A Personal Reflection on Loss, Postpartum Depression, and Searching for Peace
by Erin Stertz-Follett
Although Evie's birth was fairly straightforward and I felt generally good immediately after, her infancy was filled with sadness for me. My mother was no longer strong enough to pick her up as she grew, or to change her diapers, or to carry her from her crib to my waiting arms in the middle of the night like she had done with Audrey. As I was ushering a new life into the world and doing my best to feed and care for her, I was ushering another life out. Evie's first several months are a blur; the grief of knowing my mother would not be long for this world compounding the typical newborn sleep deprivation and the isolation that can come with being a new parent (even for the second time). I was a "stay at home mom" at that point, and although my amazingly supportive husband did all he could (including leaving work early hundreds of times to come home to find me frustrated and in or near tears), I felt so. Alone.
I don't remember all that much of Evie's first year. Memories are parsed together mainly through photographs and stories. I have never admitted this to anyone before; aside from, perhaps, my husband. The guilt that can come with not being able to remember most of your baby's early milestones can weigh heavily on a mother's heart. My scribbles etched on paper and the highlights scattered throughout her baby books are all I have. I was blinded by my grief. In a complete and utter fog. My mother-in-law's unexpected death came along eight months after my mother's. Life seemed to be snowballing.
When my first-born Audrey was a new baby, and through about the age of four, Mom was one of her primary caretakers. She and Grandma were buddies. In the midst of my postpartum recovery with Audrey, Mom was there to help with all of the little things. She would rock Audrey to sleep for nap in the quiet darkness of the nursery at our house in North Minneapolis. She played a CD of Christian songs for babies. The beautiful, innocent voices of small children sang out. After Mom was gone, I could no longer listen to that CD. In fact, nap times were the most difficult with Evie. That dark room with a helpless infant clinging to me; depending on me. I sat there in silence, hoping that my hot tears weren't falling unto her soft little cheeks. Although I still have not been able to part with that CD that Mom used to play, I have not been able to bring myself to listen to it either. Since 2011, it has been sitting, collecting dust on Evie's shelf. It likely will for years to come.
I am sure my story isn't unique. Postpartum struggles, mood disorders, and loss in general are certainly more prevalent that most of us care to admit. Postpartum depression can come on anytime within the first year of your child's life, as I know that mine did when it was triggered by my loss. My point in writing this, perhaps, is to pull the curtains back a bit on grief when it happens in the early weeks, months, and years of parenting. Such a juxtaposition it is - Grief and society's expectations and messages that having a new baby should be nothing but bliss. And such cruel irony, it seems, that as you become (or re-become) a mother, you could be losing your own.
As Mom lay in her hospital bed just moments after hearing the news that none of us wanted to hear, she turned to me and said, "Well, I wish I would have gotten to know Evie better." Me too, Mom. I sometimes see you there, in the rocker that still lives in Evie's room, shushing and rocking and playing that dusty old CD. I hope, one day, I will have the courage to play it again.
If you are struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders, please seek help. Pregnancy & Postpartum Support Minnesota is a great place to start. You are always welcome at Flutterbabies, Flutterby's Mom + Baby Group.
-Erin Stertz-Follett is a birth doula, childbirth educator, and owner of Flutterby Birth Services. Flutterby strives to be a welcoming venue for mothers and families from all walks of life and all experiences to find support and education. We provide doula care, placenta encapsulation, childbirth education, and other supportive services for the Minneapolis-St. Paul community!