Postpartum Depression

I share this because of my past writings on depression, because of what it taught me about who I am in Christ, and because I pray it will help others. It was a scary time and despite what I know and write below there is still some shame in openly sharing struggles with sin, even if it stems from hormones outside our control. God is powerful and faithful to heal and forgive, and has imputed to us the righteousness of Christ. Though I am a sinner and my sin is this deep, He has also forgiven me and given me new life in Christ. I hope that as you read, you will keep that in mind!

“We are more sinful and flawed than we ever dared believe, but more loved and welcomed than we ever dared hope.” – Elyse Fitpatrick, “Because He Loves Me”

Before S was born, I was prepared for, but not expecting, baby blues. I knew I might end up with mood swings or crying a lot or feeling down (thanks, hormones). I was familiar, too, with the signs of postpartum depression. But even though I had read about it, nothing could have prepared me for the evening I was sitting on the couch holding S and really started struggling with symptoms of postpartum depression. It was so contrary to everything else I was feeling at the time that it took me a few minutes to process but then I was so scared I started shaking and felt sick to my stomach. I laid S next to me, and called Ezra, who was cleaning up after dinner.

It happened a few times over the next few days and we called the midwives, and then our pastor’s wife, who came down the next day to talk and pray with me. Whenever I had a wave of the depression (they were sporadic and came out of nowhere), I was terrified and felt nauseous.
I had already had some time to think and pray about it, as well as talking more with Ezra, before we talked to anyone else. We knew there was a lot going on physically in my body with the intensity of birth and my body healing and all of the changing hormones. The day it started I hadn’t eaten much and had been slack when it came to taking my vitamins. Add in lack of sleep and so many new things and so little time to read and pray, and you become so susceptible to postpartum depression.

But while the physical side was so clear to us, it was also apparent that the way to fight was both physical AND spiritual, which is why when the midwives suggested counseling and gave me contact information for it, we said we’d call our church, not wanting secular counseling (more on this later).
Even so, I was having a hard time dealing with it spiritually aside from striving to keep my mind occupied during feedings, when it was prone to wander most. Ezra supported me well, reminding me of my standing before Christ and making sure I got the rest and food I needed. He also suggested that since it was so out of character (especially since S wasn’t being difficult at those times) that it might be the Devil whispering in my ear (I know that sounds odd and charismatic, and I think it’s another topic, but think of Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, as well as pagan rituals associated with harming self and others). I think that was true to some degree.

When I spoke with our pastor’s wife, she acknowledged that possibility but also indicated that it was a glimpse into how deep my sin is (and the intense circumstances, hormones, and/or the Tempter were just bringing that out). We talked about how that thought, for the Christian, leads not to further despair and depression, but to hope: shameful as they are, those are the very sins Christ died for. His death atones for even those thoughts, which shows us just a little of how deep His love is for us. And that gives us the strength to fight the whispers of the evil one, the despair in our own hearts, and the sin that tries to overtake us.
Those thoughts, despicable though they be, do not condemn me because I am forgiven and have the righteousness of Christ (take that, Satan!).
Those thoughts do not take away God’s love for me, because His love is based on the work of Christ and not of Kyleigh (take that, heart!).
Those thoughts do not sentence me to lifelong struggle against them, because I have the Holy Spirit and He is at work to help me fight my sin.

We also talked about guilt. At the time I didn’t feel like there was any guilt involved. After all, I knew any sin of mine was dealt with and forgiven at the cross, if any of the struggle was actually sin. But the next day I realized there WAS guilt.
Guilt was what made me afraid to speak up in general, but especially about the specifics. It was easier to say “I’m having a rough time” or not say anything at all than it was to say “I’m not enjoying motherhood.”
Guilt was what made it impossible to sleep when it happened the second time and I hadn’t  told Ezra.
Guilt was what made me susceptible to thinking those thoughts again, because I thought they were still a part of me and not forgiven.

But they were. They were – are – forgiven. Postpartum depression is not who you are in Christ, and as forgiven sinners there is no need for shame, no reason to hide.
As one of the men at church said recently, “There is nothing impressive about us [nothing impressive about me, thinking evil thoughts]. What is impressive is the righteousness of Christ [the righteousness that He has given me!].” And then he explained that that is the reason we have no need to hide. In Christ, the depths of our sin is known. But in Christ, the depth of our sin is covered, forgiven, and exchanged for His righteousness, so we can share our brokenness with others.

And all that is  why we wanted counseling from a biblical perspective. There is “Christian” counseling that is mostly psychology and explaining away with bits of Bible thrown in. But the kind of counseling that works is the kind that takes the truth of scripture, God, and sinful man and applies it to the current situation.

The next few weeks were full of healing. It helped to have someone I could call if Ezra wasn’t reachable. My mother, father, and sister also were alongside me, helping me fight. Some of it just took time, as hormones regulated. Some of it was me learning to fight – to speak scripture or sing or pray to refocus my mind. And some of it was me learning what might trigger those thoughts, and how guilt could still creep in, and how fear of S getting hurt in any way played a role (hormones are apparently crazy things that can take your fear of injury to your child and turn it into depression. I don’t get it, but I think that’s a large part of it, since what I was feeling was so contrary to everything else I was feeling at the time, and so contrary to who I am in Christ and all my life before this).

But I think I prevented healing by being so nervous about it happening again. I knew I was forgiven, but I was doubtful I’d ever be free from the struggle. I felt I had more control of it, but I was afraid anyway. I went to Romans and read chapters 6-8 over and over, thinking about how fighting sin yet being forgiven go together (being afraid my knowing I was forgiven would lead to acting on a thought, instead of forgiveness leading to love and a greater desire to be like Him and understanding how thoughts become actions only when we don’t fight/repent), and what it means to be dead to sin (not making myself available to sin, not dwelling on the memory of it apart from remembering what Christ has done, etc.).
And that helped, but ultimately I had to remember to take one day at a time, not worrying about future anything – births, recoveries, the thoughts coming again – while at the same time putting my hope in God and not an end to the struggle. I had to learn not to expect it to come again and not to expect bad things to happen (in or out of my control).
Wait for the Lord, be strong and take courage; wait for the Lord!

In the end, I knew the bulk of the struggle was over when life got harder but the thoughts didn’t return. It was a very difficult time, but on the other side of it, I’m so thankful for all of the help and support we had and for the life it brought into my spiritual life and the deeper understanding it gave me of what God has done for me (for more thoughts on this, read “Because He Loves Me” by Elyse Fitpatrick). There are still moments I’m reminded of specific moments. But I’m praying healing will be complete, that I will forget those specifics even as He chooses not to remember my sin.

If you’re struggling with this or any other form of postpartum depression, I urge you to speak up. Eat enough nutrient dense food. Take your vitamins. Rest. Prioritize the word and prayer. Learn what makes the struggle worse and do what you can about that. Have someone you can call, even in the middle of the night. Don’t base your mood on how easy the baby is at that time or how your body feels. Do small, productive things if it helps (I was going stir-crazy and think it contributed). Look into using essential oils – normally I wouldn’t suggest them for mood things but since there is a hormonal and thus time factor to it, I think they can be very useful to help speed up physical and emotional healing.
Your emotions are all over the place and are VERY STRONG, especially love for your baby and thus you fear something might happen to her. You’re realizing how much motherhood requires of you and how inadequate you are (praise the Lord for the Holy Spirit!), you’re fatigued from the birth and sleepless nights, as well as the emotional — from the birth, and your hormones are all over the place.

When you realize how awful your sin is, whether by things past or present, it really is scary, and rightly so. But what the cross tells us is that even though we are more sinful than we will ever realize, God loves us more than we will ever realize, and that sin is forgiven and there is NO condemnation for we who are in Christ. Those very sins we struggle with are the very ones that He died for, and the very ones He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us in the fight against them.

He is with us!

“You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.”
– Psalm 32

Note: none of this is to say that if you need help beyond this you shouldn’t get it. There’s certainly a place for further, professional counseling and medication. PPD is serious – get all the help that you need! However, all of that should always be within the framework of scripture, but there is certainly a place for medication and professional help!
Mine experience was different than most as we jumped on it right away with both counseling and dietary changes, as well as it being only fleeting moments of depression and not something that consumed me or affected my days. Meds are not a bad thing. I did not end up needing them, but if I had needed them we would have gotten them to use in conjunction with counseling and dietary/holistic changes to help balance hormones (vitamins, whole foods, essential oils, gelatin, sleep, sunshine/vitamin D). What I wrote is about my experience and since yours is different it may not be what you need, but I hope there is something in there that helps!

What is Well-Placed Shame? – John Piper


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