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Postpartum Faith: Resources for the Hard Days of Early Motherhood

While the birth of a new child brings immense joy, the first few months of parenting can also be daunting. Father Dave welcomes author and liturgical minister Jessica Mannen Kimmet to discuss her book for new moms, “Groaning in Labor, Growing in Hope: Scripture Reflections for the Hard Days of Early Motherhood.

Jessica recalls a homily from after the birth of her first child, when her priest related motherhood to a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta saying, “If you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love.” While Jessica recognized his kind intent, she says, “At that point, I was still in a lot of physical pain from my delivery, which was about nine or 10 months prior to that. My child was going through this phase where he was clawing at my face and neck skin. So I was sitting there in a lot of literal pain [thinking], ‘It doesn’t matter how much I love him; this is going to hurt.’”

“I think our Church rightly affirms the goodness of children and the dignity and the sacredness of parenting, especially mothering, but sometimes in our eagerness to affirm those things we forget to say it’s also really hard,” Jessica continues. “It turns your whole body and world inside out, and so we’re not always speaking very well to that reality within the Church. So my hope for the book is that it can be a word of hope and encouragement for other mothers who are experiencing those realities, [and it can] bring the resources of faith into their struggles to help them know they’re not alone in them.”

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Jessica explains the format of this devotional. “Each chapter is 1000 words or less, starts with the Scripture passage and offers a brief reflection on it,” she says. “Each chapter ends with a really brief prayer that is hopefully memorizable and can give you something to carry with you throughout your day. We know that the days of raising babies and toddlers are not days where you have long, luxurious periods to sit, read and really immerse yourself in the Scripture.”

She notes how the practice of Lectio Divina helped inspire her reflections. “Scripture doesn’t have anything specific to say about postpartum depression, but it does give us lots of stories of suffering, healing, and hope that I think do have something to say,” Jessica says. “Since we believe that Scripture is the living word of God, God’s word is still speaking into our lives as we live them now.”

Jessica touches on her journey with postpartum depression in the book, and Krista asks how she knew when to get help. Jessica says how it wasn’t until the birth of her second child that she fully realized her struggle. “It was really in the way I was dealing with my toddler; I was seeing that I was not able to meet his needs. I was not responding to his toddler antics with the compassion that he needed,” Jessica says. Following that realization, she reached out to her doctor and therapist. She underscores the importance of not waiting to take care of yourself, even though she did not fully realize she needed help until it affected her first child.

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Father Dave highlights Mary in Jessica’s book and says, “You raise up in a very powerful way that Mary is a lot of things to us. She’s Queen of Heaven, and she’s the mother of God, but she’s also our sorrowful mother and Our Lady of Sorrows.” Jessica responds, “I had this moment where it hit me, when I was really struggling with postpartum depression and being a stay- at- home mom. I was just like, ‘Oh, I’m a sorrowful mother, too’…that sorrow came from my motherhood the same way it did for Mary. It’s balanced with joy, of course, our tradition also has said the seven joys of Mary. But leaning into that title, and recognizing Mary as a companion in this very sorrow was really powerful for me.”

“For Mary, this isn’t what she planned on; this wasn’t what she expected,” she continues. “Motherhood did not go according to any of her plans. She said her ‘yes,’ but this was also thrust on her in a way that she probably wasn’t envisioning when she became engaged and planned her family. She said yes to God, embraced all that sorrow, and continued to give over her whole life to bringing up the son of God.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression, here are some resources that can help.