Postpartum Depression: A Grandmother’s Retrospective

Zoey reflects on her experience with postpartum depression and anxiety from the perspective of becoming a grandmother for the first time. Her words truly show how PPD/A, while it loses its intense power over us, remains a part of our continuing motherhood journeys. Some research shows that PPD/A can occur in caretakers other than the baby’s parents. An case report by Valerie Raskin called Postpartum Depression in a Caretaking Grandmother  provides one example of this. The case outlined is quite extreme in terms of difficult and exacerbating circumstances that place the grandmother in the role of a primary caregiver. But even for grandparents who are mainly on the sidelines, a new baby in the family can certainly be triggering. As Zoey explains below, for someone who suffered from PPD/A with her own child the arrival of a grandchild brings mixed feelings and even some relapse into the anxiety that accompanied the birth of her own child so many years ago.

Article by Zoey Ryan

As I work to plan a mother and baby blessing celebration for my eldest daughter upon the birth of her first child I have had plenty of time for reflection. Thinking back 27 years to just before her birth I recall feeling invincible and excited. I had so much planned for my maternity leave and while I was thrilled to be a mom, I wasn’t going to let having a baby really change my life. How naive I was! Having a baby cracked my heart wide open and allowed depth of feelings I didn’t know I had to be felt and heard. I have never been the same, in a good way! Becoming a mom changed me at a cellular level.

I sort of cruised through two pregnancies and two babyhoods, then became smug. With baby number three, I crashed. I physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually crashed. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t shower, I needed help caring for my girls, I stopped eating. I almost stopped living. I remember getting a lovely message every week on the answering machine asking how I was doing. It was from Pacific Post Partum Support Society. I treasured those messages and somehow I made it through. The good moments became good hours, then days, then weeks, then months. Eventually my PPD/A became a part of my past, a wisp, a remembrance from my daughter’s childhood years.

Due to an on going interest in mental health challenges I was prepared, yet still surprised, at the force with which all the feelings slammed back with news of my daughter’s pregnancy.  My high hopes and fears, irrational thinking, the anxiety, heart palpitations, the bone numbing fatigue–it all came back so fast. I feel the shame of having had PPD/A all over again. I have the irrational fear that the “defective genes” that allowed me to become depressed will be passed to my daughter. I worry over every anxiety she has. I worry that if she does develop PPD/A  I won’t have the energy to help. I worry that I will develop grandma’s PPD/A (maybe I already have)! It does happen that care giving grandmothers may develop a form of PPD/A. I worry about how protective I am of her and her unborn baby and how I am already struggling with maintaining appropriate and healthy boundaries with the in-laws. I worry about maintaining appropriate and healthy boundaries with my daughter and her partner and playing a supportive role from the sidelines.

As a grandma I wonder if all the great things I’ve heard about being a grandma are really true. And then, I remember that in my wisdom I have learned:

– it always gets easier

– the love is always there alongside the worry

– as my family expands, my love expands

– there are always people to help

– there are always people who care, like those at PPPSS

So, I return to my planning of the Mothers Blessing ceremony for my cherished first born and I am grateful to be someone who feels so deeply, as through our feelings we reach outside of ourselves to weave a web of community that supports.

18 Responses to “Postpartum Depression: A Grandmother’s Retrospective”

  1. Rita Hall

    I really loved this article. I thought I was going insane when my daughter had her second child and I started experiencing the same post partum symptoms I had when I had my first child. I never knew that grandmothers could have PPD again!

    • Jo Ann Sandoval

      My daughter and my grandsons (1 is 10 and the new one is 5 days) live with her mother in law. I think I am also very envious of her.

  2. Holly Crawford

    Obviously I landed here for a reason… I couldn’t figure out why I felt so much sadness at a time that there is to be soo much joy. Thank you for your article… it feels good to know that I’m not alone.

  3. Jo Ann Sandoval

    I too am so glad I found this! Living 2 hours away from them is breaking my heart!

  4. Meryl s

    I feel the same. My daughter livestwo and a half hours away and I am so happy for her and her husband on the birth of their lovely baby girl, but sad that we are so far away!. Thank goodness I am not one in these feelings. X

  5. Sandra

    Thankyou for this article. I too thought what is wrong with me. Anxiety came back hard as my daughter lives 1 1/2 hrs away. Time to be positive x

  6. Tammy Jones

    Thank you for this article! It helps to make me think I am not completely losing it for no reason. My daughter is 5 months pregnant and we find out the sex today. I am so excited, but am so sad at the same time. I cried for hours last night and just can’t get out of bed this morning. I have always struggled with anxiety, but thought I had it mostly under control until now. This is my first grandbaby and I should be so happy and excited, and I am but this overwhelming heaviness has descended on me. At least now I have a name for it.

  7. Joan Williamson

    I have it too. I feel hopeless. This on top of my own health problems.

  8. sophie

    Omg! I feel like i totally have PPD! I have been struggling with depression for many years, but it’s seem overwhelming since I became a GRANDMA for the first time!
    I just can’t understand why!
    I love this beautiful baby boy!
    I feel like i should be on top of the world!
    Well, glad to know this exists!Thank you

  9. Peggy A.

    Thank you so much for your story. I suffered from PPD after the birth of my first baby 33 years ago. My daughter ( my second) just had a beautiful baby girl and she is having just a bit of the baby blues and I have this exact same fear and anxiety rolling in that she will suffer as I did and I won’t be able to help! Glad to know I’m not alone in felling like this. And yes… it did get so much better for me . Exactly as you said! Thanks again

    • Sheila Duffy

      Hi Peggy… thanks for your comment. It is definitely something that also needs to be talked about more, the fact that grandmothers can also have PPD/A or that when their daughters have babies, the memories can come up of what it was like. What we know here at PPPSS is how helpful it is for moms to be able to talk to their own mothers about their experience and how their openness around their struggles as well as their successes is a great support!

      • Lyn

        Wow, my daughter just had my first grandson, it brought back so many memories and mixed feelings, i didnt understand if it was possible to be sad when i should be happy, im glad to know its not just me

  10. Rachel

    This was really helpful. I have been struggling with a recurrence of PPD symptoms since my niece was born, with intrusive thoughts and anxiety and fear of being overwhelmed with all of the same feelings I had when my daughter was small (I had untreated PPD and could not face having more children myself after that). Thankfully it is only an issue when I visit my brother and his partner from overseas a few times a year, because it hasn’t really settled much as my niece has gotten older due to the fact that she has some serious medical problems and developmental delay which mean that even at 2 years of age she is still at risk of sudden death and is still physically dependent like a baby in many ways. I feel extremely guilty that I feel relieved to live so far away, and I wish I could get past this so I offer them more support. I am dreading my own (now adult) daughter eventually having a baby. It’s something I’m working on in therapy but not something I’ve ever felt able to talk freely about outside that setting.

    • Sheila Duffy

      Thank you so much for sharing. It is great that you are working on these issues, feelings in therapy. So many grandparents suffer in silence and yet your story is not unusual. And of course when there are medical issues that can heighten anxiety for sure. Keep talking and getting support! A lot of the grandmas I know have a reoccurrence when their child has a baby, but like PPD getting support is essential.

  11. Jeffrey Haney

    My son and hopefully future wife sent me this article after my wife of 37 years had an anxiety and depression attack when our Grand son was born last week to another son of ours. With all of the Holidays coming up and the birth of the baby, my wife, who had PPD 29 years ago has had another similar reoccurrence. After reading the above excerpts, maybe the birth of the baby triggered something? JH, husband and new grandfather.

    • Sheila Duffy

      Yes it is possible that the birth of the baby brought on some anxiety. Many new grandparents find that they have similar often unexpected reactions, especially if they have had PPD/A in the past. We are happy to talk to her if she would like support. She can call us at 604-255-7999 or toll free 855-255-7999. I think we can also underestimate the transition we go through as grandparents and it can be unexpected when we also are celebrating a new baby in the family, it can be unsettling to experience anxiety and depression.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)