the truth behind a smile.

Recently, this POST has been all over my Facebook and I knew I had to comment on it. Please go and read that post and watch the news clip, and then meet me back here. My prayers are with Allison's family, especially her sweet baby girl and husband as they grieve over awful loss. 

The American Psychological Association states that 1-in-7 women will experience postpartum depression after having a baby. When a healthy new baby is brought into the world, there's so much smiling going on. I remember all too well smiling for the camera and pretending like I finally had more joy in my life than I ever thought imaginable. Sadly, for myself and for so many other new moms the smiles do not tell the whole story. Off camera, something else is going on.

There's nothing in life to prepare a new mom for the amount of change she will face once baby arrives. There are the ever-fluctuating hormones, there's breastfeeding, the exhaustion that comes from sleepless nights, physical pain recovering from birthing a child, and the fact that you now have a little human to keep alive. For many moms, this leads to postpartum depression; something not to be taken lightly.

Allison, this new mom, suffered from postpartum depression and she sadly lost her life to it. On the outside though, she seemed to be doing just fine. Her friends and family even repetitively asked her if she was doing okay. This could lead someone to think, Well, what else is there to do in order to find out if someone is silently suffering alone?? How do you know the truth behind that white smile? Although I don't have a clear answer for it, I do know what helped me. 

Each day brings it's own set of challenges and like the wind you never know which way it will blow. There were some days where I desperately needed someone to talk to and then other days when I just needed time alone without a care in the world. What I appreciated the most is when my family and friends checked in specifically with me and not just on my baby.

Questions that can help are simple:

"How are you healing?" 

"Do you need to get out of the house while I stay here with the baby?"

"What time of the day is the most difficult for you?"

"Want to get out of the house and come over?"

"Hey, it's okay if you aren't feeling yourself yet. Do you want to talk about it?"

Allison in one of her emails to her family said she did not know how to explain the emotional pain she was experiencing and this is something that really resonated with me. I clearly recall sitting outside on the curb trying to find reasons why I could not experience any joy and nothing would come to mind. I simply did not feel myself. As an extrovert, the hardest thing for me was feeling trapped. I felt guilty telling people that I did not want to spend all day cleaning up and nursing my baby and instead wanted some socialization and freedom from it all. Any mom who deals with postpartum depression will experience it in different ways. Some like to talk about it (like I needed to), some keep it in, some are ashamed, some do not know they are experiencing it. 

If you are going to be a new mom or if you know someone who is having a baby soon, please learn to know the signs. Know that it is okay and common to experience postpartum depression and that there is help available. Some may need medical help or just some medicine, others social help, etc. Whatever the remedy, this is not something that needs to be gone through alone. It was not until I voiced and cried my heart out to my mom that I realized what I was suffering from PPD and that a lot of other women around me were going through something similar. The smiles in our newborn photo shoots, my happy Facebook posts, and happy demeanor did not tell the whole story. I cannot speak for Allison and do not know the severity of what she went through, but if there is a way we can make postpartum a more talked about topic then maybe we can help more women walk together in this. No one should have to be alone. We are not alone.

Did you or does someone you know suffer from postpartum depression? Did you experience PPD with any of your other children? What helped you the most to talk about what you were going through? What was the most unhelpful?

 Smiling in this picture but silently suffering. Ironically, the picture below with me holding Max I am not smiling but was filled with nothing but joy.

Smiling in this picture but silently suffering. Ironically, the picture below with me holding Max I am not smiling but was filled with nothing but joy.

the emptiness of miscarriage pt 2

Guest Post by: Sarah Moulson

I believe that those who have struggled with infertility or miscarriage understand the miracle of pregnancy in a unique way. During the two years that Steve and I tried and tried again to get pregnant, I frequently remarked, “When you consider all the systems that have to work perfectly and precisely for a child to be conceived, it’s incredible that anyone ever gets pregnant!” (And it’s amazing how often it happens by accident!) After suffering a miscarriage with our second pregnancy, I was once again astounded, but this time in a different way. As I learned more about miscarriage, I was floored by the statistics. It’s estimated that as many as 75% of all fertilized eggs never result in the birth of a child. For a variety of reasons, about 3 out of 4 embryos fail to implant in the uterus and miscarriage occurs, appearing to be just a normal period and most likely without the woman even being aware of what has happened. Once a pregnancy is confirmed, there is a 15-20% chance of miscarriage. (See Making Sense of Miscarriage Statistics for more information.)

I have seen these statistics lived out in my own circle of family and friends. I have watched two of my three brothers walk this hard road with their wives. All five of my closest married friends who participated in my wedding have gone through it, some of them more than once. Several years ago I was attending a gathering of fellow seminary wives and somehow the conversation turned to pregnancy loss. Of the ten women in the room, half had lost a baby, and I was aware of a handful more not in attendance that evening. I don’t say this to scare those who are currently expecting or who may become pregnant in the future. However, the reality is that at some point in your life, either you or someone you care about will probably become part of these statistics.

Statistics are cold and impersonal numbers on a page, but miscarriage is real and heartbreaking and raw and awful. Just like with childbirth, each person’s experience is similar and yet unique. I can only speak from my own experience. Below are some things that I have learned as I stumbled along this unexpected road.

A miscarriage is a death. Treat it as such.

A miscarriage is not simply a clump of cells leaving your body. It is the death of your child. We lost our baby between Weeks Six and Seven of the pregnancy. When people would ask me how far along I had been, I frequently found myself responding, “Only six weeks,” as if it wasn’t really a big deal because it was so early in the pregnancy. I eventually realized that I needed to honor my child and drop the “only.” One of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes comes from Horton Hears a Who – “A person’s a person, no matter how small!” At that stage of development my child was the size of a lentil. But within that miraculous, tiny body, he or she had a beating heart that stopped beating. The little nose, mouth, and ears that I longed to kiss were beginning to form. I was carrying a unique person made in the image of God.

Understanding that miscarriage is a death, and often a physically grueling process, if someone you know experiences one, treat it like you would any other death or serious illness. Send flowers or a note of sympathy. Take them a meal. Care for older children so that the couple can rest and grieve. Pray for and with them. Be gentle and thoughtful with your words. Sit and cry with them. Allow them to vent. Give them space if they want it. Respect their unique grieving process. Be present.

One extra thought on the topic of caring for those who are grieving – Don’t forget about the dad. Just like with a pregnancy, the mom is often the center of attention following a miscarriage. But there’s a dad who is also mourning the loss of a child. As the protector of his family it can be horrible for a man to see his wife in physical and emotional pain, knowing that there is nothing he can do to stop her suffering or to save the life of his child. He may not feel the physical agony of the miscarriage but that doesn’t mean his heart isn’t breaking.

Grief is very personal and unique to each person. It is messy and tricky and perplexing.

Everyone grieves in a different way, and there’s no instruction manual about the “right” way to do it. It is such a messy, confusing process. I wanted people to comfort me, and I wanted to be left alone. I wanted to sit in my sadness, and I wanted to move on. Sometimes I felt guilty that I wasn’t feeling sad enough, and other times I felt guilty that I was so overwhelmingly sad. I didn’t cry at times I expected to and I burst into tears when I least expected it.

The ways in which people move forward and pull out of their grief are also very personal. Some name the child. Some don’t. Some never get pregnant again. Some are expecting the very next month. Some speak freely about their loss. Some hold it quiet and close to their heart.

Grief requires patience. I had to be patient with myself, acknowledging the various emotions as they arose and riding out whatever wave happened to crash over my head at that particular moment. I had to be patient with my husband, and he with me, as we chose to lean into each other during the hard times rather than allowing them to drive us apart. I had to be patient with those who tried to be comforting but who weren’t, just as they had to be patient with me when I tried to be gracious but wasn’t. Finally, I just had to be patient and trust that while time may not fully heal all wounds, it does cause them to eventually not hurt quite so much.

It’s normal to question why it happened and whether you may have caused it, but don’t hang out in that place for too long.

The baby that I lost was unplanned. In the weeks following the loss, I questioned why God would give us the joyous surprise of this child only to turn around and take it away a few weeks later. I also wondered if I had unintentionally done something to cause it. Was it because I was still nursing our older daughter? Did I lift something that was too heavy or eat something I shouldn’t have? Asking questions like these is normal, but you probably won’t ever get answers. I’m three years past it, and I still have no idea why it happened. What I do know is that it has caused me to grow in compassion. It gave me a new set of eyes; as I look around at others I know that everyone has invisible scars weighing them down and influencing their attitudes and actions. It has helped me to bravely comfort others when I previously would have run away from their pain. It has shown me aspects of God’s character in a new light. It forged a deeper bond between my husband and me. It made me appreciate the children I do have even more. It grew me as a person. The event itself wasn’t good, but the things it has done in me are.

It can help to have an outward reminder of the child to honor his/her life.

Miscarriage generally doesn’t leave any external marks, but it is a significant event worthy of remembrance. Our family has an annual tradition of giving each member a special Christmas ornament that in some way commemorates an event from the previous year. The Christmas following the miscarriage, we had a special ornament made in honor of our baby. Each year I tear up as I remove it from its box and hang it in a prominent spot on the tree. It’s our small way of remembering someone who we wish was there celebrating with us. I know of friends who have displayed paintings or planted flowers. When my brother gave his wife a necklace containing the birthstones of their children, he included one for the child they lost. It can be big or small, constantly present or occasionally pulled out, but having some sort of tangible reminder of a seemingly invisible person can be a valuable source of comfort. (A side note -- Do remember that everyone is unique. For some people having a visible reminder of the loss can be a source of great pain. I’m like a broken record here, but there is no right way to grieve so do what brings you the most comfort.)

Miscarriage impacts future pregnancies.

Eight months after the miscarriage, God surprised us (and my doctors!) with another pregnancy. As much as I tried to fight it, the early months of that pregnancy were tainted by fear. Where I had only previously known joy at the news that I was carrying a child, I now found it difficult to rejoice fully. I begged God on a daily basis to help this little one hang on and grow, all the while not fully allowing my heart to hope or grow too attached. I held my breath every time I used the restroom, fearful of what I might discover. I closed my eyes and fought back tears the first time my doctor searched for that tiny heartbeat. It is so hard to not allow a miscarriage to rob future pregnancies of their joy. I now pray for this specifically when a friend who has lost a child announces that she is expecting again.  

God is good. All the time.

After all the tears had been shed and all the questions had been asked, this is what I was left with. God was good the day before my miscarriage. He was just as good the day after. He never left His throne or turned His back on me. I will never claim to understand His ways, but I also don’t doubt His love.

the emptiness of miscarriage pt 1

Guest post by: Sarah Moulson

“When you’re pregnant, you’re so full. And then, suddenly, you’re so...” Here she paused, trying to choke out the word, “…empty.”

As I sat listening to my precious sister-in-law sob out her pain, my own tears fell freely, having felt that same heartbreak a year prior. Pregnancy is a uniquely beautiful time of fullness, brimming over with excitement, anticipation, joy, and life. But when a pregnancy is cut short, it can leave one feeling gutted and raw.

We lost our second child to miscarriage. After struggling to conceive for two years, God had gifted us our beautiful daughter, Iris, sixteen months prior. When I discovered that I was pregnant the second time around, it was a complete surprise. I thought, “So this is how it happens for ‘normal’ people. No fertility drugs. No doctors. No meticulously marked calendars or precisely timed sex. You just wake up one morning to the happy discovery that you’ve made a baby.” For two-and-a-half-weeks, my husband and I delighted in this blissful surprise. And then one Saturday morning, I walked out of the bathroom and shattered our joy.

“Steve, I’m bleeding.”

The next two days were a blur of phone calls, tears, pain, and pleading prayers. Eventually we were forced to accept that I had lost the baby. As that reality set in, a dark cloud of grief encompassed our home. At times Steve and I cried together, and at times we cried alone.

One night I couldn’t sleep so I crept downstairs and sat on the couch. I didn’t turn on any lights. I just sat in the quiet and the darkness and cried like I’ve never cried before. As I wept, a strange thought came to me. I had heard stories of people who self-harmed through cutting, burning, scratching, or other equally painful actions. I had never been able to understand what would drive a person to do something like that. The causes are complex, but one reason suddenly became clear to me – the desire to express a deep internal pain in an external way. I wasn’t going to harm myself, but I pondered how it could be that I was experiencing the deepest emotional pain I had ever felt, and yet I had nothing to show for it. Unlike other tragedies that can befall a person, miscarriage doesn’t leave behind any external markers. I had no cast or stitches or bandages. There would be no discolored or gnarled scars. In fact, if I didn’t tell people what had happened, they would have no way of knowing simply by looking at me. I longed to sit on our front stoop in sackcloth and ashes, screaming to the world, “I’m in pain here!”

Genesis 3 tells of the punishment that God placed upon Eve, and all women through her, because of her disobedience. “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” When reading that verse, it’s natural to instantly think of the physical pain of childbirth, but I believe that the pain of motherhood is so much larger than that momentary discomfort. Infertility. Miscarriage. Stillbirth. Birth defects. Chronic or terminal illnesses. Death of a child. Failed adoptions. Regretted abortions. Post-partum depression. Divorce. Abuse. Suicide. Unrepentant children. War. Famine. Persecution. There are so many ways that women feel pain in connection to their children, and most of them leave no external wounds. Whether they are the results of one’s own sin, the sins of others, or simply the general fallen-ness that permeates all of creation, they cause us all to collectively cry out, “This isn’t how it was supposed to be!”

And that is one of the most profound truths of this life. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. When God created this world it was full of glory and light and life. But when sin entered, every facet of our existence was tainted by pain and darkness and death.  Whatever sharp edge of this broken world has left you feeling pierced through, whatever invisible scars you carry within you, know this – there is One who emptied Himself of His glory, who walked perfectly among us in this painful, heartbreaking world, who willingly poured Himself out to the point of death, and who lives now so that you can one day experience life as it was supposed to be. For eternity. Your current pain is not the end of the story. The story ends in a place where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) At this moment you may parched and empty but cling to the truth that“from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)

My tears subsided that night in my darkened living room as the Holy Spirit spoke truth and comfort to my heart. Where I feel emptiness, Christ gives me His fullness. Where I feel pain and sorrow, Christ applies the soothing balm of His grace and love. The journey of moving on after the miscarriage was not neat and tidy, but after that night, whenever the waves of grief threatened to knock me down, I knew without a doubt that my suffering wasn’t invisible. There is One who sees each of my tears even if no one else does. And not only does He see, He understands, having shed tears of His own. And not only does He understand, He is powerful enough to conquer it all and make it right.