By Shawnee Anderson
As mothers, we always hope to have the answers for our children — to have the ability to make their lives better, to be there when they need us, and to guide them in the right direction. I have never felt the level of devastation and despair that I experienced when my daughter suffered postpartum depression.
It has been almost two years since I watched her experience postpartum depression following the birth of her first child—a time when life should have been filled with ultimate joy, happiness and unparalleled hope for the future. Instead, I was overwhelmed with worry, anxiety and debilitating helplessness.
My daughter has always been a person who loved to experience all aspects of life with unlimited energy. Finding out about her pregnancy was a time of great excitement. She experienced a very difficult pregnancy with ongoing nausea and fatigue the entire nine months. My hope was that once the baby was born, she would be back as that person with a strong sense of well-being. Our beautiful granddaughter was born and with that indescribable jubilation, I believed her life would begin to improve.
Our granddaughter was three months old when my daughter and her family relocated to Denver from Vancouver to be closer to home during her husband’s sabbatical. I couldn’t believe they would be here for one year and I had the opportunity to see my granddaughter anytime I wanted and could also be available for my daughter during this adjustment as a new mom. And, of course, babysitting was on the top of my list!
A few months later, I was aware that my daughter was beginning to wean from breastfeeding but being uneducated myself with this process, I remained hopeful this would be yet another transition I could see her through. Shortly following this weaning process, it became very clear that she was developing a deepened depression – a place I had never seen her before.
One very dark Monday morning, we received a call from her husband stating she wasn’t doing well and could we come over to watch the baby so he could take her to the doctor. Little did I know this was the beginning of a very dark and devastating time in her life. Suffering from a small postpartum depression myself, I felt I was somewhat equipped to walk her through this. However, what she was about to experience was something I could never have been prepared for.
As she continued to see different doctors, desperate to find some answers, her depression continued to spiral out of control. The depression, coupled with intense anxiety, became her new reality. The anxiety continued to increase due to her fear she was unable to care for her baby and was she constantly worried that someone would be there to care for her during this time (since she felt she was unequipped to do so). This became a minute-to-minute survival and as her mother, I was polarized.
The reality of how bad it had gotten hit me the day I was talking to her in the kitchen. She looked at her baby’s appointment card hanging on the refrigerator and stated, “Mom, what if I’m not here for her next doctor’s appointment? I might not be. What if I don’t make it?” As she sat, staring out the window, I realized this wasn’t my daughter actually saying this—it was the PPD/A. I sat next to her trying to explain this was temporary but also realizing this was worse than I thought. What I was trying to say to her wasn’t sinking in and at some level I understood that. I did not want to leave her side ever again. She was working so hard to push through this and at the same time unable to comprehend how she would get to the other side – little did she know, I was feeling the same way. I wasn’t just frightened, I was terrified. But I couldn’t let her know that. This, too, had become my new reality.
My daughter’s already strong sense of responsibility was heightened following the birth of her baby. Her commitments made to others were unflappable. Understanding this was her core, I knew I had to take this one day at a time with great patience, love and consistency. I felt responsible for her emotional survival – it was important to find all the positive words I could; to maintain little emotion so she felt safe that I was her strength; to muster the strength of daily encouragement and most of all, to consistently offer unconditional love in every possible way.
As the days rolled by, it was a time of great hope to hear her say those five simple words – ‘I feel a little better.’ I lived for those words. As time passed by, she managed to slowly improve her emotional well-being but it was with much patience and hard work. She persevered through this darkness.
One of the most important lessons I learned during this time was that our daughters who experience pregnancy are not educated well enough on the postpartum period and what to expect. And because my daughter’s depression hit later in the year due to the weaning process, neither of us knew this was a possibility several months later. Had I been better educated about this, I could have developed the tools to help her understand she could get through this without so much suffering. I still feel responsible for not being more resourceful for her during her difficult time.
I cannot begin to understand how so many women experience PPD/A without having close family to support them. How can they be better educated to understand this can happen through any phase following child birth, including weaning from breastfeeding? What support can be offered to those who don’t have family to support them?
I am blessed to say that my daughter is doing well, has overcome great hurdles and has taken part in educating other women on PPD/A and how to help them walk through this period. I hope others who read this can benefit from my story and find ways to help others who suffer from this very serious, silent and misunderstood condition.
If you believe that someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression and/or anxiety, click here to read more about how to help.