I’ve given birth to three kids, experienced three similar pregnancies, labored through three natural, drug-free births, but ended up with three very different postpartum recovery periods…
What’s the difference between the baby blues vs. postpartum depression? It’s a question that many mothers have asked themselves because it’s hard to know for sure if you’re suffering from a maternal mental health disorder or not.
The baby blues is not an actual mental health disorder, but a common experience in the early days postpartum, however some women don’t experience it at all. Postpartum depression is often explained away as a bad case of the baby blues when, in reality, it’s much more serious.
To help end some of the confusion, here’s what it felt like first hand.
The Baby Blues
Shortly after the birth of my first child I experienced symptoms of what I believe were the common baby blues. They didn’t last long and they didn’t disrupt my life (much).
The mood swings were my first indicator. I remember watching my husband interact with the baby while our two dogs sat at his feet watching. I thought about how the dogs had no idea how much life was changing and I instantly burst into tears. I’m not usually a sensitive or emotional person so this was a sure sign to me that I was experiencing some type of hormonal imbalance. It was very similar to the mood swings I experienced during pregnancy. [Try tracking your moods with a printable mood tracker]
The sleep deprivation added to my emotional state. The way someone would feel after staying up partying all night long (which may or may not be a familiar feeling for me *wink wink*). I felt irritable and edgy but sleep, when I could get it, was welcome and helped to alleviate the stress. [Keep track of how much sleep you’re getting each night].
My brain was foggy and I was easily distracted. The “mom brain” was probably one of the hardest symptoms for me to manage as someone who prides themselves on having a great memory. Suddenly I couldn’t multi-task because I would forget what I was doing in the first place. I wrote down absolutely everything in a log book, significant or not, in a vain attempt to remember everything.
I felt an overwhelming urge to protect him and I worried a lot about everything he did. I worried about holding him too much, or not enough. I worried about the way others were holding him. I worried about his diaper being put on properly. I worried about such small and insignificant things (in addition to all the normal motherhood worrying like how much he was eating, pooping and sleeping). [Document your worries in a worry workbook]
I didn’t bond with the baby as much as I thought I would. I spent a lot of time talking to him but the lack of a response discouraged me. I wasn’t absolutely head over heels in love with him the way motherhood is portrayed in the media, but I didn’t feel anything negative either. I was just so tired and still adjusting to this new lifestyle.
We didn’t get out of the house much at first. I was extremely overprotective of him and convinced that he would contract bad germs from strangers. Aside from worrying, I honestly just didn’t feel like leaving the comfort of my own home.
It eventually went away on it’s own. Similar to a really bad case of PMS, I started to feel “normal” again. I didn’t cry at the mere thought of something sad and I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and socialize. By the time he was 2 months old he was smiling, making eye contact and interacting and I did fall head over heels in love with him.
After the birth of my second child, things felt a little bit different. That first baby that I didn’t bond with? Well he was two years old now and the absolute center of my world. So for the first couple months, things were monotonous and scheduled and boring – as long as the baby was concerned, at least.
She had basic needs and I didn’t try too hard to bond with her. I figured it would happen eventually, so I didn’t put too much pressure on myself this time. The first two months after her birth were extremely busy in my social life so I didn’t have time to stew over the fact that life as I knew it had completely changed.
But when the dust settled and I was left at home, alone, with a toddler and a newborn who wouldn’t stop crying – things changed…
I was tired and emotional but this time I couldn’t sleep no matter how hard I tried. Every time I closed my eyes I thought I heard the baby cry and got up to check on her. Sometimes it was 15 times in an hour but I couldn’t stop myself because I knew the one time I didn’t check on her would be the time something bad happened. If someone else offered to look after her while I took a nap, then I would lie in bed for 2 hours worrying if she was alright.
The mood swings were extreme and uncontrollable. As the weeks went on, I started to despise her. I blamed her for everything I was feeling. She felt my negative feelings and cried harder and longer which made me dislike her even more. But then I would think about how I’ve always wanted to have a daughter and I would suffocate her in love – until she started crying again. The slightest things could send me into fits of rage and I got offended and jealous very easily.
I was terrified to leave the house with her. I was certain she would cry and I wouldn’t be able to handle her and everyone would stare at me and think I was a horrible mother. So I stayed in my house where no one could judge me. I avoided contact with almost everyone.
And the worst part of all was that I lied about what I was feeling to everyone. I felt humiliated and inadequate and worthless but I hid it the best I could. I dressed the baby up in cute outfits and took cute pictures of her to post on social media. I posted captions about how much I loved having a baby girl and how all of my dreams had come true but in reality I just wanted to rewind life to a time before she existed.
The more I tried to “fix” things, the worse they got. Even when I tried to “snap out of it” the baby was still reacting to my negative energy and crying all day and night. My brain was full of terrible ways I could get her to shut up but instead I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for what seemed like hours. The guilt eventually built up huge walls that closed in on me. I even contemplated suicide.
For months I battled in silence, not knowing it was postpartum depression. I kept waiting for this funk to pass, waiting for the “hormones to regulate” but they never did, not without help, that is. Read more about my personal battle with postpartum depression here.
For more information about postpartum depression and other maternal mental health disorders, check out this comprehensive guide from Parenting Pod. If you need help with what you believe might be postpartum depression, you can speak to an online therapist from Better Help. Visit https://www.betterhelp.com/
No Postpartum Mood Disorder
Considering I went to hell and back with my last baby, I must have been absolutely crazy to have another one, right? The postpartum depression was forefront in my mind but this time I felt more prepared. I knew what to look for, and I knew that I needed to speak up if I felt something was even a little bit off.
The first time she was placed in my arms, I felt it. That immediate love that legends were made of. I couldn’t wait to hold her and I didn’t want to do anything else except just stare at her perfect face.
The early days with her were peaceful and calm – despite the sleepless nights. The other two children often played with each other and so I had her all to myself. The fact that she couldn’t talk back to me actually made me want to spend MORE time with her!
Trying to balance three children was definitely a challenge, and extremely overwhelming at times, but instead of being afraid and nervous and frustrated – I felt excited and determined to make the best of it!
I felt like I could control my mood. Even on days when she was extra fussy or I was extra tired, I always managed to stay calm and relaxed around her. I never felt a sad or negative thought about her. And she was a calm and relaxed baby because of it.
Initially I worried about how the older children would handle the new baby. But they never once showed any signs of jealousy towards her and completely welcomed her into our family. I cried more tears of joy in her first few months than I ever have in my life.
I worried about how much she ate, pooped and slept and whether she was hitting her milestones on time. Mostly because I was always comparing her to the other children. In an attempt to get things right this time, I asked a lot of questions, I sought a lot of help and I socialized as often as possible.
I took all three kids out as often as I could. It was next to impossible to manage all of them in public (and it still is) but I sure didn’t want to get stuck inside the house with them!
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When it comes to the baby blues vs. postpartum depression vs. no postpartum mood disorder, I can’t say for certain what factors affected these different outcomes. It was only in hindsight that I was able to really identify the differences. But regardless of my three experiences, I feel the same kind of love for all three of my children. When I think about life with a newborn, I try my hardest to reflect on the happiness of my last one, but will never forget the darkness that came before.