• Pandemiployment

Post-Weaning Depression

I'm a wee bit depressed right now.


You might be all, well DUH look at your life right now, look at all our lives, even the psychopaths are watching the news like, shit, I'm not sure the dumpsterfire we're living through is something I can continue to have no feelings about. It's 2020, join the club.


It might also be because I'm finally done breastfeeding.


Friend, if you own breasts, and decide to utilize them in the feeding of a baby, and presumably plan to stop, (at the very least because Junior cannot pack your breasts for college), a word of warning?


You can experience depression when you stop producing milk.


Full stop. Like, postpartum depression, the thing your doctors warn you about, and have you fill out surveys about. Only its tied to your boobs.


I have two children. We wanted them relatively close in age. I was still breastfeeding when we were considering pulling the goalie (by goalie, see IUD). I set up a counseling appointment with an MD to be all, I want to have another child, anything I should know before I give it a go?


I actually looked a doctor in the eye, and asked, "I'm still breastfeeding. Is there anything I should know about the hormones when I stop?"


And had her reassure me, that no, there was nothing to worry about. With eye contact and everything.

Once you've lived through postpartum...anything, you know the hormones are nothing to fuck around with. I was never diagnosed with anything formal, but I would bet my daily free time (the most precious 20 minutes of my day) that there was some low-level anxiety and depression in there. Baby blues, new mama worries, whatnot.


I once was trying to go to the bathroom (postpartum pooping realness) and Firstborn was in a swing in the living room, securely strapped in the Nascar driver safety harness.


Boo was outside talking to someone in a car.


Firstborn started to wail.


I had to finish what I was doing to get to Firstborn.


Boo did not hear Firstborn.


Boo did not hear me screaming for him to come in.


Boo walked in after I unstrapped Firstborn from his swing with the finesse of a pit crew member.


I soothed Firstborn.


I talked to Boo calmly about what had just happened.


Then the adrenaline stopped flowing and I started to cry.


I have a theory backed up by zero science that I can currently cite that evolution made mothers ready to fight off cave bears when babies cry. I couldn't tell you the time interval between Firstborn starting to cry and me getting him out of that swing. 30 seconds? A minute? An eternity? My adrenaline was JACKED. I knew, rationally, that Firstborn was perfectly safe. That he was crying because newborns cry, and that he would survive a minute alone.


However, I was ready to rip a bear apart with my hands and teeth if I had to.


If you went through a pregnancy, you know hormones can throw you for a loop. When you are postpartum, you get to experience another roller coaster ride, this time with an extra side of sleep deprivation. I think, unless you live under a rock, someone has mentioned these points to you. You know the term postpartum depression, even if you are not fully cognizant of what it entails.


Postpartum care is complete garbage in the United States. By the end of your pregnancy, you're heading in to your doctor's office on a weekly basis. Once you are no longer pregnant, the care kind of stops too. You walk (or are pushed in a wheelchair) to your car, and it's all, "don't lift anything heavy, and if you're still alive in six weeks we'll see you then, good luck!"


The typical pediatrician will have seen your baby three times before you cross the threshold of your own doctor's office. Yes, babies are tiny. Yes, they are bad communicators. We should check on them a bunch, especially when they're fresh. This is a good idea.


I'm just wondering why I was sent home with a bulleted list of symptoms of my impending death that I should look out for, but was not expected to see a medical professional for a month and a half. I had some fun complications which I am sure I will detail at some point, but picture calling your doctor's office asking, "Is it normal, when I'm walking, to feel like something is falling out of me?" The nurse said yes.


So you'll excuse me if I believe that our healthcare system functions in a society that cares a whole lot about whether a woman carries a fetus to term and then gives zero fucks about what happens when that woman becomes a mother.

The first time I stopped breastfeeding, it got dark. You don't realize what's happening at first. You just feel...flat. You're tired, and you're busy, and you were likely never told what could happen. Its hard to connect the dots when you're using a lot of brainpower to keep your job and remember if the baby has enough seasonally appropriate clothing in the next size up so you're not sending him to daycare in a romper when the temperature suddenly drops and he has a growth spurt.


Once, a friend mentioned off hand she had read about being depressed when you stop breastfeeding. I think I was still pregnant when we had that conversation. A year postpartum, somehow my brain dredged that conversation up out of my memory swamp, and then linked it (through supreme effort, go brain!) to a blog post I had read years ago.


Oh.


A light went on. Slowly. I said to Boo, "I think I'm depressed because I stopped breastfeeding."


And then I felt better!


Jokes, I still felt like shit. However, there is power in naming. We don't spend ages figuring out what to call our kids because we take naming lightly. Words shape the world. If I could identify it, if I could trace it to the source, that was something to hold on to. Identifying the cause gave me the hope that I just had to ride the hormones out. A lot of people hit with depression are not so lucky.


I've been a tad bit busier this second time around. After much tears and guilt, I decided to stop breastfeeding (read, exclusively pumping) much earlier. I meant to stop pre-deployment, but what looked like an allergic reaction to formula had to be pursued, and by the time I talked to a pediatric allergist, I knew I wouldn't end milk production until Boo was gone.


I tried to go more slowly this time, cutting down over several weeks. I thought maybe I had gone too fast the last time, thereby causing my own issue. Because of course I blamed myself. #typicalmother


I thought it was going well. I shrugged off the first day I noticed that I felt incredibly awful. The second day, I took the day off from work. Maybe it was burnout. The kids were at daycare, so I stress cleaned for five hours and then sat down to watch a mindless movie. The kind of movie that follows a particular pattern and is chosen because it will fulfill said pattern and give you a sense of satisfaction at the completion of the narrative arc. And I cried. Over nothing. With an overwhelming feeling of despair. From a romcom scene.


Ding ding ding!

If you, or someone you know, appears to be discovering this phenomenon (which maybe they should tell the docs in med school about, just saying), some final thoughts.


You might be able to just ride this out. Hormones tend to level off at some point. If they are not, or if it gets really bad, consider getting medical advice on the same guidelines you would consider if you thought you had postpartum depression. If you're considering anything self-harm like, definitely reach out for help. If you can't get through your day to your own satisfaction, ditto.


There are really great medical professionals out there. I know I was just trash talking some, but I have also been helped in my journey by some A+ docs and nurses. We have talk therapy and we have prescription meds for a goddamn reason.


It's hard to self-advocate when you feel like shit, I know. Just remember that you are a Mother, which turns you into The Grinch in the sense that your heart grows three sizes and you have the power of ten women plus two. Not in the sense that you hate the small denizens of a nearby town and steal all their shit while perpetrating identify theft.


There is power in naming what you have. Sometimes it can be helpful to flip the script when you are stressed about determining about whether you are "bad enough" to need to seek help. I like to think, I am the one in charge here. I decide when I am having enough trouble with my everyday activities to want to pursue X or Y intervention. If you're really unsure, talk to a trusted friend or partner. You can lay it all out, and see if their opinion on what you need matches yours.


On the DIY level, try to keep eating. I am typically very faithful to the act of putting food in my mouth at regular levels, not least because my blood sugar is temperamental and I get hangry. Depressed me is all, is it 2pm? Huh. I should eat lunch. So be intentional about making sure you get some sustenance. And it's ok if you need to throw some chocolate in as well - it works for when the Dementors suck all the joy out of you.

Try to work out. If work out is walk around the block, congratulations! You put shoes on, walked outside, and followed a set plan. You exercised! A little goes a long way. Walk the dog. Walk up and down a set of stairs to get your blood pumping. Think real hard about using the rowing machine (can you envision a cardio burn?) Lift a weight and put it down. Extra points if you grunt like those dudes at the gym who want everyone in a 50 foot radius to know they are super duper strong.


Go to bed earlier. Get all the sleep you can. You may want to mindlessly ooze on the couch, and that's cool, but it's rare that I've found a show SO GOOD that I feel better giving up sleep during this season of my life. Treat yourself to some zzz's. I know you're tired. I've yet to meet a working adult who is not tired. You have reproduced, ergo you are now borderline criminally tired and should not be operating a motor vehicle.


Tell people. Try to tell people who will respond appropriately. Pro tip, listening to someone minimize your experience does not magically make you not have the thing you think you have! Fuck anyone who tries to list all the ways you don't have it that bad. You did not design the female body. It's so amazing it can create an entirely new human, and then sustain that human on nothing but liquid. That kind of power comes with a price, however. I'm sorry this is one of the ones you are paying.


Try to pick someone likely to say, "well, THAT sucks." If you are the person on the other end of the call, wondering what the damn hell post-weaning depression is, and worrying what you should say in response, "that sucks" will probably always work in a pinch. Whenever someone is telling me something shitty, I get real nervous I will say the wrong thing. I want to be supportive. I don't want to be insensitive. That is a lot to ask from a human who cannot read minds. Calling a spade a spade usually works. If it sounds like someone's going through a shit time, or they are calling you up and saying, "I am going through a shit time," then you are probably pretty safe responding, "This is shitty for you, I am sorry to hear this, friend."


I hope you have a good partner who can handle the deep stuff with you. I found it invaluable to be able to honestly describe what was happening. I continue to find it helpful, even if he can't do anything about it. Reproducing puts tons of stress on your relationship (you did just bring new life to the planet, and now are responsible for not only keeping it alive but raising it to be a good human, no pressure). May your person be the type of guy or gal who has your back during this time, and doesn't take it personally when you are all, "hey, I'm mis


Hug. Get some oxytocin where you can (because your levels are probably dropping like crazy!) Your boo is a great option, if he's not rolling out to the Middle East. I have found the dog will happily be my little spoon. Remember that babies love cuddling, and there is nothing wrong with spending some time cuddling your little love chunk because you need comfort. Unless you're having a crying breakdown ON the baby, the baby will be all, cool! A loving adult giving me extra attention! Yay! I hope they do that thing where they make strange sounds at me while making eye contact, and get really excited when I yell something back! Once toddlers understand the concept of the hug, they often are receptive to being told, "I need a hug" and will give you one. The length of the hug is directly correlated to their plans for the day and whether they can see their new favorite dump truck out of the corner of their eye, but hey, it's something.


If you work, just keep slogging away. You will probably beat yourself up pretty hard about all the work that's not getting done. There's not much you can do about that. If you've been a decent employee all along, you can probably coast under the radar more than you think. You may be having a hard time accurately assessing how bad you actually are doing right now. I remember being pregnant and having to shut my office door to lay down on the ground from the nausea, and my boss never noticed. Just keep trying to get things done.


Here are some further articles and posts discussing this issue. Forewarned is forearmed. Wishing you luck.



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