Pregnancy

Baby Blues: I’m Atheist, But I Might Start Believing To Get Through PPD

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postpartum depression supportBaby Blues is a column about raising my daughter in the windstorm of postpartum depression. Though discussing the dark spots of postpartum depression, I also share my successes.

I may be an atheist, but I’m well aware how believing in a higher power can positively impact one’s life. When I was very little and had my first existential crisis, I was flying a kite with my family and it suddenly hit me—what the hell am I doing here? Why is anything here at all? Being young, I didn’t know how to put my concern into words. The largeness of that feeling was beyond my maturity. So my only comfort was that I believed in God, a God who had all the answers and would one day reveal them to me. I could put those feelings of panic to rest on faith alone.

But then I got older and after a lot of serious speculation, I decided I didn’t believe in God. The reasoning and effects of this decision are far too many to discuss here, but I have been very emphatic when I explain to others how this doesn’t mean I have a bleak outlook on life.

Of course, the bleakness of PPD overrides this from time to time. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be able to cope with depression better if I still believed in God. I’ve even thought about just hanging up this exhausting atheist thing in favor of doing the “easy” thing. I live in the Bible Belt. It’s really hard not to be on the defensive when most people around you can’t imagine an alternative to Jesus.

There are other reasons I think I may need God back in my life, though, and they’re all to do with parenting. It was much easier to think of myself as dust in the wind or a piece in the puzzle of nature when my world was centered on me. Pre-motherhood, everyone I loved and cared about was an adult, a rational adult who I knew could carry on without me if I were to die. It goes the other way, too. I knew I would be heartbroken if my sister, husband, parents or a close friend were to die. But I also knew eventually I’d be able to get on with life. God or no God, I viewed death as a part of life. Sorrow was necessary in order to really appreciate happiness. And here’s somewhat of a dark confession: I had always had the notion that negative experiences are things to grow from, things to be transformed into art or writing.

When my first pet hamster died I was miserable, but a tiny little piece of me felt proud that I was really getting to live, getting to the gritty stuff.

But a daughter is nothing like a hamster. Or a sister or a husband. Now, I have this insane, complex relationship with this little person who grew in my body. My daughter wholly depends on me, and I feel the deepest sense of panic when I’m away from her or when she’s hurt.  If I were to lose her, I would panic the rest of my life. And I have no curiosity to feel how this kind of suffering would feel. I have no desire to turn this emotion into a novel or art. This panic is private, truly deep, and it scares me. So much that I feel like there has to be a God, and if there isn’t, I have to live as if he did exist—otherwise when one of us dies, we’re essentially separated forever.

A few months ago, I helped a woman edit a book she’d written as a tribute to her teenage son who died of cancer. Though I kept things objective during our meetings, I cried at home while reading her heart-wrenching, fragmented work. I had nightmares. Though I know I can’t feel the intensity of losing a child while mine is happy and well, reading her story made me feel vulnerable to the throes of the universe. She believes in heaven. She has no choice. Not believing in heaven would just be too fucking hard.

What do I do with all of this? Choosing to believe in God isn’t a decision to make overnight, or even over the course of a few weeks. It would be wrong to convince myself of something I’m pretty sure is untrue, but if it means it would be easier to cope when I’m having a depressive episode or having one of my epic worry sessions about my loved ones, that lie might be worth it.

(photo: Anteromite / Shutterstock)

20 Comments

  1. Kate Reimer

    March 5, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Last week my little brother passed away, and I’m trying like crazy not to imagine the pain my mother is going thru because the thought that MY little boy could die is to terrifying to think about. And so, with that depressing intro, here’s my thought for you. Faith can be a beautiful thing but don’t let fear force you into it. Even if this life is all we have, the impact we make on the people around us is its own form of immortality. I really hope there’s some form of an afterlife (if only to yell at my brother for not being more careful) but if there isn’t, I know we’ll be keeping the memory of our loved ones alive.

    • Diana

      March 6, 2013 at 7:33 am

      Sorry for your loss.

  2. CrazyFor Kate

    March 5, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Whatever you have to do. Whatever it takes. If it helps you get better, that’s all that matters. Peace and strength to you.

  3. Asilee

    March 5, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Then you weren’t an atheist to begin with. I suffered PPD and had a lot of other things to deal with and I didn’t even think for a second to turn to a “higher power” and I lived with a pastor for 4 months!

    • Justme

      March 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      But she is not you and her experience will not mirror yours.

    • Diana

      March 5, 2013 at 5:16 pm

      Of course she is/was. There is no “Athiest Gene.” People change.

    • Michelle

      March 5, 2013 at 11:22 pm

      Congrats you win the atheist gold star award!

  4. Lastango

    March 5, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Watch out, athiest… “Draw nearer to God, and he will draw nearer to you.” (James 4:8)

  5. Freela

    March 5, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    This interests me because of the idea that believing in God is a choice. It may be for you… I don’t think it is for me. At various times, I wanted to believe in an all-knowing deity who had a special eye on me, but I just can’t. It never rang true to me. I paid lip service to it, but always knew it wasn’t a genuine belief. I wouldn’t call myself an atheist, as I’m more a pantheist in terms of believing we are a part of something bigger, like the universe, the sum of all that is… but I can’t ‘choose’ belief in a monotheistic deity, even when I can recognize the appeal and comfort of believing something it.

    • TJ Christie

      March 7, 2013 at 8:26 am

      Freela… Wow, your post is as interesting to me as the original article is interesting to you. Think on this, if you please. So you don’t define yourself as an atheist — that’s fine. The next step is to accept that just because you are not a “monotheist” does not mean that you don’t or can’t believe in (a) [G]od/dess (for lack of a better word). Being a “pantheist” by your own definition is just as valid a “choice” or belief-system as any other in this beautiful wide world.

      You don’t have to be Hindu or Christian or Jewish or Muslim or a Sikh or a Scientologist… or a member of any other formally named religion. It’s not written in some “Big Book of the Rules of Life” that in order to be the best human being you can be, you first must subscribe to one of the religions listed therein and pledge your undying loyalty to those beliefs. If something does not ring true to you as you said, listen to your gut about it. However, look deep inside yourself and see if you also feel as if something is missing. If so, don’t avoid that empty part. See what fits into it, instead.

      I hope you think about this for a bit, and find security and joy in a realization that suits you. Open your heart, and feel the love. Namaste.

  6. Cassy C.

    March 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Amanda, I agree with the other commentors…I’m just not 100% sure you can choose whether or not to believe in God. It certainly wasn’t a choice for me.
    It’s like forcing yourself to believe in ghosts if you don’t already. It’s just probably not going to happen. If you really don’t believe in God, you’re going to just feel silly, because it’ll just be pretend for you. If you give it a try and you do believe, maybe a tiny piece of you believed all along.
    But I understand your sentiment. I definitely have beliefs that are grounded in personal conviction and scripture, but atheists/agnostics/skeptics aren’t wrong when they say the idea of God is comforting. It is. But I just don’t think it’ll be comforting to you if you don’t truly believe it deep down in your core. I think, if you discover you really can’t believe, you can find a comforting alternative. Karma? The universe? I don’t know what that looks like for you, but it seems like you’re on a mission to find out. Good luck!

    • TJ Christie

      March 7, 2013 at 8:30 am

      Cassy C. – “If you give it a try and you do believe, maybe a tiny piece of you believed all along. . . ” — Agreed, and well said. See my response to Freela, above. Peace.

  7. Amy

    March 7, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I love this posting. I have always been an atheist, but I too have often thought how much nicer it would be if I could believe in heaven, particularly after the passing of a loved one when everyone else is comforted by thoughts of seeing them again in the afterlife. I can’t force myself to believe in something that does not make sense to me, but I do like that other people have faith in it and that it makes them feel better about death.

  8. Valeri Jones

    March 9, 2013 at 12:06 am

    Ask yourself this: What could it hurt? I think you’ll find the answer to be absolutely nothing. I myself am Christian – raised in church from day one, raising my children in church – and I honestly don’t know where I’d be without God in my life. But IF I can take NOTHING else away from my Christianity, it’s knowing that raising my children in church and teaching them how to be a true Christian will most definitely NOT hurt them. It will make them better people. If it helps you make it through this difficult time in your life, well… Guess what? Most of the true Christians that I know didn’t think much about God until they faced a difficult time, either. That’s what God is for. Keep your head up and hang in there. This, too, shall pass.

    • Liot

      April 27, 2013 at 9:05 pm

      I’m not quite as certain as you are about the harmlessness of Christianity. As a kid, I called myself an Atheist not because I was sure God didn’t exist, but because I didn’t agree with a lot of the things in the bible – mainly, women existing specifically for procreation purposes and Hell being a thing. I wouldn’t think a good, merciful God would give /anyone/ a sentence of eternal damnation, or value specific human beings over others, and choosing to believe in a /malevolent/ God when there was no proof one way or the other just seemed like it would cause unnecessary grief.

      However, when I got a little older and started experiencing serious negative things it became helpful for me to think of God as a sort of author – bad things happen to good people because a story needs conflict, but the majority of stories end happy. And even when they don’t, well – as long as I’m gonna believe in God, I might as well believe in Heaven, right? A happy epilogue if nothing else.

      What I’m saying is, you can believe in God without picking a religion, and if you are going to raise your children in one, please be careful about which one you choose. A lot of them have unpleasant implications.

    • Valeri Jones

      April 28, 2013 at 12:01 am

      So you’re saying that someone shouldn’t choose a certain religion because there might be something about it they don’t like? That’s like saying you won’t take a particular job because you might have to follow rules. I’m sorry, but your argument holds no value with me.

  9. Ostara

    March 10, 2013 at 4:30 am

    I was an Atheist for many years. I live in the Bible Belt. I can say that belief in a higher power does help you in many ways. For me, that higher power will never be ‘God of the Bible” After trying to embrace Catholicism I realized that I am a Pagan. I believe that there is a Divine energy flowing through everything around us. I worship at home with meditation and prayer. You do not need to become a Christian to believe in God. Good Luck!

  10. ElleJai

    May 29, 2013 at 3:33 am

    I find it difficult to locate an intellectual source for belief in God. Intellectually, I don’t. But in my gut, during any crisis or the most beautiful events, I turn to He/She/It/Them regardless.

    The dichotomy bothered me until I read a biography of Winston Churchill where he admitted to doing the same thing, and found it was easier to live with if you accepted the two different beliefs instead of trying to reconcile them. So now I just allow both feelings space in my head and heart and although I accept that maybe if you die, you just cease to exist, I prefer to believe there’s something more. If I die and that’s it I won’t be disappointed, but if I die and find out this is just one step of an everlasting journey I won’t be unduly surprised either.

    What works for each of us is personal, unique, and given that we’ve got over 5,000 recorded deities to pick from, apart from the Jewish Yahweh (and His only son) then there’s sure to be someone somewhere who resonates with you if you want to find them. Good luck either way, and blessings upon your journey xx

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