In April of 2018, I was living my best life. Everything was perfect. Finally.
Months before, I’d gotten up the courage to leave a prestigious but soul-numbing eight year career at a major oil company. I was just finishing up my first year as a junior high math teacher where I experienced the joy of investing in young lives on a daily basis. I had a meaningful and fulfilling career ahead of me. Finally.
And just weeks before, I’d married the most wonderful man I’d ever known after a decade of waiting and hoping and wondering if anyone would ever love me in the way that – yes – this man did. My new husband brought me breakfast in bed most mornings, sent sweet notes to me all day long, and made me feel like the most cherished bride when we both came home at the end of the day. We loved our little one bedroom apartment, our weekly outings with friends, and the rhythm of our new life together. I could hardly believe life could be so good. Finally.
And then I missed my period. I was only one day late, but I just knew, like I could sense the presence of another soul inside of me. My hands were shaking so badly on the drive to buy a pregnancy test that I wrecked my car, cracking my rim and costing us money we soon discovered we would need for other unexpected expenses.
I was pregnant, despite all odds. I have polycystic ovary syndrome and don’t ovulate most months, plus we were using protection. To this day, I do not understand how it happened. All I know is that it did, and my bright, shiny, perfect world – the life I’d dreamed of for so long – darkened to deepest night as depression swooped in and covered me in a suffocating blanket of dread.
I didn’t want the baby. And I felt ashamed. I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t I be happy? Aren’t people ecstatic at having a baby? It’s not like I’m an unmarried teen, completely unprepared for the burden and responsibility of caring for another human being.” But I was completely unprepared, even though I was married, financially stable, and in my thirties at the time of my pregnancy. Perinatal depression does not discriminate.
Perinatal depression – depression during pregnancy – is not widely acknowledged, accepted, or understood. According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), between 14-23% of women will struggle with symptoms of depression during pregnancy. This percentage is even higher among women with a history of depression. Nevertheless, because societally pregnancy is considered a time of joy and celebration, few women feel they can voice feelings of depression about their developing so-called bundle of joy. Still further, infertility is so prevalent that unhappy moms-to-be have to exercise caution sharing how they really feel or risk wounding friends who are unable to conceive.
Yes, with all of the societal pressure (and familial expectations), I felt like I was supposed to be not just happy but overjoyed about having a baby, but – honestly? – I felt like my life was over. I’d waited my whole life to be a wife, and I never thought that the title “mom” would be slapped on so soon after becoming a bride. I grieved the newlywed season I’d anticipated for so long. I grieved my freedom and independence. I grieved the fit body and slim figure I’d worked so hard for in the months leading up to our wedding.
We’d delayed our honeymoon due to my teaching schedule, so I ended up spending much of our so-called honeymoon bloated and throwing up. I’d started training for my first marathon that would take place just weeks before my due date, so that dream fell by the wayside. Goal after goal and dream after dream withered and died as depression took up residence in my heart instead. Everything was about to change, and I felt as though my life had been taken from me even while I still lived.
When I would occasionally open up about my true feelings about the pregnancy, I was sometimes asked if I’d considered abortion. As a devout Christian, I believe life begins at conception, so abortion was out of the question for me. The thought of not keeping the baby was never a consideration for me personally, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t angry with God. I kept asking God why He would give me the life I so desired, only to strip away my happiness just weeks after everything finally fell into place for me.
I wrestled with God most of my pregnancy. I oscillated between yelling at Him and giving Him the silent treatment. My husband and I were both virgins when we got married, believing that the God who created sex knows best how it is to be enjoyed: within the confines of marriage. I felt like I had done things God’s way and that He owed me for my obedience, which is of course not the way God operates at all.
I was depressed because life didn’t go according to my plans. I wasn’t ready to be a mom. And I was mad at God because I kept judging God’s goodness and faithfulness by His adherence to my plans for my life. Ultimately, though, I came to realize that the God of the Universe knows better than I do. And God doesn’t owe me anything, much as it pained my legalistic heart to accept that. None of us are perfect (certainly myself included), and any wrongdoing is going to separate us from a perfect and holy God. God cannot tolerate sin because He is a God of Justice. But He is also a God of Love, so He made a way back to Himself through the willing sacrifice of His son Jesus who took the punishment we each deserve for our wrongdoing. God gives blessings to us because He loves us, not because we deserve them. And even circumstances that feel like curses often turn out to be blessings – my pregnancy included.
Like a good parent, the God I know loves people by giving them what they need rather than what they want. In the book of Hosea, God tore away everything cherished by a metaphorical adulterous wife because He knew the path she was walking would not satisfy, and He wanted better for her. He led her into the wilderness and spoke tenderly to her there. He is a God of Love who sometimes allows us to be wounded in order for us to experience the ultimate healing of our souls.
In the book of Genesis, when the mother Hagar experiences depression as a result of her circumstances, God also meets her in the wilderness and speaks tenderly to her. When she felt abandoned and without hope because of circumstances beyond her control, God was there with her in the desert. He loved her through her pain, and as a result, Hagar called Him El Roi – “The God Who Sees Me.”
So mom-to-be wrestling with depression: God says to you, “I see you.” He created us, knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, and He knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees you. He wants you to experience joy even more than you want it for yourself. But you may not recognize joy when it comes because it looks different than your plans and expectations.
A turning point in my perinatal depression came when we had a Trisomy 18 scare. At 20 weeks, my daughter Abigail showed a cyst on her brain, and we had to go to special sessions with genetic counselors to discuss what that might mean for us and for our daughter. That was the first moment I started pulling for this little fetus inside of me instead of rooting against her. When I realized that she might suffer, God began turning my heart toward her, and my love has continued to grow ever since. She is now six months old and loves to laugh – a laugh, I might add, that is rather contagious.
True, my life doesn’t look the way I thought it would right now. God’s plans were different than mine (and, as Creator of the Universe, He does admittedly have the ultimate trump card). But His ways are good. And as much as I didn’t want to be a mom yet, my little girl has turned out to be an amazing blessing. She spreads joy everywhere she goes and brings a richness to life I’d never experienced before.
I’ve discovered that there was folly to all of my “finally”s. Before my pregnancy, I kept thinking I had arrived; that life was finally perfect. But perfect is an illusion this side of heaven; it is not sustainable. Life on earth was never meant to be perfect. We live in a fallen world, broken by sin, but we have a God who, one day, is coming to make all things right and new. In the meantime, we simply live season to season, hopefully spreading a little Love and Truth everywhere we go.
“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’” -Rev. 21:3-5
When that happens – when Love restores the world to wholeness – only then will our true “finally” have arrived.