Postpartum Depression & The Pastor’s Wife
When I was pregnant with my first, my husband and I took a Christian childbirth class. I enjoyed the majority of the content. I came out of the class after 12 weeks feeling completely confident in my ability to birth my daughter naturally. At some point during the series of classes the instructor mentioned postpartum depression. I don’t remember what she said. I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t going to have postpartum depression. Plus I already knew about postpartum depression, it was something sad women without husbands get after traumatic births. It was reserved for women who already had a history of depression, for those who didn’t have family to help them. (Spoiler alert: I was wrong!!) I definitely didn’t think it was for healthy Christian women with awesome husbands who happen to be pastors.
My daughter was born beautifully, naturally, just as we planned and prayed. I left the hospital feeling like I could tackle anything the world could throw at me, after all, did you see how I just pushed out that kid without any drugs?! Come at me, world! I got this! And then I started crying…
Now for some background into the complexity that is me. I am not a hugely emotional person. Give me a cute puppy, a Hallmark commercial, a sappy poem, and a sad movie all wrapped up into one and I’m the girl that says “Oh. Yea that stuff is kinda sweet…” I’m NOT the girl that cries about emotional things. I reserve my tears for death and frustration. That’s pretty much it. It’s not intentional and I don’t believe its a sign of some pent up emtional baggage. It’s just the way I am, I’m not a huge crier. (Disclaimer: I DO get teary at most births because…birth!)
I was fine for the first few days, but then the tears came. This is normal, I thought. I think it’s called “Baby Blues” or something – didn’t our teacher say something about the blues? But it didn’t stop. I would be holding my perfectly healthy baby girl with her delicious baby fuzz and just begin to weep. Or I would put my baby down and go look at myself in the mirror. No make-up, dirty hair, and my stomach. Where was my nice flat stomach?! The baby was out, why was I so squishy?! Again, I would weep. Not teary eyes, like actual crying. My sweet mom would tell me I’m doing a great job and, you guessed it, I would burst into tears. Sometimes, when my daughter was sleeping in my arms, I would begin to cry because I was so convinced that something was wrong with her. Did you just hear that squeak she made?! To her adoring father it was the most precious sound. To me it was a sure sign that she was struggling to breathe. Or maybe it was cancer. Do you think we could find a nurse who will move in with us for a few months? What if she is sick and I don’t even realize it?! Anxiety, table for one??
I didn’t recognize myself. For 27 years I had been stable, happy, easy-going. Life had not thrown too many curveballs my way. I had friends, I had family, I had the most amazing, godly husband. I’ve always described my life as “vanilla.” Just not much to report. All of a sudden I was this bucket of tears and nerves. I felt nothing like who I had always been. I wasn’t sure I ever would feel normal again. (I probably cried about that too). This went on for weeks. Four, maybe five weeks of feeling anxious and worrying about EV.ER.Y.THING. Friends wanted to bring us meals. I canceled them because…people!! Mommy friends wanted to come over and poke my new baby’s rolls. I declined because I knew they probably had polio or scabies and would give it to my daughter. At no point, however, did I think this was postpartum depression. It never crossed my mind. I wasn’t depressed. I wasn’t sad. I had no feelings of emptiness. I was just anxious. I was just scared. It’s called being a responsible parent and protecting your kid from EVERYTHING EVER POSSIBLE.
Fast forward 4 years. I’m currently pregnant with my second daughter. We’re in the home stretch and so looking forward to welcoming another rolly, chunky, squish of deliciousness into our tiny family. Around Christmas I began to think through my “fourth trimester” if you will. In the years since my first daughter’s birth I’ve become a doula, a childbirth educator, and launched The Labor Ladies business with my dear friend Jamilla. Needless to say, I know more now than I did 4 years ago, I’ve heard more stories, I’ve seen more things. As I sat to process all that happened in the weeks after the birth I solemnly realized that I did, in fact, have a touch (…or a few touches) of postpartum depression. See, I’ve learned that postpartum depression not only knows no prejudices, but exists on a broad spectrum. Sometimes it’s about sadness, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s about feeling empty, but sometimes it’s not. I heard a story on the Today Show the other day where another celebrity was making a “shocking confession” that she too had postpartum depression. An “expert” was listing signs and symptoms. Overwhelming sadness, feelings of loss, feelings of emptiness, worthlessness. It was all I could do to not scream at the TV…”THAT ISN’T TRUE!!!!!” Mild postpartum depression can just look like anxiety. Anxiety that interrupts your life, anxiety that takes you away from your normal routines. Yes, I cried, but I wasn’t crying because I was sad. I was crying out of worry. I had no feelings of emptiness. In fact my life, my heart had never felt so full of joy! It was just those darn “what ifs.” Turns out postpartum depression is NOT just for sad, unstable people. Turns out a Jesus-loving, fully supported, pastor’s wives with a happy, vanilla life can jump over that line between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression just as quickly and easily.
The lesson I’ve learned and the one I share with the couples in The Labor Ladies Guide to Childbirth Class is that it is okay! Hear me say this! IT IS OKAY to not be okay! Oh, you love Jesus and are supposed to be happy all the time?? It’s still okay to not be okay. You’re a pastor’s wife?? It’s still okay to not be okay. You’ve never been depressed or known anyone to be depressed? Depression of any form is only something that exists in your college psychology books? Yup, it’s still okay to not be okay…for a little while. I wish someone had told me, “Meredith, it’s okay! Everything is going to be okay! You don’t have to put on makeup and skinny jeans and be on the front row of church right away. You don’t have to feel like entertaining visitors yet. It’s okay!!!” (So actually my husband and my mom did tell me this, but I didn’t believe them. Next post: The Most Stubborn Doula). Here is what is not ok: It’s NOT okay to stay that way. Every once in a while, even after the most beautiful births, we find ourselves in a dark hole. It’s a safe hole, but we know in our hearts we need to get out and into the daylight. Alert your tribe. Tell your people you need to be forced out. My tribe all knows I struggled with anxiety the first time around and they know to be on high alert this time just in case. I don’t know what will happen after this sweet new baby is born. I do have more knowledge now, and I do have my people who are watching, and I do know that postpartum depression is a possibility for ANYone. Also, I have an almost 4 year old who will force me to get off of the couch and get on with life. I can already hear the conversation:
Me: “but sweetheart, mommy is feeling kind of weepy and anxious today…”
Her: “mmm hmm, but the science center…”
Right. Off we go.
Note: If you think you may be struggling with postpartum depression please talk to someone who can get you the resources you need. Talk to a doula, a midwife, a nurse, a doctor or a counselor so that they can help you in whatever ways you need help.
This article was written by Meredith Tanner. She is a DONA certified birth doula, a teacher, a researcher of all things, mom to a wonderful little girl and another little one on the way, and the wife of a youth pastor. To learn more about Meredith and the birth services she provides please click HERE.