Jerusha Clark: Part of the reason that I tell my very extreme story is so that you can have courage that, “If she went to that dark place, then I can face this and God can bring me back,” because the story is not even, ultimately, the depression. The story is about God’s victory.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Jerusha Clark and you’ll hear more of her powerful story today, and her husband, Jeramy’s perspectives as well on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Several studies reflect that between 10 to 15 percent of new moms will experience postpartum depression – but those are only the women who self-report so many believe that the stats are actually much higher. This means, on the conservative side, over a half million women in America will experience this just this year. So today we want to come alongside you, perhaps a mom-to-be, a new mom, and also all those who love them to help us better understand what postpartum depression is and where you can find hope and healing.
Today’s program reflects why we’re here at Focus on the Family – we want to help you in whatever you’re facing and give you hope.
John: And we would suggest a copy of Jerusha’s book, called, Living Beyond Postpartum Depression. You’ll find details about it and an opportunity to donate as well at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Now Jerusha and her husband, Jeramy, live in southern California with their two teen daughters. Jeramy is the Senior Associate Pastor at Pacific Coast Church.
Jim: Jerusha and Jeramy, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Jerusha: Thank you, so glad to be here.
Jeramy Clark: Great to be here.
Jim: This is a heavy topic we’re going to talk about today. You’ve written this wonderful book, Living Beyond Postpartum Depression. Your daughters are now teens.
Jim: But take us back to your pregnancy with your oldest daughter, Jocelyn. What was that like? What were the expectations? What did you think would be the perfect scenario?
Jim: And then what happened?
Jerusha: I mean, as a Christian woman it was like after, you know, accepting Jesus and choosing your mate, the next step is having a baby and it’s, like, happy Christian family, right? That was the hope and the dream. And I loved being pregnant. Um, and then after Jocelyn was born, it was like you just can’t imagine being so filled with love for someone, and there was so many beautiful things. And also, you’re tired and exhausted, and you’re trying to figure out breastfeeding and there’s so many crazy things happening. And I thought everything was going along well and things seemed pretty normal. But then things started declining really rapidly and really seriously. And I had no frame of reference for postpartum depression. I mean, this is back in the days with dial-up Internet, people, I’m gonna date myself. But, um, I had, like, a page in my What To Expect When You’re Expecting book and I skipped it on postpartum depression because I was like, “I’m a happy Christian woman, I’m not gonna have this.” And…
Jim: Right. How did that start, though? And in fact, you related to the – to the first maybe inclination of this, the disappointment, that you had to have a C-section. You couldn’t have your first child in a natural way and that kind of took, what sounded like, a bite out of motherhood for you, like it made you feel “less than.”
Jerusha: Mmhmm. Um, and it was an emergency C-section, at that. It wasn’t scheduled. They lost Jocelyn’s heart rate on the monitor. And all of a sudden, it was like scene out of ER, you know, the room is just swirling, and people are talking to each other but not to me and I don’t know what’s going on. And I couldn’t hold her for over an hour afterwards and that felt scary to me. I didn’t know what was going on. I was all cocooned and wrapped in these warm blankets because I was in shock. And yeah, so that was hard.
Jim: But that was the first kind of inclination…
Jerusha: That was the kind of, like…
Jim: “…Okay, it didn’t go according to plan.”
Jerusha: …It didn’t go as planned. Yeah, and I’m a planner, so. But the warning signs that I was struggling with something more than just your average baby blues were really once I was trying to continue nursing. Um, I was trying to pump and my milk looked blue. It was like nonfat milk, which is not healthy for a baby. And that was really discouraging. I felt like a failure.
Jim: And that is not untypical. Jean experienced that same thing. She felt like she wasn’t capable, and there wasn’t enough. And she kept taking Trent back to the doctor, “Has he nursed enough?” And they’d say, “No, everything’s fine.” But it’s almost – it sounds like a very normal feeling of being abnormal.
Jerusha: Yeah, this pressure that we feel as moms is so tremendous in so many different areas, you know, providing the right stimulation for their brain. Like, you’re supposed to be starting to listen to music when they’re in utero. And you’re supposed to do this and that. But the nursing thing, the breastfeeding, um, aspect, is just so emotionally charged. And you feel like, “If I’m not able to feed my baby, what kind of mom am I?”
Jim: So again, you’re getting these voices in your head, you’re just not measuring up, you’re not good enough?
Jim: How much does fatigue play into this? Again, talking to Jean about this just this morning, she gave me kind of a insight that I – we never talked about this and just how much fatigue caused her to feel lowly about herself. You know, she was constantly tired and trying to breastfeed and keep everything sanitized…
Jerusha: Oh, yes.
Jim: …And washing the bottles. And she said it was just, like, a two hour cycle that just wore her out.
Jerusha: Yeah, and imagine, I mean, yourself when you haven’t slept well for a couple of days, you’re not your best self, you know, and this is days and days on end. But you know, Jim, um, John, there’s that normal side of being tired. But the kind of exhaustion that comes with – really, with clinical depression is so oppressive. It’s hard to describe for someone that’s never felt like they can’t physically get out of bed, but it’s like being pulled. It’s like the gravitational pull on your body is more than you’ve ever felt. Like, you physically do not feel like you can stand. It’s just…
Jim: That’s amazing.
Jerusha: …Hard to describe if you haven’t been there. But for me, um, I had what’s called mixed depression, which is that I was both depressed and anxious at the same time, so I guess I kind of got the double whammy in that regard. So I would be so exhausted and, like, almost crawling to try to get out of bed. But then I’d be so anxious that I’d lay down at night and I couldn’t sleep. So it was like I was exhausted, but then my mind would not shut off.
Jim: Jeramy, let me pull you in here. I’m sure the “fix it” husband, which many of us could relate to. You’re trying to figure out “Okay, what’s going on? Is this normal?” This is your first child, so you don’t know. You’ve never had a child.
Jeramy: Well, just imagine. We were – I just finished seminary, my M.Div. I got married, we bought a house, we moved out here to Colorado Springs, we had a house that overlooked Pikes Peak, brand new house, and perfect 3-month-old baby, no health concerns whatsoever, and I wake up to my wife next to me, she’s on the floor near our bed and she’s saying just, “I can’t do it. I can’t take it.” And for me, yeah, unfortunately, I was angry.
Jim: No, I get that, you don’t know what’s going on.
Jeramy: Unfortunately – yeah, I – I didn’t understand. I’m like, “Why are you choosing this? Why are you choosing this? Why would you sabotage our family?” I didn’t understand that she hadn’t slept for almost two weeks. I didn’t understand that this was something that was physically happening to her. You know, by God’s grace, we called Focus on the Family. I called Focus hotline. She got on the phone with a counselor. The counselor paused and said, “Put your husband back on the line.” I still remember this like it was minutes ago. The counsellor gets back on the phone and says, “Jeramy, you have to take her straight to the emergency room. Don’t leave her side. Stay with her. She’s not in a healthy place. She needs serious help.” And I just was shocked. I was in shock. I was in disbelief. I couldn’t believe this was happening to us. Everything was going perfectly except for – are you kidding me?
So I remember driving down to the ER. And they brought us into one of the rooms, and they took a psych evaluation. And we went through these questions. And I’ll – again, I never forget this nurse looked at me and says, “Jeramy, I need to address you first. Your wife has the most severe depression a woman can have. I’ve done this for over 30 years, and I need you to know that it’s not her fault.”
Jim: Let’s grab that timeline because, you know, for the listener, they’re driving down the road, listening via podcast, whatever it might be, and they’re trying to piece this together. So this is over what period of time? How old is your first daughter at this time? What is happening – five months…
Jerusha: Yeah, that’s actually really important because…
Jim: …And I think some of the – if you can work into that – some of the signs so that, again, a husband and a wife can begin to recognize this. Postpartum exists in maybe 20 percent of births. And it may not be your first child. It may be your fifth child. But it can pop up in all kinds of ways. So to help us, again, to be more applicable to other women, just give us that timeline of what was going on, what the degradation was like.
Jerusha: Yeah, well, so most people think of postpartum depression as happening right after delivery. That’s typically not the direct onset. Two weeks after delivery – up to two weeks after delivery, almost 80 percent of women go through what we would call the “baby blues,” just exhaustion and stress and some fears mixed in with joy. So you have ups with the downs.
Jim: And that would be normal?
Jerusha: That would be considered part of the normal profile.
Jim: Of course husbands are gonna panic because we don’t know. “Is that normal?” I mean, we’re just lost, I mean…
John: We have not seen that side of our wife before.
Jerusha: And those are not symptoms that need to be medicated or, you know, it’s not…
Jim: Right. Just make a mental note about that. “Okay, she’s going through that,” or for yourself as mom, “Okay, this is normal.”
Jerusha: My brother just had his first. And I told him this is what it’s going to look like the first couple of weeks. He’s like, “Really?” I’m like, “Yes.” And it’s all okay. It’s like riding a roller coaster…
Jim: Yeah, there’s a lot going on.
Jerusha: …You know it’s gonna be over at a certain point. But with clinical depression – and we use the term postpartum depression like an umbrella term that oversees postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis. So when we talk about postpartum depression, it’s a very rich term. But this can actually occur anytime up to a year after birth. And the reason for that is the chemical makeup of each woman is unique and the shifts in chemicals happen at different times based on what kind of delivery you had. I had a more traumatic delivery with my first because of the emergency Cesarean section. The incidences of hormonal change that occur – weaning can cause postpartum depression. And it was actually, for me, my milk drying up at between 3 and 4 months that caused my depression.
Jim: That was your trigger?
Jerusha: That was the trigger. Now, again, depression is never just the result of one thing. It’s never just biochemical. There’s always environmental factors, genetic factors, spiritual factors, emotional factors, so we can’t just point to one thing and say, “This is why.” But we do see these triggers, as you call them. And my milk just, basically, overnight drying up was the chemical trigger that caused a lot of other factors to fall like a house of cards.
So that occurred between 3 and 4 months with Jocelyn. I was hospitalized, as Jeramy mentioned, on our daughter’s 4 month birthday. That was heartbreaking. And, um, then I was very fortunate in that I responded quickly to the treatment. I was very ashamed and afraid that I had been prescribed what I thought of as crazy medicine. This is, you know, at the time, I didn’t know people that were on antidepressants. It was like, I was embarrassed to go to the pharmacy to even fill my prescription. But I was very fortunate in that my body responded within the six to eight weeks that they say that it takes for the medicine to come into effect. And so within two months, I was really feeling a lot better. And I felt physically strong. And I was just so grateful to God that my relationship with Him was so close. But with our second daughter, Jasmine, I also struggled. And that was a heartbreak in another way because it felt like, “Well, did I do everything wrong? Did I mess this up?” And with her, it wasn’t until six months when, again, my milk dried up virtually overnight.
And it was – the whole journey, Jim, John, was just one in which God unraveled a lot in my mind and heart that I didn’t know were there. But He met me on every level. Physically I needed to be healed. Emotionally there were a lot of things to sort through. Like, why am I so convinced that I have to be a perfect mom? What is that lie? What’s that lie that if I don’t do everything right, everything’s gonna fall apart? Well, it was pretty clear that everything wasn’t gonna fall apart because I was in a mental hospital and things didn’t fall apart. Our daughter was in good care with my husband and my mom. But even that was, like, humiliating, because it was like, “I guess they don’t need me,” you know?
Jim: Well, and I want – I really do want to continue to unpack this. Let me let the listeners…
Jerusha: Yes, of course.
Jim: …know what’s happening here. We’re talking today with Jerusha Clark and her husband Jeramy. Jerusha’s written this book, Living Beyond Postpartum Depression: Help and Hope for the Hurting Mom and Those Around Her. And we’re into it. And I hope this is helpful to you moms and dads who are maybe going through this or have gone through it or anticipate this could be part of your journey. This is why we’re talking about it. These are delicate topics. And I get that. I understand that. But folks, this is where the Lord wants to open up all of our hearts and say, “What’s happening?” You might be a grandparent. You need to understand what’s going on with your daughter or daughter-in-law and how to be a help in this point of need.
Jerusha, let’s go back to that. For the woman who loads on the guilt, I mean, women have this incredible capacity to look at their own heart first. And I can only imagine, I mean, with what you’ve just described, the postpartum with your first child, you get pregnant seven months later with your second. You’re second guessing, “God, why? Well, okay, maybe, you know, I can handle more of this than I realize.” Jeramy, you’re somewhere in this orbit. We’ll get your perspective in a moment. But how do you stand every day and say, “Okay, Lord, I can – I can move forward”?
Jerusha: This was suffering. This was trial and tribulation. Um, and my relationship with the Lord after I had started to recover in my first postpartum pregnancy was so strong. And the renewed intimacy that I had with Him was so powerful and that carried me through. But when I struggled again after having our second daughter, I was having all those questions, and the shame was so heavy. You know, guilt helps us to recognize a thing that we’ve done and to repent of it. But shame is this weight that says, “You are bad. You will never be anything but.” I was a bad mother in my mind. That’s shame. And that never comes from the Lord. It says in the Scripture that His – the sorrow of guilt can lead us to repentance but shame is the voice of the enemy. And at that time, Jim, I must confess that I could not discern the voice of the enemy versus the voice of the Lord. And I got to the point where I really believed that even God was telling me to take myself out of the equation so that Jeramy and the girls could have a better life without me.
Jim: What a dark place.
Jerusha: If you can imagine, like, thinking that God was telling you to take your own life, how twisted and confused that is because, I mean, I was not, like, a nominal Christian. I had the Holy Spirit in me, and yet, these dark thoughts – I didn’t even have a place to put them. I didn’t even know how to sort them out. And so that’s why I’m so passionate about going and speaking to people who struggle with clinical – not just postpartum – any clinical depression, anxiety because I know what it’s like to be there and I know that God can be victorious.
Jim: Well, and, Jerusha, not to, you know, continue in the pain, but that night that Jeramy found you down, I think, in the kitchen.
Jim: Describe that moment. And Jeramy, jump in and speak to that issue as well. But what took place that particular night?
Jeramy: Well, I can say, I mean, I’m someone that sleeps through the night. I hit my head on the pillow and within 30 seconds, I’m sleep – asleep and I don’t wake up till the morning usually. That particular night I was stirred. And I say the Lord woke me up. And my wife wasn’t next to me. And so I – I heard some commotion, something, in the kitchen, so I went down the hallway and literally found my wife. And I have to say, it wasn’t her. I mean, she just – her normal self, she was so void, she was so beaten up. And even the lies that she was believing – she’s looking at me in desperation as she’s counting to make sure she has enough Tylenol to commit suicide. You can’t even imagine how deep and dark of a place we went to. But through it, we emerged to a place of our own understanding of mental illness, our own understanding of our own brokenness, and our need for God’s help in the time of these deep, despairing places. And the rush of God’s people that came in to surround us and speak life into us and help us is unbelievable. I mean, I would say we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for these wonderful men and women and even resources like Focus on the Family that helped us sort through this incredibly difficult time to where I would tell you right now, I would go through it all again because of where we have come to a place of understanding God’s grace in our lives, even understanding our place of being co-laborers in Christ, in ministry, that it’s not through our successes but it’s through our weaknesses that God uses us most, where He is perfecting us through our weaknesses and accepting that. And I would – I would say that was my biggest journey in all of this.
Jim: Yeah, we need to give hope to the moms who are pregnant, you know…
Jerusha: Yes, please.
Jeramy: There is hope.
Jim: …Because it’s not everybody that is impacted in this way. But this is extremely helpful for those that will be impacted and may have postpartum of some sort, like you described, that umbrella diagnosis. What are some practical things that the couples can do to recognize those signs to say, “Okay, let’s not wait until we’re nudged in the middle of the night”? What were some of those things that together, if you could replay the tape, even though you had to walk through the same valley, what would you have done differently in noticing it earlier, to the best of your ability self-diagnosing it before getting help? Calling Focus was wonderful. I’m glad you did that. And I’m glad we responded in such a way to be able to help. But speak to that issue for the women and their husbands who are going to go through something like this.
Jerusha: Yeah, I think the first mental shift that can occur is just knowing that you’re not alone. I mean, as you mentioned, the statistics are maybe up to 20 percent of the population, possibly more because those are only self-reported cases or the cases that are diagnosed. But if we’re talking – considering the amount of live births in the nation, that’s, you know, somewhere between 500 and 700,000 women every year, Jim. And so you’re not alone in this. And part of the reason that I tell my very extreme story is so that you can have courage that, “If she went to that dark place, then I can face this and God can bring me back,” because the story is not even, ultimately, the depression. The story is about God’s victory.
Some of the practical things that I really encourage mothers and husbands and even supporting family members to do are to – before you even are in the position where you’re gonna deliver, you know, maybe a couple of weeks before, just know what the symptoms are because if you have that tucked away in your brain, then you can look out for these things.
Jim: And don’t be ashamed of this. This is, in some way, so natural. It’s just your body correcting the biochemistry to get you back on track.
Jerusha: Yeah, like, you wouldn’t look at somebody that needs eyeglasses and say, “Why are you so weak? You need glasses?” You know, I mean, this is something your brain does or does not create these chemicals. And I’m at the place where my brain just does not create some of these chemicals because after pregnancy, it just didn’t start again. That’s sad. And you can grieve that. There is – there’s nothing wrong with saying, “This is terrible.” There’s no shame in struggling through something. The shame is the voice of the enemy. So knowing the signals, for instance, rapid weight loss or weight gain that’s not connected to your delivery. So, like, for instance, I had dropped over 30 pounds in just a couple weeks. And people, like I said, were complimenting me. That’s actually a sign that something’s not right. If your spouse or your daughter, let’s say you’re the grandparent, um, is expressing things like, “I just feel like I can’t get out of bed,” and there’s no letup in that, for a normal person that will be interspersed with, “Oh, I had a good day today.” For an ongoing – we usually say if it goes between two and four weeks where there’s not any of that interspersed joy, that’s when you should be medically evaluated. So persisting, especially any longer than a month, that is where you should be evaluated. Now, that doesn’t mean if you get medical evaluation that you’re automatically going to need medicine. I know a lot of ladies out there are afraid of that. There are some really great other interventions. But I’ll also say that, for me, taking the medicine was an act of obedience to God. I needed to be humble enough to say, “Okay, my body’s broken in this way and in humility, I’ll do what the doctors ask me to do.” Also, to take advantage of resources like Focus’ or at your church you may have a counselor that can talk to you about some of these thoughts that you have. Don’t be ashamed of the crazy things you may be thinking, like, “I don’t want to do this. Why did I have this child?” That’s awful to feel.
Jim: Reaching for help is always good. What was the timeline then, as we’re wrapping up? What was the timeline for your full recovery where you felt back to normal? And in that context, how are you doing today?
Jerusha: Oh, thank you. Well, today I’m doing great. And actually I – again, I’ll emphasize that I was very fortunate. I know that there are some women that struggle longer than I did. I – in both of my situations, as severe as I was, I bounced back within six to eight weeks. I attribute that in part to just being willing to get the help. The reason that most women – most of the women who struggle for a lot longer than that have not received the help that they need. So that’s why I encourage women, don’t wait. Don’t wait and wait because just like when you get a headache, if you wait till it’s really bad and you take the Advil, it takes longer for it to take effect. In a similar way, if you’re already at such a deficit of the brain chemicals and then you try to get help, it will just prolong.
Jim: And I can empathize with that feeling that, “I’m sure it’ll get better just around the corner…”
Jerusha: Yes, yes, “Once the baby’s sleeping through the night…”
Jerusha: “…Once my husband’s, you know, busy season is over, he’s an accountant, tax season.” You know, again, don’t assume that this is just going to go away if you’ve experienced it longer than a couple weeks.
Jim: That’s most critical. I hope people hear that today. And Jeramy, the last comment from you. I mean, you started this discussion, for those that may have just joined, right at the beginning you talked about what you felt is anger because you thought Jerusha was doing this on purpose.
Jeramy: Yeah, I just had misconceptions, and I thought she was sabotaging our family. And the reality is I had to just press into this, something I didn’t want to press into. I didn’t want to become an expert in it. We had – through life experience, we became experts in mental health. And it was a journey that the Lord wanted to take us on.
Jim: What did your anger turn into then?
Jeramy: Compassion because I became convinced that she was not choosing this. It was – it was really a disorder that I became in awe of who my wife is, how incredibly…
Jim: The battle.
Jeramy: …Complex she was, that she was not a quitter, that she was pressing in and that she was fighting for our family and she had a deep and abiding love for our family and for the Lord. And so that showed me this remarkable side of who she was. And it drew us together instead of pressing us apart. But I will say in the depth of it, no matter what I said, couldn’t help her. But I realized I could say things to make it worse. So I needed to be very measured, and I needed to be very careful and walk alongside her and be lovingly and caring for her as much as I could. And so it was – it was a journey. But I would say we’re stronger because of it.
Jim: Yeah, and I appreciate that because I think as men we can – we can be strong, but we can also shame in a way that is not productive. And you don’t want to do the latter. You want to be your wife’s strength.
Jerusha: Or just inadvertent. Yeah, like, “We have a healthy baby. Why can’t you just be happy with that?” You know? Those kind of things.
Jim: This has been so good. Thank you so much for being with us and helping so many couples. I know this’ll become a great help to many. Thank you.
Jeramy: You’re welcome.
Jim: Let me turn to you, the listener – if you or a loved one is experiencing depression, whether postpartum or another form, we want to help you. We have caring, Christian counselors available on staff to give you an initial consultation and then refer you to someone in your local area for ongoing support.
John: And to schedule that appointment with one of our counselors, call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Maybe you’re in a good place in your life right now. And if you are, I want to invite you to join us in this ministry. Let’s do it together. Today’s program highlights our mission here to come alongside hurting people and offer hope and healing in the name of Christ. Your donation provides them with counseling, helps underwrite this broadcast, allows us to continue providing a robust website. Today, when you donate to our work here, a gift of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Living Beyond Postpartum Depression for yourself or to give to a new mom or mom-to-be that you know.
John: Join the support team and get a copy of Jerusha’s comprehensive book, Living Beyond Postpartum Depression, as well as a CD or instant download of this conversation online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller and thanks for listening to Focus on the Family and join us next time as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ!