I wanted to be happy when my first child was born.
And, of course, at first I was. There was that wonderful first moment when the doctors handed her to me, a tiny little bundle with the tiniest hands and feet that I had ever seen. She was so soft and fragile and so very mine. I fell hard and fast.
Unlike in the movies though, the story didn’t end with that tender split-second moment. After all of the cooing and congratulations died down, after friends stopped sending emails gushing about how she was just so beautiful, I returned to a much harsher reality.
My husband and I were relatively recent transplants to Thailand at the time and the country still felt foreign to me. I never knew how to interpret the many-faceted smiles around me and the language sounded absurd rolling off of my tongue. I met many acquaintances quickly, but none of them were a substitute for the deep-rooted friendships that I had built up over the course of years back home. Before long, my husband’s vacation time ran out and he went back to working a 50-plus hour week, leaving me mostly alone with one little newborn and too little sleep.
The worst part was that I couldn’t fully account for my creeping sense of despair. Everyone who visited or Skyped kept telling me, “You must be overjoyed!” when I was crying in secret almost everyday. I felt guilty for not feeling the things I was expected to feel, which only made everything worse.
Although I felt completely alone during this difficult period, the truth is that postpartum depression is a common condition that many new mothers experience. Understanding the problem helped me work towards overcoming it.
Why do some women suffer from postpartum depression?
There are different reasons for the so-called baby blues. One of them is often simply the shift in hormone levels after birth. During pregnancy, your body is flooded with elevated levels of progesterone and estrogen, which subside after the child is delivered. Your body also undergoes changes in metabolism, blood pressure, immune system and blood volume which can leave you feeling exhausted.
Hormonal shifts don’t account for everything though. Most new moms are under a whole lot of pressure, both from themselves and from others, to thrive in a very difficult situation. Society expects new mothers to be nurturing, loving and… well, basically perfect. It doesn’t help that new babies usually only sleep for a couple of hours at a time, leaving parents to cope with sleep deprivation and round-the-clock responsibilities.
What are some coping strategies?
Although it may feel impossible, force yourself to adopt a healthy daily routine. Make at least a moderate form of exercise (talk to your doctor about which exercises are suitable soon after birth) part of your daily plan. Eat a balanced diet of healthy foods including plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, protein and veggies.
Most importantly, be open and honest with those close to you about what you’re going through. It might be hard to explain, but discuss what’s going on with your partner, close friends and family. You may also wish to seek out support groups or counseling.
Should I take medication?
That’s always a difficult question, since any antidepressants taking while breast-feeding will enter the breast milk. Some medications have been shown to have minimal side effects or risk for the infant. Most women with postpartum depression normally get better within two to three weeks without medication. If you suffer longer, it is recommended that you consult with a doctor before taking any medication.
1. Mayo Clinic Staff: Disease and Conditions – Postpartum depression. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20029130.
Photo Credit: Artemis Arthur via Compfight cc
Surprising Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
1) Anger: In all the years that I’ve spoken to mothers about postpartum depression, they are always most surprised by rage and irritability as symptoms of postpartum depression. Yet, so many of you experience this. It may be that everything makes you angry. Or your baby, or partner, or older children are irritating you at a level that you have never felt before. You might want to throw things, or yell at everyone. Some of you tell me you know that you shouldn’t be so mad all the time, but you can’t help it, and you’re worried about how rough you are being with the people you love. For more on this, you might like The Rage of Postpartum Depression.
2) Brain Fog: For many of us, our brains just don’t work as well when we have postpartum depression and anxiety. We have a hard time remembering things, thinking of the right words—or any words for that matter. We can’t multitask as well as we used to. During my bout with postpartum OCD, I used to drive through stop signs, finding myself out in the middle of an intersection before I realized I hadn’t stopped. If your mind is cloudy and you feel like you’ve lost at least 20 IQ points since you had your baby, you’re not alone.
3) Scary Thoughts: Most people think they’re in full control of their thoughts. I know I had no idea whatsoever that your mind could think a thought you didn’t want it to. Then I got introduced to intrusive thoughts, which are scary thoughts that enter your mind that you don’t want that are very upsetting but continue to plague you. Often they start with the phrase “what if,” as in what if I did this terrible thing or what if that awful thing happened? It’s like walking around having mini-nightmares all the time. Intrusive thoughts are a sign of postpartum anxiety and OCD, and NO, they do not mean you’ve turned into some horrible monster. For more on this, you might like Does Having Scary Thoughts Mean You’ll Act on Them?
4) Numbness: If you think women with postpartum depression are full of strong emotions, sad, and crying all the time, and instead you feel nothing whatsoever, you may be surprised. Some of you tell me that you feel only emptiness. You are just going through the motions, doing the things you know you are supposed to do but not really feeling it inside. If you are disconnected from things you used to care about and it feels as if you are hovering over your life looking down on it but no longer part of it, it’s worth talking to your doctor. This is not what new motherhood is supposed to feel like. For more on this, you might like Profoundly Alone: The Disconnection of Postpartum Depression.
5) Insomnia: Sleep when the baby sleeps, they say. But what if you can’t? It’s pretty shocking for a new mom who has never been more exhausted in her life to be unable to sleep. You keep thinking that eventually you’ll just crash, but you don’t. Or you fall asleep fine but then you wake up and can’t go back to sleep. All new moms are tired, but not being able to sleep when you have the opportunity to can be a sign of postpartum depression or anxiety. For more on this, you might like On Postpartum Depression and Insomnia.
6) Physical symptoms: Most women expect postpartum depression to impact their mind only—how they are feeling. But for some of you, PPD manifests as physical symptoms. I hear from new moms who are suffering with headaches, back aches, upset stomachs, nausea, or even panic attacks that make them feel as though they are having a heart attack. If you are suddenly plagued by aches and pains that don’t appear to be caused by the flu or food poisoning or any other illness, they may be symptoms of postpartum depression.
As always, the best thing to do is reach out to your doctor if you are having these or other symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety. While PPD is very common, it is not normal. You don’t have to feel this way as a new mother, and there are effective treatments that can put you on the road to recovery.