Someone recently said to me: “If anyone told you how difficult parenthood really is, nobody would ever do it.” It was a fairly frank opinion but I can see his point.
A guide published by the UK government in August 2017 stated that 10-20 per cent of pregnancies result in the mother developing a mental health condition, either during pregnancy or postnatally, and we must remember that this is the tip of the iceberg. These are the women who somehow find it in themselves to share their trauma or who are fortunate enough to have someone close see that help is needed. These women are not merely statistics; we are mighty warriors in an unseen battle.
In my case my battle began years before my pregnancy. Having been born with a disability called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and having fought and won against thyroid cancer and endometriosis, I was warned that not only would my fertility be affected but if I were ever to get pregnant it would be an uphill struggle. In my sorrow I remembered the story of Hannah. I thought about her empty womb in an age and society that deemed childlessness to be a curse, and yet still she praised:
"There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God." (1 Samuel 2:2)
Here is a woman that so many of us can relate to with her face undoubtedly strewn with tears and her heart aching for a child. Hannah chose to praise God despite her pain, she chose to worship, to adore and to fear the Great I Am.
Through my own tears God revealed a vision. He showed me a picture of my husband and I at nearly 30 years old in a hospital room holding a baby girl. As I looked as this picture and the joy in front of me, a quiet voice in my heart said: “Her name is Grace.” Sure enough, at the age of 29 our promised gift from God was on the way. We told the dog first and tried to break it to her gently: she was no longer an only child.
After a very difficult pregnancy and complicated c-section I spent most of my time crying. I loved my daughter more than anything but I felt robbed of the joy that other parents and the media had promised me, and I felt utterly out of control.
Having suffered from depression and anxiety in the past, I concluded that it must have been postnatal depression, but when I sought help I was told that I simply had “the baby blues” and that this would pass in time.
I became so fearful and felt so helpless. My mind was full of horrendous images and I had become convinced that I would be a danger to my precious child. I couldn’t touch my beloved daughter without sobbing. I couldn’t sleep because I thought she would stop breathing, I had to count to the numbers 7 or 12 during mundane tasks to protect her and I couldn’t let anyone else take care of her in case they themselves were a threat.
I hid my fear and irrationality as well as I could from medical professionals, family and friends in case I would be deemed unfit and my tiny, cherished child would be taken from me.
We are told that “…God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV), yet the darkness of postnatal depression, anxiety, OCD and postpartum psychosis is a lonely and an isolated place which is a far cry from the person we were meant to be.
I did not feel fearless and I certainly didn’t feel sound of mind. How thankful I am that in my despair God only needed me to bring him my broken heart and stand just as I was before my King. I may have yelled at him a little.
A lack of support
The government report that cited the large numbers of postnatal women experiencing mental ill health also revealed that 85 per cent of areas in the UK do not have adequate healthcare provision for those women.
Somehow in this postcode lottery I was one of the few to receive help. When I finally admitted to how I was suffering, I was assigned a mental health nurse. She just happened to be training to be a lay preacher in the local Methodist circuit. Within minutes of her arrival she had diagnosed me with the little- known condition Postnatal OCD and assured me that rather than being a danger to my daughter I was in fact the complete opposite.
She gently informed me that women with this condition experience terrifying unwanted thoughts known as “intrusive thinking” and are in fact so frightened of anything happening to their child that they will go to extreme lengths to protect them.
For the next ten months she supported me through every high and low that came my way. She listened to the irrational and illogical thoughts in my head and made it clear that these thoughts were not my own nor were they my identity. I am confident now when I say that they are not the identity of any individual who battles against their own mind. Our identity is in Christ and in him alone and it is time to reclaim it.
Every flaw, every imperfection, every type of illness or trauma has no impact on the value that Jesus places upon us. We cannot scare God away with the dark unwanted thoughts that fly into our heads, we cannot faze him with crippling anxiety, and we cannot lessen his love when our hearts feel broken into a million pieces. He assures us: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Our God will never desert us. He breaks through the lies with his truth, brings justice for the oppressed and strength to the weak. Our God is the God of Hannah who hears us, heals our hearts and our minds and who sees us for who we really are. We are not some statistic of mental health written on a piece of paper! “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Kate Hill is a youth and community worker at Trinity Methodist Church