A “Warrior Mom” is a woman who has survived a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder who is working hard to take care of her baby while also fighting her own struggle. As part of my blog series on maternal mental health I thought I would ask one amazing warrior mom to share what her experience was like with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. As each person’s struggle and road to recovery with a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder is different, it is both our hope that you will find strength and encouragement in Christ through the telling of Sarah’s story. All names have been changed to respect the family’s privacy.
What symptoms did you experience postpartum?
I experienced a number of symptoms such as crying, panic attacks, frustration, extreme exhaustion, and becoming easily angered at people. Even screaming at them. I would experience feelings of being overwhelmed, not knowing where to start, and basically feeling paralyzed. I felt like I couldn’t let things go and would recount them over and over again. I was intimidated by people. I became afraid. I developed a complete lack of perspective where little things just became huge to me.
When did you know that you needed help?
Right away I knew I needed help with feedings and time for self-care so I could shower or sleep. I knew I needed help around the house so I could enjoy my baby, James. I needed someone to talk everything out with. I struggled with feeling isolated, tied down and scared by responsibility. Then James wasn’t eating well. He lost weight and the hospital said it was too much. That really scared me. I knew how horrible I was feeling couldn’t be healthy and knew I couldn’t fix it. I also didn’t realize that some of the relationship problems I was having with my mother-in-law were not just due to her behavior but also due to my heightened and unhealthy emotional state.
What did you do to get help?
There were a couple different components in getting the help I needed. First I saw a counselor, Beth, to talk about my feelings of being overwhelmed. I opened up to her about how angry I was at my mother-in-law. My counselor had some good insight into things I could do to rebuild health and trust back in to this relationship.
My husband, Kurt and I also did marriage counseling. This helped us both better understand what was going on with me, how it was not Kurt’s fault and how he could best help and support me. Our counselor also helped open my husband’s eyes to the hurtful things his mom was doing that he had previously been blind to. As time went on, Kurt was able to work with his mom on some of these issues and after months of working on their relationship, God restored health and trust.
Another part of my getting help included the use of medication to treat my depression. Depression and anxiety run strong on both sides of my family and I had been on an antidepressant since my mid-twenties. Over time, a medication may lose its effectiveness in treating depression and that is exactly what happened to me. My aunt was able to connect me with her psychiatrist and he got me on the right medication to better treat my depression. The adjustment period was hard, but Kurt and my family carried me through.
What kind of support system did you have?
First and foremost, God was my support and sustainer through it all and I can honestly say that every single time I needed help He brought it. Whether a meal, card, walk with a friend, encouragement from Kurt and his love for me—he would often say, “Sarah I know who you really are, God is going to help us through this,” and He did!
My family was also really supportive and helpful. Despite a history of anxiety and depression, we are thankful for God, His Word, the body of Christ and the medical wisdom He has given to doctors. We would argue at times because I was so hyper sensitive but then we would be able to work through things. We learned that when I’m having a panic attack it’s not a good time to talk. We also learned that when I was hurting I’d say hurtful things. And when I was having a good time I could apologize for the hurt I’d caused.
Faith in Jesus helped the loved ones around me forgive me and see that when I was hurting I didn’t mean what I was saying; that I was projecting my pain onto others. I thank God for His grace working in and through His people.
How did PPD impact your relationship with your husband?
When I was struggling, Kurt talked to my dad for advice because he helped my mom through her PPD. We fought and then worked through things. We learned when to give each other space and we learned that walking, talking and rest calmed me down. In the end, I love him even more when I think of how gracious and patient he was with me. He looked beyond my poor mental health, didn’t take my hurtfulness personally, and then got me the help I needed in its various forms. He never gave up on me. Kurt saw my PPD and PPA like any other sickness and I’m forever grateful that God knows what He is doing.
What impact did PPD have on your relationship with your baby?
I love my son with all my heart. Always have and always will. My depression and anxiety often filled me with fear amidst my desire to enjoy my baby. I gave all my time, love, energy and patience to James. I never got frustrated with him, but beyond him, I couldn’t tolerate people and daily life. I know in his first ten months of life he saw me cry and Kurt and I fight with each other and family members. I’m not glad about that but I am glad about God’s grace in the midst of that difficult time.
God carried us through this so that we could help other families. He has taught us understanding, compassion and that there is beautiful life at the end of PPD and PPA. I would encourage anyone to give yourself grace if you are experiencing these disorders. You know this isn’t the real you, you would never choose to feel this way! Get help so that you can be a helping beacon of God’s hope and love to the many other families going through the same thing.
How did you grow in your relationship with God during this time?
I would have never chosen this path of struggle for myself, but as I have gone through this experience I am much closer to Jesus. I see that this world will never satisfy me. Jesus will satisfy. I can honestly say like Saint Peter, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.”
I am more in love with the Lord after this difficult experience. These struggles teach me who God really is, who I am, and how much He loves me- even in my weakness and frailty. As the Psalms and Peter tell us, God doesn’t waste tears. There are several passages of Scripture God has used to help me on this journey. “What the Devil meant for evil, God meant for good.” “I am more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus!” “In this world you will have trouble but take heart, he has overcome the world.” I have learned more of what it means for Christ to be my only hope!
I pray the same for you to know Him more deeply on your own journey; you are loved by me and our great God! (Ephesians 3:20).
NEXT on the Spiritual Grit blog: Hear the story from Kurt’s perspective.
Did you miss any blog posts in the maternal mental health series? Check them out here.