I ran from the depression. Literally, I ran from it. Every morning I fastened my daughter into the jogging stroller, laced up my sneakers and took off. As I ran I pictured it behind me—a large, dark mass following me. I imagined long, fingerlike tendrils reaching toward me, trying to engulf me and pull me back into its darkness. But I always ran faster, just out of its reach until I returned home exhausted but free of it. And I would be OK for a little while—a few hours or even a whole day—until it found me again and pulled me back into its depths.
Ready and waiting
My husband and I talked about it through- out my pregnancy. I was a poster child for postpartum depression. My mother suffered through it, I had been diagnosed and treated for depression briefly in my early 20s, and my pregnancy was not planned—all significant risk factors.
We anticipated the first few weeks of our baby’s life as a time to survive, just to get through. We didn’t have any naïve visions of a bouncing, smiling baby with two glowing parents in the background. We knew the postpartum period would be hard and that the difficulty would likely be compounded by the depression. We discussed it with our obstetrician. We knew the warning signs to look for. We knew where to turn for the help and support I would need. We accepted that I would struggle with it, and we were ready for it.
Only it never came. We braced ourselves after what turned out to be a dramatic delivery that resulted in our daughter being in the NICU for 48 hours. My doctor informed me that a high-stress birth was yet another risk factor for postpartum depression. We both waited for me to fall apart, for the dark cloud to move into our lives and swallow me up. But it didn’t happen.
I became almost euphoric after our daughter was born. I was overcome with an immense joy I had never felt before. I held her and watched her sleep. I got up to breastfeed several times a night and never noticed the exhaustion. I marveled at her perfection. I cried because my life was so full of joy. I was ready for the many, many challenges of parenting. What I wasn’t ready for was the unparalleled joy of it.
As we settled into a new routine as a family of three, I stopped worrying about the depression. The threat of it faded as I became immersed in my role as a new mother. I loved being a mom. When my daughter was 6 months old, I made the difficult decision to leave my teaching job permanently to stay home with her.
I loved my job, but it was worth giving up to do what I felt was the right thing for my baby. I knew if I gave 100 percent to my job that I wouldn’t have 100 percent to give to her. I moved on without regret.
It entered our lives like a nighttime intruder —swift, quiet, unnoticed at first. When my daughter was 9 months old, I began the weaning process. She had been gradually transitioning to solid foods since 6 months, but around 9 months I made the conscious decision to begin weaning her. I wanted it to be a very slow process, so I gave us three months to transition.
It started as a few hard days, a bad mood I couldn’t shake off. But before I knew what was happening, I slipped away to a place where the isolation of being home with a baby was overwhelming. The constant needs of a baby were more than I could handle. I began to dwell on the life I sacrificed to become a mother. I fixated on going back to work, believing that would make everything better. I resented my childless friends for their freedom and was jealous of my husband’s life outside of our home. I hated myself for how I felt.
My husband tried to fix it. He rushed home from work and cancelled weekend plans so I could have time away from the baby. He made massage and pedicure appointments for me to force me to leave the house. He was patient and nurturing and compassionate toward our daughter when I couldn’t be. All the while, my guilt grew. I was ashamed that I needed time away from my daughter. I was ashamed that parenting felt really hard. I was ashamed that I wanted to escape from my life.
We didn’t put together what was happening. Had I felt this way soon after our daughter’s birth, we would have recognized it for what it was and gotten the support that I needed. It wasn’t until I had been suffering for several weeks that I began to realize what was going on.
I did some research and found that many women suffer from depression symptoms while weaning. There is science behind it. Breastfeeding releases endorphins in the brain to help us feel good and bond with our babies. Over many months of breastfeeding, our brains become used to these chemical surges. When breastfeeding is reduced or stopped completely, our brain chemistry is thrown off. It made sense to me.
What didn’t make sense was that I had never heard that this might happen. My obstetrician never mentioned it. My pediatrician, who discussed postpartum depression with me at all of my daughter’s newborn wellness exams, never mentioned it. No one brought it up in my new-mom group. I had thought that if I made it past the first few weeks after my daughter’s birth, I was home free. I was blindsided.
Peace at last
Looking back, I should have reached out sooner and gotten the support I needed. Because my symptoms began when my daughter was so much older, I didn’t recognize it for what it was. My unhappiness felt circumstantial, and I felt like a failure. I blamed myself for my symptoms rather than recognizing them for what they were. My family suffered through several months of me trying to overcome something so draining on my own because I didn’t understand it.
When I finally accepted what was happening, I got the treatment I needed. And just as quietly as it entered my life, it left. I found joy in brief and fleeting moments at first. I clung to them as I slowly emerged from the cloud I’d been living in. I started going to yoga classes again. I met friends for coffee. I discovered the restorative power of good friends and good wine. I became content with lazy Saturday mornings at the park with my little family. I realized how lucky I was to spend my days watching my blue-eyed girl grow and discover and turn into the amazing person she’d be.
I run now toward a healthier, stronger and more centered version of myself. I don’t run from anything. I still see that dark cloud out on my favorite running path. It sits off to the side of the trail, and I run right past, remembering what it felt like when it engulfed me. I run past, knowing that someday I will have another baby and it might catch up with me again. This time I’ll be ready for it, whenever it finds me.
By Kristan Marsden
Image: iStock.com / katesept2004