That Woman is Gone: Discovering Postpartum Depression

On some spring mornings, even nine years later, a remnant returns: red-winged blackbirds wake me before dawn, panic cinches my throat, and adrenalin pulses in my fingertips.

I still don’t know whether the sleeplessness caused the depression or if it was the other way around.  By the time we checked out of the hospital, because of a sleepless night before the birth and a litany of distractions (mostly a blood-pressure cuff accidentally set to squeeze my arm every sixty seconds), I’d gone almost seventy-two hours without sleep.

Is that what made me lose my mind? A faulty blood-pressure cuff?

My mom flew in from California to help me adjust to those first days with a newborn and toddler. I couldn’t settle down to sleep, but I figured I was lovestruck with my copper-headed bundle. I funneled my energies into cooking, shopping, and planting flowers when the baby was still only days old.

My mom left, and I still couldn’t nap or sleep at night. I’d feed Becca and lie awake until she cried again. My husband took over nighttime feedings, but it made no difference. I thought my nerves would explode through my skin. Even if I dozed fitfully for an hour or two, the birds would always wake me before dawn.

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Pennies from Heaven

I’ve never really been into crosses.  Like fire hydrants or Starbucks, there are so many, I don’t even see them. Sermons or songs that ask me to meditate on the cross might as well ask me to meditate on the church snack table because that’s where my mind wanders as I wait for the cross, cross, cross (say the word enough, and it deflates to a hiss) to go back on its Precious Moments shelf.

When we traveled to southern Illinois with our three children over spring break, we discovered that just five minutes in a popup camper leads to violent fights over Pringles. And those bad boys can draw blood. So we hiked the kids to exhaustion, and when we didn’t know what else to do, threw them in the van and drove toward a 111-foot structure towering over the Shawnee National Forest: the Bald Knob Cross of Peace.

As a veteran road-tripper, I’ve visited a lot of kitschy sites, from the largest thermometer in Baker, California, to Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo. I’ve exited a barren stretch of highway to pose in front of the sign for Buford, Wyoming, Population 1. This cross, I was sure, would promise another quick photo op and nothing more.

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Keeping Up with the Writing Joneses

By the time this post runs, I’ll be in Grand Rapids at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. Since I am now a mid-careerish, spiritually mature woman attending the event for the fourth time, I will certainly not embarrass myself by committing the following rookie atrocities*:

Forgetting Michigan is on Eastern Standard Time and becoming self-righteously flustered when I find out I’m late for the opening session because who does Michigan think she is, New York?

Introducing myself with “Vander” in front of my decidedly unDutch surname to get a laugh from all those Reformed folk.

Standing in line to talk to Greg Wolfe while trying to look like I’m not really standing in line, and when I get my turn, renewing my subscription to Image because I don’t know what else to say. Realizing that because of similar conference encounters, my issues should safely arrive through 2025.

Walking up to an editor busily unpacking boxes at her publisher’s table and thrusting a manuscript in her face because editors are hard up for manuscripts, desperately seek ways to fill their down time, and thrive on surprises.

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Stumbling into the Waterfall: 25 Years of Image

To celebrate Image’s twenty-fifth anniversary, we are posting a series of essays from people who have encountered our programs over the years. Today’s post is the first.

I had been living a double life.

Two nights a week, I attended a large evangelical church, where I prayed, sang, and gave my money and time. I led a small group where we spoke fiercely of our spiritual struggles, relationships, careers, and painful pasts.

At the same time, while riding the train downtown to my publishing job every morning, I wrote poems. My notebooks revealed another flavor of faith and struggle, prayer wrought with image and metaphor.

Both of these lives manifested the “real” me, and one was not more valuable than the other. But sustaining two identities with equal passion cannot last long. I’d lived that way through most of college and grad school, and now it was 1999, the thick of adulthood.  Could I bring my two lives together? Could I experience the fullness of millennial joy Prince had promised years ago?

One afternoon at a local Barnes & Noble, I wandered to the newsstand and spotted a new acquisition: Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion. The cover image, Sacrificial Grace by Makoto Fujimura, gripped me with its decided lack of grip. This abstract, color-streaked waterfall “counted” as religious art? I wanted to enter it with my arms open, allow it to drench me with its mystery.

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Letting It All Hang Out

I was zoning out at a red light when a shiny object—or, shall I say, two shiny objects—caught my eye. Dangling from the back of a pickup truck a pair of large metal testicles sparkled in the subzero sun.

I shot a picture before the light turned green and posted it to Facebook when I got home: “Please, Lord,” I wrote, “don’t let my daughter grow up to date a guy with testes on his truck.”

The responses came fast and furiously:

“Maybe he felt a need to buy a set since he didn’t have his own.”

“This kind of truck decor provides a public service.  Everyone knows if you see balls at the back, there’s a dick up front.”

“Someone envisioned that product—someone designed it, someone sold it, someone purchased and installed it. Isn’t this world amazing?”

What a world, indeed. Something drove this man to drop the scrotum in his cart or press “confirm” on an online order. Whether predmediated over months or cinched in a moment of inspiration, there was a moment of decision, followed, even more fantastically, by an installation process. Tools were deployed. Hands were busied. Nuts were given the final turn.

Did the man stand back, hands on his hips, and proclaim, “Yes! I can finally publicly acknowledge my douchebaggery on every street in Lake County?”

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