In 2005, I was pregnant with my first child. That pregnancy was filled with a lot of emotional uncertainty and some scary medical complications. After my daughter was born and I was finally able to bring my daughter home from the hospital, I hoped that the worst was behind us. Instead, the complications seemed to continue. She had colic for the first eight months of her life. I couldn’t seem to do anything right, and I never seemed to be what she needed at that time. I couldn’t seem to comfort her, I couldn’t nurse her well, I felt hopeless and scared and I dreaded being alone with her. After some time, I remember getting to a point of complete emotional shut off. I would just sit and stare at her as she screamed in her crib, feeling absolutely nothing. When I would start to feel things again, it was mostly intense shame. I was so ashamed of the mother I was turning out to be. I felt a long depression during the first year and a half of her life, then I became pregnant again. This pregnancy went much smoother, and I was hopeful I would have a very different experience, that maybe this time I could do it right. However, when I gave birth to my son, my world seemed to become even darker.
I found myself again at home with a newborn who I couldn’t comfort or nurse adequately, and a toddler who I had always struggled with. I felt completely alone. The depression felt like someone had pumped lead through my body; I felt like I was walking around in a thick fog all day. I became angry, anxious, and completely hopeless. I didn’t want to be a mother anymore. I said and did things that were completely out of character for me. I didn’t have any idea what was happening to me. My family was scared, “Something’s wrong with Lu…,” but they didn’t know what to do or how to help me. Finally, I admitted to my husband the dark thoughts that I was having more and more frequently. I was convinced that my family would be far better off without me or maybe with a different mom. The scariest thing upon reflection is that the enemy made this lie feel and seem so logical to me in my pain.
I went to my doctor for my son’s three-month checkup, and I began to talk about what I was experiencing. I was eventually diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. The doctor explained that Postpartum Depression can last much longer than people think and that I was likely still suffering with it when I got pregnant and had my second child. I had to stop nursing my son so I could go on medication. I was so ashamed. In my mind I was failing as a mom and wife in every possible way.
Over time, I started getting healing from the symptoms I was having. God brought part of that healing in the form of medication. God helped me to think through things with a little more clarity, to start to let go of unrelenting standards I’d placed on myself and redefine some ideals about motherhood I was holding onto. These are still things God is bringing healing to in my life, and motherhood has never looked for me the way I thought it was supposed to.
As time passed and my children grew, I started to notice the consequences of this experience on their life. (My daughter has allowed me to share her part in this story hoping that God could use it to bring healing to others.) The things I did and said when I was in the throes of Postpartum Depression, and the patterns of behavior that that crisis established in our family, had resulted in intense emotional pain for my daughter. As she grew, I noticed that she couldn’t stand to be touched. She had strong walls around her heart, she fought trusting us with every fiber of her being. Again, I was reminded how much I had failed her, and I felt like the damage was irreparable. In fact, I had convinced myself that I deserved for her to grow up hating me.
These last few weeks as we’ve learned about Joseph and taken a closer look at the providence of God, I’ve revisited this experience over and over again in my mind. I’ve tried to see and be aware of the invisible hand of God, and the ways that His goodness has always been intertwined with my story. I’ve been given opportunity to offer forgiveness to myself and others and ask for forgiveness for my own actions. I can see God’s goodness played out in car rides where my daughter and I are weeping as we talk about how hard that was to live through, and confronting lies we’ve believed as a result of that experience. God has, over time, brought intense emotional healing to our relationship, and there is tenderness and trust where there wasn’t before.
I may never fully understand why God allowed me to walk through that experience. I may only get glimpses of His faithfulness and goodness as He brings continued healing to these relationships and uses my story to impact others. But one day I will see clearly, and I will know the why.
So, to the mother who is struggling with shame. The mother who feels that she has lived through such pain that it has led to irreparable damage. The mother who feels hopeless, or unnecessary in her life…God sees you completely and loves you fully. His invisible hand is weaving a beautiful tapestry through your areas of brokenness and for your ultimate good. And He promises that in your pain He is closer to you than you can imagine.
Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
“The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”