I’m sharing some of my experience with postpartum anxiety and depression as part of a Blog Hop sponsored by my friend Katherine at Half-Kindled. I’ve written a little bit about it before (here and here). It’s a topic that is still hard for many people to talk about, and I’m convinced the more we remove the shame and the taboo of talking about postpartum (and other forms of) depression and anxiety, the more we can help each other.
After I had my first baby, I didn’t experience the typical symptoms you see in literature about postpartum depression. I wasn’t sad so much as angry and irritable and frustrated all the time. I was angry at everyone, and then I felt a lot of self-loathing for being such a (seemingly) terrible person. Thank God, I never came close to harming my child, but my marriage suffered, as did various items around that house that I kicked during angry outbursts.
It took me eight months to talk to my doctor about it. He actually recognized warning signs of postpartum depression right after I gave birth: I was sobbing–apparently that’s not normal! “No, no,” I insisted, “I’m just tired.”
And so it went for months of denial. Two things in particular kept me from seeking treatment:
1. My symptoms weren’t typical of postpartum depression. In fact, they were symptoms I had dealt with all my life, on and off, to some degree: anger, frustration, and irritability interspersed with self-loathing. Before having children, I was always able to push through somehow. The hormonal havoc and sleep deprivation that came having a baby just made the symptoms worse. I wasn’t able to push through and function normally anymore.
2. The second and biggest roadblock to wellness for me was that I felt I didn’t deserve help. I was never psychotic. I never lost my reason. I always had some degree of control of my actions. Therefore, I thought, I just needed to try harder. Taking medication was the easy route that I didn’t deserve because I hadn’t tried hard enough on my own.
I attribute this to the Act of Contrition I learned growing up. There really is such a thing as too much Catholic guilt! The line goes, “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more . . . .” My understanding was, as long as there was some possibility that I could improve in the future, my failing was my fault, and I needed to just try harder. “With the help of Thy grace,” is in there too of course, but I didn’t think much about how God’s grace could help me. It just served as a reminder that I needed to pray harder.
The game changer was that now I had a family who suffered every time that (surprise!) my white-knuckling failed. Thank God it became clear to me that I had to take the “easy route,” even if I didn’t deserve it, because they deserved it.
One form of the “help of God’s grace,” for me, is a little white pill.
Eight months after having my first baby, I started taking an anti-depressant, and it helped almost immediately. At first I worried it would alter my personality, but now I truly feel that the medication helps me be my true self, the person God made me to be but that I couldn’t be under the weight of anxiety.
Throughout the years, I’ve tried going off antidepressants, but it’s never worked. Unfortunately, whatever condition I have is not solely a postpartum one. It just took the strain of having a baby to reveal a problem that hovered below the surface.
I don’t like the idea of taking a pill every day. It has made me gain weight. It’s made me sluggish. I’m not the type-A super achiever I used to be. I’m sure there’s some underlying hormonal imbalance or other health problem that is affecting my mental state, and I’d like eventually to figure that out. But for now, medication is the only way I can be the loving, patient, happy wife and mother I need to be.
And that’s been the grace of the little white pill for me: it has forced me to focus on what God really wants me to do and the humility to realize that I can’t do it on my own power.
He isn’t calling me to be a super achiever. He isn’t asking me to keep a squeaky clean house or volunteer on a dozen committees or work full time or even cook delicious meals. All he asks me to do is love–love my husband, love my children.
To paraphrase a popular slogan, “I have one job.”
Before taking an antidepressant, I had enough nervous energy to do more things, but I was angry, bitter, and irritable most of the time with my husband and children.
Now, I don’t have as much energy and drive, but I have the underlying peace and calm I need to love my family better. It’s humbling to accept that I need medicine to fulfill the most basic requirements of my life. That humility, too, is a grace.
Antidepressants are not right for everyone, but if you’re really suffering I’d beg you to consider it.
For all of us though, there’s truth in the saying, “Let go and let God.” I want to challenge everyone reading this to be open-minded about the ways you can “let God.”
God probably will not supernaturally transfuse you with peace and patience.
He might offer it to you in a pill. (I think of Lexapro as my “patience in a pill!”)
He might offer you grace in the form of therapy with a psychologist of other professional counselor.
He might offer you grace through your helpful husband, if you would only overlook the way he loads the dishwasher incorrectly and doesn’t separate darks and whites.
He might offer you grace in the form of a friend’s offer to watch your kids, an offer you normally brush aside.
He might offer you grace when you let go of self-imposed standards for how you keep house or how many hours you work or how busy you keep your schedule.
Our calling is not to try hard and do hard things; our calling is to love. And often we can’t love the way we ought until we stop trying so hard to do it ourselves.
For more on this topic, hop over to