Letting Go Of The Guilt

Letting Go of the Guilt -postpartumprogress.com

I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety with a side of OCD for two years after my first child was born. And though I sought treatment and began my path to wellness after my baby had her five month birthday, it took every last day of that additional 19 months for me to feel like I wasn’t waiting for the other shoe to drop. If you asked my husband, he’d tell you now that I’ve completely recovered from my PPD and from the antenatal depression that hit when my second child was still baking. But he’d also tell you that I still suffer.

I know now that I suffered from anxiety and OCD symptoms for years before having children. My anxiety diagnosis is not going anywhere; I’ve made peace with that. I see my doctors regularly, take my medications daily, and make a point to be mindful of my emotional health. When I have a bad day—a panic attack, a moment of anxiety, or a day of feeling like I want to just stay in bed—I have the tools and the support now to reach out and ask for help.  

I can identify the anxiety and often stop it in its tracks. My mental illness may always be there, but it’s managed. And in the last five years, the most important thing I’ve learned is that I don’t have to wait to be perfectly healthy to be happy. So though I still struggle with anxiety, that’s not why my husband would tell you I suffer. He would tell you of the guilt.

No matter how hard I try, that guilt monster rears its ugly face. I say “monster,” because that’s what it is: An ugly, twisted creature that deserves no place in my life or my thoughts. It’s clandestine and voracious and likes to hide until just the right moments. Though my rational mind knows that I did absolutely nothing to deserve or cause my PPD, I still find myself fighting to let go of the past.

The guilt was amplified when my second daughter was born and I experienced joy. Unadulterated, life-affirming joy. I was fortunate to work with an amazing doctor early in my pregnancy and not only was her delivery a happy time, but my pregnancy was too. Postpartum, I found myself enamored with my new baby. Bonding came quickly and easily and she brought me a sense of completion. It was everything that was missing with my first baby, and the shame hit me in waves. With each gentle nursing session and snuggly late-night feeding, I was reminded of the screaming and the detachment those early days and nights brought with my eldest.

Most recently, the guilt resurfaced while I was struggling with the idea of taking my five year old daughter to therapy for her violent outbursts and non-compliant behavior. It was more than a feeling that I had caused her problems by failing as a parent; it suddenly hit me that she must be this way because of how I treated her as an infant. I found myself sobbing and asking trusted friends, “How can this not be my fault? Those early days were so, so ugly.” And they were. I have vivid memories of screaming at my 10-day old baby, “What the fuck do you want from me?” Even now, typing those words is hard.

And then a good friend wrote me a letter and said this:

“I know right now you are worried about E. Of course you are. Your sweet, imperfect, first baby. But you worry that it’s your fault. It is. It’s your fault she’s smart, emotional, a touch socially awkward, and painfully self-aware. Let’s just own that for a minute because really, it’s wonderful. But that lucky, lucky girl, she has the gift of a mom who sees her, who accepts imperfection, who asks for help. You don’t know how much I longed for that.I bet you did, too.”

As the hot tears rolled down my face, I knew she was right. I did not ruin my daughter.

I did nothing to deserve or cause my PPD. The guilt monster will not own me with its lies. If my daughter suffered because of my PPD, it was not my fault. But the triumphant, sensitive, wonderfully imperfect little girl she’s growing into? That’s all me. I still regret that it took me so long to get help, but regret is not guilt. There is no shame in regret… only a wish for the past to be a bit different.


I think coping with the guilt that accompanies antenatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders is a common experience for many warrior moms. I want you to know that, like me, you did nothing to deserve or cause your PPD. You are exactly the mother your child needs and wants. You deserve to be happy and healthy.

About Susan Petcher

Susan is a two-time survivor of antenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety. She is on staff at Postpartum Progress, where she is the Program Manager for Education & Training, and directs both the volunteer training program and the yearly Warrior Mom® Conference. At home, she has her hands in a bit of everything, from parenting to teaching private music lessons. In her spare time, she pimps her crocheted wares for yarn money at http://etsy.com/shop/learnedhappiness, and tweets @learndhappiness.

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  1. Thank you once again, Susan. Thank you thank you. I am still fighting. My son is 2 years and 2 months. It is all so complicated and I am so frustrated. I don’t want to miss another precious second with him. Thank you for being a voice for all! I check in here daily. Hugs and love to you and your family. xo

  2. This is such a great article and such an important topic for all of us to grasp and internalize. You wrote this SO well. <3

  3. I am SO eternally grateful for people like you who are willing to graciously bare it!!! I, too, have screamed at my children – recently – and feel horrible about it. The shame is just suffocating. Not that I walk in it daily, but in the off-chance I have an opportunity to share honestly with someone, I don’t. I am relieved to know I am not alone in things like using the F word toward my poor children in that moment of despair. It gives me a bit of hope that I CAN share, at least somewhere, with someone who understands.

    • Sarah,
      You are absolutely not alone. It gets easier to share the more you practice doing it, but it is *so* scary to put out there. I have good friends who always remind me that I am a good mom. That support makes it easier to let go of the shame. Sending you so much love and understanding.

  4. I love this article It has enlighten and reenforced so many things and my first is almost 40. I had often wished when he was growing into an adult that I could do the first over so I could correct all my mistakes, except that I loved him so. Then when he was an adult he hurtfully said that he liked who he was and I needed to stop saying I made mistakes, cause he wasn’t. He was so right. For him to have that believe meant I had done things right, even still it has been hard to let the guilt go, it almost be comes too familiar.

    Those first babies are so precious and so strong and need to be celebrated as well as the Moms who love them and give us the gift of their being.

  5. I’ve screamed those exact words at both my two year old and my tiny baby. After the rage passes (my personal manifestation of depression and anxiety), the guilt is overwhelming. Luckily my kids are young and they allow me to repair as many times as I need to. They say that kids mimic what they see, so I watch my two year old’s behaviors carefully. She’s so sweet with her dolls and her baby sister.
    The baby was screaming earlier, and I was starting to lose it. Then I heard my two year old repeat over and over, “it’s okay baby sister. It’s okay. I’m here.” These are the moments that I realize I’m not ruining them. These are the moments that I smile through the tears. I’m the best mom I can be right now, and I’m working on being even better.

  6. So beautiful, and so true.

  7. Thank you thank you thank you! I needed to read this. I had ppd/ppa with both of mine (for some reason mine seemed to become exponentially worse after weaning, so I sought treatment very late with both) and I struggle with guilt constantly, especially with my second who had reflux/colic. I just feel like both of their “babyhoods” were so hard on all of us. And I’m jealous of other moms who talk about how blissful the baby stage is…I remember screaming at my oldest one day to stop fucking crying – in front of my three year old. I called my psych doc (from the first time around) that very day.

    I still get tears in my eyes thinking about it. I wish things could have been different…but you are right, they are what they are and my children are beautiful, happy, and perfect not IN SPITE of me and my illness then but also BECAUSE of me. Thank you for lifting mamas up with this.

  8. Really needed this right now.
    I did not recognise my anxiety disorder that had begun in my first pregnancy until my daughter was 5 and my son was 2. I thought I was just a rubbish at being a mum.

    My daughter is now 14 and I received the help and support I needed to get well and stay well, with the occasional bump along the way. But yet again the guilt monster reared its ugly head when my daughter revealed she was experiencing anxiety. Well done, I thought, look what you’ve done. Obviously I’ve made my daughter develop anxiety as a result of not coping while pregnant with her and being so unwell in the first 5 years of her life. It my fault.

    I stumbled across your post while researching anxiety in pregnancy from a biochemical perspective, hoping to find some irrefutable scientific proof that I’m not to blame. I didn’t even realise that’s why I was doing it until your words rang true in my ears, “You did nothing to deserve or cause you PPD”
    Thank you.
    I now am focused on the fact that I am a good Mum, good enough that my daughter can tell me that she doesn’t feel right and wants my help, and help her I will.


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