Maternal Mental Health - Part 1
Postnatal depression came as a shock for me. I was so excited for our baby to arrive and for my son to have a little sister. However after my daughter was born in 2013 I had some complications, and ended up having a blood transfusion. My first birth wasn’t easy going but this knocked us, and my husband had that thought, as most do in trauma, “Is she gonna pull through?”
Over the next 3 months of a lot of denial and self-critique, I was finally diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Ringing in my ears was the line, “But you have a healthy beautiful baby, you have no reason to be depressed.” And yet here I was.
The nights were the darkest in all senses. Suddenly I couldn’t stand the sound of crying. It felt like failure, like a dripping tap I couldn’t stop. I would bang my head against the wall, trying to silence the failure; to quiet the voices. I pictured smashing things, breaking glass in my hands, just to release the tension inside, wondering if it would make me feel better. It was in these moments when the only things that silenced the internal screaming and desire to act upon self harm, was praying in the Spirit and saying the name Jesus over and over, even if only as a whisper through clenched jaw.
In the day I would fear the busy streets, what if we fell in the road, what if a car skidded and hit us, what if my friends see me struggle and judge me. My anxiety was sky high. At home when I couldn’t juggle getting my 2 year old toddler and new baby to nap, I would curl up on the floor in their bedroom and weep. It would take all I had to not give in to the spiralling blackness in my mind but instead to imagine myself with God my Father with his arms around me as though I was the child who needed feeding, sleep or comfort.
Church was a major anxiety trigger as I couldn’t cope with crowds and questions and conversation. I hid behind a smile, and a new haircut hiding my face with a new fringe. “Perhaps if people don’t notice I won’t feel ashamed” I thought. Yet I really wanted people to notice. I wanted someone, anyone, to see through the facade and break me free. One day I was brave enough to share with someone the extent of my struggle and there came no response. I waited, in my vulnerability hangover, dying a little deeper inside and was disappointed and discouraged to receive only an unhelpful message in return
We often compare pain, and give it hierarchy.
We also numb pain, dismissing its credibility.
I think underneath most are just afraid of pain as we don’t always know what to do with it.
I had some think it was just baby blues, I’d pull through they’d say. I was smiling and able to laugh at jokes and still get out bed, it clearly wasn’t that bad. And some who reminded me of all that I had; a healthy baby, a home, a happy marriage. Subtly giving me all the reasons why I shouldn’t be depressed.
The enemy has this trick of attaching shame into our struggle to keep us locked up. Unfortunately sometimes he (the enemy) uses God’s own people to bring shame upon each other. The enemy’s aim is to steal, kill and destroy. He tries to keep us bound and silenced and shame is often his way of doing this. Because as soon as we talk, as soon as we speak out, the thing that binds us in hiding starts to loosen. Darkness loses power in the Light
The healing for me started as I began to talk about it, bringing it into light.
3 things made a difference and rescued me from that year of pain, transforming my spirit, mind and heart. I recommend these practices to help you through any dark time you’re facing.
Prayer and worship in the spirit - when I didn’t know what to say, when I could only whisper His name and pray in tongues and groan, it was effective and powerful beyond measure. It saved me from disaster. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26) David played music over Saul (1 Samuel 16), and his spirit settled. I found a couple of songs that spoke to my spirit and I played them on repeat as I sobbed. I sung praise when I could, and whispered when I couldn’t and just let the music minister to me. These were the most intimate times I had with the Lord where I had reached rock bottom and discovered the Rock of Ages was faithfully holding me up. Upon Him I could stand.
CBT - I did a test given to me by my health visitor and received a diagnosis of depression and anxiety. The NHS were amazing, I saw a doctor and began to get help. I had CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - where I talked through my anxious thought processes. My anxiety was understood and I was given tools to overcome my panic attacks. It helped me get to the root of my fears and I was able to determine when my fears were rational or irrational. I still use these tools 6 years later. It was Romans 12:2 in action, transforming me by the renewal of my mind.
A Biblical Prayer Warrior - In hindsight I could have asked for counselling but an older Mama friend reached out and her counsel ministered to my heart. She empathised, saw my pain and understood it, it was a lifeline I needed. She was familiar with depression and it’s torments, and she had time to spend a few hours during the week praying for me. She would turn up at my house once a week, and made me tea. She’d pursue my honest answer when I said I was fine. When I eventually opened up, she’d listen without judgement. The most powerful of all, the thing I remember most was how she would say let’s see what God says. She’d sit and read out Bible verses, and the prayers that she’d written during the week. She shared the things that God had said to her for me. She spoke life over me, and reminded my heart that I was seen and known. She helped me take thoughts captive and align myself with Truth when I was unable. Often it takes one to know one, and whatever struggles she’d once faced meant her victory had become my hope.
The day my daughter turned one, we sat in the garden of our new house (another major factor of my healing...space), and I realised I was better.
But trauma leaves scars and little did I know it also left pathways in the brain, ready to be revisited.
Article continued in Part 2.
Get more help with Maternal Mental Health:
Action PostPartum Psychosis: www.app-network.org
NHS Maternal Mental Health: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/mental-health-problems-pregnant/?
Maternal Mental Health Alliance: https://maternalmentalhealthalliance.org/
CBT info: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt/
Amy is a mother of 3 children; 8, 6 and 6 months. She and her husband Nicholas are Church Planting in NYC and when she isn’t homeschooling her children (and surviving the pandemic by doing family versions of the Great British Bake Off) she’s reflecting on life on Instagram @raisinglittledisciples and creating free resources for her Children’s Ministry blog at www.raisinglittledisciples.com.