I had my first child last December. We've been living in the Polar Vortex ever since. I expected exhaustion, hormone swings, for it to be hard in ways I couldn’t imagine and perhaps even to face the dreaded “baby blues.” What I didn't expect was how much that squirmy little babe with the bright black eyes would threaten to rock everything I “knew” about my temperament and way of looking at and responding to life.
Enter “Baby Blues”: the mysterious and taboo phenomenon of depression and anxiety following childbirth.
Partly due to organic hormone swings? Sure. Does that mean this new mom is at the mercy of her blues? I would argue that this sad and painful misery, though intensified by hormones, escalates and eases based on how we respond to the organic and circumstantial first class world-rocking we receive after giving birth. And thank God for that! Because that means there's hope to fight it and sometimes even overcome it.
Surprised by the Fear
As a tough cookie in general, I was shocked and uncomfortable with my new vulnerability (and at times near insanity) where my baby was concerned in those early weeks. I was unprepared for the first-time mother’s constant insecurity about both the well being of her child and her innate merit as a mother.
Are his needs being met? WHY IS HIS NOSE STUFFED UP? Is that jaundice or olive skin? IS HE BREATHING?! Do I love him enough? Is this what its supposed to feel like? DOES HE EVEN KNOW ME!? I am a failure. No, it’s worse. I'm crazy. MY BABY HAS A CRAZY MOTHER. My husband has a crazy wife. What in the world did we just do?
At a certain juncture in the first three weeks, exhausted by the emotional strain of those internal fears, I began to feel the temptation to either:
1. Distance from my child emotionally (so as not to worry and fear all the time).
2. Cling harder to my child, diving headlong into that anxiety and fear, closing my heart against the Lord and around my child in a feeble, doomed, useless, sinful and sad attempt to control and protect his life.
Neither option would be helpful. Both were driven by fear. Both would lead me away from trusting God as sinful responses compound, taking me deeper into a downward spiral toward despair.
Reminded of the Truth
Finding myself at this crossroads the Lord was merciful to enlighten my spirit with a realization.
The helpful and faithful response is to embrace both my God and my child wholeheartedly in their respective places – to seek to know them each more fully and love each more deeply. To remember that I'm dust . . . and that God remembers too and has compassion (Ps 103:13-14).
I needed to repent of worshiping the gift over the Giver. Then, pursue loving and trusting God by meditating on his character and his gospel, so that I can properly accept the gift of the child he has given me, loving that child as he intends for his glory. Since God is love, I must look to the his perfect love to show me how to rightly love the child he as made and given me (1 Jn 4:8).
Here’s the thing: new moms have an intense circumstantial deck of cards stacked against them. They're exhausted. They're physically wounded from birth. They're likely on pain medication that clouds your thoughts. They're probably somewhat isolated. They're trying to breastfeed . . . don’t even get me started on that one. And, as aforementioned, who knows what's going on with a woman’s hormone levels following something as drastic as childbirth. Just when you are in the most physically and emotionally vulnerable space, you’re given responsibility for this new gift of a fragile new life.
Whose life is this child’s?
Scripture is clear that God is the only giver of life (1 Tim 6:13; Ps 36:9); that the universe was created by, through and for Jesus Christ, who sustains all life (Col 1:15-16). There is no other source of life but God so therefore all of life is His. Is my child outside of this cosmic ontology?
God created my child for the glory of the Father. Jesus, through whom all things were made, is seated bodily in eternity sustaining my child’s every breath. Scripture tells me God has numbered the hairs on my baby’s head (Mt 10:30) and knit him together in my womb (Ps 139) while I was sitting on the couch. . .eating Cheetos.
So, who cares more about my baby’s life? The sinful, finite mother eating Cheetos through whose body (also created and dependent on God) the child was brought into physical being? The mother (EATING CHEETOS) who cannot control, protect or love the child perfectly and is stained with sin (Isa 64:6)? Or the perfect, loving, sovereign, tender and good God of the Universe who created “my” child for His purposes and sustains every moment of this baby’s life?
Embracing the perfect love of God casts out my fear (1 Jn 4:18).
My fear is not driven out by some assurance that the things I fear are not possibilities. My worst fears still may come to pass concerning my child at any moment. God doesn’t say, “You will not be touched by sin and suffering.” God actually assures us of suffering, but He has overcome our sin and suffering (Jn 16:33). He promises to work in our suffering for good (Rom 8:8) and is with us to comfort us and bind up our wounds (Ps 34:18; 147:3).
So. . .whom (or what) shall I fear (Ps 27:1)?
Though I may not always see God’s work as good from my limited perspective, I can be certain that his ideas of good are better than mine (Isa 55:8-9). No matter how the circumstances of my life look or whatever may happen in my child’s life, I can trust God’s goodness and perfection.
Nowhere is this clearer than in his gospel. Nowhere can I rest more supremely confident in God’s trustworthiness and goodness, allowing his perfect love to cast out my fear, than when I look at the cross. The place where he sent his Son to die, to become sin and be condemned (2 Cor 5:21), so that my son has the chance not to be (Tit 2:11). So I shift my eyes to the cross and allow it to draw me deeper into prayer: prayer for my son, trust in my Father, and gratitude for my Savior, deepest love for them all.
Dorsey Swindall is a biblical counselor with One-Eighty Counseling and Education in Louisville, Kentucky. She and her husband have two children.