Your brand-new baby is laying in her bassinet, surrounded by pink polka dots, bundled in her soft white footie pajamas. But you can’t help but feel lonely and empty. The joy of new motherhood has not surfaced, but something new has in its place. Anger and possibly resentment. Extreme emotions unfamiliar to you. You may be suffering from Postpartum Depression.
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New motherhood is a difficult time for many women. There are many new things to worry about, new responsibilities to take care of, and even new expenses you have to be able to pay. Some expression of worry and fear is normal in this new phase of life.
But there is also the possibility of something a little scarier creeping up. Postpartum depression, if left untreated, can lead to more severe issues such as suicidal ideations or suicide attempts. Untreated PPD can also lead to a lack of emotional and physical connection between mother and child, which can have lasting effects on both of them.
The Truth About Postpartum Depression
Pregnancy and childbirth cause great increases and decreases in your body’s hormone levels. Hormones have a connection between your emotions because of their link to brain chemistry. When your hormones aren’t level or have large changes in a short amount of time, your brain chemistry may be thrown out of whack.
This is not the only cause of Postpartum Depression though.
A lot of physical and emotional changes occur when a mother goes through childbirth. Not to mention there is generally a drastic change in energy levels due to likely sleep deprivation once you bring the new baby home.
PPD isn’t caused by one specific factor. It’s usually a combination of multiple factors that build up and cause a woman distress.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
While many women experience normal levels of worry and fear after childbirth, about 15%, or 1 in 7 women, suffer from Postpartum depression.
Only a qualified physician or therapist can accurately diagnose postpartum depression. If you find that you see a lot of the following symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it is important to seek help as soon as possible.
The following are common symptoms of Postpartum Depression. Not all women will experience the same set of symptoms. If you feel you or a loved one is in danger, please call emergency services or the help hotline 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255).
- Sadness, hopelessness, feelings of emptiness or overwhelmed (more than expected with a newborn)
- Moodiness or irritable
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
- Withdrawn from family and friends
- Not experiences feelings of bondedness with the new baby
- Worries and doubts about parenting abilities (persistent)
- Suicidal ideations or thoughts of harming the newborn
These are not all of the symptoms of Postpartum Depression and some women’s expressions of the disorder may appear differently. For more information on Postpartum Depression, you can visit the NIMH.
Recovering From Postpartum Depression
Diagnosis by a qualified professional is necessary for adequate treatment of postpartum depression. Forms of treatment often include talk therapy, or psychotherapy, as well as medication in some cases. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed in these situations.
While either treatment can be effective on its own, talk therapy and medication are generally more effective when used in conjunction with one another.
Rosario’s Postpartum Depression Recovery Story
My husband and I first found out I was pregnant in March of 2002. We were just starting out in our relationship and my birth control failed.
I was 19 years old and he was 24, we were very much unprepared.
We sat with one another and had one of the hardest conversations of our relationship, what were we going to do with a baby? With no apartment of our own, we were barely surviving, and there was no way we could bring a baby into the world without having a home and a steady job. We both opted for an abortion. It was a rainy March morning. We drove in silence, heavy hearts weighing us down. We walked into Planned Parenthood with tears streaming down our faces, there he held me until it was time to go to the room.
Both of us felt tremendous guilt, and I think we suffered from postpartum depression after the procedure.
Together, we vowed that if we were to get pregnant again, we would do all we could to give this baby the life he and I never had. We felt terrible and vowed that we would never endure that pain and suffering again.
That evening, I remember us sitting on the couch holding each other together because we both knew we would fall apart if one of us let go. It took us a while to recover, but we did.
Exactly one year later (to the day), at the ages of 20 & 25, we found out we were pregnant again, only this time we were better prepared. We had an apartment, both of us were working steady jobs, and we felt that at this point in our lives we could bring a baby into the world, and it would be okay.
Parts of me were very hesitant because we were just getting our lives together, I was going to start college again and he was going to pursue a career change as well. Although my husband was extremely excited, I don’t remember sharing in that excitement. I was more scared than anything else. But because he was so happy and excited, I went along with it, I knew he would make an amazing dad, and I loved babies and children so, it seemed natural at this point in our lives to go ahead and bring this precious baby into our lives.
Pregnancy was hard on me. I was very emotional, the hormones did not just make me weepy, but I was also angry and frustrated quite a bit. I’d lock myself in my bathroom and just cry for hours, not really understanding why or where it was all coming from.
All I knew was that I was sad and angry.
I wasn’t a happy pregnant woman, glowing with excitement, I was miserable, and in turn, I made everyone around me miserable as well. I didn’t like being pregnant.
However, I did enjoy the closeness I felt with my baby, I spoke to her, sang to her, read to her. I thought that if anything happened between her dad and I, we would always have this special bond, and someone would always love me.
Her birth did not go as planned. I was induced and had a long, painful hospital stay. It took her 72 hours to figure out what was happening, and then on a sunny November morning, she graced us with her loving presence. As I pulled her out, she stretched her arms out and let out the most beautiful cry. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
She was just beautiful.
I remember smelling her hair and wondering if that is what heaven smells like. She was whisked away immediately after I held her, so they could run tests and get her washed up etc. I did not see my baby for the first 5 hours of her life. No skin to skin, no snuggles, no breastfeeding help. Nothing. I was left alone in my room after being stitched and cleaned up. I cried and sobbed. All I wanted was my baby.
My husband was with her 100% of the time in the nursery. He stayed with her and was able to hold her, feed her, rock her, and cuddle her those first few hours. While I was so thankful at least one of us was able to be there, I really wanted that someone to be me. He was so happy with his little girl, his smile couldn’t get any bigger really.
So for me, it was a tad bittersweet, I was thankful, but with a tinge of jealousy.
Bringing Baby Home
The first few days of being home is a blur. I was in pain, from delivery and a painful episiotomy. My breasts were sore and engorged as she wasn’t latching, I had no breastfeeding support. I was frustrated, nervous, and dying a little more each day inside. My mom was with us, however, she didn’t know how to help ME, she could take care of Charlotte easily, it was me that had her worried and concerned. I remember getting so frustrated and angry and just wishing I could die, so my daughter and husband could just be better off without the crazy.
The Road to PPD
I imagined their lives without me, and they were happy. They didn’t have me to worry about so of course, they were happier. The days turned into months, and I remember thinking of different ways to die every day.
I would come up with some way I would just end it, walk in front of a bus or truck, pills, jumping off an overpass, there were so many ways, it was like I was challenging my brain to figure out new fucked up ways of accidentally dying.
I would stay up all night asking God why he kept me alive, I would ask her why she chose me to be her mother. The voices inside my head were just so loud. Some days I couldn’t think straight, some days I thought I was for sure going to die of a heart attack.
I would picture my husband coming home and finding me with the baby. But I never once thought of hurting her physically. I always pictured me leaving or checking out, never with her though.
Turning to Treatment
This torture went on for months, at her 4-month checkup, I spoke to her pediatrician and asked for help, she gave me a pamphlet of resources and sent me on my way. Never asked questions, nothing, just gave me a pamphlet that said something about baby blues, who to call for help, but really didn’t offer much information as to what I was experiencing first hand.
I knew what I was feeling was not natural, and it was beyond what the description of baby blues was, so I made an appointment with my doctor to discuss birth control as well as how he could help me cope with these feelings. He said I may be dealing with some depression that was untreated before I got pregnant and it got worse as my hormones surged and then depleted again, so he wrote a prescription for Zoloft, and sent me on my way, no therapy suggestions, nothing.
Again, I was left on my own to navigate this undiscovered territory.
The Importance of Proper Treatment
With the Zoloft, I felt worse, I was angry, all the time, so much so that I punched a hole in my room, scaring my husband, brother, and daughter.
My husband’s concern for me deepened.
He was now checking in on me multiple times a day. Which didn’t register with me as him being concerned. My mind twisted it as him being overbearing and controlling. I began to distance myself from him. Hiding feelings, pretending I was okay, putting a smile on, fixing my hair and makeup right before he got home, working extra hard on making the house appear to be in order when I really had crawled out of bed an hour or so before.
The pills were not helping. Now I was anxious, scared to take her out in fear someone would kidnap her, or that I would forget her somehow. I wouldn’t leave the house unless my brother or husband was with me, sometimes I begged them to take her away so I could just scream and cry alone.
Enough is Enough
I remember the day I had enough, I had spent hours being so anxious about the worst possible ways of dying. Seeing her death and my death so clearly, I refused to leave the house. It was too scary out there. The world was entirely too much for me. I crumbled on the floor and called a suicide hotline, where they directed me to a therapist that could help me.
In May of 2004, I began seeing a therapist, my medications were adjusted, and I began crawling out of this dark hole. When my husband left for Coast Guard basic training, I had a huge slip-up and had an affair with drugs, alcohol and a man who preyed on my sickness. I made terrible choices and put myself in some insanely bad situations, all part of the self-destruction that I was going through.
My rock bottom came when my daughter was almost 2, and her father and I were separated, my mental health had taken a huge toll on our marriage. While he was in school for the CG, I moved in with my parents, so I could figure out what I was doing with my life. Those first few months were intense, I fought hard to learn about myself, and where these feelings may have stemmed from.
I wanted to give up many times, but I fought, my family fought for me, and most of all my husband (although very angry, hurt, and frustrated) never gave up on me. After beginning intense therapy sessions and had to make the choice of staying with my husband to create the life we dreamed of or throw it all away. I chose to stay and work it out.
Diagnosis Doesn’t Define You
In May of 2005, I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression, panic disorder, and social anxiety. I knew that once I had this diagnosis, I could create a self-help map and plan that would help me learn more about myself, how to care and manage myself as well as my family.
It also helped me learn what professionals I could turn to when I needed help. I began to see a therapist who focused on helping new mothers, as well as learning how to cope and manage my feelings. I began seeing the big picture, create goals and intentions for myself. Slowly I began to really come out of this deep hole that had taken over my life for 2 solid years.
Throughout this entire process, I saw many ups and downs. Sometimes I didn’t see a point to it, sometimes it took so much to fight for myself that I wanted to just give up. But it was in those moments I feel I was my strongest because I didn’t give up.
Advice for Struggling New Mothers
My advice to those who feel they are struggling with getting treatment is to just go. Take that first step, make the appointment, and let others help you. Yes, it is hard. Probably one of the hardest things you will ever do in your life, but it is worth it.
Thirteen years later, and another baby 4 years after my first, I am still here. With the help of therapists and life coaches, along with a successful run on medications, I am here today. I am so thankful I chose life because it’s a damn good one.