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.

35 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!

  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. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. Howard

    I. M a grandpa for 3rd time in seven months…. I thought I was going crazy!!! Thanks

  8. 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.

  9. Joan Williamson

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

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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!

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. Paula

    This was an answer to prayer! I did not know that I could experience ppd as a grandmother. I am the MIL and live only 10 minutes from my son and his wife who had our first grandchild 4 weeks ago. I am also a nurse but am retiring next month to care for my granddaughter. I have been at their house everyday helping out but have felt overwhelmed and “out of sorts”. My DIL has thanked me but I worry about getting on her nerves. Her Mom is here now for 6 days, so I’ve backed away. Sigh

  19. Sheila Duffy

    It is a big adjustment for everyone, and it can take time to negotiate all the various moving pieces etc.. That’s great that you are so close by, I’m sure that is a huge help! But it can also be a bit of a minefield of emotions for everyone too. It sounds like you are aware and also know when to step away etc… sometimes asking “how may I best help you” although moms don’t always know, but it can be a good place to start to make sure you are communicating etc.. and that it’s OK to tell you what’s working or helping. Be gentle with yourself! It’s not easy!

  20. Cindy

    Oh my gosh. I truly thought it was just me. I thought I was going crazy and being unreasonable. I’m so thankful that I’m not

  21. Carla

    Hi.
    I am a grandmother that gets all the brunt of what my daughter is going through inflicted on me!
    I want to understand why my daughter wants to keep me away from my brand new grandson.
    Please help me.
    I’ve tried to find support.for this, but all i’ve Found is grandmothers that want to act the same way as their paranoid daughters.
    My daughter treated me like thids and even worse with my first grandchild then her second she loved having me around, now she’s back to treating me the same way!!
    It’s not understandable.
    This unpredictability!!!

  22. Brian Kocsi

    My wife was never diagnosed nor was she ever willing to admit she had PPD, but as her husband, I watched as she struggled with making an emotional connection to our daughter – especially after her anxiety affected her ability to breastfeed. Her depression grew to include suicide attempts, but she continued to refuse medical care. Twenty years later and here comes a beautiful grandson, whom we needed to care for. I wish I had known it was possible for her to experience anew all the original feelings…which would now be compounded on the never-treated first PPD. We took care of our grandson for the first few years of his life, and after he left to live with his father, my wife became more and more distant from him; she often wouldn’t Skype with him. She eventually got to the point where she didn’t want to see him or visit with him. After reading this article, I beg anyone who has or feels they may have PPD to seek help. I’ve seen where untreated PPD leads and what it looks like. I’m thankful my wife, who passed away 3yrs ago, is no longer suffering. Thank you for sharing your story!

  23. Sheila Duffy

    Sorry to hear that it was such a struggle for your wife and your family. It is highly treatable but unfortunately, you are right that left untreated it can go on and become a chronic clinical depression. Thank you for sharing as well.

  24. Sheila Duffy

    I’m sorry to hear this and how hard this must be… please call in to our support line if you’d like support 604-255-7999. Toll free 855-255-7999. We often talk to other family members who are struggling.

  25. Lorraine

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I truly felt that I was all alone. Our first grandson was born this past week. I’m totally in love and so happy….but so sad. I think I’ve cried everyday since he was born and not out of happiness. Then I read this article and it all makes sense. I feel like some weight has been lifted. Thanks.

  26. Anne Marie

    OMG I am feeling this and I felt ashamed because I thought I should feel overjoyed!

  27. melissa

    i suffered from ppd with both of my children. luckily my parents came to my rescue. their round the clock care plus meds enabled me to become whole again. when my first grandchild was born i was so excited but then the anxiety started and i felt like i was going down the rabbit hole again. i couldn’t imagine what was Happening and felt so guilty for experiencing these feelings. then came #2 & #3, 4 months apart and i became a basket case again. i was already providing care for the 2 year old but would be adding her little sister on 2 days and my other granddaughter on a 3rd day. so, i’m full of anxiety and dread. i hope my outlook and mood will improve with time but am full of feelings of inadequacies about the future. was so relieved to hear i wasn’t the only grandparent who was experiencing these feelings. i pray all the time and know God wants me to hand all my anxious feelings over to him but it’s so difficult to not continue to take them back. then the guilt starts eating away from me because i realize in actuality how fast time flies and in the blink of an eye they are starting school. i want to relish each moment and have no regrets about wasting time with so many negative feelings. so it’s a double edge sword. sorry to ramble but i’ve found it very cathartic to talk about how i feel with non-judgmental people. thank you for providing this forum to form a community of grandparents who are struggling with a common issue.

  28. stace

    Thank you for your comment… it is probably much more common than we know in terms of grandmothers having feelings like what you describe. It’s so important that we make sure that we are also taken care of when we are caring for others ! Please call in to our support line for support if you think it would help. We support all members of the family! 604-255-7999.

  29. Suzanne Dammen

    I just read your article and want to tell you I fit right in. My son and daughter-in-law just had their first baby. He is my first grandchild. They are 1 hour away and I feel like I am not needed. I want to see him at least once a week and don’t get that welcome feeling when I ask if I can come. I jokingly said I must have grandmother’s postpartum, and now I see it is real. I am so broken up over this, and I am not understanding it. Thank you so much for your article and all the comments.

  30. Nayda Alvarez

    I”m glad I found this article.
    I suffered from Post Partum Blues when I had my son 29 years ago.
    Now I have a beautiful granddaughter that is 1 year old.
    I moved to a property 2 hours away from my son to see her more often.
    Is such a joy when we are together but when they go back home I’m torned and cry so much. I worried and feel overwhelmed with grief. Going through depression after having my son was hard and troubling.
    I couldn’t underdtand why feel sad and worried when being a mother was all I wanted. I realized that I need to get help to feel better. Depression comes and goes and makes feel terrible.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, good to know we are not alone.
    I just wish I had a.good friend to talk to at times.
    Someone who listens without judgement

  31. Heather

    Thank you so much for showing me I am not loosing my mind. I have been feeling all the same feelings now that I’m a grandmother. I honestly did not think this was a thing.

  32. Crystal

    After my daughter had her first baby and my first grandbaby, I felt overwhelmed and sometimes filled with anxiety. She came home to live with us for 3 months and I watch him every Friday, Saturday and Sunday while she works 12 hr shifts. I adore him but by Sunday afternoon, I’m exhausted and sometimes very down. I thought I was just being selfish.

  33. Clare Zeschky

    Not selfish at all! Grandparents carry such a weight of responsibility and love. You are welcome to call in for support yourself!

  34. Sharon Friend

    I had ppd after my second daughter. My girls were just eleven months apart. Never treated for it. Now 25 years later I have a beautiful 8 month old grandson who I lover very much, but I’m watching him 3 days a week for about 11 hours each day, plus I Clean houses the other days. I also clean offices at night. My daughter pays me but money is still tight. My anxiety and depression just hit me hard this week. I really don’t think I can watch my grandson this much anymore but hate to let my daughter down., especially since I’m the one who volunteered to do it. I feel like I’m going through ppd again at age 53