Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis
My second baby, and second boy was born a week before Christmas. What should have been the most amazing time ever, to bring a baby home, quickly dissolved into a darker season, that would long outlast Advent. And Epiphany. And Easter.
I’d never struggled with depression before. Trying to cope with (then) two children, while holding it together became a huge effort, and because of my pride, I spent tremendous energy trying to pretend I was okay.
I remember talking to a friend on the phone, telling her I was fine, and then hanging up and crying like one of my babies. I did this often, for months. Looking back I realize how unfair this was to both myself and others. If I hadn’t felt such shame about not being okay, I could have perhaps felt better sooner. I just couldn’t bear to admit that I was struggling.
Thankfully, by late spring, the cloud over me had lifted. With the new life cropping up in the yard, I felt myself unfurling again, into something new, a mother of two boys, a more hopeful, thankful mother. All told, my hard season lasted just about 5 months. That seems short, but when you’re living each day in darkness, it feels like an eternity, with no end in sight.
In the end, for me, as for my friend Kimberlee, my faith is what held me together. God sustained me, when nothing else was enough. He always does, because He is the only thing we ultimately need. In Him, we find both rest and strength, in Him, we find the way of eternal life.
My friend, Kimberlee Conway Ireton, pulled back the curtain on her struggle with postpartum depression, in her latest book, Cracking-Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis. Kimberlee writes with an honesty that is both tender and humorous. Her story is a beautiful, authentic look at the hard days of wading through the thick cover of postpartum, and coming out on the other side, with hope and a fresh perspective of God in the hard times.
I asked Kimberlee a few questions about her book, and she generously shared the following with me:
Q: At what point in your spiritual revival did you realize that you needed/wanted to share the story of your journey through this wild season?
A: From almost the moment I found out—at 20 weeks—that my unexpected third pregnancy was, well, twins, I knew that I would write about it someday. What I didn’t know is that I would be writing about a whole lot more than the crazy bodily changes of being pregnant with not one but two human beings.
I didn’t know that I’d be writing about postpartum depression and loss of faith and the way my sense of humor went AWOL after several months of not getting enough sleep. I didn’t know I’d be living a horror story. In fact, in the midst of that story, I wasn’t sure I was going to live through it. At one point, I’d almost rather not have.
But I survived, and on the other side of that darkness, I knew again that I would write about it.
I just didn’t know it would be so soon.
In May of last year, when the twins weren’t yet two, I was standing in church with my brothers and sisters, all these people, some whose faces I recognized, some whose faces I didn’t. And we were–are–all in the same boat, this crazy ship of life, and the morning sun streamed down on us through the tall side windows of the church, and we were singing our hearts out, and I was…happy. I remember that. So happy.
Then, in a rush that seemed to fill my whole body, I felt two words. Wait, you say, it’s not possible to feel words. You may be right. But I didn’t hear those words. I felt them. They washed over me:
And that’s when I knew I’d received my marching orders. It was time to tell this particular story.
Q: Was the process of writing this memoir difficult? (referring to having to re-visit these places emotionally in your memory)
A: For nine months I wrote the story of that year of my life, the hilarity and the heartbreak, the grace and the grief of it.
It is not possible that I could have written so much or so well in so short a time. Trust me on this. Not. Possible.
And yet—I did.
Even while I was writing through last fall and winter, I sensed an almost physical well-being. I felt like I was being carried, like I was riding a wave that rose from God-alone-knows-where to lift me and carry me further than I could go alone.
So the short answer is no. No, it wasn’t difficult. It was mostly a matter of showing up and doing the work. God carried me. And as for delving back into the darkness? That was actually healing, to go back to those scary places and see that I wasn’t alone after all, see how much grace was upholding me.
Q: Have you gained even more insight into the experience you had in your faith since finishing the book?
A: A friend and I were talking after church last week. She had just finished my book and she said thanked me for articulating the reality of darkness that she’s experienced. She said, “When I get to those dark places where faith seems pointless, I can only shrug and say, ‘Where would I go, Lord? You alone have the words of life.'” And I told her I wished I could have stolen that line for my book, because that’s exactly what I knew, instinctively, even though I couldn’t have articulated it till she did.
When faith seems to flee, when God seems absent, where else can we go? Only to the foot of the cross, because Jesus has the words of life, and He knows suffering through and through. He bore it all, bears it with us even now. He has the words of life. He *is* the Word of Life.
Q: Writing a book is a tremendous effort for anyone, let alone homeschooling mothers of four children (ahem)What was the process of writing the book like while mothering 4 children and still trying to maintain some semblance of schedule and peace in the home?
A: Ahem. Well, I wrote on Saturdays. My husband watched our four kids, and I went to a cafe and wrote for eight or nine hours. As for school, let’s just say that certain subjects (like science and English grammar) didn’t happen last year. We took two years to get through medieval history. We took nature walks (that’s science, right?). My son did copywork on his own and dictation on the phone with my mom (that’s grammar!). So I guess we did cover all the subjects, after all. Whew. Here I was feeling like a slacker.
Seriously, our homeschool is disorganized at the best of times. And homeschool moms for some reason think they have to do it all (I wouldn’t know anything about that, of course)–educate our children for Oxford at 16 and cook from scratch with vegetables we’ve grown ourselves and keep our houses clean and tidy and perfectly organized and share pictures of our perfectly clean and tidy houses on Pinterest and run businesses from our home on the side. And that’s with one hand tied behind our backs! Just think what we could do with two! It’s ridiculous. I say that to myself as well as anyone else. We are not superwomen, however hard we try.
Something has to give. My yard, for instance, looks like a jungle, much to the annoyance of my next-door neighbor whose yard is almost Stepford in its perfection. My floors never get mopped, unless I find a mouse or a mole that my cats have dragged in, in which case I remove said varmint and then dump a bunch of alcohol on the floor and wipe it down with paper towels. That’s as close to mopping as I get. Also, we don’t watch TV. We don’t even own a TV. So that gives me several hours a day that most people in this country don’t have. And just for the record, I don’t grow my own vegetables; I buy them at the store. My jungle yard couldn’t support a garden; the blackberries and ivy would choke it. Besides, who has time?
Also just for the record: most days school for us consists of morning devotions, reading aloud for about two hours with a couple narrations thrown in to make sure they’re listening, and a math worksheet. Other days, my oldest and I do Latin (we have a class most Thursdays, which provides good incentive for actually doing the work during the week). So homeschool, for us anyway, isn’t as all-consuming as it sounds. Largely because I would go crazy if we had a six- or seven-hour school day. No thanks.
Q: Are you working on any new projects you want to tell us about?
A: The only project I am working on right now is trying to get the word out about this book. It’s slow work because I don’t enjoy it. If writing the book was like flying–and it was–this part is like squelching and squerching (and tripping and falling on my face) in a mud flat. I’m not sure why I find it so difficult. Perhaps it’s the fear of people thinking I’m boasting or self-absorbed. Or the fear that I actually *am* boasting or self-absorbed. Or the possibility of rejection, of people saying nah, I’d rather not read it or review it and by the way would you just never contact me again because I find you incredibly annoying. All those junior high slights that I thought I was totally over seem to be rearing their ugly heads and looming large in my memory these days.
I keep telling myself I am never doing this again. I’m just going to cut my losses and be done with the whole writing life. Trouble is, writing is how I see life, how I live life. So then I say well, I’m never going to publish a book again, never going to be in a place where I have to market my work. Trouble is, writing is only half the story. Readers make the other half. It’s quite a conundrum :}
I have several ideas for actual writing projects that I’d like to work on–one involves children’s books, but that’s all I’m going to say–but I have promised myself I will get through the list of marketing items in my launch journal before I pursue those. Or I will get as far as I can before I leave for our trip to California for Christmas, whichever comes first. At the rate I’m going, I think Cali will come first
Cracking Up is available on Amazon and at Barnes And Noble, as well as other retailers. If you’ve struggled through postpartum, or know someone who has, consider this book as a love offering, a hand held out, and an arm around the shoulder. Don’t wait. Grab a copy today.
Kimberlee Conway Ireton is the author of Circle Of Seasons: Meeting God in The Church Year. She lives in Seattle with her husband, four kids, two cats, and sometimes mice. She writes at Kimberlee Conway Ireton.com and is a contributor at Deeper Church and Tweetspeak poetry.