Waiting for Resurrection: Depression and Pregnancy
I’m lying flat on my back in a hospital examination room, acid reflux burning in my throat. A polite male doctor scans my protruding belly as I stare at the graying tiles on the ceiling while praying hard and fast, “Please be okay. Please be okay.”
It was a routine appointment until my 34-week bump measurement fell off the chart. “It’s just precautionary,” the midwife said 15 minutes ago before running out of the room to find a doctor. But her running didn’t exactly scream precaution.
I immediately feel responsible for my baby’s potential lack of growth. I’ve struggled to connect with the little person inside me, but now I’m all too aware of our bodily connection. I apologize for not eating enough. I promise to do better, to eat more. But to eat is to live, and I’ve lost all interest in the latter.
“Well, I’ve taken the measurements three times, and everything seems normal,” he says in a sharp exhale, relief flooding the room. “This can happen,” he shrugs. “You’re just one of those people with an unusually small bump.”
I’m about to ask him to check for a fourth time when everything begins to spin in a cocktail mixture of anxiety, a suffocating Covid mask, and the worst ingredient: having laid on my back for too long. Before either of us have a chance to react, I momentarily black out and vomit into my hands.
I don’t hear what he says next but I know it’s flustered and apologetic, and I hate that I’m acutely aware of his stress in my moment of need. Motherhood, I think.
When I return to my body, he thanks me for catching my vomit. “Really helpful.”
“No problem,” I reply, obligingly.
Before I leave, he apologizes again and I assure him it wasn’t his fault, that I’ve been ill throughout this pregnancy. “Oh, you’re used to throwing up then,” he smiles. It’s true; morning sickness has lasted far beyond those first-trimester mornings.
But in this instance, I’m not sure I mean physical illness.
At home I force myself, with shaking hands, to eat the only thing that is even remotely appetizing: a lukewarm, tuna-cheese toastie with a piping hot cup of tea.
The freshly boiled cup singes the tender skin of my palm, but I don’t pull away. I force myself to feel something, anything.
I’m flat on my back again, this time in the pitch black of my bedroom at 2 a.m. With the events of my last hospital appointment fresh in my mind’s eye, I roll onto my side.
I long for this all day—when the ordinary tasks of eating and talking and parenting and smiling are done, when the pretend is over. I welcome the eclipse of nighttime, allowing the depression to eclipse me, too. I allow the tears to fall in the safety of total silence, except for the sound of my husband breathing beside me, an audible reminder that none of this makes sense.
It hasn’t even been a year since we got married (in a pandemic wedding with ten people present) and immediately fell pregnant with our very-much-wanted honeymoon baby—without the honeymoon—thanks, 2020.
I know how I’m supposed to feel. “Congrats on your happy ending,” someone said in a Facebook comment. Nine people “liked” the comment in agreement. It irked me, but I understood the sentiment. Following a teen pregnancy and years of single parenting, I’ve found the man of my dreams and a dad for my fatherless seven-year-old. Boom. Disney-worthy.
But what the well-wishers don’t know is that the depression I’ve kept at an arm’s length since that teen pregnancy has swallowed me whole.
Every night I ignore my heavy eyelids, because if I fall asleep, then I have to wake up, and it’s much easier to exist in the nothingness of the night.
I want to tell you I cry out to God, but I don’t know if He’s here anymore. If He ever was. I have given up asking Him to reveal Himself in the darkness. Like a terrified child who sees everything differently with the bedroom light off, I wonder if God is who I’ve always believed Him to be.
“I’ll stay alive,” I tell Him, whether He’s there or not. “This baby will make it, even if I don’t.” And with new resolve, I succumb to sleep.
“So, what makes you feel alive?” the counselor asks and I respond with a blank stare over the Zoom screen. Virtual tumbleweeds.
Truthfully, when the tide of depression threatens to pull me under, what I want to do is run to the ocean. Even—and especially—in the dead of winter.
I want to let the roar of monstrous waves shock and shake me awake, to look out at the vast expanse of water with seemingly no end and feel like a speck of sand in the grand scheme of creation, to know that creation, and therefore its creator, is bigger than whatever is suffocating me. If He is responsible for this, then I know He can handle whatever I throw at Him in the depths of my 2 a.m. darkness.
Alas, it is still early 2021 and I manage one trip to the coast before the country is once again rife with Covid restrictions and it is semi-illegal to leave the area in which I live. And that is how I find myself in the local swimming pool every other night, lapping the slow lane with hairy-chested men in Speedos.
At first, I’m convinced it’s endorphins—my doctor’s favorite prescription—alongside medication and nutrition and community and all the other good things. But every single time my body breaks the water, fluorescent lights bouncing off the surface as I glide in, I know it’s so much more. In everything else, I am a numb bystander to my own life. But here, in the water, I can feel—truly feel.
Swimming until my limbs are heavy and my head is clear, I am connected to both the baby I’m carrying and to the One who formed me in my own mother’s womb. Letting the water hug me, I am both held and capable of holding everything entrusted to me. Here it is easier to believe that God is still good, kind, and sovereign. That God is still the lifter of my head (Psalm 3:3).
It isn’t where I expect to see the light breaking in. It isn’t where I expect to connect with the life inside me. It isn’t where I expect to connect with the ultimate life-giver. It isn’t church or Bible study or even a walk in nature. But there’s a reason water is a symbol of cleansing and new life, and maybe God isn’t above using a chlorinated public pool to get the job done.
Throughout many pregnancy swims, I beg for strength to put my faith in the unseen. Because if I put my faith in what I see, it looks like God has left me to the devices of depression. It looks like darkness has the final word.
But on the cross, it looked like darkness was winning. And I know it wasn’t.
On the cusp of Easter, I labor through the night, tangibly aware that something or someone is carrying me through. I have not been forsaken.
We arrive in the birthing room of the hospital as the day breaks and there is a changeover of staff. And just as the pain climaxes, I notice the fresh April sun fighting its way through the tiny speckled window in the door: a hint of the spring to come.
My waters don’t break until my son bursts into the world in a gush of fluid—a tidal wave baptizing us both. I wait for the fog of depression to steal this moment from me, as it has stolen so many others, but instead I am wholly present. Instantly in love. Washed of all fear and fatigue.
For weeks, I wait for the despair or the disinterest to take hold. But with each passing day, I am released from the grip of depression a little bit more. With each glimpse of the blossoms in my garden and every snuggle of my new spring baby, I am reminded of the work of winter: the work of digging my fingers in the dark dirt and laying it all down and waiting for God to resurrect something good.
Pregnancy is a privilege. But it’s also fused with the pain of childbearing—which doesn’t stop at labor: monthly cycles to menopause, infertility to incessant teaching moments, miscarriage to mental illness. Pain and joy co-exist in an exhausting tandem. Life and death dance closely together.
Today it is life. It is second birthday preparations and sunshine and sweaty toddler giggles and familiar tuna-cheese toasties. I’m so glad I grew my son’s little life, and I’m so glad I stayed alive to see it.
The shadow of depression lingers from time to time, but where there’s a shadow, there’s always light. And maybe this dance of motherhood requires eyes of faith, believing God is the same in the dark as He is in the light. Maybe it is in the wrestling between death and resurrection where the best work is done.
Rebecca Smyth is a Northern Irish storyteller, wife and unlikely mum of three sons. After becoming a mother at eighteen, and at a time of feeling totally lost, she found her words. She says writing is now her way of seeing God in her life and she hopes that maybe, through her stories, you might see him in yours too. In this season she is happiest on a slow Saturday morning with coffee, copious amounts of pastries and snuggles with her boys. Oh, and a book. Always a book.
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