Guest Post: Postpartum Depression–How My Church Helped and Yours Can, Too.

Last week, I wrote an article for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics about postpartum depression (PPD), and how the church can be at the front lines of reversing the stigma of PPD. Prior to forming an opinion and writing the article, I asked several Christian women if they thought “women who are heavily involved in the church would have an easier or harder time addressing their PPD?” One of the responses I received was the loveliest, best articulated take on PPD I’ve ever read. Completely honest, well-written, and, at times, hilarious. My friend has graciously allowed me to share her thoughts here, she asks only that she remain anonymous. So if you think you know the author, please no “outing” by name, or Facebook tagging. That said, we’d love non-tagged “shares,” “tweets,” and comments.  I’m sure you have a friend who needs to read this—please pass it along.


Postpartum Depression: How My Church Helped and Yours Can, Too.

By Julie C.

Before I address the question “Do you think women who are heavily involved in the church would have an easier or harder time addressing their PPD?,” I want to first address what I feel is the elephant in the room when it comes to postpartum depression:

What is it? What does it mean that I have or don’t have it?

Does it mean:

“I am having a hard time with the transition of being a professional to being at home with a screaming child for 24-hours a day with no family support. I’m really depressed. Is that postpartum depression?”

“Being a mom with a tiny baby isn’t as great as I thought it was going to be, and I have some regrets. Is that postpartum depression?

“I haven’t felt like myself for three years since I had my kids. Is that postpartum depression? Or is that just life?”

If we don’t actually feel like drowning our kids in a bathtub, many women can’t put a name on what they feel after they have children. The ridiculous “baby blues” moniker really doesn’t encompass the reality that women face as their hormones go haywire and their whole world changes overnight. There is a middle ground that isn’t addressed, and it is a failure of our entire community that it isn’t spoken about.

As Christians, we tend to look at our lives differently than those who have chosen a different path, but when we have problems such as PPD, I think our church- and hopefully Christ-focused lives can get off track. We think Christ alone can solve our problems, and when prayer isn’t enough, we feel we’ve failed. We don’t want to look like failures or people of little faith to others, so we suffer in silence. On a related but different topic, I had someone tell me that if I “just prayed more,” my mentally ill mother would be healed. The lesson I took from this was, “your Mom is sick because you aren’t praying for her enough and that is your fault.” This myopic view of faith in God prevents good people from seeking professional help and services because of shame. We feel, as “good” Christian men and women, we should be able to pray our way out of any trouble. ‘Our hope is set on God alone’—and when we aren’t healed, we feel we are being punished, ignored, or aren’t faithful enough. To seek help outside of prayer and the Bible is to go outside of faith and not rely on God’s wisdom.

In terms of women who are suffering with depression and other mental issues after childbirth, this is also relevant.

In Christian culture, motherhood is held up as one of the most important things you can accomplish. If we “fail” this rite of passage—if we don’t embrace it with abandon, bond with our children over board books of Noah while playing kids’ praise music 24/7, and feel that every iota of self has been happily fulfilled in the ultimate expression of womanliness: having children…well, we aren’t very good Christians. We guilt in silence. We apologize. We fake it.

Because of my previous experiences with my mother’s issues, I didn’t have the same qualms as others may about counseling after I had my first child. I just didn’t know if what I was experiencing WAS post-partum depression or just me being a terrible mother. I didn’t have a community of friends that also had children to talk it out with. I lived hundreds of miles away from family, and all of the discussions went like this:

“Mom, my kid has colic 8-10 hours a day, and I am exhausted and depressed”

“Wow honey, none of my children ever had that. Must be from your husband’s side of the family. You were such an angel. So easy.”

So, that was super helpful.

My friends stopped visiting because they didn’t have kids, and they didn’t know what to do about my unfriendly baby crying the entire visit. They were uncomfortable with me trying to explain how everything was different after having kids. I could see the gears in their heads turning as they thought, “it wouldn’t be like this” for them, as they watched me bounce my child and complain that I hadn’t had a shower in three days.

Things got weird with my husband. I cried a lot and didn’t know how to relate to him the same way, since I had no career, was alone all day and felt like I looked like a bloated manatee. When he came home he had to listen to a child scream for hours at a time, and I was already exhausted from a day of colicky crying, but didn’t want to burden my husband with her and take a break because I wanted to be a dutiful wife. We argued a lot, because that is what you do when there is a child crying all the time and you can’t stop it.

When the colic stopped, I thought I would be OK. But I wasn’t. I woke up with my teeth clenched, and had to get fitted for a mouth guard at night. I started getting chest pains. I felt keyed up and tense all the time, and I was never a tense person before children. I went off the birth control I was on in the hopes that it was the cause of my problems, and it helped some, but I was still tense and still not right. I couldn’t ever turn off the “mommy on the alert” button once it was turned on.

I had a second kid. No colic, but the same thing after I had her. She was 3 ½ before I felt like myself again, but still the anxiety and tense feeling never went away. She is 5, and I still struggle. I feel that something went haywire in my brain chemistry after I had children, and I will never be right again. Is that a form of PPD? Is it mental illness? What kind of label will doctors put on it, and what kinds of pharmaceuticals are they going to try to sell me for this new label?

Even now, I talk with women (sometimes even vaguely) about some of my struggles since I had my kids, and I feel them suddenly get very tight lipped about it. I feel they are thinking, “yep, she was one of the ones who wanted to drown her kids in the bathtub. So great I didn’t ever have any problems like THAT.” But I didn’t ever feel that way (not even for one second), and I want to educate people that it isn’t a black-and-white problem, and it doesn’t have to be shameful and behind the scenes. We all struggle to some degree, and some more so than others. But because we struggle doesn’t mean we’re nuts. We are good mothers, and we love our kids.

And then there are the Christian questions we all ask ourselves on top of the secular ones:

“Have I not prayed enough to be released from this burden?”

“What is God trying to teach me with this burden? If I learn it, can I be released from it? Why haven’t I learned it yet?”

“Am I being punished for something?”

“Does God even care for me if he can let this happen?”

I went to a Christian counselor to try to work on some of these questions and to try and figure out how to work through my anxiety and depression without drugs. I learned that I actually was pretty stable mentally, and that whatever was going on was probably chemical. I went to a great acupuncturist, and got some fantastic results.

(Note: using drugs for treatment of PPD may be a good choice for some women. I personally choose not to because my mother has prescription substance abuse problems, and I just can’t go there, unless it is a last-resort measure.)

But really, the best form of healing I received was my mom’s group at church, Mothers’ Council. We read books that have a Godly focus on motherhood and discuss them, but really, that wasn’t what helped. It was relationships. It was hearing from others—good Christian woman—that they too were having issues: with babies, with toddlers, with their husbands. My table group brought all those things from the shadows into the light and took away the shame and taboo of not being perfect. My table group reminded me that, like Peter and David, we all fail (and sometimes fabulously), but we can still have a whole heart for God that yearns to seek his face. We can go and seek our solutions and answers to our issues, with God and without stigma.

Christian women can be extremely hurtful in their vanity and pride and judgment, but in this case, these Christian women were being like Jesus—kind, welcoming, and truthful.

For women who may be suffering with PPD or any form of imbalance in between, some of the best medicine can be community—real community that embraces the people who are hurting and lifts up those to authority who have been through it and gained wisdom. Real community recognizes a woman struggling and finds a way to help. Real community brings meals to a new mom to check in, and actually talks with her. Real community talks about real challenges a new mom faces in our culture today with parenting and spouses. Real community knows that Christ is the center and the power in our lives, but knows that being a Christian doesn’t guarantee a worry-free existence. Real community takes the messed up ideas of our relationship with God, drags them out into the light, and sets them right.

With postpartum depression, isolation is the enemy. Real community is the way out, and we as Christians are commanded to “gather together” and to “encourage each other.” (Hebrews 10:24-25). What a perfect environment for healing for the broken, for the tired, for the depressed—and for those suffering with postpartum depression.

How has your faith helped–or hurt–your struggle after childbirth? With PPD? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Book Review: Confessions of a Wonder Woman Wannabe

Confessions of a Wonder Woman Wannabe: On a Mission to Save Sanity, One Mom at a Time, by Jenny Lee Sulpizio. Leafwood Publishers, 2013. 224 pages.

What it is: A how-to book of organizational- and self-care tips for moms.

Who should read it: Any mom could benefit from reading this book (COAWWW). Even the most organized, OCD, multi-mom could pick up a tip or two. New moms and moms who struggle with putting the daily pieces of motherhood together in an orderly fashion will especially benefit from this book. If you don’t fall into that category, check out COAWWW anyway, and make it a regular baby shower gift for new moms.

What I thought:

I have a favorite book I read the first (and second and third and fourth) time I was pregnant: The Baby Book, by Dr. William Sears. I have kept this book within arms reach for the last 19 years—when a baby/toddler question comes up, I flip open this great tome of a baby manual and search the table of contents. Nine times out of ten, I find what I’m looking for, and then some. The Baby Book has become the definitive, go-to book on parenting infants and toddlers in our home.

While reading Sulpizio’s book, I thought repeatedly that COAWWW should be “That Book” for new moms and moms who struggle with putting life, parenting, and self all together in a way that will save them from going over the deep end of mommy madness.

Moms who are born naturals at organization and keeping it (mostly) together won’t benefit as much from COAWWW as other moms will, but even the OCD mamas could learn a thing or two. Vomit, fashion, diapering, praying, couponing, meal planning, how to get to church on time…  Sulpizio covers all the necessary bases and then some, and does it all in a casual, easy-to-read tone.

While reading the first couple of chapters of COAWWW, I thought, “this is a good, fun book, but it isn’t for me. I’ve got all this stuff down after almost two decades of parenting!” But the more I read, the more I realized Sulpizo has true household-CEO wisdom to offer. She doesn’t preach, or tell you how to parent, or diagnose your issues or your kids’ issues, but instead offers bite-sized tips on keeping “it” all together in an organized way so you can feel more relaxed and have a life outside of toilet cleaning. And as moms we need those tips! We even need someone to tell us our ’80s hairdo is out of date and that it’s time to hit the salon. Sulpizio does that too, but with a smile so that we know she isn’t picking on us.

We can’t fight the big battles of parenting if we don’t have the basics under control, and this includes keeping our pantries stocked, meals cooked, budgets balanced, and personal hygiene emergencies at a minimum. Sulpizio’s book tells us how to better do all these things, and then gently reminds us that none of it really matters. What matters is loving our family, taking care of ourselves, and remembering that no matter how many times we don our Wonder Woman underoos and cape, God is the one who’s really in control.

Week Links #13

Women’s Word

Rachel Held Evans: Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church

Amy Simpson: The Shadow of Schizophrenia: Where Was God Amid My Mom’s Mental Illness

Connie Jakab: Avoiding Pitfalls in Ministry Through Social Media

Catherine Newman: I Do Not Want My Daughter to be Nice

Words for Thought

Jonathan Merritt: Politics, patriotism, and pacifism: An interview with Stanley Hauerwas

Amy Julia Becker: A Real Happily-Every-After for Babies With Down Syndrome

Statistics on Abuse and Neglect of Children with Disabilities

My Stuff

Most read: The Back of the Ambulance

Week Links #9


Halee Gray Scott: Not-So-Pretty Little Liars

Words for Thought

Andrew Hanauer: A Politics of Love: What We Want

Christina Hoff Sommers: How to Get More Women (and Men) to Call Themselves Feminists

Derek Penwell: The Problem With Assuming Liberal Christians Hate the Bible

Ted Olsen: The Right Side of History is Full of Rewrites

Women’s Words

Hope Henchy: Youth Ministry’s Family Blind Spot

My Stuff

Most read this week: When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough