I backed out of my driveway onto the rainy road to make my way to Loveland, Colorado. This was my first alone, overnight trip away from both Ryan and Summer. I was excited and nervous.
As I prepare for this upcoming birth, I began to realize that I wanted a babymoon getaway for just me and Samuel (the baby boy in my belly). Up until this point, I did not realize that was the true craving of my soul, but it was.
I wanted a space to be with Samuel, alone. To bond. To ponder. To pray. To consider all the places I’ve been and the places I may go.
God’s way of carrying me away for this special time was as much personal as it was ironic.
Just over one year ago, I began looking for resources for my husband related to Postpartum Depression. I wanted to get him tools to help me. Literature that may help him understand my condition.
But, the closer I leaned into my own treatment, the more I began struggling with the reality that my husband nearly qualified for a DSM diagnosis of Postpartum depression himself! Confused and slightly awestruck as both a wife and mental health practitioner, I began tapping into google’s mighty abyss for some information.
While conducting this research I stumbled upon Postpartum Support International (PSI), an organization that supports those suffering with perinatal mood disorders and seeks to provide education to helping professionals and victim’s family members.
I told Ryan about this website and all of the resources I found and we eventually began dreaming of what it might be like for me to one day attend their convention and get a certificate in the treatment of perinatal mood disorders.
We discussed how God turns all things to good. How He may want to use our experience to bring conversations about perinatal mood disorders into Faith communities. How He may use our experience to simply provide a refuge and space for new parents to come and be broken before us as family in Christ, and before God as their rescuer.
Nevertheless, despite my initial passion and interest, there were no conventions being held in our area of the United States.
So, I have been praying. I have been writing. I have been waiting.
I have been sharing my story with anyone who asks or lends an ear. And I’ve been awkwardly and passionately reaching out to new parents to check in on their overall wellness and offer support.
And then, God reminded me one day of this particular PSI website. I typed in the URL and, sure enough, a convention was to be held here in Colorado in October! And the convention was just far enough from Denver to justify a night away. One that I shamelessly used as my “first date” and babymoon with my precious son, Samuel.
As I thanked God for the opportunity to attend this convention and get some alone time before Samuel’s birth, I felt him preparing my heart for more than just the typical discomforts that occur when an introvert is thrown into such an extrovert-driven environment. I felt Him preparing me for a new level of vulnerability and connectivity with other people.
I fumbled into the class 15 minutes late and found a space at the quietest table I could find. As everyone around us made small talk, we all buried our noses in the neatly bound curriculum that lay before us.
The room was filled with hundreds of helping professionals: psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, doctors, midwives, doulas, social workers, and even a pastor or two.
The course began and all fell quiet. I drank up every second of the lecture. I found the content to be informative, practical, and, based on my experience, relatable. It was as if the instructor was creepily reading my diary.
Then it happened.
She looked up to prepare us for our first break, and it felt as though her eyes were burrowing into my forehead. She announced that they were unable to fill all of the seats on their survival panel and they were looking for someone to share their story of survival from a perinatal mood disorder.
I had that moment with Jesus when I tried to ignore the obvious.
“Oh, Jesus,” I prayed, “Please help them fill those seats so that the stories of these women can be shared and the professionals can better understand!”
It was as if I could hear God laughing at my prayer. I knew He was inviting me to share, but I was hesitant. “Here, God? As a professional? In front of all of these other professionals who I want to network with and appear proficient around?”
“Yes,” I heard him respond.
I hesitantly stood up during the break and made my way toward the woman who requested volunteers. There were three other women gathered around her and all were there in response to her request for survivors. She saw me approach. I quickly commented that it seemed she had a lot of other volunteers, so I would just be a listener.
Her response was one of permission, but also conviction. “Well, why don’t you consider listening to what we will be doing and then decide if you’d like to share?”
To make a long story short, I found myself clutching a microphone with a shaky fist about one hour later. I shared my story. They asked me questions, and – to my surprise – the leader of the convention pointed to my answers as key information for herself and audience members…stating “this is helpful for us to know when talking to our patients. Let’s instead phrase our question like this…”
I announced that I was a follower of Jesus and that I was interested in bringing this conversation into the church and widening safe spaces for moms and dads with perinatal mood disorders to come and be broken together.
I told them that I love my church and that I am so grateful I have found a community that did not judge me or shame me for having PPD. Furthermore, I acknowledged awareness that this response from churches is not typical. There are still Christians in our midst who have not been educated on perinatal mood disorders and who choose to blame satan, or simply tell women to pray harder. Or, perhaps worse, do nothing at all while blaming sleep deprivation or spiritual immaturity.
After I made my way back to my seat, I was approached by several women. All who had experienced or observed hurt in the church as it pertains to perinatal mood disorders. I was able to strike up powerful dialogue with women, and even the executive director of PSI.
For now, these are simply connections with other ladies who also hope to bring this conversation into faith communities and empower and educate the Church to practically be the Church to this particular population.
Perhaps one day these connections will lead to something, or perhaps they were just stones on which we all stepped to get a little closer to providing more resources and education to those impacted by perinatal mood disorders.
This conference reminded me that I do not have to birth a ministry or write a curriculum or say something impactful and wise to see God’s kingdom unleashed on this Earth. God is already moving and active – I simply get to show up and be part of what He is doing. I get to be present, bold and obedient and watch Him bring healing to this broken world.
If you are a new parent, please know that it is okay to feel the unexpected.
Every year, more than 400,000 infants are born to mothers who are depressed, which makes perinatal depression the most under diagnosed obstetric complication in America. In fact, it is considered the number one complication of childbirth. At least 1 in 7 women suffer from postpartum depression or anxiety. While there is routine screening in place for gestational diabetes (which impacts slightly over 5% of the population) and hypertension (which impacts slightly over 6%), there is no standard of screening for perinatal mental health (which impacts roughly 20% of women).
The word perinatal is used to include the gestational time period. Technically, perinatal includes the entire season of pregnancy and up to one year postpartum. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for women to experience an onset of depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, and Post Traumatic Stress when weaning as well, even if that occurs 12+ months after birth.
The message I would simply like to convey through all of this information, is that the struggle is not only real, it is hell on earth. And it is devastatingly common.
In the coming weeks, I’d like to do a series on perinatal mood disorders. Please consider following this series, even if you are not a parent, or do not plan to become a parent. Chances are, you know a parent. And your awareness could save a life.
While I am educated in this particular field and I hold a certificate in components of care for perinatal mood disorders, I have also experienced PPD personally. I want to share important information about these disorders while giving myself full permission to experience PPD again, should that be part of my postpartum story (though I’m praying it is not!)
I plan to be vulnerable with my closest friends and family regarding any future/immediate struggles with PPD, and I appreciate your sensitivity and consideration as I head into another postpartum season with all of the wonders and challenges it may hold.
This upcoming series on Perinatal Mood Disorders will include:
- Baby blues vs. depression: signs and symptoms + Resources
- Postpartum anxiety, OCD, Bipolar, and psychosis + Resources
- Diagnostic information for paternal postpartum depression (PPPD) + Resources
- How to be there for your loved one
For more immediate support, call the PSI Helpline at 800-944-4773 or visit the resource page at http://www.postpartum.net/
If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, go to your nearest Emergency Room immediately.
Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.
You can also contact someone for a live online chat at this Suicide Prevention Live Chat link