Smelling newborn hair. First baths. Tiny tongues and fingers and toes. Theses are the things that we see in the movies about newborns. No one tells you about the misery of sleep deprivation and the INSANE tears and sweat and all the things that come from all the places that you didn’t even know about until your own DNA is birthed from your body. Immediately, you are more than just a caregiver, you are now a human refrigerator, professional crevice cleaner and master multi-tasker. And there is no owner’s manual. You get a crash course with on the job training from a human incapable of caring for themselves. Glamorous, huh?
For me there was another side of motherhood that I knew very little about. Sure, I knew that new moms could be moody, but this was more. I had everything you could ever want in a beautiful baby, great husband, super job and all the while the ground under my feet began to break apart. I began to have these fits of intense anger. I wasn’t sleeping, which is not all that uncommon for new moms, but this was more. I spent energy worrying and working in the night on things that didn’t matter at all.
The more I worried, the more I tried to fight it, which only caused a cycle of perceived failure. I could not will myself out of this. I was convinced that this was all because I sucked at being a mom. This little one did not deserve this. I knew she would be better off without me. And the deep dark hole of lost swallowed me up like hot lava. I could not outrun it and it was burning me from the inside out.
What I didn’t understand at the time was that hormones are wicked powerful. Combine that with a brain chemistry and DNA that is predisposed to mental health issues and you have a recipe for postpartum disaster. We lived less that 10 miles from the neighborhood where Andrea Yates drowned her 5 kids in a fit of postpartum psychosis in 2001. That was my only reference point for postpartum anything. I knew that I did not want to harm my baby, so I falsely assumed that this was not what was wrong with me.
Without the knowledge of what was really going on and without the ability to ask for help, things had spiraled completely out of control. One afternoon, I was headed east on NASA Rd 1 approaching the bridge. My thoughts were jumbled. Nothing in my brain was connecting. I was physically present, but I wasn’t there. My best thinking told me that everyone in my life would be better if I drove my car off the bridge. At the moment I made the decision to do just that, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw her.
Actually, I could not see her face. I could see her car seat. She was almost 9 months old. She was precious. Her smile and laugh were a gift to so many people. My mind told me that I was failing her. I was fully convinced that her very capable grandparents and daddy would do a better job of raising her than I could ever do. But her presence in that car kept both of us alive that day.
I was dying. No one knew it. I was finishing a busy summer as a youth pastor. I had gone on mission trips, to camps and to youth week and Astroworld trips. I taught Bible studies and led worship. If you were to look at an album of pictures from that summer, you would see a smiling happy Lacy. I was a master of the cover up. I was a self-sufficient machine that had powered though pregnancy and childbirth. I returned to work after 4 weeks, baby in tow and launched back into all that full-time ministry to students requires.
We were on a trip with my family when Lucas saw just how bad things had become. I woke from a fitful sleep and FREAKED OUT. That’s a very technical term for a panic attack. He had never seen me like this. He literally held me against the bed. All I could think was I am broken and I didn’t think I was repairable.
Let me pause for a moment for my life PSA: There is nothing more co-creating in God’s plan for redemption than modern medicine. Please don’t ever buy the lie that somehow faith alone is the only path to mental health. Depression and anxiety and phobias and countless other diagnoses are MEDICAL conditions and require medical help. What that involves is best left to your doctor, therapist and your heart to discern, but there is nothing that gets me more furious than a religious teaching that includes spiritual guilt about seeking medical help.
We came home from our trip and I called one of the only therapist that I knew. He patiently sat with me and talked me through these lies and many others that I had perpetuated in my mind. He got me in to a doctor and a psychiatrist. After many attempts, we found medication that helped me see small cracks in the fog. It took many months before I could see daylight. Many days, I could only see the darkness of failure and worthlessness and fear. That’s what isolation and shame do to you. And there is nothing that can pile on both of these like the great magnifier of all things unhealthy, the Church.