I'd always been a happy person. Positive and generally upbeat. Always looking for the sunshin in any cloudy situation.
Then I got pregnant. For some reason, pregnancy hated me. My hormones and emotions went crazy, and I felt completely out of control. I’m not talking about normal pregnancy mood swings. I’m talking about deep, dark depression. Blackness that pulled me down so low that I wondered if life was still worth it.
For months while expecting our first child, I teetered on the edge of an emotional abyss. Growing up, I’d always wanted kids. At least four, all born before I turned 30, so I could be a young and energetic mother. I never really imagined life including anything other than mission service, marriage, and motherhood. Then I went to college and realized God had given me other gifts too, like writing, storytelling, and project management.
My husband and I got married two days after graduating from university. A few weeks later, we moved across the country to attend seminary. He encouraged me to continue my education while he was still in school, so I did. Then God brought a job beyond my wildest dreams: working for the global church, traveling, leading teams of young people, and creating evangelistic resources.
I was fulfilled. I was happy. I wanted nothing more. Sharing life and complementary ministries with my husband, working side by side to share the gospel—I didn’t want anything to change. For almost seven years, this was our reality.
And then on one international work trip, I simply couldn’t get over the jet lag. Every three hours I was starving, and no amount of sleep was enough. One morning at 5:00 a.m. I took a pregnancy test. Two little blue lines stared back at me. For three days I told no one. Thoughts, questions, anxieties swirled over me. I felt numb.
Part of my challenge was that I had a very rigid and narrowly defined idea of what a good Adventist mother does. Good mothers don’t work outside the home, even for ministry. They don’t travel the world or leave baby in daycare. They abandon all their own interests. Good Adventist mothers pour every waking thought and dream and shred of energy into forming the character of their children. Right?
I felt like my identity was a rug being yanked out from under my feet. Without the ministry in which I’d invested the past several years, I didn’t know who I was or who I could become.
As my pregnancy progressed, I didn’t realize that much of my depression was also chemical. I’d never encountered an emotional obstacle that I couldn’t conquer with “mind over matter” before. It didn’t help that I had hyperemesis (where you have all-day, all-night nausea and vomiting) that lasted for the entire pregnancy. It also didn’t help that I suffered severe insomnia and went for weeks with less than an hour of rest every 24 hours. I learned firsthand that lack of sleep can seriously mess with your mind!
I didn’t like or trust my obstetrician, so I never told him how I was struggling. My family worried about the baby’s health because I seemed so uncharacteristically negative, but they had no idea what a mess I was inside. I didn’t have the courage to tell my husband either—and every night I would lie awake, listening to him sleep, with the vicious cycle of negative mental talk pulling me deeper into despair:
“I’ll never be a good enough mother because my heart is in ministry.” “I’ll never be able to minister again because now I will be a mother.” “I don’t want to become a mother.” “I hate myself for not being thrilled about this precious gift of life.”
“What kind of Christian woman doesn’t want to be a mother?”
“I’m a pastor’s wife, so how can I have these shameful feelings?”
“If I tell anyone the thoughts that go through my mind, they will think I’m a terrible person.”
“If I’m honest with my husband about this, will he still love me?”
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t “snap out of it.” The depression was chemical, and the guilt was drowning me alive. I felt all these emotions, and then felt shame for feeling them in the first place. The cycle of guilt and negativity and helplessness drove me deeper and deeper downward.
Six weeks before our son was born, I finally opened up to my husband. The anger, desperation, and discouragement poured out—and he listened beautifully. He reassured me that we would get through this together and asked why I’d carried this weight alone for so long.
Oddly, my depression completely disappeared within 48 hours after our son’s birth. The next year, when I was expecting our daughter, I talked to my doctor (a new one) when the prenatal depression tormented me again. This time, I wasn’t too ashamed to get the help I needed.
It has taken a few years to become brave enough to share this story. It isn’t easy to delve into those memories and relive the darkness. The good thing? I’ve learned that our God is powerful enough to lift us out of bleakness and that time can change our perspective on things that seem unbearable in the moment.
Depression is one of the ways that Satan attacks the pastoral home, and I’m so glad God proved Himself to be bigger than my discouragement. As I look at my two amazing and beautiful children, I can’t imagine life without their charm and zest. Despite all my fears, God has brought new forms of ministry into my life that were never an option before. He has worked out ways to juggle family and service that I’d never considered.
If you or someone in your family is battling discouragement that won’t go away, please don’t be too afraid to seek help. Prayer, medical assistance, and loyal friendships can all go a long way on the journey toward healing and wholeness. Don’t insist on suffering alone.
The good thing about being on the other side is that now I can see where God was leading, though I was blind to it then. Sometimes, hindsight makes all the difference!