Meet Ashley Hartfelder – The Overcomer
Ashley has been one of my dearest friends since we moved into our beloved 903 Coral in Nashville together after college. We walked beside each other through the rollercoaster that is your early 20s – first jobs, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, losing loved ones, learning to manage money, learning how to cook, staying up too late, spending too much money on silly stuff. All the things. You name it, we experienced it, TOGETHER, and that bond has only strengthened over the years and it’s hard to believe we’re both married with two kiddos, a dog and a mortgage each. I always joke she does all the big life things before me so she an then walk me through it, and it was that way with both marriage and pregnancy. She was matron of honor at my wedding less than a week after she delivered her first son, Clark, which solidified her as a rockstar in my eyes. She was in the room to meet our Annie a couple hours after she was born and when her second son, Wells, was born, I was there that morning to see how joyful she was despite the normal exhaustion that comes from delivering a baby. In the weeks that followed, Ashley started feeling something more than the typical baby blues that come with postpartum and later was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). I walked that season with her and now, she’s bravely sharing some of her experience that is very common but still is rarely talked about. She overcame so much during that challenging season and made it to the other side stronger than ever before, reminding us all that God is always working. This girl is sunshine and strength and just the greatest – I know you’ll be inspired by her words.
Before you were pregnant with your first, did you know much about postpartum depression?
Not much at all.
Did you experience any symptoms after your first son was born?
Yes, but I didn’t recognize them until he was about a year old. I never wanted to be away from him (even when I showered, I wanted him in my sight), I was anxious if I was not with him. I later learned that was a sign of PPD. I had always been told PPD was “the baby blues” and never wanting to hold your baby, so I assumed I didn’t have it because I couldn’t stay away from him. I have always struggled with anxiety and at first assumed this was my anxiety amping up.
What was different about your experience after the birth of your second son?
I immediately noticed (once we were home from the hospital) my chest was always heavy and I was always so worried I was going to do something wrong. I would worry I was going to forget something important because I felt so frazzled. I would tell myself over and over, “I can’t do this. I’m not a good mom.”
When did you realize something was off and it was little more involved than the typical post baby blues?
Wells was about two months old. I was napping while he was napping. He was in his crib right beside our bed. He woke up crying and there was nothing I could do to soothe him. I tried everything-everything that worked with my first, everything I had read about in books or blogs, everything I knew, and nothing worked. I laid down on the floor beside his crib and just cried. I told myself I should just leave because I wasn’t a good mom. I couldn’t calm him or soothe him, so it must be my fault. My husband came upstairs and found me in the floor crying and Wells in the crib crying. When I told him I just needed to leave because I wasn’t doing a good job as a mom, he held me, told me I was a great mom and then told me we needed to talk to my doctor (who I LOVE).
When did you decide it was time to get help?
That moment, on the floor, that’s when I knew. When my husband said we needed to talk to my doctor, I knew he was right. I knew I had to get help. The day before, I had asked the babysitter to send me pictures of the boys about every hour while I was at work. I love our babysitter. She is like family. I trust her completely. Yet, I was terrified to be away from them. I knew I had to talk to my doctor.
What kind of support did you receive?
I went to my doctor the following day. I sat in her office and told her everything. She cried with me. She held my hand while I talked. Then, when I finished talking, she pulled out her cell phone, called her friend who is a PPD counselor, and said, “I have a patient who I need you to get in today.” So, I left her office and went right over to meet my counselor. I began going twice a week for counseling. It was very intense. A few weeks in, I was still in a very dark place. It was then that I knew I had to bring this to the light-to my people. I realized I wasn’t allowing myself to get better because I was so ashamed and embarrased. I stood on the steps on my counselor’s office and called my very best friends. I told them everything. They prayed with me, made meals for my family, came to spend time with me, cleaned my house, played with my toddler, rocked my newborn, and physically walked the road with me.
What part did faith play?
I prayed a lot and I knew I my people were praying with and over me. I would have moments of being angry at God because I have always felt called and created to be a mom, but felt like I was constantly failing. My friends would send me scriptures to focus on each day. I would listen to the following songs on repeat: No Longer Slaves, Fear is a Liar, and It Is Well.
Was there a particular prayed you prayed? Song you listened to? Verse that guided/grounded you?
I would say the lyrics “And far be it for me to not believe even when my eyes can’t see, and this mountain that’s in front of me will be thrown into the midst of the sea, through it all my eyes are on you, through it all, it is well, so let go my soul and trust in Him, the waves and wind still know His name,” from the song “It Is Well” over and over. All day long. Anytime I was awake. I had to continue reminding myself that He was WITH me in the midst, not just watching me to see “how I handle this.”
My good, good Father really was GOOD and He was walking with me.
I also read 2 Timothy 1:7 over and over. “For God has not give us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
What part did counseling play in your journey to recovery?
My counselor helped me bring light to the darkness. I tend to downplay my emotions in normal, every day life so bringing these big emotions to light was like taking sandbags off my feet and allowing myself to walk freely. As I said earlier, I have always struggled with anxiety. I have taken medication for it for several years. My counselor worked directly with my doctor to adjust my medication as well. This was incredibly helpful to feel like I had people supporting me rather than judging me.
Looking back, was there a turning point where you knew it was all going to be okay? Where you started to feel like YOU again?
Yes. I immediately knew it was all going to be okay when my dearest friends listened to me share what was going on and immediately responded with prayer over me and “I love you, we will get through this.” Hearing the word “we” made me feel loved beyond words. That was the moment Psalm 16 came to life for me: the Lord takes care of me.
After having walked through this, what advice would you give to women who are pregnant who are fearful of what the weeks after welcoming baby will hold?
God will give you exactly what you need. Do not feel ashamed or guilty to ask for help. Keep your feelings in the light. Don’t allow yourself to into the darkness.
No mom has it altogether. Not even the one who is sipping her latte in Target, wearing her jeans that fit pre-pregnancy, strolling her quiet kid around. Not even her. Do the best YOU can do because God chose YOU to be that child’s mom.
This condition effects so many women but I feel like little is shared – why do you think that is?
I think many women feel ashamed. We put so much pressure on ourselves as women to be what we see on social media, television, or even in Target! I still struggle with feeling ashamed and guilty. But, that’s when I remind myself that my God is bigger than shame and guilt and anxiety. My God is so big, so strong and so mighty. There’s nothing my God cannot do. 🙂
What did you learn about yourself during this season?
I am a strong woman. I am not weak.
I am emotional and that is perfectly ok.
And I am a good mom who loves her babies immensely.
What are some ways friends and family can support new moms directly after birth to alleviate some of their stress and help them feel supported/loved/seen?
Bring them a meal. Send them a handwritten note. Offer to spend time with their other children. Offer to rock the baby and let her take a nap. Do the dishes. Tell her she is beautiful!
What did you learn about God during this season?
He is faithful. He is in ALWAYS working-even in the midst. He is present.
What did you learn about being a mom during/after this season?
Count it all joy-just like James 1:2-4 says. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
*To connect with Ashley, follow her on Insta: @awhartfelder
*To learn more about PPD, go here.
**To read more interviews with real women in this series, start here.