With more and more information about postpartum depression readily available to new moms, will they take the time to read it?
When I was an expectant first time mom, I knew very little about postpartum depression. It was surprising because, as a researcher by nature, I wanted to know about every possible complication I could get. But I scoffed at the thought of getting postpartum depression. In my mind, mental illness was for the weak. And even if I did get it, I would never let it get the best of me – I was a strong, positive, confident person.
I horrifically underestimated the power of postpartum depression.
Ultimately, it did get the best of me and it’s a battle that I still fight to this very day. I sadly regret not taking the time to learn more about maternal mental health and postpartum depression 10 years ago when I had the chance. So now I urge all new mothers, expectant mothers, first, second, third time mothers, to read as much information about postpartum depression as they can find, even if you doubt that you’ll get it.
Here are some specific things that I wish I had known.
1. You don’t need to have a history of mental illness in order to get it.
One of the biggest misconceptions about postpartum depression is that it can only occur if you have a history of mental illness. But because there is no clear reason why women get postpartum depression, this is not a fact we can rely heavily on. This means that you could get postpartum depression even if you’ve never dealt with mental illness before and have no family history of it.
Another thing to take into consideration is the silent struggle of mental illness. It’s likely you DO have a family history of mental illness but it was never, ever spoken of. If we think the stigma of mental illness is an epidemic now, imagine what it was like 40 years ago, or more.
Ruling out postpartum depression based solely on the fact that you have no history of mental illness is not a guarantee that you will not get it.
2. You can get it even if you have zero risk factors.
Some of the risk factors for postpartum depression are:
- A personal history of mental illness (depression, anxiety, bi-polar)
- A family history of mental illness
- An unplanned pregnancy
- A difficult pregnancy
- An emotional experience with pregnancy or childbirth (infertility, miscarriage, premature labor, complications, special needs baby)
- A traumatic labor and delivery
- Childhood trauma
- A history of domestic violence or sexual abuse
- Stress (including financial or marital stress)
- Lack of a proper support system
- Difficulties caring for baby (postpartum complications, breastfeeding problems, colic, etc.)
The list is long but basically it says that if you experience anything other than a “perfect” journey into motherhood, you’re at risk of getting postpartum depression. So let’s take a long shot and say that everything, from the moment you conceived until your child’s first birthday, went exactly as you imagined and nothing terrible happened along the way…
You could still get it!
Again, no one knows exactly why women get postpartum depression. Some theories say it has to do with a shift in the hormones – which would mean the risk factors actually have nothing to do with it at all.
3. It is not always triggered by trauma.
Trauma is a recurring theme on the list of risk factors because it plays a huge role in mental illness. In fact, our first response when faced with postpartum depression is to think back to what traumatic experience could have caused this.
It’s important to know that trauma is not the only trigger of postpartum depression. Mental illness tends to prey on the weak, and we are often at our weakest shortly after experiencing a life changing event such as becoming a mother. Sleep deprivation, physical pain from labor, fears and anxiety and even the simple act of change can all trigger feelings of depression.
Cognitive behavior therapy is a great method to help figure out what is triggering the postpartum depression so that you can learn how to manage it.
4. It doesn’t necessarily start right after birth.
Making it through the first six weeks unscathed does not mean that you’re in the clear. Symptoms of postpartum depression can show up anytime within the first year after giving birth.
Some women experience the highest of highs after giving birth and can ride it out for months. This can make the drastic fall into postpartum depression that much more difficult.
Care for new mothers normally ends around six weeks postpartum. So it’s not uncommon for symptoms of postpartum depression to show up after this point, when all the help and attention suddenly comes to a grinding halt.
5. It’s likely you will experience some form of the baby blues.
It’s reported that 80% of new mothers suffer from the baby blues. The fact that it IS so common can actually make postpartum depression harder to diagnose because many women and medical professionals have trouble telling the two apart.
The rule of thumb is that if the symptoms don’t go away after a couple weeks, then it’s probably postpartum depression. This usually results in mothers being brushed off if they express any kind of concern about their mental health in the first few weeks postpartum.
While there’s no need to worry excessively that the baby blues will turn into something more – there are a few differences that you should keep an eye out for.
6. The most common symptoms are not the only ones.
When we think of the word “depression” we often associate it with sadness. But postpartum depression doesn’t always manifest as sadness. It usually manifests as a feeling of “nothingness.”
Feeling nothing, empty, or numb, is one of the most significant symptoms of postpartum depression because it’s what drives all the other symptoms. Being numb makes us feel fatigued and unable to do the most basic of tasks. We don’t want to go out anywhere or do anything. We don’t feel the urge to eat or sleep or laugh. We may not feel happy, but neither do we feel sad.
Postpartum depression can also cause a variety of different physical symptoms. Normally we don’t associate physical symptoms with mental illness and so we turn into hypochondriacs trying to find the cause of our physical pain.
7. It can show up as anxiety, or a combination of depression and anxiety.
Now here’s the real tricky part that always seems to confuse new mothers. Anxiety. When looking at a list of postpartum depression symptoms, the symptoms of anxiety and those of depression tend to be lumped together, making it even harder to know what it is you’re dealing with.
A new mother can experience anxiety in combination with postpartum depression, which means that all of that emptiness is replaced with a constant state of fear and worry. It’s the kind of worry that keeps you up at night. Things that never seemed to bother you much before now feel like the biggest threats. You imagine horrible scenarios in your head and do things to prevent them from happening, as far-fetched as they might seem.
Some new mothers deal with anxiety without the depression, in which case, they are not numb to all the normal emotions of motherhood but worry just the same. Anxiety is a dangerous mental health disorder that can open the door to intrusive thoughts, rage and obsessive compulsive disorder.
8. Your spouse or partner may be the first to notice that something is wrong.
The people who know you best will notice a change in you before you realize it yourself. They may not tell you that they notice it, depending on your relationship, but they’ll know. It’s kind of hard to live that closely with someone and not be able to spot that something just isn’t right.
Part of the responsibility of your spouse, partner, baby’s father, etc., is to help you through this postpartum period and recognizing the signs of postpartum depression falls into that category. Even if they don’t know exactly what’s wrong, they should speak up if they think you’re acting differently.
Know someone suffering from addiction due to postpartum depression? Here’s a list of resources for friends and family who want to help.
Try not to be offended or act defensively when someone you love says you might have postpartum depression. Approaching the subject of mental health is a hard task and the fact that they’ve said anything at all means they’re truly trying to help.
9. There is no shame in admitting that you have it.
Mental illness is so stigmatized that women who are suffering from a valid, medical, postpartum complication are afraid to tell anyone. They believe that battling a mental illness makes them look weak, when in fact, the opposite is true.
Warriors are working hard to end the stigma around maternal mental health, but until then, all we can do is educate others. The more people know about postpartum depression, the less shame there will be for those who carry the burden.
10. While there is no cure, it is treatable.
Once it’s triggered, postpartum depression lingers around like the annoying friend who’s overstayed their welcome. With treatment, and a little extra work, it is entirely manageable.
First off, mothers with postpartum depression need to proactively take care of themselves. They need to maintain their health and keep their stress level down. Mental illness thrives in a toxic environment, so it’s important to stay positive, eat right, sleep well and be mindful.
Secondly, a form of professional treatment is a must. This could be anti-depressant medication, cognitive behavior therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, or hypnosis, to name a few. There are treatment options that are all-natural and safe for breastfeeding, so that is not an excuse not to seek treatment.
11. The best place to get help is from someone who understands maternal mental health.
When we hear of stories like Jessica Porten and Andrea Yates, the thought of talking to someone about postpartum depression is terrifying. These women are being treated like criminals by supposed professionals. And the public reaction to their “crimes” is even more disturbing.
That’s why it’s important to seek help from someone that you trust, and someone who understands the reality of postpartum depression. A great place to start is Postpartum Support International. You can call a helpline to get all kinds of information and support.
If you’re looking for more hands on help, talk to a postpartum doula who are trained specifically to help new mothers and recognize the symptoms of postpartum depression in it’s earliest stages.
12. If left untreated, you will likely struggle with symptoms for the rest of your life.
Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide in the world. Postpartum depression has claimed many lives and while it is a worst case scenario, it CAN happen to anyone.
Even if the symptoms go away for a while, there is always the risk of a relapse. The only way to stay on top of the symptoms and win the battle against postpartum depression is by sticking to a treatment plan.
13. It’s entirely possible that you may not get it all, but it’s better to be prepared.
I had three all-natural, drug free births, but that didn’t stop me from researching epidurals and c-sections. I was thankful that I didn’t have either of them but I wanted to be prepared in the event that I did.
So why is postpartum depression any different? It’s the most common complication of childbirth and yet no one seems to know anything about it.
There is no harm in researching postpartum depression prior to becoming a mother. My hope is that you don’t get it, because I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. But if you do, at least you’ll be prepared.
I battled with postpartum depression silently for a long time and didn’t speak a word of it to anyone, nor did I have any intention to.
The reasons why moms don’t speak up about postpartum depression aren’t that surprising to me. But the reason why I finally DID speak up was because I was so emotionally moved by the tragic story of a woman from my hometown who suffered and died from postpartum depression in 2013, after drowning her two small children.
This story, and so many others like it, really hit home and broke my heart. But what bothered me the most was the public reaction… Many people seemed to believe that she got what she deserved.
As a fellow mother with postpartum depression, I realized that I needed to do something to help others understand maternal mental illness. Her story was a worst case scenario, but I dreaded what others would think of me if they knew the dark thoughts and feelings that I battled with due to postpartum depression.
It shouldn’t take a tragedy like that to encourage someone to speak up but it made me realize two important things:
1.) I was not alone.
2.) We need to annihilate the stigma of postpartum depression.
While it can be terrifying to “speak up when you’re feeling down” it is so important both for our own mental health and to help bring awareness about this debilitating condition.
Check it out – I’ve added to this list!
1. We are in denial
Prior to becoming a mother myself, I had heard about postpartum depression in all of it’s notorious glory. But I never, ever, in a million years, thought it would happen to me. I had ZERO risk factors and an awesome support system. So when the first few symptoms started popping up, I laughed it off… “ME??? Postpartum depression??? Never!!!” Moms often don’t speak up about postpartum depression because they don’t even believe it themselves.
This comprehensive guide to maternal mental health disorders from Parenting Pod offers plenty of information to help you understand your symptoms.
2. We think this is “normal” motherhood
All we ever hear about when it comes to parenting is how hard it is. The sleep loss, the crying, the breastfeeding struggle – it’s all normal… right? A brand new mother experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression may assume that this is what everyone meant when they said it was hard. I’ve heard stories of women opening up to others about what they were feeling, only to be told “welcome to motherhood.” Is it any wonder that new moms don’t speak up about postpartum depression when they get this kind of response?
Think you might have postpartum depression? Take this quiz from PostpartumDepression.org.
3. We are terrified of having our child taken away from us
Obviously we want what’s best for our child but it would be a mother’s worst nightmare to be deemed incapable of caring for her own child (the child who got her into this mess in the first place, might I add). If anyone knew the thoughts that a mother with postpartum depression has on a regular basis, they would lock her up and throw away the key. Mothers don’t speak up about postpartum depression because we’re afraid of what might happen if we do.
If you are feeling the urge to act upon your bad thoughts, seek help immediately as you may be suffering from a rarer case of postpartum psychosis.
4. We are ashamed of ourselves
We don’t speak up about postpartum depression because society has led us to believe that having a mental illness is our fault. Admitting to it is admitting that we were one of the weak ones who fell susceptible to the curse that is postpartum depression. We feel like terrible people for thinking and feeling the way we do, even though we have no control over it.
5. We are concerned about what others will think of us
If we are diagnosed with postpartum depression that means we are classified as “mentally ill” and will need to accept the stigma that comes along with that label. All of a sudden we are dangerous and unpredictable. Will other people start to question our parenting skills now? Will they treat us as if we are delicate and fragile and weak? What will our co-workers or employers think? Will having postpartum depression jeopardize our futures? If we don’t speak up about postpartum depression, then we don’t have to deal with the awkward conversations that come along with it.
6. We feel like failures
This is not the way it was supposed to happen. In our dreams of becoming mothers we pictured it blissful and beautiful. We imagined sitting in a rocking chair, singing lullabies to a sleepy, happy baby. And when it wasn’t like this, we felt like we had failed. We failed our children and robbed them of a happy childhood. We failed our spouses and robbed them of a happy marriage. We failed ourselves and all of our dreams of motherhood. No one ever wants to admit that they are a failure.
7. We think we can cure ourselves
We think it will go away on it’s own, eventually. Or maybe we are planning to tell someone when it gets worse… it just hasn’t yet. We think that if we sleep a little more, relax a little more, meditate and do yoga that our postpartum depression will magically go away and so there’s no need to burden anyone else with our problems. Self-care while battling postpartum depression is extremely important but it’s highly unlikely that the symptoms will go away without a proper treatment plan.
8. We don’t trust the medical system
It’s a sad truth that many women who open up about postpartum depression still don’t get the help they need. Unless you already have a trusting relationship with a medical professional it can be difficult to find the right person to seek help from with such a personal matter. The fear is that we’ll be told we’re over-exaggerating, drug seekers or that it’s all in our head, so we just don’t speak up about postpartum depression.
Regardless of how difficult it is to find good help, it’s so necessary to seek treatment. Postpartum depression will NOT go away on it’s own, and even if the feelings do subside after a while, there is always chance of a relapse.
9. We feel alone
We’ve joined online support groups. We read the posts and silently agree without so much as a “like.” The women write about how they’re exhausted and overwhelmed. They talk about how they can’t sleep at night, how they can’t eat or can’t stop eating and how they worry about everything all the time. And we can relate to that.
But what those women don’t talk about is the bad thoughts they have. It’s incriminating and requires a *trigger warning* and what if no one else feels the same way?
I’m here to tell you that I don’t care what bad thoughts you have, I don’t want nor need to know what they are because chances are, I’ve had them too. You don’t have to say them out loud. You can pretend like you didn’t even think them, so long as you know that you are not the only person who has thought them. You are not alone.
To prove it to you, here is a list of postpartum depression stories from other brave mothers who have been through the worst of the worst and still managed to survive (myself included).
If you’ve read this entire post and can relate to all 9 of these things, then it’s time to do something about it. Staying silent about postpartum depression helps no one.
Start by downloading this FREE printable PDF workbook to help you collect your thoughts and come to terms with what you are feeling and how you want to say it.
Then, write out your story. It doesn’t have to be pretty – in fact, it probably won’t be. But don’t hold back. Think about all of the real and raw things you wish someone else had been brave enough to tell you.
Next, decide if you are ready to tell it. Do you want to tell someone close to you or would you prefer to anonymously release it into the world for other mothers with PPD to read? Either way is fine, as long as you’re not keeping it all inside.