Today I’m going to tell you a story of light and dark, the story of my journey through postpartum depression. While I know First Time Mom’s readership comes from a variety of faith backgrounds and we are thrilled to have all of you here, I cannot tell the story of my journey with postpartum depression without talking about my Christian faith. I hope my story gives you a glimpse into this disease that is a very real struggle for many mothers. I pray that my story will give anyone out there struggling with mental illness the courage to seek help. There are compassionate people available to talk 24-7 at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
On July 8, 2015, my daughter, Helena, literally burst into the world, making us a family of four. (Read her birth story here.) I had an exciting and healthy birth; she was overall a healthy baby. The newborn days were a blur and a struggle because, well, that’s life with a newborn.
Since this was my second time at the proverbial rodeo, I was more confident but it was still HARD. Poor little Helena struggled with a gassy belly from me having over supply issues. At her 6-week appointment, she was diagnosed with reflux and then she got thrush. Through it all, I buckled down and trudged on because you expect the newborn stage to be challenging. Eventually, we got Helena on the right meds for her reflux and her thrush cleared up. After a couple of months, my little girl was in a much better place. She got better but I got worse.
Irritability Sets In
Despite my best efforts to have a positive attitude, irritability became my daily companion. I assumed that I was just overwhelmed and still adjusting to mothering two kiddos. True to my over-achieving, self-reliant personality I tried harder, prayed harder, worked harder; still, I didn’t have the patience or compassion I knew my children needed from me. I often ended my days disappointed in myself and dreading the next morning.
Distracted & Discontent
Time went on and the reality surrounding me did not match the fog I was living in. My kids were healthy. My husband was loving, helpful, and supportive. My fog got denser and a new character entered onto the scene of my mind, discontent. I was constantly distracted and discouraged by thoughts centering on how lonely and unfulfilled I felt as a mother. I wrote in my prayer journal, “It’s easy to feel insignificant and disposable. I don’t enjoy a lot of ‘my job’. Oh well.”
My struggle continued and the fog hanging over me still thickened. Discontentment turned into hopelessness. On another day I wrote,“Some days I feel like I’ve lost myself, that my world has become so small that I don’t matter.”
- I had lost the ability to think of things I’d enjoy doing.
- I was exhausted but had a hard time falling asleep.
- Eating was a discouraging chore because nothing sounded appealing. It would have been a relief to simply eat a daily nutrition brick rather than having to think of food to make for myself and my family. (Mind you, my husband and I are borderline foodies so this was NOT my norm.)
Throughout it all, I thought everything was normal and worked hard to “fix” myself. Even as I looked to Scripture to set myself straight and receive comfort and guidance I felt spiritually numb. I knew what I was reading in my Bible was true, yet my heart could not grasp or rest in Truth.
I resigned myself to simply do my job as a mom. I told myself that my happiness doesn’t matter; that I didn’t need and couldn’t have joy. I just needed to work hard and face the task of mothering. My fog got denser and darker. I became an emotional robot, one that was programmed to only experience irritation, anger, or despair. Yet, that didn’t matter, because I convinced myself that my feelings didn’t matter. I just needed to buck up and do my job because that’s what good moms do.
Impacting My Family
Everything changed when my fog started spreading beyond myself and started impacting my family. Helena was getting into that adorable smiley and cooing stage, but I had a hard time smiling back at my own baby. A couple times while trying to console her I had these bizarrely vivid images of me throwing her across the nursery. Praise God this never happened, but these intrusive thoughts frightened me. I was so ashamed.
My husband tried his best to not only help me with the kids but to get me back to my fun-loving self. His efforts were squished by the weight of my surrounding fog. Then my two-year-old son started picking up on things.
One day after my husband and I had an intense exchange while doing some yard work my sweet boy turned to me and pleaded, “Be nice with me. Mommy, be nice.”
I couldn’t take it. I dropped my rake, ran inside, and locked myself in my closet. There in the darkness I wept and wept, thinking that I was a total waste, that my family would be better off without me, that it would be so much better to just be in heaven with Jesus instead of messing it all up here.
There in the darkness I wept and wept, thinking that I was a total waste, that my family would be better off without me, that it would be so much better to just be in Heaven with Jesus instead of messing it all up here.
After I emerged from the closet, my husband began lovingly drawing out my thoughts and feelings. He pointed out the darkness and lies surrounding me. At bedtime that night Aaron, my two-year-old, gave me a kiss and told me he was worried about his mommy. That was it. My family needed me and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t work myself out of this debilitating fog. I had to face the truth that my fog was probably postpartum depression. I was sick. I needed help.
Acceptance & Surrender
As I stopped striving and started reaching out for help, God flooded my darkness with the Light of His grace leaving me beautifully broken at the foot of the cross. It was quite a process navigating the medical system to actually get help. Thankfully my husband was my advocate. After a week of waiting for a call back from my doctor he got on the phone and finally pinned down an appointment for me. While I waited to get in to see a doctor I still struggled with symptoms of depression. Day by day I relied deeply on God, who was faithful giving me hope, sustaining me, and protecting my family. Jesus, my Creator and my Savior ministered to my heart and He started repairing my broken spirit. I rested in John 1:3-5
“All things were made through Him, and with Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it.”
Jesus was not going to let the darkness of my postpartum depression and idol of self-reliance overcome the Light of the Gospel in my life. God was going to use this to bring me deeper into His love and grace. Eventually, I met with a doctor who officially diagnosed me with postpartum depression. My recovery from postpartum depression was a combination of daily dependence on God in prayer, reading the Bible, journaling, soaking in my family’s love, being encouraged by a supportive church community, and, for a period of time, taking medication.
Romans 8: 28 says, “ that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God used my postpartum depression for my good. Just like we cannot work our way into a right relationship with God, I could not work myself out of depression. Suffering with postpartum depression brought me deeper into God’s grace. I came out of postpartum a healthier person and better mom because the experience humbled me and rid me of my stubborn self-reliance. After accepting that I was sick and needed help, God brought me to a place of healing and abundant life. If you’re in a dark place please know that you do not have to struggle alone. Tell a loved one, call your doctor, or look into the resources below. There is help waiting for you. Hear my story and hear me telling you, friend, there is life on the other side of depression.
Wife, work at home mom, and bassoonist, Laura Ankrum lives in Iowa City, Iowa. Prior to the arrival of her two children Laura taught elementary music and band in the Boston area. Now her home is her classroom and music studio. Laura is passionate about education, encouraging other moms, and eco-friendly living. She is the social media coordinator at Thirsties Inc.