While I don’t think anyone can ever be fully prepared for postpartum depression (PPD), I think it vital that moms-to-be and their support networks be informed about it and aware of what can be done to help a struggling mother. I share my story to help others be prepared and to show how God has worked even in the darkest of times. If you are struggling with postpartum depression or think you might be, please do not just read my blog but get help from your doctor/midwife, church, husband, and friends.
I hope to share more about my battle with PPD this second time in the future, but in the meantime I have two general posts about PPD I wanted to share. The first, this one, is just some general thoughts. The second is geared towards those watching others struggle with PPD and wanting to help.
Both are just my own musings on how it was for me and what helped me and what I wish I had known. It may be totally different for someone else.
1. What PPD Is
– This website has a lot of helpful information on it, though I don’t always agree with everything on it beyond diagnosing. I found it a few weeks after Ellie was born and it was very helpful to me to read other peoples’ stories and articles that showed other people had been where I was. This list of symptoms I very thorough and includes symptoms I never knew of until I was experiencing them. Here is another good summary.
– I would categorize it under the “greatly increase your pain in childbearing” of the curse of Eve.
– While it has a physical cause, its manifestations are often spiritual.
– PPD makes it more difficult to cope with the hormones and fatigue that are so strongly present postpartum. So many times with Ellie I wondered why I was having such a hard time because she was so much easier than S was and overall my recovery and postpartum time were so much easier than after S was born.
– What it “feels” like: wondering if you’ll ever be able to have another kid, feeling like you can’t control yourself, remember a fog/darkness over the first few months, not being able to focus, feeling like you’re shirking responsibility always passing kids off when they’re hard, like you can’t even care for yourself, darkness, like you want to be upset with everyone and then have immense guilt for feeling that way, like someone shoves your head back underwater every time you come up with a breath, not being able to look beyond the difficulty of right now.
– Risk factors: See this link and this one, though these aren’t what I’d originally read, so not all the same ones are listed. I was higher risk than I thought, not knowing fear of birth was a risk factor, as is difficulty breastfeeding (after S) and not knowing or taking into account family history until after I shared about PPD after S. So ask about your family history if you aren’t sure.
2. What PPD is not
– PPD is not sin but it makes you more susceptible to temptation (temptations are NOT sin) and to sin, so be more on your guard. Difficulty coping, intrusive thoughts, lack of bonding, etc. are NOT sin, but what you do with them can be (ie, lashing out in anger when you can’t cope). Understanding this was so key for me in knowing how to deal with guilt, and prayer in general, finding a voice in a mix of the Psalms (fighting sin, and seeing “enemies” as the crazy hormones) and Job (“innocent” suffering not caused by my sin but by an outside source).
– It’s not just the Edinburgh scale used to assess it. Most of the time I have rated well on that even with PPD. I am thankful my midwife after Ellie was born asked me some other questions instead of just glancing over the scale, and that my midwife (not just the birth center, but the actual midwife) after S was born was so easily accessible by phone.
– It doesn’t have to define you (more on this later).
– While there are preventative measures you can take, it’s not simply a matter of making sure you get good rest early on.
– It’s not just baby blues or normal stress, but it can be hard to tell the difference, especially when you’re in the midst of a move like we were after Ellie. Super helpful article that confirmed for me that I had PPD with Ellie.
3. Be Prepared
– Have good support: birth provider, family, friends, husband. You need people who know your fears or history, but also people who don’t but can still help you just generally with meals, etc. It helped me a lot both times to have someone who has been there themselves and someone that was in a more mentoring position (sometimes the same person).
– Nutrition postpartum is super important. Have healthy meals in the freezer or planned. How will you ensure you’re getting good nutrition? How will you remember to take your supplements, and what ones will you take to prevent PPD? Don’t be afraid to be clear and firm about this when people bring you meals.
– Have a plan for your spiritual life postpartum. How will you read your Bible and pray? How can you incorporate that into daily life now, or make habits before the baby is born? Some ideas: have a playlist of worship music or put up verses around the house, have a Bible app on your phone to read during midnight feedings, after you feed the baby have your husband or helper watch the baby for a bit. While being disciplined in spiritual life postpartum didn’t prevent PPD for me, the symptoms were often less when I was intentional in spending time with God every day.
– How will you make sure mama is cared for? What things make you feel refreshed? Some of it doesn’t take any extra time, like nice soap, healthy treats, etc. Sometimes the things that you “don’t have time for” are the ones that help the most – a longer shower, undistracted baby playtime, exercise, 5 minutes of silence or uninterrupted reading or prayer.
4. Speak Up & Get Help
– I mentioned my midwives previously. It is so important to have a provider you trust and can get ahold of easily, and is even better when they understand your beliefs.
– Don’t worry about the time. Ezra and I have had these conversations at 1 AM.
– Don’t feel dumb about asking for help or getting an answer. Especially in retrospect it can be easy to beat yourself up – “If only I had known… if only I had done… how could I have forgotten to take my vitamin D…” etc.
– It’s so important to have the people from #3, so you don’t need to explain in the moment but can just say to pray or ask for help or don’t need to preface with “I’m terrible but…” or worry about them not understanding where you’re coming from or that you can’t even speak about it at all. All I had to say was “it’s here; pray for me.” And then LET PEOPLE HELP YOU. It’s so easy to feel guilty about asking for or needing help, but it doesn’t matter if you used to do all the dishes and think he should have a break since he was working all day. LET HIM HELP YOU.
– But even though you can just let them know briefly you are struggling, I found it helpful to really talk through it with a few people, especially Ezra, both for the relief just letting it out brought and so he better understood how to help me since so much of the struggle was internal, he didn’t always know what was going on or how bad it was.
– Medication is not “the answer” but it is not wrong if you are getting other help and support as well. It’s removing temptation/a stressor while hormones adjust. Herbs may also help. Also rule out other potential factors like adrenal fatigue, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid, etc. Don’t go crazy trying to find something but it may be helpful to read symptoms of these issues and see if it may be a fit or bring it up with your health provider to see what they think, or simply ask for bloodwork. If you are considering medication, this may be good to listen to first.
– Make a plan and stick to it. Do you need to throw out junk food and come up with healthy snacks? Do it. Do you need to deactivate Facebook for a few weeks so you spend free moments sleeping? Do it. Get some accountability for those decisions.
– For me, once all that was done, it was ultimately a battle of the mind. I had to train myself to pray FIRST, not let myself be dragged down to despair. Take captive every thought, identify the lies, and fight them with truth. Instead of wallowing/grumbling to yourself, ask “how can I change this/make this better/help myself?” Don’t let it drag you down!
– Healing is not passive. There are some things that only time can heal, but often you can’t just wait and do nothing or pray and take no steps to heal. You MUST take the initiative in caring for your body and renewing your mind to align yourself with truth.
– Share what you need to share, but don’t dwell on it or replay what you’ve felt over and over. You don’t need to remember what you felt.
– One of the difficult things postpartum is that a lot of the things you enjoyed doing before you can’t do because of time or physical restraints. This means you have to learn to not find your identity in your hobbies (or even home duties!), and also means you have to figure out other ways to relax or destress (ie, for me intense exercise and focused music practice are major destressors but I can’t do them as well postpartum).
– Make sure you are properly diagnosed. PPD is one of a variety of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD), including OCD, PTSD, and psychosis. Proper diagnosing will lead to proper treatment.
5.Remember that it’s not who you are in Christ
– Whether false guilt from Satan’s whisperings or feeling guilty over temptation or real guilt from reacting sinfully to your situation: if you are a Christian, it’s not who you are. You are a new creature, forgiven in Christ, clothed with His righteousness.
– It’s NOT a guarantee that it will always be that way (though it might be a long time before you feel yourself again and it might happen after every birth). It does NOT define you or your motherhood. You are still YOU, created in the image of God with your unique gifts and talents. You may be in a difficult time, but if you get help you don’t have to stay there, and please, please, please reach out for help if you are struggling, whether it’s postpartum depression or something else.
– Don’t let it drag you down. You don’t have to go there in your thoughts. It can be hard to fight the darkness off, but know you don’t have to go there.
– Don’t dwell on it. It can be easy to think over all you’ve thought and been through. I think it’s good to remember some parts to see how far you’ve come and to be able to help others in similar straights – BUT constantly replaying it or revisiting your symptoms will only make things worse.
Here’s a great podcast on PPD.