Truths & Lies
I assumed everything that went wrong during the perinatal and postnatal period was my fault. I remember crying over everything, not in public, but at night while my son was finally asleep and I was also supposed to be sleeping. I would climb out of bed quietly enough to not wake my husband, and I would crawl into our closet and lay there on the pile of clothes and sob and ruminate over all the ways I thought I was a failure as a mother. I believed the blatant lies, straight from hell. These I wrote in my journal:
· If only I had spent more time doing prenatal yoga, then I would have been able to successfully deliver this baby without needing a C-section.
· If I hadn’t done such horrible things in my past, I wouldn’t be going through this now. This is my punishment as a mother.
· If only I read more about nursing, then I would be able to successfully get this little boy to finally latch then I’d be doing what “nature intended” (as the nurse unsympathetically pointed out).
· If only I could get my son to stop screaming in a store, then people wouldn’t see me as a bad mom.
· If I was a better Christian, as some people have told me, I wouldn’t feel depressed, anxious, traumatized. Maybe more prayer will help me get over this?
· If only I could just snap out of feeling sad and hopeless like everyone says, then I’d be a good mom. After all, I had a beautiful and healthy baby boy.
· If only I could spend more time preparing homemade fruit and vegetable purees like those perfect Pinterest moms, then I’d be a better mom.
· If only I could lose these extra pounds and fit into my pre-mommy jeans like my other friends can, then I’d be a more attractive mother.
· If only I could get off psychotropic medications and manage my depression and anxiety without drugs, then I’d be a better mother.
· If only I could stop feeling depressed and feel happy and joyful like all the other moms I see smiling with their kids on Facebook and Instagram, then I’d be a better mom!
· If only I could finally put these clothes away, clean my apartment, make a meal for my other friend who just had a baby, then I wouldn’t be a failure as a mother.
· (When I was working full-time) If only I could be home with my child more, then I’d be a better mother.
· (When I became a stay-at-home-mom) If only I could do something to make some more money for this family, then I’d be a better mother.
My therapist read the beginnings of my journal entries and closed the notebook. She looked at me in her I-hear-what-you’re-saying-but-I’m-going-to-help-you-rethink-this manner that I’d grown accustomed to during weekly therapy sessions.
“You didn’t read the whole pages, you just flipped through.” I pointed out to *Tina. Ha, I’m a mental health professional (by training) too, I see what you’re doing! I thought.
“You’re absolutely right and I have a question for you.”
I rolled my eyes, because we’re at that point in our therapeutic relationship where I can do that and she laughs at me. “Go ahead, lay it on me.”
“You wouldn’t say those things to your friend, right?”
“What? Obviously not, any of those statements are so judgmental and mean.” Is she really suggesting I say this stuff to my friends? For the first time, I think Tina needs a vacation.
She nods. “Then why are you saying those things about yourself?”
She’s good, isn’t she? Exactly what I needed during this exhausting stage of motherhood. But, I can’t say anything because I know she has a point. I am and have always been dreadfully mean to myself. I am my own worst critic and motherhood has been the penultimate show of how I’m not good enough at any of it. I’ve learned to accept these lies as truths, which has been part of the reason I’m struggling with postpartum depression.
Tina hands me back my journal. Our time is almost up, and it’s time for my weekly assignment.
“I think it would help you tremendously to go through each of those entries and rewrite true statements under each of them. Stick to the facts. You will start to believe them over time. If you can’t think of a true statement for yourself, check out a Bible verse to speak truth to the lie. I’ll see you next week!”
I’ll be honest that the falsehoods I believed about myself as a mother were so deeply embedded into my psyche that this challenge was difficult for me. Nevertheless, I started with this egregious lie:
LIE: Good Christians cannot get depressed. They just need more prayer.
TRUTH: The Bible is full of evidence of devoted followers of God who struggle with depressive and anxious symptoms. In Psalms, David recorded his excruciating discouragement so beautifully (Psalm 38). Hannah “in bitterness of soul…wept much” and didn’t eat (1 Samuel 1:10). In fact, she even continued “pray[ing] out of [her] great anguish and grief (vs. 16).” Jeremiah wailed, “I am the man who has seen affliction…[I] walk in darkness rather than light” (Lamentations 3:1-2). One could argue Jesus felt anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane and he prayed all night long, “his sweat as if there were drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44).
No matter our circumstances, with PPD or otherwise, combating toxic lies about ourselves is something we mothers must do. It’s difficult work, certainly, but it starts with identifying false beliefs about ourselves. As Jesus said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). If we ask Him and do the hard work (which sometimes includes submitting to psychotropic medications and/or therapy, per doctors’ and therapists’ guidelines), we can alter a mentality shattered by the pain that accompanies mental illness. Jesus wants us to accept mercy and His help.
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Written by Caroline Brewer