One Sunday morning nine years ago, I was newly married and sitting in church with my husband. My friend Gretchen was pregnant with her first child, and through tears she shared her fears of encountering postpartum depression after the birth of her little one. She had struggled with depression for years, and both she and her husband had shared with us on many occasions when she was having a rough time. I remember feeling compassion for my friend, but also a bit of confusion. Wasn’t this her private business? I had no idea how much this small expression of transparency in her struggle would impact me later.
My own first daughter was born not long after, and oh, how I adored her. Yes, being a new mom was an adjustment, but I was filled with joy in my new role. As the weeks flew by and the immediate “postpartum” period moved farther behind me, I felt like I had dodged a bullet.
When my daughter was 4 months old, she was sleeping well, eating well, and we were all so happy. And then that first thought flew in my brain. “What if you hurt your baby?” I was blindsided. Where had that come from? The thoughts started flying faster. “What kind of mother thinks something like this? Does this mean something awful is coming? Does this mean that you WANT to do something awful? A good mother would not think something like that.” These thoughts did not sound like the symptoms I had read about in hospital brochures. With tears in my eyes I pleaded with God to take them from my brain, and to allow me to enjoy my baby.
As the weeks went by I began to live in a state of fear. If I was not arguing with the thoughts, I was waiting in terror for when they would come again. I started feeling anxious and nauseous every day. At night I would lay in bed, paralyzed with fear that I would wake up a different person, the person these thoughts taunted me with. I told my husband what was going on in bits and pieces, and he would pray over me and assure me that I was a good mother, but I still felt so scared. I didn’t understand why God was allowing me to go through this. The only comfort I had was reading scripture and listening to music filled with the truth of God. But the thoughts still came, making it hard for me to get through the day. Over and over I imagined scenarios where I would tell my doctor about what I was experiencing and having my daughter taken away or being forced to go somewhere without her. For months I suffered in silence.
Finally, I could not take it anymore. I felt that still, small voice of the Lord telling me that yes, HE was enough for me, but he had provided means to fight this. I needed to get help, and I needed to tell Gretchen. I trembled as I dialed the numbers on the phone, and my voice shook as I confessed my thoughts and fears to her. I remember the sweet compassion in her voice as she prayed for me, and then advised me, “Once you get off the phone with me, call our pastor and schedule a meeting with him. I will meet you at church and watch the baby. Everything is going to be OK.” With a newfound courage, I did as I was told, and mere hours later, was sitting at church. My pastor assured me that he did not think I or my child was in any danger; he sensed that I had postpartum depression and needed to see a doctor and get on medication. I felt like God had given me a clear path through the fear clouding my brain.
In my memory, the next couple of days are a blur, but one constant sticks in my brain: my friend Gretchen was there with me. As I waited for my doctor’s appointment, she and her husband and daughter came to my house and sat with me so I would not have to feel alone. They watched my little girl as I went to the appointment. They rejoiced with me when I shared how easy it had been to share with my doctor. The doctor did not take me or my daughter away; she merely said, “Well, looks like you have some postpartum depression. You can take some medicine and feel better.” And by the grace of God, I DID! After a short time on an antidepressant, I felt like a new person, better equipped to handle motherhood. The medicine did not take the thoughts entirely away, but they made my brain feel more rational and better equipped to combat them. In time the thoughts receded more and more, and when they did come, they were not consuming and debilitating. Motherhood became a joy for me again.
As I reflect on what I went through, I not only seen God’s faithfulness to me, but also how my friend Gretchen lived out the verse “bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2). For Gretchen, sharing her struggles with her church family, and then meeting me in my struggle, was being obedient to God, because we are not meant to suffer alone. Because of her example, I have tried to share with others so that my experience might do the same for someone else. I’ve stood before a crowd of women and shared how God met me in my despair. I have looked into the teary eyes of a new mom as she shared her crippling anxiety with me, pressed a small piece of paper in her hand with a counselor’s name on it and said, “There is help. I know. I’ve been there.” Each time, God has given me strength and grace to not be afraid of what others would think of me, as well as the words to say to share truth and hope. I feel honored and blessed to be able to be a part of the words in 1 Corinthians 12:26-27 “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”