else.

I am a rule follower. Give me guidelines and I will operate within them, strictly following each letter of the law.

I am a high achiever. I believe I can always do better, achieve more, and succeed no matter the obstacle in front of me.

I am very independent. If I see something that needs to be done, I do it; I handle it and take responsibility.

These traits naturally lend to being REALLY good at Religion – the rule following especially. Religion, at its very basic level, is a set of rules and guidelines that one must follow in order to go to Heaven. If you follow these rules and do the right things you get to go up when you die. If you don’t, you go down. So, as a rule following, efficient, strive-to-do-your-best, independent person, Religion is my jam.  The 10 Commandments? Yep, I can follow those. Trying to be the best person I can be all the time? I have been trying to do that since I can remember. Doing the right thing because God says I should? I strive to do that too. Tithe 10%? Okay, it’s in the Bible, I can follow that rule. I can see sin in others and I can tell you what the Bible says about it. On and on with the rules. I will try to achieve them all. I will do my best. I will…. I….

Did you notice how many times “I” came up? I am good at Religion, but I am struggling as a Christian. Why? Because ultimately, I am trying to earn God’s grace and acceptance. Instead of going to God first and seeking His will, His grace, and His mercy, I take control and try to make peace with God. That is Religion, when WE try to make peace with God. I naturally fall into the religion category. In fact, go ahead and call me a Pharisee.

The Pharisees were the religious elite of Jesus’ day. They knew the Old Testament books and teachings inside and out. They knew every. single. thing. they should do and say. They could follow all the rules and they challenged Jesus often based on their understanding of the Old Testament. The Pharisees were supposed to be the example of God’s love and covenant with the Jewish people. They were to help Jewish people perform sacrifices and answer their questions so that everyone could be right with the Lord. However, they soon became a ruling class. A group of people so caught up in the rules and regulations of the law that they missed the whole point of the Scriptures and also missed the fact that Jesus is Messiah.

Lately, I have seen myself fitting more into the Pharisee category than the Jesus category. I want to follow a set of rules. I want to clean myself up before I approach the throne. I want my works and my actions to bring me the peace that God offers. I judge others based on outward decisions. And then I feel like a complete failure when I am not enough and I can’t do enough to be where I want to be with Jesus.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees often. In Matthew 23 verses 3 and 4, Jesus says this, “So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”  How often I do this to myself and others. Do I practice what I teach? Do I put into action the teachings of the Bible and the words of Christ? Sadly, I often do not.

The truth is friends, I can NEVER do enough to feel at peace with God. The only way to be at peace with God is through relationship with Him. Changing my behavior will only work for so long before I burn out or make a major mistake. Truthfully. the only thing that can bring me the peace I so desire is communion with Jesus. But because of my innate gifts (which by the way God created in me, why couldn’t he have made this easier?) this is very difficult for me to do.

Are you here, too? Maybe you have been trying to be good your whole life and just can’t measure up. Maybe you DO follow all the rules but STILL don’t have peace. Perhaps you are the good religious person, but find you lack grace for others and yourself.

I think most of us have it backwards. Instead of us striving to be right with God, we should be surrendering to God and allowing His peace to wash over us.  Instead of trying to do good works, we should be asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit so we can participate in the larger plan that God has. Instead of worrying about what to do and say, we should look to the example of Jesus and seek to honor him in our thoughts, words, and actions.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God” (NIV) another translations says “Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God” (GW). Yet another translation says “Cease your striving and know that I am God” (New American Standard).

I want to honor God in all I do, but I need to let go of my need for control and my desire for clearly laid out rules and instead seek to find God first. I need Jesus to be the Lord of my life in order to enjoy the fullness of life that has been offered to me. I am still figuring out how to do this, but I think it all starts with a simple statement:

Cease striving.

Motherhood Unedited

 

Things no one ever tells you about being Mamma

Entering motherhood is this mix of mystery, wonder, excitement and fear. You’ve had this thing growing in you for nine months and [if you are anything like me] you are ready to just get that baby out. You know intellectually that it will be difficult, but you’ve read the books and blogs, you’ve talked to other moms, you have done hard things before so you can do this, too. This was my mantra before baby arrived – I have survived life so far, millions of women have done this before me, so I can do this too. I asked advice of my mom friends – and got the advice of plenty of strangers. Many people asked, “Are you ready?” Umm, no I am not ready! Who is ever ready for a complete life change and being responsible for someone else’s life? But I was as prepared as I could be, or so I thought. Once the baby came I realized that there was a lot to motherhood that no one shares with you before the baby arrives. Maybe they don’t want to be a downer or they don’t want to scare this fresh new mom who is just excited to meet her child, but either way I wish someone would have shared more of these truths with me. I am realistic and straightforward. I know not everyone feels the way I do, but were all really difficult parts of motherhood for me.  I hope that talking about these realities will help someone else know they aren’t the only one feeling this way. Here are three things that no one tells you about motherhood:

Motherhood is Lonely

No matter how many of your friends are simultaneously having children at the same time as you, mom groups you join, or how much time your spouse gets off from work, motherhood is ultimately the loneliest I have ever felt.  You are stuck at home a lot figuring out how to be a mom, how to breastfeed, trying desperately to get a nap in while the baby sleeps. When your spouse is home you dump the baby off on them so you can do something normal – like shower because you seriously don’t remember the last time soap touched your body – and you don’t get to connect with them the way you used to. If you are breastfeeding, even social events can mean being by yourself so you can find a quiet spot to try and get your baby to settle into their normal nursing position.  You are the one that hears the cries at night (or those fake cries when they don’t really wake up, just make noise, but you wake up and then listen for 30 minutes to make sure they aren’t REALLY awake, and then once you are done listening and determine that they are still asleep, baby actually wakes up to eat, joj mene [pronounced yoy menna, something my Croatian grandma says when frustrated]) and you are typically the one to get up at 3am to feed your baby while your spouse blissfully sleeps. If all your friends are having kids it is helpful to know you aren’t the only one that is going through the emotions and the feels that come with being a new mom.  Mom groups can help bring people together, too, but here’s the common thread through all these events and isolation – no matter how many wonderful people are around you, no matter how many people volunteer to help, no one can lift the weight of responsibility from a mom’s shoulders. You are suddenly responsible for a human life, and not just protecting it, but also sustaining it. I think the weight of responsibility makes new moms feel lonely – at least this is what I realized I was feeling. I felt isolated because I knew no one could do this job but me. Even when you get a break, your baby is in the back of your mind… when will he need to eat next? Will she just cry the whole time? Should I pump now, or wait because he might need to eat as soon as I get back?  It’s never ending responsibility and it will continue for forever. So it’s okay if you feel lonely, but don’t go it alone. Share your feelings with your spouse, make sure you are plugged into a mom’s group or have friends that you can share your feelings with. Ask for help when you need it. But just know that none of these things will take away the feeling (sometimes the burden) of being a mom and that huge responsibility.

Motherhood is Tedious

Change diaper. Nurse. Burp. Hold baby. Put down for a nap. Repeat.

I hate changing diapers, it is probably my least favorite mom thing to do. Turns out babies – especially newborns – need diaper changes ALL. THE. TIME. It didn’t take long for me to realize that most of being a mom the first 8 weeks is just the same thing over and over again – lots of sitting and nursing and then getting up to change a diaper. And if you are lucky, you also get to change your shirt because the baby spit up on it… and then change their clothes because they leaked out of their diaper.

Being a manager of customer service representatives, I am used to being busy and thinking on my feet. I am used to problem solving and utilizing my skills and brain on a daily basis. Shifting to the mundane tasks of nursing and diaper changing was really difficult for me. I like routine, but I don’t like boredom. I like getting things done, crossing things off a list and I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything being a mom. I was just doing the same things over and over without actually moving forward. Eventually I was able to shift my thinking to make my “to do” list things that I could accomplish through the monotony of motherhood. I had things like: – nap, – snuggle baby, and – put clothes in dryer on my “to do” list. I literally made a list and then crossed things off. It gave me the sense of accomplishment through my daily responsibilities and made things that I used to see as time wasters meaningful to my day. It didn’t change the fact that these things were still tedious, but it was at least balanced with the feeling of accomplishment so I felt more positive and could stay motivated to keep going.

Motherhood is Exhausting

Okay, so people tell you this. They joke about not getting sleep and being tired, and it’s true – I have never been so tired as when we brought our first baby home. Those first 8 weeks were the worst, I was like a walking zombie. But the exhaustion of motherhood is more than just a few nights of little sleep. I am talking about complete physical, spiritual, and emotional exhaustion. Even if your little one sleeps, you are still pouring everything you have into this new human, or multiple little humans if if you have older children. More than just being sleepy – you have a child attached to you in one way or another all day long. You no longer get to be alone. Even if your child or children are napping you are on alert, waiting for one child to cry or need you in some way. I knew I would be tired and I figured I could deal with fatigue, but I didn’t realize what complete exhaustion was like. It extends into your other relationships. Even though I felt totally alone (See loneliness above) I was so tired that I couldn’t find the energy to connect with anyone. Also, I didn’t want to be touched – like at all. Bryan would be holding the baby and the dogs would want some attention and I just did NOT want to pet them. I had to remind myself to hug Bryan and hold his hand or sit next to him on the couch. I just didn’t want to be touched because I had another human attached to me all day long.

That is the best way I can explain the exhaustion of motherhood. I think that nothing else is quite like it. And on those days when you are feeling completely spent and useless because you are so exhausted, just know that it will pass. One night you will get 4 or 5 hours of sleep and you will feel like a new person! Or your new baby will FINALLY take a 2 hour nap ON HIS OWN and it will be amazing. Until those days come, it’s okay to feel completely exhausted.

I think the overarching theme of this post is that you can’t do it by yourself. I know single moms who have survived these early weeks and years of parenting and I am just so in awe of what they do. You need a tribe, you need support, you need community, you need help. So ask for it! Surround yourself with people who love and support you. If you live far away from family, find a community through church or another organization. Find a mom group so you have others that are dealing with the same things you are. Join a mom group on Facebook! It’s just another way to get connected.

Moms, what surprised you about parenthood? How did you survive those early days and weeks of motherhood?