On January 24, 2018, my 7 week old baby just spontaneously stopped breathing and I was for certain that I was going to lose him. Today, thankfully, he is a rambunctious, healthy 2 year old who hasn’t stopped keeping me on my toes since. But whenever I talk about that pivotal moment, one that truly changed me despite how dramatic that may sound, I feel obligated to always first trim it down and diminish it first. “I know it’s not the end of the world…” “It could’ve been a lot worse…” “I came out lucky here…” I have to discount my story before I even tell it, because I want to make sure you know that I know that it could be so much worse. People have lost their children. People have survived the unimaginable. People have carried on with much less of themselves in tact than I was granted to leave with and I hold it over my own head, believing I am not even justified in the validity of my emotions. I don’t deserve to feel them, or mourn them, let alone still be talking about them 2 years later…
Until I realized most of us are carrying around something similar. Something we don’t want to process, or acknowledge, despite how much it bothers us, because we think it could’ve been worse, or maybe it was something we “had coming” or something inevitable, maybe even a common occurrence that happens to many, and now that it’s said and done the world expects us to just move on. We all carry it differently. Some of us dust our hands off and move on, some of us are functioning out of necessity, and some of us are emotionally paralyzed. I share this, something I truly don’t like dwelling on or dredging up, because I know there are others out there carrying guilt, and trauma, and anxiety from something they didn’t even have the time to register as traumatic because we were all so busy just carrying on. Saying, “I’m fine.”
There’s been events before, or things I had a hard time bouncing back from, but for the most part I’ve always landed on my feet. I’ve carried on just like we’re all instructed. But on that day, a normal old day, I sat down on my couch, exhausted from a 2 year old and 1 month old baby, and hoped that while my bundle of joy napped, I, too, could shut my eyes. As I settled in, I heard no noise but saw my son’s blanket began to flutter from where he was sleeping, and under it, his body convulsed. I jumped up, grabbed him and noticed his little face was quickly shifting from red to purple to blue. He wasn’t breathing. I checked his mouth, praying his big brother hadn’t possibly tried to feed him or something absurd had managed it’s way to his mouth, and it hadn’t. No cries, no cough, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds of holding my breathless baby pass by. “No. This can’t be.” I think as I flip him to his stomach, practically upside down, too, and begin pounding his back praying whatever is happening stops, or that something will magically come up and his airway will open. I took an infant CPR class, am I doing this right? “Please Jesus.” is all I can cry. 45 seconds, a minute, “this is too long”, I think to myself. I hold him, and I see the panic and pain in his eyes, his fists clenched. I tell his brother to get my phone, to call someone, NOW. And then, oh praise God! I hear those tiny little lungs take that huge gasp of air. And then cries- gut wrenching, heart breaking cries pierce the silence, and I’m not sure who cried longer; the baby or me.
Never have I felt so powerless than in the moments where I shook my child’s little body begging Jesus to make him breathe again. And all the time between today and 2 years ago have almost snuck up on me. That day, I made a post from the hospital room asking for prayers for my guy, attached with a picture I had just snapped as he lay in my lap after being poked and prodded and tested for the hours following that initial gasp of air. But just seeing that picture again made me realize there’s days I’m still, mentally, collapsed in my living room floor, scared and panicked, and wanting to slide my little children under the skin of my arms or maybe my belly, so that way I could shield them, again. I would literally absorb them if I could, and not think twice, as we hermitted away from all turmoil and danger for the rest of forever. I was shaken awake out of a blissfully ignorant slumber, and now conscious of the gravity of life and death and parenthood and it all knocked me right on my hind end.
And since then, I’ve been piloting through the days, still in the same survival mode that kicked in as I sat on the crumply hospital bed, oxygen stats and tests reporting all was fine, instructions to go home and resume life, all the while I’m white knuckling my perfect child whose lips were no longer blue. I decided right then; I could never again loosen my grip on my babies for fear that they would simply crack into a million pieces and never be put back together. I could barely sleep. Shoot, I could barely get off the couch, where I would sit and watch the boys like a hawk. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything, except feel like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, protecting my precious.
This all triggered some anxiety for me, which I had never dealt with before. I felt like a frayed nerve. I would be hyper-sensitive, and then worked up, and then filled with a rage that I couldn’t even pinpoint its origin, to the point that normal things started to be a struggle. I couldn’t stand if someone was in the grocery store too close to me and my babies, even sweet little Martha who cooed at my children as she reached for the green beans. “Can you BACK UP?” I would think in my head, grit my teeth and rush to get out of the store. Riding in the car with anyone but myself driving would throw me into a mini panic attack, and I can’t count how many times I’ve had to stare intently out the window and away from the road, or simply close my eyes, and pray to God to get us home safe, over and over, until the vehicle was in park. Sometimes I couldn’t even relax with my own husband, who I trust with my own life, and am fully aware he would rather die before harming a hair on our babies’ heads. Yet, in my diluted with fear mind, if he was playing too rough with the boys or throwing them too high, I would get so panicked that I needed to leave the room. Everything came out as anger. I wasn’t much of a type to fret or cry or hyperventilate, even though that’s all that I wanted to do. So instead, anger and frustration was my language when I got too overwhelmed thinking of all the ways I can’t protect my babies, or control the environment around me.
I guess a lot of this could’ve been postpartum depression, or at least anxiety that was triggered by this event, but I never spoke to my doctor about it. We were just a week or two past my 6-week check-up when the event happened, but had it have happened prior to seeing my doctor, I’m still not sure I would’ve spoke up. I just assumed we all have things that keep us up at night, and this is now mine. And, eventually, I’d get over it. The day my baby stopped breathing, I was in shock. I was emotional, and somehow emotionless. I had kids to take care of, things to do, and I didn’t have time to process what actually just happened. At the time, even weeks after the event, I didn’t realize the effect it had on my life, and now looking back I guess it’s taken me 2 years to really even see it’s magnitude, let alone fully acknowledge the source.
For most of the time since, the part of me that was always able to highlight the silver linings, suddenly shut down. I’ve always been able to gain a little sanity by writing, and analyzing a situation, and looking for the way God was working in every bad or crazy scenario I would find myself in. It’s exactly how the name “Thankful Roots” came to be, because almost always, my writing was about being thankful and seeing good through all situations.
But suddenly, I couldn’t see it so clearly. And so, I quit writing. Quit addressing these feelings, all together. I thought if my voice couldn’t be sunshine and rainbows then it shouldn’t be heard at all. Not only did I feel like there wasn’t anything positive to take a stance about, I also felt like I didn’t have a leg to stand on. I couldn’t just address what I was feeling, and get it out of the way, because I felt my own feelings couldn’t be legitimate. My child was fine. There was nothing wrong with him, nothing wrong with me, and that I needed to just move on and get over it. And so, since I couldn’t even figure that out, I just removed myself all together. I withdrew from everything that wasn’t within the 4 walls of my home.
My time as a hermit probably wasn’t the healthiest way to deal with things, but it’s also given me a lot of time to reflect. Maybe even heal a little. Time does that, I suppose. I don’t feel like punching every person I encounter at the grocery store. And I can let my kids outside of arm’s reach again. I actually have interest in at least attempting life, and not just surviving it.
I prayed for God to show me a way to help myself so I could be ready to help others. I wanted to write again, but I didn’t even know what to say, and I didn’t even have the energy to put on a happy face. I felt so ill-equipped, like I was entering a homemade, whopper-jawed, half deflated, frosted-by-a-3-year-old Betty Crocker cake into a Cake Wars competition. Anyone worth listening to feels like they are so put together. Like they have arrived on the other side, and are presentable to the world. I’m hardly presentable to go to Wal-Mart. I wanted something I could actually bring to the table, besides a lopsided cake.
I’ve yearned for some sort of clarity or direction I could head in, but I would typically come up short. I hoped to find another person, another mom, or someone I could relate to, that could explain this walking-frayed-nerve feeling, and could tell me I’m not crazy. But I didn’t find much I could relate to, and I think that’s because this is something no one wants to really talk about. People seem to be the quietest as they are going through something, and the loudest when they’re winning, and so after a while you assume there’s nothing to talk about until you consider yourself “winning”, too.
I could only find Facebook posts of dirty dishes or unbrushed hair telling you this is what depression is. Or the other ones that seemed to rope depression and anxiety into the same arena every.single.time. I am aware that IS depression, for some people. But I felt so confused. I didn’t think I actually felt anxiety, because I wasn’t having panic attacks or biting my nails until they bled or breathing into a paper bag like we are stereotypically led to believe. I didn’t realize my fears and bewilderment would show themselves as frustration and anger, and so I just assumed I was carrying on some short-tempered family curse, or something. And I didn’t think I could be depressed, nor that I was suffering from postpartum depression, because I was never really sad. I was happy and could joke and enjoy my family, and I led myself to believe that thinking anything was actually wrong with me was an insult to people who really “earned” such diagnoses.
I thought my feelings didn’t carry any merit because my child survived, he is here, this sort of thing happens to people, probably all the time, and ultimately I believed I shouldn’t even give a second thought to any of this. I had no room to talk because I could name 10 people, at any moment, who I believed had it much worse and was carrying it much easier.
That thought is beaten into our brains, isn’t it? To just be thankful for our problems, because if we had to deal with the next guy’s burdens we’d be begging to snatch ours back. I know that to be true. But I also know that your own bad time is still a bad time. And you don’t have to pretend it’s a party the whole way through. I know countless strong people who have survived the unthinkable and yet most don’t speak of it. We have fought so hard to make it through some type of storm, and yet what good does it serve if we live to tell about it… but don’t? What you tell doesn’t have to be a heroic tale of the dragons you’ve slayed (but if you’ve slayed dragons, you absolutely deserve to brag about it) or a woeful sonnet of all that is wrong in the world… but please, never be afraid to let others know you’re still figuring it out, too. I guarantee someone, somewhere needs to hear it.
I’m finally coming to terms with what has been going on in my head, and my heart, and there is this tugging inside of me to finally share it. You don’t have to be “presentable” to be worthy. I know my problems are small compared to others, but I also want you to know that they are just as important. That thing you survived, that you don’t want to talk about for whatever the reason may be, or that you think was too simple or common to matter, is just as important as the person who screams their story and survival from a mountaintop. Whether you’re hibernating in a cave, or moved on to a new mountain, you’re allowed to feel how you feel. And most importantly, others are allowed to feel how they feel, too.
I think deep down, we all feel similar in not being good enough, or whole enough, or even broken enough to have credibility in what we bring to the table. You bring plenty, and there’s room for us all to sit. And I can assure you, your homemade, lopsided cake will taste much better than those cakes made just for show, any day.
I wrote this for the main purpose of praying it reached someone who needed to hear it. But I also made this one of my first posts to the page because I want you to know me. I guess this isn’t who I am, but it’s certainly where I’ve been the last few years. I’m a little broken in places, but I also know that’s how the light gets in. I want to always write those feel-good, silver lining, shiny-as-a-new-penny, inspirational stories, but this reality is the other side of the coin for me. Some days, I’m shiny. Sometimes, I’m a little worn out. But I will always be honest, even when it isn’t the prettiest. I will do my best to spread some sunshine, but sometimes rainy days are needed, too. I promise to never forsake that you spend your precious time reading my jumbled up thoughts. I will always try to write something worth reading, and I will always be eternally grateful.