Bittersweet Birthday: Postpartum Depression Milestones & Memories

Bittersweet Birthday: Postpartum Depression Milestones & Memories

I watched my daughters climb all over the booth and shout at each other with excitement. My youngest could not contain her joy at being the birthday girl. Since it was her birthday, she got to choose her birthday dinner. She requested a trip to her favorite burger place, and she wanted to eat inside instead of going through the drive through. 

My husband was harried and worried about how rambunctious our girls were. I looked at them both and just smiled. I felt so much joy at watching my two cavort like little puppies. My girls really love each other, and they enjoy each other’s company. 

The girls were goofing around and dancing in the booths. I gently scolded them from time to time as my husband looked at me like I was from another planet. I have never been the Zen type with our daughters, particularly not when we are out in public.

I struggled with severe postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression after the birth of my youngest daughter. Her birthdays have always been very triggering days for me—except for this year. 

The past two birthdays had been so bittersweet. I spent half of her actual birthday choking back tears at all the wasted moments, minutes, hours, and days. I did not get help until she was nearly eight months old. I regretted that I did not reach out for help sooner. I worried constantly that I damaged our relationship beyond repair.

I spent my daughter’s last two birthdays trying desperately to make her birthday absolutely perfect. I thought that the perfect birthday celebration would help assuage my guilt. Instead I spent her birthdays completely exhausted and stressed out by all the details. I had to make a cake from scratch. The house had to be cleaned from top to bottom. This resulted in multiple meltdowns from me in the week leading up to her birthday. 

Since she and her older sister are born a week apart, we would combine their birthday celebrations which only exacerbated my stress level. Striving for perfection was not a realistic goal for me at all. I am a recovering perfectionist, and I am still a work in progress.

This year I reached a major milestone in my recovery from postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. I experienced nothing but joy and delight on my baby girl’s birthday. Sadly my baby is no longer a baby; she is a lively and energetic three-year-old. I was able to just enjoy her curious and feisty spirit as she bounced up and down repeatedly in the booth at the restaurant. 

I just soaked in all the funny facial expressions as she opened up her presents from us. I cried tears of joy at the end of the night when I realized how far I had come. I was able to remain fully present for her entire birthday. I did not need to give myself a break for some self-care or to recharge my batteries, and that is amazing. My sweet girl has the type of energy that my husband and I desperately want. She wakes up and is ready to attack the day with vigor. We need multiple cups of coffee to be able to match half of her energy.

My wish for all the warrior mamas who are struggling is that you reach that point where you can enjoy your postpartum depression baby’s birthdays. I wish for you a day of smiles, laughter, sweetness, and tears of joy. I wish for you a day filled with hope and promise when you realize how deep your love is for that amazing person that calls you mama. You realize that YOU are the best mama for your baby. Your strength and your compassion are exactly what your baby needs. 

Never give up hope and know this: You are so loved. You are not alone. You will be well.

~ Jen Gaskell

About Jen Gaskell

Wife, mom, business professional, writer, singer, dancer, runner, and yogi. Survivor of Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety. Co-producer of Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee. Stretching beyond my comfort zone.

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  1. Brooke Middleton says:

    Very touching! I have been blessed with my second child. I was so worried about suffering again because I too lost out on so many things with my first child. I find myself struggling with guilt about being able be in the moment with this child. But, I know that my PPD/PPA was not my fault. So my goal is to cherish EVERY moment with both children. Thanks for sharing!

    • Brooke, thank you so much. I am so glad that this resonated with you. I try to cherish the moments with both girls since I lost those eight months while I struggled.

  2. I LOVELOVELOVE this post. It’s a reminder of that sixth stage of PPD we talk about – the PTSD. It takes a long time to stop looking over your shoulder and stop feeling like you have to do everything to “make up for” having had PPD. To get to that point where you can relax and be you and have acceptance about what happened and experience joy. GREAT post Jen!!

    • Katherine, thank you so much. Your opinion means the world to me. I finally have moved beyond that point where I have stopped waiting for that other shoe to drop. I feel like I am present in my entire life.

  3. The part about being able to be fully present really resonated with me – I know I’m having a good day when I don’t feel that desperate need to escape a situation. Having more & more days like that!

  4. Jenny, I really identify with this post. E’s birthday is about 80% fun and celebration and 20% feelings of regret. But it gets better every year. I agree with Katherine. There is a lasting PTSD component to many cases of PPD. It takes time to fully heal.

    I’m so glad you wrote this!

    • Susan, I am so glad that this resonated with you. Hoping that soon E’s birthday will be 100% fun for you. It will happen. I know it. The healing process takes times which is agonizing for me. I am not very patient. 🙂

  5. I am still in a battle over postpartum depression. Reading your post, which is so eloquently and delightfully written, gives me hope. Thank you, Jen, for sharing so openly and honestly. You inspire me! ~ Bobbi

  6. I understand!! My son is turning 3 this weekend and I realized just tonight that preparing for his party is something that I enjoy for the first time. I’m not anxious and stressed about making it perfect. He’s excited and is enjoying choosing the guest, food and decor. I FINALLY feel like I am enjoying the precious moments (unlike the 15 months I feel I lost), and letting go of the guilt of not enjoying the past. It makes me happy to hear other moms are getting to this place. Its a long road, but we’ve made it!

  7. I am definitely also at the ptsd stage. One year on & i still find it hard to believe what i went through but you start to realise that the good days are outweighing the bad ones. This whole experience i now see as much of a blessing as the nightmare that it was at the time. Stay positive x

  8. Carly, we have made it. So glad that you are at that stage too. It feels like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders, doesn’t it?

  9. Ciara, I am so glad that your good days are outweighing your bad days. Stay strong! You are well on your way to recovery. xo

  10. Thank you!!! First birthday of my youngest today and I am feeling overwhelmed with regret and guilt. Regret for the year I lost, guilt over the mother I could not be to her, guilt that her birthday isn’t just about the beautiful memory of her birth but also a reminder of the very hard year it was. Your post brought me comfort. So glad to hear I am not alone and that it can get better.