Postpartum Depression: The sad truth not enough people talk about.
Does Postpartum Depression Really Exist?
Having a baby is a dream come true for some and a nightmare for others. Every family planning story is different. For some, having a baby is completely planned and it is what dreams are made of; these are the moms (or dads) who have wished for this most of her life, from the time she was a little girl who pretended to push babies around her garden while singing lullabies. For others, it just happened, and they not even sure if this is what they want and certainly don’t feel ready. Some parents have overcome a long battle with infertility and miscarriages to get to their goal of becoming a parent. Every pregnancy is different because every woman is different and often having a baby comes with a mixed bag of jumbled emotions. However it started; whatever our hopes, dreams and wishes were, we can never predict how we will feel when that baby arrives.
The birth of a baby can make us feel all sorts of powerful emotions. We are thrilled with this new little being that we have eagerly anticipated; we are filled with excitement and joy. We cannot wait to see who they look like and our traits they’ve taken on. We wonder about what they will love and what they will be good at. But we are also petrified and overwhelmed by this new, unknown territory. The fact that our new little baby completely depends on us can cause fear and anxiety. Your body has also been through a lot; your hormones have been taken for a ride, but we often neglect these aspects of ourselves in favour of our new-born and their needs. This new phase comes with the inevitable changes in your life and relationships: throw in a whole lot less sleep, societal pressures to parent a certain way, the almost instant ‘mom-guilt’ and without the correct support structures, you have a potential recipe for disaster. It may even result in something you would never expect — depression.
Baby blues or depression: what is normal?
Given all the changes, ‘baby blues’ are normal and affect up to 80% of women, while postpartum depression affects 10-20% of women. Baby blues last 2-3 weeks with the onset post birth, while postpartum depression can go on for weeks, months and even years. Onset is anywhere from 0-12 months post birth. 
A woman’s body goes through many hormonal changes during and after pregnancy. When she is pregnant, her body produces the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone in much greater amounts. It is notable that in the first 24 hours after childbirth, these hormone levels drop rapidly back down to their non‐pregnant levels. These hormone changes may lead to depression in a similar way that menstrual hormone changes can trigger similar symptoms during and after your period. Hormones therefore play a massive role in postpartum depression and baby blues.
According to MayoClinic, if you experience some or all of the symptoms below for a few days or weeks, it is most likely just the baby blues.
- Mood swings
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Reduced concentration
- Appetite problems
- Trouble sleeping
Should the symptoms be severe, interfere with day-to-day tasks, care for your baby and are on-going, then it may be postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression signs and symptoms may include: Postpartum depression – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Rarely, an extreme mood disorder called postpartum psychosis may develop the first week after childbirth. It carries extremely severe symptoms and lead to life-threatening thoughts and behaviours. It requires immediate and urgent attention and treatment.
Signs and symptoms may include: Postpartum depression – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
- Confusion and disorientation
- Obsessive thoughts about your baby
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Sleep disturbances
- Excessive energy and agitation
- Attempts to harm yourself or your baby
Postpartum depression in new fathers
When people speak or hear about postpartum depression, it is normally with the mother in mind. It is also important to note that expecting dads and new fathers can experience postpartum depression, sometimes called paternal postpartum depression, too. Fathers who are young, have a history of depression, experience relationship problems or are struggling financially tend to be more at risk of postpartum depression but it can happen to anyone.
While they may not be the ones who experience the pregnancy and childbirth, they are no stranger to the life and relationship changes this new role entails. They too experience the overwhelming excitement that is equally met with fear. They too have sleepless nights. This is all new to them, too. They may feel sad or fatigued, be overwhelmed, experience anxiety, or have changes in their usual eating and sleeping patterns ― the same symptoms mothers with postpartum depression experience.
Treatment and support are the same as that with mothers. It is imperative to seek treatment sooner rather than later to avoid it developing into something more major. Like with mothers, it can also have a negative effect on their relationship and role with their child as well as their partner. For these reasons, too, help should be sought quickly.
The key is to seek help as soon as you need it!
Those who develop postpartum depression are at greater risk of developing major depression later in life. So, it is vital that it is treated. Treatment can include counselling, antidepressants, or hormone therapy. This will obviously also help you to bond with your baby. Children of mothers who have untreated postpartum depression may be more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems, such as sleeping and eating difficulties, excessive crying, and delays in language development.
Many people don’t seek treatment due to the stigma that surrounds it. One is supposed to be the happiest they’ve ever been and are scared to admit that they are not: to themselves and others. We need to understand that postpartum depression is a complication or result of pregnancy and childbirth- much like there may be a physical side effect or complication.
Once we have acknowledged that we are struggling, reaching out is key. This can be the best time of your life, just like the dream you once had.
If at any point you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, immediately seek help from your partner or loved ones in taking care of your baby and call your local emergency assistance number to get help.
People with depression may not recognize or acknowledge that they’re depressed. They may not be aware of signs and symptoms they are experiencing. If a friend suspects that their friend or loved one has postpartum depression or is developing postpartum psychosis, they should help them seek medical attention immediately. Don’t wait and hope for improvement. Unfortunately, depression is not one of those things that ‘gets better with time’. It will get worse if left untreated.
What causes postpartum depression?
There is no one cause of postpartum depression. It arises due to a combination of physical, environmental, and emotional factors, much like major depression. One thing is for certain and that is that it is not ‘caused’ by something a mother did or didn’t do. It is not chosen. People do not choose to feel this way. What does not help is the major fluctuations your hormones go through, the lack of sleep, the life and relationship changes and the general overwhelm of not always knowing what to do. Not knowing what to do in this new role may breed self-doubt and self-esteem issues. Your baby may have come early; they may have health problems you weren’t expecting. You may worry about how you will financially support the child. You may have trouble breastfeeding; you may not even want to breastfeed. You may be fighting with your spouse. You may no longer recognise your body; you may no longer love your body. You may feel like your relationship with your partner will never be the same. You may question whether you will ever be the same.
If you have previously been depressed or taken medication for depression, it is important to mention this to your doctor before trying to conceive. This way they can monitor you during and after your pregnancy so that early detection and treatment can be achieved. They may even suggest a preventative programme of sorts.
The truth of the matter is that having a baby does change you. It does change your life. It does change your relationships. Things will be different, and that is overwhelming. Having a baby is a huge undertaking. And while all things may be true, different doesn’t have to be bad. The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ has been around forever. It is not a new phenomenon that we cannot do it alone; so don’t feel like you have to. Accept offers of help and reach out when you feel overwhelmed. Rest easy knowing that you are the best parent to your baby because you are THEIRS. They love you just the way you are.
A Mom’s story:
When my husband and I decided to have a child, I was a little unsure because I have endometriosis. I thought I would have a hard time getting pregnant or I wouldn’t be able to have any children. I ended up getting pregnant fairly quickly. We were so excited! I always imagined how happy we would be when my baby was born. I couldn’t wait to see him, hold him and give him kisses.
What I didn’t know is that it sometimes doesn’t end up that way.
Looking back, I realize that was having postpartum depression when my baby was born. I had never been around or taken care of babies before, and I can remember looking at him and thinking, “What am I supposed to do now?”
Some people say when you have your baby, things will just come naturally. You will just know.
That wasn’t the case for me.
I remember the first time I was alone with him in the hospital. I would always call the nurses in saying, “He is crying. I don’t know what to do!’
I felt so stupid. Here I was, a mom, and I had no idea how to take care of my son. My son was born a preemie, and we spent almost a week in the hospital with him. My mom had taken a few weeks off work to help me because my husband had to go back to work when we got home from the hospital.
For some reason, I would always get what I call “weird anxiety” at night or when she left. Even if my husband was there it would still happen. I never told anyone because I didn’t want to sound crazy.
The fact is, I was anything but happy. I remember thinking things would get better. These feelings would go away, and things would work out. Little did I know it wasn’t getting better. It was getting worse.
I wasn’t myself
I felt like I was living in a dream I couldn’t wake up from. I didn’t feel like a mom, nor did I feel like myself. I would often pretend to be happy and think maybe I would end up feeling that way.
Of course, that didn’t work either.
I was so overwhelmed and stressed taking care of a baby, working full time, trying to keep the house somewhat clean and fit in sleep when I could. I completely ignored everything around me, including my husband and myself. All of my attention was focused on my child.
Eventually everything came crashing down. I later realized that I wasn’t acting like myself. It wasn’t right to try to be happy when you’re not and you have no idea why. There was an instance when I wanted to leave and wasn’t sure why.
I would get angry out of nowhere when my child would cry nonstop, which sometimes led me to raise my voice at him. I knew it wasn’t his fault, and he couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to be like that at all!
I would get upset and start crying, sometimes for days or for no reason at all. My crying was so bad that I would have to miss work because once I started crying there was no stopping it, no matter how hard I tried.
I ended up calling my doctor to get an appointment. I started to suspect I was experiencing postpartum depression but didn’t know much about it. When I saw my doctor I filled out a depression score sheet.
It hit me that I lied when I had filled out the sheet before because I thought I would get better and had pushed all those feelings aside. This time I had to make myself tell the truth.
I was then diagnosed with postpartum depression and started taking medication. Even with medication, I was still missing work because of my crying. I ended up taking a leave from work until it got under control, which took about three months.
The doctor also referred me to see a counsellor. The first time that I had seen the counsellor he told me that I was doing too much and I needed to ask for help. The counsellor then stated that people with postpartum depression either go, go, go or they do absolutely nothing.
I was the go, go, go person.
I didn’t realize until talking with the counsellor that my cleaning was obsessive, and that it was okay to not do the dishes all the time. I now have a chore list that I try to follow everyday so I don’t get too overwhelmed, which can cause me to have a postpartum “moment” the next day.
Also, the counsellor noticed I wasn’t taking time for myself and that I needed to make sure that I did that every night. It was important for me to do this so I can be the best mom for my son.
The counsellor had brought up the point that just going to sleep after my son is asleep is not taking time for myself. I needed to do something that I enjoy doing and need to make some time for my husband as well. I was given some suggestions on this as well as suggestions on what to do when I become too overwhelmed or get that random anger, rage.
All of the counsellor’s suggestions have really helped me! I have had to do a lot of self-reflection and soul searching to find out what I like to do, what works with me and what doesn’t. I have found that I enjoy doing things that I never enjoyed doing before I had a child.
A better tomorrow
After about nine months postpartum I feel like I am now in a really good place. I am truly happy and definitely feeling more like myself. I also feel like I have a real connection with my son now. Maybe all of this has made me a better person than I was before I had a child.
Unfortunately, no one talks about postpartum depression, and this shouldn’t be such a hush, hush topic. I wished there was a place where I could talk with other people about what I went through who might be going through the same thing. 
To those who are struggling with Postpartum Depression:
As you have read, it affects many new moms, and it is not something you need to be ashamed of. If you are struggling, please reach out, either to Connectable Life, your doctor, your partner, your family or a friend. You don’t need to deal with this alone and in silence. You matter and your story matters.
Find a postpartum counsellor on Connectable Life: https://www.connectablelife.com/online-therapy?id=postpartum-counselling