I’ve been trying to get up the gumption to write more about mental illness but I get stuck on the title. I guess that’s probably a sure sign that I’m worried about what people will think. That in turn is a sure sign that it’s hard to talk about mental illness and even though I’m committed to getting it out there I’m still really nervous when it comes to writing it down in actual public words.
Today I’d like to talk to you about depression and hormones surrounding weaning. Most of us should are aware of post-partum depression and the challenges it presents to new mothers and families. But did you know that mothers can experience a very similar type of depression following weaning their child from breastfeeding?
I always assumed there would naturally be sadness following weaning a child, but all out depression or wacky hormonal craziness I had not thought of. After weaning Simon I felt pretty rough for a while but figured it was just “normal” and he had stopped napping around the same time so I figured I was just extra stressed. Then last year a friend went through a really difficult ordeal after weaning her daughter. She would tell me she felt downright crazy, crying one moment, ready to yell the next. She had trouble sleeping and even functioning. Everything felt like a struggle. Luckily she had a good support system and was aware of what was happening and sought help. Her experience had me worried about what would happen when I weaned Owen.
Last week I got to find out what would happen. Owen hadn’t nursed for about 3 weeks and I was doing pretty well. Then I suddenly felt like I had the worst case of PMS ever. I was yelling (inside my car) at people in the parking lot over nothing more than them standing near my car when I was backing up. I was yelling at the kids for the most minor of infractions. Then I would have moments where I was just stuck, stuck sitting on the side of the bed in the morning, stuck sitting in my chair after lunch. I just couldn’t make myself move. Of course I eventually did, but I wasn’t happy about it! Every small task seemed like it was too much work and not worth doing anyway. The real kicker was when I went out shopping at Target one evening. I got out of the car and was looking around feeling like I was not even part of myself. It felt almost like people could see through me, could see the pain inside, could see how hard it was for me to just put one foot in front of the other. I kept looking around as I walked through the store, wondering what people must be thinking. Needless to say I didn’t stay long. I came home and that night made sure to tell my husband I was not doing so well with the hormonal shift. There were a couple more tough days, feeling more sad and listless than angry and then I felt better.
I don’t know if it’s gone or if it will be back. But what I do know is that I want you to know about it. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends. Please educate yourselves on the emotions and hormones that surround pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and weaning. Our society does not value the “mother” enough. We expect women to “get through” pregnancy and birth, not relish in it and savor the experience, learning from it. Then we expect them to “get their body back” and “get back to work” whatever that work may be soon after birth. We do not provide enough support for breastfeeding mothers. Then we are rushed to wean our babies because “if they can ask for it, they don’t need it.” We don’t take into consideration the tremendous changes a woman’s body and mind undergo during all these events. It is a true shame that there is not more collective knowledge of these matters that can be passed from woman to woman. I am fortunate to be a part of a wonderful tribe of women both here in Chattanooga and back in Chapel Hill. These women are here to love one another, support one another and share whatever parts of their experiences they can in order to make someone else’s life as a mother easier. Please join us and spread the word and the love.