I have experienced post partum depression and anxiety. It's one thing to type that as a sentence. Its another thing entirely to welcome someone into the actual experience during the rawness— not wanting to care for your baby, the triggers for lostness and loneliness, the irrational thoughts that have been causing your heart to race. Sharing specifics in the thick of it is difficult because it’s messy. Each time I divulged a detail to a friend I feared losing their good opinion of me. I was afraid of being “too much” and changing the relationship. I just wanted to be “fun” and normal.
The experience of post-partum anxiety began for me at 37 weeks pregnant with each of my children. Often without warning or an identifiable trigger, my mind would begin to race in a panic, certain that my baby was no longer safe in my womb. Whether or not my intuition was correct (they were both born in the 38th week after failing their biophysical ultrasound tests), the anxiety was debilitating. After giving birth to both of them, I was in a sort of manic state while in the hospital, unable to sleep for fear that the baby would stop breathing. My body reacted strongly to their cries, grunts, and gurgles. Once we brought our first son home, I worried after moving him our room to the nursery that someone was going to climb through his window and take him away. I began to feel paranoid about being abandoned and deserted by friends. Sometimes my fear and worries were specific. But often, I simply suffered from feeling unsafe, relationally or physically, and felt a general feeling of instability. This manifested itself physically through sudden experiences of heat or nausea, the inability to complete a task before me or decide what task to begin, and an incredibly limited attention span or ability to focus.
My experience with post-partum depression has come in two distinct waves, once when my second son was four months old, after his first big sleep regression, and once when I weaned him. When my children would wake up, I felt paralyzed. When they would emerge from afternoon naps, my eyes would water. My body felt too heavy to stand, and their bodies felt too heavy to lift.
Nursing exacerbated this experience. Each time we cut out a feed as my boys grew more dependent on solid food, I would get TMJ and wrestle with anxious thoughts for a few weeks. Two weeks ago I weaned my 14 month old completely, and had a terrible few days of paranoia and insomnia. My body was used to the steady flow of oxytocin. But then, suddenly, I felt like myself again. Its like a fog has lifted. I can focus. I can complete tasks. It suddenly doesn't feel quite to overwhelming to go through the mail or fold a load of laundry. The ease and energy that I feel since this sudden shift have caused me to recognize how truly difficult the hormonal shifts of the past few years of pregnancy, miscarriage, and breastfeeding have been.
Amid and between all of these experiences were moments of pure delight and joy where I just "couldn't even" about our life and family. I love my kids. I think they're the two most beautiful children I've ever seen. I love to laugh and play with them. But the lows were low.
The experience after my second son was easier because I anticipated the struggle. I knew what to expect. I knew I needed the body of Christ and set up safe guards to prevent me from sinking into any sort of dark emotional abyss. I kept flowers in the home, went outside a lot, and asked a few friends to ask me consistently and seriously about how I was doing. I talked to my mom daily and asked her to pay attention and tell me when she felt like I was slipping.
There was a pervasive feeling of shame as I looked at moms around me who seemed to do all of it with such ease. I often wondered what was wrong with me. But the Bible tells me plainly, its the same thing that’s “wrong” with all of us. Our bodies are broken.
This wrestling has been painful and tiring, but I have known intimacy with the Lord in this place. I have experienced the comfort he offers by the power of his Spirit through prayer and the truth of his word here. I have learned to cling to him in a way I never felt I needed to before. And in experiencing his presence and his comfort in this brand of suffering, I have been better equipped to come alongside and comfort others.
If you're in a similar place, can I encourage you with the reality that "you're only human"? Your body and your mind are affected by the fall. Chemical and hormonal imbalances are a part of the broken experience of being a human being who is living under the limits and sad effects of a fallen world. Your Father in Heaven knows your frame, he knows that you are dust, and has so much compassion for you. He also sent Jesus to live the perfect life you couldn't, die the death you deserved, and raised him for your justification so that you could be free from the feeling that you have to have it all together.
You have nothing to prove.
Christ is your righteousness; not your display of emotional fortitude, maternal instinct, or physical ability to do all the things. So you can answer honestly on the survey your pediatrician gives you at the one week check up if you feel like things are "really getting on top of you." You can tell your OB at that 6 week check up that sometimes you feel like you can't get out of bed, or that occasionally the baby's cries makes you feel rage. You can tell the older women in your church that you're struggling and need help, even if you don't know what that would look like. You can call and make an appointment. You can ask friends to be with you when the sun starts to set and your thoughts get irrational, or to watch your children so you can take the nap that might make all the difference for your tortured, sleep deprived body and mind.
Maybe commands about not being afraid or discouraged have caused you to feel as if the right thing to do is to extinguish your fear and depression with a firehose of biblical platitudes. But those commands are given by a relational God, who has given us a hymnbook in his word filled with lament and songs to sing when we're afraid. He invites you to come to him and find rest for your anxious mind and troubled heart.
We have to be able to be honest about where we are to receive God's provision for our incredibly human need. He stands ready to help women with post-partum anxiety and depression by his Spirit, through his word, through counseling and practical medical means, and through their local body of believers. Please, my friend, don't let your shame over how you're “handling” the weeks and months after childbirth keep you from asking for the help you (and your children) so desperately need, the help that God is so willing and able to provide. I am pausing to pray that those of you reading and resonating with these words would know the freedom and gospel peace that comes from being honest about your need and having that need met. Would you know the sufficiency of his grace for you, and be moved to praise as his power is made perfect in your weakness.