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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.




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