It was a couple days after Baby Bear was born that two of my sisters texted to tell me that they planned to come stay with me to see the baby during my last week before going back to work part time. This, of course, fast forwarded me emotionally to the moment where I'd have to leave my baby boy for the first time and I started tearing up, feeling as if I were planning to abandon him. ?That won't work. That's my last week alone with my kids before going back to work,? I said, effectively destroying the plans they'd already made. Of course, what ensued was a conversation between my sisters and I where all good intentions were lost within the texts we sent each other. They were upset and I was suddenly in tears because my emotions and lack of sleep were taking me over completely. When I tried to explain myself and my reaction, I mentioned post-partum depression to my one sister and she responded she responded:
I'm sure that's rough, but I think I would mostly be overjoyed at having a baby.
Yeah, you would (be overjoyed). It's both, though. You're not depressed over the baby, you're depressed because you feel like you can't take care of him and you're going to fail him in life, I replied.
It's more than that, of course, and it's different for everyone, but at the moment, that was how the baby blues were making me feel so that's how I explained what I was going through.
My sister's response alerted me to the fact that you can't really understand the baby blues or post-partum depression until you've experienced it. It does seem silly to be depressed immediately after such a blessed event, unless you've been there. Now, as my midwife explained it to me, baby blues is slight depression felt for a couple of days at most after the birth. Post-partum depression is something more serious and lengthy that often requires medical attention. With both of my children, I experienced one or both of those. Honestly, it's hard to distinguish what exactly I was going through because so many factors are involved in this post-partum malaise. So, I'll break it down from my perspective. Keep in mind that it's not necessarily the same for everyone and that I am no medical expert.
What I felt:
As a first time mom especially, the thing I most felt was overwhelmed by the fact that my husband and I were solely responsible for a human life--and a helpless one at that. I also felt like a failure. My colicky little girl would often cry inconsolably and I wasn't able to calm her down. I felt panicked every time my husband left for work and the day that my mom ended her visit and went home. Then there was the sleep deprivation and the craziness that ensues from night after night of not enough sleep. Finally, there was worry--loads of it--that made me wake up a million times in the middle of the night to check if my baby was still breathing.
With my son, who is my second child, I knew what was coming and I was ready to face it head on, knowing that what I was going to go through was mostly chemical and my feelings wouldn't necessarily be based on reality. Oddly enough given my extremely difficult pregnancy, the first thing I felt was disappointment that it was over--that the day I'd been looking forward to for 9 months had already passed. And then, I felt lonely. My mom was with me for two weeks, my husband was around every morning and evening, and I have an amazing little girl who adores me and just wants to be with me every moment and yet I felt completely alone. I felt like I couldn't handle the weight of the new responsibility of two lives. I felt guilty that all of a sudden I struggled to spend even five minutes of quality time with my daughter in a given day. I felt angry and screamed at everyone in my house at some point or another--my mother, my husband, and even my poor little daughter who was trying to grasp our new reality herself. And I felt sad?sometimes I didn't even know why, but with the exhausted impatience followed by my yelling came superfluous amounts of tears, especially when my innocent little girl bore the brunt of my emotional temper tantrums.
I think the first thing that can definitely lead to post-partum baby blues is the change in hormones. I'm not sure how it all works, but all the hormones that have been sustaining life within you are suddenly gone. It's like the way you feel before you get your period, but squared. It's intense.
There is also the let down that happens to people after the anticipation of a great event--such as how people often feel depressed after Christmas. I think that this can also contribute somewhat to post-partum depression.
For me, the thing that probably contributed the most was the lack of sleep. For both of my children, I just couldn't get myself to calm down, relax, and sleep that first night after giving birth. I felt terribly about it but I asked that both of them be taken to the nursery so I could sleep and even then, it wasn't a deep sleep at all. But after you leave the hospital, there are no nurses to babysit your child for you and you and your family are on their own. The first few days I was only a little loopy after surviving off of 4 hours of sleep or less. By the time I got to the fourth or fifth day of this, though, irrationality had begun to take over causing temper tantrums and torrential weeping.
I'm no expert or anything, but stress can also lead to these feelings. It's stressful to try to find a new routine for your family whether it's the first baby or not. Everyone in your house has to adjust to a new little life and that takes time.
In my 2 week post-partum check up, my midwife had me fill out a questionnaire that helped to assess if I was suffering from post-partum depression or not. I filled it out honestly and I didn't really think my baby blues were too bad the this time around. However, my answers sent up a couple of red flags in my midwife's opinion. She asked if I needed to see someone or if I thought I needed some medicine. I know myself and I knew that I was finding ways of coping on my own, so I politely refused and then assured her that I was doing better, and I told her some of my coping methods. She made sure to let me know that I could call the office if it got too bad and she'd see to it that I got the counseling or prescriptions that I needed. It was nice to know that her support and care will continue even though I'm no longer pregnant.
The thing that most helped me get through those days of depression and emotional roller coasters was my faith. Personally, I find no rest unless I take things to God. Quiet time alone spent in prayer and reading the Bible are the best salve to any emotional wound I have ever suffered. Not everyone finds their rest in this place, but if you have a relationship with God, there is nothing better than time alone with Him to heal your wounds and give you much-needed perspective. I also found that listening to inspirational music was also extremely soothing. The moment I felt my emotions spiraling out of control, I'd put on a hymn or worship song (usually on repeat) that spoke calming truth to my soul and I'd lose myself in the words and the message--feeling infinitely better once I had my fill of the music. Not everyone finds their healing place in music, but I always have and God has always used it to speak to my heart.
I also found journaling to be a great outlet for my feelings. When I write something down that bothers me, it's almost as if I'm letting it go as the words hit the paper. I walk away from a journaling session feeling much lighter and less burdened. Often, I write my journal entries as prayers--especially when I'm distressed--so when I write, I am literally leaving my concerns in God's hands.
Talking to my husband was great. At first, I was so angry with him that he couldn't see past my words to see that my heart was just crying out for some love and understanding. It really wasn't his fault, though it seemed that way to me at the time. Once we got past the poor choice of words I used to express myself, it was so soothing to just talk to him and tell him how I was feeling and what I needed. My husband is my best friend and I always share everything with him. Keeping those lines of communication open between the two of us is essential both for our relationship and for our individual emotional health. I also talked things out with my mother, and she told me of her experience with the baby blues. My mom has a wealth of knowledge on the subject--having gone through it 7 times--and it was really helpful to hear that someone else has gone through what I was feeling. Maybe this is silly, but I talked it out with my daughter too. I didn't talk to her in a way that relieved myself of the burden, but rather in a way that helped her understand why Mommy was acting differently and in a way that helped to mend our relationship. It also helped my daughter to feel that the lines of communication were completely open between the two of us. Talking with those closest to you is definitely a way to help yourself overcome the struggle--whether it's talking with someone who's been through it before or sharing with those closest to you so they can understand a little of what you're struggling through.
It's also very important to ask for help. I am terrible at asking for help, unless it's from my husband or my mother. I'd rather do everything myself. I like having everything put together and being that perfect mom all the time--not that I think I'm perfect, I really don't, but I really strive towards the ever-elusive perfection as my goal. I also like being the hostess and the one helping others. It's so much easier for me to give the help than to accept it. The latter is quite humbling for me. But if I don't realize my limits and stop before I've taken on too much, I'll lose it and everyone closest to me will suffer. I'm just not capable of being the perfect housewife and mother that I've idealized in my mind. When you've just had a baby, you're at one of your most vulnerable times in your life. You cannot do everything that you always do. You need assistance, and/or you need to settle for a lower standard when it comes to housework and familial relations.
Finally, I did my best to rest when the baby was resting. It didn't always prove possible, but when the possibility of sleep presented itself to me, I closed myself in my room, drew the blinds, and instructed that no one disturb me. I felt badly doing this for my daughter's sake, but I knew that I wasn't going to be capable of being a good mother to either of my children if I didn't try to rest. Sometimes, I just ended up laying there, trying to calm my mind enough that sleep would come. Other times, I was actually able to catch a couple of minutes. Either way, the rest made a world of difference when it came to how I was feeling.
I really had to stop worrying and stressing. I tend to be a worrier in the best of times and worry comes in extra doses when a baby is born. But you can't let it take you over. It's tough to do--especially for a chronic worrier, but it will just make things worse. I had to realize that I just can't control everything and that's okay.
Ultimately, there were three major things that took my baby blues away: time, sleep, and lack of stress The latter two were more difficult to accomplish, but could be done with practice. Other things contributed too, but for me, those were the key elements that needed to be in place before I started to feel like myself. Sometimes pot-partum depression will really linger even once you do start getting sleep and an appropriate amount of time has passed. If this is the case, you probably need to seek medical attention from your obstetrician or midwife.
Post-partum depression affects us all differently and we all cope with it in different ways. What's most important is knowing what you need to do for yourself to help you get through it. Then, whether it's getting medication, or just taking more naps, you need to be sure that you do it. Most of all, remember that it will pass, you are not alone, and life really isn't as bad as it may seem to be to you during those first few days and/or weeks. Finally, just enjoy that snuggly little newborn. One day not so far from now, you'll miss the sleepless nights and haggard days.
AT Date 8/19/2013
Postpartum mood disorders truly are something that you can't understand until you experience them. Triggers like watching a sad story on the news can throw you off for days. It's not something that you can just "get over" (telling someone with a mood disorder to "get over it" can actually make it worse). I unknowingly struggled with postpartum OCD for months before realizing that it wasn't normal and I needed help- frightening, vivid images that I couldn't shake, and resulting compulsions to help "prevent" the scenario from happening. I was able to get the help I needed luckily, and am in a much better place today.
It was remarkable to me how many moms struggle with some form of postpartum mood disorder- whether it's depression or anxiety. No one really talks about it at play groups or baby classes, but when it comes up, the stories come out. I try to be very open about my PPOCD (because I had no idea it existed until I was diagnosed) but it turns out that a couple of moms in my toddler class had been through the same thing. It was so refreshing to talk to someone else who had been through it! It's so important to get these kinds of stories out there, especially for those women who are going through it and are hesitant to seek help. I feel like I missed out on a big part of my daughter's babyhood because I was in such a fog from the OCD- and it didn't have to be that way!
Thanks for putting this out there- so many women have stories; I am looking forward to the comments on this!
Kim H Date 8/20/2013
This is such a hard topic! I delt with some PPD stemming from feeling guilty that I needed a c-section because my baby was breech. I felt judged by 'friends' & felt like I failed my child. Looking back I probably should have gotten some help, because I carried that guilt & shame around for a year before I really was able to put it behind me. We have another one due in a few weeks & I am going into this birth with a more open mind (completely natural is not my only option), and hopefully that as well as being aware that PPD is a possibility will give me a head start in dealing with it. It is something that we need to fight the stigma on - how many women are hiding it because they feel ashamed? I know I did & I'm sure I am not the only one!
Rachel N Date 8/27/2013
I am very grateful that with my 3 babies all I have experienced is the normal baby blues that occurs within the first month. I have had a bit more trouble with baby #3 but I am sure that is caused by lack of sleep. When I end up getting a good night I feel so much better. With 3 kids in 3 years though sleep is a rare commodity.