This is the third post in a series addressing the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Survey (EPDS), a survey given to moms after the birth of her child. The main goal of these screening questions are to get a temperature reading on the mother’s mental state, specifically looking for common symptoms in Postpartum Depression (PPD). I will talk about my personal experience in regards to unnecessary blame and how I learned correction through Scripture.
Question #3 on the EPDS asks the mother to please check the answer that comes closest to how you have felt in the past seven days. I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong …
- Yes, most of the time
- Yes, some of the time
- Not very often
- No, never
I know for certain that I answered “Yes, most of the time” since I struggled with this line of thinking for as long as I could remember. I can be so hard on myself. If anything is inconvenient or doesn’t go how I planned it to go, I blame myself for not thinking through every possibility and making a contingency plan. I tend to rehash moments in my past and daydream about how I would fix them, reliving my life in my mind, and inserting myself as being perfect. Essentially, I pretend to be God. This wasn’t a symptom of Postpartum Depression, this was a deep-seeded sin struggle of perfectionism that didn’t grab my attention until I walked through the valley of PPD.
Here’s a snapshot of a common mothering situation where I would “unnecessarily blame” myself for what happened and maybe you can relate! I’m thinking of a typical toddler incident where my daughter tumbled and hit her head. I beat myself up thinking that I probably could have prevented her from getting hurt if I had only been closer to her or kept her from what she was doing. This is a fairly normal occurrence as most moms want to protect their children from any form of hurt. But for me, the thoughts that would often start out harmless would then quickly spiral out of control to a point that had me loosing sleep and experiencing panic attacks. One evening at 2 am, I attempted to fight my anxiety by journaling. The following is actually what I wrote down that night: “If that little accident got me all bent out of shape, how am I supposed to handle bigger issues? I can’t go to the pool on my own with the kids. We can never go to the beach for sure! I feel terrified to take them anywhere on my own!” Well, THAT escalated quickly. This incident was one of countless times I struggled to deal with “mom guilt.”
I would view my family getting sick (or hurt) as my fault: I KNEW I shouldn’t have put my child in our church’s nursery. I would blame myself for my baby not sleeping on a regular schedule: I should have woken him up after 1.5 hours instead of letting him sleep 2 hours. I would blame myself for not being able to breastfeed: I should have stuck it out longer with the regiment the lactation consultants gave me! In situations like these, I would do everything in my ability to follow what the doctors and baby authorities would suggest to do. It was incredibly frustrating to me that though I followed the formulas, the outcomes were different than what was promised. I surmised that the blame was all on me: somewhere I had missed something. [If any of these situations are a struggle for you, please let me know so that I can address them in separate post.]
These thoughts began to consume me and I had no idea how to deal with the swirling emotions. My husband suggested that I confide in a trusted friend, who had a counseling degree. In our first conversation she walked me through the chart I wrote about in “A chart to reorder your thinking.” I shared with her all of my “I should have…” statements like “I should have reacted quicker!” She kindly remind me that even if I had done everything perfectly, my children might still get hurt. I simply am not in control. But God, in his perfect wisdom, is in control and I can trust him in all circumstances.
Psalm 18:30 says “This God- His way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.” I had to tell myself that my child hitting her head was allowed by God in His perfect sovereignty, blaming myself just robbed me of thanks that I should be giving to God that she was not hurt more than she was. I was wasting so much energy on rehashing that event when I could have spent that energy on more productive things!
In blaming myself for the accident, I had stopped trusting in God’s sovereignty. This is how we have assurance that God’s way is perfect. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28-29 that “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom he foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
I love what Elizabeth George wrote about these verses in her book Loving God with All Your Mind (page 204):
“And God uses people, events, and circumstances, both good and bad, to move us ultimately toward the fulfillment of His will and purpose for our lives. Exactly what is God’s purpose for us, His children? As Paul explains in Romans 8:29, the primary purpose of ‘all things’ in our lives is Christlikeness…Everything – every person, every event – that touches us is for the purpose of making us like Christ. We can find comfort and hope as we navigate the maze of life when we remember the fact that God will use whatever He permits to happen to us to fulfill His purposes and to make us more like Jesus.”
Using statements such as “if only I had…” or “I should have…” only bred regret, sorrow, and remorse in my heart. In the same book, Elizabeth George wrote (page 57),
“When you succumb to ‘if only’ thinking, you fail to acknowledge God’s role in your past. You are ignoring the fact that God was there with you. He was with you then…just as He is with you today… and will be with you tomorrow (Psalm 73:23-24). When you acknowledge God by remembering the facts and evidence of about His care and His character, the wondrous truths about Him help you look back without regret or remorse through eyes of faith.”
I found that if I could view past unfavorable situations through the lens of Scripture, I had insurmountable peace. I didn’t dwell on “should have’s” or “if only’s” because I was dwelling on the goodness of God’s perfect sovereignty. Gratitude replaced regret.
Thinking back to my daughter’s fall, I realized that I’m incapable of seeing the future and I am not capable of being perfect or always saving my child from getting hurt. God is perfect, and was her shield (Psalm 18:30). He protected her and though she did get hurt for a little bit, a few minutes later, she continued to play and was her normal self. In his perfect timing and wisdom, God’s way was to allow her to hit her head. That incident forced me to confront the fears I had in regards to my family’s well-being. I was challenged to trust the Lord and I saw the promise of Romans 8:28 worked out in sanctifying me. And God was with me in that moment, as he will be with me forever, just as He promised in Psalm 73.
I still struggle with misplaced blame, but now I have an arsenal of Scriptures to combat the lie that I could ever have done anything perfectly. I still need people in my life to point out where I try to be perfect when I should be trusting in my perfect Savior. And I still need to repent of when I rely too much on myself. There is grace and I can see evidence of the Lord sanctifying me in this area. May God give me, and you, perfect peace as we keep our minds stayed on him.