Welcoming a new baby into the world is exciting, but it’s not without its difficulties. Jo Hodges opens up about how she struggled following the birth of her daughter, and how she nurtured her faith in the midst of caring for a newborn
Having a baby was far from easy. I found myself extremely tired, always lacking in time and my life was turned upside down, but I have experienced so much happiness since my daughter, Abigail, was born.
After nine months of anticipation, you suddenly find yourself in charge of this little person who just dotes on you and you love them unconditionally. From having a baby grow in your womb to then singing nursery rhymes with your toddler, it’s all so exciting. You see the goodness of God in every little moment. You finally experience that love as a parent, the same love that I imagine God has for us.
Other parents will tell you that preparation for a newborn is key, and I spent a lot of time worrying about how difficult it would be – probably too much. But the preparation that often goes unfactored, at least in my experience, was the change in how you experience your faith.
Before having Abigail, my husband, Adam, and I had always been very active members of our church. Both of us were involved in serving in the kids’ team and we attended all of the social activities on offer. We opened up our home every week to a life group. Everything we did revolved around the church, but that changed when we were presented with this new life.
The slippery slope of apathy I suppose at first things didn’t change dramatically. Having a newborn, we found it quite easy to take the baby around everywhere with us. We could take her to the evening service at our church and she would sleep, or take her to most social activities in a carrycot or a sling. Eventually, we decided we needed to start focusing on a routine to get Abigail sleeping through the night, and so our schedule had to change to work better for her.
We started going to the morning service at our church when she was around three months old and as we’d had to stop hosting our life group, I was attending a local mums’ group outside of our church. But in that there began a bit of a disconnect, almost as if we’d lost touch with it all, and over time we almost stopped going to church entirely.
With the baby, it was easier to watch the church service online, and the gap between us and church grew wider and wider. We tried a new service time and venue, but we still felt a bit lost. That was nobody’s fault but our own, really. We hadn’t tried hard to stay connected because our life was totally focused on having this little one to look after. Over time, there were subtle changes that I didn’t notice happening and that disconnection from the church became a disconnection from my faith.
By the time the summer holiday came around, when most weekly groups stop meeting, I had stopped reading my Bible entirely. My prayers became less and less intentional and began to feel transactional, and I didn’t feel like I had a relationship with God any more. There was no accountability with anyone – and I felt like I wasn’t talking to anyone about my faith other than my husband. I felt things starting to go downhill.
God will catch you when you fall
I don’t think my friends or those around me at church noticed I was slipping. They perhaps didn’t think that anything was wrong, and for a long time I didn’t either. Because of this, it got to the point where I even started to doubt the existence of God. I found myself challenging my own beliefs and instead I was focusing on worldly things such as money (maternity leave can be a financially stressful time!).
One day I was sitting in my bedroom while Abigail was having a nap and I just felt like I needed to open my Bible. I had this Bible app on my phone that I hadn’t opened for months. I opened it, and I went in where I’d left off in Ecclesiastes. Lots of Ecclesiastes is about how little meaning there is in money, and it talks about how King Solomon has everything he could possibly dream of, but that there’s nothing without God.
It was in that moment I realised I’d been focusing on all the wrong things. I suddenly noticed how much I’d lost track, but even so, I’d opened my Bible and straight away God had spoken to me about something I needed to hear the most. I remember thinking: “I’ve lost track of everything, I’m doubt- ing everything, I’ve neglected my Bible and my prayer life is non-existent.” Then and there I made a commitment to get back into my Bible and get back on track.
Putting mechanisms in place to stay close to God after the birth of your baby is going to look different for everyone, but with any newborn your schedule may be a little unpredicta- ble. I found that when the baby was asleep, the prime time for getting things done, I’d want to be doing something mindless or getting on with the housework. People will give you all sorts of advice – and that’s all well and good – but everyone is different and it’s important to find what works for you.
For example, for a while, I factored my Bible reading into the evening because it seemed like an obvious time. But from experience of that not working so well, I’d suggest trying it when you first wake up. It doesn’t have to be a long, arduous task – just one short passage is enough. If even sitting and doing a formal Bible study seems like a lot, print off some scriptures and stick them up around the house so you’re constantly being fed with the word of God without having to be actively doing anything. Of course, it’s important to be active sometimes in our faith, but I think parents will agree that sometimes we just need to receive.
If you’re struggling to read the word of God, I would get a Bible plan on the go, and get an accountability partner to do that with you. Try to find someone in a similar situation to you, or if not, someone you really trust to be honest, to keep you on top of reading the Bible, talking about it and praying. Joining a daytime life group is endlessly helpful too, though I understand this may not be possible for working parents. If you have a partner, make sure they go with you, or take a friend to encourage you.
Finally, if you’re going to change church services, do it earlier on in your pregnancy to ensure you’ve built up new friendships and relationships over time. Then, by the time the baby arrives and you have moved over, it won’t feel like such a huge transition.
Supporting new parents
- Ask new parents and carers the direct question: “How is your faith?” It’s natural to get in contact to ask what you can pray for, and of course, that’s wonderful, but I think new parents can be embarrassed if they feel their faith slipping and so it’s key to check in and make sure they are OK.
- Create an environment that allows parents to share how they feel, because having feelings is OK. This is particularly important for new dads, who I think often get pushed out of the picture. Sit down with a new dad and allow them to be open and honest.
- Churches – try creating a relief space for parents and carers. Not everyone will feel comfortable with this, and that’s fine, but perhaps have people on hand at life group or in church to look after young children or hold the baby so the parents can have some time where they are receiving and focusing on themselves and God’s word.
- Life group leaders – offering up times of day more appropriate to families can really help. Instead of the evening, meeting in the morning before church or in the early afternoon after a service doesn’t put too much pressure on parents.
Faith is a journey
Abigail is now 17 months old and I would say that I’m still getting there with my faith. It’s ten times better than it was; I don’t go a day now without reading my Bible, and I wake up excited to read. My prayer life feels much more intentional and I’m always listening to my audio Bible. I feel as though my mind is very much filled with God’s word. We’re part of a life group again, which has really helped us journey deeper with God.
There are still things that I’m grappling with, but I think it’s important to recognise that it’s all part of my journey of faith. We all have ups and downs. Now, I can safely say that I am on the way up.
To the new parents out there, don’t worry about the small things and try not to be caught up in everyone else’s advice. As a first-time mum, I felt like I had no confidence in my ability. But after giving birth, life was still amazing. You can still go out for walks, you can still have date nights, you can still see your friends and you can still find time to read your Bible. You don’t need to worry about anything, because God is your provider and your strength and will always understand.
is a first-time mum and is corporate relationships manager at The Children’s Society.