Have you met my friend Helen Gentz from Helen’s Corner? Well, today you’re in for a treat! Helen is here to share with us her journey with postpartum depression. She has such a beautiful story to tell, and it honestly brought me to tears when I first read it! My prayer is that you will be encouraged just as I was. – Jen
It was a Sunday evening.
My 2 year-old son was fast asleep. And my 7 month-old daughter had finally gone down for the next few hours. It was my husband Joel’s prime time to decompress after a full day of teaching, preaching, and hosting friends. Mine, too, but I didn’t need to decompress because it was Sunday evening. I needed to decompress because it was like any other day. There I was, sitting in our TV room. Arms crossed. Anger. Tears. And my dear husband sat by me, unaware of how it got this far…this bad…this desperate.
I had been doing a decent job playing the pretend game. “How’s it going, Helen?” “Good… how are you?” – smiling. I would carry on with church life, go to appointments, grocery shop, and say hello to neighbors and friends. I would “function” in order to mask the sickness.
I was depressed.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have considered myself an angry person. I would’ve never imagined that postpartum depression would hit my soul. I was the counselor by training. I was the one trained and skilled to work with people in deep darkness. I knew better… or so I thought.
Motherhood came easy for me when my son Joshua was born in the Summer of 2009. A few months after his first birthday, we found out we were pregnant again. And we were absolutely thrilled! A few months after that, my husband got a new job. Then we moved to a different state. I was 6 months pregnant and everything was new. New home. New church. New environment for all of us. And, with that, a new reality of being a stay-at-home mom for the first time. So when the newness started to fade, our little Elsie was born. Labor and birthing went absolutely fine. It was quick. It was beautiful. And I was so happy to have a baby girl. She was so sweet!
And this is where my story becomes cloudy and hazy.
Did she cry a lot? Did she nurse well? Was she a good sleeper? Was she a good eater? When did she smile? How was she when she became teething? Was Joshua good with his baby sister? When did she start sleeping through the night? Were her diapers messy?
I do not remember. And that saddens me…
So, back to that Sunday evening…sitting next to Joel as the tears flowed. Messy. My words made absolutely no sense! But THIS I remember: I confessed that for the past several months, in the deepest part of me, I was depressed. I didn’t have joy in feeding my baby, playing with her or being around her. I was tired of pretending that everything was fine. I was always angry. I was exhausted and lonely and sick.
The breakthrough came through confession.
The breakthrough came through facing my weaknesses.
The breakthrough came through knowing and voicing my need for help.
That night I realized that God had to take control of my entire being. I needed Him to take over my anger, my mind, my resentment, my inability to care and to love. I needed God to show me what GRACE truly was and to show me the way to wholeness and healing.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have LIFE and have it ABUNDANTLY.” John 10:10 (ESV)
With God’s help and strength, I woke up the next morning determined to take different steps.
I showered… yes, I consciously made the decision to take a shower!
I prayed and asked a few friends to pray for and with me. I couldn’t do this alone.
And I decided to get healthy. To eat healthier. To exercise. My physical body needed to move. And I needed my energy back.
God looked at me that day and smiled. I remember, vividly, as sure as the sun comes up every morning, KNOWING that He wouldn’t let me keep falling. I knew He was there to not just catch me, but to hold me through the difficult moments of the hardest days in my human life.
And after Elsie’s first birthday, we became pregnant with baby #3. There was a part of me that wasn’t as elated as I was expected to be. Through my fears, I asked God to “create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10), and I confessed that I needed him to give me joy.
And here’s what happened.
I faced my fears, head-on. I surrounded myself with good friends. I depended on my times in the Word, and Scripture gave me the lifeline that I needed to fight the lies of the enemy. Philippians 4:8-9 says, “Finally, [sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Wow! Talk about the perfect formula for someone like me – recovering postpartum depressed mother who couldn’t afford to go back to the “old ways” of parenting – and living! So, with stronger accountability with my dear husband, a loving church family, a strong mommy community, and a few close friends, welcoming Noah into the world was a true joy!
Sure, there are still hard and heavy moments. But the honesty in my emotions isn’t covering the lies of deceit. If I’m short on patience, I name it and call for help. My most used prayer for the first couple of years of Noah’s life was “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” And sometimes it progressed to, “Jesus, help me!” There is power in the name of Jesus. And I don’t underestimate the power of His written words, either, “And my God will supply every need of [mine] according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19), a verse that reminded me that God has more than enough GRACE, patience, mercy, kindness and love that I need for any given moment or circumstance. Whether the kids are being naughty, messy, disobedient, or ill-tempered. Whether they sleep or don’t sleep. Whether it’s tax season, holiday season, or soccer season. Whether it’s Joel’s turn to get up when a nightmare strikes or my turn to comfort them during a bad stormy night. I KNOW that “he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6) and that “there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and because of that I can choose to live and love.
Now my children are “almost” 8, 6 and 4.
I now live in a diaper-free household.
I sleep better.
My mornings start with Jesus.
My marriage is healthier.
Ministry is not a chore.
Chores are not expected.
And activities are choices.
I enjoy coffee dates with friends.
And I no longer walk alone.
I am fully aware that Postpartum Depression looks different for everyone. Some women will need medical intervention. Others will need to rely on weekly counseling. The key is to get help. I’m not an expert. But I AM someone who’s experienced hope and healing through Jesus Christ. And if you’re not walking this journey right now, you might know someone who is. Be aware. Pay attention. And be a voice of truth and hope to someone who’s postpartum and depressed.
And here’s the thing…being mentally and physically healthy started with a decision. For me, I had to decide to get up and take a shower. Your decision might be to share with someone, for the first time, about your struggle. If you’re walking in shame and guilt and darkness, let me encourage you to stay laser-focused on Jesus. Look to Jesus. Every single day. And if you can’t get out of bed or your eyes are heavy, puffy and full of tears, say His name, out-loud. At random times. It’s okay. And I KNOW, without a doubt, that He hears YOU. In the midst of your struggles. Just call out His name. There is power in Jesus’ name. Anytime. Anywhere. In any circumstance. Say it, right now even! Because He cares. And because He loves you.
“You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Psalm 16:11 (ESV)
Born & raised in Brazil, Helen Gentz now lives in Goshen, Indiana, where she is a pastor’s wife and mama of 3 strong-willed kiddos. She loves Jesus, coffee, and dark chocolate. You can find her either baking, reading a book, listening to podcasts or enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend. She hobby-blogs at Helen’s Corner and enjoys Instagram the most (@helengentz).