How Are You Doing, Momma?
I heard the question dozens of times in the first few weeks after the birth of our daughter.
How are you doing?!
But did they really want to know? No, probably not.
Great! We love her! Life is great! No complaints!
As much as my hormone-filled body and wearied mind wanted to spill out all of my tears and fears and confusion to every acquaintance that asked this well-meaning question, I mustered up every ounce of self-control I could manage and kept it in - or at least reserved for the lucky few.
Because the real answer to that question was…
Confused. Exhausted. Drained. Sad. Anxious.
That’s the answer my safe people got. They knew I was doing everything I could to battle against my biggest fear: Postpartum Depression.
Depression is not foreign to me. I’ve walked through it many times in my life. I didn’t always have the vocabulary for it. I just knew it as a heavy darkness that seemed to settle on me and stick around for much longer than I wanted it to. It clouded my mind, stole my energy and confused my family and friends. It wasn’t until later in life that I was finally able to identify the suspect, this thief of my joy.
That’s why when I found out I was pregnant, I immediately started to worry about how my body - my mind - would handle this. I knew the realities of what can happen in a new mom’s brain in the days, weeks, months following the birth of her child, how sadness and numbness can take hold and not let go.
Lord, please, don’t let me go back there. Don’t let me fall into that valley again.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” - Psalm 23:4
It’s normal in the months leading up to the birth of a new baby to spend time preparing for the coming of that child: decorate a nursery, register for gifts, take a childbirth class, attend your doctor’s appointments. But I knew that my preparation would have to not only be for my baby but also for myself. On top of keeping a new baby alive and healthy and happy, how would I do the same for myself? How would I care for myself so that I could offer my daughter the best of me?
Conveniently, I work for a mental health organization. No, this does not mean that my mental health is impeccable or that I do everything perfectly. But what it does mean is that, through our materials and trainings, I’ve learned incredible tools to take care of my own mental health in addition to helping others take care of theirs!
So here are some of the habits that I implemented along the way to take care of my postpartum mental health:
#1 - Wash off the yuck.
This one might sound so silly, but we actually heard this suggestion from a doula in a childbirth class we took at the hospital. She said, “Dads, you are responsible for making sure that Mom gets a daily shower so she can feel clean and refreshed!” And she was right! This daily shower was a game-changer for me in the early days after our baby was born. For some reason, this physical act triggered a mental refreshment also because taking care of your physical body has a direct effect on your mental health. This act wasn’t always easy or comfortable or what I even wanted to do, but it forced me out of my PJs, gave me a moment to regroup and left me feeling re-energized! And then I could change into fresh sweats!
#2 - Pray like you mean it.
One of the greatest things I learned during some of my dark times in the past is that God can handle our honesty. You don’t have to pretend. Don’t be tempted to sit there and talk to God like you would talk to one of those acquaintances who asks that well-meaning question: how are you doing? God already knows the answer to that question. He’s just waiting for you to invite Him into those emotions, to come to Him and experience His rest (Matthew 11:28-30), find His power in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) and receive new strength (Isaiah 41:10).
"But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” - 2 Corinthians 12:9
#3 - Laugh at the chaos.
Let’s be honest, no new parents really have any idea what they are doing. Nobody can fully prepare you for the chaos that ensues when you bring home a new baby. Burp cloths everywhere, baby crying, mom crying, dad wondering what to do with a crying baby and a crying wife. But in between the tears, I’d catch my husband laughing at the funny cries our daughter was making. His laughter caught me off guard at first. How can you be laughing when our lives are in such turmoil?! But after a while, his laughter was healing to me and I started to laugh with him. Our lives had been turned upside down by this seven-pound bundle of squish and sometimes the only thing we could do was laugh. As it turns out, God actually created laughter as a way to help us heal. Laughter relaxes our body, boosts our immune system, triggers the release of endorphins (happy hormones), protects our heart, burns calories, diffuses anger and may even lead to a longer life! So, when things feel out of control and your life feels like a complete mess, give yourself permission to laugh!
#4 - Say yes to the casseroles.
I really love helping other people. I love any chance I can get to put a smile on someone’s face through a surprise meal delivery, a short text of encouragement, an offer to bring coffee (because who doesn’t light up when someone offers to bring them coffee?!). In Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, he talks about how refusing to share your needs or desires with others actually robs the other person of the joy that comes from loving through serving. Yet, as much as I love serving others, I have a habit of refusing to let others help me. I still have a bit of that five-year-old self in me: “I can do it myself!” Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret that you probably already know: we were not created to “do it myself” (Galatians 6:2). So, say yes to help, ask someone to sign you up for a meal train, let someone else hold the crying baby, take all the coffee and prayers you can get!
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” - Galatians 6:2
#5 - Let go of the “shoulds.”
I had a lot of ideas about how life would go with a newborn - the ways I would care for her, the practices I would implement. Some of those worked. Some didn’t. And when the things that weren’t working started to affect my mental health, I had to let go. Trust me, I didn’t do this easily. I thought letting go of these things meant failure. But what it really resulted in was relief, fresh joy and the freedom to enjoy my baby girl in a whole new way. Maybe you have an idea of how your life is supposed to go that you’re afraid to let go of. Letting go is painful, but sometimes our refusal to let go of one thing is keeping us from grabbing ahold of a better thing - God’s better plan for our lives.
"Sometimes to get your life back, you have to face the death of what you thought your life would look like.” - Lysa TerKeurst, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way
#6 - Soak up the truth.
There are so many unkind things I said to myself in the first days and weeks of our daughter’s life. Lies that I took as truth. Negative thoughts that I let circle around and around in my brain. Was it true that I had no idea what I was doing? Yep. Was it true that I was overwhelmed and exhausted and confused? Absolutely. Did any of those things change the way that God looked at me? NO. Because of Jesus, the way God sees me is not influenced by my inadequacies or even my failures. Did you hear that? The way God sees you is not influenced by your inadequacies or your failures. But without the truth of Scripture to combat the lies that were flooding my mind, I would be left with those lies. Sometimes it meant turning on a worship song during a 3 a.m. feeding, sometimes it meant reading one verse in the thirty seconds before I would fall asleep after my head hit the pillow, sometimes it meant asking friends for prayer and encouragement. Find simple ways to soak up truth.
Some of these habits were planned, some of them were learned through lots and lots of tears. These tools aren’t meant to be the key to unlock perfect postpartum mental health. Instead, they’re here to be an encouragement of the many means by which God can care for us.
God is creative and intimate and loving in the way that He renews our strength because He already knows the answer to the question that everyone is asking: how are you doing? Our God knows our needs before we ever do and better than we ever will. He can work through anything or anyone He chooses in order to bring us relief, peace, encouragement, truth, renewed strength. Look for His unique gifts of strength for your day.
Is it a hot shower? A meal delivered? A repeated prayer? A walk outside? A moment alone? A conversation with a friend who “gets it”?
When you see Him using one of those things over and over again, take it as a divine hint and turn it into a habit!