Content warning: Discussion of suicidal ideation ahead.

Hi! My name is Erin Bagwell and I’m a documentary filmmaker, postpartum depression survivor, and mother of two girls: a 3-year-old and a 1-month-old. 

I had debilitating postpartum depression with my first daughter three years ago. I was suicidal, crying multiple times a day, and felt like I was trapped under an excruciating wave of depression and anxiety for the first few months of my daughter’s life. So much so that I thought I made a mistake. Maybe I didn’t have what it takes to be a mom. 

I found a PMAD therapist (perinatal mood and anxiety disorder) and joined a PMAD support group where I learned I was wrong: I not only had what it takes to be a mom, but I was experiencing something, that according to The Motherhood Center 1 in 5 birthing people struggle with when they become mothers. Being able to name my postpartum depression (PPD) allowed me to understand that what I was experiencing wasn’t what motherhood was supposed to feel like. It gave me the tools and the hope to explore the narrative I had around what it meant to be a mother, and to start the healing process. I even made a 30 minute documentary about the process called Year One about identity, coming through the other side of PPD, and my first year of motherhood. 

You can watch Year One here.

After my daughter turned 1, my mental health began to improve, and little by little, I began to feel happier than I had been in a long time. Coming through the other side of something so painful felt liberating. Every good day I felt more confident in myself and more joyful. I started to regain my sense of self and rebuild my identity as a mother. And after weathering the first year of the pandemic, my husband and I started talking about what it would look like to have another baby. 

We went back and forth on the pros and cons and what it would be like to potentially experience PPD again. And despite the pain of experiencing PPD, I felt like I was strong enough to try again. Especially since I had a great PMAD therapist to guide me through this pregnancy, and the experience of knowing when something might be wrong. 

So I got pregnant. 

But I’ve noticed that during this pregnancy, some of my friends and family have decided to tell me that “this time will be different.” More specifically, that this time around I won’t have postpartum depression. 

PPD doesn’t discriminate based on how together your life is.

And to be fair: this time will be different. Lots of things in my life are different. My family moved out of our one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn and into a house closer to my parents. I have more support and my toddler is in a part-time childcare program. My parenting life is much easier than it was when my family lived in New York City. But having great support doesn’t guarantee perfect mental health. Look no further than some of our favorite celebrities like AdeleCardi B, and Reese Witherspoon, who all suffered from PMADs. Or the patron saint of postpartum depression, Alanis Morrisette, who had PPD with all three of her children. One could assume all of these women had first-class postpartum support, but having support doesn’t negate the life-altering matrescence a person goes through to become a mother. 

One of the biggest misconceptions about depression is that it can’t affect put-together people. In fact, my PMAD therapist told me the people who are often hit the hardest are the Type-A overachievers who like to stick to a plan and know how to do things well. But what I’ve learned through my parenting experience is that motherhood wasn’t something I did “well” off the bat. It was a struggle, a process, a learning—one that can be quite infuriating.

My own grandmother had postpartum depression twice when she was pregnant with my dad and aunt, and she’s the toughest woman I know. PPD doesn’t discriminate based on how together your life is. It doesn’t care if you live in a one-bedroom apartment or if you can sell out the Hollywood Bowl with Oprah singing along to your songs. 

The idea that it “will be better this time” actually puts the responsibility on the mother: the one person who doesn’t really need to take on the pressure of meeting others’ expectations about her own mental health. Instead, if you have a friend who is going through the postpartum journey again, maybe it would be better to just say, “I’m here to support you, no matter what.” Even just an honest “how are you doing?” can be quite effective; you’d be surprised how many people are afraid to ask the simple questions when it comes to mental health

Part of my mental health journey has been about giving myself permission to talk about it more openly, and not feel shame around admitting that I’m struggling. 

Because at the end of the day, that’s the real reason for how “it will be different this time.” It’s going to be different because hopefully your village will show up and be there with you in the discomfort. And if they won’t, you don’t have to take that on either. That’s what a great PMAD therapist is for. Your journey is yours alone, and you don’t owe anyone anything other than taking care of yourself and your own family. 

I’ve been battling with suicidal thoughts and depression since I was about 17 years old. It’s been a hard topic to discuss with my family, especially with my mom, who I feel comfortable sharing the good parts of my life with, but not always the bad. Part of my mental health journey has been about giving myself permission to talk about it more openly, and not feel shame around admitting that I’m struggling. 

This past week on Instagram I posted a photo of a candle on my stories that read, “lighting an evening candle is really helping my seasonal depression.” A few hours later my mom called to inform me she had been gifted about a million holiday candles from school and that I could have a couple if I wanted to help fight my seasonal depression. She was being sincere with a hint of sarcasm, and it was perfect. It was the first time we talked about my depression casually, without any strings, and without me feeling any shame. It just was.  

As I enter into the first few weeks postpartum I’ll be thinking about Cardi B, my nanny, my best friend Molly, and all those who’ve experienced PPD and survived. Who’ve gone on to work through their depression, become excellent mothers, and grow from their postpartum journeys. Parents who have taught me to hope, and love, and given me the courage to bring another child into the world again. 

It will be better this time. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.