Fighting for hope in the trenches of motherhood

Mirette Abraham, a doctor, Coptic Christian and a mum, has written a book, Mama, I See You – Finding Glimmers of Hope in the Trenches of Motherhood, in which she shares her spiritual journey through postnatal depression and the role of her faith in her recovery.

Annette Spurr interviewed Mirette to find out what inspired her to write the book, the reality of postnatal depression even among Christian women, and how we can help each other embrace motherhood and the plans God has for us as mothers.

Mirette: Once I became a mum, it was clear that motherhood is a very trying time. Unfortunately, as much as we try and make it known that it’s hard, I don’t think we are doing a good enough job. There’s still a standard of expectations on mums these days, and it always makes you feel like you’ve fallen short.

You know, we are fed with such noise, such lies telling us that we should be a certain way and act a certain way, and our kids should be a certain way. After being catapulted into motherhood with my first, finding the support I needed was hard because I felt like everyone had it together because that’s what I was fed.

There’s still a standard of expectations on mums these days, and it always makes you feel like you’ve fallen short.

Writing and journaling became part of my healing process. I struggled with my mental health after I had a baby, and I also had chronic pain, and it was just a very hard time. I felt like God was speaking to me in different ways during that period. Some of the times I didn’t want to listen, but he kept making himself known, making his presence known.

So I needed to write about that. I felt like other mums out there needed to know that we don’t have it all together. We’re all in this together. We’re all struggling. There is hope. And we’re here to try and find it, but we can only find that if we cling to Christ.

Annette: I love how in the opening chapter, you talk about how your life wasn’t Intagramable and I think if I ever wrote a book about motherhood, it would be called This was not in the brochure because there’s so much about motherhood takes you by surprise. But certainly, looking through our social media feeds, it does look like every other family just seems to have it together because we’re just posting our highlights reels and not our outtakes. What part do you feel that social media played in you feeling insufficient as a mum?

Mirette: Social media is a funny place. I feel like it feeds our insecurities and it feeds into that worthlessness that we feel. And sadly, most of us have started to look for worth in these social media outlets and with other people and with friendships and things like that.

And we’re missing the mark. I mean, our worth doesn’t come from these places. For me, it was almost like every second thing I saw on social media was about a mum who had it all together. Laundry was done. Linen closet was amazing. Beds always made. The kids were always cute and all the pictures were really pretty – and I get it, my Instagram’s full of pretty pictures too.

But we weren’t speaking about real things. What about losses? What about pain? What about the mental health struggles? I found myself Almost Marie Kondo-ing my feed, you know, going through and asking, “does this give me joy?” “No,” unfollow. “Does this give me joy?” “No.” So I unfollowed a whole bunch of accounts that made me feel worthless because that was also part of my healing process.

I needed to step away from this idealistic view of motherhood. It doesn’t exist, and our joy comes from God alone, and we just need to cling to him, but we keep running back to these outlets and social media and trying to find our worth through them.

Annette: You bring a unique perspective being a medical professional as well. Obviously, there are immense expectations surrounding that too, but also incredible insights you bring from that perspective. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Mirette: You’d think my insight would be better, but when it comes to yourself and your kids, as a doctor, one of two things happen. With your kids, you’re always kind of hyper alert and always think worst case scenario when I need to rule out X, Y, Z. These are the tests I need to do and speak to all these people. And you’re constantly trying to figure out what’s wrong based on your knowledge that these are the worst-case scenarios, and this could be a sign of the worst-case scenario. So it’s always like you get serious anxiety from that.

“At the time, there was almost zero insight. And I didn’t have someone around me saying, ‘you need help.'”

But when it comes to yourself, it’s the exact opposite. It’s like, “No, I’ll be fine. This is nothing.” And doctors really do make the worst patients. So, although I know all the signs and I know that people need to talk about things and you need to get help when things get bad – and I know now in hindsight that I needed help – at the time, there was almost zero insight. And I didn’t have someone around me saying, “you need help, let me help you out,” or “I’ve noticed this is wrong.” Nobody really stepped up that way.

Now that I’ve got a second baby, I’ve put a lot of safeguards in place to try and stop the same thing from happening and trying to find my worth in Christ rather than elsewhere. And I’ve done all these things the second time around because I’ve been through the trenches, and it’s still not easy, but now I feel like I’ve got the experience and the hindsight to recognise certain signs.

Annette: In your book, you talk about a particular patient that started your journey towards healing and finding wholeness as a mum. Do you want to share a bit about that?

Mirette: It was a fellow Coptic Orthodox girl I met on the wards. She wasn’t my patient, and I wasn’t meant to meet her that day. It was a weekend ward round, so I was just trying to get out of there as quickly as possible and get back to my family. For some reason, I went back to this ward that I had already visited, and I was met by her dad in the hallway. He has no idea who I am, and he stood there in the hallway, begging me to speak to her. He asked me, “Please, speak to my daughter. She needs help.” In my mind, I’m like, “I’m a cancer doctor, I can’t offer help to everyone. I wonder what she needs.” And so, I was conflicted. Should I go? Doctors always worry that you’re going to be stretched too thin. Anyways, I went, and I’m glad I did. She was a young girl, a young mum with two kids, separated, and going through terrible depression, and she was admitted because she had overdosed.

Mirette with her daughter Leah

And so I had a chat with her about the reasons. As a doctor, you always worry about their answer when you ask them, “Why did you overdose? Did you really want to take your life?” She was very honest with me, and she said, “No, but I just wanted the pain to go away.” And that line for me, her response – it really touched me. And it affected me in a way I didn’t expect it to. And only at that point, when she said it back to me, and I saw how hard her reality was, and it opened my eyes to what I was doing to my loved ones and to myself.

It was almost like a slap in the face. Like, I get it. I get the pain is hard. You just want to run away from the pain. I was doing almost the same thing. Having it said to me and her trying to find help and solace with me, it was like Christ is saying, “I need you for other things, and you can’t do this job unless you fix what’s going on and you, you need to come back somehow.”

I saw how hard her reality was, and it opened my eyes to what I was doing to my loved ones and to myself.

So I felt that particular moment truly turned everything around for me. It made me look inwards. I was constantly looking outwards. Like my life is messy, I’m constantly in pain, and everything just doesn’t seem to be going right. But I never turned inwards and said, “well, what’s going on in here that’s making me miss so many amazing moments, that’s making me miss Christ being right here?” And so that was a pivotal point for me.

Annette: When you mention the trenches of motherhood, it can feel like warfare at times, but the good news is you mention finding those glimmers of hope. That’s the good news to come out of the book. So what does motherhood look like for you now that you have found your way to the other side, you’ve found your healing?

Mirette: Motherhood is a beautiful thing. Motherhood is truly one of the greatest blessings, one of God’s most beautiful gifts – if you allow yourself to see it that way. To allow yourself to see it, though, you need to be looking for him in the middle of the chaos. You need to be, as cliche as it sounds, focusing on the positives, the good, the explosive moments, and those tantruming moments – because you are their safe space. “Thank you, God, for allowing me to be a safe place for this little human who’s going to change the world. And you are using me somehow.” It’s hard. And when you’re trying to heal from your own struggles, it’s near impossible to see the positives, but now that I’ve been able to recognise God’s hand at work in my life once, I now have the tools to look for him. The struggle’s always going to continue on. I’m still struggling. I’ve got a baby now and a kid that’s at school and they need two completely different mums. The school kid needs a mum who knows homework, who can be there emotionally for support, but the baby needs me physically, and I’m still sleep-deprived.

So it’s still hard. The struggle will never go away because we live in an imperfect world and it’s a fallen world and we’re always going to struggle, but Christ is constantly there with us. He sits with us when we are in pain. He sits right beside us, cradling us when we are crying; he is everywhere, but I just need to know how to look for him.

“If we just surrender and give up our motherhood to him and stop trying to be perfect … we’ll truly feel that sweetness and see the beauty in our motherhood.”

And so motherhood for me is very much a walk with God. If it’s not walked with God, it’s void of the blessing that it could be. I want to keep going on that walk so I can keep feeling Him so that my motherhood is truly the blessing it deserves to be. And I think, for all of us, if we just surrender and give up our motherhood to him and stop trying to be perfect – because we’re never going to be perfect – and just hand it all over to him, we’ll truly feel that sweetness and see the beauty in our motherhood.

Annette: I love that at the end of each chapter, you have action points that provide real practical ways that we can overcome our struggles in the trenches of motherhood. People can also continue following your journey on Instagram, keep up with your blogs and podcasts, and updates on your family. For mums and dads who are finding themselves in the trenches of motherhood and fatherhood, what’s one glimmer of hope you can give them now?

Mirette: No matter how hard things may seem, no hardship can compete if you look to the cross. And there is a lyric I recently listened to that has been on my heart and mind for this past week by Phil Wickham. And it’s called Battle Belongs.

The song’s lyric says, “When all I can see is the cross, God, you see an empty tomb.” All we see are the struggles before. All we see is the mess, the chaos, the pain. That’s all we can see. We can’t appreciate good coming out of anything bad – we never can. And when everyone looked to the cross, no one could have predicted a resurrection – nobody. Everybody mourned the death of Christ. And so, when hardships seem impossible, it seems like there’s no way out, we need to focus our attention on the cross. And when all I can see is the cross, remember that empty tomb because there was nothing more miraculous, more marvellous in the history of time, and God can do the same for you. No matter how hard this trial, there is hope.

Annette Spurr runs her own business at Blue Box Media and is also the Managing Editor at Mum Daily. As a wife and mother, Annette has discovered the power of gratitude journalling.

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Mama, I See You

Mirette Abraham

Available from Koorong

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