"And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house..."
I've been away a week, on holiday with my family. I carried my laptop (which I never do when we go away) planning to write; but when I saw the sun in a pristine blue sky, the sea sparkling like a thousand jewels, I knew that computer wouldn't be leaving my suitcase. There's just something not right about looking down at a screen, when God's glory surrounds you so powerfully.
To be honest, I've also been stalling writing this post. But here I am.
On a sunny Thursday morning, our daughter was born.
My pregnancy was ROUGH. I had every conceivable symptom; the intractable nausea, the vomiting, the backaches, the round the clock bone-penetrating exhaustion, water retention, heartburn like I had swallowed a ball of fire. I was on bed rest for a while, because my blood pressure kept acting up. I developed palpitations so bad that I was sent to a cardiologist. I put on a truckload of weight and could barely recognize myself. It was rough; and I was miserable. Then suddenly, six weeks before her due date, my water broke and my girl arrived. It was all over.
I can't explain the euphoria, the heart-splitting joy that I experienced when I heard her first cry. God had redeemed that moment for me. I missed it with my son, but He had now graciously given it to me. I got to see her in the first thirty seconds of her life. I held her. She opened her eyes and I was the first person she ever saw.
Everything was as it should have been. We chose Nairobi hospital this time around and we had a relaxing four days there. I had minimal to no pain in my cesarean incision. The staff prioritized women's rest and recovery, so that one took her baby home in a healthy and unweary state.
At home, life was truly beautiful. My son fell in love with his sister immediately. We had moved into a house with more space which had large windows that bathed us in sweet sunshine everyday. She slept A LOT; almost all the time. Until she didn't, ha! SO yes, she was a normal baby. And still, I was at peace, genuinely energetic, pain free, and happy.
Our daughter developed severe gastroesophageal reflux disease, at 6 weeks. She vomited constantly. She choked in her sleep, until milk would spout out of her nose and pour all over her face. She started to lose weight. We were in and out of the paediatrician's office. We were then sent to a gastro-specialist; he put her on acid inhibitors, and an anti-regurgitation formula. I had to abandon breastfeeding. It felt like we were in an avalanche. In the blink of an eye, the sky disappeared and we were buried in snow.
But, I managed well. My husband and I were now postpartum depression experts; it was not going to blindside us again. We knew the symptoms inside and out. We had done an incredible amount of research. We had a battle plan if we sensed trouble on the horizon. We were both quite stressed about our baby being so ill, but she was such a joy; she still is. She's a splendid thing, it's not easy to look away after your eyes connect with hers. She's captivating, tenacious, and serene all at once. Our hearts were full. I managed well. Until I didn't.
It started with little flickers here and there. We started to joke about my pathetic memory, and how giving birth had wiped clean my brain database. I would stop mid-conversation and say, "Where was I going with this story?". For the life of me, I couldn't remember where I left things, my phone, my car keys, my cup of tea, anything. I began to forget people's phone numbers that I had known for years; that definitely gave me pause, because I've always had phone number memorizing in my list of marvelous talents. But I chalked it up to new mom fatigue. More times than I can count, I started to cook, walked away for a minute, and forgot all about it. Our housekeeper was constantly switching the stove off, and coming to me with a bewildered look asking what the plan was. The house regularly filled with the smell of burning oil.
One day at the supermarket I took my phone out to call my husband and ask if there was anything in particular he wanted me to buy him. I kid you not; I stood there a long while staring at the phone, not knowing why I was holding it. Then I remembered ahaa, I need to call Bryan. I then couldn't remember his number. I kept typing, deleting, and re-typing; does the nine come before the three...is it two nine or two five...I no longer knew my HUSBAND'S phone number. And it didn't even occur to me to use the shortcut I had on my home screen; his face was right there as the icon, but I couldn't see him. I remember paying for the groceries as my hands shook. I got into the car, and whispered a prayer, "Lord, have mercy. What is happening to me?".
I didn't FEEL depressed. I wasn't flooding the house with tears, I wasn't struggling to get out of bed, I wasn't yelling at people at home. But I was losing my mind, somehow. I started to hold onto routine as a lifeline. I had to make the bed the minute I woke up. I had to shower immediately, dress nice and put earrings on. I had to have perfume on, even when I wasn't going to leave the house. When I did leave, I HAD to look smoking hot. I ate an egg and avocado for breakfast for weeks. I didn't want furniture moved around. The kids had to have their naps at the exact same time every day. These were in the list we made to combat depression if it reared its ugly head again; because the first time around I lost the ability to do all these things. I couldn't get out of bed, let alone make it. Just brushing my teeth sapped out all my strength. I wore pyjamas for months. So this time, I was going to stay "in control". Nothing was going to surprise me.
I started to worry constantly. About nothing. About everything. Is the baby alright? Let me just go check on her. At night I would wake up with my heart in my throat, "I think she's in trouble, go check on her.", I would tell Bryan. He'd try convince me that she was sleeping soundly but I would persist until he woke up and went to her room. Of course she was just fine. The "what ifs" began to eat me alive. What if her arm or leg get caught in the cot rails and she breaks a bone? What if she vomits and aspirates and dies while we're asleep? What if she has another developmental defect we haven't found out about yet? I started to not believe the doctor when she would have her check up. I wanted to grab the stethoscope and listen for myself. Still, I decided this was nothing but hyper-vigilance, a side effect of a traumatic experience with my first child.
On my birthday, we dropped the kids off at my parents' house and Bryan took me out to a beautiful romantic dinner. It was just the two of us, candles all around, so beautiful. After I took in the room, went through the menu, and we gave our orders, Bryan held both my hands in his from across the table. He looked very sad.
"Sweetheart, what's wrong?".
He was quiet for a long time, looking down at the table.
He looked up into my eyes again, and whispered, "Babe. You're sick."
Do you know that physical reaction you get when you hear really terrible news? A cold sensation goes down your limbs, your stomach tightens, your heart races? That's what happened to me in that moment. I remember Bryan blurring out because my eyes had filled with tears. I pulled my hands away. I was really angry. Because he had ruined my birthday.
And because I knew he was right.
"You could have at least waited until after we'd eaten." And then I went mute.
Our food came, and we ate in silence. I couldn't taste anything. I drank my glass of wine too fast. He tried to talk to me a couple of times, but I just closed my eyes and shook my head.
The drive home was so incredibly sad. I looked out the window into the black sky, crying quietly, all the while praying, "Lord, how could we be in this place a third time? What more do you want of me? What more shall you take?". We walked into the silent house. It felt like a broken home, as if a hurricane had blown us into a desert of despair. In bed, we turned out the lights and lay there, knowing we were both awake. He asked to hold my hand, and I let him.
"We'll overcome this. We've made it out twice. God is with us."
I didn't believe him.
From that day, all I could pray was Ruth 1:20 .
She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me." I whispered it to myself many times during that time. "I am Mara." I read the book of Job, just to identify with someone who had lost everything; but I didn't want to get to the chapters where God gives him the lesson of his life on His Sovereignty.
What happened afterwards was just a repeat of the previous year. I was back in therapy with Nancy, my psychologist. She was tougher with me this time around, because I was content to wallow in this miry clay. I didn't want the help. What good would it do? I'd just fall off the wagon again and again anyway. But she kept pushing me. My husband became militant about the cognitive behavioural therapy. She sent me home with coping exercises I had to do many times a day. Though I was like a donkey refusing to move, I started to get better. We made it about a month.
Then my sleep disappeared. It was very abrupt. Our daughter was now sleeping really well at night; but for some reason, I could not sleep. It would take three hours to fall asleep, and then I would wake up an hour later. I decided to make use of the time. I'd go read in the living room, watch a movie, plod about on the internet. I also completely lost my appetite; I was eating a only a few bites of every meal. Most evenings I'd pass on dinner. I simply wasn't hungry. But biology pulled the plug. The human body needs food, and it needs sleep. Mine was getting neither. Suddenly my thoughts were racing day and night. Regular thoughts about housework, shopping lists, weekend plans etc, but they moved so quickly I couldn't focus. It felt like seeing trees zip past you when you're in a fast moving car. I was now on edge. My hands would shake on and off, the tiniest of sounds would make me jump, and I gasped each time Bryan stepped on the brakes or overlapped a slow car. My hand started to hurt from gripping the side of the door when I wasn't the driver.
On morning of my son's birthday I was headed to the supermarket when I saw a huge yellow truck coming down the hill in the opposite lane. The driver was moving way too fast. And I had a thought; a split second consideration. "That truck would probably flatten me completely if I swerved into his lane." And there was the slightest flick of my wrist to turn the steering wheel. And then the truck was gone.
That evening, as we sang happy birthday to our boy with our family, I nearly passed out from fear that the knife next to the cake would somehow fall and cut my son's hand. Standing behind him, I had to grip the seat tightly, to stop me from grabbing the knife. But I stared at it the entire time. My mom picked it up and handed it to me to cut the cake with him. It felt like she had handed me a bomb, I WAS PETRIFIED. My hands were shaking, heart beating in my ears, and I was barely breathing...but I didn't want to ruin this day for my boy. So I worked as hard as I could to smile, cut the cake with him, take pictures with the kids.
When the ceremony was over and everyone was relaxed, I slipped out of the house and stood leaning on our car, struggling to slow my breathing down. I was holding my phone. And in that moment I knew, if I didn't cry out for help, I would be dead in a week.
I called Nancy. It was 5.30pm on a Saturday. I was blunt. "Nancy, this morning I had an inexplicable urge to ram my car into a moving truck. I don't WANT to die, but 'something' was pushing me to do it. And just now I almost had a heart attack cutting my son's cake." The events become foggy at this point. I'm not sure what she said to me. I do know that she said she was calling it. Therapy wasn't cutting it anymore. I remember her calling my husband right afterwards, and he walked away so I wouldn't hear. I now know they discussed getting me to a psychiatrist that night, or admitting me in hospital. They settled on taking me to see the doctor Monday morning. We spent Sunday at home; I slept most of the day. Bryan stayed next to me, holding me, getting me to eat, and taking care of the kids. I was just so tired. Officially done with this life of darkness. After three years of fighting it, I finally agreed to be put on medication.
Enter Dr. Kigamwa. Let me first say, he is an AMAZING psychiatrist. He was very respectful in his questions and he let me talk everything out. He wasn't condescending about my leaving the practice; he spoke to me as his peer. He's one of only three other older doctors that have lauded me about my decision to raise my kids fulltime; all the others have declared me an embarrassment. Kigamwa didn't dumb things down, but spoke as though we were conducting a ward round. He also asked to speak to Bryan alone, and was direct with me about it. "I need to hear the story from someone not suffering from the disease. I need to know what it has been like living with you." That stung, I won't lie, but I knew he was right.
That day, I faced my diagnosis full in the face: Postpartum Anxiety Disorder with Mild Depression. Blindsided once again. We were armed to the hilt to tackle depression, but got defeated by an enemy we didn't even know was there: anxiety. I was sent home on antidepressants and an anxiolytic for emergencies. I was to use it only after I had tried all my therapy coping exercises and still couldn't control the oncoming anxiety attack. He actually gave me only five tablets, because they have addiction potential. And we went home.
In just three days, our life had completely turned around. In fact the first night I took the meds I slept a full, uninterrupted 8 hours; a miracle! The freight train of thoughts in my brain screeched to a halt immediately. Guys. EVERYTHING changed; I wanted to eat, and I enjoyed the food. I was back in the kitchen doing what I love, cooking and baking for my people. The physical symptoms- shakiness, breathlessness, palpitations, they all disappeared. I continued seeing Nancy weekly, then twice a month, and one day she looked at me and said, "I don't need to see you anymore Wambui. I'm convinced you can live your life now." We both teared up as I said goodbye; she had been a part of our family for two years.
Dr. Kigamwa has given me 8 months, perhaps a year before I'll be off the medication permanently. Postpartum depression and anxiety are transient. The labour and delivery of your baby throws your brain chemicals into an upheaval too great to overcome on your own. The medication sets them back to normal levels and then you move on with your life. You are not alone, dear reader...1 in 5 of us is a victim. That's 20% of mothers. We are many.
And now here we are, present day. I've been on medication a few months, and I'm doing great. I'm learning to manage the disease. For now, I can't be relaxed in large crowds; malls swarming with people, weddings, concerts etc. These are currently triggers for my anxiety and I have to work hard to keep calm and this it tires me out. So I avoid them as much as I can. Even so, I'm slowly working my way back. I've been to one friend's wedding, and to two family gatherings and I've FORGOTTEN to panic, LOL. After every event, Bryan hi-5's me and says, "You did good my girl, well done." I'm preparing myself for my children's birthdays, because those will in all likelihood bring on a tsunami of emotions. Exercise is a lifeline as well. I feel really good when I'm consistent; and when I slack on it, the grey clouds gather. So I lace up and go to the gym. Writing has been a most powerful drug for me. This blog is as much for me as it is for you all.
I've been telling people that I feel like myself again; Bryan says his girl is back. And it is true to some extent. However, these last three years have changed me forever. I'll never be the Wambui I was in 2012 ever again. But that isn't a bad thing.
I can't believe I'm even typing this, but walking this valley of the shadow of death, has been a privilege. Praise God for bringing me to this truth. I have seen and known Him in ways one can only discover through suffering. The Bible has become my life. God's words now permeate every facet of my life, all my decisions, my every action. I could write an entire book on this, how I have seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, but I think this post is long enough now.
For those that know me. PLEASE don't act weird when we meet. Don't give me that hug, don't keep looking at me searching for any signs of crazy, LOL. And please don't also act as though you haven't been on the blog, when we both know you have! Don't walk on eggshells around me, afraid to bring up the topic. I'm good guys, I'm easy. Ask anything you're curious about. I remain your friend, Wambui...as you have always known me.
Thank you for reading our story. I pray continually for every reader to encounter God in my words, and that He would comfort those who need comforting, heal those in need of healing.
May God be GLORIFIED.
And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been FOUNDED ON THE ROCK. Matt 7:25
Christian, wife, mom, doctor, and an alien on earth, on my way to the city of God.