After I had my second baby, I entered into a different, and I want to say darker phase of life than I had ever experienced. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, yet I distinctly remember, when my baby was around a year old, my older daughter looking up at me and saying out of the blue, “Mommy, you haven’t cried in a while!”
Baby #2 was constantly fussy, so I was caring for two needy little ones on very little sleep. I was experiencing constant back pain, making daily tasks and childcare painful. I didn’t have the level of practical support from extended family that I needed. And though I had an amazing 2-hour labor and delivery at home, I just wasn’t bouncing back from pregnancy and birth like I did the first go-round.
That little baby is now 6 years old (!), and I feel like I’m just now coming out of the fog, getting back to my old self. Talking with friends about those first couple of years in particular, I would say, “I feel like maybe I had postpartum depression??” Because I knew I wasn’t well. I wasn’t feeling normal, or healthy. But at the same time, the word depression didn’t seem to fit. Though not quite right, it was the only word I could come up with to describe my experience.
Until recently, when I received a copy of International Doula (a publication put out by my certifying organization, DONA). On the cover, I read the words “postnatal depletion,” and I was intrigued. Immediately I flipped to the article, reading an interview with Dr. Oscar Serrallach, about this new term and finally identifying with a set of symptoms that made up the syndrome that I’m sure I had. Wanting to know more, I checked out his book, The Postnatal Depletion Cure, from the library.
Before even starting chapter one, I was floored by Dr. Serrallach’s compassion and understanding of what mothers in modern cultures are experiencing. He says:
This book is dedicated to all mothers who have suffered and struggled in their selfless roles as caregivers, often without the unconditional support and wisdom from their culture, societies, and families that should have been their birthright. It is your strength that has inspired and guided me in writing this book. The well-being of mothers is the fabric from which the cloth of the future of our society is made.
Those words made me want to cry. And hug him.
The book begins by defining postnatal depletion, and differentiating between depletion and depression. In the DONA article, the phrase that stood out to me referring to a depleted mom was that she feels “tired and wired.” This was exactly my experience - I was utterly exhausted, yet robbed of sleep. I would wake up on high alert to any little sounds, whether it be the baby or my husband shifting in bed next to me, and be unable to fall back to sleep easily. I was hormonal and emotional, and yet I never experienced hopelessness or lack of joy and happiness around things that have always made me happy. I was in love with my baby and so happy to have him in our family, I was just having trouble coping with life.
Dr Serrallach then goes on to describe how different cultures around the world care for their newly postpartum mothers. I have heard bits and pieces of these customs, but seeing them all in one place, and contrasting them with how we treat new moms in America was truly eye-opening. I thought, no wonder so many new moms are struggling.
The rest of the book is filled with incredibly helpful information for mothers struggling with this condition. I absolutely love how Dr. Serrallach speaks to women with deep compassion and understanding, validates our struggles, and views us as whole people - not isolating different symptoms, but really understanding and conveying that postnatal depletion is a result of many different factors. Throughout the book, he thoroughly covers important information on nutrition, hormones, sleep, exercise, and emotional well-being.
If you are interested in learning more about postnatal depletion, this article is a great place to start. And of course, pick up a copy of his book. If you feel like you have postnatal depletion and are looking for more resources or local practitioners to walk through the journey to healing with you, please be in touch with me! I would love to hear your story and help get you pointed in the right direction.
Blessings, hope, and healing, my friends!