I've shared a lot with you about my experience with post-partum depression (PPD). But today, I want to bust open this little-discussed issue and share it all.
My depression came after my first child, my daughter was born. It actually started to seep in at the very end of my pregnancy, then spiraled out of control a couple of months after her arrival. I've said before that it was such a dark time, my memory has literally been almost completely erased. I can't picture my baby's face, I don't remember her first anything. I wasn't mentally or emotionally there for it. I wasn't even physically there for some of it. I did not get out of bed except when forced for several months, and my personality had seemingly left me.
Of course, that special time of bonding and connecting with my baby was lost. I did not have a natural motherly response when she cried, I had a lot of trouble breastfeeding her and I really didn't care, so I let her go to formula pretty quickly, I had feelings of jealousy toward her when my husband would care for her while I felt that I myself was suffering. You may have a wall up right now. You may judge and ridicule me or blame some big sin I must've committed to bring this on. That's okay. If you haven't been there, you simply will not understand that none of this was coming from me or my heart; it was all coming from the depression. It was unnatural, not my personality, and not at all how I had dreamed things would be after the birth of my child. This caused my depression and hopelessness to worsen.
Looking back through the eyes of prayer, knowledge, research, and healing, I know now that I was suffering from a chemical imbalance. I will never argue about whether or not the depression I suffered could have been "gotten over". I was there, and I know what it felt like to be taken over by my own mind, and I have also experienced the type of depression that I can pull myself out of. This was different. This was no choice. I wanted to enjoy my new motherhood. I wanted to nurse and cuddle and love my baby. I wanted a connection with her. But there wasn't any of that, because I was sick. Just as you wouldn't deny yourself medicine for diabetes, I shouldn't have denied myself medicine for this mental illness. I shamed myself for even picking up that prescription. I refused to take it because of the judgement from others that would follow that decision. My grandmother had overdosed on prescription drugs her whole life, and I wasn't going to fall into that trap.
This decision cost me months of hopelessness and illness.
It also cost me bonding time with my daughter, and years of trying to force it to happen.
Once I came out of the darkest time, I thought everything would get back to normal and I could finally enjoy motherhood and fall into the perfect life I always wanted. We had wanted to have our children very close together, even closer than they ended up, but didn't because of the depression. When my daughter was fifteen months old and I had been better for a couple months, we tried for a second baby and I got pregnant. I quickly realized though, that things in my motherhood couldn't just "go back to normal" because there had never been a normal. I had been depressed since before Bella was even born, and only gotten worse since then. I realized I had absolutely no connection to her and didn't feel things my friends felt about their children. I even noticed that I felt a stronger connection to the tiny baby in my belly than I did my one-and-a-half-year-old, flesh and blood child.
The depression had stolen something from me, and I hadn't known until now because I hadn't had anything to compare my relationship with Bella to.
Something was missing.
I started going to a moms group through my church, where I met a mentor and friend who taught me how to pray in the Spirit- something I hadn't really applied to my life before. I began using this lesson in prayer toward my relationship with Bella. The Lord moved and showed me where healing needed to take place. Things got better, but our relationship felt forced to me. I spent two years in despair and denial, thinking that I had missed my chance at a normal, healthy relationship with my baby girl.
Today, my daughter is four-and-a-half and we have a good relationship. She talks to me about her day and her thoughts, feels close to me, and I feel close to her. I no longer feel a wedge between us. God is good, and He heals.
There are some things I did to help myself through this issue that I want to share today for anyone who has suffered PPD or simply feels that they need a stronger connection to one or more of their children.
First, I took control of my thoughts. Basing my decisions on the Bible gave me power over the enemy's hold on my mind and my relationship with my daughter. When I would think something like. why does she have to be like that? Why can't she just be normal?
I would take it into captivity as soon as I realized what was happening. I would mentally say NO to that thought and throw it away. I would replace it with a verbal uplifting comment like, "Wow sweetie, you are really good at acting like a dog! You look just like Mimi's puppy!" Doing this was the most powerful action in changing my damaged heart toward my little girl.
Your emotions always follow your thoughts.
Another thing I did was to physically touch her more often. Touch is not my love language, in fact it irritates me sometimes, so this was tough and had to come out of selflessness and a desire to bring change. When watching a movie, I would invite Bella into my lap. When sitting down for dinner I would invite her to sit in the chair closest to me. When walking to the mailbox I would take her hand in mine. When standing in line at the grocery store I would rub her back. I still do these things, but they're more natural to me now. This made her see that I was being different and opening up to her. It made her drawn to me and brought closeness.
The third most powerful thing I did was prayer. I prayed over our relationship, I prayed for her, I prayed against future depression, I prayed with her. Just lots and lots of prayer covering me, her, our lives, and our family. God works on our hearts through prayer!
If you have suffered severe PPD and feel a disconnect between you and your child, please know first and foremost that it is normal.
I won't get into detail here about the medicine debate, but please feel welcome to message me on Facebook if you have any questions or thoughts or concerns about yourself. PPD is very real and very crippling. Don't keep yourself isolated. I am reaching out to you, take the chance to have a friend in this. I also want to clarify that this deep depression I suffered from was not completely gone until I gave birth to my second baby and felt it coming on strong again, and decided to take anti-depressants. After nine months of medication, I weaned off and never went back. I believe in the power of God and the power of prayer, but sometimes, for reasons I won't know until I see Him face-to-face, He brings a different way. Sometimes depression means your mind is sick, and can be helped by saying yes to help and medication. Don't lose years just to make a point.