Any mom who has ever gone through postpartum depression knows this: We worry that every little quirk or problem our child suffers from that point forward is our fault, caused by our illness.
I’m reminded of that during my trip here to Houston. My baby boy, who had to live with me through my postpartum OCD experience, is now a six-year-old rising first-grader with terrible separation anxiety. Every day when I’ve called home he has sobbed. He has cried so much I’ve had to tell him that I can’t understand what he is trying to tell me over the phone. All I can make out is “sob-sniff-cry-cry-MOM-sob-sob-BUT-sob-sob-wail-AND THEN-sob-sob-sob-wail-MOM, DID YOU HEAR ME?”
We can hardly have a conversation, he is so heartbroken that I’m gone. So what do I conclude? What any mom who went through postpartum depression might: It’s my fault. He was there when I cried. He was there when I was anxious. He was there when I was incapacitated, soaking it all in. So now that he seems unable to handle a difficult situation like I would expect other children might, it must be because he learned it from me. Some child development person will probably email me and tell me this is not abnormal for his age (Please, please do if that’s the case), but until then I feel as if I have failed him somehow.
I talked about this today with my friend Adrienne. She told me a story about her five-year-old who just graduated from kindergarten. All of his great works were sent home, and she sat reading through a journal he had done, enjoying his pictures and words until she came to an unexpected sentence: I don’t like my mom.
Dagger straight to the heart.
Adrienne said at that moment it felt like her worst nightmare coming true. She was deeply wounded. Horrified. I bet the nasty little postpartum depression monster inside of her said, “See, I told you he’d never love you.” Luckily, she kept her wits about her and went to ask him what he meant. Turns out he thinks she gives him too many hugs and kisses. Whew.
Adrienne and I understand each other. Any other mom might just shrug it off, but we scan the environment looking for some evidence that our postpartum depression has led to depression or anxiety in our children, or behavioral problems, or learning issues, or high sensitivity, or …. I don’t know … a preference for Twix instead of Snickers … could that be a sign of something?! WHAT HAVE I WROUGHT?!?!?!
The truth is every mom does something (what’s the present tense of wrought? wringing?) that could surely be used against her by her children someday in a therapy session. My son may be at a disadvantage in some way because of my illness. I’ll never really know I guess. But I do know that I did my best. I do know that I sought help as soon as possible. I do know that I faked it til I made it. I do know that he’s a great reader, a good swimmer, a nice big brother, a cool Lego builder, very witty and absolutely gorgeous. He knows I love him and I know he loves me, and that we’re both pretty good people. That’s all I’ve got and I need to keep hold of it. Let the chips fall where they may.
Thank you for this. Thank you. I just wrote a piece about guilt that I am posting tomorrow. It is not ppd guilt, but I think it lead to some post traumatic stress bouts during my second round with ppd and of course my guilt with PPD use to consume me. Not any more, but it was such a joy robber. Your honesty about and crusade against this illness is such a blessing to many. Thank you for all you do.
You hit the nail on the head in this post for sure! In my darkest hours, I never left the house of my own volition. Once I started to improve, my daughter requested to play outside or go for a walk or eat out at a restaurant on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis, seemingly out of desperation. I felt horrid, believing that her urgent and insatiable need to be out of the house was a result of my having kept her cooped up inside for so long.
It's just awful how, even when those of us who've been through the worst of it are finally mentally healthy again, PPD still manages to haunt us every day of our existence, taunting us with guilt-induced thoughts. I so appreciate that you (and everyone else at the PSI conference) are working so hard to advocate for the women out there who are still struggling… Kudos!
Oh god, the guilt, the guilt, the GUILT!
I so know.
Thanks for writing this piece.
And say hi to all those warrior chicks at the conference for me.
I certainly relate to the guilty feelings. Both of my children have displayed some symptoms of depression and anxiety at times. I remember teaching my 2nd grader deep breathing exercises for school, and my third grader how to cope with sleep anxiety. Both have learned to talk about their feelings when they are down. But I suspect that some of this comes from me and my spouse genetically, not just because I had PPD. I think some of us are inclined towards sensitivity to mood disorders, and it makes sense that so would our children. I think the key is teaching them how to know themselves, and cope and thrive. Teaching our kids to be resilient is a gift that lasts.
Somebody at the conference this week talked about responding to her child's protest at a parenting moment with "put it in the book"—meaning, I know I've messed up at times, you can write a tell-all some day. It was meant as a joke, but I thought it displayed a healthy coming to terms with the less than perfect job we all do.
Ha! Were you playing fly on the wall of room 6040, because that is exactly what we were talking about too!!
I remember the first time I heard this information, and you said it…"I feel as if I have failed him somehow", or them, in my case.
But, think about it. You've had challenges you've overcome in the past, and learned from and grown from, right? Our kids do too. As we heal ourselves, they too heal. (((((hugs)))))
I have some of those same thoughts about the affects my PPD has on my children. My children both have some forms of aniexty even at young ages. Although I also have a huge family history of mental illness. I do not know if its more gentics or enviromental or both. When I feel my children are stressed I feel its becuase they see how I can't cope with things. Even though I survived PPD it also will always make me feel like a piece of me is weak. Its part of the stigma of mental health. Talking about it helps break it. Thanks for putting it out there! I also wish I could be at the conference! next year!
My bright and wonderful 15 month old son stopped speaking recently after learning 10 to 15 words and using them appropriately for six months before this. I've made appointments with doctors and specialists with still no answers. Deep down, I just know I've caused this problem with my chronic sadness that I know he can sense even when I try to hide it. The guilt and sadness of failing him in this way is just so unbearable.
Keep calm Lacy. I know this is so difficult for you, and you are worried about your sweet boy, but you can't know that there is a direct connection between what is happening to him and your illness. You aren't failing him because, as is evident from your words, you are doing everything you can to help him. Please do not blame yourself.
I was depressed from the time my daughter was 4 months old until she was 3 years old. She attended special ed preschool for 2 years, and is going to be attending special ed kindergarten in the fall. She had a speech delay, which has been resolved, but she still has behavior problems/issues. Now I have a 2-week-old baby boy, and I’m depressed again, and I am worried that he will end up having the same problems as his older sister.
Stephanie, I’m so sorry you are experiencing PPD again. Have you reached out and discussed your symptoms with your doctor? PPD is fully treatable, so you don’t have to go through this again. You can get treatment. Also, you might think about reaching out to a therapist or social worker if possible to talk about and work through what happened with your daughter. I’m sure it has been very stressful and concerning for you as a mom to see your daughter have struggles, and a therapist might be able to help you with some coping tools as you go through this with her. It sounds like you’ve done an awesome job getting her the help that she needs! And I understand your worry for your new baby (congratulations!), but please know there is certainly NO guarantee that the same thing would happen to him. A therapist, social worker or local support program could help you get through these worries and concerns. Please reach out for help so that you don’t have to go through PPD alone. ~ K