the following is an excerpt from Messy Bun Mantras
In the early fall of 2017, I read the book In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. It tells the true account of the tragedy of the Essex, an ill-fated whaleship that was attacked and sunk by a whale. It is the story that prompted Herman Melville to pen Moby Dick.
After the men gathered meager supplies and navigational equipment, they reluctantly turned their eyes from the sinking vessel and headed into open water, into the unknown. They were stranded for ninety-three days at sea and suffered through starvation, cannibalism, and another whale attack – seriously, what are the odds? Eight men survived out of twenty-one. It was an unbelievable tale.
When I finished reading, I immediately made Jake rent the 2015 movie and watch it with me. I felt a strange need to honor their story. Reading the book wasn’t enough. I needed to witness their trials and emotions in a way only a movie can manipulate. The tale of the Essex might begin with a whale, but the story itself is about survival. It’s about moral right or wrong and what a man might do to live just one day more. The sailors were surrounded by miles of open water, subject to the winds and the currents and their fading strength. Hope was a mirage, but they had nothing else to cling to.
In September 2017, I was one month away from giving birth to my second son. Workplace tensions, continuing education studies, and pregnancy-related health issues were drowning me in stress. I was so done with it all. One afternoon I experienced my most severe anxiety attack to date. I honestly don’t remember what triggered the attack. I do remember standing in the living room, panicking because it felt like my heart was beating too fast. I started to black-out, which is alarming enough by itself, but I was home alone. The thoughts spiraled. Would fainting hurt the baby? What if I fell? What if my son, asleep in his crib upstairs, woke up for some reason and tried to climb out? What if he hurt himself and I couldn’t get to him because I was unconscious? I sank onto our couch and started hyperventilating. Would hyperventilating affect the baby? I cried, which seemed to amplify everything else. I closed my eyes and prayed, willing the fainting sensation to go away. I felt life closing in around me much like the sea upon a tiny whaling vessel. I simply couldn’t catch my breath.
It took a phone call to Jake and quite some time for my heart rate and breathing to return to normal. I ate a sandwich, read a chapter of a book, and worked through some prenatal yoga. Much later I realized, perhaps for the first time in my life, that maybe I did too much. Maybe I couldn’t do it all. Maybe, like the Essex, I was doomed to sink. There were so many whales. My boat pulled this way and that, subject to the currents and the wind. When I tried to right the course, I found that I wasn’t in control.
But God was.
So I chose to sit in my boat and wave at the whales and cling to God’s promises: He is faithful and true. He will never abandon me. I can cast my cares on Him, for He cares for me. I can run to Him, for He is a mighty fortress, a strong tower (Proverbs 18:10).
I don’t believe I’m meant to be in that boat Alone.
Some seasons are more difficult than others. Some seasons by nature (say, I don’t know, a global pandemic) make it hard to live in a community, but that doesn’t make it any less important.
With the arrival of my second son came the challenge of finding the new normal. How do we juggle two kids under two? How do we make sure that our firstborn receives the attention he requires while tending to the needs of a newborn? How do we get out of the house?
One day at a time.
Post-partum was an adjustment period. I held onto the hope that I would outgrow this difficult phase. Eventually I’d find a sweet spot where flow and function were once again words in my vocabulary, but I’m going to be upfront: it was hard. I put my dreams and ambitions on hold for a time and it scared me that they might be on hold indefinitely. I have two speeds: slow and lazy, or hustle and bustle. In the months after childbirth, my body healed and my family molded itself together slowly and lazily, and that was okay. But it contradicted the all-hustle attitude of my mind and my heart. I felt compelled to tackle projects, jump into group life, and pursue any and all creative passions. I wanted to run full speed ahead and get to the part where things had figured themselves out.
Do you know what would have made this time a little easier? Community. Post-partum depression is real. Some of the people in your life right now who are the most embarrassed to ask for help are new moms. I know because I was one of them. I was afraid to ask for help because I falsely believed that I had to do it all. It was my responsibility. I was the parent at home, so it was my job to be the woman-mom-cook-housekeeper I thought I was supposed to be. Who expected this of me? No one I knew, but it didn’t matter. For some reason I was in full-blown supermom mode and it was one of the loneliest places I’ve ever been.
I want to reach back in time and slap myself. Just ask for help you weirdo. Admit that you can’t handle it all, no one will think less of you!
But I believed the lie of self-empowerment. I believed that I could handle it on my own. All I had to do was put on my big girl pants and get stuff done. I journaled to myself in this season to “get over it” and “deal with it.” I read that now and think, wow, 2017 me, you were mean.
Don’t be mean to yourself. You deserve better.
So I am beseeching – yes, beseeching – you to invade the privacy of your girlfriend who just gave birth, regardless of whether it’s her first or her fourth baby. Be her brain, because she currently doesn’t have one. Invite yourself over and be Jesus to her. Don’t wait for her to invite you because it’ll never happen. Do her laundry. Wash her dishes. Heat up that church lasagna someone from the congregation brought over. If she doesn’t have a lasagna, bring one. Rock her baby so she can get more than five minutes of sleep. Set up camp in her basement because even if she acts like she doesn’t want you there, it’s the hormones. She secretly wants you to never, ever leave.
If you are the one in the middle of this post-partum slump, you better read the crap out of this next sentence: you are Not Alone. You do not have to do this Alone. You know that village that everyone talks about that will raise your child? Find it. You need it even if you think you don’t. Don’t be the only whaler in the boat. You are not embarrassing. You are not shameful. You need to shower, so let someone come over and take care of things while you ugly-cry in the bathroom because it’s just too darn much and you’re so freaking tired.
If you don’t have someone you can trust to step into the boat with you, find someone. It’s up to you to create your community. You can’t be a part of something bigger without being a part of something.
You got this.