Finding the courage to cope.
by Kathryn Cox
Love him, my mind demanded. Tears dripped from my chin, wetting a pale blue nightgown I still wore late afternoon. The stubbornness of my heart forced me to accept the unthinkable: I don’t feel anything; I can’t love him. Through swollen eyes, I gazed into the face of my newborn son.
Gently I traced my finger over the blond fuzz of his eyebrows and continued to the tip of his right ear. Just above the ear lobe I felt a tiny bump. A true Cox, just like his dad. He was healthy, strong, and mine. Why, then, did I feel like handing him off to my husband and locking myself in our bathroom indefinitely?
I flopped into the living room recliner with an intentional thud, as if the impact might knock my senses back to normal. Overwhelming guilt dumped invisible weights on my chest. I am a child of God! My family will be shocked. I wonder if they’ll question my faith. As I closed my eyes, a sudden heaviness of fatigue robbed every last hope I had in myself. You shouldn’t have had a child, I chided.
My pregnancy would have made any new mother jealous. No morning sickness, no complications, no extreme fatigue. I was healthy, fit, and brimming with naive confidence. The joy on my husband’s face was priceless when the nurse confirmed, “It’s a boy!” only minutes into our second ultrasound.
With Bibles in tow, we began the painstaking, sacred task of choosing a name. “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” became a favorite song to hum as I pondered the upcoming challenges of motherhood. Every night we read snippets about Joshua’s daily growth and life inside the womb. Trips to the baby store became as frequent as grocery runs. In my daily journal I penned page after page of praises to God and love letters to my unborn son. Never in my life had I been so happy. That’s why the woman I’d become postpartum was physically and spiritually unrecognizable.
Now, embarrassed and mentally drained, I relied heavily on others. Except during dreadfully painful nursing periods, my husband became Joshua’s primary caregiver in hopes that my secluded retreats into our bedroom would offer renewed strength. Friends and family called often with words of encouragement and always assured me I was in their prayers. Some friends urged, “Call your doctor now and get some anti-depressants. You can’t keep suffering like this. It hurts your baby!”
As soon as I became comfortable with that solution, another well-meaning friend strongly warned against drug therapy and promised I’d “snap out of it” soon enough. The vast mix of suggestions, solutions, and advice only brought about extra headaches and further confusion. Despite the constant deluge of support, I felt no different. Days turned into weeks, and I began to wonder if I’d ever bond with my baby.
Dealing with defeat
Defeat became routine as daily diaper changes. No matter how often or fervently I prayed, Joshua’s cries aroused only a mechanical response. I ached for something, anything to sink its teeth into my depression and shake the life out of it.
One especially difficult afternoon, a dear friend from my college days called. She confided that after the birth of her child, her doctor prescribed an anti-depressant for her. The heaviness of my guilt lessened. My friend, a strong Christian and loving mother, was normal. It was OK to see a doctor if my mood didn’t improve. I tucked this thought of hope away in my heart.
My niece Emily knew all too well the shock of becoming a first-time mom. Her son, Matthew, arrived only three weeks before Joshua’s birth. Life was splendid during our pregnancies. Many a lazy summer afternoon we spent in her backyard pool sipping peach tea and admiring our latest pedicures. Our husbands always enjoyed a chuckle or two as we struggled to heave our large bellies onto adjacent rafts.
As the cool water eased the tension in my joints, I’d close my eyes and drift off into a perfect future with neatly folded baby blankets, a clean kitchen, and gourmet home-cooked meals every night. The happiness I felt during those days of tranquility was buried deep inside lost memories.
Emily called me every day. Her constant vigilance lovingly pressed me to endure. “It’s never easy in the beginning. You’ll get through this,” she promised.
By the end of December, over two months into my introduction of motherhood, the frigid air outside rivaled the chill of my spirit. Thoroughly exhausted, I sighed in relief at the sight of my baby finally nodding off to sleep. Immediately I cleared a path between burp rags and squeaky toys to my bed and drifted off into a deep, coma-like sleep.
Twenty-seven minutes later, Joshua’s piercing cry jolted me to the bone. I snapped up from underneath the piles of covers. Still blurred from the sudden strain to reality, my eyes struggled to focus on my nearby alarm clock. How can he sleep only thirty minutes?
My clock had no chance; batteries and parts tumbled to the floor as I slammed it into my bed stand. I didn’t want to move. Why can’t he take a decent nap? I hate this! I just need some sleep!
Joshua finally settled down after I grudgingly picked him up from his bouncy seat. The phone rang. Oh please, let it be Jeremy telling me he’ll be home early. When the caller ID flashed Emily’s name, I forced myself to answer the phone.
As we talked, she kindly listened to my routine list of gripes and complaints. I could sense she was becoming a bit flustered herself. It was now months later, and I was no stronger. I felt so hopeless.
Push of praise
After a few seconds of silence, Emily suggested I needed a new focus. “Try filling your mind with praises to God anytime you feel down. Thank God for anything and everything — even the tiniest things. Praise Him even if you don’t feel like it . . . especially when you don’t feel like it.”
That night I lay awake in bed wishing I were a thousand miles away. My mind replayed every harsh word I had uttered to my innocent child that morning. I’ve failed so many times. Might as well fail again.
I looked around my bedroom, and with as much emotion as a rock, I began to thank Him. My subconscious barked out praises in full military fashion. Thank You God for Joshua. Thank You God for my husband. Thank You God for our home. Thank You God for my clothes. Thank You God for the food in the refrigerator.
I continued, coldly thanking Him for everything I laid my eyes on and anything I could think of. Thank You God for my guitar. Thank You God for my bathroom. Thank You God for my rocking chair. Thank You God for the sun. Thank You God for our roof. Thank You God for my warm bed.
I paused. Something inside me began to soften. Images from a recent news story flashed in my mind of emaciated infants crying at their mother’s breast in Darfur, Sudan. Thank You God for clean drinking water. Thank You God that we live in a free country. I kept going. Thank You God for my Bible, car, cell phone, computer, glasses, clock, fan. . . .
The glow from our neighbor’s back porch light peeked through our curtains just enough to highlight vivid colors in a framed pastel drawing my mother had done a few years ago. The purple shades in the trees caught my eye. Thank You God for the color purple. At that midnight moment, empty, angry, lifeless words exploded into genuine heartfelt thanks. If I could honestly rejoice in God’s creation of a simple rainbow color, I could find abundant joy in the birth of my child.
At precisely 4:30 a.m., the cries crackling from the baby monitor told me it was time for Joshua’s early-morning bottle. Although my body ached and longed for the warm refuge of blankets, I knew today would be different. I was determined to continue the string of thankful words I began last night. Throughout the day, praises filled every crack of my conscious thought; there was no room for feelings of despair. If darkness attacked, praises began.
Rich colors from Joshua’s new toys danced before my eyes. The fog I had groped about in for months finally lifted. I cradled Joshua snugly in my arms and stared into his deep, blue eyes. Finally the love I so desperately wanted to feel rushed to embrace us both. Thank You God for my son. I love him so much!
Two years have now passed, and I continue to reap immeasurable benefit from simple thankfulness to God. My son is older now, yet the challenges of motherhood never lessen; they only change with age.
When the tantrums seem unbearable, I try to thank God my child is healthy. If the house is a mess, I thank God we have a safe place to live. If dinner is macaroni and cheese again for the third night in a row, I thank God we have food to eat. And yes, sometimes I remember to thank Him for the flowers — especially the purple ones.
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