On Feelings and Faith… and a Mother’s Courage to Love when it Hurts

I’m pregnant with my third child–so it might surprise you to learn that I don’t like babies…

I mean, I LOVE my children. They have been great sources of joy for me.

But I hate having newborns.

In fact, if I let myself brood too long, I get to the point of downright dreading it…

—-

After struggling with anxiety/insomnia and horrible depression with the births of my older children, I’ve come to associate newborns with intense suffering.

I become a completely different, fear-wracked person during the Postpartum phase–one who spends hours and hours in the middle of dark nights trying to remind myself the racing heart and panic are only temporary, and I’ll get better when my hormones level out.

It’s hard to enjoy the tiny bundle in the cradle next to you when you’re silently warring with your own mind and body.

Since I’ve described the symptoms of my anxiety attacks (and debilitating sleep-deprivation) many times before, I’ll spare those details. (You can read some of the things I wrote in the middle of war here and here.) Suffice it to say, I’ve never gone through another crisis or trial as bad as the ones immediately after my kids were born, and the thought of facing it again terrifies me.

Yet, here I am doing it again.  And it wasn’t an accident.

Some may wonder whether I really suffered as bad as I claimed. And, if I did, what would possess me to go through it all again?

It’s a fair question.

But, it’s a really complicated situation when your greatest physical suffering also results in your biggest spiritual blessing.

What price would you pay to give life to another person?…

—–

Women with Hyperemesis Gravaridum (extreme nausea and vomiting during pregnancy) also suffer unimaginably just to bring their children into the world. So, lately, I’ve been reading everything I can about that condition.

I feel a connection with warrior mothers like this:

Without the proper care, by four months into the pregnancy, I had lost 14 percent of my total body weight. I couldn’t eat or drink. I had liver dysfunction and jaundice. Starved and dehydrated, I began to have visual and auditory hallucinations.

Ultimately, I couldn’t work, walk, hold a conversation, read, watch TV, sit up, or do anything but lie still. Otherwise, I would vomit. There were no nausea-free periods, and life was a living nightmare.

HG Moms have a physical condition that quickly turns mental and emotional, and I understand that completely.   They describe a type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, even after their symptoms go away, and all of them say the thought of tackling it again fills them with dread.

When someone says, “I never, ever want to suffer that much again. I’ll do anything to avoid it!” then my ears perk up. Because that’s exactly how I feel about postpartum anxiety attacks and sleep deprivation.  The loneliness, the way you feel like you’re dying, the way time crawls and you believe you’re going crazy and you can’t take another minute and it will never end…  I understand all of that.

Which is why I’m completely inspired by women with the courage to still go ahead and do it again. 

Today, I read this blog post: Hyperemesis Gravaridum and Being Open to [More] Children.

“[When I’m pregnant] I throw up 10-20 times per day between weeks 5 and 16… The nausea takes its toll on my throat and teeth (i.e. very expensive dental bills), but much more than that, on my emotional well being. When it’s all over, I suffer from what could probably be categorized as post-traumatic stress disorder: disbelief at what I’ve just been through, relief that it’s over, and fear that it might ever happen again. It takes a good while to get over it – I still feel somewhat shook up from my most recent bout of HG…

So why in the world would any sane person knowingly go through something so unpleasant? At the risk of sounding cliche – because it’s all worth it. As I sit and hold my baby, smell her little head, brush across her downy hair with my lips, I slowly heal and forget about the misery that being pregnant caused. I would be willing to pay a much higher price than that to have her. Like most any parent, if I had to, I would gladly give my life for her….

Wow.

Just wow.

To have that kind of self-sacrifice.

God, give me the strength to cling to this kind of faith:

Faith is seeing the invisible, and knowing that something is true even though we have no physical evidence of it. … It takes faith to put up with months and months of misery and physical illness in hopes of getting something wonderful in return almost a year later.

Faith.

Not trusting your emotions now, but believing you’ll see a reward eventually.

In the case of Postpartum Anxiety, the mother’s reward doesn’t come the day she sees her newborn child the first time. While birth marks the payoff for a woman who has been vomiting for 9 months, it’s just the beginning of the struggle for someone with depression/anxiety. 

I’ll confess, I don’t feel instant affection for my newborn babies.  I tend to feel dread and weariness, knowing what the next few months will bring. It’s easy to grow bitter–and then to believe you’re a horrible mother who’s failing in every way.

But the concept of faith remains the same.

I give my body (and, in some instances, my mind) to my babies, trusting that it will be worth it eventually.

—-

If being pregnant or recovering from birth is really, really, really hard for you, then of course you’re afraid.   If you struggle with HG or depression/anxiety (or you’ve been bed-ridden for months because of pre-eclampsia or placenta previa, or something else) then you won’t be “happy” about having a baby, the same way others are.

When people tell you to just soak it up and “savor the moments,” you’ll want to slap them in the face.

This is war for you.  And nobody “savors” the fighting for weeks, or months at a time.

But, I always want to remember that love is worth it. 

And that’s why I’m walking straight into the mouth of the beast again.  Eyes wide open–fully aware of how bad it gets.

I don’t like babies because I don’t like what it means for me physically. But I’ve chosen to suffer because I LOVE my babies.

As John Piper wrote:

If you have a sovereign God that you trust—because he is good as well as all-powerful—you know that he will ordain whatever suffering he deems wise, and he will turn it for your good and the good of the church.

So, for obedience’s sake, for your own purification’s sake, and for the glory of Christ’s sake, Christians ought to embrace risks of love that almost certainly will involve suffering.

—-

Over the next year, I certainly appreciate the prayers and the encouragement, but that’s not what motivates me. (I can promise you I will continue to deal with the consequences of my choice long after you’ve praised my bravery and forgotten about this post.)   🙂

But I’m pressing forward, for the love of a person I don’t even know yet, trusting that some day I will be very glad I walked out in faith.

Faith until my feelings follow.

Faith until I “like” what I love…

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5 thoughts on “On Feelings and Faith… and a Mother’s Courage to Love when it Hurts

  1. Roberta Hite

    “But I’m pressing forward, for the love of a person I don’t even know yet, trusting that some day I will be very glad I walked out in faith.
    Faith until my feelings follow.
    Faith until I “like” what I love…”

    Beautiful words, Amanda.
    (And P.S. our daughter Anna had the hyperemesis gravaridum.)

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  2. Heather M

    I think our deepest, most horrific sufferings draw us into greater intimacy with a God who suffers – who chose by incarnation and crucifixion to walk, eyes open, into the mouth of the beast.

    The mode of our individual suffering is ultimately unique, even if there are others who have similar experiences – but, in every type of suffering, Jesus has experienced the extreme and can meet us long after we have parted ways with every other human helper. There isn’t a way to certain aspects of Him except by these take-up-the-cross parts of the journey. Church history is replete with people who suffered horribly, many of whom spent years in physical weakness and mental anguish. It seems that God is able to use crude, ignoble tools to produce noble, enduring results. The fires of suffering go deep to burn away dross that can’t always be named. As Tullian Tchividian (sp?) says, “suffering exposes our foundations.”

    There is a difference in the power output of a Christian who has been broken and one who glibly knows doctrine. Our light and momentary sufferings (which feel impossibly heavy and never-ending) achieve a weight of glory. Even in this life, they give us greater capacity for compassion, greater appreciation for the sweetness of life, and the ability to journey lighter with less attachment to impermanent things. Anything that loosens our grip on the temporal is ultimately good.
    Nevertheless – ! – praying for abundant grace as you walk (run, stumble, crawl) the race marked out for you. 🙂

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