Postpartum Depression and Divorce

Posted on Sep 25, 2020 by Katie Carter

Bringing a baby into the world is, simultaneously, one of the most wonderful and most terrifying things that can happen to a woman. Having done it twice now myself – both c-sections, the first one an emergency – I can attest to that, for sure.

I don’t think I fully appreciated the changes that motherhood can bring to a mother’s life until I experienced it myself. (Though, admittedly, I’m not entirely sure that it’s possible to really appreciate it beforehand anyway.)

The first time, it felt much harder. Nursing was a challenge. Everything hurt. I didn’t realize it was possible to be so tired. I also didn’t really realize how tired it was possible for a human to be and still be expected to function. I didn’t want to hold a baby anymore. I didn’t want anyone else to hold my baby, either. GIVE ME MY BABY BACK, I wanted to shout, almost every time someone took him from me for any space of time, only to feel immediately frustrated and overwhelmed (and, inevitably, hungry) when he was placed back in my arms again.

The second time, I was more prepared for the challenging parts. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the overwhelming feelings. So many feelings! Mostly, feelings of complete joy. Although I had planned to only have two children, I suddenly found myself wondering if I’d be able to stop. The thought of never going to the hospital, never looking over at a brand new baby face of my very own for the first time from the operating room table (hey, that was my experience!) was overwhelmingly sad. I cried. I laughed. I stared at her for hours. I worried something would happen to her. Like, I really worried about it, to the point that I found myself unable to sleep (even though this sweet babe, at least, slept at night).

It’s difficult for everyone, and I don’t think I’ve said anything here that is earth shattering. Like, at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure most (if not all) mothers have experienced this, or something pretty darn similar. All of those things happening, all at once, has a serious impact on our physical and mental health.

If you combine all of this with the reality of an unstable relationship or a probably divorce, it’s a recipe for disaster. Adding another baby to your family is overwhelmingly wonderful, but it also ushers in a lot of insecurity. I think we all worry about what the future will bring for our sweet new babes, but when you’re really, truly worried that something actually, objectively difficult will happen, it’s even more challenging.

I’ve written extensively over time about the challenges associated with sharing custody and visitation of a breastfeeding infant. It’s about nursing, in many cases, but it’s not like moms who are formula feeding or exclusively pumping (though this is definitely still nursing, it doesn’t make sharing custody as difficult) don’t have the same concerns.

At the root of it, your fears are related to the kind of mother you want to be, and setting up a custody and visitation schedule that allows for this to happen.

Though, probably, at the beginning, the idea of setting up a visitation schedule with your child’s other parent AT ALL is a uniquely terrifying thing. What do you mean, someone else may keep your child overnight?

While there’s no question that things change as children grow older, and that different arrangements are appropriate for babies and toddlers, school aged children, and teenagers, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s difficult to wrap your mind around what that reality might mean and, beyond that, to actually agree with your child’s father about what it should look like.

It’s a pretty universal concern of most mothers that their child’s father won’t be equipped to handle the children in the same way that they would themselves. After all, in most families it’s mama who does the diapers, feeding, baths, rocking, night time wake ups, and on and on and on. It’s difficult for many to imagine that their child’s father will be up to the task.

There’s no question that there’s so much difficulty when it comes to a divorce or a breakup, especially when you have a newborn baby and all of the hormonal changes that come along with it.

If your fear, anxiety, or – I’ll just come right out and say it – depression gets to a dangerous point, it’s okay to seek help.

Feelings of dread or feeling completely overwhelmed are normal. Lots of moms even think about harming themselves, or, in extreme situations, their children.

This does not make you a bad mom. It’s a recognizable, diagnosable, and TREATABLE condition. Postpartum depression is a thing, especially when you combine it with an extra challenging personal situation (like a divorce, a breakup, or a pending custody case).
Moms ask me all the time whether seeking help for mental illness will be held against them in their case. I can understand it, too! It DOES feel like there’s a stigma surrounding mental illness and treatment, and it’s probably reasonable to wonder if that will change the way the judge or a guardian ad litem sees you in child custody or divorce litigation.

In my experience, though, the WORST thing you can do if you’re experiencing postpartum depression is to leave it untreated. You need to be in your best “fighting shape” for your litigation, and, besides that, you need to be in a position to be the best mother you can possibly be. If the pressure of dealing with litigation on top of trying to navigate the symptoms of your mental illness is just too much (and you’d be superhuman if it wasn’t), the solution is to treat it.

You’ll want to show the court that you’re in the strongest physical and mental condition possible to be a caregiver for your children! If you’re behaving irrationally or you’re not able to focus on the best interests of your children because of your condition, well, that’s a problem.

Look, so many of us have experience with anxiety and depression. Postpartum depression is a real thing, and it’s not your fault. It doesn’t even mean that you’ll have anxiety and depression after a little bit of time passes. But, either way, the best thing you can do it treat your condition so that you’re in as good of a position as possible – both for the sake of your litigation, and also (and most importantly!) for the sake of your children and their well being.

If you have postpartum depression and you’re navigating divorce or custody litigation, you’ll need to enlist the support of a good doctor AND a good attorney. We can help you as you begin to plan and strategize for the future. For more information or to schedule an appointment, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.