Life shifts in momentous ways when you have a child. Suddenly, the unknowns and fears from your youth, like life and death and why are we here -- things you could quiet in the background during young adulthood while you focused on more important things like boyfriends and going out -- come back with a vengeance and remind you how scary and uncertain life is and will be forevermore.
After having my first child, life never felt more uncontrollable and terrifying. Things that did not phase me before, like driving a car, large crowds, or germ and viruses, took me to a new level of anxiety. I realized how little control I have over my surroundings and how little control I have over protecting my son.
I struggled with postpartum depression well after son's birth. We had moved to the countryside and the vast empty fields and open space added to my already shaky feelings of loneliness and worry. I needed friends, human contact, and guidance, and I wasn't sure where to turn.
I found myself visiting a local church one particularly vulnerable Sunday. I hadn't explored religion since my youth, and never took it very seriously. But on this day, I felt empty and hopeless, and it suddenly made perfect sense to be there.
I chose the church out of convenience. It was a non-denominational church that operated out of the local high school. Each week, a crew would literally transform the auditorium into a sanctuary, and convert the classrooms into day care centers. I was nervous walking into the main hall. I couldn't believe how crowded it was. Families, elders and children everywhere. So this is where everyone goes on Sunday morning?
People greeted me left and right. Complete strangers, but with warm demeanors and who seemed legitimately interested in meeting me. It made me feel welcome and less of an imposter than when I first walked in. I recognized a few people, too. Old work colleagues and friends of friends.
The church service wasn't particularly memorable. I don't even recall what subject the pastor talked about. But the music was beautiful. And everyone was so friendly. It felt like a different world than the cold glances at the grocery store, the angry outbursts on the roads, and the sad isolation of everyone staring at their phones in the coffee shops.
There was no lightning bolt revelations that day. I did not have a vision, or hear God speak to me, or feel the emptiness melt away. But I felt hope for the first time in a long while. I felt camaraderie where before I felt darkness.
I started going back when I needed a mental boost or just had to get out of the house. I found it as a tool to put in my arsenal for coping with the tough days. As my postpartum depression waned and I found more inner strength and security, I saw myself going less often. Now, it's more of an occasional pick me up.
I hear a lot of friends talk about similar searches for meaning or purpose after becoming a parent. Some of them also found solace in religion. But others found it in meditation, nature, and charity. Some friends found new passions or life goals to strive for, or sought out new relationships or careers that brought greater satisfaction. Everyone's journey is different, but the end goal is the same... answers, support, and love.
My postpartum is long gone since this quest for meaning has begun. And I'm still left with many of the same questions and concerns. I still fear for my child's safety and well-being. I wish I understood what this life was all about, and how to be a better parent, wife, and friend. But I have found fulfillment in spirituality. And with each visit to church, I get a little jolt of love, encouragement, and a reminder that while so much is beyond my control, I am a good person, a great mom, and a worthy being.
If you -- or someone you know -- are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, please reach out to your doctor.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.