Making the Pieces Fit: The True Story of My Quilt

In 2012, my recovery from postpartum anxiety coincided with the first Fall in 35 years when kids went back to school, and I did not.

Instead, I stayed home with a 5 month old who still took two naps a day. I found myself with a lot of time on my hands—twitchy hands that needed something to do.

At first, to battle the guilt and stigma I still felt, I allowed them to feed me. Graham crackers and Nutella. In November my friends ran a Nutella intervention but by then, the 15 lbs of damage was done.

I needed something else to do.

I’m going to make a quilt, I decided.

I know. Of all the things. But when I was younger, we had a third grandma named Opal who lived down the street. In the quiet moments when she sat to watch a show, she had a stack of quilt pieces next to her that she patiently hand-stitched together into flowers and then transformed into quilts.

I can do that, I thought. I can make those flowers.

All that late Fall and Winter, I sat on the couch while Annie slept and hand-sewed flower after flower with tiny little stitches, until I had a stack of 20.

Then I discovered that by making the flowers first, I had sewed myself into a corner. I wrote about it here. I showed you these pictures:

I hoped it was all coming together.

It didn’t.

Instead, I ended up with this:

IMG_20160501_201912

I stopped. The next summer was rolling in and my feet were under me. I hit my stride as a stay at home mom. I joined the gym with Dana. I started writing about my postpartum experience. Shea and I had an idea that maybe we should move to Oregon.

It was a busy and fruitful time, and I didn’t need the soothing, quiet stitching. The pieces sat for almost two years.

Last Fall, when Annie joined Gabe and Kate on the first day of school, my guilt came back. For three hours every day, I was alone while everyone else in my family worked. I started feeling anxious again. My twitchy hands came back. I did not buy Nutella, but only by the grace of God.

One morning, I pulled out my sewing box to mend a shirt of Gabe’s and there it was: my pile of flowers.

I am going to finish this quilt, I thought. I’m not going to read any directions either.

Whatever happens will be enough.

I knew this was about more than a quilt. It was therapy in those early months, soothing stitch after soothing stitch, quiet and productive. But then it became a reflection of me, shattered into pieces, and trying to fit them back together again.

When they didn’t fit back they way they were, well. It took a while for me to understand what that meant.

It was supposed to be queen sized. It ended up 2 feet by 3 feet. The edging is ugly on one side, although in the process of doing it wrong, I learned how to do it right next time. I used white thread on blue cotton, which is very unforgiving. I threw away more of my flowers than I kept, hours of hard work into the scrap bin. It doesn’t cover anyone completely.

But it’s enough.

I was supposed to be Mom Invincible. From the outside, I looked pretty good, but underneath was a mess waiting to happen. I was the woman everyone could rely on, a reputation which is very unforgiving in a personal crisis.  Then I was forced to show my crooked stitches  to survive. Some of the things I held onto were unnecessary and I cut them away.  I don’t have to be so big. Lots of things are not my job. I am scarred and have spoken my scars.

I am enough.

IMG_20160502_102702

Some people would never show this quilt, but I do. It sits on the big chair in the living room, visible to everyone who comes through my front door.

It’s the truth about me, and so many mamas just like me. We had a vision of what life could be. For a while, the pieces didn’t fit, or make sense.

Maybe we thought about quitting.

But we didn’t, and through love and prayer and hard work, we put it back together into something whole. Crooked. Wiser. Messy. Precious.

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. Perinatal mood disorders can start in pregnancy. They can look like depression, mania, anxiety. If you have a history of mental health issues in your life or your family—as I did—you may be at higher risk. But PMD can strike any women in any pregnancy.

Here’s what you do:

If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

#askher: Ask the pregnant and newly delivered moms around you if they are ok.

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the Ob/GYN first and then visit www.postpartum.net for support. If the doctors cannot or do not help, call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773.

PSI Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Hop

What I Will Tell My Kids by Jen

IMG_20131102_182049

The first time I told the story of my severe postpartum anxiety, I had to think about what I was doing.

Telling my story out loud, on the internet, where it would live forever. Where someday, my kids will see it. That was scary, so I almost didn’t tell it all.

I was going to leave out the part about seeing a demon hallucination because Good Lord, I don’t want my kids to read this someday and think I was crazy.

I was going to leave out the part where my husband couldn’t figure out a way to take care of me, because he is such a good man and I don’t want his name to be bad at the village gates.

I was going to leave out the part where my family doctor and pediatrician both told me that I should really just try to calm down, take a bath and drink some chamomile tea, because they were good doctors really, even though they dropped the ball on this one.

I think the instinct to sugarcoat is legitimate and for lots of reasons. Maybe I wasn’t ready to handle the whole truth of the thing. Maybe I felt that if I gave them less attention, I could strip those days of their power over me.

My biggest fear was that my kids would not understand my story when they were 12 or 15 or 25. That they would think I didn’t want them, or couldn’t handle them. Or that I was unhappy with them. I never want them to see a story in the news like this one and wonder “Did you ever want to do that?”

The answer is no, but I hesitate to give it, because I know it’s not that easy. The honest answer is more like no, but…I understand how a choice like that can be made and how it can even look like the greatest act of love in the eyes and heart of a sick mom.

Ultimately, I decided to tell the whole truth. I did it for right now, because there are still too many women who stand in front of doctors and husbands and mothers and friends who just don’t know how to help them.

Not because they are bad doctors or husbands or mothers or friends. But because we still don’t have enough support systems out there, enough classes, enough hotlines. We still see mental health as a very personal issue and we look away.

We look away.

So I also did it for years from now, when I will tell my kids this:

I went through a bad time, caused by all the crazy hormones running through my body. I didn’t sleep for days. Your dad was just starting a new job and he thought I was a really, really strong mama and that I would pull myself out of it. And he couldn’t miss his first week of work. He took me to the doctor who told me that I just needed to relax. He took me and Annie to the pediatrician who told me take a bath and drink some tea. He trusted them to know what to do.

I finally did get help, but not before some really scary things happened.

During that time, I never stopped loving you. I never stopped wanting you. In fact, hugs from you were the only thing that made me feel better. When I thought about leaving, I was taking you with me.

There was never a moment when I didn’t want to be with you.

Lots of mamas get sick like this. And it happens in different ways. Some mamas look like they didn’t want their babies, but we can never know what a sick mama is thinking. What she needs, more than anything, is love. Love and help. Don’t judge her. Help her.

Even though it was hard, the best things came from me telling my story. It helped all the mamas who knew me to be more aware of themselves and their mama friends. It helped more than a few mamas get the help they needed. Until we do better with organized outreach for sick mamas, this is what we have, telling our truth and spreading it one mama at a time.

So that if you or someone you love ever feel this way after having a baby, people will know what to do.

And remember…It’s not your fault. You will be ok.

If you or someone you know is struggling with pre- or postpartum depression or anxiety

  • If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • If you are looking for pregnancy or postpartum support and local resources, please call or email us:

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. In honor of Dana and me and all the mamas who have recovered, please don’t just look at the new babies. Look at the new mamas. Are they ok?

PSI Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Hop