I love using this space as place to write about my experiences as a mom, and most of the time I gush about how awesome it is. I try to keep it honest by acknowledging the difficulties and the hard times. But the truth is I love being a mother and I am happy in this role. However, loving motherhood did not make me immune to postpartum depression.
I returned to work when my daughter was 14 weeks old. Sadly in the US this is a long leave, and I am grateful I was able to take it. However, I really wasn’t ready to return to work and leave my daughter for so much of the day 5 days a week. About 2 weeks later my husband realized I wasn’t making super rational decisions. I was overloading myself with tasks. Looking back I can see that my thought process was this. Since it was time to be back at work, I subconsciously thought that it was time for all of my life to return to “normal”, therefore I needed to start proceeding with life the way it was pre-baby. I thought that if my life returned to “normal” then I wouldn’t feel so stressed and anxious and upset about being away from my baby and being back to work. One weekend I tried to schedule two photography sessions and run a 10 mile race. My husband thankfully voiced his concerns and I had to acknowledge that something wasn’t right.
I found a local support group with twice monthly meetings. It was a great experience. It was through this group that I realized the trigger for my PPD was the separation from my daughter, which was related to our rough start in life when she was in the NICU. It was also through this group that I discovered that anxiety was a symptom of my PPD. Ever since bringing my little girl home I had been suffering from fear of dropping her. I honestly thought this was normal and didn’t think anything of it. And while I think it is normal for mother’s to worry about dropping their child, it is not normal to vividly imagine dropping your child on a hard tile floor and your child’s head splitting open. That’s graphic, I know, but that is exactly what played through my head 20-30 times a day for roughly the first 9 months of my daughters life. And until I started attending the support group meetings I had no idea that was a sign of PPD. Another wonderful thing about the group was meeting other new mothers, some with mild PPD like me, but some with very extreme postpartum psychosis experiences. It was eye opening.
When we moved to Portland I lost my support group. I tried to manage for months on my own, and I thought I was doing a good job, but slowly the less rational decision making and anxiety started to creep back in. So I am now working with a therapist and using medication to manage the symptoms, and I am finally feeling like I will be on the other side of this soon.
So here’s the thing. Postpartum depression affects 10-20% of mothers. Unfortunately, like miscarriage, and other mental illnesses, it is treated like a dirty little secret by society. It is something to be shoved under the rug and not to be discussed in polite conversation. As a result, there is a lot that women don’t know about postpartum depression, which can lead to many women suffering alone with no support or treatment. Most women have one post-birth follow-up appointment with their provider around 6-8 weeks after birth. At this time your provider should do a screening, mine did, but the screening is typically only questions like “do you find yourself crying for no reason?” or “do you think about hurting yourself or your baby?” Not all women present PPD with these types of symptoms, or may not realize that the degree of a behavior is outside the range of normal. As well, not all women present with PPD by 6-8 weeks post birth, like me. Postpartum depression can develop at pretty much anytime during the first year after birth, as well postpartum depression can last longer than a year, like me. Postpartum depression/postpartum mood disorders can include anxiety, psychosis, PTSD, OCD, and panic attacks.
Many of the symptoms of postpartum depression can easily be dismissed as just adjusting to life with a new baby. For example, fatigue and problems sleeping are very easy to dismiss as part of the new mother package. Other symptoms include feelings of guilt, lack of concentration, excessive anxiety, development of phobias or unreasonable fears, hopelessness, lack of confidence. See some of the problems there? It is so easy for a new mother, as well as the support system around her to mistake these things as normal for a mother with a newborn needing to eat every couple of hours including throughout the night. As a result I’m sure there are many women trying to deal with postpartum depression on their own not realizing that they might need help, or that there is help.
I really hope we can open up the dialogue about postpartum depression and mood disorders. It is such a prevalent condition, and there is help available. There is no need for women to suffer alone in silence. Having postpartum depression and getting help for it does not make you a bad or unfit mother. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your child or that becoming a mother was a mistake. Unfortunately postpartum depression is just a natural occurrence post-birth for many women. And it shouldn’t really be so surprising. Pregnancy, childbirth, and the period of time post-birth are all massive hormonal events in our bodies. In addition you are adjusting to significantly reduced sleep and increased stress as you devote yourself to caring for this completely helpless little person. It’s no wonder many women suffer mood disorders as a result of all of this.
So here is my story. I love my daughter, I love being a mother, and while my daughter is almost 2 years old I am still suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety. Please share my story, and share yours as well if you have one. And if you haven’t suffered postpartum depression, share another story that is typically not openly talked about. Share your stories of miscarriage, mental illness, addiction, all of it. By talking and bringing our stories out in the open we can break down stigmas and barriers. Let’s be open and honest about the bad in our lives, not just the good.