One of my personal values is authenticity in everything I do, both in-person and within this virtual space we share. While it's tempting to only share the creative work I do, the highlights of parenthood and entrepreneurship, and the incredible people I get to partner with, I'd be remiss not to share the hard stuff too.
Being my own boss allows me to ebb and flow with the ever-changing demands of business and parenthood, a privilege that I've become acutely aware during the past few weeks as I endured the painful experience of Post-Weaning Depression.
If you're unfamiliar, Post-Weaning Depression shares similar symptoms as Postpartum Depression with sadness, disconnection, anger, anxiety, and frustration at the forefront. It's thought to be caused by a shift in hormones following the end of breastfeeding, specifically a drop in oxytocin (the 'love hormone') and prolactin (a hormone that produces milk and feelings of relaxation). Each time we nurse our babies, oxytocin in released and without it, we essentially go through withdrawals. Layer on top of that, the return or continuance of a menstrual cycle, and our hormones take a bit of a wild ride.
Our weaning story
Six weeks ago was the last time that my last baby nursed. Ari was 15 months old and had slept through the whole night prior and woke up hungry. I pulled her into bed with me and she nursed from both sides, an unusual gift that I was grateful at the time due to my own feelings of too-fullness and one in which I’m more grateful for looking back & realizing it was our last time. Ari spent close to thirty minutes snuggled up to me, while Ada laid close on the other side of us, periodically checking on Ari and offering a her kiss on the forehead or the gently squeeze of her hand. It was one of those True Bliss moments and I’m thankful that I was so present for it all, not knowing it would be our very last.
It still feels so unexpected, something in which I was entirely unprepared for. However, a quick glance to the week prior it’s clear that our breastfeeding relationship was ending—she’d been playfully reducing her latch to that of a straw, and when I’d gently encourage her to open wider, she’d only offer a giggle and get right back to sipping. Two nights prior to our end, we were snuggled up on the couch alone and I took a few quick selfies of us both while she nursed, noticing just how big my 15-month baby girl has gotten to be.
We had all came down with a mild virus of some sort and Ari went on an abrupt nursing strike Tuesday afternoon (mere hours after our long snuggly morning sesh). She shrieked and batted me away as I offered her the same milk she’d enjoyed for the 468 days prior, then she continued to wail and struggled with how to soothe herself to sleep without it. Eventually, I gave up and offered water and her favorite stuffed bunny, Hop Hop, and she settled in for her nap.
I walked out of her room with tears in my eyes and boobs still full of milk due to the wild lack of warning or any semblance of a gradual weaning plan, I dug out my old hand pump, prepped it in a bottle for later, and took a handful of sunflower lecithin to stave off clogged ducts and mastitis, both of which I am far too familiar with. When she woke up, she drank it from the bottle enthusiastically while continuing to smack me away when I offered to nurse her directly. I continued to pump 2-3 times per day for a few more days, with variable success and comfort and Ari learned how to fall asleep without me.
I remained in denial that that was the end, hoping that she’d return to our morning, nap, and nighttime routine—I wasn’t ready to close that chapter just yet.
During this transition, Ari distanced herself from me in other ways too. She had stopped offering kisses and hugs freely, wanted Daddy a whole lot more, and only wanting brief bedtime tuck-ins in place of our 20 minute snuggle sessions.
I’ve stood back, letting Ari take the lead in forming this new version of herself and our relationship. She’s growing up so quickly and I can hardly keep up. One night, a full week after her last time nursing, Ari finally leaned in for a kiss, then another, then another, plus a new game of tickly nose kisses. I got her dressed and leaned over to lay her in her crib before she wriggled out of my arms, but this time she held tight to me, nestled her face into the crook of my neck, and let me sway her back and forth as I sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I felt pure joy with her close to me once again and finally knew that this is exactly how she planned it. She is a girl who knows what she wants and I stand in awe of her every day.
I pumped one last time on Monday, July 4th and documented all of my feelings of pride and sadness in a few photos. It’s been 5 years of continuously growing and nourishing two little humans with my body through pregnancy & breastfeeding. I’m beyond proud of myself and stand in amazement of all that my body has done. My body is a good body.
When Ada weaned, it was also unexpected but a welcome relief as I was 8 weeks pregnant with Ari and ready for our journey to end. Like Ari, Ada weaned without much warning at 2 years and 2 months old and even shouted “yuck!” at the offer, presumably because the consistency and flavor of my milk had shifted in my new pregnancy. By then she’d only been nursing a few minutes morning and night and the transition was quite welcomed by me.
With both of my girls, our journeys began with painful latches due to major lip & tongue ties and had their releases done by the incredible team at Arizona Breastfeeding Medicine and Wellness. I've survived countless clogged ducts, four bouts of mastitis, an oversupply, and I'm proud to have donated hundreds of ounces of milk to another mama and baby. With both kids, I've been lucky enough to work from home and have them by my side, making our breastfeeding experience more accessible than many other moms who work outside of their homes—I am acutely aware of the privilege that holds.
From Acceptance to Anguish
About two weeks after Ari stopped nursing and I’d stopped pumping, I celebrated my new-found independence in small ways like booking a longer hair appointment and not rushing home to feed the baby, quick tuck-ins became a breeze, and I added more to my workouts now that I had more available time in my days. I was delighted with my changing body and beginning to feel acceptance for this shift.
I thought I had prepared myself well for this potential change and even though it came abruptly, I was relieved when my initial response was one of acceptance. I have a MS in Counseling Psychology, learned from my best friend's experience with the same condition, and had read numerous articles outlining the symptoms and treatment options. What I wasn’t prepared for was the following three weeks of extreme fluctuations in my hormones and mental health.
To say I was blindsided by the actual experience of Post-Weaning Depression would be an understatement.
I felt as if I were in a dense fog, numb and disconnected from myself and my purpose. I laid in bed for hours while my kids played sweetly in the next room, not wanting to engage and was wholly overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks. I found myself impatiently yelling at my family for the slightest of inconveniences. I cried hard and often, wondering how long I might feel this way and desperate for a way back to myself. Every day for three weeks was seemingly worse than the last and I struggled to stay afloat and present.
My Way Out of the Dark
I leaned on my best friend and my husband for support, but found it nearly impossible to describe how I felt or share how they could possibly help. I prioritized my physical health with more sleep, more exercise & movement, more sunshine on my face, less alcohol, and less pressure on achievement. I began re-reading my favorite book at night instead of scrolling on my phone as I fell asleep and researched natural supplements that aimed to add balance to my unbalanced self. I sought out stories of recovery from other mamas who have experienced the same and grounded myself in knowing that, while excruciating, this was temporary as my body and soul settled into a new role. I stepped away from work for a bit to connect with myself and my kids without the pressure to do more than just 'be'.
There's an amazing breastfeeding support group here in Phoenix who gathers for a photoshoot every August during World Breastfeeding Week. I was determined to attend for the first time (we were super sick last year) and celebrated the end of this breastfeeding journey by giving Ari her very last bottle of breast milk while standing alongside 343 other breastfeeding mamas and their babies. This incredible gathering aims to normalize breastfeeding in public and even made the news! The woman and photographer behind this project is Alicia Samone and I'm so grateful for her advocacy and planning of this powerful event. Ari and I are somewhere in the back left of this photo:
Just the day prior, I’d been at my lowest—crying and angry much of the day, desperate for relief. I was nervous about how I would feel being surrounded by other moms who were still nursing while I wasn’t, but remained determined to make this feel
celebratory anyways. The photo is stunning and I’m still in awe of everyone who showed up. The morning of this photoshoot, as I was walking out the door, my period started and it was as if a switch flipped and the world felt bright again. It was as if the shaken up hormones in my body had suddenly settled and the rage of the storm was over.
Today is day four of my period and I’m feeling clear-minded, grateful for my own self-compassion as I navigated this challenge, and ready to jump back into enjoying my family and work. I celebrated the closing of this chapter (and my birthday!) with a solo spa day focused on healing my body and mind and grounding myself in the present moment.
What is Post-Weaning Depression?
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this advice is not meant to take place of professional support from your therapist &/or doctor.
This painful experience still feels surreal and had it not been for the shared stories from other moms who have trudged through Post-Weaning Depression before me, I would have felt so much more lost and alone. Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, and 'Mom Rage' are often spoken about when our babies are first born, although still not nearly enough, but unless you are intentionally searching for "depression" and "weaning" together, there's not much help available.
These are common symptoms of Post-Weaning Depression:
Crying more than usual
Headaches or migraines
Some moms experience these symptoms within a few days of weaning, and others like me, feel it a few weeks later. It's helpful to know that it typically lasts 4-6 weeks, although for me, it felt like a lifetime when I was deep in it.
If you’re feeling depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or need more support, I encourage you to seek help. Had I not begun to feel better over the weekend, my next step was to reach out to my midwife, my acupuncturist, find a therapist, and seek out medication that would help me through this.
A few helpful resources:
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming your child, please call the free national hotline at 988 immediately
Postpartum Support International has free support groups and a network of therapists ready to help
It helps to tell someone about your experience and not have to hold it all on your own. I'm here if you want to chat: firstname.lastname@example.org
As parents and business owners, it sometimes feels impossible to take a break and cliché to say 'you can't pour from an empty cup' but it's true & your wellbeing matters. You matter.
The timeline and healing journey varies for each of us and my story is one of thousands—I hope that sharing mine here helps anyone going through this to feel less alone.
I'd love to hear your story about how you've endured mental health challenges, advice you have about balancing parenthood and work, or how you found help in your own journey with Post-Weaning Depression. Comment below to share your story.