The time surrounding the birth of a new baby is full to the brim with emotions: excitement, anxiety, joy, pain, nervousness, relief, etc. People are constantly coming and going, and there are visitors, celebrations, congratulations, and new experiences galore.
But when the dust settles and the sleep-deprived mama is left holding this beautiful newborn baby and the reality of all that’s transpired over the last nine months of her life comes to a head, the emotions that remain can seem overwhelming and difficult to comprehend, it can be extremely confusing and paralyzing. In a time when you picture yourself relishing in the aroma of your new “bundle of joy,” it can be hard to comprehend why you might be feeling anything BUT joy.
While statistics regarding just how many women struggle with postpartum depression can be difficult to pinpoint, the fact is that many women suffer in silence. Postpartum depression can often be misunderstood as sleep deprivation, loneliness, or even just ones shortcomings as a mother. The fact is, there are so many emotional and physical changes that happen within a woman when she gives birth to a baby, it’s no wonder she feels out of whack. These changes can wreak havoc on our hormones, minds, and emotions, and postpartum depression (PPD) is REAL.
As someone who suffered clinical depression in my late teens and early 20’s, I went into my first pregnancy aware that I was at a heightened risk for PPD. However, once my son was born, I didn’t have what I considered to be “typical” depression symptoms, so I chalked up my obsessive thoughts and extreme anxiety as “normal new mom stuff.” When it became incapacitating, with the urging of my husband, I finally decided to seek help. I learned that postpartum depression is not a “one size fits all” diagnosis, but it can manifest in many different ways: anxiety, depression, anger, sexual dysfunction, and obsessive and intrusive thoughts. Beyond that, PPD is not something to be ashamed of or merely suffer through, but can be diagnosed and treated under the guidance of your physician.
In an effort to help others avoid the “this doesn’t look or feel like depression so it must not be PPD” roadblock, I surveyed several diverse groups of women and ask them to put their own PPD experience into words. The quotes that follow are a sampling of what I heard.
“I felt like I was living in a fog. All I could seem to hear was white noise. I was going through the motions but I couldn’t feel anything. I would try to sleep but my heart would beat so fast it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I would wake up covered in sweat. I couldn’t listen to music or turn on the TV without being paralyzed by anxiety. I became obsessed with his sleep. I dove into books, the Internet, everyone I knew for their advice and suggestions. I couldn’t think or stop talking about anything else for months. My house felt like a cave I couldn’t escape. Everything felt overwhelming. I felt like a shell of my former self. I found myself in tears often. I wished away the days, I yearned for the first year to be over. I felt so much guilt over how I felt because I loved my son but everything; everything felt so out of control.” –Chelsea
“I got extremely anxious as the night hours approached. I started to get paranoid when my husband would fall asleep before me and resent him because he was sleeping so soundly. Every sound on the baby monitor made me jolt and I went on for months with rouge, restless sleep that made me feel nauseous. Even when my baby was sleeping I was awake, freaking out that I couldn’t sleep and getting worried that he would wake up the second I fell asleep. It was a crazy cycle and I felt trapped.” –Lauren
“I felt horrible guilt, because here was this precious, perfect, darling baby girl who slept through the night and was happy all day. But I wasn’t happy. As much as I loved her, I could feel myself slipping away. And I was silent about it, nobody but my husband knew. And it wouldn’t be until a few years later that I nearly hit rock bottom. I didn’t just want to be “mom” but I also still wanted to be ‘me’.” -Alyson
“I couldn’t keep up: the house was out of control, we were always well past the point of appropriate time limits between showers, I couldn’t button any pants of any kind, and I felt like I was mean all of the time when all I wanted to be was a loving mom/wife/friend–but what I thought of as “laziness” turned it to be a whole huge bunch of shame. I didn’t feel like I was good enough in any single area of my life.” –Erin
“(After having my second child) I was just afraid I had leaped too soon into having a second baby. I remember my first looking like such a grown up kid next to the newborn, and feeling an overwhelming guilt that I wasn’t soaking in every single second (due to my exhaustion of having a newborn). I was unable to sleep at all due to this guilt.” –Cailey
“I had severe anxiety: sitting with my baby looking just fine on the outside while silently seeing movie clip type scenes in my head of all these terrible things happening to my baby. To me. To my other child: Walking down the sidewalk and a car hits us. Finding out I had cancer and it was terminal. Watching our house on fire screaming that my baby was inside. I couldn’t turn it off.” –Jennifer
“I still remember laying there in my bed after my second baby was born and silently sobbing. The nurse brought in this bundle and gave him to me to nurse, but I felt nothing but resentment. I looked at her and shouted through the tears, ‘I need someone to just take care of that baby so I can go home to my son.’ Looking back, that was a severe red flag that was missed.” – Sarah
“Consider the thing you want to think about least in the world (like killing your child). Think about it. Replay the thought on a loop. Play it constantly and to the point where you have panic attacks and question whether or not you’re a danger to your baby. Beg someone to take your children from you so they’ll be safe. Stop sleeping and eating. Worry all the time.” –Kate
If you can relate to any of the above, or even if you can’t, but something just “doesn’t feel right,” please seek help from your doctor.
You are not alone. There is NO shame. We are cheering for you.
**If you are struggling to figure out if you are dealing with postpartum depression, or are worried you won’t have the words to express what’s been going on when you see your doctor, consider completing this questionnaire and bringing it with you when you visit your doctor.**
Have you experienced postpartum depression? What did PPD look like to YOU? If you are open, consider sharing in the comments below — you never know how your words might encourage someone else to seek help.
If you or someone you know if a mom struggling with emotional complications during pregnancy or after giving birth, you are not alone. Our hope is that this upcoming mental health series brings you encouragement and support. We are enthusiastic and confident in our endorsement of Moms Mental Health Initiative and would love for you to explore their site to get connected to resources to help.