We’d been married for 3 years before I got pregnant. It was a very uneventful pregnancy and our baby girl was born on Oct 13, 2015. I had thought the delivery would be the most painful/difficult part but actually, it was quite easy and quick. I didn’t have any problems feeding her. She was healthy. I was healthy. And on the surface it seemed life would be smooth sailing from here. But a week in, the baby blues kicked in.
“Baby Blues” is a rather sweet name for the constant crying and feeling of being overwhelmed. It was like experiencing a massive panic attack each time the baby cried. My heart would start thumping madly the minute I heard a wail. This was very unlike my usual steady, feet-firmly-on-the-ground personality. Things continued like that for a while and I just kept holding on. Dealing with a newborn’s needs, the middle of the night colicky crying, lack of sleep, left me drained with no energy to even pray.
Nevertheless, the healing was happening simultaneously. I was led to speak to people who gave me ideas on how to put my daughter on a sleep schedule. Once she was on a schedule, my sanity gradually returned, and I was less prone to panic. Things slowly improved and I thought this post-partum depression was finally behind me.
However, 8 or 9 months later, I began to feel disproportionately angry. The anger stemmed from a sense of hopeless rage. We were a nuclear family – just my husband, my daughter, and I. I had taken time off from work to care for my baby and I felt, now that she was 9 months old, I should be doing other things - “me” things. Though I tried, I couldn’t find any good daycare or even help to babysit my daughter. I desperately wanted to go back to work and the inability to do that had left me with a loss of identity. This was feeding my anger.
Though I always seemed to walk around with a general sense of irritation, I never attempted to cover this up in any way. I was honest with my husband and my sister and realised I had this unreasonable Project Perfect Mom in my mind. The smallest things would set me off. I had no motherly feelings. And I was failing at this mom thing. My husband was very supportive of my irrational outbursts, thankfully! When he realised I was changing personality-wise, he began to pray for me. When things would get really bad, he would talk to me and explain how irrationally I was behaving. The communication helped put things in perspective for me as well.
Eventually, I let go of my schedule regarding going back to work and decided I had to be a stay-at-home mom for the moment. Even at home, I learned to be more flexible instead of getting angry, to accept the fact that chores would be left undone – like leaving clothes in the dryer overnight or not cooking the most brilliant meal. I had to let it go. Instead of being fussed that my daughter was claiming my time, I learned to be intentional with my time with her. To accept that this season would be messy and schedule-less, that my baby would need me to drop everything and be with her, and that it was OK.
Spiritually, I used to feel guilty. Perhaps if I just prayed or read my Bible more I wouldn’t feel so angry and hopeless all the time. This was the constant refrain in my head. Perhaps I was experiencing all these un-biblical feelings because I wasn’t being spiritual enough. The guilt would feed my anger and sense of hopelessness more, and fuelled the lack of motivation to be “spiritual.” This was a vicious cycle. I eventually realised that was another unrealistic expectation. With a toddler, it was impossible to have an elaborate quiet time. I learned to come to God intentionally, not pretending that everything was OK. Initially, I tried to approach God intellectually – to pray about my feelings. But God led me to big issues – to pray about corruption and Syrian refugees. He made me shift focus from myself to others. He taught me to pray differently. There were no frills anymore. It was very raw.
God also kind of forced us to become involved in the church community. Our church was planting a smaller church in the area where we lived. Since we were one of the group of families from that part of town, we were thrust into various positions and responsibilities with the church plant. Though it was a tiny group, we were no longer just recipients at church. Having to actually organise things helped me focus a little more on others, which in turn helped me feel less useless.
Another thing that helped was regular exercise. Having an hour to just jump around very ungracefully at an aerobics class left me in a better frame of mind to meet the day.
Before I had my daughter, I was the type of person who went out, tried out new food joints, went shopping regularly, met up with friends, and had a finger in several pies because I loved having work to do. After my daughter was born, one of my biggest frustrations was that I was no longer able to be that kind of person. I had no freedom, no time to do things at my own pace, no sense of personality that I could call my own.
God showed me that I would now be a different kind of person. I would not be able to go back to being the way I was before, but it was OK to be this new person too. That contentment ensured that I no longer felt frustrated about my life.
Of course there are still days when I feel I’m not a good mom, when I get upset and cry. But there’s no longer any guilt.
Postpartum depression has several strains and what I experienced was, medically, a very mild one. I never had to actually visit a counsellor or doctor but I always kept the number ready in case the feelings threatened to overwhelm me.
As a believer, I sometimes wonder why I had to experience this. However, I’m realising that through this experience I’ve been able to empathise with several other young mums who struggle with these feelings. I think God brings these women into my life so I can share some of the truths and lessons I’ve learned. If you ever do begin to feel isolated and overwhelmed with fear and panic please do reach out for professional help.
I have learned that God is not in the business of creating perfect, plastic, happy people. He helps broken people build relationships through their brokenness.
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