I did not experience anything that I would characterize as postpartum depression, although I did have a hard time making the transition to motherhood. Looking back, it is impossible to separate the effects of chronic and severe sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, and the unexpected difficulties I had navigating societal expectations about mothers. There is no denying that I was a bit of a mess, but there was a lot of joy in the day to day. I chose to write mostly about the joy here, because I (mistakenly) thought that is what I'd most want to remember. It turns out, though, that the joy has stayed sharp in my memory much more than the difficult bits have. I did post occasionally about specific problems, and I also sometimes acknowledged the fact that I found the transition to motherhood harder than many other women do. Looking back through my earlier posts, I don't find that many details about the difficult bits, though. It wasn't so much that I didn't want to write about the details of why I found that transition hard as that I didn't know how to write about it. I still don't, really.
I know enough about depression to know that whatever was going on with me in my first year of motherhood, it wasn't that. I wish we had a better way to talk about how hard the first year (or two) of motherhood can be beyond discussion of postpartum depression. PPD is too important a topic to clutter with experiences like mine, but experiences like mine should be discussed, too.
The times postpartum I came closest to depression (and perhaps was indeed experiencing depression) were during weaning. I experienced quite strong effects on my mood anytime I dropped a nursing session. For this reason, I weaned very slowly. If dropping one session made me feel depressed, I didn't want to find out what going cold turkey would do.
|Pumpkin, a few months post-weaning.|
Even with the gradual approach, weaning was one of the hardest parts of motherhood for me, which always felt strange, since breastfeeding was one of my favorite parts of motherhood, once the early difficulties were past. It seemed strange to be suffering so much to end something I liked, but both times, I knew it was time to wean. With Pumpkin, I weaned because I was pregnant again and nursing was making my morning sickness worse. Also, I thought it would be best to be well and truly past nursing Pumpkin before the new baby arrived. With Petunia, I weaned in part because I was afraid that if I didn't take advantage of the window of opportunity that presented itself, we'd be that outlier mother-child pair that was still nursing when the kid was 7 and in part because I needed to introduce a little more space between me and her. She always was, and continues to be, a child who prefers snuggling mommy to anyone else. Usually, that is wonderful. Sometimes, though, it feels smothering.
Anyway, for a few weeks after each dropped nursing session, I felt lethargic and ineffectual, as if I couldn't do anything "right." Little setbacks at work or at home loomed unnaturally large. I was prone to crying jags over minor things, like forgetting to buy the kids' favorite flavor of yogurt. The heightened sense of anxiety that I remembered from pregnancy returned, and I was once again playing out detailed responses to ridiculous scenarios in my head at night, like "what would I do if a car crashed through the front of my house?"
I'm not sure how I was able to have the detachment needed to diagnose the problem. I can't remember how I figured it out. I think I might have read an off-hand comment about the possibility that weaning could cause depression. It was probably in a comment on AskMoxie, but I can't remember the post. Anyway, something made me recognize what was going on, and that helped quite a bit. I felt less crazy and out of control, because I had a reason for the weird things going on in my head, and, most importantly, a reason to think that the weirdness would end.
|Petunia, a few months post-weaning, with Pumpkin.|
Petunia is wearing that polka dot dress now.
Even once I knew what was going on, I didn't talk about it much. I left a few comments on blog posts mentioning the problems I had, and I mentioned it here a few times. But for the most part, I didn't talk about it. Friends in real life joshed me good-naturedly about how attached to breastfeeding I was, and how I was going to have to "give it up" eventually. Those comments hurt, but I never told them so. The thought of needing to explain what was going on with me was too exhausting, so I just smiled and pretended everything was fine.
And in the end, everything was fine. My kids are weaned. My moods went back to normal. All is well.
Still, I think we would be better off as a society if we found a way to acknowledge the varied realities of new motherhood, to talk about how becoming a mother can mess with your mind in a myriad of ways, and to get all new mothers support as they work through the changes that baby brings. We need to let mothers talk about what has been hard for them without trying to convince them that it shouldn't be hard. I have no idea how to make that happen, but I am pretty sure that it would help if more people talked openly about what early motherhood was like for them. This post is my attempt to start doing that. Feel free to join in, either in the comments or in a post of your own.