Yesterday during my usual perusal of Facebook I came across an article on a young woman who committed suicide. She was a new mother and experiencing postpartum depression. After reading the article I began to mentally travel back in time. I have a 7 and 9 year old. I remember, vividly, being pregnant with my first born, up until my youngest was 2 years old, being in a fog. Those were the hardest 4 years of my life. I, like the woman in the article, experienced postpartum depression.
Even to this day it’s hard for me to think back on that time. I would rather forget it, push it away. I still have shame and disappointment, as I hoped that time would be one of the best in my life. However, it wasn’t. It was a nightmare.
Postpartum depression seems to be a mystery to many people. I’ve often heard other women quickly chime in when I share my story and say they’ve experienced postpartum depression right after their baby was born as well. I hate to admit it, but it makes me cringe sometimes when I hear other woman talk about the first few weeks of motherhood, referring to their “baby blues” as if it was postpartum depression. It is important to highlight, there is a huge difference between the “baby blues” and postpartum depression. For this reason, women who have experienced this mood disorder often feel even more alienated when trying to share their stories because it is far from the “baby blues” symptoms most women experience.
After having a baby it is very common for a woman to experience the “baby blues” due to the hormone changes that occur after delivery. The baby blues can last a week or two, starts about 5-7 days after the baby is born, and usually goes away on its own. The symptoms can include feelings of worry, unhappiness, and fatigue. It affects 80% of mothers (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml). However, postpartum depression can be extreme and sometimes interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself or her family. It occurs in nearly 15 percent of births and can begin shortly before or anytime after birth. Most importantly, it usually begins between a week and a month AFTER delivery (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml). Therefore, when other woman are starting to feel better from the baby blues the postpartum victim starts to go to an even darker place.
Unfortunately, some women are at greater risk for developing postpartum depression. Someone who has struggled with depression before, or has had family members who have struggled with the mood disorder or other mental illness may be at risk. Additionally, a stressful event during pregnancy or shortly after can trigger symptoms. In my case, my first pregnancy was unexpected, I had experienced depression in my early 20’s and I had traumatic birth experiences with both children. I was the poster child for postpartum depression.
In my early stages I thought I was going crazy, having visions of dropping my newborn or accidentally hurting him that consumed me. I couldn’t get the thoughts out of my head and I wasn’t sleeping. Would my baby die if I fell asleep? What if I died in my sleep, who would care for this newborn baby? The level of anxiety and lows I felt were consuming and to top it off I wouldn’t talk about it with anyone, not even my husband.
After about 3 months in bed nearing the end of my second pregnancy and after the delivery where we thought we may lose our son, my husband finally suggested medication. His concern prompted me to get some help. I started my own counseling and, with support, I started to feel better. It took awhile, but it got better. That is so important to remember. It gets better.
So, if you are reading this and experiencing postpartum know that it gets better and get help! You are not alone. Having a baby can be the best and worst thing that happens to you. Your emotions, your independence, your self esteem, and your identity as a woman, to name a few, are turned upside down. Don’t think you have to be super woman. Get in a group with other women experiencing postpartum, talk to a counselor, and your partner. The silence only makes it more palpable. Don’t stay in silence, get the help you and your family deserves.
Are you or a loved one experiencing postpartum depression? Do you need someone to talk to? For counseling services please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.healing-circle.org.