The Blurred Lines Between Postpartum Depression & Grief After A Loss

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Today’s Warrior Mom is Jessica Watson.  Jessica Watson is a mom to five, four in her arms and one in her heart, and today she’s sharing her experience with the blurred lines between grief and postpartum depression after perinatal loss. You can find her wearing her heart on her sleeve at her personal blog Four Plus an Angel or on twitter @jessbwatson.

October will be five years since I lost my daughter. One of triplets, she passed away while still in the NICU. Somehow I think nearing five years without her makes me some sort of veteran of grief, an expert in something I never wanted to know a thing about.

I am often asked by moms new to this process how I felt in those early days and months after saying goodbye to my daughter. My first response would be to say I felt like I had been hit by a semi truck and left to lay in the gravel, bruised beyond recognition. But that is not what they want to hear. They want to measure where they are at with where I was. They want to know if they are doing it “right.” They want to know if I was depressed, if I took medication, if they should listen to the people telling them what they should be thinking, feeling and doing by now.

The lines of loss and grief and postpartum depression are so blurred I could not see them clearly and I know very few loss moms who can. What I can say is, after my subsequent pregnancy, one that did not involve loss, I felt many of the familiar feelings return. The paralyzing grief was not there but the weight of my feet was just as heavy. I did not answer the phone or enjoy conversation or feel the responsibility to smile at anyone but my children. I still remember the day I hid in the basement, shh-ing my children so unexpected guests would not know we were at home. How dare they arrive happily with gifts in hand? I was not feeling light and carefree and their visit was somehow a slap in the face to my feelings. I didn’t even have the energy to turn the doorknob.

I finally turned to medication long after I should have. Until the cloud of depression — maybe postpartum depression — started to lift, I had no idea it was there or that it had been muting my world for years by that time. For some reason, after losing my daughter, I felt that taking medication would take away my vivid memories of her. I thought that if I medicated the pain I would be somehow numbing her from my life and I would not feel the sense of loss that I needed to feel in order to navigate the grieving process.

I could not have been more wrong. The only thing I can do now is let myself off the hook for not taking care of myself sooner. Could I have been a better mom, a better wife, a better friend if I had sought help for postpartum depression when I needed it most? Probably. But I have to look forward, not back.

I have learned through this process of trying to sort out grief and depression and raw heartache that nothing needs to be labeled. You don’t need a name or a diagnosis for your feelings you just need help. The best gift you can give to your children is a mother who understands strength does not mean suffering through the pain but rather accepting help when you need it most.

If you know someone who has suffered a loss whether it be through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, ask them what you can do to help them with their own grieving process. Everyone moves through grief differently and all you can do is be at their side when they need someone to lean on.

~ Jessica

For more stories and resources on this topic, you might like:

What is the Difference Between Grief & Depression After Miscarriage or Pregnancy Loss?

3 Ways to Support Women Who’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss

Postpartum Depression After Miscarriage or Stillbirth

Having A Baby After Infant Loss: The Complicated Mix of Grief and Joy

 

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. NO joke I was just thinking about this this morning and writing a piece on it. Even with my history of PPD when I lost my son at 18 weeks no one even mentioned or thought to discuss my anxiety and depression as anything other than grief. Treat it like it was something I would get over. It was a long hard year an d I didn’t get help until almost a year later when my daughter was born and I was still suffering near debilitating anxiety and intrusive thoughts on horrible things happening to her, Than and only than did I finally get help…

    • Jessica (@jessbwatson) says:

      So glad you ultimately got help Melissa. I’m amazed how often people think that grief is something that we will “get over.” I think the only thing we can do is try to take care of ourselves as we work through it.

  2. jackiepcross says:

    Losing a child has to be the absolute worst thing to experience. I had a miscarriage and that alone was difficult.
    It makes me happy that there are others out there like you who are so open and willing to help those going through similar situations.

    • Jessica (@jessbwatson) says:

      Thanks Jackie, I think continuing to tell my story has helped me through the grieving process. I hope you have found support when you needed it too.

  3. You’re so so brave and strong. Thank you for sharing your story, Jessica.

  4. Jessica,

    Standing ovation.
    Thanks for putting this out there—you will help SO MANY.
    And the parts where you talk about the PPD and hiding to avoid answering the door? I know that feeling. All too well.

    There is nothing wrong with how you felt and how you dealt. There is a broad spectrum and you also don’t need to defend yourself or what you were going through.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. Hadley is an angel who has an angel for a mother, too. I’m lucky to know you.

    • Jessica (@jessbwatson) says:

      Can’t thank you enough for always being here for me Erin and for understanding my anxiety all too well. xo

  5. I’ve never lost a child, but I have dealt with post-partum depression and just good old fashioned depression since having children. It’s amazing how much medication lifts the veil and allows you to glimpse just how heavy a thing you’re dealing with. It took an awful lot for me to go in and seek help after my son was born. I still haven’t “confessed” it on the blog, but I know that once I do it will reach others. It is so good to be honest and vulnerable and allow others to peek into your heart.

    You’ve shared so much of your journey with your readers and you must know how much it means to us. Thank you!

    • Jessica (@jessbwatson) says:

      Thanks so much for reading and for always being supportive. I’m glad you got the help you needed when you needed it too.

  6. Great post Jessica!!!

  7. Thank you for sharing your story Jessica. After Jake died I declined take the medication doctors offered me.

    At the 6th month mark after he died I found myself in such a bad place I really did not see any reason to be in a world where I could not take care of my first and only child at the time. I started taking medication and have not forgotten Jake but I am able to live in a world where I can take care of his younger brother and sister and sadly grieve for his youngest brother. xoxo

  8. Hi Jessica, That was such a beautifully articulated article. As a fellow loss Mom, I couldn’t agree with you more.

  9. It is very hard to understand medication until you’ve been on it – that it doesn’t change you or make you stop feeling, it just gives you the ability to find solutions to your challenges, and to be able to function.

    I’m so sorry you had post-partum depression on top of the awful weight that is grief.

    • Exactly.

    • Jessica (@jessbwatson) says:

      Thanks Jennie and this is so true, even though I had been on medication before, I had forgotten that they wouldn’t change me but just make me be able to think more clearly. I literally shut myself off from the world for at least a year and missed out on so much support from amazing people like you.

  10. Somehow, we do have to forgive ourselves. Who knows what to do, when you lose a child: what are the rules? There can’t be any rules. I can’t imagine more of a specific situation. An unbelieveable, unimaginable place for me.

    Anyone who suffers through this, is made of the hardest steel.

    What evidence of the fight you have in you, Jessica.

    I am so sorry for your loss.

    • Jessica (@jessbwatson) says:

      Thank you so much Alexandra and I remember thinking exactly that… what are the rules? what am I supposed to be doing with this pain? There weren’t answers and, for a time, I ostracized myself just enough not to be able to find them.

      Thank you so much for all of your love, support and kindness over the years. xo

  11. What a beautiful post. The part about medication really hit home. I have such an aversion to it, thinking it’ll prolong my pain, but I’m starting to realize it might just help me get through it. Thank you for opening your heart with these words. xoxoxo

    • Jessica (@jessbwatson) says:

      Yes! It absolutely helped me get through it rather than pretend it wasn’t happening and just hoping life miraculously got better. If there is anything I can do for you Mandy please let me know. I’m always an email or DM away :).

  12. sarah freeman says:

    I never thought about how similar they felt. And I really like the description of not knowing how bad you felt…because you were just in it. I didn’t get help for years because I just thought that’s how life was. I think I felt too that I would loose my son again if I let go of the grief. And believing in a loving God, letting go would also mean I had to trust that God would look after him….aughhh. So letting go hasn’t been easy.

    • Jessica (@jessbwatson) says:

      I totally understand this Sarah. I had the same fear, that if I didn’t FEEL the grief as strong as I should I was somehow letting go of my daughter. I’m glad you ultimately sought help too but am so sorry that you lost your son.

  13. Amazing Jessica. Thank you for sharing that piece of yourself. Son important that mothers know that there are others struggling too and it’s okay to ask for help.

  14. I agree about getting help sooner. While my son was born healthy, the overwhelming sense of grief and loss that took hold of me a few days after he came home was indescribable. It appears that was the first sign I was going to go through deep anxiety and depression after pregnancy. I remember crying profusely as my husband was holding my son. All I can describe it is as if I had a miscarriage. I guess I loved and bonded with my son and the feelings of being pregnant so much that after it was over, I was grieving.

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