Healing and Love after Postpartum DepressionAn Interview with Emily Guillermo
In June 2014, nytimes.com posted a video by Margaret Cheatham Williams entitled “Unexpected, Unplanned, Unwanted.” In the video, Emily Guillermo of Texas, USA talks about her struggle with postpartum depression/psychosis after Benjamin, her second son, was born.
Benjamin is now two years old. With hard work, professional help from a therapist and support from husband and father Jeff, respectively, Emily and Benjamin are doing much better now as they learn to enjoy and embrace their relationship as mother and son.
Are you still dealing with postpartum depression now? What symptoms are you still experiencing?
I am no longer experiencing postpartum depression/psychosis. I do struggle with depression, but not as deeply as I did before. I am still left with feelings of guilt at times from the experience. I have always wanted what was best for Benjamin, and knowing that he didn’t get the best of me as his mother in that first year is a tough thing to swallow. I still continue to see a therapist once a month to help me with these feelings.
Has your experience with postpartum depression/psychosis affected your son’s growth and development?
Benjamin is now 27 months old. He has been evaluated by a child therapist to ensure that he has developed into a normal 2-year-old psychologically. He began to exhibit signs of having an attachment disorder very early on and it was of great concern to me that he could have been affected mentally from my postpartum psychosis. It took several months to determine that Benjamin was in fact, a normal 2-year-old, although he does have some slight abandonment issues. It is very difficult to be out of eyesight of him even for just a few moments. This is typical for his stage of development, except that his feelings are far more intense than what other children his age may feel. When Benjamin was 14 months old, we began doing attachment exercises that many foster parents do to create stronger bonds with their children, and we still do them daily. I make it a point to spend lunchtime alone with him while his older brother Christopher takes his afternoon nap, so we can interact and bond without any distractions.
Benjamin has always been on the smaller side of the growth scale, but he was also born at only 3 lbs. and 34 weeks early, so it took him a long time to catch up to other babies his age. At one of his checkup appointments, we were told he had a slight iron deficiency that could be preventing him from growing as well as he could be. After a simple diet change and a growth spurt, he is closer to the normal height/weight range as other 2-year-old boys. I don’t think that my illness had anything to do with his physical growth.
How is your relationship with Benjamin now compared to how it was in the first year of his life?
My relationship with Benny is infinitely better now than it was during that first year. It took me a long time to finally feel bonded with him. It took me even longer to understand and accept that my relationship with him and my love for him are entirely different from those with Christopher. Sometimes it feels like my bond with Benjamin is far more complex and unique because we worked so hard to overcome postpartum psychosis. We won the battle together.
In all honesty, my relationship with Benny is far from perfect. For example, I can read the emotions on Christopher’s face precisely and act accordingly, while I find that Benjamin is a very difficult child to read emotionally and that makes it harder for me to meet his needs and wants. This also makes everyday tasks with him more arduous than should be. The one lingering effect that I have from postpartum psychosis is the trigger of his cries. His cries used to be like nails clawing down a chalkboard; it was excruciating to hear him cry during my affliction. Now, it’s no longer so severe, but at times it can still become frustrating to hear him cry. I’m not certain why this particular thing has stuck with me, but I have perceived it to be dissipating, especially as my relationship improves with Benny.
Has your postpartum depression/psychosis had any effects on Benjamin’s relationship with his father? With his older brother Christopher?
Benjamin has had no trouble bonding with my husband. Not surprisingly, Benjamin adores Jeff just as Jeff adores him. On some occasions when my husband comes home from work, I no longer exist to him and he is completely focused on Daddy. I have noticed that he comes out of his shell a little more with Jeff as well; he becomes more vocal and more eager to please. It makes me extremely happy to know that Benny has someone who has been a constant in his life from the day that he was born until now, and it definitely shows in the way that he trusts Jeff more than me. As for Benjamin and Christopher, they fight like typical boys over who gets to sit on Mommy or Daddy’s lap or the most awesome red firetruck ever. I see them becoming closer as they get older and understanding what one another is saying. When I began to accept having another baby in our household and was on the way to recovery, Christopher began to accept having another person to share his life (and toys) with.