My oldest daughter looked forward to the birth of her sister almost more than my husband and I. Being only two and a half years old, she really had no idea what she was in for. I imagine that she had beautiful fantasies about a live-in friend that could entertain her when I was just too busy; someone that could be bossed around and would follow her adoringly as if she were the princess she was convinced that she was. It’s safe to say that reality was rather cruel.
Not only did my daughter not get the instant playmate that she anticipated, but her younger sister cried. A lot. More upsetting to her was the fact that I, her mother, also sat and sobbed for most of each day. It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t just the “baby blues”, but a full-blown case of postpartum depression.
Lack of sleep, combined with post-pregnancy hormones, and the need to be the sole caregiver for both an infant and a toddler while my husband was attending the police academy, had me at the end of my rope. For months before the blessed event, my husband and I had discussed the changes with my older daughter that her new sister would bring. But postpartum depression was something that had not occurred to me to prepare her, or myself, for.
A time in our lives that should have been joyous suddenly wasn’t. I’d find myself sitting up at night nursing the baby and dreaming up ways to get more sleep and a little bit of quiet. Crazy thoughts, like sticking the baby in the dryer to quiet her crying, started to invade my head. My older daughter could sense how frantic and irrational I was becoming and it wasn’t healthy for any of us. I was crying most of the time and my older daughter was constantly stressed out and acting out behavior-wise. It was time to get some help for us all.
I called on family and friends to watch my older daughter, recognizing that for her it would be better that she did not see me at my worst. Then I sought the help of my doctor. Luckily, he prescribed an anti-depressant that was compatible with breastfeeding. We were lucky to be covered by health insurance. It was such a relief to be able to regain some control over myself and my life.
After I finally got help for myself, it was time to start helping my daughter. I started being able to enjoy her and her sister more throughout the day. I enlisted my oldest daughter’s help with the baby more, and we play-acted our feelings a lot. I explained, in my best not-quite-three-year-old terms, about my sad feelings and how I was starting to feel better. The best way that I found to help the two of us cope was to continue to discuss our feelings and the changes going on in our family, just that same as we had in preparation for the new baby. I also made a big effort to get my daughter out and about to story times and play dates so her life felt back to normal too.
Life eventually got back to routine, and I was able to stop taking the medication and feel like myself again. I was also more aware during my third pregnancy of how to help all of us cope with postpartum depression.
Editor’s Note: For more information on depression during and after pregnancy (as supplied by WomensHealth.gov), call 1-800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations.
American Psychological Association
Internet Address: https://www.apa.org
National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, HHS
Phone: (301) 496-9576
Internet Address: http://www.nimh.nih.gov
National Mental Health Information Center, SAMHSA, HHS
Phone: (800) 789-2647
Internet Address: http://www.mentalhealth.org
American Psychological Association
Phone: (800) 374-2721
Internet Address: http://www.apa.org
National Mental Health Association
Phone: (800) 969-NMHA
Internet Address: http://www.nmha.org
Postpartum Education for Parents
Phone: (805) 564-3888
Internet Address: http://www.sbpep.org
Postpartum Support International
Phone: (800) 944-4PPD, (800) 944-4773
Internet Address: http://www.postpartum.net