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April 30, 2018

Walking Through Postpartum Depression One Step at a Time

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Several weeks ago when I posted a blog about depression, I learned that several readers were struggling with a very specific kind of depression – postpartum depression.  

And as soon as I heard those words, I was taken back – back to the rocking chair in our nursery, back to the feeling of grey that hung over my heart for six months after the birth of our second child, back to the feelings of dread from having to do simple tasks like unloading the dish washer.  It was just about all I could do to get food off of plates to go into the dishwasher, much less try to unload the whole darn thing.

If postpartum depression is something you are struggling with right now, or know someone who is struggling, I want to offer you hope and encouragement today – hang in there.  One day, the fog will lift.  One day, the veil of grey will turn into vivid colors.  One day, you will feel like you can manage every day life again.

But until that day, just do one step at a time.  Don’t look for energy or grace to do the whole day, or the whole afternoon, or all six feedings for the baby that stretch out before you.  Just do the next thing.

I have two very vivid memories from my season of postpartum depression.

First, I remember standing in my kitchen with a toddler at my feet and a baby in my arms.  I had gone to the grocery store that morning, and the kitchen island was strewn with grocery bags all waiting to be unpacked.  The dishwasher was open, full of clean dishes waiting to be unloaded, and dirty dishes crowded the counter tops around the sink, crusted with the remains of scrambled eggs, waiting to go into the dishwasher once it was empty.

It seems simple, right?  Unload the groceries, unload the dishwasher, and wash the breakfast dishes in the sink.  But at that moment, climbing Mt. Everest seemed about as realistic as doing the tasks in front of me.

And I just stood by the kitchen sink…and cried…and called my mom.

And here is what she said: “Get help.”

And so I did what she said.  I got help.  I asked a precious young woman who loved me and loved my kids to come over and help me on Monday mornings and Wednesday mornings.  Because I realized that while Mondays were hard in normal life, Mondays were especially hard when walking through postpartum depression.  After the weekend of Jason being home to help with the girls, put food on the table and dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and simply reside as another adult, supportive presence in the house, once 7:30am on a Monday came, he was gone.  And the whole emptiness of the week with a two-year-old and a newborn stretched out before me, and all of life seemed covered in a fog.

So on Monday mornings, my friend Sarah would come over.  And here is what she did: she held the baby.  She held the baby while I unloaded the groceries.  She held the baby and colored with Lillian while I unloaded the dishwasher.  She held the baby and talked to me – adult, normal, healthy conversation – while I put my kitchen and my Mondays in order.  And her presence in my home was a lifeline that pulled me through the pit of postpartum depression.

Some people might need the reverse.  Maybe help in the afternoons is what will pull you through. (That was what my neighbor Kendall was for – I would show up at her house at 4pm with a baby and a toddler in tow and sit in her kitchen while she was trying to do homework with her two older sons.  I am sure she was thinking, “You showed up at the WORST time possible!” and was counting the minutes until I herded up my crew and headed home.  But she never made me feel that way.  She always welcomed me and my girls with hugs and a huge smile.  She was another lifeline during that season.)  Or maybe you need someone to come in and do the dishes and unload the groceries while you hold the baby and play with your toddler.  Because I knew I was wired with a need to see a few completed tasks at the end of each and every day, I knew that cleaning my kitchen and getting my bills paid and week in order while someone else was loving on my children was a depression lifter for me.  You just have to know yourself and know what is going to give you the help you need.

But if you or someone you love struggles with postpartum, please listen to the same advice my mom gave me: “Get help.”  Talk through your needs and low points in your day and week with your husband, your mom, or a friend, and then trouble shoot those areas.  Remember, postpartum isn’t forever.  It is just for a season until the grey lifts.

Here’s the second memory I have from my season with postpartum: I was sitting in the rocking chair with my four-month-old daughter, and I could the greyness and depression descending as I fed the baby.  As I fought back tears, I started to think through ways I could get the depression to lift.  I could stop nursing and see if that helped.  I could talk to my friends and see what kind of strategies or remedies they would offer.  I could call my doctor and ask him to prescribe medication.  But through my thoughts, I heard these quiet words spoken to my heart: “Susannah, you’ve never asked Me to help and heal you.”

The Holy Spirit’s gentle voice broke through the fog and reminded me of the invitation I always had from God Himself to ask Him to heal me.

I don’t know why it had never occurred to me to ask the Lord for His help in setting my body and hormones back to normal, but it hadn’t.  I had only thought of asking for help from everyone else.

So as I rocked, I prayed, “Lord, You say in Your Word to ask You for healing.  I know the invitation is not a promise that healing will always happen the way we want it to in the time we want it to, but I ask You – please heal my body.  Please align my body with the hope of healing and the promise of Your presence You hold out in Your Word.  In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.”

And as I prayed, I felt peace descend from the top of my head to the soles of my feet.  It was as if God’s healing began to flow through every cell of my body and hope began to flood my heart.

My healing was not immediate.  I still struggled with greyness and feelings of depression for several more months, but every time I sat in the rocking chair with my baby, I asked God for healing, and He would give it, little by little, step by step, day by day.  A season that had been a burden now had the blessing of daily dependence on and expectancy of God’s healing presence.  And while I wouldn’t want to go back to relive all parts of that season, I wouldn’t trade the nearness of God’s presence during that season for anything.  I just wished I had asked for it sooner.

And sure enough, one day, one step at a time, the depression lifted and my season of postpartum depression ended.  I woke up one morning when Lizzie was about six months old and felt like the “real me” was back.  The grey had lifted and life felt manageable once again.

But it had taken help, it had taken prayer, and it had taken asking to get me through.  So if you or someone you love is in a season of postpartum depression, encourage them to ask – ask for help from others and ask for help from the Lord.  And the grace of God and the peace of God will flood their hearts and circumstances and give them what they need to take one more step.

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine shared a song with me that has been on repeat play on my phone ever since.  The song is called One Day by Christa Wells.

The words and imagery present in the song gave me the reminder that I am not alone – others have seasons of struggle as well, and what gives encouragement and hope isn’t the thought of having to finish a 26.2 mile marathon, it’s the promise of God’s grace and sufficiency for one step more.

For those of you I know are struggling with postpartum depression, I am praying for you.  Rest in the help God brings and the invitation He extends to lean on His presence.  His grace is sufficient for you…and your baby…and your toddler…and your home…and your heart…one day more.