First things first: Know that depression after weaning is a real thing.
I didn’t realize this. Many people don’t, although there is starting to be more information out there about it. All I knew about was regular postpartum depression, and I braced myself for it, because with a history of depression I knew I was at risk.
But to my relief, I didn’t have any episodes of depression in my twin daughters’ first year. I thought I was in the clear. Then, when I finished the gradual process of weaning my girls when they were thirteen months old, I got walloped.
All of my usual, loathsome depression symptoms set in: I was irritable, exhausted and unmotivated. I couldn’t concentrate. Not much of anything gave me pleasure. The world seemed bleak and dull. There were times when simply existing hurt.
The symptoms themselves were wretched. But the cruelest part for me was this: On top of being depressed, I felt incredibly sad about the very fact that I was depressed.
I hated that I wasn’t able to be the engaged, energetic and playful mother I knew I was capable of being. I felt terrible for being short-tempered and impatient with my daughters. Much of the time I felt as if I was looking out at them—my beautiful, spirited toddler girls—from inside a thick-walled, scratched Plexiglass cube. I felt like I’d abandoned them. Like I was scarring them for life.
But if I could travel back in time and find my depressed self, I would tell her—after giving her a warm, tight hug and letting her cry against my shoulder for a while—that she hadn’t abandoned them or scarred them at all. And nothing she was doing (or not doing) was as bad as she thought. Just being there was worth much more than she, in her dark enclosure, was able to realize.
And I want you to remember this, too, if you are suffering from depression, or have in the past, or do in the future: Unless your depression is causing you to act abusively, you are most likely not scarring your small child for life.
Putting your child in front of the television for two hours because you simply cannot muster the will or energy to play with him does not make you a bad parent. Hiring a sitter or enlisting a friend or relative to look after your kids for a while on the days when your depression is at its worst does not make you lazy or neglectful.
And even though you may not feel present and engaged as you stand at the bottom of the slide at the playground, you are still there to catch your child. And to him, or her, that is enough.
You may still hate with all your soul the fact that you’re depressed, but try your best—write it on a piece of paper and tape it to your mirror—not to compound your misery with guilt over how your depression is affecting your children. They are more resilient and less needy than you think. They will survive this. If they are very young, they may not even notice or remember it.
The only thing you can do to your children that actually is unfair is not get help. That much you do owe to them. And to yourself.
Jane Roper is the author of Double Time: How I Survived and Mostly Thrived Through My First Three Years of Mothering Twins, which chronicles her twin mothering adventures as well as her struggles with depression. She lives in the Boston area with her family and blogs at www.janeroper.com. Follow her on Twitter @janeroper or Facebook.
* * *Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on all things related to emotional health around pregnancy & childbirth, is a service of Postpartum Progress Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of postpartum depression and similar illnesses. Please consider making a donation today, Mother’s Day, so we can continue and expand our work supporting maternal mental health. Thank you!