La Dolce Vita
So I spent the last week in Rome, (rough, I know) and having now sufficiently recovered from post partum jet lag (which sounds exactly as terrible as it is), I thought I’d share a little of the wonders of our surprise pilgrimage with you.
It was kind of like this: ‘surprise, you thought you were going on vacay, but you’re on a pilgrimage.’
And we were all, ‘oh, um…cool. Thanks, God.‘
But in reality it was more like, ‘whhhhhhhhhhhy is this soooooo hard?’ whine whine wine wine whine…and the baby cried, too.
I know, I know… I’m a terrible ingrate for saying so, but I have to be honest…it was probably one of the most difficult weeks of my life. And it’s probably not a great stretch to say it was one of Dave’s, too, thanks in large part to my utter emotional instability and both my and the baby’s severe aversion to heat and humidity (Which, in a 2,000+ year old city of 5 million people with little to no AC and endless journeys via public transportation, is a gawdawful exercise in sweat and tears.)
I debated whether or not to fess up about how difficult this trip was for me, because A. I realize how insanely blessed and fortunate we are to be able to go not once but twice in two years to the most spectacularly beautiful and religiously significant city on earth with each of our babies, to hang out very near the Holy Father and pray with some of our most beloved and admired saints. Admittedly: awesome. and B. nobody likes a whiny blogger.
But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t very, very hard. And that the hardness blindsided me. And it made me realize some hard, hard things about myself and about this time of life. And it scared me.
I don’t regret going, not for a second. We had some truly amazing opportunities, thanks largely to Dave’s job and our very cool boss, and we did everything from a cocktail party at the villa of the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See to a black tie dinner honoring all of the newly-installed American bishops, including our beloved former Archbishop Chaput and our newly-beloved Archbishop Aquila. And I changed JP’s diaper on the floor of St. Paul outside the wall, which will surely factor significantly into his future vocation.
Oh, and this.
Hands-down the highlight. And worth every moment of suffering and inconvenience to get there.
Having just concluded Sunday mass over the tomb of Bl. John Paul II in St. Peter’s basilica (and celebrated in polish by a priest from Warsaw, no less) I hustled my arrogant American self up into restricted territory and my boy met his namesake. Touched his tomb with a tiny fist. All before the Vatican guards could shoo us away. (And that ain’t no photo retouching you’re seeing there. I suspect it’s the blinding glare of the Holy Spirit, personally.)
But still…it was so hard.
And here’s the thing; it would have been hard under the best of circumstances, I think, because of me. Or more specifically, because of something that afflicts me — Dave is so good at correcting me when I misspeak, reminding me that I am ‘not my illness.’
The embarrassing, inconvenient and inescapable truth is, I suffer from clinical depression. And while it’s usually pretty well controlled by drugs and gritting of teeth and tugging of bootstraps, this pregnancy and post-partum period had been hell.on.earth.
It’s hard to admit this to a room full of my closest friends, let alone to put it out there on the internets, but I figured if any other mamas out there are going through it, I owed it to them to be honest. Because there’s depression, which I’ve had all of my adult life…and then there’s post partum depression.
And honestly, it’s harder than hell.
I really thought that a week away in a gorgeous foreign city with my husband and sweet newborn would be just what the doctor ordered, but it turned out I couldn’t outrun it. Which makes sense, complete and total sense, because it isn’t a matter of ‘shaking it off’ or ‘snapping out of it;’ it’s real, and it’s bigger than I can handle by myself and, quite frankly, it’s terrifying.
It’s scary to be exactly where I always wanted to be, vocationally speaking, and to still feel so bad.
That has been the greatest suffering of these past few months I think, knowing that finally I have everything I’ve ever wanted and am living the life of my dreams…and it’s still not ‘enough’ in the sense that it hasn’t cured me of depression.
If anything, it has heightened the emotional aches and pains by adding physical sufferings like sleeplessness, short tempers, and a saggy, floppy mommy body to the mix.
There’s something very raw and real and frightening about being ‘at the top,’ so to speak, and coming to the sickening realization that it’s still here, this shadow from hell, and no amount of brilliant sunlight has managed to dispel it.
I love being a mom. I love being married. Most days I love what I do for work…but despite it all, I still feel so terrible right now, and it’s so, so scary to think that this might just be how life is going to feel from here on out.
I hesitate to hit ‘publish’ on this one for a couple reasons, primarily my own pride which is screaming at me not to do this, not to publicly air this bit of soiled laundry, to keep pretending that everything is fine and good and, while difficult, nonetheless manageable.
But it isn’t fine. And it isn’t even manageable any longer. Rome showed me that I have, indeed, a breaking point of my very own and I have reached it. Looked it in the eye while running past it, in fact.
So here I sit on the other side of ‘it,’ broken down but still functioning. I know there is grace here in this time, and I know in a dry, intellectual sense that this isn’t forever…I have hope that the right combination of consecutive hours of sleep and evened-out hormones and perhaps a different medication can and will bring me back into some semblance of normal.
But for now, it’s all hard. Everything is hard, and everything feels much bigger and scarier than it really is.
Bl. John Paul II, pray for us.
I just want to commend you for posting about your depression. I have (thankfully) never suffered from that, but I have two friends who have had terrible experiences with post-partum depression, and one who had it just before one of her babies was even born. Nobody talks about this and I think that’s horrible. As you said, when you have the newborn, everyone expects your to bask in the glow of the new baby, and soldier on through the hard part. Nobody tells you that when you have this crushing sadness and apathy, that there could really be something wrong, and that it’s okay to ask for medical help. People like you, with a platform for speaking out, are right to speak up so that you hve the oppportunity to help someone else. Thank you again, and prayers for you and your family.
Prayers. And thank you for your courage and honesty.
Oh Jenny, I so wish I were near you so we could just sit and chat. The isolation of motherhood cannot be a good addition to the mix of things that would make already present depression even harder post partum. My sister suffered from severe ppd and we all suffered with her, it is such a real cross. Know that you will be in my prayers! (I will even offer up all the annoying things about pregnancy that I can think of for you)
thanks Ana, you’re so sweet.
I’d be the weirdo that emailed you out of the blue a little while ago while inner baby was still inner baby. I want to thank you for your courage in sharing your very real, and very personal suffering. While I haven’t had the opportunity for post-partum depression yet, I am at high risk for it, genetically speaking. I think it is more common than not, and it doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves.
While reading this post, it reminded me so much of Mother Theresa, describing her “years in the desert,” feeling completely isolated from God’s warmth and love as she lived out her beautiful vocation. Jenny, I just know your suffering is helping build the Kingdom. You keep on girlfriend- you are doing the work of the Lord and living out your vocation, and you are truly doing it all on trusting faith. In the meantime, I will pray for your continued strength and healing.
Thank you Katie! I really hope we get to meet up one of these days, Hillary said you’re great.
Thanks Jenny for being humble enough to sharing this. I also know how difficult depression can be, especially in this time of life we are in. You are not alone. We are in this together, my friend. Love and prayers, Diana
love you Diana.
Thank you for your honesty. In talking about ppd and motherhood, specifically how difficult it can be when our kids are very little. I have three boys under three yrs old and although I haven’t had ppd I do know how hard this life/job/vocation is. It is very isolating at times. Please take care of yourself and get all the help you need. I have a mother’s helper for 12 hours per week (a homeschooled teenage girl) and it makes a huge difference in my outlook. The cost is totally worth it!
I am totally humbled by and insanely grateful for the outpouring of support this lil old post generated – texts, emails, comments…. God is good, and He works through the internets. Who knew?
Anyway, I’ll keep y’all posted.
Hi Jenny- I am so humbled by your willingness to be vulnerable and courageousness in posting this. My dad suffered depression most of my life, and I have had prevalent anxiety since college. It gets so much worse in that baby’s first year, and I have found that with both kids, it didn’t clear until I stopped breastfeeding around age 1– but that’s part of this sacrificial love thing, huh? Anxiety & depression are ugly sisters, so I know how difficult it can be, but I am only telling you so you don’t feel alone. Know that I am praying for you, and if you ever need a break, please don’t hesitate to call us for some babysitting- we love playmates over here 🙂
Thank you friend, that means a lot.
Jenny- great post and affirming to other moms who have been there and thought we were just being whiney too. Super short on time, but want to mention that the local NaPRo technology obgyn here said that she has had radical success treating PPDepression with progesterone shots. She said the women immediately felt amazingly better. Never tried it personally, but maybe worth looking into? God bless,
Also- any thoughts on blogging about the 5o shades book? I’d love to hear all you have to say on it!!
you got it…and thanks for reminding me about the spare vial of progesterone I had hanging out in the medicine cabinet. I kid you not.
Been there…not to Rome, unfortunately, but (even more unfortunately) to the PPD metropolis. I hope you’re getting the help and support you need.
Christy from fountains of home
Aw man, I really want to say something comforting and awesome, but I know when I had postpartum nothing said could help the feelings of darkness and the seemingly unconquerable sadness. I can’t imagine how discouraging it must have felt to be in Rome yet to feel so awful at the same time. Thanks for sharing though, hopefully it gives you a small sense of comfort to know that there are many women who know a little of what you feel.
Lots of love and prayers for you!
Praying for you. You’re doing a wonderful job!