Magnifying God Through Postpartum Depression
Author: Tabitha Ingalls
Postpartum depression, I have found, is something mothers hide when friends and family ask how we are doing. We just smile and go on about how great being a mother has been, keeping the focus on our new baby, which really isn't difficult since that's typically all anyone asks about anyways. At post delivery appointments, we, ourselves, are in denial when we fill out the post partum evaluation sheets that ask... 'have you laughed in the past week?', 'do you unnecessarily blame yourself when things go wrong?', 'are you anxious or worried?', 'do you feel overwhelmed, consumed with fear for the saftey and health of the baby, or are you under concerned with his or her well-being?', 'do you experience extended periods of crying or thoughts of harming yourself or the child?.’ So, for a number of reasons, we circle the answers that we know to be ‘acceptable’ and will keep us from the possibility of being labeled an unfit mother. Sadly, we don’t realize it only traps us deeper into lies that keep us from facing the problem.
Two years ago, after having my first baby, I didn’t acknowledge signs of depression. I assumed a Christian couldn’t be touched by that, especially in such a time of our lives that is meant to be blessed. I just kept telling myself "it won’t be like this forever" and "just focus on getting through one day at a time." It did eventually subside, but not without leaving a scar in my soul, still needing healing.
Then during my second pregnancy, it all came flooding back with greater intensity. My mind was plagued with condemning thoughts like 'you're foolish for having your children this close together, there's no way you can love and care for them both.' I had dream after dream of losing them to traumatic accidents, or of how our baby would die during labor. I would ridicule myself, saying "you shouldn't be having these thoughts, do you know how many families long for a child, you are so ungrateful, you don't deserve to be a mother.” The spiraling thoughts of self-condemnation haunted me everyday.
Once we were all home from the hospital, I experienced the typical happy tears of joy over our new child, like the last time, but then they started becoming more rooted in fears and insecurities again. I kept falling deeper and deeper into the lies of the enemy. I truly felt I could relate to the psalmists that wrote about enemies surrounding them, looking to devour their soul. Darkness surrounded me, I remember having overwhelming feelings of weakness thinking 'how can I possibly take care of these two?', 'why did God think I could do this?' 'You are doing everything wrong!', 'it's your fault the baby cries all the time!', 'People are judging your every move’, 'Your oldest thinks you don't love her anymore’, ‘You're useless to the church, just a burden that has nothing to contribute to the work of the kingdom’, 'Your husband doesn't love you, his heart is drawn to someone more devoted to ministry than you, more talented than you, someone who's body doesn't bear the evidence of pregnancy’, 'Everyone would be happier if you weren't here’. The lies were attempting to destroy my trust in God, to isolate me from my husband and my sisters, the people God had placed in my life to help me.
Then one night God met me in my darkness and showed me a glimps of his purpose for depression. It wasn’t suffering for the sake of suffering, God hadn’t left me alone as a type of punishment rather he was watching closely as he was making me stronger.
"For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
The dark times of crying seemed irrational when I would try to explain them to someone else; but there was a legitimate root to them that I had always been able to brush off before, allowing problems to go unresolved. It's like God is using the magnifying glass of heightened emotions to search out and defeat things that can destroy me. This was a necessary trial to sanctify me, a refining fire to bring impurities to the surface and be dealt with.
I understand depression to be a tool in preparing me for the next level of battle, the responsibility of my new calling; I can fight with purpose now. This period of time was meant to be utilized to my advantage and not simply ‘survived’ through like a form of punishment. So now when I experience these dark times I can examine those feelings. The irrational fear that my husband no longer loved me was enlarged but it revealed to me that I actually had insecurities about God's faithfulness and steadfast love for me which drove me to look to God and marvel at his faithful love. Seeing this strengthened our marriage to withstand stress from the added responsibility of raising children. When I felt forgotten and left out of ministry, I realized I was ignorant of my role in the great commission as a mother and then was able to look to scripture for my value. when I couldn’t sleep at night, scared our little baby would stop breathing, I became aware I wasn’t fully trusting in the protection and sovereignty of God. These are here to reveal to me I am lacking, that I am broken and that Christ wants to make me whole.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known," Colossian 1:24
Jesus has fully loved me and bought me with the costly price of his own blood washing away the penalty and effects of my own sins and others sins against me. He sees my hurts and pains and gladly bore them for me on the cross so I could experience joy (Isaiah 53, Psalm 56:8, Isaiah 63:9). He has called me to Himself in faithfulness, never to leave me for another, or to turn his back on me when I mess up. My father in heaven is pleased to see me raising and equipping warriors, His children, for Christ. We are waging war against the kingdom of darkness right in our homes. It may not feel like we're contributing to the great commission, but this is how God has called us to be obedient to the spreading of the gospel, even if it's one precious little heart at a time. May we magnify our God by loving like He loves, by being women who live out the fear of the Lord, who can genuinely say God is my strength, my joy, my rest and my next breath that keeps me going.