Explaining Postnatal Depression When You Didn’t Give Birth: A Queer Perspective  

By Freddie WSMarch 28, 2019

I could write a thousand poems about the moments my eyes fill with tears, at a thought, a feeling, a realization. It seems so frequent, so often that I feel the need to release pain that I worry there may be nothing left if I do; I will dry out and slip between the floorboards to nothingness.

The pit of my stomach is a constant battleground, too busy throwing these emotions across the stormy seas to really comprehend how best to calm them. It is a magic day when I don’t feel my heart drop out of my chest. The white flash of panic for a moment, I can feel my pulse race, as if it is already running up the path without me, chasing my demons to fight them down without telling me first. My hands shake, my breath catches, physical manifestations demonstrating the turmoil of my mind.

This past year I have felt incredibly lonely. It’s hard to explain to someone that life is this hard, that this wonderful relationship, experience, and challenge is too hard. To see yourself fail in front of your own eyes, to feel your spirit crushed by your own hand, your soul seep out until you can’t even remember what it feels like to not hurt, to not be numb, to be present and happy.

It is hard to be defined by yet another label, another tick in the box, gay woman, mental health survivor, and now parent. I like the title, it fits well, I’ve counted the moments to meet my baby, I’ve felt her kick my wife, and me, she’s soothed by my stories, by my voice.

After three and a half years of trying for a baby, seven losses—seven times we had to pretend for two weeks that there was a baby growing between us—we got lucky. Try eight brought us life. We were lucky, I know that, and that somehow makes it harder. Knowing how I “should” feel, how overjoyed at parenthood I should be, and yet, here I sit many months into a postnatal depression diagnosis, countless  months into moments I won’t get back because my mind has overridden all the things I want to feel only to leave doubt and fear behind; a tailspin I can’t find my way out of without help.

It is hard to explain to someone how, the thoughts and feelings you have crushing your spirit, aren’t because you grew that tiny human inside of you, aren’t because you had hormones coursing through your veins, aren’t because the birth took 24 hours and was perfect in its simplicity. They aren’t because of any of those things—and that’s the problem. No part of my body grew her, no part of me is linked forever to her blood. I was a bystander, it was a trick of the light, the work of my imagination. That is what postnatal depression does though, irrespective of whether you are the birth mother, despite all the literature about being the blood mother or father according to a heteronormative guide, postnatal depression kicks you so hard in the stomach that you can barely catch your breath.

It’s easy to say that I’m alone because this situation is new. People can discredit me, look at the definitions and try to wipe me out by adding more weight to my soul. But I’m not alone. Just because my voice is merely a whisper doesn’t mean that someone can’t hear it. I write it down, in poetry, in prose, in muddled letters to no one; I write to my love, to my best friend, to the trash can, but still I say it. I admit it. I’m honest about the pain and numbness I feel coursing through my veins because I am worth getting through this, finding a way to fight. I am just a little lost, not stranded. No one may know exactly how it all feels, but it’s my story to tell, my words to write down, and perhaps one day someone else might look at this and feel less alone.

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Comments (6)

  1. Maria

    There’s a ghost walking around who has my face and name. This ghost is all skin and bones. Her soul made of darkness that hides in a smile. Sounds of a child screaming in terror of what’s around her haunts my dreams. Remembering all those terrible nights as my head lies on my pillow. Waking up in tears with body aching from thoughts that try to kill me. I got into drugs and days became blurred. After 3 months of buying from him, my drug dealer was now my baby’s father. Month 5 I felt the first kick and cried for days, from joy and sadness. Month 6 came and we had to say goodbye and now once I had a child too. His name was Gerogery Fredrickson. The world fell from underneath me and my heart catapulted out of my chest. My depression became progressively worse and for many days I cried. I thank you for this read, because it caused me not to feel alone and momentarily my sadness is gone.

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    1. TWLOHA


      We are incredibly sorry for your struggles and loss. We are so glad that Freddie’s words could help you in some way. You are not alone and we hope you know you can always reach out to our team by emailing [email protected]. It would be an honor to learn more about you and offer you some support.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  2. Christine

    Oh, love. A parent is defined by so much more than blood alone. Depression lies to us, in any part of life. It is your love that makes the difference, your presence that defines your parenthood. Being there is so much more important than whether you share DNA or not.

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  3. Sarah

    You are brave and strong for writing this. Your experience IS real. I don’t know if you’ve sought or even want professional help, but it sounds like you’re having a postpartum depression. You may not have carried the pregnancy, but you are now a parent. Whether you came to parenthood through your own biological pregnancy or through a partner giving birth, or through adoption of an infant, you are now changed FOREVER. You have experienced the most intense sleep deprivation available in this life. You’ve probably laughed harder with a twinge of unhinged hysteria around the edges, cried harder, guilted harder. Your oxytocin (attachment hormone) levels change when you love a baby, whether or not you gave birth.
    Plus, this tiny little being of life has changed your relationship with your partner forever, and it will keep changing with better greats than you thought possible.
    Also, the Hallmark cards all say “even the laundry is cute”, but they neglect to mention it is sometimes more saturated with baby poop than seems scientifically possible. And well meaning friends and family say “enjoy every minute!” I have several issues with that. For the first three months at least, you’re so sleep deprived it is literally hard to remember what month it is. Second, is there any other relationship on earth in which you find yourself enjoying every minute? Why would that suddenly be possible with a nonverbal alien creature who can’t reciprocate your facial expressions for months? And let’s not forget, just as you’re about to FINALLY lay down/shower/find some fresh socks and underwear to put on/eat peanut butter straight from the jar with your fingers because who has the brain space to do the dishes, your baby farts this tiny fart and suddenly they have pooped straight out their diaper, up their back and into their hair or onto their bald head. Parenting is SO hard. If you’re not in treatment with someone who can prescribe if you/they think that’s appropriate, please seek it out. There are psychiatrists out there who will believe you because they’ve lived it directly, are good people behaving like the nonjudgmental physicians we all promised to be because that’s the barest minimum of human decency that we as a field can offer, or both- lived it and recovered AND are compassionate non-judgy souls who want to know YOU, your story and where you want to go from here with it.
    Your postpartum depression (PPD) sounds just like mine did, and I think the sleep deprivation, even if it’s better now, and the flood of attachment hormones makes a PPD an even more physical, sweaty, heart pounding, auditory, visual full body experience than a regular depression. Our mid and hind brains get in on the action and are all “What up?! It’s about time we get to wreak some unchecked physiological chaos! Bring on the sweats! Make her ears roar!”
    I’m a psychiatrist. I’m a mother. I’m a survivor of a postpartum depression that nearly killed me. Don’t underestimate the power of what youre courageously fighting. It’s real and it can be fatal. You derserve to and CAN find your way back to flourishing with whatever form of non judgmental help you find most helpful.
    Doctors don’t know everything (eg they used to say if a woman had a depression postpartum it meant they never wanted the baby to begin with- but that was decades ago- no one who deserves their license thinks that anymore). You can get good care and teach your doctor something in the meantime.

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  4. Step Mom

    Good evening,
    I may be experiencing this as well but in a different light. If you care to reach out feel free, maybe we can discuss. Thanks <3

    Reply  |  
  5. Chelsea Lewis

    You are not alone love. I suffered severe pp depression, OCD, Anxiety and major psychosis. It was two years before I got the right help, but in part i did that to myself by NOT TELLING THE TRUTH. I’d really love to talk to you more about this. Please reach out.

    Reply  |  
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