by Megan Crosby
I thought that at this point in my motherhood journey, I would be sharing the “final chapter,” closing out my time of pregnancies and nursing. I began my mom journey eight years ago and now my “baby,” my youngest, is in many ways not a baby anymore, considering that she is potty trained and talks more than I can. But at two-and-a-half, she has zero desire to stop nursing, so I am hanging on to every last drop of baby than I can. While we are in that blissful nursing spot and my journey seems far from over, I am ready to tell my story. If I were still living in Delaware, I would have been at this year’s Climb Out of the Darkness event. Instead, I will tell you my story of climbing out, a story about a pair of bright pink headphones that changed it all and helped me find the mom inside of me above all the other noises.
Some of you know me, and know my story. This community has grown so much that many do not. In the past eight years, I’ve had four pregnancies and four live births. I have three children here on earth. My first three pregnancies were hard. Hard in an understatement. My babies were micro-preemies and my first son passed away shortly after birth. Taken together, I’ve endured the gamut of pregnancy and delivery hardships: 10 weeks of hospital bedrest, cerclage, weekly shots, vaso previa, emergency C-sections to save my life and baby’s, micro-preemies, NICU life, surgeries, loss, a funeral. For my sons who made it, breastfeeding brought new challenges: pumping (all the pumping–so much pumping), no supply, low weight gain, failure to thrive, fighting for every ounce, nursing 24/7 so baby would gain, chronic clogged ducts, mastitis, lecithin supplements, and tears. Lots of tears.
But in all three of these pregnancies and nursing relationships, God was so present and so real and it in certain ways, it wasn’t hard–even burying my firstborn. There were tears and grief, but God was there. I never had PMADs, never was “depressed.” Never was angry. I learned that I was strong, and when medical doctors gave us little to no hope, we had a big trust in God and He gave us two babies who defied the odds and lived. We just kept moving forward and trusting God and all I wanted was to be a mom and nurse my babies. It made me determined to fight for every ounce.
But then came pregnancy number four. I cried pretty much from the moment we found out we were pregnant again. That should have been my first signal. Every other pregnancy, we went into it knowing it would be hard. It wouldn’t be a fun nine months and I would have to fight physically and spiritually to get this baby here. But that was all I wanted with my first three pregnancies. With my fourth, I didn’t want to fight anymore. I didn’t want to do it. I cried frequently the entire pregnancy–almost daily. But I couldn’t tell anyone. I mean, I had three other kids and I loved being a mom, and I was so strong, clearly I could do it all one more time. But I wasn’t feeling that at all. Then at 20 weeks we found out the baby was a girl. And for a split second I thought, “Maybe I can do this.” Here was this daughter that I had always longed for after three sons. I knew I should have been overjoyed like my husband Matt was, but still at night I cried. The shots were too much this time. The surgery hurt this time. I wanted to be on the floor playing with the boys instead I was forced to wean Eli at age two because my body physically couldn’t do both. So I cried. He was ready, which made it way easier, but I cried. I never blamed my daughter. I blamed my body… again.
When I was eight months pregnant we learned we would be moving across the country to Missouri, alone. Moving was nothing new–we’ve done it two other times–but never with kids; not having to leave behind our first born, which tore me apart; not with a newborn, toddler, and preschooler. I learned that Matt would actually leave when I was ten days postpartum, leaving me to pack and clean and sell a house. At eight months pregnant, none of that sounded fun. And I cried.
Then my little girl came roaring into this world full term, in a side room at Christiana because labor happened so fast and we couldn’t even get to a room. Fast. Pain free. No tearing. Literally as perfect labor as you could get, especially considering my first three. The whole thing was two hours and 18 minutes from the start of the first contraction. It was December 23rd.
We had planned to name her Sarah Grace, but she came out and Sarah Joy was all that fit, instantly she became the joy that I didn’t even know I needed. She latched immediately. She nursed like a champ. She gained like a milkshake baby. She came out at five pounds, 15 ounces, tiny but fierce. She gained so fast. My husband left on January 7 to start his new job, leaving me with a newborn, a 2.5-year-old, and a 4.5-year-old to sell a house, pack up, and figure out life. It didn’t take long for the “crazy” to set in. Matt was gone, I was alone, we were moving. I was packing. The house had to be “perfect to sell.” Did I mention that I just had a baby and had two toddlers and was alone? Toddlers were crying. I was crying. The boys couldn’t help me but somehow I needed them to because I just couldn’t do it all. I was expecting a two- and four-year-old to fill the gap and help. Delaware itself wasn’t home, so there was no family to help. And I was just angry all the time. Not at Sarah. Oh, man, she was my joy. She was my everything. I just wanted to sit and nurse and be in my happy place with her. Everything that took me away from that brought on “the crazy”.
Here I was, lashing out at two literal miracles, babies themselves whom I had nearly given my life for in order just to get them here on this side of Heaven. I had buried a baby and knew life was fleeting. And yet if cup one spilled, or one time they refused to pick up their toys, or–Heaven forbid–they’d knock their sister or wake her up, I would fly off the handle. Like, full on lose it, full rage. In that moment I wanted to hurt them. I wouldn’t and I didn’t. But in my mind, my thoughts, I knew I was losing control. But this was my fourth pregnancy. Third baby. And she was nursing and gaining like a champ, she was so rolly, so why couldn’t I just get the rest of it together? Why couldn’t I mother my other two now?
Matt was gone and the shame would pile on; I didn’t want him to know that I had yelled at them again. And instantly the guilt would flow; I constantly feared that I was going to screw them up. “They are innocent. What is wrong with you?” I’d admonish myself. It wasn’t all the time, but when “the crazy” would come, it would come on fast and it was like an out-of-body experience; the rage would just burst. I kept thinking something must be wrong with me. I don’t have PPD. I’m not depressed. I very, very much love Sarah. “Too much, really,” I thought. I had convinced myself the only explanation was that I had always wanted a girl and now finally got her that I hated her brothers. Again the same boys that I spent nine months each fighting for. I knew logically that couldn’t be true, but when the rage would come my actions kept saying something else. I would see their tear stained faces after and just cry. Hold them and cry. Apologize and cry. I hated me. I hated the anger. But I sat in the darkness alone because of the shame and guilt. What would people say if they knew?
By the time the kids and I left Delaware, for certain reasons, we couldn’t get to Missouri to be with daddy for another four months and we spent time in limbo from place to place. Looking back, there was so much instability triggering my anger. At six months, we finally got back to Matt. Sarah didn’t know her father as much and was super attached to me, and I was to her. Anything that disrupted that sent me to “crazy town.” I walked into a house full of boxes, and clutter and garbage and cleaning that needed to be done. I was overwhelmed. I learned that was a trigger. Unpacking a family of five in a new state totally alone was not something I would recommend for anyone, let alone someone with undiagnosed PMADs. My husband felt helpless; everyone walked around on eggshells wondering if mommy would flip out. My 4.5-year-old said one day, “Mommy, I don’t like Missouri, because you yell a lot here” and I just cried and cried.
I tried to do all the right things. As the good Christian mom, I prayed more, read my Bible more, tried to step back and cool down. But this was different. I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t just pray my way out of it. I couldn’t read the Bible more to get out of it. That is when I knew something was wrong with me. Sarah was about nine months old when I first reached out to Katie from out of state, and she sent me Kasey’s blog. And for the first time I thought, “Oh, man, I could have written that.” I love these kids with every fiber of my being but this rage would take over that I couldn’t control or explain and then the guilt and shame that flooded after. Postpartum anger and anxiety–that was exactly what I had. Everything, the move, the house full of boxes, getting lost with the GPS and baby screaming, it all sent me to “crazy town.” One wrong question or look and there we were again, back in “crazy town.”
But here’s the thing: That was at nine months postpartum–close to a year. I bought every lie in the book: I can’t tell anyone because I’m new here and that will be the only impression they get of me and think I’m crazy. What if they hear me wrong and don’t really know me and who I really am and want to take my kids away. (Yes, I totally believed this one and I had never done anything like hit them, I just yelled like a crazy person). So, instead I hid and tried to be super mom on the outside, the good mom everyone wanted to see. But I wasn’t super mom; some days I wasn’t even a good mom. I looked like I was. But I was drowning and the darkness was closing in. Finally, after trying to take the keys to the car and the baby and leave and go back to Delaware and leave the boys with my husband, Matt stood in the doorway blocking me and I knew I needed to talk to someone.
Talking to someone changed everything. For the first time, someone convinced me I wasn’t “crazy.” It was a real hormonal issue and we would find a way out of the darkness and anger that was so far from who I really was and the mom I had always been. Step by step, we found ways to figure out my triggers and cope with them. But the battle always seemed to be bubbling under the surface. The guilt was still there. So we talked and we kept talking until I could come out of the darkness. I started to see that I hadn’t screwed my kids up for life. They were three and five. Nothing is set in stone at three and five. And we found ways to talk to them to explain to them that Mommy was getting help and would be okay. I learned ways to cope with normal preschooler behavior that before this would never have affected me, but now just sent me to crazy town. Their behavior was totally age appropriate; mine was not. Realizing I did have PMADs and needed treatment was hard, but good. Getting mom-time to step out and take a breather was good. But the battle still seemed to rage under the surface.
The big turning point for me didn’t come until Sarah was two years old, recently. For two years, I battled in the darkness, alone. Yes, I found someone to talk to, but most of my world didn’t know what was actually going on. I mean, how do you tell someone the anger inside toward your kids? That second year of her life I learned how to control it, but it was still a battle. I’d have good days, even good months but then all of a sudden something would happen and back down crazy town I’d go.
But a few months ago, I had gotten to my wit’s end with the battle. That was all I could put in my journal: “The battle rages on; two years later it’s still there waiting to explode.” It’s almost like it was mocking me: “You won’t ever be free.” I thought, I can’t fight it anymore. I don’t even know how to fight it because I am fighting me. It’s all too loud. The noises from people, the lies in my head, the shame, the guilt, people’s views, it’s drowning me and I don’t know how to fight. And that is when I heard in the depths of my spirit, not audibly, but inside the deepest part of the darkness, over all the chaos and crazy in my head: “Then sing louder than the noise.” There is a song called ‘Raise a Hallelujah’ that says, “I’m gonna sing, in the middle of the storm, louder and louder you’re gonna hear my praises roar. Up from the ashes, hope will arise.” So I just thought, that is what I’m going to do. All day. Drown out the crazy and the noise. Headphones. All day, everyday. I had one earpiece constantly on playing this song and a few others on repeat; I left one earpiece out so that I could do normal life and hear my kids. But I stood in the middle of my storm and decided to sing. Everytime I felt the rage bubble to the surface I’d slip on the other earpiece and turn the music up and sing. Louder and louder until the storm passed and I could think and function like a normal adult. It had to be headphones. It had to be in my ear directly into my head. Not background noise. Not on the ipad all day or the TV. Right into my ear. With this coping mechanism, I learned that it can’t rain forever. The rain eventually breaks and gives forth to light, and postpartum depression can’t stay forever. I was able to find my thing that broke through the darkness and gave way to the light. For me, it was worship, all the time, right into my ear. I couldn’t sing of God overcoming and fighting for me or of loving Jesus and at the same time be screaming at my children and flipping out. The two just couldn’t co-exist. Daily I’d have to have both ears on and loud frequently at first. But at some point, I don’t know when, I slowly needed the headphones less and less. The music drowned out the crazy. It covered the lies from the shame and guilt and fear. It quieted all the things running through my head so I could think clearly.
I still use them daily. Peace and calm seem to usher in even when I want to lash out. It stops the crazy in its track. And even now, when I feel it rising, two years later after it first set in, I just slip on the other ear so both are on and turn up the music. Now the kids know, mom just needs a moment when that happens before they can talk to me. It literally has changed everything. The darkness that was always lurking no longer can stay when I play the music all day.
At first I was super embarrassed to wear them. They were bright pink and big. I tried the small white earbud ones, but if I wanted them in all day, I couldn’t use those ones because they irritated me. So off I went into public with my big headphones on. Eventually, that was the piece that got me to release the shame that had covered me. You can’t walk around all day with bright big pink headphones on without the people in your circle asking what the heck was going on. At first, I would answer jokingly, “Oh, it’s just to drown out my kids being loud, haha” but eventually when I never took them off, people wanted to know, and then close friends started to see the difference in me. The peace and calm of Jesus that I hadn’t had in years was back. So slowly I started sharing more and more of why I really wore them, and what was actually changing. I finally started to share my story of how I climbed out of my own darkness with pink headphones. And in sharing my story over and over again, I saw two things: First, the shame and stigma of PMADs began to leave. And, two, God started using headphones in other moms’ lives.
For me, worship specifically was the thing that broke through, but if that isn’t your thing, find some headphones and whatever music will drown out, break through, and eventually quiet the “crazy” in your head. Or maybe it isn’t bright pink headphones; maybe it’s a book, or running, or talking with a specific person. Whatever it is, find it and hold on tight. I battled and clawed my way out alone for two years because I was so afraid of what people would think about the type of mom I was, or wonder what was wrong with me. Today I want you to know that you do not have to stay in the darkness alone. If there’s no one else you can tell, you can tell me. I’ve been there. I’ve walked through crazy town; I still walk through it sometimes. When I finally started to own my mental state and take control back, not only did I find pink headphones, but I found me again. Not the mom me. Not the wife. Not the one serving everybody everyday. Not the preschool teacher or even the friend. Simply me.
When I started to tell my story, I learned to own all aspects of my journey as a mom and a woman. The good. The bad. The great. The ugly. The parts no one talks about. The silly and the sad, because all of it has made me into me. And I like me. I’m done being the good mom that everyone wants to see. Instead I’m being the great mom who sometimes falters, but I don’t care who sees.
Two years later, my family is happy here in Missouri, I love all three of the babies I have here with me and I’ve finally climbed out of the darkness and rage. It will try to rear its head, but I just slip om my headphones and know who I am. I’m a mother to four amazing kids, I’ve conquered things most people don’t ever have to think about, and I’ve fought for these kids and will continue to fight for and love them with every ounce of my being. I’m not perfect, and I’ll have moments of crazy or impatience when the kids test every limit, but I’m a good mom. Some days, I’m even a great mom. And for the first time in two years I can say that confidently. So if you’re feeling pulled down by the darkness, there is hope, and you can climb out, but don’t do it alone. It’s hard. And it takes a long time. And don’t let the shame and guilt pile up. Moms aren’t meant to carry that burden. We have enough on our plates as it is. For me, Jesus alone can carry all of that so I can be free, and maybe that’s what will help you, too. Find the thing that helps pull you out and hold on tight, because my guess is someone is there willing to help bring you back to the surface. When we stay hidden we’re on our own and it’s hard.
You want to know the best part? My kids are now two, five, and almost seven, and guess what? If you ask about the move or how things were then, even the seven-year-old doesn’t remember. And what he does remember of it is much different than how I remember it. If you work your way out of the darkness, you won’t mess your kids up. They are resilient and they only know one thing: to love and forgive you. Trust me, I know. I uprooted mine across the nation alone while being crazy, and they love me and our family and being here and only have small memories of their life in Delaware. And for the first time in their lives, I’m watching them really thrive. So hang in there, Mama. You’re not alone! I’m not alone. I climb with you because I know what it is like to try to climb alone for too long.