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To anyone looking in, I was the always-gleaming, highly achieving mom of a darling baby boy. For me looking out, I felt like I was drowning. While inside I struggled, outside I strained to present a status-quo face. I wore J. Crew, prepared organic baby food, went to Mommy & Me, clenched my teeth, and tried to keep it together. I looked good on paper.

I was living what Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls the grinning depression. My mounting inner conflict made me feel like an alien in a world of seemingly happy mothers-who-adored-mothering.

The first person who helped me feel like not an alien? Not any of a stream of therapists, nor any of my studies toward my doctorate in early human development. Not my OB/GYN. I have Brooke Shields to thank for my big ah-hah. In her 2006 self-portrait of postpartum depression, Down Came the Rain, she articulated in a raw, immediate way the terrifying, alienating, embarrassing, confusing -- and most of all, countercultural -- feelings and impulses that attend postpartum depression:

I feel like a fraud. People keep saying, "Aren’t you just thrilled to be a mother? You must be so in love! What a blessing." All I can do is smile and say, “It’s crazy.”

The thought of being the only person to care for her terrified me.She seemed pure and honest and raw, and it unsettled me. Her helplessness terrified me.

These other moms didn’t appear to want to be anywhere else, and seemed at peace. Motherhood agreed with all of them. What in the hell is wrong with me?? Why can’t I be happy??

I'm Marcy, and I'm a CCPD Survivor

There it was -- my secret history, vividly reanimated, a second chance for me to recognize it for what it was. I've now come to call it Chronic Covert Postpartum Depression (CCPD), and many women experience it. They suffer behind a façade of frantic perfectionism that effectively obscures the very possibility that there might be anything wrong. So information about or consideration of postpartum depression doesn’t even make it onto their radar screens.

Many years before research turned up perfectionism as a risk factor for postpartum depression, I had written an article for Whole Life times about my struggles with perfecting new motherhood; it was clear that even ten years out, I still wasn’t recognizing those struggles as CCPD. I described my

"...vague but persistent fears of incompetence, an intangible but relentless drive running deep inside me to always be trying to do it better, or at least do it right. Do what right, I couldn’t define. I just knew that I rarely felt a respite from this steady pressure that seemed to definemy life after becoming a mother.

"And it seemed that I was angry, silently resentful, most of the time. When there were no specific tasks to accomplish, like diapering or feeding or driving us somewhere, I felt deep discomfort at simply being with my baby.

"As soon as I would sit down on the family room carpet with my baby, to just be there while he explored and played, the resistance would rise up and I would quell it by suddenly thinking, Oh, I’ve got to jump up right now and call about those slipcovers, or Maybe I should plan tomorrow’s dinner, or I’d better go wipe the water spots off that table. The refuge of life’s droning busywork.

"We had planned for Ian to sleep in a cradle in our room during the early weeks, but on our first night home his snuffling baby noises kept me so on edge, his closeness so chafed at me, that he was alone in his own room beginning the following night. Then I could feel tense and guilty from safely down the hall."

One recent study on postpartum depressive symptoms finds that I was a walking bundle of risk factors: I had an established career, clear expectations of parenthood, and a high need for control. Indeed.

What Pulled Me Into Postpartum Depression Again

With my second baby, my daughter Eve, things were so much better. I felt like queen of the world after a great pregnancy, an empowering birth, a 40-day cocoon period and several months of blissful breastfeeding.

But all that changed after my beloved aunt Edie died; it was as if a switch was flipped and I slipped back into… that zombie-Mommy place. One of the snapshots that sticks in my mind, and heart, is me on the family room sofa, too fatigued and apathetic to move, and Eve, by then three or so, tugging at me to join her in sunny life.

She declared earnestly, "Mommies s'ould pway wif dayow widdul goouhls." (Translation for those not fluent in threes-ese: "Mommies should play with their little girls.")

How many playful moments did I miss with my little girl? How many sunny giggles and cuddles were sucked into that beige hole of CCPD? And how many strands of her secure connection with me? And what about Ian and his earliest months… all those months?

That's what troubles social worker Kate Kripke about these "middle women" on the PPD spectrum, the ones who tend to slip through the diagnostic net because of their outward patina of functionality.

"We can certainly help to strengthen attachments between these moms and their babies and support the relationships that have been troubled by the months before their desperate calls, but we can’t take away the lost moments. And this can be heartbreaking."

The lost moments. I find a touching circularity in Eve (now 23) alerting me to (her favorite blogger) Joanna Goddard's post detailing her experience with maternal depressive symptoms, during which Goddard was overwhelmed, hopeless and exhausted.

I ask Eve if she remembers me being like that. She says no. She is surprised when I describe the sofa incident.

So, as it turns out, not just moments but memories slipped away into that beige hole.

Flower Dingbat


Eve gamely accepted my invitation to join me on a recent teleseminar call to talk over the view from her unique vantage point as the daughter of... me! We shared stories, recollections (and the interesting lack of recollection, as above), insights, struggles we've shared between then...

...and now!

We touched upon things like:

  • when an older child is afraid to sleep alone
  • protecting her childhood in a prematurely grown-up world
  • the legacy of depression in her own life
  • how Waldorf education served (and did not serve) Eve
  • a unique menstruation education that Eve appreciated

Available to Hear Now ~ INSTANT Access Here

The Postpartum Pact --
Something I wish we'd had! A practical document to work through with a partner or other loved one, to review past experience with PPD symptoms and/or prepare for an upcoming postpartum period.
Postpartum Progress
Postpartum Stress Center

Pearson, Catherine. "Weaning and depression linked in many women." HuffPost Parents. 2/27/12
Rettner, Rachael. "Perfectionists at Risk for Postpartum Depression." 7/6/10
Study identifies risk factors for postpartum depressive symptoms. 3/22/12
Kripke, Kate. "To the postpartum depression moms suffering in silence." Postpartum Progress. 3/20/12
Goddard, Joanna. "The hardest two months of my life." A Cup of Jo, 2/20/12.

Brooke Shields, cover image from Down Came The Rain
Marcy and Ian Axness, by John Axness
Mother and baby, by Lisa Pflaum used with permission
Marcy and newborn Eve, by John Axness

Marcy Axness, PhD, is an early development specialist, parent coach, and author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers. Featured in several documentary films as an authority on adoption, prenatal development and Waldorf education, Dr. Axness is a popular international speaker and has a private practice counseling parents-in-progress. She considers as her most important credential being mother to Ian and Eve, both in their twenties. Marcy is offering Natural Baby Pros readers a free copy of her "Quick-Start Guide to Shifting Your Child's Stuck Behaviors" eBooklet, a unique, powerful tool for parents to use in addressing behavior and/or developmental concerns in children of all ages.