[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Jessica. She writes about the depression she experienced after weaning her baby. -Jenna]
Post-weaning depression, huh? That’s a thing. A very real thing, with physical manifestations, anxiety, and a whole cocktail of emotions and hormones mixed to make life feel so very difficult. Just when everyone is telling you “oh, it must be getting easier now that your baby is getting older,” life seems to be getting worse. But instead of admitting it, you nod, you smile and deep down you think, if only you KNEW how hard this is. How very taxing, how completely irrational and how guilt-ridden.
Eight months after my second son was born, I decided to wean completely. He was already breastfeeding only twice a day and it felt like a light at the end of the tunnel to think that I wouldn’t have to pump while at work. I weaned quickly and without physical or apparent emotional difficulty.
I slowly started an unrecognized spiral towards anxiety which led to depression. A lot of attention has been given to postpartum depression but I was eight months out. I didn’t know that postpartum depression could happen at any time within the baby’s first year. I should feel happy and free and thrilled to get my body back. Baby was sleeping through the night, no more pumping, no more worrying about freezing milk. FREEDOM right? Wrong.
I knew something was seriously wrong a month after I had stopped weaning. It was Christmas day and my husband and I had just had a huge fight. My usually supportive husband was in a different room seething in front of the fire place while I was crying uncontrollably on the couch. I don’t remember where my two-year-old or nine-month-old were at the time. I just remember thinking this is the end of my marriage, he hates me, I hate myself, I’m a bad mother, my kids shouldn’t have to see me like this.
At the time I attributed it to marriage difficulties. We were in that seven year slump I rationalized. We have a good and supportive marriage; this will pass if I work harder. I became more and more anxious, felt like I was scared to be home alone with the kids, and most unfortunately tried to control every aspect of my day, my husband and my kids because it gave me a feeling of safety. I thought that I was communicating effectively and couldn’t understand why my closest friends and husband didn’t seem to get how very emotionally fragile I was. I didn’t understand that my husband couldn’t see that my crying and controlling was due to fear. He knows me; how could he not know this part of me and just get it?
I didn’t understand myself and that scared me. This was not me. All I could see was that I was physically nauseated, shaky, and that I made lists and lists endlessly because they gave me a sense of control. I knew something wasn’t right and I was so confused. I had never been depressed. I had done some research and was almost a year out so I didn’t think it could be postpartum depression, and I was scared to death that this was the new me.
There are two things that stick in my head from that time that were triggers to finally get me into counseling. One was my husband calling my mother behind my back and having her come from Germany to help with the kids for two weeks. I had told him that I absolutely did NOT need her there and that I was going to be fine. The second event that occurred was me crying on the phone to a friend and having her say that she didn’t realize how badly I was doing.
With much support from family and friends, I finally got into counseling. I spent the first two sessions just crying on the couch and worrying that I wouldn’t get better. And I didn’t for a while. It took a lot of grieving and letting go. A lot of grace towards myself and those around me and a lot of just being in this dark space and accepting it.
However, it did get better. Not all at once, but one day I realized that the knot in my stomach was loosening. I didn’t have to make lists any more. I exercised, I took time for myself and when the feelings of guilt for taking time came in my head I accepted them for what they were. Untrue.
I share this story because I now have my third child. It is eight months out and I have weaned. Last week I started to feel that anxiety again. I decided to give it the weekend to see if it was just food poisoning or if it was anxiety. By Monday I knew that I am headed back toward depression. It doesn’t feel any better the second time around. It’s hard. It’s guilt-ridden. It’s overwhelming. But what I do know this time around and what I hope can help those in the same space is firstly that I need help. NOW.
Secondly, I realize that I don’t do a good job of communicating even though I thought I did. So I am communicating with all those around me, as bluntly as possible, as much as possible and all the time. My husband knows what he is in for; he understands that he doesn’t understand what is happening with me, but he does know where I am at.
Lastly, I know and hold on with a tight grip to the thought that this is not me and this will end. On days when the anxiety is high and self judgement is at its worst I repeat this mantra to myself. This is not me. This will pass. Be kind to yourself. There is not always a visible light at the end of the tunnel but there is a light. Hopefully I will give myself more grace and demand less from myself this time around.