This is my beautiful daughter, Lily.
She was born on September 2, 2016, on her due date. She’s very punctual, like her mama. I’m planning on writing about her birth story in another blog, but this one is going to be about something a little bit different, and it’s definitely not something that I usually write about.
After Lily was born, and we’d moved as a family into our recovery room, I look at Josh and asked, “How do you feel?” I asked him this because I knew I what I was feeling, or rather, I knew what I wasn’t feeling. I wasn’t feeling an overwhelming sense of love toward Lily. I didn’t feel like her birth had changed me in an irrevocable way. In fact, I still felt very much like myself, and I didn’t really feel much of anything toward her. To my surprise, Josh said more or less the same thing, but he wasn’t worried about it. I was.
Finally, the time came for us to leave the hospital and bring her home. She looked so, unbelievably tiny in her carseat, and I sat in the back seat with her on the way home. Always, in the back of my mind, was the worry that I hadn’t immediately bonded with her. That there was something wrong with me. We got home and our families came over and joined us for the evening. I liked it that way. On that day, though, I pulled my mom into Lily’s room and told her, tearfully, how I didn’t feel bonded to Lily, and I sort of felt like she was a stranger, or an alien. She looked at much with such understanding, and she told me that it was so normal and not to worry about it. That sometimes, often really, bonding takes months and it’s a slow process. She reminded me that having a child is just like having any other relationship, you get to know each other. You learn each other and as you do that, a bond will grow. I also reminded myself of the research that says that proximity nurtures closeness. The more time I spent with Lily, the more bonded I would feel to her.
I felt better for the evening, but as time went on I began to get more and more distressed about bonding with her. I began to fear that I would never bond with her; that she would be 8 years old and still feel like a stranger to me. I sought the counsel of my dad, who also assured me that it was so normal to feel this way. He told me not to worry about it so much and that he was 100% sure that I would bond with her. Just as I was beginning to get a grip on this, something else happened. Something horrible.
I was sitting on the couch with her, and Josh was sitting on the loveseat. We were watching The Office. I looked down at Lily, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a horribly graphic image popped into my head. An image of me hurting my daughter. This image caused me immediate panic. “What was that?” I thought to myself. But instead of being able to shake it off and move on, I fixated on it. And the more I fixated, the worse and more frequent they got. It didn’t take long for me to call my dad up again and tell him what was going on.
Again, he told me that this is often a normal part of the postpartum experience. The clinical term of these images is “intrusive thoughts” and a lot of new moms get them. He told me over and over again that thoughts are not actions, and that just because these random, uninvited thoughts were popping into my head in no way indicated that I would actually act on them. But, I was terrified that I would. In the days that followed I continued to have these intrusive thoughts with very little reprieve. I talked to my dad, sometimes twice a day. I would call him in a complete and overwhelming panic because I was so afraid that I was dangerous toward Lily. I was convinced that having these thoughts meant that I was bad and that I was capable of harming Lily. It got so bad that I felt that I had no choice but to check myself into a facility. I felt so dangerous. I was terrified.
It was when I expressed this fear to my dad that he suggested I call my Papa. I thought, of course I need to call Papa. My Papa has a true gift for counseling and healing. He has the ability to sift through all of the fluff and see right to the heart of a problem. It is probably because of this gift that Josh and I are married (I had the same level of freak out when we got engaged, but that’s another story for another time). For the first time in weeks I felt a little bit of hope, that even if Papa couldn’t fix it he could at least help. I tried so hard not to get my hopes up, but I was so desperate for relief from this literal hell.
So he came over. He sat across from me with his lunch and asked me to tell him what was going on. I told him about the issues with bonding, but that it wasn’t worrying me so much as this other thing. And I told him about the intrusive thoughts. I cried as I described these images to him and I expressed my terror. He just nodded.
He looked at me for a second and then said, so matter-of-factly, “Saron, this is a spiritual attack.” I sort of sighed. Those who know me are probably aware that I’m not super spiritual. I certainly profess Christianity and I claim Christ, but as far as the more mystical aspect of the faith, it’s never really been my thing. It’s not that I didn’t believe in it…it’s just that I was very skeptical. But when Papa said that, I was sort of just like, “well, maybe it is. I don’t know. I’m going to be open to whatever he has to say.” I was so desperate for whatever was happening to me to end that I was willing to try just about anything.
He went on to tell me that he believes the enemy speaks in thoughts and whispers. He told me that those thoughts weren’t mine, but I was being convinced that they were. I was being told that I was capable of doing something so terrible, and it was feeding this vicious cycle of images and whispers. He told me the first thing he wanted to do was use his authority as a Christian and child of God to bind Satan against the situation. Again, my initial inclination was skepticism, but I’d told myself I was going to be open, so I was. As Papa prayed, something in his voice told me that he really did have authority over Satan, and perhaps he really was bound.
After doing this, Papa said that he thought the way we needed to combat these intrusive thoughts was to ask God to give me an image of what is true. He said he was going to pray for God to show me something, and when He did, he told me he wanted me to tell him what it was. I fully expected to see nothing. I have asked God before to give me an image, or to speak to me, or just to give me something, and it has never happened. I’d sort of accepted that God just didn’t speak to me like that. But even though I really didn’t think anything would happen, I tried. I made myself be open to something if it was going to happen.
And then God gave me an image.
It was so simple. It was just me and Lily, and I was cradling her in my arms. It was so peaceful, and there was no fear or anxiety in me. I was just her mother and we were happy. I was completely overwhelmed. Papa asked me to tell him what I saw and I struggled through the tears. I was so overcome with the peace that accompanied that image and for the first time since Lily was born I felt something other than fear. But Papa, and God, weren’t done.
Papa asked me to close my eyes again, and this time he wanted me to tell him where Jesus was in this image. Immediately, I saw Him. He was sitting right behind me, looking over my shoulder at Lily. His hand was on my shoulder. And guys, I think it really was. I think Jesus really was there with me and Lily.
Even through such a visceral and unbelievable experience, when Papa asked me how I felt, I told him I still felt fear. I felt scared that this peace was temporary, and that the darkness I’d been living in for two weeks would return. Again, he nodded.
He asked me to close my eyes again and visualize myself standing before Jesus. He asked me to hand my heart to Jesus, and then to tell him what happened. So, that’s what I did, with much less hesitancy than before. The heart that I handed to Jesus had a large, writhing black stain on it. Looking back at it now, I think this was the stain of fear. I have an anxiety disorder and that hasn’t gone away, but the root of anxiety is fear. A lot of my life is dictated by some level of fear about something or another. So when Jesus handed my heart back to me, it was no longer stained. It looked healthy. In my mind it was an anatomical heart, and it looked pink and strong. And as soon as that happened, I was once again overwhelmed because I felt confident at that point that the darkness wouldn’t return. That I was going to go back to that place again.
Papa asked me if Jesus was saying anything to me. I paused, and tried to listen. I won’t say I heard an audible voice, because that’s not what happened. It was more like, I just knew what He was saying. It was like a feeling…but with words. Jesus said to me, “I will never leave you.” It was so overwhelming to hear that because I had felt somewhat abandoned by God through this experience. I felt so alone and so hopeless. But I know now that my feelings are not really trustworthy indicators of what is true, because Jesus never left me through all of that, and even when I felt alone He was fighting for me.
Papa knew then, probably before I did, that I had been released. He told me that even though this was a turning point, I would have to maintain it. I have to hold onto the images and the words that God gave me and fixate on that as truth, and use it to combat any future attacks that may come. Papa also left me with this verse, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18.
So that was my experience. And I’m sharing it here for a lot of reasons. I think the most important of those reasons is that I really want people to know that there is a lot more to the postpartum experience than is usually talked about. Did you know that postpartum anxiety is actually more common than postpartum depression? And there’s another disorder called postpartum OCD, which is what I thought I had. New mothers are literally bombarded with intrusive thoughts about hurting their children and they don’t know why. I’ve been very open about what I’m going through from the beginning, and I’ve pretty much told anyone who asks. And what I’ve noticed that with pretty much every mother I’ve talked to, they’ve said that they also had trouble with bonding, or having negative thoughts about their children, or having intrusive thoughts, or even all of those things, and they never told anyone. They suffered through all of those terrible feelings and thoughts alone, often without even telling their husbands what was happening because they were scared.
So I’m writing about the feelings and thoughts I experienced because I really want people to know that it’s okay, and even though my journey to healing looked a little bit unconventional, there are so many resources out there for moms dealing with postpartum stuff.
This is postpartum support international: 1.800.944.4773
And this is my number: 706-680-1964.
I’m certainly not a licensed professional and I’m still dealing with all of the things that come with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but I’ve come out more or less on the other side of a pretty crappy postpartum experience and if you just need someone to be a sounding board I’m so happy to lend an ear.