(Trigger Warning: Discussion of Postpartum Mental Health Disorders).
I'd heard all about postpartum depression (PPD) or so I thought. I knew about the tragic history of Andrea Yates. I knew that some level of "baby blues" was normal, and even to be expected. I'd gone through several periods of depression in my high school and college years, and knew that someone in my family tree had committed suicide possibly because of postpartum depression. When I was pregnant with my first, I watched a friend struggle with PPD.
I was prepared to struggle. Especially when my planned unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency c-section. But when they held up my daughter, I thought she was the most beautiful thing in the world, and I felt a glow for months.
When I became pregnant with my second child, it did not occur to me to worry about my postpartum mental health. I was fine the first time, it had been years since I'd felt depressed. If I hadn't fallen into depression after 14 months of infertility or after the deaths of my father and grandmother 13 months apart, it wasn't going to happen.
But it did. Whether it was because a planned VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) turned into a repeat c-section, and I didn't have the hormone rush associated with birth, or because of the treatment I received from health professionals on my son's birth day, or simply because I was still at risk of depression, I don't know. But when my son was born, I was strapped down to the operating table. I was tired. Numb. If I could have rolled over, away from my newborn son, I would have. I just wanted to go to sleep. He didn't look beautiful to me. (Reality: both of my children looked exactly like all newborn babies). Then, we struggled. He had colic. He struggled to breastfeed. My daughter struggled to adapt to sharing her mommy. For a whole month, I took care of him out of obligation. Each morning, I got dressed and brushed me teeth and hair. Then I put on the ring sling and put him in it. In the ring sling, he was as content as he could be. He was close to me, feeling warm and safe and loved. I didn't feel love, but I made myself sniff the top of his head to stimulate oxytocin production in my own body.
One day, I looked down at him in the carrier, and love washed over me. It was absolutely incredible. I could hardly hold it in, and I kissed him and smiled, and got choked up, and felt everything that I had felt when I looked at my daughter for the first time. He was a month old.
The story doesn't end there.
Although I now felt deep love and attachment for both my children, I still struggled. I struggled with rage. I yelled. I slammed doors. I threw things on the floor. And my heart broke when I looked at my sweet toddler daughter and saw her confusion and fear. I was not the mommy she knew. And I struggled to be the parent I wanted to be. I wondered why I couldn't keep my cool with one child when I used to manage far more difficult children in greater numbers.
On top of that, I developed postpartum anxiety, phobias, and intrusive thoughts. I developed arachnophobia, which is a big problem because I live in the country and we have spiders in great quantities and magnitudes. I could not walk in the grass in my yard (I live on three acres). I became convinced that I would lose control of the car when I was driving, and crash.
I got help. I started seeing a therapist every week. In fact, I still do. My mental health right now is great. Certainly, I still have a level of stress and anxiety, but when you are running a business and raising children, a certain amount comes with the territory. It's not ruling my life, and I am able to handle the meltdowns that come with having two children under the age of four.
Why do I share this? It's because postpartum depression wasn't what I expected. It didn't feel like the depression of my younger years. The anger, the anxiety, the phobia. I would not have known those were typical of postpartum mental health disorders if I had not been connected to a broad community of mothers.
For now, take heart. If you haven't already, download my quick self-care guide here. You are not alone. Reach out. Get help. Professional if necessary. Visit Postpartum Support International for resources. I can also help link you to professionals in your area.
Possible Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
The following is not a complete list. For more information, or for a description of postpartum anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, click here.
The following emotions may be indicative of postpartum depression. You do not need to feel all of them to be suffering PPD.
You may also feel like you are struggling to bond with your baby. You may have thoughts of running away or hurting yourself or child, even if you know you would never act on them. You may have trouble eating or sleeping, either too much or too little (when you have the opportunity to sleep). You find a new inability to concentrate. If you feel like you are struggling, reach out.