My first daughter was born in October of 2011. My husband left for an 8-month deployment in January of 2012. I was across the country from the rest of my family so help was limited. But this what military life was like, right? I chalked up all those nights where she cried and wouldn’t stop, and I screamed and stood in the cold shower to quell my shaking body were all a part of motherhood combined with being on my own.
After three miscarriages, we had our second daughter in September of 2014. She was, and continues to be, our hardest baby. She cried incessantly for the first 7 weeks due to an undiagnosed lip tie. And then she cried for the next 10 months due to an unknown peanut and egg allergy.
I thought all the nights of sitting on the floor crying, wanting to flee my house, and being mad that we even fathomed having a second child were due to the fact that she was so difficult. I thought it was all normal.
Our third daughter was born a mere 14 months after our second. She was an angel. She slept. She barely cried. She loved to be cuddled, but was happy to sit on her own for a little bit. She was a happy baby. But her mama was not. I cried, I screamed, I was Hulk-style mad all.the.time. Even her sweet disposition couldn’t stave off what I had come to know existed with my first two daughters- postpartum depression (PPD).
PPD is a funny (actually, not so funny) thing. You have all these feelings- hopelessness, loneliness, anger, rage, sadness, anxiety- but you can see, logically, why these feelings are irrational. You can understand why you shouldn’t be feeling this way, but you can’t help but feel that way anyways. You try to take a deep breath, walk away, take a break. But sometimes, many times, those things don’t help.
You walk back into the room with your crying baby, or even your happy baby, and those feelings come flooding back.
When you have one child, those feelings are left to be seen by you and your spouse. You can walk away and be alone for a few minutes. You can sit and talk with your spouse when the baby is asleep. You can focus on that one child, and take your time trying to calm them. No one else sees your pain, your frustration, your anguish except you and, hopefully, your spouse.
When you have older children in the house, however, your reactions to your PPD affect more than just the ones that can understand what is going on.
I will never forget my daughter’s face that day. It was a particularly bad day. Thoughts of running away, or worse, had crossed my mind more than once. Every little thing was making me angry- from the dog walking around to the kids playing in the next room. I couldn’t seem to get a hold of my emotions.
The baby was crying in her bouncer while I was trying to make lunch for the older two girls. I was frustrated, flustered, and angry. On top of this, my middle daughter was going through an especially clingy phase and was crying at my feet to be held. I had redirected her several times already, but she just wanted to be picked up.
I could feel my face getting hot. My heart rate was going up, and my hands began to shake.
I looked at my little girl, a mere 16 months at the time, and screamed at her to get away from me. My oldest, who was sitting on the stool across the island from me, looked at me with a face of utter disgust. She couldn’t believe I had reacted this way to her little sister. She quickly took action and moved her sister into the playroom with her to read a story.
There was another day where, again, I couldn’t seem to get a hold of myself. My husband was running late that night, again, and I was doing bedtime with the three girls on my own. The two older girls were being crazy, as usual, and the baby was overtired. I got the toddler to bed and I was trying to get the baby to sleep when my oldest came into her room- three times. I was furious because every time she came in the baby would wake up, and I’d be back at square one. Finally, I screamed at her to get in her room and stay there. She later told her father that I had scared her so much she was shaking.
I scared my daughter so much I made her tremble with fear.
PPD is difficult for everyone in the family, but rarely does anyone talk about how PPD can affect those in the family with the least amount of understanding as to what is happening. Those people are the older children in the house. Having a child that is old enough to recognize raw emotion but who isn’t old enough to process an understanding of why it is happening can make the treatment of PPD much more complicated.
Having more than one child to care for when you have PPD makes things difficult. You are never alone to take a deep breath. You always have another person needing you, taking from your already empty cup. You have no time to refuel, rebuild, or recover from your exhausting emotions. Sometimes it can feel like your whole day is surrounded by crying, needy, beings that you can’t escape.
And how are you supposed to take care of yourself when you can’t even go to the bathroom alone?
My biggest regret during my period of PPD is how it affected my older children. How I screamed at them in frustration and how they looked at me when I was having a bad moment. However, despite these awful interactions with my two oldest daughters, I also discovered things about them I never would have known.
With my oldest daughter, I saw her compassion. I watched her as she saw me crying on the floor in the foyer entertain her two little sisters. I saw her shuffle her little sister to the playroom as I yelled in absolute and suffocating pain from my PPD. I felt her little hands on my shoulders as she told me it was going to be ok, and that she would get daddy.
My middle daughter showed me that she was independent. She got herself a snack when I couldn’t move from my spot on the couch. She brought me water when my arms felt too heavy. She curled up into my lap and asked me to read her a story, reminding me how much I loved those moments with her, bringing tears to my eyes, and inspiring me to get help so I could enjoy those moments with her.
PPD is a jerk. It takes away the joy of raising your babies. It steals moments of happiness and it suffocates you. It makes you feel physical pain from clenching your entire body all day long. It makes you put a smile on your face in front of others and break down in the middle of the night. It causes you to say ugly things to your family and it gives your terrible thoughts about yourself and those you love.
It causes a loving mother to feel like anything but a mother.
I can tell you from experience that the thing that started your PPD, your children, can be your saving grace. If you can see through the pain, the anguish, and the tears you will see your children there looking at you like you are the most amazing person in the world. They will still come to you when they are scared, hurt, hungry, or tired. They will still want their mommy. They still need you, and they still love you no matter what the PPD causes you to say or think. They will save you if you let them.
If you think you or someone you know has PPD there are several resources out there for you.
- Postpartum Progress– An amazing resource full of information on postpartum depression and anxiety, and providers in your state that specialize in postpartum mental disorders.
- Postpartum Support International– A great resource for those experiencing PPD as well as resources for family members on how to help those they love. They also have a hotline to call to talk to others (note: this is not for emergencies): 1-800-994-4PPD (4773)
- PPD Moms– Another wonderful resource explaining postpartum depression and anxiety. Also offers a quiz to see if you might have PPD.
If you think you might have PPD don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Military OneSource and the New Parent Support Program can provide information on how to get help, and Tricare covers mental and behavioral health services without direct referrals from you PCM.
If you or someone you know is in danger to themselves or others contact your physician and/or your local emergency room immediately.
- Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255