postpartum depression childhood traumaWhen I was about eight or nine years old and my little brother was five or six, my mother threw us out of the house.

I don’t remember many specifics about that night. Only that my mom was falling-down drunk, not an unusual occurrence, and very mad for some reason. It was nighttime, she was drunk and mad, and she kicked us out of the house. Like “Get out! Door slam!” kicked us out.

I think at that point she and my dad were already separated or divorced, and I know he was out that night and nowhere near. So we sat on the front steps and waited, in the twilight, not sure where to go or what to do. Probably crying our eyes out, though I don’t remember for sure.

We lived in New Orleans at the time, in a really bad neighborhood … bad enough that we had iron bars on our windows because we had been robbed more than once. I’m sure we were scared to death sitting out there. There was no such thing as a cell phone back then, and we wouldn’t have known how to contact anyone even if there were.

Among the murky shadows of my memory I recall that someone finally happened by, one of my mother’s friends perhaps. I’m not sure how long it took for them to get in touch with my dad, but he eventually came racing to get us. I’m sure there was much acrimony when he arrived, but again, I don’t remember. The brain has a way of burying these sorts of things.

I don’t know how long we were out there, two children helpless and small in the dark, but it was long enough. A minute was likely an eternity.

One of the risk factors for postpartum depression is early childhood trauma. Sometimes the researchers call it life stress, or past physical or sexual abuse, or adverse life events, but whatever the terminology, you may be more likely to have postpartum depression or anxiety if you had terrible experiences as a child.

As explained on, emotional and psychological trauma is:

“… the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world.

Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.”

I recall what it was like to have very little sense of security as a child. I didn’t know at the time, though, that it could potentially lead later in my life to having postpartum depression, or to be more specific in my case postpartum OCD. I didn’t know it was a risk factor. I thought I was completely over everything that had happened to me and had no idea those events could rise up again to haunt me.

It’s important for women to know that their history can truly impact their experience as a mother. So how do you know if you’ve been through something that could be considered traumatic? offers a checklist:

  • It happened unexpectedly.
  • You were unprepared for it.
  • You felt powerless to prevent it.
  • It happened repeatedly.
  • Someone was intentionally cruel.
  • It happened in childhood.

In the case of the event I described above, five out of the six characteristics listed were true for me.

If you have suffered childhood trauma of any kind and are planning to have a child, you could consider working through that trauma now with a therapist to start the healing process. I’m not sure that this would prevent postpartum depression, but perhaps it could lessen the severity should it develop. Even if you don’t think you are still affected by what happened, it might be worth at least one discussion with a professional. And if you are suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety or OCD or psychosis or PTSD now, you may want to bring up your background with your healthcare professional. Once you have gotten through the immediate crisis of PPD, later on it may benefit you to do some therapy around your trauma.

For further reference, Trauma Pages is a great resource that will lead you to many other resources on this topic.


Photo credit: © Oleg Kozlov – Fotolia