From the bouts of nausea (for some mamas it can last most of the pregnancy) to the random crying spells, pregnancy hormones put women through it. Something that’s not as openly talked about though is what those hormones can do after the birth of baby. While it’s common for many new moms to experience “baby blues” — feeling sad, anxious, stressed, lonely, tired or weepy — about 1 in 9 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression.
Mothers who suffer from PPD often have low energy, trouble sleeping and eating, often feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities of new motherhood and disconnected from daily life, says Maternity Consultant & Postpartum Doula Sasha Romary. They may also have trouble bonding with their babies and experience feelings of extreme anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, and sadness. You can find more details on the symptoms, which can range in severity from person to person, here.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there is no single cause of postpartum depression, but rather a combination of emotional and physical factors. Also, it’s not a result of something a mom did or didn’t do. A woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels quickly drop after childbirth, and the chemical changes that occur in her brain as a result can trigger mood swings. This plus sleep deprivation and sometimes the inability to properly recover due to lack of support can all contribute to symptoms of PPD.
“Mothers need tons of support after having a baby,” shares Romary. “The first few weeks tend to be when people offer help and support with food and visits, however, the real issues lie in the months ahead. Fathers go back to work after a few days or weeks and friends assume that you have gotten the hang of motherhood after the first few weeks. In reality, it is the first four months or so where women really need support, proper nutrition, and human contact more than anything.
These months can be isolating and difficult as you learn your baby’s sleep patterns and struggle to get out of the house. This is when most women are at risk of developing PPD and this is when family and friends should offer as much support as possible. Offering to stop by, meet for a coffee nearby, bring over some food or help with the cleaning can be wonderful. Adult conversation and encouraging a new mother to talk about the hard parts of motherhood is hugely beneficial.”
Below two mamas share their postpartum experiences, one who suffered from baby blues and the other postpartum depression.
MOMMY BRAIN: You struggled with baby blues, what kind of symptoms did you experience?
Tiffany King: I felt like I was in a fog. I was so in love with my baby boy, but I was miserable. My body and hormones were adjusting to just having delivered a baby, I wasn’t getting sleep, I had issues with breastfeeding, I was anxious about germs, accidents, and SIDS, we were going to many doctor appointments for my son’s tongue tie and lip tie, and we were trying to navigate being on one income. In my mind, I was failing and failing miserably. I experienced crying, irritability, exhaustion, anxiousness, and resentment towards my husband because his body was working just fine, AND he got to leave the house!
MB: Did you know right away that you were suffering from baby blues? What led to your diagnosis?
TK: I have to admit that I self-diagnosed myself by Googling my symptoms around day four or five postpartum. I knew beforehand that my hormones would be all over the place and that I’d be a bit weepy, but I just felt that I needed to check and see if what I was feeling was normal or not.
MB: How did you get help?
TK: I talked it out with my husband and some friends, who encouraged me to get out more as opposed to staying inside. They also helped me by reminding me to not feel guilty. I did a lot of praying, and made sure to lean on the support of my church sisters and mama friends.
MB: What did life look like with baby blues? And now that you’re better what is life like now?
TK: I spent multiple times of the day crying. The first day my husband went back to work, I cried and watched the clock. I was so anxious! It became normal for my husband to call me after work to let me know he was on his way home, and if he had to stop somewhere or get home a little later, I’d be a wreck! I would just walk around my home in my pajamas, looking disheveled. Now that I am better, my son and I have a loose routine and I make sure to get us both dressed for the day, even if we have no plans to leave the house. Life looks pretty normal. Sure, I still love when I know my husband is on the way home so that I can get a break, but I am not constantly looking at the clock or having a meltdown if he runs a bit late. I enjoy my days!
MB: How long did your baby blues last?
TK: The worst of it lasted two weeks, but I felt much better by three months postpartum.
MB: Anything else to share about your experience?
TK: All of these feelings took me by surprise. I mean, I prayed and prayed and prayed for my sweet little son. That last sentence made me feel so guilty. I was afraid to admit I was suffering because here I was struggling and feeling down about a baby I begged God for. I felt like I was being ungrateful. I love my son with all of my heart and with a love I just can’t explain, but I just wasn’t happy. Especially because my expectations of bliss, happiness, and perfection didn’t meet my reality.
MOMMY BRAIN: You struggled with postpartum depression, can you share about the symptoms you experience?
Alyssa Rahn: I felt like I lost myself. I was exhausted ALL the time. I really thought it was just because I had a newborn. There was so much guilt. I felt like I made the wrong choice and that I wasn’t cut out to be a mom — that I was a bad mom and didn’t deserve my baby. I also experienced loss of appetite, anxiety, and rage.
MB: Did you know right away that you were suffering from PPD? What led to your diagnosis?
AR: When I look back, I realize that I started dealing with anxiety (and slight depression) a couple weeks before my son was born. I had small anxiety attacks leading up to his birth, but I didn’t recognize them as anxiety attacks until my son was a week old and we had to take him to have his bilirubin levels tested. We got in the car and I had a hard time breathing, I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest.
My husband was the first person to point out the depression. I thought how I was feeling was “normal new mom” feelings. When the doctor asked, I said I felt “fine.” When we left the office, though, my husband said, “You lied to the doctor. I think you’re dealing with some of that.”
MB: After your husband pointed out that he thought you were dealing with some of the symptoms your doctor described, did you bring those up with your doctor or talk about what you were experiencing at the next visit?
AR: I did not bring it up to my doctor. My husband pointed it out around two weeks postpartum. When I saw my OB, it was at eight weeks pp and by that time I felt like it wasn’t “as bad.” So, I told her that I was “doing better.”
But, looking back on it, I know that wasn’t the truth because I dealt with bad symptoms for seven months. I really just didn’t want her to prescribe me meds. I’m pretty natural-minded, knew the side effects, and just didn’t want to go that route unless I absolutely had to. I do wish I would have talked to her about it, though. She probably would have referred me to a counselor, which I believe would have been beneficial.
MB: How did you get help?
AR: I decided to fight through it naturally. I took Vitamin D3, started walking outdoors when the weather was good, tried to exercise at least a couple days per week, and started eating healthier. I believe the thing that helped the most was deciding that I was going to take a little time each day to focus on me. I committed to placing focus on my nutrition and exercising at least four days per week.
MB: What did life look like with PPD?
AR: It was hard. I felt like a shell of myself. I felt hopeless and like this would be my life forever. I couldn’t understand the joy that moms said they had from becoming a mom. It was knowing I “should” enjoy all these moments because they’re fleeting, but just wishing the time would go by. I wanted to feel better and for my son to be a little more independent.
It was being sad and angry and guilty and not understanding any of it. It was a lot of wishing things could just go back to how they were. I felt shame and judgement — there are so many women that can’t have babies and here I am with a beautiful baby boy and I felt like this, I feel so ungrateful.
MB: Would you say you are better now or do you still experience some symptoms?
AR: I’m mostly recovered. I still have days of high anxiety and overwhelming sadness/hopelessness, but it’s only a few days a month. The worst of it lasted seven months, then I started to feel better more often. I’d say I’m 97% better.
MB: Anything else to share about your experience?
AR: I just want to encourage you to find one thing that brings you joy every day and focus your energy on it. If you feel overwhelmed ask for help. You don’t have to do this alone! You’re not alone! There are so many moms and dads dealing with this, but that doesn’t mean you need to suffer through it.
Before dealing with postpartum depression I knew I at least wanted two to four children. Now, I just want the one I have. I’m scared to have more and never want to deal with any of this ever again. That’s not selfish and it’s okay to only want one now.
It’s important to discuss any symptoms you might be experiencing with your healthcare provider. Symptoms of postpartum depression are broad and may vary between women — your healthcare provider can help you figure out whether the symptoms are due to PPD or something else. Effective treatments for postpartum depression include counseling/talk therapy as well as medication. You can find more information on PPD here.
Ravelle Worthington is a wife, momma of three, and the founder of Mommy Brain. Follow her on Instagram here.
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Story photos provided by author. Cover photo by Claudia via Unsplash.
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