A Grandmother looks back at post-partum depression

Graphic Design by Artist Leah Welch

Illustration by Leah Welch

Throwing in another load of laundry- I wonder how much will get done today.  I finish some overnight dishes that have accumulated in the sink. Watching  the flickering baby monitor poised precariously over the mess, I ponder the task of emptying the diaper genie.

The baby’s wail is heard above the running water. Drying my hands off quickly, I glance at the closed office door. A muffled business call can be heard in full swing. Going into the baby’s room, I am greeted by a wet, drooling, smiling five month old boy.

. . . . . not my baby, my laundry, my dishes, or even my house, but this is where He has me growing and learning right now.  Whether 25 or 55, my needs remain the same.  God-confidence becomes necessary and purposely overshadows my independence.

The office door swings open as the call ends.  My daughter appears in the doorway. looking busy and distracted. She takes the baby easily into her arms as she refocuses her view. The  baby smiles widely at my daughter and my daughter smiles back.  It’s nursing time.

This could be about a working mom and her support system, but instead it’s a story of redemption – mine.

When my daughter was a baby, I had postpartum depression and I had it again when her brother was born. It’s highly possible it never left me in the two years between the kids. For years I was pretty sure all babies hated me. I wasn’t overly fond of myself and my marriage was on the cusp. The baby-raising years of my mid-20’s became a recurring memory of failure.

Having done a poor job navigating the medical help of the 1980’s, where OB’s and pediatricians should have noticed my struggles, I received no treatment or counseling, other than friends and family.  Too embarrassed to tell a healthcare provider about my difficulties, I messily avoided the stigma of being officially diagnosed with postpartum depression.

It was to become a season of cheap cloth diapers, student loans, living on a shoestring budget, and a dismal out-of-state move that left me without family nearby. During my second pregnancy, overarching money  problems left me in the same maternity dress each Sunday, until a kind church lady showed me the miracle of the donation closet.  I was unable to afford baby clothes and a garbage bag of borrowed hand me downs got me through.  I had no stroller for walks outside and no coats for the kids.  One day, I received a gift of a box of unlabeled chunky soup that came with an attached sheet of codes to identify the can stamps. God was providing.

Born three weeks early, my son was not the best at breast feeding. I had breastfed reasonably successfully with my first child. What was wrong? It was before the era of insurance-covered breast pumps, social media help groups, and lactation specialists. The pediatrician insisted I switch to formula when my son was just two months. This crushed the stay-at-home earth mother in me and made me feel terrible about myself.

My husband changed jobs to help us move closer to family.  He left me with the car, the house to sell, furniture to pack, and a multi-state drive to make with a two year old and a baby. I decided to take the auto train. I was loaned an infant backpack that was attached to a metal frame.   Disorganized, I ran out of formula and my watch even stopped. I had no idea what time it was – middle of the night, morning, I was clueless.

During that journey, an older man appeared several times and helped me with the children and that complicated backpack. I still believe he was some type of angel.

Now living closer to my family, I began to recover from the isolation and sadness I had felt so strongly during that long year. But, I never forgot the pain of PPD.  I had lived close to my family during my older daughter’s first year, but I still remember sitting on the floor of her closet like nursery and crying while my husband was at work.  The support system was there, but perhaps went untapped.  Both my parents worked full-time and I was always alone during the day.  I even lacked a mother-in-law, as she had passed away before I was married.

Eventually becoming a nurse and taking courses in child development would allow me all the breastfeeding advice and childcare tips I would want for my younger self.  But it was too late to bring correction.  Even in nursing school, trepidation filled me during the weeks of rotation through the baby nursery, while I sharply recalled my emotional time with my own babies.

My less than perfect motherhood caused guilt, especially when I reflected back on my instability and terrible mood swings. But, by God’s grace the elementary and teen years of the two kids went well without much drama on their side. My marriage continued to bear scars of the first few years of difficulty.

So, when my daughter married and almost immediately became pregnant, I made sure I was available. I went to extremes. I had already felt I needed to be close by, so we had temporarily moved to her town long before the wedding. My daughter continued to work full-time after the birth of her first baby. I watched the baby for her at our rented house, close to her office. She came from work and breastfed during her lunch break. My husband worked at home and was a tremendous help to me.

Caring for a baby without PPD was a breath of fresh air. I was now in menopause with its related symptoms, but it was nothing that caused me to feel low, suicidal, or inadequate.

I felt the baby liked me and I enjoyed and savored every day. There’s something to be said about not having to do the night shift.

Was it the mother’s 24-hour day that affected my mood in those early years? The lack of sleep?  Much more research has been done in the 30 years since I had my little ones.

After 15 months, my daughter’s husband got a new job out of state.  Now a stay-at-home mom, my daughter had made it through the critical first year with flying colors. I breathed a sigh of relief.  Realizing the healing and success of my first granny nanny adventure, my husband rented me a small apartment close by my daughter and I joined her to team up for baby number two.  My daughter has now started a blooming marketing consulting business for non-profits and works part-time from home.

She gets out to Bible study and to an outside job a few hours a week. She is interested in homemade baby food and cooking for her growing family. I enable her to go shopping without the kids or have a date night.

Grandchildren have taught me that it is possible to heal and forgive myself for the weaknesses caused by Postpartum depression and even my own personality flaws. There is no perfect solution, but there is hope and healing in God’s plan for our lives as mothers.  We pray to grow our children up in the Lord and with transparency we can show our brokenness to them without fear.

Lucas, age 3 years and Elijah, 5 months

Lucas, age 3 years and Elijah, 5 months

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