A friend of mine recently told me about a dinner she was at where a very-pregnant woman’s husband proclaimed to the group that baby blues “were not real”; that this post-partum myth was just an excuse for hysterical women to have an an outlet for their pre-existing madness. Mind you, this post is not going to be a retaliatory barrage against this man, because I am sure he loves his pregnant wife very much and may go on to become an incredible father; but honestly, her story made my heart ache a little.
Has it really been 123 years since “The Yellow Wallpaper” was published and we are still debating whether the baby blues and PPD are legitimate experiences? I think we tiptoe around this issue, talking about it only in whispers with those we trust, because we are afraid that if we ‘plead guilty’ to the baby blues that we will be seen as bad mothers, or worse, mothers who don’t love their babies.
My second baby is now four months old; my first is the rambunctious age of two. I am desperately in love with them. I soak up every hug and cuddle they give me like air, I will do anything to make them laugh; their giggles sound like life to me. I love the smell of them, the feel of their warm, wiggly bodies nuzzling up to me for attention. Their bright eyes inspire me; their little routines make me laugh. Seeing my two year old dance and fall in love with books makes me feel like I’ve won the lottery, and the way baby smiles at me after nursing makes me feel like I am falling in love every single time. If they were sick, I would do anything, try anything to make them better. There is no question in my mind that if something threatened their lives I would throw down my own first if it would save theirs.
So how is it possible, in the midst of all this life-beauty, that so often my first waking thought is: “I can’t do this”?
Photo Credit: Bree Vasquez
This is something I’ve been wrestling with for almost three years now. I am tired, all of the time. In the midst of my two year old’s public tantrums, my head screams “YOU ARE FAILING.” Many days I wake up empty, ready to sell all I have for another hour of sleep before I have to put feet to the floor. I have to choke back small floods of bitterness that catch me by surprise when my Instagram feed is filled with aqua-hued travel snapshots, foamy lattes in quiet coffee shops, and pictures of fashionable bodies whose hips are un-stretched by ten pound baby boys. The lies on repeat in my head many days are: “This is too much, it’s too hard, you don’t have what they need, what they deserve,” alternating with, “This isn’t enough. I am not stimulated enough. Whatever talents I had before becoming a mom are wasting away, and I am missing so much.“
Tired mommas, what you’re feeling is not a myth. The throbbings and achings and anxieties of your heart are not a myth. It is possible to love your babies with an unfathomably deep love and also feel like it will never be enough to make you happy or sustain you. It wasn’t meant to.
You see, speaking from my own experience, I don’t think the mommas that struggle with baby blues or PPD lack love for their babies. I know too many incredible mommas who pour, pour, pour their lives into their babies everyday, who give everything they have to make sure they don’t lack for an ounce of affection. I also don’t want to dismiss the biological aspect of this when I have known many women who have found genuine relief in pharmaceuticals, but I think it is reductive to say that the way we all feel can be fixed by tweaking dopamine levels, case closed. I think it is possible, mommas, that perhaps we feel this way not because we don’t love our babies, but because we are loving them too much.
Photo Credit: Bree Vasquez
Maybe we are aching inside because all this baby-love has subtly caused us to stake too much of our identity into their lives, into their being. The staking of our identities in others is always a dangerous game. If I stake my identity in my husband, what is left when he leaves on deployment? When he dies? And if I stake my identity in my kids, they will fail me. I can’t ever love them enough to solve all of their problems, and loving them won’t solve mine. In fact, loving them so much that I stake my identity in them will actually hurt them if I am not careful, because one day (I hope) they will grow up and make their own families their priorities, and I hope they will be able to stand on their own to lead them. If I have staked my heart in my children first and foremost, I too will find myself adrift when they become the leaders of their own.
This isn’t something I have all figured out, but in the last 2.5 years of motherhood I have learned more about my soul than all the other 23 years that came before them. God has used my babies to confront me with the many dark, hidden places of my heart that he wants to transform with his love. When my temper flares the 5th time they wake me with their inconvenient and incessant needs, I hear God reminding me that I am called to put myself last (Phil. 2:3). When they throw a fit in public that I can’t control and I catch the dark, judging looks of others, I feel the conviction of knowing I have cared more what other people (who I don’t even know!) think than the God that sees and loves my heart (1 Samuel 16:7). When I feel exhausted from a long day with the babies and whine about it, feeling entitled to a vacation, I am reminded that God was entitled to everything, yet he humbled himself to a human level and died a humiliating death to save me, the ungrateful momma who is crying in the shower because her hard day made her long for a beach somewhere (Phil. 2:5-8).
Photo Credit: Bree Vasquez
Am I saying God doesn’t want us to love our babies? Absolutely not, I think he delights in every act of love we offer them, and I think the very love we feel for them is modeled after the Father’s heart for us. Do I think God wants us to love our babies most of all and stake our identity in them? I know He does not.
God has been trying to bring this to my attention in a lot of different ways the last two years, most recently through the book Anything by Jennie Allen. In it she writes,
When we don’t love or feel joy or peace or passion, it’s because we do not know [God’s] love or his joy or peace or passion. He is a person, not a magic pill you take when your life or your soul is broken. He is a person. He is a person you talk to and listen to and love and respect. He’s someone you decide to spend time with and dream with, whom you follow and learn from and hurt with, and to whom you ask things-someone you choose over anybody else, over anything else. He is a person- the person who defines my life, sweeps in and changes me. When I let him in.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to stake my identity in a person, I want it to be Him. It may even be more dangerous than staking my life in my children because God always wants to take us to another level of love with him that often stretches us, levels that require some growing pains to reach; but ultimately He can promise one thing that my children cannot: He will not fail me (Deut. 31:8). And that makes all the difference in the world.
“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” C. S. LEWIS