In my first trimester of pregnancy, I asked my women’s group to pray for me. I explained how my mind constantly shifted from debilitating fear to absolute joy. I was terrified that something would happen to the baby and yet I was also so completely happy that we had finally fallen pregnant. It was like a delicate balance between fear and joy. One of the ladies smiled empathetically and said: ‘Welcome to motherhood.’
Months later, I held a tangible precious human in my arms. I felt his heartbeat – something I anxiously watched for in ultrasounds. I watched him fidget in his sleep – just like when he was inside me. And that fear I thought would fade once he came into this world? Multiplied. Ten-fold.
I thought I knew what post-partum depression looked like and I’d never even heard of post-partum anxiety. To my limited knowledge, PPD meant you weren’t connecting with your baby, that you believed someone else would do a better job raising them. Well, I was the other extreme. I didn’t want to let my son out of my sight and I firmly believed that if I wasn’t taking care of him then he wasn’t being taken care of, despite the fact that he had a wonderful father, grandmother, and other perfectly capable lovely family members around him. No, the burden was mine and mine alone. Part of me liked feeling so needed. Until I burnt myself out. I could count on one hand the hours I’d spent away from him over the first five months – in fact, I didn’t even need to use all my fingers. I was almost prepared to give up writing, publishing, study, basically anything that wasn’t baby-related. I couldn’t function in other areas of my life. I had no idea what we had in the fridge and what we didn’t. I even had to work myself up to driving again with all those maniacs on the road whose behaviour was beyond my control and therefore deemed a threat. The most debilitating part, however, were the night feeds. And I’m not referring to the sleep deprivation – adrenalin is a wonderful God-given gift to mothers, I believe. No, I mean that in the dead of night, while my husband slept and I walked the hall of our house to make our son formula, I was terrified. Every night I thought an intruder was in our house. In fact, every time I went to the toilet, I fully expected him – the intruder – to be standing there when I walked out. Which brings me to the strangest part. I had fully visualised him. Of course, being a writer I have an overactive imagination, and I had fully dreamed up – or nightmared up… – this intruder.
Now, this very real fear didn’t come from nowhere. Long before we fell pregnant, I woke to hear the jarring of wood against wood in our bedroom. My husband was asleep next to me and all I could see in the dark was a shadow moving. The fear was paralysing. My heartbeat consumed my entire being as I lay there. This doesn’t happen to us. Just leave the way you came in… When the noises stopped, I woke my husband and whispered that I thought someone was in the house. He turned on all the lights. Searched every corner. Nothing. I felt like I was a crazy person. But my drawer was half open and my jewellery box had been knocked over. The reality turned out to be that this person had wedged up the wooden board in the window for our portable air-conditioner and was using their hand to rummage through the dresser drawers in our bedroom. However, in the dark of the night, what I experienced was very different. What I experienced was complete terror. And even with the facts staring blankly back at me in the stark brightness of every light in the house, my anxiety could not be appeased. It spiralled. It was relentless and merciless. It took me months to work through. And I thought I had... until I started imagining this man in our house.
I started doing my quiet times during my nightly feeds and that helped for a while. But still, I couldn’t shake the fear. Stomach twisting. Heart palpitating. Fear.
It all came to a head over a dodgy looking nappy. I booked a phone appointment with the GP and waited for the inevitable call. (Did I mention he was born in the Covid-19 crazy peak? Hence the phone appointment…) Meanwhile, I Googled. By the time the doctor called, I was convinced I had done something horribly wrong and that we would all end up in the emergency department. The doctor wasn’t the least concerned about my son – apparently, he just ate too much iron – but told me to book an appointment… for myself … for the very next morning. Two days in a row I was at the doctors, answering questions for what I later discovered to be a ‘risk assessment’.
The PPD diagnoses was a shock and a wake up for both my husband and I. Again I was thinking, this doesn't happen to us. Just leave the way you came in... Especially because during these months I have also felt so much overwhelming joy over our son. We laugh, we play, we cuddle. He’s a happy boy – smiling and laughing all the time – and he’s a chubby boy! He is honestly the cutest sweetest little man. Ah, I could just gush over him all day…
And yet, I was depressed? I was severely anxious and stressed. Not just mild. Severe.
The following day our Senior Pastor came up to us after church and told us we had been on his heart this week and he had been praying for us. Then asked what was going on. I broke down then and there. He prayed over us. As did a dear sister in Christ. And somehow, I already started to feel lighter.
I accepted the mental health plan from my GP – despite my reservations. I began anxiety-specific Biblical meditations before bed. I started taking the appropriate vitamins, drinking calming teas, using blends of essential oils. Anything. I knew that I was at my own end and I had to do what I had never been good at. I had to ask for help. I had to ask my husband, my mum, my friends to support me as I began my search for true joy.
I can’t count the hours I’ve spent away from my son on one hand anymore. I have started therapy and continue to use my herbal remedies and now I recite Scripture when I walk through our house at night. No verse more so than 2 Timothy 1:7. 'For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.' (NLT)
And Psalm 127.
'Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.'
And occasionally, the beginning of Psalm 23. 'The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need...' (NLT)
I’m not fixed though. There wasn’t a miracle cure for my anxiety. I’m praying through it and it's finally just beginning to settle - my son is now 9 months. But every day I seek joy. In fact, joy is my word for 2021.
In this broken world, motherhood can indeed be a delicate balance between fear and joy. However, we have a God who is in complete control and he has not given us a spirit of fear. And if it doesn’t come from God, then it comes from the enemy. An enemy who is trying to steal our joy.
‘… fear is the antithesis of faith. And faith is what allows you to step foot on the soil of your destiny.’
Priscilla Shirer, Fervent
So today I choose joy and faith. Tomorrow, my anxiety might get the better of me again and I will fight, with God, to overcome it. I will proclaim His Word over my life and over my family’s life.
Because I want to step foot on the soil of my destiny. And I pray you do too.
'For God will never give you the spirit of fear, but the Holy Spirit who gives you mighty power, love, and self-control.'
2 TIMOTHY 1:7 (TPT)
Elizabeth Chapman is the founder of Daughters of Love & Light. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and young son and she is currently studying a Master of Divinity. She's an avid tea drinker and Jane Austen reader. Her book The Battle for Harenburg Hill is now available.