I ask that you read this post with an open mind and remember that every mom has her own journey. If you feel any signs of Postpartum Depression, talk to your doctor immediately. This is my story and I hope that sharing it makes other moms going through something similar feel less alone and more empowered to do something about it. It might not sound exactly like other stories you’ve read, but that’s the point- not all PPD looks the same. And that’s what can make it so hard to diagnose on your own. It’s been almost a year since I had my symptoms and I only recently realized what it was.
When I was pregnant with Amalia, Anel and I spent a lot of time talking about what we would do if I ended up getting postpartum depression. Because I’ve dealt with depression in my past (a long time ago) and currently struggle with anxiety, we knew it was a very real possibility.
Because I’m as Type-A as they come, I decided that I was going to get in front of the problem and handle it the only way I knew how… with a list! A friend of mine sent me a list of symptoms to look out for after birth and suggested I share it with Anel and my mom (who lived with us for a month after we had the baby). My friend had struggled with pretty severe PPD and PPA, and has become an amazing advocate for her pregnant friends and family now, encouraging me to be aware of what could happen.
So I printed out the list and taped it to my fridge. Then the three of us sat down, went over all of the symptoms and discussed what they should do if they saw any of them in me. I knew that I’d be exhausted and hormonal so I put them in charge of watching me closely.
Then I had Amalia and I didn’t know which way was up. I was totally exhausted and emotional (obviously) and cried at 4pm on the dot everyday, but I had heard that was normal from most of my friends. (New moms get witching hours too!) I definitely never wanted to hurt my baby or myself, I wasn’t withdrawing from my friends and family, I had my appetite, and I didn’t have a crippling fear that something terrible would happen to her so I thought I was in the clear.
But I knew something was really off, and it took until now for me to really realize just how off it was. Although I touched on it in this post, it actually took me a few months to really connect with Amalia. I had a feral need to protect her from day one, but I didn’t have that immediate bond that so many moms have the second they see their brand new baby. According to my therapist and the many responses to that blog post, this is very common among new moms.
However it was more than that. I was too ashamed to write about it in that post, but not only did I not have that connection, I really didn’t even want to be around her unless she was nursing. In those first few weeks, between feeds, Anel or my mom would take her and put her down to let me rest, and though I never said it out loud, I’d feel relieved. When she would wake up from her naps, I wasn’t excited to see her the way I am now, instead I’d panic and get nervous at the sound of her crying.
I had waited for so long for her that whenever I felt sad or lonely or anything less than happy, I’d push it down and hide it because it seemed insane.
Despite all of that, I still didn’t think I had PPD and thought maybe every mom felt like this and just didn’t talk about it, so I went about my days, not ever breathing a word of my embarrassing feelings to anyone, even Anel. As someone who has lived with anxiety for my whole life, I’m really good at covering up what’s going on inside, so my family had no idea.
It wasn’t until a conversation I had in therapy a few weeks ago, that I realized how bad I really was. I told her a story that I had, up until now, only told a few people. At the end of the story she asked me what I thought about that looking back. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I had some form of PPD which she confirmed.
This is what I told her… When I was in labor, there was a point where things started to move really quickly and all of a sudden the doctor said, “Meet your baby girl!” I looked at her and was in shock, but not in the way I expected.
Here was this tiny purple screaming baby with a head full of black hair. She was not at all how I had pictured her in my mind and she looked so scary at first that I actually thought something was really wrong with her. I’ve since learned that all newborns look like at first so the next time won’t be as jarring, but man it was intense.
Anel’s first sentence was, “She’s beautiful!” and he immediately teared up and said he had butterflies in his stomach from just looking at her. I desperately wanted to feel that, but I just didn’t. I couldn’t even call her by her name because she was so different from what I had expected. I realize that probably doesn’t make any sense, but it was how I felt at the time. And it didn’t feel good.
When we got home from the hospital, I just kept thinking “What have we done?” I was so scared and sad in those first few weeks despite the fact that I was surrounded by people who loved me my beautiful new baby, I felt incredibly alone in my own thoughts. I would find any excuse I could make to do something that didn’t involve her like running an errand or cleaning the kitchen, because that was all that would make me feel normal.
The other major symptom I had was that if we took her out of the house for a walk or a doctor’s appointment, I would panic. I used our very strict schedule as a crutch to focus on because it was the only thing I felt like I could control in a very out of control situation. When we left the house, we’d get off schedule, and it would throw me for a loop and I would shake and often cry.
I didn’t want to feel like that, and the guilt became overwhelming. I thought maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be a mom and I definitely thought that I wasn’t a good one. The guilt on top of everything else was probably the worst part. I beat myself up day after day, trying to make myself feel differently.
Here is a list of all my symptoms:
Little interest in being around my baby
No bond with my baby
Panic when she cried
Panic when we got “off schedule”
Panic when we left the house with her
Tears every evening and in random spurts throughout the day
I felt most of this until I stopped breastfeeding. Once I weaned Amalia, everything changed. I guess my hormones balanced out or something because that’s when things really took a turn and I became a more confident and happy mom.
Since talking it through in therapy, I now understand that what happened to me was probably caused by a chemical change in my brain. I’m not a bad mom or an awful person. I’ve read a lot about PPD and PPA in the last few weeks and was surprised to find out that it affects 20% of new moms. I also know that if Anel and I are lucky enough to get pregnant again, I will most likely go on medication for PPD a few weeks before I’m due to prevent this from happening again.
When I think about how hard those first months were and how easily I could have fixed many of my problems, I am so angry at myself for not getting help when I really needed it. I was trying so hard to be a strong mom who could do it all, that I ended up being afraid to deal with the biggest issue at hand.
I love being Amalia’s mama. She is my little angel, and watching her thriving and happy now, validates that I’m doing a good job. But it breaks my heart that I couldn’t fully enjoy my first few months with her. It feels like I missed out on something. But it was a good lesson, and something that I can be aware of and work to prevent the next time around.
My advice for anyone who has just had a baby is to go with your gut on this. If something doesn’t feel right, but you’re too afraid to bring it up, go to a therapist or even talk to your OB or pediatrician about it. Most of them are trained to deal with new moms who have PPD or PPA. Don’t be like me and hold it all in. Don’t be embarrassed. While it’s not “normal,” it’s very common and very treatable.
Here are some articles I read on PPD that I found to be helpful:
Mayo Clinic: Symptons, risk factors
Chrissy Teigen’s story in Glamour
WebMD: Research on what happens to a mother’s brain during PPD
Hitha on the Go: My friend Hitha shared her story beautifully.