My experience with late-onset postpartum depression

Guest post by Megan
Depression USA
By: Михал ОрелаCC BY 2.0

Depression runs in my family, so my husband and I were both worried about the possibility of post-partum depression once we learned I was pregnant. We did extensive research and made a “game plan” for the time after birth, just in case the symptoms appeared. When our son was born, we were surprised and elated that instead of feeling even a twinge of baby blues, I was actually the happiest I had ever been.

Atticus was an incredible infant. He slept through the night at one month and nursed like a champ. He rarely cried and started smiling, laughing, and cooing so early that I felt blessed with the “perfect” baby.

Then I went back to work. I am a teacher, so keeping up with breastfeeding was a challenge. The first few months went well enough. I pumped during my off-periods and toted the milk home each afternoon for Atticus to drink at daycare the following day. I eventually fell so behind in my work, however, that my stress level began to increase, which meant my supply practically disappeared. With a heavy heart, I had to stop nursing… and that’s when things took a turn for the worst.

As most of you know, a hormonal shift occurs after birth. This shift is the underlying cause of post-partum depression. What I didn’t realize is that a similar shift occurs when a woman stops breastfeeding. My mood had suddenly changed, but I ascribed this to the sudden changes my son was experiencing as well.

Atticus, who was such a happy and easy-going baby, became a completely different kid at six months. While he was still smiles and laughs most of the time, there was now an element of frustration that came from him. He hated the transition to solid foods, teething was a challenge, and he got a nasty bug that lasted for nearly two weeks. This all paled in comparison to the biggest challenge we now faced: our champion sleeper was now waking up three or four times each night, sometimes for an hour at a time. Naturally, we were all exhausted. My husband and I took to sleeping in shifts so that we could each get four hours of sleep, but sometimes Atticus would howl so loudly that neither of us was getting any shut-eye.

This unpredictable shift in my understanding of parenting was accompanied by manic episodes and dramatic mood swings that I assumed were a result of my exhaustion. I was having a hard time falling back asleep once we finally got Atticus settled down. I loved my son, but found myself coming up with excuses to avoid him: I had to work late, I needed to go to yoga class for the fourth day in a row, I completely forgot this meeting I had scheduled. All of it was to get away from the challenges I was facing at home.

And then came the guilt. What kind of mother made excuses to be away from her son? What kind of mother didn’t relish in the challenges of raising an adorable, albeit grumpy baby? These feelings of guilt kept me up at night and kept me from completing even simple tasks.

I retreated into myself, fearing that anyone who learned of my emotions would think I was unworthy of motherhood. I avoided chances to see friends, and even stopped communicating fully with my husband. Then I became angry. The anger was, as everything else I felt, accompanied by guilt, so I kept it inside until it would explode in such a frightening display that I even scared myself a few times. Objects were thrown, midnight drives to the other side of town became the norm, and I felt like I could scream for hours, just to let off the steam that had been festering inside me.

I realized I needed help. I called my doc, unsure if postpartum depression can even appear as late as seven months after giving birth. Everything I knew about this form of depression pointed to the first two weeks after delivery. My doctor assured me that my feelings were normal and treatable, and not simply the result of a lack of sleep. Now we’re discussing treatment options (I’d like to avoid medication, but at this point I just want my life back).

Don’t suffer in silence, don’t think that your feelings are synonymous with failure, and recognize that post-partum depression can occur anytime in the first year (not first weeks) after delivery.

This experience has taught me a few things that I’d really like to share with the Offbeat community: don’t suffer in silence, don’t think that your feelings are synonymous with failure, and recognize that post-partum depression can occur anytime in the first year (not first weeks) after delivery. If you’re experiencing guilt, anger, resentment, and depression, it might be wise to talk with your doctor or midwife.

If it is actually postpartum depression, you need to seek professional help. We all like to think that we’re strong enough to handle even the most daunting of tasks, but your sanity and the health of your family depends on your willingness to let someone else in. There is a silver lining; for me, it’s the hope that I can be the grateful, exuberant mother I once was.

Comments on My experience with late-onset postpartum depression

  1. You are so spot on! When you make it past those first few weeks/months with no depression symptoms, it doesn’t mean you are out of the woods. It can be harder to recognize and therefore treat, when it seems to sneak up on you. I have always felt my ppd start at around 5-6 months and lasted until my menstrual cycle began again. My symptoms were so bad with my third child, that we decided that it is in the best interest for our family not to have any more children. Postpartum depression should be openly discussed more often. If for no other reason than to prevent women from being too ashamed from seeking treatment.

        • Hey guys! If you want to discuss anymore medical info can you do it via email? I definitely don’t want it to look like someone is offering medical advice via Offbeat Mama, since we’re not doctors and we (most likely) don’t know each other’s specific details.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story! My PPD didn’t kick in until a couple months after my son’s birth and boy, has that been an experience!

    I highly recommend getting help early – I waited too long and ended up in the emergency room with panic attacks before I finally admitted that something was wrong.

    Medication has helped immensely – and I can still nurse while taking it 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for this. It takes a brave lady to come out with this sort of thing and I commend you for it! These things need to be talked about more… I felt so guilty about feeling the slightest negavtive feeling towards my son. The guilt was HUGE and made everything so so so much worse. I wish for you a fast recovery and a future full of amazing times with your family!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing.

    It’s funny how sometimes the universe sends you exactly what you need when you need it. Because I really needed to hear this today. I feel the same thing happening to me, and it’s good to know that I’m not losing my mind feeling this way.

  5. You’re very brave to face this. It’s really hard to admit that we’re not perfect and sometimes we need help. The only thing that bothers me is your comment about preferring to avoid medication, if only because I hear that so much. As someone whose bipolar had been successfully managed with medication for several years now, it frustrates me that so many people consider psychiatric medication anathema. Those same people would never consider not taking, say, insulin for diabetes or cholesterol medication, etc. What is the stigma with psychiatric medications that make so many people want to avoid them? Is it the fear that one’s personality will change too dramatically? Or the idea that we “should” be able to conquer these problems by ourselves? I don’t know. I’ve just seen too many people who could be helped go through unnecessary torment rather than take “meds.” Thoughts?

    • I have a friend who has depression and the first thing they did was give her anti-depressants without trying anything else first. She tried 5 different types of meds and all of them had either no effect or made things worse (it can be very tricky finding the right medication for each person and the right levels. Even when you’ve found the right one it can take 4-5 months to settle in and work properly).

      So she got sick of it and decided not to take them anymore and instead did counselling and saw a psychiatrist who got her to exercise a lot and put her on a super healthy diet. All of a sudden her depression was manageable (not gone, but better than on any of the drugs they tried on her). I know thats not the case for everyone, but it is for some people.

      My point is, there is nothing wrong with taking drugs, but why wouldnt you try other options first? If I have a headache I drink lots of water, stay out of the light and lay down before I try an asprin…

      I dont think psychiatric medication can really be compared to medication for physical ailments. They affect people in very different ways.

      Again, I have nothing against taking the “meds”. I have several other friends who do really well on them and that’s great, I can just see why people would prefer to avoid if they’re not necessary.

      • As someone who resisted medication for severe depression for quite some time, for various reasons, to my detriment, I think it is important to point out that depression is a spectrum illness with symptoms that can vary from mild to extreme. In some cases medication is essential and this depends on the type and severity of the depression. All the diet, exercise and counselling, as wonderful as they are, are not going to adequately treat a severe melancholic depression that seriously inteferes with a person’s ability to function. Also, depression, while a mental illness, involves a change to brain biochemistry and often, produces very physical symptoms – it is infact a physical ailment as disabling, and often far more disabling, than any other physical ailment. Our minds do not exist in a vacuum – the brain is part of our physical being.

    • Thanks, Jesscar, as that’s exactly what I meant when I made the comment about avoiding medication. I’m not against the drugs, but I’d like to see if other options works first. Antidepressants are serious business and absolutely necessary in many cases, but not all.

      Thanks for all your feedback, Leah and Jesscar!

  6. I was diagnosed with antepartum depression when I was 8 weeks pregnant and been on Wellbutrin ever since. Thankfully, the meds have helped. The first part of your story is pretty much spot on. I too have a family history of severe depression and was worried about PPD. Since having Ruby things have been great as far as my mood but starting in a week I will be returning to work full-time with an part-time internship thrown in for good measure. I worry about my milk supply, being apart from my little girl for much longer periods of time and about how the hell I am going to handle everything along with motherhood all at the same time. Hopefully with the meds and continued visits to my therapist (which started when I was 10 weeks pregnant) will help keep things in check. Thank you for sharing your story!

  7. Thanks for sharing! I return to work in two months and have this worry of returning and what the change will mean for me, my babe and husband. This was good info and made me more aware about PPD.

  8. I am also at risk for postpartum depression, and it is one of the things my husband and I have been considering as we plan for conception. It is great to hear your experience with it.

    May I ask what the maternity leave situation is for teachers where you live? I was speaking to someone I know from the US (a teacher as well), and she said they get six weeks. Where I live, we get a year, which we can split between husband and wife if we wish. I think the mere thought of only having six weeks to truly recover if I got hit with PPD right away would send me into a panic, especially since, like you, I would want to control it naturally as much as possible (thought I should clarify, I have nothing against anti-depressants. I think they are a great option in some situations!)

    • We get six weeks here as well, though I’m lucky to be a teacher. I had Atticus in June, at the very beginning of our summer break, so I didn’t take my maternity leave until the beginning of the following school year in September. I was off until October, which gave me roughly 4 months. It was a blessing, but after being home that long, it was so difficult to go back.

      Thanks for reading!

  9. Thank you for telling us your story. My husband and i will start trying to concieve in the next few months and i have suffered from varying degrees of depression since my teens and the thought that there could be a strong chance that i could develop post natal depression really frightens me. What sort of measures did you have in place to look out for PND? I wish you well in your recovery.

  10. i have a 9 week old daughter and i have PND. i didnt have that over whelming rush of love that most new mums have. i have lots of sadness and guilt. more people need to be open about this subject, too many women feel ashamed and hide how they really feel for fear of being judged!

  11. Brava, this is something I’ve always feared my mother had it really bad after having me and she had a constant feeling that she was a bad mother and somehow she was going to kill me, she eventually got over it but she said it was the scariest period of her life. I have a history of anxiety disorder and slight to moderate depression (which I manage with St. Johns wort exercise and my sweet little dog and Emotional service animal) Its Post partum is something I fear but I feel like these days other mommies are so ready to help you emotionaly and physicaly and its not so much a stigma anymore. Plus this is a fantastick place to come to for non judgement, ask for help, I know people always surprise me.

  12. Thank you all so much for your incredible feedback and support! This post, while it’s live today, we actually written a few weeks back, which means I’ve had a chance to experiment with treatment and am feeling a lot more like myself again. I’m still not 100%, but that will come in time. I hope that other new mamas living with PPD realize that it’s nothing to be ashamed of…thanks for letting me tell my story.

  13. Severe post-partum depression is actually my #1 fear around us having kids. I have a history with depression going back to roughly age 4, and although it’s been pretty much solidly at bay since 2006 (with the occasional very brief relapse), I really want to stay well the hell away from that dark place and have a sneaking suspicion that the hormones will take me straight back to it. (I am indeed susceptible to strong mood changes just around my monthly cycle.)

    It’s always encouraging to read women dealing with it, getting through it, and getting past it, but I do have a deep worry that pregnancy and the first couple of years of my future kids’ lives will throw us all for a deep, dark loop.

  14. Thank you so much for posting this. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression at 8 months. Some of my friends and family thought I was crazy (I was, of course) because they thought PPD was diagnosed in the first month or so.

    Lo and behold, this came about when I weaned my daughter. I wish more women knew about this.

  15. Your story is SO validating to read– thank you so much for sharing it. I experienced my own bout of post-partum depression, but it didn’t really become apparent to me until I stopped breastfeeding at 14 months. I had no idea what hit me, and I was really worried and confused because I didn’t fit the “traditional” symptoms of PPD, as it was so long after my son was born. Hormones are a crazy thing, and thank goodness my husband was insightful. It helped that he and I both noticed my surges of anger and resentment, seemingly coming out of nowhere. He was so supportive and encouraged me to seek counseling. After about 3 months of counseling and being gentle with myself (i.e., getting good exercise most days, trying to eat well, taking time for yoga and meditation, reading inspirational pieces, etc.), I’m starting to get back to myself. Kudos to you for sharing what should never be kept a secret. You are brave and I admire you so much. Best of luck to you in your journey– and remember, you are not alone!

  16. It’s so great to hear someone talk about this. I finished breast-feeding at 14 months. It was a natural transition, as both my son and I were losing interest in it. I thought I was completely ready to move on, and then the depression hit. Like you, I had figured I was past the point that I needed to be concerned about ppd. But that transition period was really hard for me. I was sad all the time for several weeks. I think it would be easier for us to deal with if we were aware that this is a problem that many women face. Thanks for writing!

  17. I’m not at any greater risk of PND than anyone else so dont know much more about it than what the midwives/doctors tell you at appointments/antenatal classes, so I had NO IDEA it could appear so late after birth and that weaning could contribute.

    Thanks for raising awareness!

  18. theres so much talk about ppd, and how its “most common” in the first weeks after birth, but no one ever mentioned that it could come up months even a year after birth. i was so convinced i didnt have ppd because it was too late in the game for it. glad to know i wasnt the only “late bloomer”

  19. I suffered from PPD after my twins were born and learned that the best way to help others is to talk about PPD and share your experiences so no mother has to suffer without help in the future. Thank you for your story.

  20. I’m so scared I’m going to get depressed even worse after I have a child. I am currently on 100 mg’s of zoloft for anxiety and depression and am quite frightened as to what I’ll be like with all those hormones.

  21. I know this was written quite a while ago, but I just have to say thank you for posting it. My third daughter is 4 months old, and I have just started feeling like I’m going insane. I’ll start laughing then suddenly start crying. I feel like I need to scream constantly, though I hold it in for the sake of my young kids. I feel like I’m losing my grip. I keep thinking I should call my midwife, but then am afraid of the drugs (I avoid meds) and am afraid to be labeled an “unfit mother” because of having ppd, especially if I choose to try a natural route first.

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