After the birth of my first child, I quickly spiraled into what I would later recognize as postpartum depression, but at the time, felt like a rational reaction to having a baby. Admittedly, we had a bumpy start. There were feeding issues that caused a return trip to the hospital and three days in the NICU. He had reflux so he never slept, and he was constantly crying unless he was being held. The lack of sleep, combined with the hormonal monsters ruling my body, nearly crushed me.
In the middle of my sleep deprivation, I truly could not recognize that the non-stop crying, feelings of never wanting to leave the house, excessive irritability, and anxiety bordering on paranoia, were all indicators that I needed to seek help. Instead, when given the postpartum depression evaluations, I found myself being dishonest, but not always intentionally.
Many of the questions centered around whether or not I was enjoying life in the same way that I used to. Here’s the thing though – I wasn’t actually doing any of the same things from my former life so the questions seemed irrelevant and difficult to answer. Also, when I was out of the house without a baby for these appointments, life seemed brighter, so it was challenging to remember how I had been feeling in the previous two weeks.
But perhaps most of all, I truly felt that my emotions and reactions were ones that everyone experienced, so there was a sense of shame in feeling overwhelmed by them to the point of needing help. It seemed that all new moms went through similar emotions and never slept, and yet they were doing just fine, thriving even.
After the birth of my second baby, the fog lifted on what I had gone through with my first because this time around I did not develop post-partum depression. It became clear to me that what I had previously gone through was out of my control. That it wasn’t because I was weak, or not naturally nurturing, or because I didn’t read the right books or take the right classes while I was pregnant.
Looking back, I wish I would have had more confidence to be truthful about how I felt. I wish I would have realized that I was not a failure, and that what I was thinking and feeling, while common, still warranted asking for help.
By the grace of God, after my first baby, I slowly emerged from the dark clouds I had been sitting under just around four months postpartum. On the other side, I found unspeakable joy in being a mama to my sweet babe. I found laughter, confidence, and a renewed trust in the God who made us a family.
Take steps to get help
Friends, if you are in the postpartum stage and feel as though there is even a small chance that you would benefit from therapy or medication, would you allow me to encourage you a bit? Please do not wait to make that doctor’s appointment, and please do not fear being 100% honest while you’re there. Enlist the help of your spouse or friends, both in making appointments and as a support system when you are there. Getting help does not mean you are weak, it means you are brave for taking those steps.
In this time, allow your friends to speak truth over you, to pray for you, and to help in practical ways. If you feel you do not have the capacity to open your Bible or pray, ask your spouse or friends if they would text you scriptures or short prayers each day.
It can be so tempting when we feel at our lowest to retreat from community, but I would encourage you to fight against that and allow others into your struggle. Jesus created us for community – draw on your people during this time and allow Him to use them in your life. Also, please know that, even in your hardest days, the God of the universe loves you, sees you, and is with you. You can cast all of your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). He will be with you as you seek out help, he will strengthen you, and he will give you what you need each step of the way.
Comforted so that we can comfort
If you are on the other side of postpartum depression or anxiety, may I encourage you with something as well? Please consider sharing your story with others. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that God comforts us in our troubles “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor 1:4b NIV).
Isn’t it exciting that, with Jesus, the hard parts of our story can be redeemed? He can use them to encourage others and to bring them hope. What a privilege!
There is freedom in being open and honest with each other. Let’s lift the veil of secrecy on postpartum depression and anxiety, stop believing everything we see on Instagram, and start talking face to face about what is really going on in the chaos of the newborn days. It matters, it helps, and it can start the healing process for another sweet mama who might just be waiting for someone else to say, “I’ve been there too, Jesus is with you in this, and it does get better”.
Courtney Boulware lives in the Midwest with her husband and two children, and enjoys library book sales, reading, college football, binge-watching The Office, and anything chocolate. She also pretends to enjoy working out (yay fitness!). Courtney blogs with her sister-in-law at Letter Seed and you can connect with her on Instagram @letterseedblog, as well.