A Gospel Prescription In Postpartum Depression

This is a guest post by Lindsey Carlson.


I was twenty-two when my first baby was born and twenty-four when the second came along. Both were healthy and my recovery uneventful. I expected the same from my third baby – but it wasn’t. The days, weeks, and months following his birth seemed exponentially harder. The night feedings, the endless cries of a collicky baby, the needs of my two toddlers, and the ever-present mounds of laundry were all overwhelming. I’d adjusted to a new baby before; why was this time so different?

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The fog of physical exhaustion, emotional weariness, and feelings of constant failure didn’t lift for at least the first year of my third’s life. I simply wasn’t myself; I felt like a hollow shell of a person. I didn’t enjoy being around people, was increasingly short-tempered, and even the glasses of milk on my kitchen table seemed perpetually half-full. The difference was Postpartum Depression.

I was familiar with the term. It seemed to be on every pamphlet handed to me during the nine months of routine OB care. I’d heard the stats and knew how common it was, but that didn’t mean I wanted to admit I was one of the one-in-eight mothers affected. I wasn’t a first-time mom. I was a Christian. I was a pastor’s wife. Everything in me fought against confessing susceptibility – but I needed to. My inability to get out of the bed most mornings, my soaring anxiety, heart palpitations, and constant weepiness pointed to a problem more severe than “baby blues.”

Where Does My Help Come From?

Since then, I’ve suffered from postpartum depression two more times. Each time, I gained more clarity on the source of my help and the centrality of the gospel. I had to depend on the Lord to admit my physical need, ask my husband for help, to find wisdom in seeking a doctor’s opinion, and for evaluating and responding to the medical advice. The Spirit’s strengthening and enabling were essential in getting me the physical help I needed for my body and mind to heal.

For those of you in the throws of PPD, you may be looking for an instructive or permissive article freeing you to say “yes” to specific types of medical treatment or giving you ground to deny it. This isn’t that article. Medical conditions demand medical solutions that I’m not qualified to offer. This kind of counsel is best sought offline with your doctor and reasoned through with your husband, pastor, or Christian community.

What I do want to offer you today is Scripture’s medicinal encouragement – because the gospel is essential in guiding the Christian’s survival and recovery plan.  

How is the Gospel prescriptive in PPD?

For those who have believed by grace, through faith, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and trusted in his saving work on their behalf for the forgiveness of their sins - the gospel is good news. And in emotionally and physically painful experiences like postpartum depression, such knowledge is too good to be forgotten or ignored. Instead it must become a balm to the weary soul. Here are three ways you can actively receive help from the gospel:

Absolution from Guilt

You can stop feeling guilty. Postpartum depression doesn’t equal spiritual failure. PPD is nothing more than a manifestation of the curse in Genesis 3 – our bodies experience all kinds of brokenness on this side of the fall. But, because of Jesus, your sins have been fully paid for on the cross. With this transaction, Christ took all of your guilt and shame, once and for all, and cancelled “the record of debt that stood against [you] with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). By his death, Jesus reconciled in his body what you couldn’t reconcile on your own and now there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). The gospel offers absolution from guilt because it reminds you it’s Jesus who sustains to the end and presents you guiltless in the day of the Lord (1 Cor.1:8).

Alleviation from Toil

You can rest. It isn’t solely up to you to fix yourself - physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Healing takes time. But as you wait, know God is working on your behalf. The gospel reminds you “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse (Galatians 3:10), but “the righteous shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11). You can’t work your way out of trials - instead, you must abide.

Jesus counseled, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). Jesus affirms, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). By God’s grace, you can be honest with your husband, open with friends, and seek the counsel of medical professionals, boasting all the more gladly of your weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon you.  

Extension of Hope

Hope in God and his purposes, not the subsiding of symptoms. Perhaps your days have been filled with pleas like the Psalmist in Psalm 13:1, crying “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” But as you wait for God to part the waters of depression, find comfort from the gospel while the waters still surround: Since you have been justified by faith and have peace with God through Jesus, you can “rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” even in your sufferings through PPD, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance character, character hope, and hope does not put you to shame (Romans 5:1-5). The gospel is an extension of hope reminding you not to lose heart; your inner self is being renewed day by day and this momentary affliction is preparing an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).

Postpartum depression can’t separate you from the love of God, friend (Romans 8:39). Because of the reconciling power of the gospel for believers, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Even when you’re hurting, trust the gospel’s prescription for your heart and the healing comfort of his nearness.

 

Help for Postpartum Depression

If you or someone you know may be in crisis or thinking of suicide, get help quickly.

• Call your doctor.

• Call 911 for emergency services or go to the nearest emergency room.

• Call the toll-free 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-799-4889.

 


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Lindsey Carlson is the wife of a church planter, a mother of five, and a Texas transplant adjusting to life in Baltimore, Maryland. You can find more of her writing on her blog, Worship Rejoices, or follow her on Twitter.