What is Postpartum Depression Like?

I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts since May. It has been on my mind for a long time, but one that I’ve been afraid to touch. I was expecting to come back to a few paragraphs, but this post was completely empty. The only thing I had for this post was the title. There is still a stigma around postpartum depression and often leaves me fearful of being misunderstood. I really didn’t understand depression prior to living it.

Postpartum depression and anxiety (PPD/PPA) is difficult for me to share about because I do still feel judgement. I work with families, some of those families may read this post and feel uncomfortable to have their child around someone who is being treated for mental illness. It is also because I work with young families that this post is worth the risk. I am around new moms all the time! No mom should feel alone walking through this. You are not alone, mama. Postpartum depression affects about 1 in 5 women. These are the statistics of women who have come forward and shared honestly about their symptoms.

I had no issues with postpartum depression or anxiety after my first daughter. Looking back, there were probably some signs that I attributed to other health concerns. During the pregnancy with my second daughter, I was at the lowest point with my depression. Doctors did not take this lightly. I had a large team around me, and it happened quickly. After birth, all the nurses at the hospital made sure I had a plan upon discharge, not for my baby, but for me! It was because I had a proactive health team that I managed to be discharged without delay.

A few months postpartum (when I put this post in my drafts) a friend said to me she couldn’t imagine what postpartum depression must be like. It’s difficult to put into words because it can change daily, or hourly.

Recently in the local news, a missing mother with postpartum depression has been making headlines. From what I’ve read, she had supports in place and had started treatment, yet even with support, this mother was not coping. This story is now being covered nationally and we are all hoping for her safe return. I can’t bring myself to watch the coverage on this because it can trigger me. I know many people watching this story have trouble understanding what this mom is going through, and like my friend, can’t imagine what this experience is like.

What is postpartum depression and anxiety like?
– It’s not wanting to leave your bed because you feel numb.
– It’s coaxing yourself to take a shower and to eat.
– It’s wanting to run away from everything.
– It’s crying out of exhaustion.
– It makes you withdraw from people.
– It makes you not want to be touched.
– It makes you feel like you’re not a good mother, like you’re not cut out to be a parent.
– It means panic attacks even when no apparent trigger is present.
– It’s being triggered by the smallest things. (The diaper was facing the wrong way in the drawer. Too much movement in the room. A dish left on the counter.)
– It’s being in fight, flight, or freeze mode constantly.
– It’s thinking that everything could go wrong even when it hasn’t happened yet.
– It’s feeling alone even when there are supports surrounding you.
– It’s feeling that no one understands you and no one ever will.

Postpartum depression and anxiety is different for everyone and I can only share from my own experience. It is an ongoing battle and requires a constant check-in because it’s so easy to pretend that this shadow is not following me. No one else can see it. I’ve been told, “If you never told me about your battle, I would never know.” If you ask me the right questions I will answer honestly because it’s not something I can hide, but I am good at avoiding it. We ask new mothers “how’s it going?” “how’s the baby?” “how’s motherhood?”

I can probably speak for most moms, we’ll tell you it’s going great, that it’s great to have a new baby, and that we love motherhood because we know that that conversation is much easier and less awkward than telling the truth. And for those moms that it’s going great for, I’m so happy for you!! (Yes, double exclamation.) Our society is filled with motherhood myths: You will know what to do once you have a baby, women are wired to be mothers, you will bond instantly, breastfeeding comes naturally, you’ll love being a mom.

Not true.

I love my children to bits and could not live without them, though I have to live up to my own expectations of what I feel a mother should be, and I feel like I need to live up to society’s expectations of a mother as well. If you ask me how things are going I will always tell you that it’s “OK,” even when I’m just trying to keep my head above water. If you ask me, “How’s the transition to two?” “How are you coping today?” “How has your mood been?” you will get a much more honest answer.

What is postpartum depression like? It’s lonely and isolating until I have the courage to reach out and share about what I’m going through. If you’re a mom with a new little one and something just doesn’t feel quite right, I encourage you to speak to your doctor. If you’re around a new mom, don’t be afraid to ask deeper questions beyond “how’s it going?” (And ask on more than one occasion.) There are many resources and help available for new moms. Unfortunately, the onus lies on new moms to be the one to reach out for support. Let’s extend our hands and our hearts to new moms and help end the stigma around postpartum mental health.

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