I know I've mentioned more than once that life has been busy for us lately. If I'm not taking Samuel to therapy, then I'm running errands, calling insurance companies, filing paperwork, or doing housework. There is not enough time in the day and I couldn't be happier about it. For the first time since Samuel was born, I'm back to being productive. I'm consistently making something other than Hamburger Helper (yuck!) for dinner every night. My house is clean. The laundry is done. The beds are made.
Several months ago, I took a moment to reflect and was surprised to find that the 'cloud' had been lifted from my head. I could fully appreciate that the skies were blue, the sun was shining, and that there WAS life outside of our three bedroom house.
I didn't recognize the cloud for what it was until it was gone.
Looking back, I realize that I felt a significant difference in myself around our tenth week in the NICU. It was noticeable enough for my mom to ask me if I was dealing with postpartum depression. I was extremely stressed and worried...but depressed? No, not me. I've always thought of myself as the strong, happy type of person. I thought depression was a sign of someone not relying enough on God. And I felt like relying on God was the ONLY thing I was doing.
I never assumed that life would become easy or normal once we came home. I was prepared for the long road of therapies, doctors appointments, eating issues, and disabilities that micropreemies often face their first years. What I wasn't prepared for was the constant stress, worry, lack of sleep, and isolation that came with it.
Several months after we were home, I took myself to the doctor for a routine appointment. She asked me if I was anxious (yes), tired (yes), stressed (yes.) I described what we were dealing with....everything from a noisy monitor and oxygen concentrator, to worries about his future, to feeding every three hours around the clock, to RSV isolation, and so on. She told me that because of those very issues, over 55 percent of NICU parents experience depression. She offered to prescribe something to help.
"That's not me. I'm not depressed. Just sooooooo tired." I certainly wasn't going to take medicine.
But it didn't get better. Michael and I struggled....really struggled those first few months. It seemed to take us ages to get into a routine. We really had to get to know one another again after spending so many months living apart. It was hard.
Then, many of our friends became pregnant...each announcement doing serious damage to my already crumbling world. I remember rocking Samuel one night after a couple in our community group announced their pregnancy. I was angry at Michael for not warning me (he already knew) and angry at myself for not feeling happy for our friends. I sat in the dark room holding Samuel, bawling my eyes out. I remember how he woke up and looked at me and began crying too. It was sweet, but his perceptiveness startled me into getting my act together.
It took some time, but things did improve. By January, I felt happy again...but I still didn't feel like myself. A few months later, I dyed and cut my hair because it seemed ridiculous that I didn't LOOK as changed as I felt.
I took another step forward in April, when I decided to give up all the worrying and let God take care of Samuel's future (as if He wasn't in control of it already, right?)
Then, when Samuel took his first steps, my world turned around completely. A huge weight was taken from me. I knew he would walk. I didn't realize that I had been holding my breath for 15 months waiting for that very moment.
And when I recently reflected on how good life is, how far we have come, and how blessed we are - I was overwhelmed. We were standing in church singing the song that I wrote for my Thanksgiving post, and just couldn't stem the flow of tears. How great our God is to have brought us so far! How great this life is! How beautiful my family is!
It's hard to admit that it's taken me such a long time to get back to normal. It's hard to not feel that those months were wasted months. But I have to believe that some good has come from it. Through our experience with Samuel, I have developed a heart for parents of special needs children...and if such a great percentage of NICU parents do deal with depression, I have gained precious insight by experiencing it myself.
And now I wonder, what can be done to help? I was never approached by a counselor, social worker, or chaplain who offered to talk through things with me during our NICU stay. Not that I blame the hospital for that...their job was to take care of Samuel (and they did that remarkably well!) I just wonder if there is something more that can be done for the parents. For those other micropreemie parents out there who follow this blog: were you approached or 'checked on' during your NICU stay?
I hope that one day I can find a way to put these experiences to use.