This post is one of a pairing. We are hoping it brings encouragement to those facing the daily reality of living with postpartum depression. I suffered from severe postpartum depression for years after the birth of our youngest child. This was probably the most challenging season in our marriage, bar none. As people often do, my husband and I learned a lot through the pain of the struggle.
Still married and thriving, we decided to write this series of posts to help both husbands and wives walk through this incredibly difficult circumstance or circumstances like it.
Our goal is to talk bluntly and honestly about realities that are so raw and painful; people often neglect to talk about them at all. This leads to people feeling isolated and buying into the lie that they are the only ones genuinely suffering in this way when there are scores of us who have been there.
A Postpartum Depression Story
At church one Sunday, this sweet pregnant momma looks at me and says,” How bad was it really, postpartum depression?” Honestly, I want to run from the question because I don’t want to scare her. I don’t exaggerate when I say I was terrified.
You see, I lost myself, and I wasn’t sure I would ever find myself again. Should I tell her that it was like being at the bottom of a well and being able to faintly hear life going on around you, but being unable to participate? Did she need to hear that I sometimes screamed obscenities at my husband when I am a Jesus-loving, church-going pastors wife? I didn’t want to remember how just feeding my toddler’s breakfast made me weep into the oatmeal with utter exhaustion.
Yeah. I didn’t know what to say. So I told her a little, but hopefully not enough to scare her. But now that I think about it, maybe I should have given her the whole story, the panic attacks in the grocery store, trying to go to church, but just sitting in the parking lot weeping, unable to face even the people that loved me because the shame of failure was so thick. Postpartum depression almost swallowed me whole.
Aftermath of Postpartum Depression
But here I sit five years after giving birth to my last child. Still standing, still living, still parenting, still married. It took years to feel like myself again. I have realized that there had to be a new normal. I am still getting to know myself, honestly. I am not the same woman I was five years ago, but I have come to accept the reality that I don’t think I ever will be again.
Sometimes we have to let go of an idealized past self in order to fully accept who we are, especially after trauma. My suffering has formed me in some unexpected ways, and it is good and hard all at once. I still experience joy and love being with my family. I’m less organized than I was and not as driven, but I have come to accept that about myself. I have impromptu dance parties in the kitchen and engage in my marriage in a rich and meaningful way.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think maybe it made me more aware of my weakness, more dependent on Jesus and my community and family, more compassionate towards other mommas who feel like they can’t seem to get it together.
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Marriage and Postpartum Depression
Trying to navigate this season in my marriage was extremely painful. Before I had my fourth child, I had been a get it done kind of gal. Diapers, meal-planning, grading papers, cleaning the house, taking meals to friends, no problem!
I am task-oriented and like to move quickly. Efficiency is my favorite character quality. After I had my last baby, I would lay in bed for days. I did the bare minimum. I did two things. Cry and nurse the baby. That was it.
I had nothing to invest in my marriage. No energy, no companionship, no teamwork, no nothing. Emotionally I was completely empty. Physically I was exhausted, and mentally I would spend all day trying to figure out how to get myself together, how to snap out of it.
In this season of marriage, I had to learn to be the receiver, not the giver, not the one holding it all together. You will see that this was the theme for me.
Postpartum Depression Requires You to Adjust your Expectations
One of the things that exaggerated the pain of this season was my constant comparison to “normal.” I was always comparing what was currently happening to how my life used to be, and I was so pressed to get back to normal. I wanted to get back to my exciting and productive life.
“At least half of our depression we experience is depression over our depression. We are sad that we are sad; we are upset that we’re upset.”
In a sermon I listened to years ago, Tim Keller says this, “At least half of our depression we experience is depression over our depression. We are sad that we are sad; we are upset that we’re upset.” That was so true for me in this season. I was so panicked at being sad and depressed and unproductive that it magnified the pain of it immensely. Adjust your expectations for yourself as quickly as you can so that you live within the framework of what you can actually accomplish and what you can realistically expect of yourself in this season of depression.
Realistic expectations can usher in the truth that you need help.
Accept help with humility.
I was desperate for help, but I was also ashamed that I couldn’t do the bare minimum, like keep my house clean. I had a friend I finally let in, and she came over one day and scrubbed my kitchen and my bathrooms. While that was humbling, it was a massive sigh of relief, Her bravery to reach out and my humility to accept accelerated that friendship when I was so afraid that taking help would diminish it.
Let your friends or family or whoever you have in your life help! I wish I would not have been so hesitant about this and had done it sooner. Part of this is accepting the truth that you are in a position of needing help constantly, and there is not much you can do to remedy this immediately.
If you are struggling to help your spouse here is a great article about ways to support them in this season.
Prayer and Postpartum Depression
One of the most challenging things about this season was that my participation in my spiritual life dwindled to almost nothing. I began to question if I was worthy of love at all. I was, however, always whispering this prayer, “Lord, help me.” Say it. Even if that is all, you can say. Say it.
On one of my better days, I found some old wood in the garage and painted the word “HELD” on it. I believe that was the word for this entire season for me. I was being held. Even when it seemed like my faith dwindled to almost nothing, I was indeed being held.
“Your performance is not your only value”
In all my relationships, but especially in my relationship with God, I was forced to face the fact that I genuinely believed my performance was what made me valuable to the relationship. When I could not perform like I was used to, I did not know how to navigate my relationships.
I am grateful and humbled that the Lord was patient and kind to teach me even in the darkest of times when I had nothing to give, I was held.
Some Practical Suggestions for Living with Postpartum Depression
Maybe you weren’t expecting this one, but sometimes you just need a break from what is going on inside your head. Pick a show that is funny or uplifting and watch it.
Move Your Body.
For me, this one made the most significant difference mentally. Getting back in the gym seemed impossible at first, but I was so grateful once I did. Moving my body helped clear my mind and would lift my mood a bit some days as well.
Find a Doctor who will listen.
I saw at least three doctors about this before I found one that helped. Discouraging is an understatement, but my momma and my husband kept pushing me to keep trying, and I am glad they did. We finally found a doctor that really listened to both of us and was able to help us find the right things to help move me forward and be able to function much better in day to day life.
Fresh air was always a boost for me, even if it was a tiny boost and even if it was just for a few minutes. Get outside if you can. Some days, make this the one thing you do, especially if the sun is out.
Give yourself grace.
If you are in the thick of postpartum depression, I know some of these suggestions seem impossible. Do the one thing for today that you can manage. Start slow. Let other people help you carry the burden and remember; you are held.