[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is from Warrior Mom Jessica Watson. Jessica is a mom to five, four in her arms and one in her heart, and today she’s sharing her experience with the blurred lines between grief and postpartum depression after perinatal loss. You can find her wearing her heart on her sleeve at her personal blog Four Plus an Angel or on twitter @jessbwatson. -Katherine]
October will be five years since I lost my daughter. One of triplets, she passed away while still in the NICU. Somehow I think nearing five years without her makes me some sort of veteran of grief, an expert in something I never wanted to know a thing about.
I am often asked by moms new to this process how I felt in those early days and months after saying goodbye to my daughter. My first response would be to say I felt like I had been hit by a semi truck and left to lay in the gravel, bruised beyond recognition. But that is not what they want to hear. They want to measure where they are at with where I was. They want to know if they are doing it “right.” They want to know if I was depressed, if I took medication, if they should listen to the people telling them what they should be thinking, feeling, and doing by now.
The lines of loss and grief and postpartum depression are so blurred I could not see them clearly, and I know very few loss moms who can. What I can say is, after my subsequent pregnancy, one that did not involve loss, I felt many of the familiar feelings return. The paralyzing grief was not there but the weight of my feet was just as heavy. I did not answer the phone or enjoy conversation or feel the responsibility to smile at anyone but my children. I still remember the day I hid in the basement, shh-ing my children so unexpected guests would not know we were at home. How dare they arrive happily with gifts in hand? I was not feeling light and carefree and their visit was somehow a slap in the face to my feelings. I didn’t even have the energy to turn the doorknob.
I finally turned to medication long after I should have. Until the cloud of depression—maybe postpartum depression—started to lift, I had no idea it was there or that it had been muting my world for years by that time. For some reason, after losing my daughter, I felt that taking medication would take away my vivid memories of her. I thought that if I medicated the pain, I would be somehow numbing her from my life and I would not feel the sense of loss that I needed to feel in order to navigate the grieving process.
I could not have been more wrong. The only thing I can do now is let myself off the hook for not taking care of myself sooner. Could I have been a better mom, a better wife, a better friend if I had sought help for postpartum depression when I needed it most? Probably. But I have to look forward, not back.
I have learned through this process of trying to sort out grief and depression and raw heartache that nothing needs to be labeled. You don’t need a name or a diagnosis for your feelings; you just need help. The best gift you can give to your children is a mother who understands strength does not mean suffering through the pain but rather accepting help when you need it most.
If you know someone who has suffered a loss, whether it be through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss, ask them what you can do to help them with their own grieving process. Everyone moves through grief differently and all you can do is be at their side when they need someone to lean on.
For more stories and resources on this topic, you might like:
- What Is the Difference Between Grief & Depression After Miscarriage or Pregnancy Loss?
- 3 Ways to Support Women Who’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss
- Postpartum Depression After Miscarriage or Stillbirth
- Having A Baby After Infant Loss: The Complicated Mix of Grief and Joy