Updated: Sep 17, 2022
Take the Depression Quiz here.
Real talk. We are all Mamas. We all have opinions and all have a way of doing things. If I walked into your house, I probably wouldn’t fold the washcloths right, because we all have a way. That being said, if there’s anything you see here that you don’t like, it’s ok. I get it. No hard feelings, we can part ways at any time. I won’t judge you for your walk, please don’t take this display of utter vulnerability as an invitation to judge my walk. None of us got a playbook, and none of us were able to steal the answers from behind the teacher’s desk (oh Lordy, I just dated myself). The point is, we’ve all made mistakes. My mistakes are probably similar to some of your mistakes, and some of the mistakes women have made around you and have just been too ashamed to talk about.
Ok, if we can get past judgments (or hit the back button on your browser), I was asked by a reader to cover postpartum depression, also known as postnatal depression. She mentioned she had a following that really struggled with it, and that she felt like this area of mental health needed more destigmatizing. I would have to concur. I am someone who dealt with postpartum depression and though I had been educated about this type of depression, it still didn't take the stigma away. I wonder if real-world experiences shared in vulnerability would have, which brings you this post,
When I was going through it, I felt like something was wrong with me, and struggled to see where I was at for what it was. I felt alone, and like the worst mother on the planet. Please take my vulnerability and treat it as if it is the most fragile gift you’ve gotten because it really is. No one talks about it BECAUSE IT’S HARD TO TALK ABOUT. How can we admit we have failed (at times) as mothers? How can we let the perfection paint fall away? That’s not even touching the fear about what the other savage PTA moms will do if they find out your secrets.
You might even be here because someone in your life said something about it. Maybe they knew the term and it was an easy google search, or maybe they mentioned some of your symptoms (list below), which led you here. Maybe you have had some intrusive thoughts, you have noticed symptoms in yourself, and did the hard thing to seek out change. However you found your way here, I’m proud of you. To read this isn’t easy, and you deserve recognition for getting this far. Don’t give up, Mama, your fight isn’t quite over.
I was one of the numbers. 3 out of 10 American females get pregnant before the age of 20 at least once. Being the overachiever I am, I had my first biological child at 17, adopted two more at 18, and had my fourth and final child at the ripe old age of 19. Don’t get me wrong, I live to be a mom. I don’t know who I am if you take that aspect of me away. I wanted to be a mom, even at 16 when I found out I was pregnant.
I had been taking care of small children in a major caregiving role since I was 11, but I was also the type that felt like I needed to research the shit out of how to do it because I didn’t want to fuck up my kid. You see, I have a little thing called anxiety, so I had come up with all the ways it could all go wrong, and the ways those ways could go more wrong. I went to parenting classes. I read endless amounts of resources on pregnancy, vitamins, deformations, child-rearing, languages, you name it. I did my Kegels like you’re supposed to. I had my bag packed and sitting by the door for the moment the baby was ready. The only thing I didn’t have, was a name.
I had turned my unborn baby into a project. This led to more problems later when it came to connection. I’m good at projects. I was the kid that did projects in the library about things that interested me just because I felt like it. Reports no one would ever read with citations no one cared about. I read encyclopedias simply because I liked to learn, and I had disillusioned myself into thinking I would remember it all. What I hadn’t done was connect with my baby.
I had a widget (sophisticated tech back then,) that told me exactly how big my baby was that day, and what growth changes he was going through. I knew everything there was to know baby. I interviewed friends and neighbors as if I was shadowing my next career path. “What would you tell yourself if you could go back to when you first had kids?”
My point is, I read all the things. I knew all the facts. My anxiety, and immaturity, kept me from looking into the future. I hadn’t thought about what kind of man my son would become. I didn’t think about him joining tee-ball or going off to college. You bet your sweet ass I didn’t comprehend what that meant for my future. My son entered this world without a name.
Labor was a great big monster I was terrified and eager to conquer. I was ready for cinema dramatics of bent-over breaks to labor breathe in the parking lot. Every trip to the grocery store in my last trimester, I went straight for the pickle aisle (13 in my hometown Safeway), just in case my water broke, because I heard it was super embarrassing if it happens in public. In my mind I pictured the cinema dramatic period stains in the white pants I never had to deal with. *Thanks movies for all my unneeded anxiety loops. Definitely could have done without worrying about quicksand until my late teens.*
In reality, I was sunbathing while eating a watermelon cut in half with a spoon and salt (my bio-mom says that’s a Latina thing? I just find it tangy and delicious). I was on one of those big water trampolines, soaking up the Vitamin D, because that helps jaundice, just not in newborns. We rushed home to get the bag, which was directly by the door, not that my partner could find it. *eyerolls. 80 on the freeway, because that’s what they do in the movies and we were children.
It didn’t actually hit me until my dad met me at the hospital and was holding my hand. I was about to be a mom. The thing my dad was doing for me, I was going to have to do someday. My whole avoidance of what my future was going to look like, crumbled. I held onto his hand and said “What happens if I’m not ready?” He was probably grateful for the nurse that walked in. Saved by the bell.
There was a lot that ended up leading to my postpartum depression. There was a lot of my life that changed when I became pregnant. I was now tied to this person who I thought I knew, but ultimately, he was a child too. He was still growing and learning himself. Having a baby was not what was best for us. I wish him all the best, but if I didn’t have a child with him, I wouldn’t have put up with MOST of what I endured. Cue in, depression.
See, this type of depression is a bit different. I guess in order to understand the rest of my story, you should probably understand the differences. If you have experienced depression before, you kinda get it, but honestly, not really. I am depressed as I write this, and I can say, they are night and day.
When I am depressed, I don’t enjoy the things I normally like to sit down with. My creativity takes a plummet. My appetite lessens. My thought patterns range from negative to catastrophizing. My resilience ceases to exist, and in an attempt to get out of it, I get busy.
There is a point on the spectrum of postpartum existence between being happy about your newborn baby, and postpartum depression. This point on the spectrum is both what makes it a grayscale, and also a confusing one where symptoms are minimized.
When you have the baby blues, you’re moody and easy to mildly irritate where you normally have no problems. I mean, most people get irritable when they go from being used to 8-hour chunks of sleep to now only getting 45 mins - 2 hours of sleep at a time. It’s pretty common to feel tired and overwhelmed. To have those breakdown moments where you cry until you blissfully fall asleep for .7 seconds until the baby startles themselves awake with an especially nasty fart you wouldn’t have been able to escape in dreamland anyway. I’ve been there, can you tell? It’s also fairly common to feel general worry and bouts of unhappiness. Your body, mind, soul, and household have gone through a lot of change recently, even if you’ve done this before. It’s ok, Mama, you aren’t alone, and it doesn’t mean you don’t love your children or you’re a bad mom.
Now, if those feelings last more than two weeks, it’s time to go see some professional help. Again, this doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. You aren’t broken, you just need help navigating your feelings and new environment. Seeking help is not a weakness, it is a strength. How many times has someone in your life struggled through something and you just wished they had asked for help because had you known, you would have done anything to help them through it? Well, Mama, it’s your turn.
So, what are some of the definitive symptoms of postpartum depression I promised above? Remember these feelings might have started before the baby came.
You feel so empty. If someone were to try to fill you up (and it doesn’t feel like anyone is most days), it wouldn’t matter. There’s a leak somewhere out of sight, and it won’t ever let you fill up.
You hold your sweet little baby, and you can’t help but feel sad. Sometimes you aren’t sure why, it’s all a blessing. Other times, you’re grieving the life you once had before this sweet little parasite.
You’re irritable. I mean, we all snap at our partners. Especially after that much change to our bodies, hormones, and sleep patterns. It doesn’t excuse it, we need to actively work to curb this, but it happens am I right? This isn’t that. You play this off as that, but in reality, you know your partner doesn’t deserve what you dish. Every little thing sets you off.
The fun things aren’t fun anymore. Even if it’s stupid little things like a game, hobby, or routine you usually enjoy doing. Evening Netflix binges don’t feel the same. The check-in every 3 episodes transforms from feeling like Netflix is a jealous girlfriend and wants to know if you’re paying attention to her, into the check-in feeling personal. Like the good ‘ole pal is making sure you’re ok. That is, if you can find something to start watching in the first place, nothing ever sounds good anymore.
The feelings of guilt seep in. Think Catholic Guilt. The kind that keeps you up at night telling you that you ruined that person’s day because of that thing you did 5 years ago. Or yesterday. They feel the same. The guilt that whispers in your ear lies about worthlessness and hopelessness.
You’re tired. I KNOW you just had a baby, you’re bound to be tired. Again, this isn’t that. You are exhausted from trying to be stronger than you feel. It’s the depression-exhaustion. You could sleep all day, but it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t put a dent in how gassed you feel.
You can’t sit still. I had this symptom so heavily with my first child, that when I was put on bed rest at the tail-end of my second pregnancy, my doctor admitted me saying she knew I wouldn’t actually sit still and she knew I would be up scrubbing toilets. She wasn’t wrong.
Difficulty sleeping. Even when the baby is sleeping. Waking up early morning or in the middle of the night before the baby.
Conversely, oversleeping is also a sign of depression like sleeping through your baby’s cries.
You often wonder if you can even care for this little child. This little human. Are you qualified? Will you fuck it up? ~but all the time, for longer than 2 weeks.
Aches, pains, cramps, or digestive issues that your doctors can’t pinpoint, and aren’t clearing up when they’re treated.
You worry about something in particular. As an example, you may think your milk has poisoned your baby, or that you’re just sure you’re going to drop them down the stairs, that you will harm your baby if you bathe them more than once a week, things like that.
You have seen the movies, you know you’re supposed to love this little shit, but you don’t. It was inside you for around 40 weeks (which is 10 months btw) give or take, you should know it. It’s like getting a puppy and then realizing you aren’t sure you even want a puppy.
You might have thought about, or acted upon thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
Thoughts of suicide, or other permanent damage.
***If you’re experiencing either of the last two symptoms please seek immediate professional help. Click here for crisis resources.
#13 was my biggest one. I struggled to connect with my child in the beginning. I didn’t see him as mine, I saw him as a kid I was watching for a while. He tied me to my abuser (or so I thought at the time, depression lies), so I resented his existence at times. I blamed him for the ways of life-changing, and taking my choices. Realizing all these things were depressive thoughts, and that I didn’t actually believe them. Intellectually I knew all those things were invalid. There was no way an infant was at fault for the lack of choice in my life. I was. I was fearful and deep in postpartum depression. Where I come from, seeking help is a weakness, so I soldiered through it. Luckily I was able to soldier on long enough for it to pass, but having gone down that road, it’s not one I would recommend.
Therapy really isn’t that bad, you get a best friend out of the deal. Sure, they are paid to be your best friend and it’s rude to take more than 50 minutes at a time, but they also will always be on your side, and always be advocating for what’s best for you. How many other friends in your life can you truly say that about? If so, why haven’t you talked to them about this yet? Why haven’t they helped you out of it? Maybe it’s time to trust someone with a degree to help you learn coping skills and navigate your way through this. You can always shop around. Give a counselor a try for a while and go find a new one if that one isn’t clicking.
Ok, you’ve sat with it this entire post. I’m so proud of you! I’m sure this has been as easy for you to read as it was for me to write, and that’s about as easy as getting a newborn to latch for your first time. (If you don’t relate to this, just know there’s a healthy dose of jealousy here with your name on it). What now? Where do we go from here? Firstly, I would like to encourage you to radically accept yourself where you are. If you can find just one little droplet of love for yourself where you’re at, you can accept that you still want things to change. You can accept yourself without accepting your situation. This is what Villain Esteem is built on. Accepting the dark parts of you, so you can find the strengths in it, use them to your advantage, while also seeing the weaknesses and being able to step around them like you have a map of the land mines.
While the rest of the symptoms aren’t necessarily in the crisis category (unless severe), they’re all still signs of postpartum depression and perinatal depression, and you should seek professional help.
Are you the loved one of someone suffering from postpartum depression or perinatal depression? Have them take the Depression Quiz.
If you aren’t sure how to talk to them about their postpartum depression, you aren’t sure if they have noticed, start by expressing concern. Let them know you’re trying your best to understand where they’re at, and you want to understand further, but you can’t without asking and receiving their help. Note the changes you’ve seen in them. The things you googled to get yourself to this blog post, ha. Finish up by offering to help. “What do you need from me?” “What can I do for you?” “What do you need help with most?” “Is there a way I can take some pressure off of you?” You may be surprised to hear something really small to you, would mean the world to them.
If you were brought this post as a way to help you understand where your loved one is at, I hope you show compassion. She may be going through some things that you might never truly understand. If she opens up about a thought she has had, understand that it’s just a thought. Depression lies, be the big voice she needs to help overcome those lies. Reassurance is worth its weight in rose gold. That’s what’s popular these days, right? ; - )
Counselor's Suggested Reading List for Depression
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