I know that today you will read and/or have been reading some amazing letters filled with knowledge, advice, care, compassion and encouragement for you. I know I cannot wait to read them myself! The women writing them are amazing women — healthcare professionals, advocates, authors, and survivor-moms of postpartum mood disorders.
I am one of those moms and I am a survivor.
I remember vividly being a new mom and some of those moments are seared into my brain as if they happened a moment ago …
Who is this baby? What am I doing? What was I thinking becoming a mom? I looked down at this squirming, screaming newborn in my arms and felt disembodied, every nerve ending screaming to escape. Now. No wonder you went through infertility … don't you think God was trying to tell you something? You weren't supposed to be a mom. You can't do this. The thoughts continued. The baby cried. I looked at him. I couldn't look at him. It was all I could do. I looked around the room — who was here to take care of this baby? Where were they? You have already failed at breastfeeding and now you are failing at being a mom. Where is God now? Where is He when He is supposed to help you?
Oh, the battle that raged. Everything in me screamed for help. My church, the faith community that I am a part of, surrounded us and loved us and helped us get the help we needed from the very beginning. From taking me to the doctor and to the hospital all the way to caring for my days-old newborn while I was there, and my husband was either with me or working. They prayed for me, they showed me that my faith was not broken or lacking, nor were my prayers stopped at the ceiling, but that through it all my God was even me even when it felt like He was not.
The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18
Once recovered I had to re-learn what it was like to be a new mom. Laughter, exhaustion, joy, frustration, peace, anger, happiness, sadness, satisfaction, adventure, temper — what was normal? Was PPD rearing its ugly head again? Would I ever know the difference?
Over time I finally learned. With the postpartum depression behind me, I can now experience motherhood new again, but with a renewed appreciation for the delicate balance of life, mental health and the blessing of being a mommy even within its full gamut of thoughts and feelings. Clawing back up from the bottom takes time, help, hope and heart to heal. You can do it. Ask for help.
The things I most want you to know and treasure:
1. Be wary of those who tell you that you need to pray more or harder, or you need to have more faith to be well. God hears your prayers. See Psalm 34:18 above. My Lord works in a variety of ways to heal — health professionals, mental health professionals, medicines, non-pharmacological approaches, and yes, prayer. Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declared the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
2. Reach out and ask for practical help. Babysitting, housecleaning, meals, naps, a listening ear, help with a colicky baby, a night with girlfriends, etc. Now is not the time to feel guilty for it. You can pay it forward later to another mom who will need it. You will be able to pass on your love and encouragement and practical assistance later. 2 Corinthians 1:4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."
3. If you are pregnant and feel you are at risk for a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder, prepare now. I speak with plenty of experience here. With my first, I knew I had risk factors and remember telling my husband there was a slim chance it may happen due to those factors. With my second, I knew it was very likely going to happen again, thus I concentrated almost obsessively on preparation in all areas of my life — organizationally, physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, etc. Healthcare and homecare plan in place, I felt prepared and had myfamilyand caretakers prepared to care for my family and to watch for any symptoms of illness in myself and who to contact in the event that I was unable to function. Education and preparation are key.
4. Talk. Find someone who has been where you are. There are so many of us! We love to encourage you to get through it, to tell you there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that you will walk out of the dark valley. To talk to someone who had gone through what I was going through was one of the most healing things I ever did.
5. If you are someone who is caring for a mom dealing with a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder, first let me tell you that the fact that you are reading this tells me that you care. Listen, love and educate yourself on how to help her, on the illness itself and encourage her that it is not her fault, she is not alone and she will get better.
Do not ever forget that you are a beautiful woman, a wonderful mom and that God created you to be just who you are and for your baby to be in your arms. He is an amazing God and He works in amazing ways.
Just look at all these letters on this Mother's Day Rally here at Postpartum Progress meant to encourage you!
Tara Mock is a survivor of postpartum depression and the creator of the Christian PPD support blog Out of the Valley.