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. I didn’t fully stop breast feeding my daughter until she was about 18 months old. Is it still possible for me to have postpartum depression?

    • Strangers on the internet (even awesome ones like us) are not qualified to answer that question, Gina. Please go see a doctor.

    • I have a 19 mth old son who I gradually started weaning around one year and fully weaned about 6 weeks ago. I had what I thought was just anxiety start hitting me hard when he was a year, and it has continued to get worse and eventually lead to panic attacks the last couple of months. I have just begun to realize how much of what I’m feeling has also been significant depression. I am a single mom by choice, so its even harder to feel like this child I worked so hard to get is so hard for me to fully care for. I have horrible feelings of guilt and shame and have felt like I’m going through a nervous breakdown. I look at him and know how deeply I love him, yet I have this fear of him. I am just starting to make the connection that this could be late onset PPD. Unfortunately I have tried two different meds but get so sick from the side effects of nausea and sleeplessness that I haven’t been able to stay on them past “the hump” to where they could really do me good. Feeling pretty desperate the past days but reading these stories really helps me see how PPD could be a major cause for all of this. I also lost my dad when my son was 9 months and have had significant increase in work stress the last year, so maybe all of that set things up so when I fully weaned, my hormones met the perfect storm. This is an old string but if anyone out there has ideas in how to get through this if meds don’t work, would so appreciate them. Also in how long this can last. Thanks so much.

      • I am thankful to have run across your post this afternoon. I am in a similar situation… wondering how long this will last?? Weaned my 3rd child gradually at 14 months. Within 2 weeks, started having episodes of panic and anxiety, leading to insomnia. No previous hx of anxiety or depression. Now been on SSRI for 7 weeks… still having good and bad days, but unable to fall asleep with out meds. Just want to get my “old self” back. I too thought that this was late for PPD, but apparently it is more common than i realized. So hard to be patient when you don’t feel like who you were a couple months ago!

    • Hi Gina, I’m curious about how you’re doing now. I posted below about full weaning when my son was 18 mths too. Thanks for sharing your question.

  2. Thank you for sharing. My daughter is 8 months old now and for the past 2 months things have just been hard. We transitioned to work and daycare smoothly, but with teething, starting solids, and her now constantly on the move, nobody sleeps much. I work full time as a nurse, so being “on” at work and at home has left me a bit emotionally numb. And since I have to hold it together at work, I feel like my family gets the short end of the stick. My husband of course helps, but he works full time too. My plan is to go to the gym- where she can hang out and I can veg on the elliptical then shower in peace and start a vitamin D supplement. I live where the fall/winter/spring is usually cold and cloudy, not enough sunshine to get what I need. Just hearing this isn’t unusual has helped tremendously. Good luck everyone!

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