The Truth About Postpartum Depression and ‘Virgin River’

I used to dream of finding a baby on my doorstep. I had the silly notion that if I found a baby it would be mine. It happened in the movies all the time. Why couldn’t it happen to me? It was a simple solution to my strong desire to have another baby.

Virgin River Season 1 Episode 2 Recap

In the Netflix series, Virgin River, a baby is found on the doorstep of the local medical clinic. , the new nurse in town, Mel, has the immediate reaction to contact the local Child Protective Services. Unaware of the closeness of the community, she is instantly looked upon as the bad guy in town. Mel meets a patient who comes into the clinic who seems to agree with her. He makes the statement, “I had good foster parents who turned into good real parents.”  She is only thinking of the best interests of the baby. The infant refused to drink from a bottle and Mel is concerned for her health and well-being. The townspeople come together and bring supplies to the clinic to help provide for the temporal needs of the baby whom Mel has named Chloe after her Mel’s sister. Lily, a local woman, offers to watch Chloe while Mel takes a much-needed break. Upon her return, she is shocked to find Lily breastfeeding the baby. 

Virgin River Season 1 Episode 3 Recap

In the next episode, it is revealed that Lily is suffering from postpartum depression. She has older children and was not prepared for the birth of another child at this point in her life. She was also grieving the loss of her husband who had passed away just six months earlier. As Lily explains her feelings of inadequacy to Mel, it becomes apparent that she is experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. Mel defines it as a hormonal imbalance that distorts reality. Also referred to as PPD, this is more severe than baby blues’ that many new mothers have following the birth of their baby. The baby blues typically include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. PPD tends to last longer and has more intense depression symptoms such as feelings of hopelessness, panic attacks, and fear of not being a good mother. Postpartum psychosis is even more severe and happens rarely after childbirth. These symptoms may include suicide ideation and/or the desire to harm your baby, paranoia, confusion, and hallucinations. All of these conditions can be treated and should be discussed with your medical professional.

In the series, Virgin River, postpartum depression is discussed as a possible reason for a baby to be placed for adoption. Lily has feelings of restlessness and uncertainty in the care of her baby. She thinks that the best thing for Chloe is to have someone else take her. She genuinely loves her baby but is overwhelmed by thoughts of inadequacy. After some discussion with Mel, Lily is better able to understand her emotions and realize that there are options for her situation. Since Lily has an older daughter, it is suggested that they do a kinship placement for a short time. Kinship placement is when a family member is able to care for the child when the biological parents are unable to do so instead of placing the child in foster care. This seems to be a logical solution for Lily. She agrees with Child Protective Services and arrangements are made. Lily also agrees to see Doc for medical intervention so she will be prepared to care for Chloe in the future.

Postpartum Depression and Adoption 

There are no right or wrong reasons to place a baby for adoption. If a pregnant woman desires to do so, she should not be questioned about her decision. In many cases, adoption is done for the safety and protection of the baby. In the situation of postpartum depression, a child’s life can be endangered and it would be in the best interest of the child. 

Postpartum depression is not exclusive to birthmothers. Mayoclinic.org states that it can have a ripple effect causing emotional strain for everyone close to the baby. The added stress of a baby can cause a father to become depressed and overwhelmed at the thought of having to provide for another member of the family. 

In a study from Purdue University, it was observed that depression is relatively common in post-adoptive parents. Although very little research has been done, 10 percent to 32 percent of post-adoptive parents experience post-adoptive depression. Karen Foli said, “Bonding with the children often comes up in post-adoption depression. If adoptive mothers cannot bond to their child as quickly as they expected, they commonly report feeling guilt and shame.” These emotions often lead to depression.

Postpartum Depression

My Experience with Postpartum Depression

Following the birth of my first baby, I experienced the baby blues. I would cry in the shower where no one could see me or suspect my sadness. It made no sense to me as a first-time mother. How could I be so happy and depressed at the same time? I had given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. My delivery was uneventful with no problems and I had a loving, supportive husband, along with family members close by willing to help. Still, I would find myself having bouts of sadness and feeling inadequate as a mother. It didn’t help that she was a poor eater and I didn’t have enough milk or patience to help her nurse. By the third week, I had given up and felt like a complete failure. It took time for me to realize that nursing my baby wasn’t the only way I could bond with her. After several months of hiding my symptoms, they resolved and I carried on as if it had never happened. My husband never knew what I had experienced. I was too ashamed to share it with him.

Two and a half years later, I had our second daughter. We were excited but my husband had hoped for a boy. In the delivery room, I cried because she didn’t have a name. My husband quickly gave her a beautiful name that we had discussed only briefly. She was a better eater but still, I didn’t have enough milk to keep her healthy. At 3 months old, I was told that I was starving her and would have to supplement if I was to keep nursing. My milk supply dried up and once again I felt like a failure. I accused my husband of not loving her because she was a girl. I felt guilty for not giving her enough attention. She was a very calm baby so I spent most of my day entertaining her older, more demanding sister. I would have to remind myself to hold her as she did not require as much affection. Again, I hid my feelings of depression from my husband and other family members. This time it was worse but I still didn’t recognize it as a medical issue that needed to be addressed or discussed with my doctor. I  carried on and eventually the symptoms resolved.

In the next few years, I was diagnosed with secondary infertility. We had the desire to add more children to our family. Nothing prepared me or my husband for what we went through. The inability to conceive consumed my every thought. Each month as I would face another disappointment, I would pull myself further and further away from my husband. The feelings of failure came flooding back. Fertility drugs and 2 failed attempts at artificial insemination only worsened the feelings of despair. 

Finally, we made the decision to adopt. Of course, this doesn’t solve all problems when faced with infertility but it does offer hope. Everything takes time and nothing happens fast enough. Disappointment comes in different ways and questions of “am I good enough?” creep into your mind daily.  Eventually, we were blessed with a healthy baby boy.  Each day I would look at him in awe and gratitude. Sleep deprivation and fatigue are not unique to mothers who give birth. It’s very real for adoptive parents too. The added struggle of finding ways to bond is another issue.

Some adoptive mothers choose to try to nurse their adopted babies. It is possible to nurse an infant that is not born to you. The use of medication prior to the baby’s arrival and immediately following the birth can help produce breast milk. The sucking motion on a woman’s breast can also stimulate the production of milk. Momadviceline.com states, “In addition to all the amazing things that breast milk is said to do, every nursing session causes the production of oxytocin in both mother and baby. This hormone is responsible for many things, including encouraging bonding and love. Creating a connection between an adopted baby and his new mother is a vital component of an adoption. Nursing can be a critical step towards establishing a woman as the child’s mother.” I did not choose to pursue nursing my adopted baby. Frequent holding and singing lullabies helped me to bond with my new son. 

Nearly 14 months after we adopted, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. It is said that if you adopt, you are sure to get pregnant (but that is not always the case). That rang true for us though. This time when the PPD started, I was expecting it and prepared my husband and family members for what was to come. Though hard for him to understand, my husband was supportive and helped as much as he could. We faced infertility again and suffered a miscarriage. I was blessed with another pregnancy and another baby boy. At the age of 40, I experienced severe bouts of postpartum depression and anxiety. This time I did seek medical help and attended counseling sessions. When my baby was 5 months old, we adopted a 2-year-old little girl. My anxiety and panic attacks worsened. I have only a vague memory of her first year with us. My crying baby was the only sound that got me out of bed each morning. All I wanted to do was disappear with him and the world could go on without us. Of course, that wasn’t possible as I had other children to take care of. With medication and continued counseling, I was able to push through and become productive in all of my children’s lives. Still, 18 years later, I have episodes of anxiety when I am in crowds. Postpartum depression can be treated but can also affect you for the rest of your life.

5 Ways to Combat Postpartum Depression in Birth Mothers

Postpartum depression can affect a birth mother after placing her infant for adoption. The normal feelings of sadness and depression are escalated by feelings of grief and loneliness. The Mayo Clinic offers these tips for coping with post-placement depression:

  1. Work with your adoption counselor. The help is always free to you as a woman considering adoption or one who has placed their baby. The Gladney Center For Adoption offers free lifetime counseling to the birth mothers who have been placed with their agency. 
  2. Talk to your doctor. Be open about what you are feeling. He or she can suggest different courses of action and/or prescribe medication if necessary.
  3. Lean on your support system. Friends and family can provide much-needed support and be by your side. Have someone who you can trust and confide in. It may also be helpful to join a birth parent support group.
  4. Live a healthy lifestyle. Eating well and getting enough sleep can go a long way in treating PPD. Exercise and avoiding alcohol can also be beneficial.
  5. Choosing an open adoption may be helpful as it lets you maintain some form of contact with your baby. Be sure to discuss how much you will be involved with your baby’s life after the adoption is completed.

Having a baby brings about different emotions and depending on your personal situation, postpartum depression can present itself in a variety of ways. Just remember that it can be treated and you are not alone.