By: Sarah Dudley
When I had my first child, son James, on October 7, 2011, I was blown away by the entire experience, from labor and delivery, to nursing, to late-night feedings--everything. I loved it all. And without even knowing it, developed a HUGE sense of pride and accomplishment in myself. I had this Mom thing down. How could other mothers complain, give up nursing so easily, face depression and anxiety?
Thankfully, that attitude and idol were completely stripped from me when I had my second baby, my sweet daughter Evelyn. Before I even left the hospital, something was terribly wrong. I was anxious and fearful, couldn't sleep, wasn't making milk, had very weird physical symptoms that left me unable to pee or walk, and I was deeply, deeply depressed.
Without going into all the dark details--all of these symptoms were actually due to a rare syndrome called Guillain-Barré, which was triggered by childbirth, and made worse because I already have auto-immune diseases. I wasn't diagnosed with it until four months after Evie was born. But before that diagnosis came down, I had made 8 trips to the ER, 2 hospital stays (one under a 51/50 hold), took a variety of anti-depressants and antibiotics, and had to stop breastfeeding after only two devastating weeks.
I don't share this to invite pity--I'm okay! And God has graciously brought me through all of it. I share it because it's SO EASY as a mom to believe that you must have it all together. You must be perfect and strong and able to balance a home, and a husband, and (sometimes) a job, and a kid(s), all without any trouble or complaint. And we see this often enough just in the way moms talk to each other. There's so much pressure to breastfeed for this long, or be back in your pre-preggo jeans by this time, or follow these health-food blogs for amazing home-cooked meals, or have your kid writing his name and counting to 20 by age two!
Obviously, none of those things are wrong. At all! BUT, they easily become idols. And we can start to judge ourselves or others for making decisions as moms that may look different from our own choices, or what society, our fellow friends and family, or church community might be saying is "best."
I've been forced into learning that in order to be the best mom to my kids--I have to be honest. I had to admit that I needed an anti-depressant to help me cope with the symptoms of Guillain-Barre. I needed to seek counseling from our wonderful women's counselor at church. I had to give up the idol of breastfeeding my daughter because I couldn't make milk (and she's perfectly healthy!). I have had to say no to doing every activity I could be doing because I need to rest and focus on being there for my kids. I have had to be okay with myself when I drive-through Chick-Fil-A for some of the kids' lunches, instead of making healthier ones from scratch.
And most of all, I needed to realize that it is NOT my job to judge other moms, or their decisions for their families. I was so struck by how prideful I had been in raising James, and how I'd looked down on friends who'd struggled in areas that I thought were so easy. Shame on me. In that way, I'm so thankful for God stripping away my idols through this past year, even though it's been so, so hard.
We need to be each other's cheerleaders. No one knows the struggles of life better than a mom who is giving herself for her children. In that way, God's equipped us with an empathy like no other--and we need to be extending that to our fellow mommies. The love and grace I received from my fellow moms during the lowest point of my life humbles me every day. I want to be that for someone else. And I want all of you Moms to know that you are the very best for your children, even on the worst of days. God intended you just for them, and vice versa.