When I moved to Germany, I embraced a new country and left my difficult childhood behind. I forged on: new country, new me. I set out to get a job and learn the language. By the time I had kids, I was so busy and overjoyed that there wasn’t time for anything else. The fast-paced day was the perfect excuse to ignore the unfinished business brewing inside.
Most days were wonderful. They were filled with nursery rhymes, tickled feet, and toy car races. Then there were days when the baby was attached to my hip and the toddler would scream all afternoon. No song, silly voice, or hug could make him stop. This triggered something deep within me. Memories of my father’s violence resurfaced. I lost control and resorted to locking the tantruming toddler in his room.
I had yearned for children during my miscarriage. I felt motherhood was such a triumph that anything less was failure. Growing up, unhappy kids made my parents very uncomfortable. There were a lot of reasons for this, none of which I cared to explore. I knew therapy could help, but who had the time?
I kept busy. I attended as many mom meet-ups as possible. When my friend told me about a mother’s Bible study, I viewed it as an open timeslot to fill. Never mind that I hadn’t cracked a Bible since college (I went to a small Christian college because of the financial aid package). I wasn’t even really a Christian anymore. Christians seemed out of touch with reality. They closed their eyes and swayed to worship music and inserted God into every conversation—nothing this shy, self-sufficient Midwestern mom needed.
In-between playdates, I would admire my sweet baby girl teetering down the hall, pausing along the way to brace herself so she could dance. Then the next minute she would be screaming at the table, pushing her plate to the floor, peas catapulting. Each cry opened a chasm within me.
Come to think of it, that Bible study couldn’t hurt.
It didn’t help. Things got worse. The God of my Sunday school days with a bursting red glitter heart of love was gone.
I picked my son up so hard once that it seemed as if every vertebrate in his little spine would crack. I spent days crying in my room. Somehow I found the courage to talk to a doctor and get antidepressants. It was so humiliating to seek help for depression caused by the biggest joy in my life: my own children. Not to mention that I had to explain myself in the most basic of German: my kids I love but me very mad sometimes.
At the Bible study’s prayer time, I would ask for something innocuous like, “please pray for my son to not cry at daycare drop off,” when what I really wanted to say was: pray that God magically takes my frothing rage away so I never physically hurt my own children.
The other mothers at the Bible study took my mild request and put it into their own words. They asked God to be with my son, that God might work through a classmate or a teacher, and that God would wrap my son up in love. I must admit that I felt heard and understood even though I had not even revealed what was really on my heart.
Unlike me, the women in Bible study openly asked God for help. They were not ashamed to admit mistakes. They handed their fears over to the Lord. I had never seen such vulnerability, yet these women were no mild church-goers. They were the strongest women I knew.
I went on to request more prayer, now specifically for myself. I asked for help disciplining my children. This was just a loop of the tangled mess inside me. The women, now my friends, slowly pulled on that little strand. They prayed that God be with me, that I look to God’s examples of loving discipline, and they prayed that this trial would make me stronger. These friends listened to me. They had nothing to gain by helping me, this lost, angry stranger. I could finally feel the tight ball of yarn loosening inside me, a nugget of my burden lifting.
I kept going to the Bible study and eventually the church that went along with it. I started speaking and writing more openly about what was going on inside me. I now go to therapy. Little by little, I work at unpacking my past. The shame is lifting.
God gave me the beautiful strength to reach out at one of the ugliest places in my life. I never would have been able to do it alone. In fact, I had never been alone. Throughout my life, God was there, working through people and circumstances, supporting, building, and transforming me.
I don’t wish postpartum depression on anyone, but I like the person who I have become now.
Cherie Parenteau’s work has been published at Mothers Always Write, Her View from Home, and on the Akashic Books website. She works part-time as an English and French teacher so that she can juggle her three other babies: four-year-old daughter, six-year-old son, and writing. Minnesota will always be home even though she has lived in France and now Germany. Read more of her work at https://frozenocean.home.blog/