pregnancy

Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: For Antidepressants, and for Quitting Them

Are you as excited as I am for another Thankful Thursday? These posts always touch and inspire me and I love being able to share them with you. Today’s post is especially close to my heart because today’s writer is close to my heart. Laura and her husband Josh have been our closest friends during our two years in Korea. We had the great privilege of walking with them through Laura’s entire pregnancy, the birth of their first child, and the next year of transition into parenthood. This story touched me  because I was around to witness a lot of it, but also because I too have struggled with anxiety and depression and while I’ve never experienced the hormonal havoc of childbirth, I know what it is to have your mind and body betray you in frightening ways. I’m so thankful for Laura and her family and also for God’s work in her life through a very difficult and scary time.

For Antidepressants, and for Quitting Them

It was just shy of a year ago, as the clock struck one on a humid August night in Korea, that I birthed our beautiful daughter. My mom stood at one shoulder and my husband at the other and the doctor and nurses at my feet, all urging me to push as hard as I could after 24 hours of back labor had left me exhausted and whimpering.

Laura and Gen

Laura with one month old Genevieve

Then she was here, and she was perfect. I spent the next two weeks in a tired-but-wired state of attentiveness, Mom still on one side and Josh on the other, tirelessly supporting me in those early days of nursing and changing and cuddling and kissing this miracle, as I struggled to sleep when she slept and only managed about three hours out of every 24. Other than this, I felt like everything was going really well.

Until one morning a cloud descended. The adrenaline had run out, it seemed, and the rest of my hormones were going haywire in its absence. A few extra hours of blessed sleep did finally come, but it wasn’t enough. Something was wrong and it wasn’t just exhaustion. I had postpartum depression.

Except for how suddenly I crashed, it really wasn’t much of a shock. Throughout my teens and early 20s, I lived with low-grade anxiety, a constant tension in my tummy that I didn’t realize wasn’t normal till my chill-as-one-can-be husband came along and showed me how to relax. Then we moved to Korea to teach English, and the stress of doing a new job in a new country—and trying to do it perfectly—brought that anxiety back with a vengeance. This time depression came with it.

I limped through that year with copious amounts of pizza and beer and ice cream and TV (I know, I know), as well as a lot of prayer and care from Josh and friends and family. I did learn how to be a more effective EFL teacher and how to stop trying to be a perfect one, so things got better. But the lingering fatigue left me aching to go back home to Kansas, and we did, and it was good.

Fast forward three years to the August of our daughter’s birth, and we’d been back in Korea for almost a year. This time only Josh was teaching, and I was finishing up a low-stress pregnancy as a stay-at-home-mom-to-be, in a culture and with friends I was able to fully enjoy this time around. Some nausea and heartburn notwithstanding, I felt really good and right on track for an all-natural, “ideal” delivery and postpartum experience.

Maybe it was the intense back labor that kicked my body into high gear and kept it that way for those first two weeks postpartum until I crashed. Maybe I just didn’t prioritize sleep enough in those early days. Maybe I didn’t procure exactly the right nutrients to replenish my body and help my hormones rebalance themselves. Maybe I wasn’t getting enough sunshine and fresh air in our cave-like studio apartment at the end of a hot and rainy Korean summer. Maybe I was under spiritual attack in which evil voices whispered to me to toss my baby out our third-floor window so it would all just be over. Maybe it was some of all of these, or maybe I’m just wired for anxiety and depression, and there was nothing I could have done to prevent my curling into a ball day and night, my only real activities to nurse lying on my side and to choke down as much food as I could stand while my mom, husband and dad (who had since joined us) did all the diaper-changing, shopping, cooking, cleaning and loving on me and our sweet Genevieve.

Whatever the reason, it became obvious after two more weeks that fighting the PPD with food and sunshine and prayer just wasn’t cutting it (and the Lord knows we really tried). So on a rainy Wednesday morning my support group packed up me and our 4-week-old, and we all got on the bus to a mental hospital to ask for some antidepressants.

From here on out it is clear that I’m one of the lucky ones. Within days of starting a low dose of an SSRI that (please God, let it be true) seems to have done no harm to my nursling or me, my depression had eased and I was beginning to see the light. When Josh had to go back to work and my mom had extended her stay as long as she possibly could, my mother-in-law flew the thousands of miles to help us through the next few weeks, by the end of which even the anxiety had lifted and I was feeling downright happy. Our family of three started finding a “new normal” that involved leaving the house regularly, nursing in public on occasion and handling with relative serenity the caring, if nosy, advice of all the Korean grandmothers who treated us as their own.

The little white pills had pretty single-handedly brought me back to our world. So it was with intense gratitude (though certainly not always a perfect attitude) that I soaked up the next six months of motherhood while faithfully taking my meds each morning. And then spring came, and it was with cautious hope that I wondered if I might be able to wean myself off of them.

See, in addition to being a secretly anxious person most of my life, I have also been a not-so-secretly sensitive gal emotionally. I cry pretty dang easily, and while this is not always fun for those closest to me, my sensitivity and its related empathy feel like an important part of who I am.

But once on the antidepressant, I got to where I wasn’t crying ever, at all. And while no one else was complaining for sure, I missed being able to tear up during a touching movie scene or even break down a bit when something felt wrong in my world. So with the continued support of Josh and our loved ones both near and far, I decided to start cutting my dosage and see what happened.

Three months and just a few headaches and anxiety spells later, I am “drug free” and again one of the fortunate ones. It seems that my body just needed more time for the nutrition, sleep, sunshine, exercise, laughter, love and who-knows-what-else to help my hormones get back as they were meant to be, at least for now.

As an idealist, I wanted so badly to use only these “all-natural” gifts from God to bring about my healing (or even prevent illness in the first place), and it is possible I just didn’t figure out or follow through early enough with what could have allowed me to avoid the side effects and risks of manmade meds full of synthetic chemicals. But depression wasn’t waiting for me to fix things naturally, and I see the drugs as a stopgap measure, a less-than-sterile piece of cloth used as a tourniquet because you’d bleed to death waiting for a clean one to get on the scene.

I also see the hand of God behind this less-than-ideal means of grace. Even as I celebrate the fact that I don’t seem to need antidepressants anymore, I firmly believe that our Lord, who works in all the things of this broken world for good, can use even imperfect little white pills to fight the darkness and bring light.

And for that I am so very thankful.

Sweet Rhoades FamilyLaura Rhoades is wife to Josh, mom to Genevieve and photographer to women. Before moving back home in August to her hometown of Wichita, Kansas, she’ll be spending her final weeks in Korea singing karaoke, soaking and scrubbing at the sauna and scarfing down as much mul naengmyeon and bingsu as possible. You can find her online at www.laurarhoades.com.

Laura Rhoades is wife to Josh, mom to Genevieve and photographer to women. Before moving back home in August to her hometown of Wichita, Kansas, she’ll be spending her final weeks in Korea singing karaoke, soaking and scrubbing at the sauna and scarfing down as much mul naengmyeon and bingsu as possible. 

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Does It Have to Be Public to be Real? Social Media And Authentic Community

Recently Jill Duggar brought down public speculation when she announced her pregnancy a mere two months after her wedding to Derick Dillard . She defended the purity of her relationship and their decision to announce their pregnancy at only eight weeks, saying, “Understanding that the majority of miscarriages happen within the first trimester, and believing that every life is precious no matter how young, we decided to share our joyful news as soon as we could.” Pro-life conservatives raved.

Jill Duggar

Photo credit: jezebel.com

Reading this story brought up two issues for me. First, her defense of her early announcement (and conservative reactions to it) implies that the reason others might choose to wait to make a public announcement of a pregnancy is because they don’t value the life of the child until they are past the stage where miscarriage most commonly occurs. For most people, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many people choose not to publicly announce a pregnancy early on because they greatly value that life and having to share the grief of losing that life so publicly if something were to happen would be unbearably painful.

My other problem is something I touched on in my last blog post. I am uncomfortable with the implication that unless something is public knowledge, it isn’t being celebrated – at least not properly. Pro-life conservatives applaud Jill for making a statement about the value of human life from the moment of conception, but my question is why does all of America have to know about it for it to be valued?

In our technology-dependent world I wonder if we’ve come to rely too heavily on the response of others for affirmation of our own emotions and experiences. Many of us act like nothing we think or feel is valid unless someone else says it too or at very least acknowledges and affirms what we’ve said. I’m not saying this from a lofty place of judgment. I am a blogger. I want people to read what I write and validate me too. It’s because I see this in myself that I want to bring attention to it.

I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to share news on social media – to celebrate important moments in our lives or to seek encouragement in times of struggle. I just want to push back against the attitude I see subtly taking hold at times – even in myself- that real celebration can only happen in the public sphere.

I think there is something important about sharing God’s work with the people in our lives. I just don’t think that has to take the form of a public announcement. There are many benefits to social media and I don’t think it’s bad or wrong to participate in. The problem comes when we make social media a false substitute for authentic community. We deceive ourselves into thinking these people on Facebook and Twitter are our community, when, largely they are people who really haven’t earned the right to access our intimate thoughts and feelings. (And whom we haven’t earned the right to demand that they care about our intimate thoughts and feelings).

After reading my last post, the friend I wrote about in it sent me these thoughts. I had already written this post before she sent this and I loved how she put a lot of what I have been trying to say:

“Here’s the story: I’m not a super thoughtful, loving person. In fact, the main reason I did what I did was to avoid being a terrible hypocrite. After trying for a few months to get pregnant, we were told in December I have PCOS, a hormonal condition that makes it very difficult to get pregnant along with a host of other discouraging symptoms. Miraculously, we got pregnant that same month, only to lose the baby in February. Meanwhile, all our friends announced pregnancy or popped out kids. I was consumed by grief, but even more by envy. I unfriended or unfollowed people who I previously counted as good friends. And at least publicly, I suffered silently. 

So after countless doctor’s visits and fertility treatments when I finally got pregnant again and we managed to make it to the 12 week mark, how could I plaster my Facebook page with indiscriminate joy? I imagined myself reading my own page and crying herself to sleep every night, feeling that she’ll never be a mother. I couldn’t do that in good conscience, considering the miracle God had given me with this second baby.

My experience made me realize that Facebook is not a good place to share either joy or grief with other Christians. I don’t think the verses about mourning and rejoicing together refers to social media, I think it refers to real live relationships with other Christians. I poured out my grief and my joy in heaps on my closest Christian friends in all sorts of life situations, and all of them mourned and rejoiced with me. But Facebook is too contrived, too easy to manufacture. Not only that, but I never mourned on Facebook. I never announced my miscarriage. I never let social media see the reality of my suffering. So it feels very imbalanced, and very contrived, to ask Facebook to rejoice with me. Besides, only my friends and family who walked with me through my grief can fully celebrate with me in my joy. In just that handful of people I’ve received more than enough validation; I just don’t need any more from social media. 

Because really, are we looking for rejoicing and mourning with other Christians on a deep level when we post a status? Or are we just looking for the superficial validation of popularity represented by a number of likes?

I made an Instagram account solely for the purpose of sharing pregnancy updates for those who DO want to rejoice with me in that way. Also I send my mom, my sister in law, and a few of my best friends pictures of me in maternity clothes, weird craving updates, and ultrasound pictures nearly every other day. Even people who weren’t suffering would unfriend me out of annoyance if I thought it was appropriate to put all that on Facebook.  so not posting all that to Facebook doesn’t not equal not going crazy with joy in a community, mine is just a select community of those who don’t mind and understand the crazy.

I think [the problem] comes from this expectation to treat Facebook like a community, when really it’s more like a bulletin board. I’m sharing my pregnancy joy with my community, but not on Facebook, because the two are not synonymous. We should not feel shame about sharing either joy or sorrow with a community we trust, but Facebook is not a community. For people in our generation, sometimes it can be difficult to understand the difference.”

I thought her words expressed what I was feeling beautifully. I’m continuing to work through the question of how to balance rejoicing and mourning with others with sensitivity and compassion. I am finding that in my life that also means asking the question of who truly is my community and what role  the internet and social media should play as I seek to live out that question with authenticity.

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*As a disclaimer – I have nothing against Jill Duggar Dillard and I certainly think she and her husband are entitled to their own decision about what information to share and when. I really don’t have an opinion on whether she should or should not have announced her pregnancy so early. I don’t think it’s anyone’s business. My beef was purely with the responses I saw to her reasons.  I also think as someone who spent a lot of time in the public eye while growing up, Jill’s perspective on public and private information is probably different than many people’s.