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How I Overcame Postnatal Depression

By Bel Thomson 6 min read

How I discovered a way to thrive and overcome the difficulties of motherhood after suffering a traumatic birth and postnatal depression.

thought I was prepared—the nursery was decked out in blue and I had read all the childbirth books. My birth plan was written out and I looked forward to building our special, new bond. I was full of eager expectation, and often prayed about the birth in the months leading up to my due date. I had enjoyed a very healthy pregnancy, working as a full-time singer-songwriter right up until 37 weeks. I expected that birth and motherhood would also be fairly straightforward and come naturally to me.

I was so optimistic that I packed joggers in my hospital bag! I can recall thinking, I’ve kept fit my whole pregnancy, why would I wait until I get home to exercise again? I also remember thinking I’d have quite a lot of downtime during our hospital stay because newborn babies sleep a lot. Under this false belief, I packed the complete biography of Bonhoeffer to read in hospital—all 600 pages of it—and wondered if that would be enough!

Right from birth, things did not go to plan. I wanted no medical interventions, but after 17 painful hours of labour, my son became dangerously distressed and I was rushed in for what is termed a Category 1 Emergency Caesarean Section—this was life-threatening. My husband wasn’t even allowed to be there for the birth in the end and I was put under general anaesthetic because of the urgency of the situation.

Our son wasn’t breathing when he was born, so he needed special medical help before being transferred to the special care nursery to recover. My expectations came crashing down with this traumatic experience. I had dreamed of those first intimate moments with my baby and I was devastated that I wasn’t able to hold, nurse or even see him when he was born.

When I woke up from the operation, I was disoriented and confused. I had no idea where my baby was. The nurses eventually pushed my bed into the special care nursery to see my son, who was sleeping in a humidicrib. I stared at him with disbelief. How could that be my baby, hooked up to all those monitors? This was not the first meeting I had hoped for.

I was exhausted and in shock from the difficult birth, and while I was thankful that he was OK, I felt devastated that I had missed my baby’s first moments. A black cloud began to descend on me as I stared at him in the little special care crib. I felt lost and overwhelmed, and I grieved this unexpected beginning for many months.

Bel reaching out for Mikey through the window of the special care crib before she was allowed to hold him.

When I took my son home, I struggled with postnatal depression and anxiety, and found the challenges of caring for him extremely difficult. I felt totally lost in this new life.

I’ll never forget the day I saw my obstetrician, seven weeks after the birth. I fought back my anxiety about being back at the hospital and shared how upset I was that I wasn’t able to be there for my son when he was born, and how I felt I’d let him down.

My obstetrician looked at me and quietly said, “You may not have been able to hold your baby when he was born, but God was holding him the whole time.”

I silently let those words sink in—the reality that God had cared for my son when I was not able to. This realisation was salve for my aching heart and helped me start to reframe the birth experience, seeing God holding my son at every moment.

I came home and sat at the piano, which had been silent since our son’s birth. With tears streaming down my face, I poured my pain and raw emotion into a melody, composing a song from a deeper place than any song I’d ever written before. That was the start of my own healing. As I wrote the lyrics, I thought of friends who had experienced pain and loss with pregnancy and childbirth. I called the song “Holding You”, and I felt like it was for all those with scars from their motherhood journey.

Through my own grief, I felt a new awareness of God’s closeness and care for us amidst the pain. From that point on, my motherhood experiences bled into my song lyrics every time I sat down at the piano. In those first six months, I always had my bub strapped to my chest in the carrier and as my fingers brushed the keys, I often had tears streaming down my face as I processed all the change in my life. These new songs became a deep conduit for my own healing.

Over time, I was able to begin to release the weight of the guilt and sadness I felt every time I thought of our birth experience, and I started to sense that God cared not only for my son but also for my own pain.

One night when my son was about six months old, I felt God bring words from the Bible to my mind: “Comfort my people”. I sensed Him say, “These songs you’ve written in this dark season are not meant to be kept to yourself, but are meant to encourage other people and remind them that I am with them in their dark seasons too.”

I thought, You must be kidding? How can I possibly record these songs now? You see how much I’m still struggling! There’s no way I could juggle a major creative project and look after my son! How would I do it?

The next day, those questions still echoed in my head and so I looked up Isaiah 40, the chapter in the Bible where God says, “Comfort my people.” As I read the chapter, I found some powerful words of encouragement: “He will gently and carefully lead those nursing their young” (Isaiah 40:11, Amplified Bible).

I stopped. I reread those beautiful words, full of God’s grace toward mothers.

He would lead. Gently. And carefully. I sensed His promise that if I would step out in faith to record the songs written in my season with postnatal depression, He would show me how to juggle my call to be a mum and a musician.

So after a lot of prayer, with my husband’s support, we embarked on my fourth album recording. What a ride! My baby got a front row seat, cuddling me in the carrier while I laboured over songs and melodies, workshopping songs via Skype with my producer in America. To my amazement, my son loved the experience and would often reach his hand out to play the piano with me as I worked!

Working on songs for the album with Mikey in his carrier.

As a family (including Nana who helped care for Mikey while I was in the studio!), we travelled to Nashville to record and God provided everything we needed to make it both a great family experience as well as an amazing work project for me. I saw the truth of God’s promise to “gently and carefully” lead and I found great satisfaction caring for my son and using my musical gift.

I titled the album Seasons, because the songs reflect my journey through the changing seasons of life and God’s faithfulness through it all. As I poured myself into shaping these songs, it facilitated my own healing—I think you can hear that sense of healing and comfort woven into the very fabric of the album.

“Holding You” was released as the third single and I’ve heard from mums all over the country who have been moved and encouraged by the song. I’m blown away to see God use my own pain from this season to help others.

We recently celebrated our son’s second birthday. As I reflect on our growth as a family, I realise not only have I survived, but I’m learning to thrive as a mum. Mind you, I’m yet to read a single page of Bonhoeffer and am not holding out hope of that happening anytime soon! Thomas the Tank Engine will have to suffice for now.

But I am learning to lean on God for strength and to trust Him to “gently and carefully” lead through all the challenges, broken expectations and adjustments that come with the gift of motherhood. In the years ahead, I want to always remember the revelation learned so early on, that He is holding me and my son, at every moment of our journey.


If you or someone you know needs help, contact:

Lifeline:  13 11 14 Australia | 0800 54 33 54 New Zealand

Watch Bel's interview.

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Bel Thomson is an award-winning Australian singer, songwriter and speaker.


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