This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Laura: Hello and welcome to a very special episode of Risen Motherhood. I am Laura Wifler, half of the duo on the show that I co-host with my sister-in-law, Emily Jensen. Today we have a very special episode for all of you. We have invited Lindsey Carlson on the show today to talk about a highly requested and very sensitive topic – postpartum depression. Lindsey is a wife, mother, speaker and writer and you can find her work all over the internet, but her home base is her blog, firstname.lastname@example.org.
We actually found Lindsey through a Christianity Today article written on the topic of Postpartum Depression, and we wanted to invite her on the show as she applied such a well-rounded mix of research, personal experience and biblical truth to a topic that can be very difficult to discuss.
Now, we just want to remind everyone upfront that we’re not doctors, nor do we claim any medical expertise, so please before making any decisions, do consult your doctor. During today's interview, you'll hear Lindsey share her personal experience with PPD - she's actually experienced it three different times between her five pregnancies - and how to determine if what you're experiencing is PPD, or if it’s something different like the baby blues, or even just a spiritually dry season. She’ll also talk about the next steps if you think you or a friend or a family member might have PPD. Who do you talk to and what do you do? She's even going to talk about what the role of medication is, and of course she applies gospel-hope all throughout the interview.
Now, if I can leave you with anything, let me leave you with one thing Lindsey said that really stuck out. She said, “PPD is not at the end of your story, God is doing bigger things through it. And with Christ, we know that all things are possible, even postpartum depression.” This is the heartbeat of today's episode, and we hope after listening, you feel encouraged, equipped and loved by God. And just one final note; I was actually out with a summer flu during this interview, so Emily is flying solo with Lindsey. But I don’t think you're going to miss me too much. Here’s Lindsey and Emily.
Emily: We are excited to have Lindsey Carlson on today to talk about postpartum depression with us, which is one of the most requested shows and it’s something that has been in our heart to do for a while. Welcome Lindsey.
Lindsey: Thank you for having me. I am excited to be here.
Emily: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you spend your days? What does your family look like?
Lindsey: We actually moved from Texas – I have lived in Texas my whole life – and about a year and a half ago, my family uprooted from Texas and moved to Baltimore, Maryland to plant a church. We have five kids and they are in the range of 12, all the way down to 9 months. My twelve-year-old is my only girl, and we have a ten-year-old, an eight-year-old, a six-year-old. Then we jumped down to nine months; my son just turned nine months. My older kids are in school now, but I did not have any time with no kids in the home because as soon as I was about to hit that magic window, we had the baby. So I spend most of my days helping my husband with his church plans - doing graphic design and things like that, and then writing in my free time, which there’s very little of. [laughter]
Emily: We know that word, “free time” is held very loosely in motherhood! [laughter] Lindsey mentioned her writing, and one of the things that got us connected with you, Lindsey, is Laura and I both came across an article that you wrote for Christianity Today, about your experience with postpartum depression, and how you applied the gospel. In your article you talked about how you saw some warning signs after having your fourth child, and then after you'd had your fifth child. You definitely got to a point where you needed some help, so can you just tell us about your experience with postpartum depression, and describe it?
Lindsey: I think I first experienced it with my third pregnancy and I was talking with my husband about that recently, because it’s even hard to remember it now. But my first two, I had waited all my life to be a mom, so I took it for granted that, “Oh, this is going to be a really easy transition because I've had babies before, and my first two babies." I don’t want to say it was easy, adjusting to motherhood is always difficult - but I didn’t have postpartum depression that I can remember with my first two.
Then with my third, I remember that there was a day where I went to my OB and she was asking how I was handling things. I said, “Most of the days actually I feel like just locking myself in my closet and crying all the time.” I loved my baby, I loved being a mom, I absolutely wanted to be a stay-at-home mom since I was little, and having this overwhelming feeling of, “I can’t get away. I can’t breathe. I am overwhelmed all the time.” I remember thinking that the laundry was just overwhelming, and cooking was overwhelming, and it felt like everything was just closing in on me. So my doctor, in that moment, looked at me and said, “You know, it doesn’t have to be like that. I think that you're having some postpartum depression.” I burst into tears because I think that was the first time that I had really realized, “Oh, this is isn’t just how it is to transition from two to three kids. That time I had a four-year- old and a two-year-old and then the baby. There's a lot of that where you think, “Oh well, I just have three kids – that’s hard,” but trying to understand that adjustment between what's just hard and what's more than hard. But with my fourth, I will say – not to scare anybody – but I feel like it did get progressively worse after my third, then after my fourth, and after my fifth. Each time I was thinking, “Oh well, this time it won’t be as bad because I know what to expect,” and then it was still as hard. [laughs] I think that knowing from the third, to be watching out for it and to be expecting it, that element at least was helpful – to know that that might be coming.
Emily: Thanks for sharing your story, I am sure there are moms in various stages that can relate with that, and one of the things you mentioned, that we wanted to get into just a little bit, is motherhood is hard and transitioning, whether it’s your first, or your third, or your fifth, there are days that every mom feels like, “I am so overwhelmed,” and, “How am I going to cook dinner?” "Or that laundry pile is closing in," that kind of hyperventilating feeling, and sometimes, life has hard seasons. Can you describe a little bit how a mom would know, or if she could know, what the difference is between if transitioning to more children is difficult, or this has been a hard season versus “I may have postpartum depression,” and then, “I may need to talk to a friend or a doctor about this?"
Lindsey: That’s a great question. Actually the National Institute of Mental Health say that 80% of women experience the baby blues. So you're going to assume that you're going to experience the baby blues in some form or fashion. But I feel that the difference for me between, “Wow, this is hard for me to go from being pregnant to having a newborn and not sleeping all of the time,” was when it becomes debilitating, when it starts to become “unable to cope.” So for me, I couldn’t get out of bed and I couldn’t do the laundry. Or if I could, I’d say I couldn’t, but I had enough kids that I had to. I’d say I couldn’t, but I did because when your husband leaves for work, and you have three small children, you have no choice but to get out of the bed. But it felt impossible; everything felt heavier and I was crying all the time.
That being said, everyone experiences it very differently, but the category of being extremely sad or extremely anxious, I would even say constantly anxious. Things that typically wouldn’t get you anxious, but all of a sudden you feel, “This is more intense than I've ever felt,” this anxiety. And the category of exhaustion; when you're very exhausted to the point that all day long, all you're doing is thinking about sleeping, and it’s a means to escape, to get away from life and what's going on, that’s a time that I would start thinking, “You know what, this might be past the point of a baby blues type thing.”
Also, you have to have people in your life that can look in, and when you're sharing those things with them, and you're saying, “I am really anxious or I am really worried,” or “I am really tired,” or whatever those things are that they can say, “You know what, you always worry about these things and it’s not that much different,” or, “That’s really different; you don’t normally do that.” People that know you and know your personality and your temperament can sometimes have more insight than you might be able to have in these moments.
Emily: That was something in your article that I really appreciated you mentioned, the importance of having community. Something that we talk about a lot on Risen Motherhood is being in relationships with other women in your local church, and having those people who value the same thing that you do, and you're willing to let into your life, and willing to be vulnerable with, and all of those things.
That’s a great reminder, and one of the things - since we are a show that values the gospel - is talking about the spiritual aspect. I can think of times in my life where I have felt more irritable or short tempered or anxious, and I also look at my spiritual disciplines and see how, “I really haven’t been meeting with the Lord,” or, “I haven’t been reading my Bible consistently, I haven’t been praying about this,” could be a result of where I am at in my relationship with the Lord and believing God’s promises. So can you just speak to that, spiritual side just a little bit? Or if a mom is feeling really anxious after she's had a baby, or she is feeling those overwhelmed feelings, again, how does she determine if it isn’t just a spiritual dry season, or because she's not praying. Does the same principle still apply there?
Lindsey: I think you’ve actually hit on one of the most dangerous things about postpartum depression. I absolutely believe the enemy gets in right there and is able to attack us because we typically don’t like to be weak as women. A lot of the time we find our identity in being able to be strong and being able to be good moms, and so anything that challenges that is an entry point for Satan to come in and attack and condemn. With postpartum depression, it being something that you can’t go to the doctor, you can’t have a blood test, and they can’t look at it and say, “Oh, clearly you have postpartum depression.” With diabetes, or something like heart disease or something like that, you could go in, they can show on a test, and you can say, “I need to take medication.” With postpartum depression, it feels so open to interpretation and it feels so personal, and then when you talk about things like anxiousness and how much the Bible talks about “Do not fear,” and “Do not be afraid,” and all of those things, and you think, “Gosh, I am doing all those things!"
I would say the point where you open the Word and you say, “Lord, speak to me,” and, “I want to hear from you,” and “I want to know what you have to say about this.” In times where I wasn’t dealing with postpartum depression and I could do that, and my soul would act like dry ground and it would take in the Word, and it would be saturated and I would think, “Wow, Lord help me trust you.” And then I would walk away and my soul would be refreshed.
In seasons where I have struggled with anxiety and depression, specifically with postpartum depression, I would sit in front of the Word and I would read, and my mind would know, “Yes Lord, you are good,” “Yes Lord, this is true, this is right, and I want this to guide me.” But the ability to walk away from that any different, was just completely void; it wasn’t there. When you start to notice that even the truths of God are not able to saturate you, that’s when you want to start paying attention and asking some bigger questions.
In the article I mentioned a girl, Allison Goldstein; she was a woman that lost her battle with postpartum depression – she went as far as to commit suicide. When I wrote this article I mentioned her by name, and about a week or two later, I heard from her father. He emailed me, and one of the things he said was, “Thank you so much for talking about this. I wish that my daughter had had your article before this happened because she went to a Christian counselor, and the Christian counselor said, ‘Here are some verses to memorize.” It killed me to think about a woman walking in, and saying, “I need help,” and being handed scripture, which we know is the word of life, we know it’s the bread of life, and its good, and it’s supposed to encourage and help us.
But when someone says, “Okay, I am trying this and I really want to hear from the Lord, but I am not able to get up in the morning and take care of my family, and I am not able to breathe through these panic attacks,” that is when we know, "Okay, we’re not fighting with the right tools." I would say that sometimes what happens is you have this fire kind of raging in the house of your body, and we’re trying to put it out with the Word of God which is good, and it’s applicable for everything and it’s supposed to be helpful, and it is helpful. But if the wrong fire is burning, and we’re putting out the wrong fire, it’s going to keep burning even if you're feeding yourself with the Word of God. So you have to decide which fire you're putting out.
Emily: You're getting into one of the things that we love to talk about on the show, which is the gospel, and how we live in this. We’re broken, we’re fallen and in our humanness, we experience things that don’t allow for us to have a right relationship with God, and even when we are in Christ, we still face lots and lots of challenges and in our ability to believe God’s promises. Can you just flesh that out a little bit – I know you did in your article – but how does the gospel apply to this? If a mom is in that situation, or maybe this is someone listening, who has a friend who's going to either come to her, or has a family member who's struggling through this. How can the gospel be applied?
Lindsey: Sure. Hebrews 4 tells us that, “We do not have a High Priest that’s unable to sympathize, but He knows our weaknesses.” And we know that Romans 8 talks about, “There's no condemnation in Christ.” When you start to feel like, “I can’t do this, I can’t be a mom,” or, “I can’t be a good mom,” those are things that we know; that we live in broken bodies. We have fallen and our bodies are not working the way that they're supposed to work, and so when we experience illness in the form of postpartum depression, we know this is not a result of my ability to be a good mom. This is a result of my flesh is broken and messed up, and so it’s another opportunity to point back to the gospel, in a way that says, “I am not finding my standing before the Lord, in the fact that I am an awesome mom, or that I can kick postpartum depression to the curb."
Sometimes we think that if we can be a good enough mom and get over postpartum depression, or if I can just memorize enough scripture or read my Bible enough, that I can pull myself out of this. When you say things like that, you hear the word "I, I, I, I" over and over and over again. But if we really believe that we have this High Priest who suffered for us so that He could understand our weakness, this is a perfect opportunity to say, “Lord, I am weak, and I am a broken jar of clay that needs you to come and dwell in me,” and I need to be able to say, “Thank you Lord that my salvation does not depend on my ability to get better, by myself.”
You have the piece of the puzzle where you want to deal with your postpartum depression in healthy ways, but having friends that can also come alongside of you and say, “This is not a self-specific issue, dealing with this kind of illness is not going to commend you to God. This is something that is hurtful, painful, it’s a hard season, but we’re going to deal with this, and God’s grace is going to be sufficient in it, and God is going to speak and breathe life into you, in the middle of the season, just like he does in every other season of your life.”
Emily: Yer, some verses that were coming to mind as you were saying that, just sink in, just like Romans talks about, “Nothing can separate us from God, no angels, princes, rulers, principalities,” all those things, and neither postpartum depression. God is working all things for good, even when it looks really bad to us, so I appreciate that. And another thing that Laura and I talk a lot about in Risen Motherhood is our eternal hope and our future hope and all the things that we deal with in life, whether it be depression or anxiety, or physical issues, or whatever those things are, we struggle with, we can be hopeful that it is not in our future forever if we’re for Christ.
Two more things, before we wrap up here, that we really wanted to get from you Lindsey is one; and if there is a mom listening who is on the border, she's like, “Oh, I feel that a little beating in my heart of, “Maybe this is me,” or, “I don’t know if this is me, and I don’t know what to do.” Or maybe there's someone listening in who has a friend come to mind, what is the next thing that a mom can do? Is it reach out to a friend? Is it reach out to a counselor? What's the next thing? Do you have a final word of gospel encouragement for a mom who's listening, and is walking through some of this?
Lindsey: Absolutely. I would say first of all, someone else needs to be inside of your head, which is a really hard thing to do when you have to admit that you're struggling. For me, it was my husband, but I think that it would be foolish to assume that we all have husbands that are going to be super sensitive and understand those struggles. Some of us are not in that place, so I don’t want to say, “Go talk to your husband.” I want to say, “Go talk to someone that you trust, and that loves you and that you know, knows you and all of those scary thoughts that are in your head, or those sub-thoughts – whatever they may be; even though it feels really scary to admit that those things are going though your head. Those are things that need to be in the mind of someone else; they need to know.
Several of these girls that I wrote about, their families said, “We had no idea that she was struggling with this.” I told my husband at some point, after my fifth pregnancy, I told him some of the things that were going through my head and he looked shocked. He had no idea because even though I was feeling these horrible things, I was coping because I had to. I was getting up every day and I was doing the motions, but he had no idea how bad it really was inside my head. To admit those things to someone that is listening is vital. And then again to also be your own advocate, which, because no one else is in your head, if you are not saying, “I am not getting as much help as I need,” or, “This is getting to the point where its past me just needing to memorize scripture,” or “It’s getting past me needing a listening ear, or extra help with the laundry. I need to talk to somebody.”
And then even with that counselor, just as there are good and bad in every other profession, there are really great counselors out there, and there are some other counselors that may not be so helpful. So even if you go to a counselor, and you get the guts up to do it, [laughs] the time, the babysitter to be able to go, if you get there and you walk away and you feel like you were not heard, have the kind of guts to keep knocking on doors until you're heard, because you're the only one that knows what's going on in your head and in your heart. And you're the only one that can ask for help. That’s the most important thing is to make sure that somebody understands what's going on.
Emily: What about medication, Lindsey? Is that something that can be really helpful, or where does that really fit into the equation?
Lindsey: That is really a sensitive subject to a lot of people, and so I want to make it very clear that this is just my opinion. I am not a medical expert at all. But I would say that when I have a headache, I take Tylenol. And when I have an illness that requires an antibiotic, I take an antibiotic. So if you see a physical need, if a doctor’s able to assess and say, “You know what, a lot of women struggle with postpartum depression, and often it has to do with your hormone levels, and it has to do sometimes with your thyroid even. My thyroid was completely out of wack after I had babies. If a doctor’s able to look at that and say, “You know what, until your body levels out, an anti-depressant might be really helpful for you.” Clearly you need to pray about that, and your family needs to be comfortable with that, but I would say if there are absolute situations where medication can be incredibly helpful and beneficial.
Like I said before, if that’s the fire that you're fighting, and you get to a point where you say, “You know what, in my quiet times, I get in the Word and I am weeping in the Word and I can’t find solace in that.” Scripture talks about, “Give strong drink to the man who is hurting,” and sometimes the most compassionate thing that we can do for people is to give them medication that’s actually helping them until their body physically heals itself and gets to a point where you don’t need that medication any more. Understanding, even with medication, you're not sentencing yourself to something necessarily that’s lifelong. Sometimes it can even be a breakthrough, just to cover you until you come out of that season of your life. But your doctor’s clearly going to be the best one to discuss that with, but there is absolutely no shame in that.
When we see there's no condemnation in Christ, that applies. Jesus knows our every weakness, and sometimes medication is a grace and a mercy that in this modern time, we have the ability to utilize, when we need it. As for hope, I get hope from the Psalms all the time because I feel like David understood depression. He wrote about very high highs and very low lows.
When I start to feel like I am desperate, I like to go to any part in the Psalms, honestly, where he's talking about being so low and “Why is my soul downcast?” But then he goes back and says, “But yet, even though my soul is downcast, I put my hope in the Lord.” I like to constantly refresh myself that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and he's good, and he is right there with us. And at some point, that depression is going to part, and it’s going to break way. I have no idea how the Lord is going to do that, but He has mercy and goodness for us.
My final encouragement would be that postpartum depression isn’t the end of your story. God is doing bigger things through it, and with Christ, we know that all things are possible, and it’s the same with postpartum depression. Even when admitting weakness and accepting help, God is still good in those times and there's still help on the other side of it.
Emily: Lindsey, we really appreciate you taking time to share your story and sharing the hope and God’s Word, even in the midst of really scary, hard dark times. If there is someone listening who's still not sure what to do next, we will have our resources on our Show Notes. I know Lindsey had included in her Christianity Today article a great little resource that says, “Hey, here are some Help Lines that you can call.” And so we’ll definitely include those things as well. Thank you so much Lindsey for being with us.
Lindsey: Thank you for having me.