Q&A: post-partum depression starting 5 months post-partum

B writes:

"I have finally accepted the fact that I am depressed and have been for a month or two.  Not really sure when the clinically defined "depression" started.  My baby is five months old, so I am not sure if this still counts as post-partum depression.  I have been put on medication and told that it is still safe to breastfeed my child. All this time I thought it was due to sleep deprivation because my kid still wakes up every four hours for nursing.

I hate being part of that 10% of women who experiences depression because I would have liked to believe that I could handle this on my own and not enlist the aid of mood enhancers.

Would you consider this a post-partum depression?"

Yes, I would. I think depression that comes on you after you've had a baby is post-partum depression.

Even though it seem like you've been mothering your baby forever, 5 months is still pretty tiny. I don't think it's at all odd that you developed post-partum depression once the initial flurry of activity and adrenaline rush of parenting a true newborn is over.

In a lot of ways, I think 3-4 months has the perfect conditions for PPD. You've survived the intial hormone rush of the first 12 weeks, so you stop being so vigilant about monitoring yourself for PPD. The baby might be old enough to sleep through for four hours at a time, but that's still sleep-depriving for you, even though it's normal for her. And you just don't have the support anymore that you did at the beginning. Everyone expects you to be an old hand at this, and doing it with no problems. In the meatime, it's starting to sink in to you that this is the new normal, and you wonder why it's even worth getting out of your pajamas if the whole day is just going to be the same grind.

I hate that so many of us develop PPD*. (I think that 10% figure is extremely low, BTW. Maybe 10% seek treatment, but I think there are tons of us walking around with some low-level depression at any given time.) I hate that we have to take drugs to help us function appropriately. But I think they're an appropriate response to an inappropriate situation.

If we had more cultural support for mothering and parenting in general--and I don't mean people stopping us to tell us how cute our kids are and then giving us some guilt trip about either working or not working and what and how we're feeding our kids--we wouldn't be stretched to the breaking point physically or emotionally. If we lived in less isolation from each other we'd have people to share the burden with on a daily basis. If we hadn't screwed up our food chain so much we'd be eating foods that were naturally higher in the nutrients our bodies need to be able to keep us on a more even keel emotionally. If we were able to trust our parents more, and therefore learned to trust ourselves more, we wouldn't be so twisted up about every minor decision we make about our kids and we wouldn't judge other parents so harshly.

Mothering in this time and place can be a really screwed-up proposition. It's amazing most of us come out of it as whole as we do. 

I'm sorry you have PPD. I'm sorry you have to go on medication, and that that makes you feel bad. But you have to take care of yourself, for your own sake and for your child's sake. PPD is an illness caused by a lot of factors, not a personal weakness. You will get better. You might also want to consider seeing a therapist to talk through a lot of the stuff that seems to happen as a matter of course to most modern mothers--body issues, issues surrounding the pregnancy and birth, relationship issues, self-esteem, etc. It's too much to just stuff down and try to cope with on your own.

Can we start talking about this more? I don't just mean here. I mean IRL. When you see a mom with a baby, can you tell her her baby is cute and then ask her "How are *you* doing?" And then let her talk about it if she needs to? Let her know she's not the only one barely holding it together, and that it will get better, and she can and is doing it.

* Full disclosure: I'm the daughter of a parent with clinical depression who has been on medication for 20+ years. I have had depression myself for years (never medicated), and was severely depressed during part of my first pregnancy. I made a conscious plan to ward of PPD, and aggressively followed that plan after the birth of my first son. I believe that (and the hormones from nursing) kept me from developing PPD despite my many risk factors for it. After having my second son I stopped following the plan (I got cocky), and found myself depressed from the time he was around 4 months until he was around 11 months.