The birth of a new baby brings with it a whole host of new emotions. Everything from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. One thing a lot of people may not be ready for though, is that having a baby can also bring on depression.
Over the past few years there’s been a real push for recognizing mental health disorders and caring for the people dealing with them. With that being said, there still seems to be a bit of a stigma attached to maternal mental health issues. Women still tend to hide or feel shame when it comes to dealing with these bad feelings and the hormonal shifts that can accompany having children. There should never be any shame in admitting that you are suffering with Postpartum Depression/Anxiety (PPD/PPA) or any other mental health disorder though.
So let’s start out with some facts here. According to the CDC, 1 out of 9 postpartum women may experience signs or symptoms of postpartum depression. These symptoms can present themselves anywhere from a few days or weeks following delivery, all the way up to 2 years postpartum.
Following delivery, it is very normal for new mothers to experience something called baby blues. You know, those temporary feelings of being overwhelmed or sad. Normally these feelings can last a few days to a couple of weeks but they will normally resolve themselves.
Signs of Baby Blues:
- Mood swings
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Reduced concentration
- Appetite problems
- Trouble sleeping
Postpartum Depression is not the same thing as baby blues, though it shares many of the same symptoms and may be easily dismissed at first as just being baby blues… it is not. The feelings associated with Postpartum Depression tend to be much more intense, last longer, and may eventually begin to interfere with daily life and your ability to care for your child.
Signs of Postpartum Depression:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
My struggle with Postpartum Depression
The topic of Postpartum Depression is very close to me. I’ve dealt with pretty sever Postpartum Depression and Anxiety following the births of 3 out of my 5 children. It has affected everything from normal daily activities down to my relationships with my children. It’s not something I’m proud of but it’s also not something that I feel I need to hide. I hope that by talking about my experiences, that it may ultimately help someone else that may be going through this as well.
Dealing with PPD/PPA is not easy. After the birth of my first child, I went through an extremely hard time in my life. I did not have a good support system. I had just had a baby, my husband and I had just gotten married two months after she was born; so we were still figuring out how to navigate life as a married couple. I was stuck between being an adult woman with a husband and a child and still feeling like I needed to please my own mother by still doing what she wanted. I was lost and my hormones were raging.
During this time I found myself not truly bonding with my baby, which made me feel even worse. I felt like I was broken because my baby’s cries annoyed me instead of making me want to rush to her. I was exhausted, sleep deprived, anxious. I was insecure about my body and my relationship with my new husband. I was having to balance work, my house , and a new baby as well as trying to be a wife. I was running myself ragged and felt like I had no one to talk to and no right to complain. I mean, other new moms are dealing with the same things and are fine…Why am I struggling with it? Why should I feel like what I’m dealing with is any worse than what anyone else is going through?
I found myself flying off the handle. Minor issues would send me into full blown panic attacks or rages. I hated the thought of sex and found it incredibly hard to do anything with my husband. I would cry for seemingly no reason. And, the hardest part was the complete feeling of worthlessness. The feeling that my child would be better off without me. Self harm was a last resort when I felt like I was falling and no one was there to help me.
I attempted to talk to my OB/GYN that delivered her, but she didn’t really do much. She said that she thought I may be dealing with baby blues (when in reality I had full blown postpartum depression verging on the possibility of postpartum psychosis) and decided to prescribe me a refillable prescription for Zoloft and sent me on my way. She never followed up. She never questioned anything. Just told me to take the pills and to make myself have sex with my husband until it no longer felt like a chore or I started to enjoy it again. Yup, I was told to force myself to have sex to get past my emotional issues with it.
No one ever questioned that maybe what I was dealing with was postpartum depression. No one stopped to ask if I was having any issues. If they “asked” it wasn’t really asking, it was telling me to stop acting like a bitch or to get over it.
When I think about that first two years of my first child’s life, I’m still saddened by it. It still hurts to think about how low I really got and that I felt so alone. None of my issues were ever directed at my child, thankfully, I was one that directed all of my issues at myself. So in that regard… I was lucky.
I did attempt to take the medications prescribed to me, but they honestly made me feel worse. So I just dealt with it. It probably wasn’t the best choice, but honestly when you’re in the middle of a depression as deep as I was in, you lose the ability to make good decisions. When you feel like no one is listening to you…not your doctors, or your spouse, or your parents, you stop seeking help. I didn’t know I could seek out new providers and I didn’t think to seek out a therapist.
Luckily after about 2 years, I had my birth control IUD removed and slowly I began to feel less crazy. I believe the IUD contributed to some of the issues I was experiencing but it wasn’t the only cause.
Thankfully, I didn’t have the same issues after having my second child. I was concerned that it was a possibility but that’s the funny thing about postpartum depression… it doesn’t always happen after every child. Just because you’ve dealt with it after one delivery, doesn’t mean you’ll deal with it after a second or third. I was more prepared and new what to watch out for, though.
I ended up switching providers when I became pregnant with my third child and I’m so happy that I did. I finally found a group of doctors that genuinely cared and took the time to listen to their patients. After I explained what I went through with my first child, they confirmed my suspicions that I had been dealing with a sever case of PPD. So, while I was pregnant, we made a game plan on how to deal with things postpartum this go around. Thankfully we had the plan in place because I did end up having some issues with PPD after baby number three. We quickly recognized that this was not just a case of baby blues and my provider got me started on a different antidepressant that also helped to deal with anxiety. She brought me back weekly for the first 12 weeks to do checks. My provider made sure that the medications were right and checked in to make sure I was handling things well. She would also call me out when she knew or suspected I was just telling her I was okay because I thought that’s what she wanted to hear… I’m bad about not wanting to push my issues on others. She would ask me if I was okay or how I was feeling and I’d say fine. She would then follow that up with “Really? You look very tired today. Have you been sleeping” or something along those lines and would continue to ask until I told her everything that was going on.
It’s amazing the difference having a better support team and a provider that actually listened and cared for what I had to say made in dealing with PPD.
My youngest child is now almost two and I can say that this time around has not been all sunshine and rainbows. I’ve dealt with some mild depression but my anxiety has been through the roof following her birth. Thankfully I know what to look out for and understand what I need to do in order to take care of myself and work through it. I’ve managed without medications this time and overall, it’s gone okay but it’s still not easy. It’s a daily struggle sometimes and I have to do self checks to try and make sure I stay on top of my own mood and anxiety levels.
Just like after babies three and four, my doctor had a plan in place to help me deal with my PPD/PPA after baby number five. I didn’t start to notice symptoms until around 4 or 5 months postpartum which is when I made a call in to see what we could do. She immediately provided the names and contact information for several therapist in my area that specifically dealt with PPD/PPA. I’ve been able to manage my symptoms, for the most part, through exercise and talking through what’s going on in my brain. It’s not easy and it’s not fun admitting that you’re struggling to someone but it does help.
If you feel like you may be dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety, please reach out to a trusted provider or loved one for help. If you have asked for helped, and feel like no one is listening, keep asking. Don’t except “it’s just baby blues” or “you’re just tired” as an explanation for your feelings. If you feel like your doctors are not taking you seriously, find new providers that will. There is a lot that you can do to help with your postpartum depression at home but having the right medications (if needed) or seeing a therapist can be very helpful.
Most importantly, remember that you are not alone. You are not broken. What you are experiencing, though not normal, is not something that you should be ashamed of and that seeking help is not a sign of weakness.