Postpartum Depression Recovery: A Therapist’s Perspective

Recovery from postpartum depression is so much easier said from my chair than done. I know this. Each time a mom comes into my office for the first time asking if she will ever get better, I am reminded of this very simple truth: it is easy for me to say yes. And yet, I give the same answer many times throughout the treatment process. “Postpartum mood disorders are absolutely treatable. And suffering moms who reach out, accept support, and follow treatment recommendations by trained professionals do see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

This reassurance always brings hope. For a while. There is some breath again. A smile amidst tears of frustration. And then, after a session or two, these women realize that the work ahead of them is hard. Sometimes, you see, it is almost easier to suffer than it is to think through the pieces that are required for improvement:

Is it ok for me to talk about what I have been feeling? What if this person thinks I am a terrible mother for having these thoughts? Do I take the meds? What do I really need to feel better? Get more sleep? In what reality? Be more thoughtful about what I eat? In what lifetime? Do I really need to revisit the impact that old family conflict or early trauma has had on me now? Where can I find community and how, on earth, do I muster the energy and courage to meet other new moms when I am feeling this way? What are the ways that my marriage or partnership needs work? How can I communicate my needs to others with more clarity? And, truthfully, is it even OK for me to do this? I shouldn’t really even have needs- I SHOULD be able to do this on my own! How can I make time for myself? What would I do with that time if I had it? And, really, who am I anyway? Where did I go? How will I be able to do this mothering thing without a Road Map? What do I want my own mothering to look like? What do I want to incorporate from my own childhood and what do I want to leave behind? Is that even possible or okay? Practice stress management skills? With what time? Change my thought patterns through Cognitive Behavioral strategies? With what energy?

Yes. Without a doubt it can feel easier for these moms to suffer in silence. The road to recovery can feel long, overwhelming, hilly, and complicated. And while making that first call is often the hardest first step, the work that is required to get better can feel like a close second. And then that signature “3 steps forward, 2 steps back” rhythm of recovery can feel like a whammy. Yes, my job in this therapy partnership is most certainly easier.

And so these moms arrive at my psychotherapy office, some early in their postpartum experience and others having suffered for months or years without yet reaching out. And while they wonder if I judge them for their experience and while they worry that I will see them unfit for motherhood, I am always moved by their bravery and their dedication to themselves and their children. They have arrived here and they want to get well. From where I sit, this simple act makes each one of these women absolutely fit for motherhood.

And man, oh man, do I learn from these women! These women are Professors. They are Artists. They are Lawyers. They are Athletes. They are Students. They are Cooks. They are Writers. They are Labor and Delivery Nurses. They are Pediatricians. They are Obstetricians. They are Accountants. They are Managers. They are Gardeners. They are Dedicated Mothers. They are Wives. They are Partners. They are Friends. They are Human. They are Creative. They are Witty. They are Wise. These women are Thinkers. They are Dreamers. They love to Laugh. They often Cry. These women are Bold. They are Brave. And they are Beautiful.

And, yet, each of these women feels about the size of a flea. Or as if she is floating aimlessly. Or that she is worthless in one way or another. And always that she is unable to do this mothering thing as well as everyone else can. Each one of these women feels totally ripped off and caught off guard by her postpartum experience.

“Why can’t I do it like all those other women?,” they ask.

“All those other women have appointments in my office later today,” I answer. Because the truth is that most moms struggle and need support in one way or another, no matter how put together they look on the outside.

What amazes me most about the women I work with is that underneath the chaos of biochemistry imbalance, of relationship strife, of negative thinking patterns, of sleep deprivation and self care deprivation, each one of these women really does know what she needs to be well again. It is hard to access this — I know that this is another one of those easier said than done moments — but I truly believe that the women who I see each day are their own experts. These women know better than anyone what they need to feel whole again. My job is to simply ask the right questions. To begin to help connect the dots. To educate, inform, and explore so that these women can understand the pieces that may be contributing to their emotional vulnerabilities.

And I’ll tell you something. It gets easier for each of them. Over time the “3 steps forward” become 7, and the tears are replaced by laughter. Over time the stories of “good mom moments” far outweigh those that are plagued by guilt. Over time these women stand a bit straighter, look a bit more rested, give themselves a bit more permission to be human. And while the work may have been the most challenging opportunity yet, they are more of themselves for it. They are more whole. And they have a lot more to give to their little ones whether this be energy, patience, presence, or stress reduction skills.

And then there is the day that the women who stick through the hard work walk into my office and declare that they feel they don’t need to come in regularly any more, that they feel ready to take on the rollercoaster ride of motherhood without my regular support. These days are mixed blessings for me. I will miss being a witness on this ride with each of them. And yet the triumph that follows each one of these hard working women out my door for the last time is moving beyond words.

Kate Kripke, LCSW

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. Beautiful post. I am going to share this with all the moms I know who are struggling. Thank you, Kate, for this beautiful Christmas present.

  2. Thank you, Kate, for this heartfelt post. As a postpartum depression and anxiety survivor and as a therapist, I wear two hats when I work with moms. It is my journey through posptartum depression and anxiety and the insight I gained in my recovery that led me to go to graduate school to become a therapist. When I work with mom clients experiencing depression and anxiety, I do so as a peer surivor and as a therapist. I realize, however, that every mom's journey is uniquely her own and I am honored to be a part of her team during her recovery process. As I help moms through recovery I am humbled by their honesty, courage, grace and resilience.

  3. That was amazing to read. Beautifully and thoughtfully written… and encompassed so much of my own experience in counseling as a former pastor and educated woman who felt like a flea…on a flea. Thank you for all you do to understand and help women with PPD!

  4. Kate Kripke says:

    It always touches me when the posts that I contribute resonate. I am glad that some of you have found this one to be helpful…. And, I always welcome comments from those of you who have questions or doubts about what is in these words as well. Mostly, I am just appreciative of each of your experiences- whether you are therapists or Moms or both.
    Warm holiday wishes to all-

  5. Thanks for sharing this wonderful article , i will surely forward this all my friends so that we can create small awareness 🙂

  6. Wow. I turned to the internet today searching for information on postpartum depression and this article just happened to come up. I am a busy, working mom and my second baby is already a year old — and I am just now experiencing depression for the first time. I'm sure I seem organized and content to people at work and even to most of my family, but inside I feel just the opposite. I really don't know what to do or who to turn to, so this article couldn't have come at a better time. Thank you.

  7. Kate Kripke says:

    I am so glad that you are reaching out, Julie. Where do you live? There are many incredible clinicians out there who are trained to work with moms like you and I really encourage you to find one! Postpartum Support International has a list of local resources which can be found at http://www.postpartum.net/Get-Help.aspx
    I am sending warm wishes your way.
    Kate

  8. This is so beautiful. Thank you.

  9. Really wonderful post. I'm at the seven steps forward place, but I still take three steps back every so often. I recently amped UP my therapy, and that was a hard thing to admit I needed. This was a great reminder that eventually I will be ready to stand on my own again.

  10. Thank you so much, from a survivor who went through this (and always believed my therapist must be secretly judging me). PLEASE continue the work you do–it makes such a difference!

  11. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Welcome Julie. I hope you find the information and support you need here. Feel free to email me any time.
    – Katherine

  12. I wish I wouldn't have read this article:
    http://healthland.time.com/2011/03/04/why-having-
    I suffer from PPD and came across your website after reading this. I needed support 🙁

  13. I’m suffering ppd and anxiety in its worst forms. I have all the symptoms listed in every article. I can’t believe how hard is to find help or to make appointments when you first discovered what you have. I didn’t know where to call, who to reach. First days were a nightmare. Crying under the covers not wanting to touch my baby…not understanding what got into me. I suffered panic attacks, uncontrollable shakiness, anxiety attacks…and a few other things .I’m finally waiting for my meds to start working. I found a clinic where not only I’m working over my ppd but about all my life in general, childhood, family, marriage, etc. I needed to change eating habits, start excersising, meditating…even accupuncture. I’m spending every penny I have on these and on a nanny to help me as well.
    I’m going thru every stage possible from guilt to denial, anger and sadness. All of them together sometimes.
    I really appreciate the article. It gives me hope. I know one day I will look back and say: that happened to me too. But I’m over now. I can’t wait.

    • Heather King says:

      You will get there, Carolina. You are doing so many courageous things, in getting help the way that you are. Keep going, it’s going to be okay and you are going to come back stronger. I’m sending you much peace and strength!

  14. I need some advice about a dear friend. With the exception of going to family members house on a major holiday, she absolutely refuses to leave the house. Her baby is 6 months now. She claims that she can not leave him for more than one hour due to breastfeeding even though he does take a bottle if offered one. She only lets very few friends visit very occasionally. She doesn’t even go out to do shopping or errands, opting for delivery services for things you didn’t even know could be done from home. Recently, she became furious with her sister who was in town for the weekend for spending an evening out with an old friend instead of staying at home with her and the babies. I know quite a few moms who all had babies around the same time. They’ve all gone out socially for an hour or two at least once by now. Most more than once. About half have been back at work for a month or more. Her marriage is suffering. A relative offered to watch the baby for an evening so they could reconnect as a couple. She refused. She got angry with me when I said that she can’t forget about her marriage. I know that a tension point for them is housework. She claims she can’t do any of it because the baby must be held all day long from sunup until late at night. I know it’s important to hold them a lot, but I’ve never heard that it’s not ok to put them down for a few minutes to get chores done. It’s pretty clear to me that this is going beyond normal recovery. I know she planned to take a full year off from work (maximum time allowed to keep her job) now she’s talking about not working until he starts school. That would mean not being able to afford her house anymore. Is there anything I can or should be doing? Or do you think this will right itself by the end of the year?

    • Heather King says:

      Lana,

      It’s hard for anyone outside of this situation to be able to say what is going on for sure, or what exactly to do. It sounds like she may be struggling, but it also sounds like she is somewhat defensive. It can be truly hard for some people to adjust to balancing the baby’s needs and their marriage/home/work. That worsens for someone struggling with PPD/PPA, etc. If those around her feel that she is possibly struggling more with her mental health than is normal, it would be okay to try to talk with her about overall concerns that she’s struggling, not a focus on her marriage or the way her house is. It’s hard to hear things that sound like failure when you are struggling. She most likely feels a lot of shame. Letting her know that she is loved and supported and that it might be good to reach out to a professional to see what they think is something you could do. If she denies needing to do that, unfortunately there isn’t much to do but wait and try to help and support her as much as possible. Unless someone is a danger to themselves or others, a loved one can only show up, be an ear, be supportive and hope. Peace to you and yours…