2 Phrases that Helped Me Through Postpartum Depression.

Via Lynn Shattuck
on Oct 25, 2013
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post partum dep

When I was expecting my son, I expected postpartum depression, too.

With a history of mild but chronic depression and anxiety, I knew I was at a high risk. I had a plan: I could go up on the anti-depressants I took. I could attend postpartum support groups and get a therapist. I was prepared.

Except, you can’t really be prepared.

Not for the bleakness. The unfairness of what is supposed to be a happy time instead feeling so raw and wrong.

I wasn’t prepared for being up for three nights before my son Max was even born. I wasn’t prepared for a hard labor, or a hard infant.

The first night home, we planned to set our new bundle into the bassinet by our bed and he’d sleep. At least for a few hours.

He did not.

Instead, he cried. He nursed and nursed and nursed. He fell asleep, and as soon as I slid him ever so gently back into the little white bassinet, he would startle awake. We’d repeat the process, over and over again.

Meanwhile, my hormone levels plummeted. I lay awake for nights, even for the brief periods when Max slept. Every one of his little snorting, breathing, animal sounds activated my brain.

Lying on my side, milk dripping down my ribs, I watched him breathe. My mind bounced from Is he breathing?  to, What have we done?  Had we gone and ruined our perfectly good, mellow, quiet, restful life?

More thoughts blazed through my brain. Uninvited images of hurting my baby. The guilt of having the thoughts added to my rapidly increasing depression. What kind of a mother has these thoughts?

A week after Max was born, my husband had to return to work. My parents left for their winter home in California. I was alone.

Except I was not at all alone, because there was a small, unhappy, unsleeping baby with me. All the time.

Slowly, like the drip of winter days, I got better. Some combination of action and time soothed me. And there were two phrases that I clung to that winter.

You didn’t choose this.

Every morning, I’d carry Max downstairs to find the low February sunlight striping our wood floors. It felt so terrible, so bright. The light meant there were still hours to fill before my husband got home from work. What do you do all day with an unhappy newborn, when you’re an unhappy mom?

I felt like a zombie. A tired, miserable, scared, light-hating zombie.

Within a few weeks of Max’s birth, I went to see my midwives. The medical assistant, Marcia, who had taught our birthing group, peppered me with questions. I answered them, sitting in the small room I had sat in so many times during my pregnancy. But instead of measuring my belly or discussing remedies for heartburn, Marcia asked if I was having any thoughts of harming my baby.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. She looked at me, and I felt like she was gazing right through my lie.

“You know, you didn’t choose this,” she said. “It chose you. And I’m so sorry.” She looked serious, but full of kindness.

While her words didn’t boost my mood, they did lighten my load. I hadn’t caused this—it was, like my other bouts with depression, luck of the draw. A lottery of brain chemistry and hormones, genetics and fate.

It gets easier.

After my visit with the midwives, we upped my anti-depressants. I found a therapist, and I started attending the post-partum adjustment group at a local hospital.

I walked into my first post-partum adjustment group on a Wednesday when Max was only a few weeks old. I was exhausted and reeling. But I knew I had to climb out of this somehow—I was responsible for another human being now. I snapped his carseat into the stroller and slowly pushed him through the hospital corridors. The white walls and fluorescent lights were as bland as my mood.

Max and I joined a few other women and their babies around a table in a small conference room. The two facilitators asked us to introduce ourselves and share what brought us here. As our babies nursed or slept, I heard stories mirroring my own. Women with histories of anxiety and depression that returned with a vengeance after birth. And some stories that were different; one woman was clobbered with sudden anxiety a few months after giving birth to her daughter. She’d never been an anxious person before.

One of the hardest parts of post-partum depression is that the birth of a baby is supposed to be a blessing. A harvest of love. Quiet time spent inhaling the soft, earthy sweet smell of new skin. But instead, I felt like I was dying. I couldn’t sooth my baby. I couldn’t sooth myself. And I didn’t feel like I could tell most people.

But at the postpartum group, I felt like I could breathe. Here, with these other tired, anxious women, I didn’t have to pretend.

Most of the women at the group had babies older than mine. One day, the mom who had the sudden onset of anxiety was spooning pureed squash into her daughter’s mouth.

I started sweating, thinking of all I would need to learn about in the months to come: solid food, babyproofing, sunscreen. And later: homework, bullying, puberty. I voiced my concern, and one of the facilitators said something that I clung to.

“Parenting doesn’t usually get easier as you go along.” She paused, leaning forward on the table.

My heart sunk a smidge lower. “But if you have post-partum depression, it does get easier.”

Every Wednesday, I returned to the small cluster of women and babies. I came back all spring and summer. With time and the boost of my anti-depressants, the lengthening light stopped feeling so suffocating. I made some new mom friends, some of whom I met at the post-partum group. We went for walks together, our babies strapped to our chests. We talked about how hard it was, and we pressed our lips to our babies’ scalps.

It was still hard. Max cried a lot. I cried a lot. Becoming a parent is one of the biggest transitions we humans experience. I felt so tethered. The demands to nurse and change diapers were relentless; a dull, exhausting loop.

But it did get easier.

Max is almost five now. And I have a daughter who is almost two. I had post-partum depression with her, too. This time I was even quicker to have my medication adjusted. I already had an amazing support system of mom friends. I knew to ask for help, and I asked quickly.

Parenting is still hard. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

But I welcome the splay of morning light across the floor every morning, even as it illuminates the parade of toys and crumbs. The light shows the signs of a full family, a full life. The morning light which quickly becomes the afternoon sun, fading all too fast these days. My depression got better. Parenting got better. I got better.


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Ed: Cat Beekmans

{Photo: Flickr.}


About Lynn Shattuck

Lynn Shattuck lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two young children. She blogs about parenting, imperfection, spirit and truth telling—you can connect with her through her website or find her on Facebook.


11 Responses to “2 Phrases that Helped Me Through Postpartum Depression.”

  1. jen says:

    Your article was really powerful. I don't have children but I have depression and those two simple concepts You didn't Choose This and It gets Easier are so powerful. Thank you for reminding me that it does get easier because I forget that sometimes. As far as it being something I chose I never looked at it that way before it chose us.

  2. scoochdaily says:

    Once again I feel as though I am looking into a mirror while reading your post – I, too, will never forget the long February following the birth of my oldest son (now five) looking at him wondering how on Earth a child (who shares a birthday with Oprah!) could cry so much and sleep so little and could make me feel so strange in my new motherhood skin.

    Love it!

  3. lynnola says:

    Thanks, Licia! So interesting, these parallel lives of ours! Amazing to look back and see how hard it is. Parenting is still often hard for me, but always grateful to have moved from those first few months. Take good care!

  4. lynnola says:

    Thank you, Jen. I'm glad you could relate. Take good care!

  5. Wendy says:

    Curious…you talk of nursing (I assume breast feeding) yet you were medicated. Were the discussions with your doctor about the anti-depressants coming thru in your breast milk.

  6. Tee says:

    It was so hard reading the entire article being I suffered from post partum depression severely. It took me years to overcome it, and I know it doesn't make me a bad mother for what I had to go through. Like the midwife said "sorry it chose you." You really have no control over it. My daughter is turning 8 next month and I couldn't be the mother I wanted to be to her for 6 years of her life. I had no reason to even suffer from PPD, I was married, I had a perfect relationship, perfect pregnancy, a lot of help, money, perfect birth and perfect child. Even my body bounced back to pre pregnancy body in less than 2 months without diet or exercise. Nothing is ever too perfect, since I couldn't bond with my child. I felt like I was cursed from having so much. Any other ladies out there reading this, know that, it's not your fault and you are not a bad mother. Your child will still love you. This too shall past. Thank you for this post.

  7. tori says:

    Look into Placenta Encapsulation/ having your placenta smoothy next time xxx

  8. Too many women suffer with PPD and don't know how or where to seek help. They are often brushed off, as if what they are feeling is normal and it will pass. They should be strong and get over it. We need support after birth. Motherhood is tough on all of us, and even tougher on those with PPD or other postpartum mood disorders. My center offers the only PPD support group in our county – and I live in a mid-sized metropolitan area. I'm honored to support women through their journey.

  9. ice kay says:

    Thank you.. thank you for sharing.. I too had ppd and I’m still struggling right now.. I cried and cried every night.. can’t believe that I’m still feeling like this even when my son is now almost five years old.. and I’m terrified to have a second child.. it scares me a lot.. I became easily sick.. acute gastritis, severe migrain for days, insomnia, and fever because of over thinking everything.. I really hope i will get better too.. I really hope this shall pass too..

  10. Lauren says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I've met so many moms with PPD who feel they are alone and carry so much guilt because things "shouldn't" be this way. You are brave and offer a great message of courage. I recently started working with new moms during the postpartum period through my business, Bloom Postpartum (https://www.bloompostpartum.com/) and appreciate stories like this that I can share with the moms I work with who feel they're alone.

  11. mandi says:

    I have a very similar story. Thank you so much for sharing.