By Andrea Paterson
I’ve been open about my postpartum journey from the start, therefore well meaning friends and relatives sometimes want to know if I’m “cured.” They ask because they’re concerned about my health and happiness but the question implies a state of unfaltering psycho-spiritual stability that still eludes me. My son is approaching three years old. I’m now well beyond the period typically thought of as “postpartum.” Postpartum depression is generally defined as depression and anxiety symptoms occurring within the first 12 months after the birth of a child. Pacific Post Partum Support Society extends their services to women from pregnancy to three years postpartum, which is an exceptionally generous time span that honours the complexity and slow changes implicit in the postpartum journey. But there still comes a time when saying that you are struggling with postpartum depression feels disingenuous. I begin to wonder, on bad days when my transition to motherhood still feels very new and very raw, if I really should be “cured” and I wonder what’s wrong with me if I’m still resolving pieces of my postpartum journey.
The postpartum process is different for everyone. Some people resolve their depression quickly while others take much longer to work through a variety of emotional, psychological, and spiritual challenges. The thing to remember is that postpartum depression doesn’t magically resolve the moment your child turns one, and many people experience episodes of relapse long after their original depression has been resolved.
Holidays, travel, major life changes, family issues, and other stressors can trigger symptoms that you thought were long ago put to rest. Even three years into motherhood I have days when I don’t think I can cope, I have moments when I collapse into tears, and I have weeks when I think I’ve back-slid into the depths of my depression where I could become stuck. What I have learned over time is that relapse is normal, frequently triggered by unusual or new stress, and definitely does not mean that I will be returning to the darkness I experienced two years ago.
I have a whole arsenal of tools that I didn’t have when my son was born. My ability to see when my self-care has been lacking is well honed. I’m more aware of the signs and symptoms of flagging stability and I can often change my circumstances to support a calm atmosphere before things go off the rails. But postpartum depression is not a sickness like the flu that, once gone, leaves you completely free of symptoms. Postpartum depression is a process that I live every day. Parenthood is a process of continual revision as we learn how to usher our children into the future under constantly changing circumstances, and postpartum depression is one aspect of my parenting process. I have to deal with that particular demon less and less these days, but it’s still there, lurking, waiting to leap up and force me to confront something about myself in my role as mother.
Thanks, in large part, to the support and training provided by Pacific Post Partum Support Society, I’m a stronger more resilient woman than I was the day my son was born. But to answer the ever present question: “Are you cured?” No I’m not. Not if “cured” means that I never experience symptoms or relapse of postpartum depression issues. Postpartum depression will always be a piece of my motherhood. I suspect I will face the ghosts of the postpartum period for as long as I am a mother. And while those ghosts are sometimes terrifying they are also my greatest teachers. In the end I can do nothing else but offer them my gratitude and work to transform myself just a little more each day.
I have also found it valuable to develop my own support systems. I have some wonderful friends that I met during my time with PPPSS and we meet regularly for dinner now, continuing the work that we started in the sleep deprived months after the births of our children. We have learned how to support each other and we can be bright sparks of joy and community in each other’s lives. I’ve discovered that support doesn’t need to end when the formal support group does. PPPSS works on the model of women supporting women, and that torch can be carried out into the world. I owe a great debt to my fellow journey-women, who understand my experiences and are always ready to light a candle for me when the depressive fogs roll in. I may not be “cured” but I’m confident that I have the resources and friendships in place that will allow me to find my way home, even on the darkest nights.
To read more about Relapse Prevention, including other women’s stories and experiences, click here.
Andrea is a writer, photographer, and mother to a very active and curious 2 year old. Currently an at home mom, Andrea makes time for the passionate pursuit of knitting, art, blogging, and reading as many books as her spare seconds will allow. She is deeply grateful for the assistance of Pacific Post Partum Support Society that was provided after her son was born.