Postpartum Depression is a different experience to each person. Although there are standard diagnostic criteria/indicator professionals use to screen new mothers such as; excessive worry, tearfulness, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping (when you're able to), lack of bond with baby, racing thoughts, feelings of hopelessness, apathy, agitation/irritability, loss of pleasure in activities that previously brought enjoyment, and sometime thoughts of death. All those indicators are quite vague and some are downright scary. But what does it all mean?
I've never been big on "labels", especially when it comes to a person's emotional state. But I do believe that for some woman (and sometimes men, which is a whole other blog post) they experience a very real and difficult transition after having a baby. Although getting better, there is such little education and awareness about Postpartum Depression, that it often gets minimized to "baby blues" or "hormonal imbalance" by doctors, well-meaning family members, friends, and even spouses. Which in turn make the mother feel even worse because she is left to think that something is wrong with her or she is not cut out to be a mother. When in fact, she is neither of those things because what she is feeling and experiencing is real and happens to 1 in 5 women after giving birth.
So how does Postpartum Depression look and feel without any filters or medical jargon? I think one of the best phrases that sum it up is, "I just don't feel like myself." Some women, including myself, said that they feel hopeless and unsure that things can get better. I know in my experience with Postpartum Depression, one intrusive ongoing thought was, "This is what motherhood is and I choose it, so I have no right to feel upset."
One of the main characteristics of Postpartum Depression is the overwhelming, never ending, day and night worry. If anything, Postpartum Depression should be relabeled as Postpartum Anxiety. Worry that something is going to happen to the baby or that something is going to happen to you and no one will take care of the baby. It's a constant worry, a nagging worry, a very intrusive worry, and sometimes irrational worry.
Scary and intrusive thoughts. Some moms have scary thoughts that something bad is going to happen to their baby. They will accidentally drop the baby, trip going down the stairs with baby in hand, their baby will get cancer, their baby will stop breathing at night, people's germs will infect the baby, the baby is not getting enough to eat, and the list can go on and on. The scariest of thoughts are the thoughts about death. Sometimes, moms have thoughts that they would be better off dead. And sometimes moms even thoughts that the baby is better off dead. When a mom can acknowledge that those thoughts are scary it generally means her and baby are safe. I can remember a very scary story I created in my head one night. It was when my first baby was 5 months old, and we had just transitioned her into her crib from our room. Her window faced the side of the house and was behind a 10ft wrought iron RV parking fence. For some reason I was convinced that someone was going to jump the fence at night, break into the room through her window, steal her, and sell her to sex slavery. I remember vividly in my head pleading with the kidnapper to just please kill her instead of selling her to that horrible life style. Wow... I think of that story now and I am sad for myself. How terrible and scary it must have felt to be thinking thoughts of such harm to my baby. I did not tell anyone.
Feeling short fused, frustrated, easily angered, or constantly annoyed, usually by our spouse or someone close to us, is another feeling moms often report. Everything your spouse says or does irritates you. They can't seem to do or say anything right. How could this man you love so much just not get it? These short fused feelings can also be felt towards the baby and other children in the home. The sound of the baby's cry can sound like nails on a chalk board triggering mass amounts of stress and anxiety which is then transferred to baby and a vicious cycle is created. I remember telling myself, next time the baby loses it, take a few deep breathes and handle the situation with patience. And each time the baby started screaming; BOOM... my anxiety and panic sky rocketed.
We do not know why certain mothers get Postpartum Depression but we do know that these feelings, thoughts, and experiences are very real and can affect the ability for a mother to function, to feel joy, and to bond with her baby. It can cause strain in her relationship and cause discord to her family's dynamic. I want moms to know that you are not alone, you can get better with help, and things are not as hopeless as they may feel at times. If you are a mom who overcame Postpartum Depression, be an advocate for awareness. Talk to other moms about your experience, normalize how hard the first years of a child's life can be, take a chance and show some vulnerability. Sometime all it takes is for a mom to say to another mom, "Hey, you're a great mom and you're going to be OK, there is help."