Book Response – Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis

As an editor and writing coach, I quite happily end up with a lot of books. I’m going to introduce you to some of them. These won’t exactly be reviews, however. I’d say these posts will read more like a response to each book. Today, I’m offering my personal response to Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis by Kimberlee Conway Ireton.

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Cracking Up book coverOne of my daughters started babysitting for a morning moms’ meeting. The first week, a woman came up to her and asked if she was Ann Kroeker’s daughter. When my daughter said she was, the woman said, “Your mom spoke to our group years ago, and I’ll never forget what she said.”

My daughter expected to hear a profound quote so powerful and life-changing, it was worth holding onto for seven years.

The woman smiled. “She said sleep deprivation is a classic torture technique, so if you’re a young mom feeling like you’re being tortured…you are!”

My daughter laughed as she told me the story later that day.

“You had no idea I was so very wise, did you?” I remarked. She laughed again. My “wisdom” was cracking her up.

For the record, my daughter added that the woman insisted my message helped her get through the early, exhausting days of parenthood, realizing that if she felt like she was being tortured by late-night feedings and lack of sleep, it wasn’t her imagination. Hearing that, I’m glad I talked about torture that day (it was, by the way, just one small point in a larger presentation).

I remember with a shiver those lonely, depressing, sleep-deprived, mush-mind days. Back then, I told people my mind felt no more lively than a bowl of cold, congealed oatmeal. I began to fear I’d never write again. As you can imagine, writers need functioning minds to do their job. Bowls of cold oatmeal offer little to the world.

Author Kimberlee Conway Ireton knows this feeling. When she felt her mind dissolving to mush and her emotions going haywire while her newborn twins consumed every waking (and sleeping) moment, her psychological health waned. She felt like she was cracking up.

Yet, her book Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis provides concrete evidence that even during the darkest times of her postpartum struggles, she could write and laugh. The “Grace Notes” she faithfully scribbled down reflect word artistry and the eyes and heart of a poet. The jokes interspersed reveal the humor that lifted her sagging spirit.

Margie, her spiritual advisor, asks “where has God been meeting you.” Kimberlee says she is grateful for laughter. She tells some stories and she starts laughing so hard she’s crying. “Oh man,” Kimberlee says, “I have to stop laughing. I’m going to pee my pants.” Then she remembers another story that makes her laugh even more. Margie’s laughing, too, and says, “[D]on’t you see God?”

“God?”

“Yes, God!” Margie exclaims. “I see God in all of this laughter. So clearly. I see his delight in your laughter…It’s still Easter. I think it’s just perfect that this season of laughter in your life is happening during Easter.”

…I tell Margie, “Anne Lamott says that laughter is carbonated holiness.”

“I like that,” she says, and smiles. “Carbonated holiness. Yes.”(47, 48)

Throughout the book, Kimberlee is open about details associated with pregnancy and nursing mom issues and describes gadgets including the breast pump, nipple cream, and the “baby hugger” support system she wore during pregnancy. Her husband sees her putting on this contraption and says he’s going to miss these days. She knows how unattractive she must appear at that moment. She makes a face at him.

I pull the baby hugger’s suspenders over my shoulders and down to my belly. It’s a bit of a stretch, even for the elastic. When I fasten the suspenders to the girdle, the velcro doesn’t hold. The suspenders fly up and hit me in the face.

Doug laughs again. “Yep,” he says, “I am definitely going to miss this.” (72)

She deals with problems far more serious than being thwacked in the face by elastic suspenders (and teased by her husband). [SPOILER] She deals with health complications during the pregnancy and a neonatal emergency after the twins’ birth, adding stress to an already stressful situation. She and her husband carry this anxiety with them into life at home caring for twins and two older kids.

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As her subtitle states, Kimberlee was hit hard. Her depression is complicated by her desire to succeed as a writer (and her inability to do so). She declares quite honestly that she dreams of being a bestselling author (which seems unlikely given that her first book is, in her words, “tanking”). Consumed by 24/7 demands of feeding, changing, nurturing two newborn twins and two older children, Kimberlee wonders if her writing life may be lost forever.

Her fears intensify far beyond the baby blues. Kimberlee’s story reveals a mom in the midst of postpartum depression unable to recognize her need for medical intervention. Though she seems to have revealed to family and friends glimpses of the mounting anxiety she carried, I’m guessing no one knew how bad it was.

Tears drop onto my hand, onto Ben’s little swaddled back. How do I hold those things in tension? The goodness of my life, the many gifts I have, and the fact that I still find my life so difficult? And the most sobering fact that it could easily be so much harder?

…My tears fall harder, and my heart feels like it’s cracking right open and all the fear and unfairness and suffering is leaking out my eyes. And then, it fills my mouth, and I want to scream, but I can’t—I’ll wake my almost-sleeping babies, I’ll scare Jack and Jane who are in the living room waiting for me to read to them—so it erupts in a silent scream of pain, anger, anguish, as if I could rid myself of those things simply by opening my mouth wide enough, by crying hard enough. (Ireton 194, 195)

Thankfully she has help. Her husband, her mom, her sister, her spiritual director, and her friends step in and help carry her burdens in tangible ways, listening, bringing her meals, and keeping her laughing and praying. This network of support impressed me, as does the way they steer Kimberlee to truth in a way that does not offend or seem trite. As fear almost paralyzes her, she clings to threads of faith.

Life is precious, each moment a gift, and my best self—the self that I long to live out all the time—believes that God holds each moment, eternally present before Him, and when we stand before Him face to face, we will get those moments back, purified and perfected. We will. And if we don’t, God will have something even better for us—something more than all we can ask or imagine.

I believe. Oh help my unbelief.

Oh Jesus, cast out my fear. (177)

[PROBABLY THE BIGGEST SPOILER] Finally, fortunately, after months of sleep deprivation and postpartum hormonal flux, she gets the medication she needs to balance out her system. The twins start also to sleep through the night.

She’s medicated. She’s rested. She’s back. She’s believing. She’s writing.

She’s going to make it.

[END OF SPOILER] Kimberlee’s humor throughout the book offers occasional respites from the weight of her struggle, but it’s scary at times to read about her fears and anxiety, her soul-echoing emptiness.

Nevertheless, I recommend that people read this book to better understand postpartum depression and how it sets in and grows. And if you know someone with a newborn, especially twins, assume that she is sleep-deprived and needs your help in practical ways. She may also need you to discern her level of anxiety and depression.

When you drive over to drop off a meal and rock the baby, bring her a copy of Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis, as well. Leave it with her. It’s a sobering read, but her humor and quality writing make the topic accessible. Later, ask if she feels like Kimberlee. And if she sort of deflects it with humor, shrugs a little, or breaks out in tears, get her help. Pick up the phone and make the appointment for her, if need be. Help her load the kid(s) into the car and drive her to the doctor’s office, for her to get a diagnosis.

Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis is a reminder that postpartum depression is no laughing matter. It’s more like torture. Kimberlee handled it with humor and grace, but she struggled and suffered, and no one needs to feel that, carry that, try to survive that alone.

Kimberlee writes for two online organizations I’m part of: The High Calling and  Tweetspeak Poetry. As an editor of her work, I can assure you Kimberlee’s got her mind back. And her faith. But she needed people to step in and help her see what to do.

You can be that person for someone like Kimberlee. Let her story change other women’s stories. Maybe even your own.

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BOOK GIVEAWAY!

If you would like a copy of Cracking Up for yourself or to give away, I’m going to send my copy to one lucky commenter. If for some reason you don’t want to be in the drawing (maybe you already have the book, for example), let me know (but feel free to leave a comment anyway!). To be included in the drawing, leave your comment (with some way to contact you) by 8:00 p.m. ET Friday, December 20, 2013. I’ll do the random drawing and announce the winner on Saturday, December 21.

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Work Cited:

Conway Ireton, Kimberlee. Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis. Seattle, WA: Mason Lewis, 2013. Print.

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  • Comments

    1. Wow. I would love to read it. I’ve felt similarly as a writing mom!

      • Carrie, I’ve been there, too, as I wrote in this post. How are you feeling now? In a good place? I feel like we all need to check in with each other!

        Thank you for dropping by with a comment. I’ll put your name in the hat, for sure!

    2. Ann, beautiful “non-review” of the book. I want to know Kimberly better as our paths cross through this writing life. What better way than to read her book and then pass it on to a new mom. I recall oatmeal mush brain and sleep deprivation. Both are extremely difficult. Love being here at your place. :)

      • Love having you here, Elizabeth. Thank you for your encouraging words–you should indeed spend some time getting to know Kimberlee. She’s delightful. Intelligent. Witty. Insightful. Contemplative. And….poetic. :)

    3. I would definitely love to have a copy, Ann.

      I am not yet at the point where I would define myself as a writing mom, but I can certainly relate to the mom half of the equation… postpartum depression is definitely no joke. *sigh*

      • Ruth, glad to hear from you. I’ll include your name in the mix. Reading her book and then thinking back, I’m beginning to believe I had it after my next-to-last child last children were born. So hard. Kimberlee’s book is helpful for anyone who has wondered what kind of sadness lurks underneath.

        • We don’t have a lot of support here for PPD… Folk tend to just keep going until they crash. Not many people understand… :-/

          • Ruth, how much to friends take note and help out? Not much? I know I struggled with this, not as badly as Kimberlee, but I did not have that support base and so I did what you said–just kept going. Thankfully, I didn’t crash.

    4. Nice review. I especially appreciate the advice to assess and possibly act if someone we know seems to be drowning like this, and the truth that deflecting with humor may be a warning sign.

      • Thank you, Laura. Now, technically, as I said in my intro, it’s not precisely a review…but who am I to quibble? I’m just glad you read through and agree that we need to step in when others are incapable of thinking clearly or self-assessing. You would do this well, I’m sure, as you are so discerning.

    5. Great review, Ann! Having my own set of twins, I felt a personal connection with Kimberlee the first moment I read her blog years ago (and enjoyed her first book). I am sure this is a marvelous read. Thanks for sharing.

    6. Thanks for this unreview of Kimberlee’s book. I wish it had been written thirty-some years ago. It sounds like a good book to be able to give to a struggling new mom.

    7. Really well-done, Ann. I loved this book and felt, as you do, that it needs to be in the hands of new moms and those who love them. PPD is insidious and potentially dangerous. At the very least, it is, as you describe, torturous. This was a beautifully written book, one that I’m grateful to have read. (So I don’t need to be in the giveaway. :>) Thanks for this, Ann.

      • Diana, thank you for recommending the book to me! I agree with you–beautifully, honestly, cleverly written. I’ll leave your name out of the hat, but I must give you credit for pointing me to Kimberlee’s latest title!

    8. Rebecca McGuckin says:

      Ann,
      I loved “hearing” not only your response but encouragement for and connection with Kimberlee. What a blessing that she lives life with a strong community! I imagine her book will act as an extension of such to women who may not have as much. Looking forward to reading it and blessings to her for writing on a topic that needs less stigma and more grace!

      • Rebecca, what a delight to see you here! I agree with you about Kimberlee’s support system. I did not have so many people able or willing to step in, and so your thought that her book can be a voice of compassion and commiseration that points moms to get help? That’s a gift to this world.

        Love your last phrase: PPD needs less stigma and more grace.

    9. Ann, I just started Kimberlee’s book a couple of days ago! I’ve already found a lot to like (and of course, I already liked her writing). Although I can’t identify with her postpartum depression and the struggles she went through with the twins, I can apply her story to other areas of my life. That means she’s a good storyteller!

      And I appreciate the warnings and admonitions that you included in the end of this post. Yes, let’s help our friends who may not be able to help themselves.

      • I’m so glad you are digging into her book and enjoying it. I read it in about two days. She’s a delightful storyteller, as you said. And you make a good point–we don’t have to have struggled with PPD to find ourselves in similar places of anxiety, confusion, depression, and doubt.

    10. Thank you for writing this post. I went through mild ppd after my 1st, which I didn’t really realize until he was 8 months old. I believe the sleep deprivation was the biggest culprit in my experience as he never slept.

      I have a friend who has much more severe ppd, that is still going strong even though her youngest is a year & a half. She’s been through intense therapy, is medicated, has had much support, but some days it doesn’t feel like she’s getting better. Do you think this book would be a good resource for her? Not sure she would read it, but I’d love to be able to help in any small way if I could.

      • I think I was like you, Chris. I think I had mild ppd after my third and fourth based on sleep deprivation (a.k.a., torture). I think she might feel like she’s not so alone if she reads Kimberlee’s book. Plus, Kimberlee is also still struggling, which also might help your friend feel at least she’s not the only one. Here’s something she wrote not long ago: http://deeperstory.com/lurches-and-stumbles/ Perhaps reading that will help you make your own decision for your friend?

    11. I have read so many good things around the internets about Kimberlee’s book, I just have to toss my hat into the ring. I haven’t read it because, as an adoptive mom, I’ve never been through pregnancy or post-partum depression. But, I like what you wrote about better understanding those who have or are going through these things, and so I think it would be good for me to read this and have it available to share with others.

      My very dear friend has two sets of twins–now young adults. I remember when she was potty-training the first pair, she said she didn’t leave the bathroom for a month!

      • Terrific, Nancy! Your had is officially in the ring with the others. I think you’ll find it very helpful to step inside the struggle–and I think it will help us all know better how to support and help others.

        Twins and potty training! Oh, the bathroom thing…I can only imagine!

    12. I received an advance reader copy of Kimberlee’s book, so don’t enter me in the giveaway, but I wanted to say how much I appreciate this generous response to Kimberlee’s book. Her writing is humorous and poignant, and needed. I only wish I’d had her book back in 2005 when I was drowning in postpartum depression myself.

      • Kris, thanks for your note and for sharing your thoughts–I’m sorry you struggled so very much back in 2005. We need to talk more about this, so women aren’t sitting with their newborns feeling confused and alone. Kimberlee’s humorous approach creates a disarming entree.

    13. Ann,
      I would love to be put in the drawing for this book. The last several years I have been a “mentor mom” with our MOPS group at church, a group of about 55 women. While I didn’t deal with post partum depression myself, I do know of several who have. this is a topic that will be talked about at a meeting at the end of January, so I’d love to have additional information.
      An interesting side note is that last year I saw an article on post adoption depression in moms.

    14. Tania Runyan says:

      I went through this after the birth of my second child, waiting way too long for medical help because I and many around me attempted to spiritualize my condition. Now I am a big supporter of seeking medical help when facing severe mental crisis. There is still so much ignorance, bias, and judgement out there, and my heart breaks for moms who feel alone.

      • You and Kimberlee should talk. You remind me of each other a little bit–hilarious, thoughtful, poetic. Now to see that you’ve both struggled with ppd? Yes, you should talk.

    15. Oh boy, I can relate to much of what you said about miss Kimblee’s book – emergency C-section, complications, and un-dealt with postpartum. I’ve done a pretty good job stuffing those memories away. Maybe I should deal with some of it. I betcha it’s entangled more than I realize (shame, guilt, fear, uncertainty) — I was a new Believer by only two months when my son was born!

      Anyway, I like your new look ’round here. And this sounds like a great book. Thank you.

      Blessings.

      • Thanks for your note, Darlene. I’m sorry you struggled with so much–you could probably have written a book on this topic yourself. Golly. And why is society creating a culture in which a woman struggling with hormonal disruption feels shame, guilt and fear? The uncertainty, that’s where a lot of us can step in and help a sufferer get help. And we can start to create a place of openness and safety where people can talk about their fears and anxiety.

        This is a start. Kimberlee’s starting a conversation.

    16. Sorry about the misspelling of the the author’s name! She’s in good company, because sometimes I misspell mine too. ;-)

    17. Never had kids – but find this all quite interesting…

      • You will enjoy her writing, I think, and her storytelling gift. The nice thing about memoir is that you get to know someone, especially a specific part of her story. And if you meet someone dealing with depression, you might be able to spot it, or to know what to ask to help her open up. I’ll bet you’re good at that anyway. :)

    18. Okay, we’ve crossed the 8:00pm ET line, so I’ll assemble the names here of commenters. I’ll assume everyone wants to have her name in the hat unless otherwise notified (which included about two people). I’ll let you know tomorrow who will get the copy of Cracking Up.

      Thank you for joining me here, friends!

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