And now day three of our special postpartum depression survivor series on having more children …

Amber: Let’s talk about our families today. What was the birth order of your “postpartum depression baby”?  For me, I was a first-time mom so I had no idea what to expect physically, emotionally or practically … nothing to compare it to. I kept asking myself, “is this NORMAL???”  If you are married or partnered, what about your spouse/significant other? How did it affect them? How can one be helpful in the midst of postpartum depression?

Suzanne: I also suffered with my first baby. The most challenging thing during that time with my spouse was the tremendous burden he had to bear. On most days, he’d be in one room trying to console our screaming baby while I was in the other room sobbing. Neither of us knew what was wrong with me. I don’t think he fully understood my condition until I felt better and was able to function more normally. We were in survival mode for those first few months; it redefined our relationship and made us stronger.

Deborah: I also experienced a perinatal mood disorder after my first. My husband never acted like I did something wrong in terms of causing my postpartum OCD and really embraced this as the disease it is, requiring all sorts of treatments, from medicine to therapy to sleep. This gaze on me and my disease in the middle of my crisis was a godsend in terms of not adding to my stress.

Yuz: Like both of you, I too fell ill after my first baby. I felt so much confusion and anger – I had no confidence as a mother or with my daughter. I felt like a fraud. I felt like a failure as a mother. I felt as if I had failed her. I felt as if I had ‘ruined’ her emotionally due to our lack of bond and, sadly, because I often regretted having her at all. I wanted to have her adopted out. I felt ashamed for feeling everything I felt and for everything I thought. I just didn’t want to have to admit this to anyone that wouldn’t understand why I was thinking and feeling all these things, and frankly I didn’t see the point in telling them as I couldn’t see how it could have helped me or made the situation better in any way.

In terms of our family life, the impact my postnatal depression had was huge. From my husband’s perspective he watched his wife and best friend disappear into an angry and sad person with absolutely no confidence and unable to make any decisions. This was meant to be one of the happiest and fulfilling moments of our life together and it wasn’t. At all!  My husband took over most of our daughter’s care-giving as I spent the first eight weeks of her life expressing, so while I sat on the couch milking myself, he did all the feeding.

Initially, I don’t think my husband understood PPD or the depth of its effects, but this became clearer following the appointment we had with my therapist and the discussions around being admitted into the parent infant psych unit.

While I was at the unit, my husband attended a father’s group. He found those sessions informative and insightful and was relieved to know that there were other dads that had unstable, irrational, argumentative, forgetful, disinterested and overwhelmed wives. It was a safe environment he could go to to better understand what was happening to me, to be provided strategies that would be beneficial to us and to our home life post discharge, and most importantly to be able to just share ‘war stories’ with dads in the same boat and have a good laugh.

Amber: I don’t think my husband understood the magnitude, either, Yuz. In fact, mental health issues, though prevalent in both of our families of origin, are not discussed openly in his family. I observe it as them not wanting to be judgmental. Kind of like, “so and so is just eccentric or different”. Because of this attitude, I don’t think he actually “believed” that depression and anxiety were medical conditions, and more importantly that postpartum depression could not be controlled by willpower. It took the doctor very directly telling my husband that was false and that I needed a whole host of changes in my life to get better. He and I were both so devastated and desperate by that point that we accepted medication. I am almost grateful that I was as sick as I was. It sounds strange, but I wonder if I would have been open to medication if I had had a mild or moderate case, instead of a severe one. How long would I have suffered needlessly if I had kept up with my “natural” point of view and refused it?

Yuz: Don’t think about that Amber. You didn’t!  What’s really comforting was even though they initially questioned the impact the postpartum depression had on us they became our biggest advocates. My husband was my voice when I had none. If I was anxious about going out to a particular social event we would discuss the options of how we would do it all (around sleep and feed times, etc.) and if it got too much for me to even think about it, plans were cancelled. He became the gatekeeper of who was ‘allowed’ to come over and visit us and when. He took phone calls from my friends when I didn’t have the energy to talk and would update them on how we were doing. This must have been such an isolating and lonely time for him as well. And scary. There were no Huggies moments going on in my house!

Grace: I was also a first time mom with my PPD, so I also doubted what was normal. It was challenging to go through all I went through and feel so alone. We have no family in the country, and at the time I didn’t have friends I felt I could confide in.

I honestly believe my husband also suffered from postpartum depression, although undiagnosed. He still has flashbacks and he is still incredibly apprehensive with our new baby. He was a big help with our son when I was incapable of caring for him (basically he did EVERYTHING), but he had no idea how to support *me*. I don’t blame him. We were both so lost. I wish he had someone to talk to, dads who could coach him through the experience. How great that must have been for your husband, Yuz.

Yuz: Yeah it was. We are so lucky to have this program and support here. Actually, there are now lots of male groups online now – due to the high demand – both for dads suffering from PPD and also advice and techniques for those men supporting their partner through recovery.

Kate: Like you all, I was also a first-time mom when my symptoms set in. Initially, it put a big strain on my marriage. We did not understand what was happening, we were both very unhappy and disconnected from each other. Typically we are truly best friends and intuitively connected, but I was adrift and isolating myself. I was also so angry at my husband. I remember thinking that if only he would stay home or do more I’d feel better. But he was really doing so much – his plate was full. Later we actually went to therapy as a couple briefly to process that time. I learned that it really scared him, and that it was devastating to him to see me suffering. In my fog, I didn’t feel like he knew or saw it. But he did.

Amy: My PPD was with my first as well. I think the most challenging thing for me was realizing that I was not a picture perfect mom in my eyes. I felt like I was inferior and that I had done something to cause this.

My postpartum depression was very hard on my husband. He says that watching me was the hardest because he just wanted to “fix it” and could not. He felt helpless. The load of making life function for our family fell on his shoulders. As time went by, I was taking all the steps to getting better. But hubby was not. It took him months longer than me to heal, in terms of letting go of things, or trusting that I could do something. And like a lot of us gals have mentioned today, looking back, I think that hubby had some depression as well. He was exhausted all the time.

For me, the help I needed was provided (but each person has different requirements). Rick was there and helped in whatever aspect I needed. He did dishes, he made dinners, he cooked, he listened to me, he told me when I was getting better, and he always put me first. Some days I made no sense, but I just needed to know that he was on my team and was not judging me. He always told me I was loved regardless of my circumstances.

Amber: What is your relationship with your “PPD Baby” like now?

Suzanne: Blissful! She is amazing and wonderful, and I’m totally smitten. I love her more than I ever imagined possible. I know that’s cliche, but it’s true.

Yuz: My relationship with my PPD baby is truly wonderful. I get very emotional thinking about the person she is, as she is such a happy and well adjusted little girl. People comment on how happy she is and I am so grateful that the rough start we had hasn’t impacted her.

I am fearful that my anxiety and depression will be passed onto her my new baby boy genetically. It’s my hope that with ongoing therapy I’ll be able to stop the cycle that has cursed my family for generations. I am very much aware that my daughter will learn how to treat and respect herself by watching how I treat myself as well as how I practice self-care. I used to feel pressured by this, but now I see it as legacy I can leave her and future generations.

Deborah: For me, the first couple years there was always a lingering sadness in the periphery of my awareness that I had this awful time when my son was born and that it somehow permeated our relationship. I almost never think about this now and I really attribute this to time and the wonders of modern medicine.

Grace: My relationship with my “PPD baby” is so sweet. He’s now almost 3 1/2, and although he is what I would call a “daddy’s boy”, we have a very special and very close bond.

Amy: My relationship with Ella has always been close since she was born. The part that I still have pain over is, I don’t remember anything about her first 18 months of life. I see pictures of her and have no recollection of them. I can’t remember when she said her first words or when she tried to crawl for the first time. It’s like her first two years of life are gone in my head and some days I still hurt about that. Her love for me is tremendous and that is what I try to dwell on!

Amber: My bond with my first son is really great now, too, and I appreciate that even more because it started out so rough. He “gets” me in this very spiritual way.  Oddly enough, I feel like he intuitively compensated by connecting with me, even when I was too sick to bond with him.  I now lie in bed with him as he falls asleep and ask myself “how could I ever have been so ill that I wanted to give this up?”  But, then I realize that that alone is proof that PPD is a real, medical illness and I am driven all the more to raise awareness and provide support.  

Kate:  Our relationship is so wonderful. She’s healthy, funny and creative. She will be four in April. I enjoy being her Mother and it’s hard for me to remember life before she was in ours.

Amber: Isn’t it amazing how so much changes with our relationships over the course of time? I marvel at all the positive that has come out of such a negative experience. My love for my sons is incredible and I am so much more aware of my connection to them because of all I went through immediately after first becoming a mom.

Tomorrow we’ll share our personal journeys after deciding to have more children after surviving postpartum depression.