Gone Coastal

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Post-partum review

I go to a 'Baby Talk' session at the local health unit on Mondays. It's mostly a chance for moms to get together and compare notes, facilitated by a public health nurse, with different topics. Last week they had a guest from the Queen Alexandra Foundation for Children, speaking on self esteem, for both parents and children. It was all moms and babes this week (no dads), and we never actually got to discussing the kids.
We were listing some of the things that defined us before starting families, and the mom next to me brought up mental stability, a reference to postpartum depression. I turned to her and quietly said 'Thank you.' I spoke with her briefly afterward. She had experienced PPD requiring medication with her first child. Thankfully she had fared much better with her second, who is just a little younger than T. Though I'd shared some of my experiences here, it was the first time it had come up among the moms I've met here. In the general chatting that always follows, I added two more moms to that list. A significant number in the group I spoke with, but none of us had known about the others.
One mom who lives up the street from me, whom I'd got to know a little, had just recently realized that she had been suffering because she started to come out of it. It took a week of feeling somewhat good and 'normal' again for her to recognize where she'd been. And I hadn't recognized it in her.
I was well aware of the 'phenomenon' of postpartum depression. There was info in our prenatal class materials, in the Baby's Best Chance book from the government, in the hospital, from the public health nurses. All the bulletins speak of the statistics, what it means, when to call someone. But there was nothing about what anyone would or could do if you did call. I recognized it in myself as being more than just the 'baby blues'. Mostly because I'd been there before. Not postpartum, but depression. As a teenager I went through a long period of deep, suicidal depression. The packaging was different, but much of the emotions were familiar. I felt worthless. Unlovable. Helpless. Alone. Instead of hanging around the junior high band room after hours, I'd be early for every doctor's appointment, and take T to the health unit to weigh her, clinging tight to even the subtlest word that I was okay and meeting muster. I'd log in to the work system regularly so as not to let go of my former world and identity, or miss any opportunity for a social connection.
As a teenager, I reached a point where the mere fact that I was still alive was evidence to me that this God I'd been getting to know had other plans for me. That was the big hand up that started my climb out of the mire, and set me on a path to following Christ. This time, one thread I was able to hang on to was the knowledge that, no matter how ill-equipped I was, this little life in my arms was dependent on me, and faced with that I looked back on the promises I'd been given before we embarked on the path toward parenthood.
By God's grace, this was not a long journey. Weeks of dark days became days with dark hours, and slowly, weeks with not so shiny periods. But as hard as it was, I also learned from it. As I came to God in prayer for strength and comfort, he'd lift me up and show me what I'd carried into the pit. I saw pride, a feeling that I was above depression and the things that came with it, and therefore above others who continued to struggle with it. Being in that place also reminded me of the irrationality of depression, and the way it distorts your perception, filling me with grace for others who struggle around me.
This excellent post at Rocks in My Dryer provides a description of that author's depression as a wilderness experience. I really appreciated her perspective, as did the thirty-some readers who posted comments, who knows how many more from the silent majority.
I've written this post because of the women at the mom's group who went through their postpartum alone, thinking they were the only one, or at least not knowing who the other statistics right beside them were. But I also hope it will give other Christians cause to examine our perspective on depression, especially amongst other Christians. I still have rough days, times when I fight back the tears, but now they're in proportion to the challenges of being a new parent. I pray that I'll not forget what the Lord has done in my own wilderness.



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