Not just blue: Postpartum depression is 'brutal' and it can hit anyone

Postpartum depression doesn’t care where you live or what you do to pay your bills, says Jo Davies, who has struggled herself with PPD. "Judging by the video I saw online yesterday" of Meghan Markle, she says, "it doesn’t even care if you’re married to a prince."

Meghan Markle interview shows not just a royal, but 'a new mom who looked like she needed a hug': Jo Davies

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is seen with her son, Archie, and her husband, Prince Harry, during a September meeting with Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. In an interview with ITV, Meghan has spoken about the challenges of being a new mom. 'Her teary eyes and sad smile point to a woman struggling to keep it together, not basking in the glow of her good fortune,' says Jo Davies. (Henk Kruger/African News Agency/Associated Press)

There are some experiences that affect you so profoundly, you use them as markers in the timeline of your life. 

For me, that's postpartum depression.

I've never been so frightened, so desperate, so completely unmoored from my normal existence, to the point that I considered suicide. 

So my PPD radar is always on. I've encountered sufferers in a variety of situations. Some were co-workers, some were friends, one was the technician doing my nails. Postpartum depression is fair like that: it doesn't care where you live or what you do to pay your bills. Judging by the video I saw online yesterday, it doesn't even care if you're married to a prince. 

In the video, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is interviewed by ITV's Tom Bradby. He asks how she's coping, considering her new roles as mother, wife and royal. By the look on her face, the short answer is "not good." Her teary eyes and sad smile point to a woman struggling to keep it together, not basking in the glow of her good fortune. 

See an excerpt of Meghan Markle's ITV interview:

I immediately thought of postpartum depression.

To be clear, she didn't mention it and I have no clue if she's been diagnosed with it. However, I don't think it's a huge leap, considering she went on to comment on the vulnerability of pregnancy and the difficulty of new motherhood. 

She was the last person I thought might suffer PPD. Happily married, mother of an adorable baby boy and rich enough to buy and sell small countries, I figured she had it all. I mean, it doesn't compute. How can she be depressed? How hard can her life possibly be? 

'I felt her pain'

Unfortunately, the thing about postpartum depression is it doesn't follow any kind of logic.

It doesn't matter if you look like you've got it all. It doesn't matter if your partner loves you and your bills are paid and you've got a beautiful baby. It doesn't even matter if you've got millions of adoring fans wishing you well.

None of it matters. 

I know, because I've survived postpartum depression. Twice.

I returned home a week later, a nervous wreck and nowhere near ready to parent again, but there was no help for it.

It was absolutely brutal, marked by insomnia, panic attacks, extended crying jags and a constant feeling of dread. I couldn't face even the most basic challenges (from making dinner to tying my shoelaces) without falling apart.

The fact that my babies were healthy and happy and that I lived in a nice house didn't change how I felt one bit. 

I watched Meghan try not to cry and I felt her pain. Forget that she's famous; forget that she's rich; forget that she has fans all over the world. In that moment, she was just a new mom who looked like she needed a hug and a couple of decent nights' sleep.

All I could think was: if no one has bothered to check in on one of the most famous new moms on the planet, the odds of the average woman getting that question are (as my brother likes to say) "Slim, and none. And Slim just walked out the door."

'Are you OK?' a good start

What kills me is that our society is still so clueless about PPD and how to deal with women suffering from it. A basic "Are you OK?" is a good place to start, but that's not all that's needed.

Mothers in our society are conditioned to think they need to handle everything, so they are reluctant to admit needing help. To make matters worse, there are generally very few resources for women with PPD. 

During my second bout of depression, I was committed to a psych ward. I was in there with all kinds of folks, most of whom seemed to be suffering from more severe mental illness. Being there made me even more anxious, but there was nowhere else in our health-care system for women like me.

I returned home a week later, a nervous wreck and nowhere near ready to parent again, but there was no help for it.

Some solutions to help women suffering from postpartum depression are simple, says Jo Davies, but they're often unavailable to new mothers. ( christinarosepix/Shutterstock)

My options were either to come up with relatives that could help me, or hire someone to do so. Neither was a possibility for me, so I white-knuckled it, praying for the day when my boys were older. It was a long, lonely time. 

In the meantime, well-meaning people gave me advice. Maybe all I needed was to exercise more or eat better or get out of the house. 

All of it felt like being offered a Band-Aid for a gunshot wound. 

Counselling from women who'd been through postpartum depression would have helped. Free babysitting for even a few hours a week would have been wonderful. Simple solutions, but neither were available. 

I don't think that's changed much in the last 16 years.

In the end, I don't know why I was surprised by Meghan's interview. I should know better. 

We all should. 

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Jo Davies is a freelance writer and office assistant who is never at a loss for an opinion. She is currently writing her first novel, set in Jamaica.


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