On Postpartum Depression and Releasing Control

One of motherhood’s greatest challenges is how it forces me to let go of my control freak tendencies. The mess, the unpredictable behavior, the demands on my time and energy; all of it is out of my control.  (I know you don’t need me to tell you all the ways toddlers and newborns can thwart our attempts at order, cleanliness, and calm; I’m sure you’ve seen all your mama-friends’ Instagram stories.)

Yes, my kids are always messing with my dreams of a neat and tidy home, but it’s not only my external environment I like to control. I want to be in control of myself—my time, my emotions, my personal growth. I like to have it all together, and I like for other people to think I have it all together. And I can’t have it all together, I want that to be my choice. Dirty dishes in the sink? I decided to leave them there; I’ll deal with them tomorrow. Going out of the house with spit-up stains on my shirt? I chose not to check the mirror one last time before I left; I decided no one would notice or care; I decided I didn’t want to make the effort to find a clean shirt again. It’s all my choice. I am in control.

Until I’m not.

I’ve spent my entire life trying to keep it together, but postpartum depression was the thing that finally brought me to my knees.

I often describe PPD as something like an out-of-body experience. It felt like I was watching each anxiety attack from far away, trying to get through to that girl standing in her kitchen. I’d think, “There’s no reason to feel this way. Everything is ok. Take a deep breath. Calm down.” But those thoughts couldn’t reach whatever part of my mind was reeling. I was no longer in control of my emotions, my responses, my thoughts. It’s a scary feeling, to be honest.

Before PPD hit, I was white-knuckling my way through motherhood like a nervous new driver grips their steering wheel. The result was that I was often overwhelmed because I was living like it was all up to me while believing I wasn’t up to the task.

I’ve heard it said that while we need not be grateful for every moment, there is something in every moment to be grateful for. This is how I’m thinking about my PPD; I wish I had never experienced it, but I’m on the hunt for things to be grateful for within the experience. And one of those things is the recognition that I need to cede control of my motherhood journey to Jesus.

In A Family Shaped by Grace, Gary Morland writes that even after we’ve eliminated bad habits and disharmony from our families, and even after we’ve adopted more peaceful practices, we still need to hand over our families to Jesus. He writes that we need to release four things: our family, our roles, our limits, and the results.

Theoretically, I always understood that how my children turn out is not entirely up to me, but what really got me thinking was this new idea about releasing my role and my limits. Gary suggests this prayer: “Thank you that my limits are the beginning of your life being revealed in my mortal body.” Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he said that Jesus’ power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

I have spent my entire motherhood journey trying to compensate for my limits, but postpartum depression taught me that I just need to release them to Jesus and trust him to fill in the gaps. Gary goes on to write, “I act as if releasing control is a sacrifice that I have to do as an act of faith out of obedience. In reality, releasing is a relief. It’s a gift.”

This has been true for me. I’m grateful for my postpartum depression because somehow, miraculously, in its aftermath, I’m feeling a sense of sweet relief. Maybe this is how God is redeeming that hard, painful season. I feel as though God is healing not just the depression; He’s also redeeming the mothering I did before that point. I’m not merely returning to how I mothered before the PPD set in. Instead, I’m moving forward in an entirely new sort of freedom and grace.

That doesn’t mean I do it perfectly. (Yesterday, for example? Rough.) I still find this baby and toddler stage extremely challenging, as yesterday’s grumpy mood testified to. But it does mean that I am loosening my grip on the steering wheel, even in the midst of the chaos and the crazy.

“You have been specifically wired and gifted to cover your specific assignment, your course on the river. Your family is your course on the river. But you were made to do this in union with God, not on your own.” –Gary Morland

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