It happens to many women- 50% of all new moms in fact- but before having a baby I never considered it would happen to me. I had wanted to be a mother my entire life, and I thought I would be that happy, loving, soaking up every moment of motherhood type of mom you see in the diaper commercials. But the effects of postpartum depression, which started seven years ago, are still haunting me today.
I have three children, and after the birth of each child my postpartum depression seems to have gotten worse and worse. And for me, the effects of postpartum depression didn't seem to creep up until my babies were around 4 months old. It always seemed to circle around the time when that 4-month sleep regression would kick in and all the help that you received when your baby was a newborn would start dissipate.
Looking back it is easy to see that postpartum depression was present with my first child, but at the time I wouldn't admit it. I was convinced that it was a product of being a military spouse (I lived across the country from my family and my husband was deployed at the time), and being a new mom trying to navigate sleepless nights on my own. I found myself crying on the floor of our bedroom while my 5 month old cried in her crib because I just couldn't handle her. I would write confused emails to my husband asking him why she is like this and why she just won't sleep. Things got progressively better and by the time my husband came home, our daughter was 10 months old. The effects of postpartum depression seemed to be gone (even though I still had not labeled it as postpartum depression), and we carried on with our lives.
Baby number two arrived almost 2 years later. She was, and continues to be, my hardest child to parent. Again, postpartum depression creeped up but this time I blamed my anger and crying on the fact that she had a lip tie and, until she was 5 months old, an unknown allergy. Then baby number 3 arrived a whopping 14 months after baby number 2, and the pieces started to fall into place- my anger was worse. I was anxious all the time, just knowing that someone would start crying any minute. I felt like I would never make it out of the trenches of babyhood, and I was constantly being waterboarded by my children's tears.
Now, with clearer eyes and a more rested mind, I can easily see that what I experienced with all three of my children was postpartum depression. And, as a parent who no longer has any babies but rather communicative children who need more than just help surviving, I can see that the effects of my postpartum depression still affect me today.
My postpartum didn't illicit what people normally think of as "depression." I wasn't sad, feel hopeless, or no longer enjoy activities. My postpartum depression made me angry. It made me anxious 24/7. I wanted to do things like loved like yoga, running, and visit coffee shops but I felt like I couldn't. "Someone is just going to start crying, and you'll have to stop. There's no point," I would tell myself. Not being able to find myself in the midst of the chaos created a monster that still rears it's head today.
Some of my learned behaviors during my periods of postpartum depression have stuck around even years later. The anger, the anxiety, and the utter frustration when I can't get done what I'm trying to do still haunt me. For years I blamed it on having a newborn, which then shifted to toddlerhood and the difficulty of having three very different personalities that all seemed to need different things at the same exact time. But now that my children are all a bit older and more self-sufficient, I can see that these behaviors that I labeled as "normal" were anything but normal, and that they have stuck around.
There are days I find myself getting unbearably angry at my children for calling out to me to help with something. I get visibly annoyed when they ask for another snack. I tell them that I don't have time to sit with them and snuggle, and I cringe when they crawl onto my lap when I'm working. But then my mind snaps back into place and I realize that these are the same feelings I had during postpartum depression. I quickly take a deep breath and remember that they are still children and that they still need me. I soak in the snuggles and use the techniques I have learned to mitigate my anxiety.
But still, these behaviors and reactions are often the first things to pop up when I'm feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. For me, the effects of postpartum depression seem to be long lasting and difficult to shake. There are good days and bad days, but since I have come to realize that my learned behaviors can be un-learned, parenting has become a little bit more peaceful.