My wife, Liz, is an amazing mom to our four children. We’ve walked through a challenging season with her health that has proven to be both humbling and empowering. As you read her story, we hope it will be both humbling and empowering for you as well.
In the fall of 2011, I gave birth to identical twins boys. Despite being born six-weeks early, each weighed six pounds. I knew that pregnancy had done a number on my body, but post-pregnancy I discovered two hernias and diastasis recti—an abdominal separation more than three fingers in width.
In addition to newborn twins, we also had a fifteen-month-old son. There wasn’t much time for anything but survival. Life continued in that phase for nearly three years. As a Division 1 college athlete, physical activity had always been a part of my life, but three children demanded every second of free time. It looked like my body’s physical condition would take a backseat to being a mom.
However, my husband encouraged me to get back in a tennis league. Not only would this provide some much-needed time away, it would also help restore my physical body. Two months into the tennis league I learned that I was pregnant with our fourth child. We were incredibly excited, but I was nervous about what this would mean for my already depleted body.
Life After My Third Pregnancy
For the majority of that pregnancy, my third in five years, I wore a band to help with my stomach’s expansion. In January of 2016, I gave birth to our daughter, Sara James. As I lost my baby weight and saw what remained of my body, I was crushed. My stomach was a wrinkled mess and my chest had all but disappeared.
After six months of exclusively breast-feeding our daughter, my body felt completely drained. When I looked in the mirror, I saw nothing but skin and bones looking back at me. I know some moms struggle to get the baby weight off, and I get my fair share of eye rolls from them, but I had the opposite problem. I lost every bit of weight and energy I needed to nourish my daughter as long as I wanted to.
This was my typical postpartum path. After both my first and second pregnancies, the doctor told me to stop breastfeeding because it was becoming threatening to my own health. But this time, I had another shocking discovery that I wasn’t ready for.
When I consulted the doctor about the possibility of hernia surgery and stomach reconstruction, the ultrasound revealed excessive fluid around my heart called a pericardial effusion.
This was the beginning of one of my life’s most difficult seasons.
My Unraveling Physical and Mental Health
For six months, I had multiple appointments with a cardiologist that included echocardiograms and extensive blood tests to determine the cause of my condition. Fluid on the heart is commonly associated with autoimmune disease as well as a host of other stressful possibilities. My grandmother suffered from fibromyalgia, so I had all but convinced myself that this was the cause. And, my father passed away from cancer at the age of forty-three, so I was haunted by the pain of my past as well.
When your physical body isn’t healthy, it exhausts you mentally. If you’ve ever experienced an unknown illness, you know this all too well. The stress builds with every appointment. Your mind feeds you a steady diet of unhealthy thoughts that creates a rabbit hole of negativity.
I made the mistake of Googling my symptoms. With every click, my anxiety escalated. Terrible, unwelcome thoughts of death and life altering illness clouded my mind. Pretty soon, my back muscles were in knots and I was experiencing sharp pain throughout my chest and shoulders. I was unraveling and wasting away. And in a house full of four wonderfully energetic kids—all under the age of seven—I wasn’t being the mom they needed me to be. That guilt only made things worse.
The Crossroads of Choice
As I jumped from doctor to doctor, the only confirmed diagnoses were two umbilical hernias and a split abdominal wall. We were told surgery was my best option. As for my stress and anxiety, I was offered muscle relaxers and anti-anxiety medication.
I stood at a crossroads. After a consult with the plastic surgeon, we determined that I couldn’t handle the surgery and recovery during this current stage of life. I felt defeated. There seemed to be no way to fix any of my issues and nowhere to turn other than medication. I felt stranded, frustrated, and God seemed distant.
I knew God had answered our prayers by blessing us with four children, but why had He put me in this situation?
When He had shown up so miraculously before, why was He withholding Himself now?
At the point when I wanted to wave the white flag, God offered me a different perspective. In this place of surrender, I fell to my knees. And God met me there. His voice was convicting and true. In the busyness and the stress of my circumstances, I had allowed my emotions to control my life. The kids could feel it, my husband could feel it. I knew that my mind and body needed a jumpstart that only God could provide.
Before I made any decision, He was asking me to be still.
The Road to Recovery
When your mind and body are clouded, all you want is an escape. And sometimes the easiest thing to do is to rely on the doctor and medicines that promise a solution. My husband, who so graciously loved me through this season, encouraged me to truly humble myself before my Creator and ask Him what He would have me to do. If God is referred to as the Great Physician, shouldn’t I consult Him?
I prayed that the Lord’s will would be done as I continued on my journey to restore my life. I asked Him what a healthier version of me looked like. More specifically, I prayed that He would bring someone into my life to help me as I climbed. Each day I set my alarm to wake up before the sunrise. I rested in the quiet to listen, read my Bible, and journaled my thoughts.
Within days, I felt like God was telling me that medicines were not the right option at this time. And within days, two very specific things happened. First, a friend, who I’ll graciously refer to as Dr. “Angel” helped crack the case surrounding my pericardial effusion. Through a different set of labs, she determined that I had suffered mono at some point in the past year which accounted for my lack of energy and the fluid around my heart. Secondly, a friend introduced me to a personal trainer who had been through a stomach rehab similar to mine.
I told my trainer, Amy Hunt, that I had gone from a Division 1 athlete to not being able to do a sit up. She reassured me that we would go slow to avoid any injuries and she put together a plan specifically for me. It was hard work and frustrating at times, but slowly and surely my road to physical and spiritual recovery began.
In spite of physical and spiritual poverty, my character was transformed. God waited patiently for me to come to Him so He could restore my soul and give me the freedom I longed for. He gave me the authority to move toward physical restoration as well. I began feeding my mind a steady diet of God’s Word—thinking on “these things”. And, I created margin to invest in my physical health as well.
I am six months into this better version of me and I feel more at peace than I have in years. But the growing isn’t over. I know this isn’t a one-time thing. With God’s help, I continue to wake up early and dig deeper to get to the root of my fear and learn how to fight well in the future.
I share this in hopes of helping other women who feel depleted. This is in no way a condemnation of medicine or the medical field. I believe and have learned that God calls us to bring everything into His light and consult Him as we would any other doctor. And, that we have a very active enemy that is constantly at war to keep us from our best self.
Your story might not look like mine and quite frankly, it shouldn’t. God speaks to each of us differently. However, I want you to know how incredibly important it is to have a sound mind and body. And that begins at the feet of a Father who truly loves us. The journey wasn’t easy and there are days when I still struggle, but the blessings far outweigh what I could have imagined.
My entire family now reaps the benefits of a mom who isn’t suffering from major anxiety attacks, my body is now strong enough to mother four young children and not lay in bed at night crying of pain, and my emotions are at rest and surrendered to a God whose Word proves to be stronger than how I feel.
For that, I am grateful.