Depression is not an easy thing to handle. Some folks struggle with it their entire lives, while others could be completely unaware they're living with it. New moms happen to be especially susceptible to postpartum depression (PPD), and I know from experience that this particular brand of depression isn't nearly talked about enough. That has to change, so I asked moms to reveal the one thing they wish they told themselves when they had postpartum depression. Turns out, the silence surrounding what an estimated 10 to 15 percent of women suffer from has kept women from being kind to themselves. And, if anything, kindness is one of the most important things any new mom needs.
While it wasn't entirely shocking, I realized that most moms who suffered through postpartum depression wish they could go back and tell themselves it wouldn't last forever. Others would offer their former selves strength and understanding and patience. When you have PPD, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, to withdraw from others, and to feel incapable of connecting with others around you. Some new moms feel completely empty and separate from the rest of the world, as though all their senses have dulled. Others have more physical symptoms, like an inability to sleep, or trouble eating. Experiences with postpartum depression are as varied as the women who suffer through them, which means how we talk about postpartum depression needs to be inclusive.
If you’ve had PPD, what would you want to tell your former self? Personally, I’d tell myself that I actually don’t have to feel this way, and that there are ways to get better. I would have been kinder to myself, and more understanding, and I would have held space for my sleep deprived, new-mom self to feel whatever it is I was feeling in the moment. Turns out, I'm not alone. Here's what other moms would go back and tell themselves, if they could:
“If I could go back and tell my PPD-suffering self one thing, it would be to seek help sooner. I didn't need to suffer as long as I did and even though I didn't recognize the signs, I should've talked to someone — anyone.”
"’It will get better,’ and, ‘Be gentle with yourself.’ My postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety went undiagnosed for almost three months. I was ‘passing’ the screens, and I was seeing a therapist, but we were unsure if it was just sleep deprivation and baby blues or something more. It was something more! And I didn't start feeling better until I started taking meds and worked my way up to a decent dose. I was a nervous wreck, thinking I'd made a mistake having my baby and feeling guilty I wasn't on cloud nine, loving life with my perfect little nugget. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. It was awful. But it got better. At around four or five months postpartum, I finally felt like myself again!"
“This will end.”
“I had PPD pretty bad. I cried all the time and when I wasn't crying I was plagued by terrifying intrusive thoughts about accidentally killing my baby. I couldn't even bathe him for fear he would be too slippery and I'd lose grip and drop him, so my mom would do it for me. [If I could go back I would tell myself] that it's not supposed to be like this, and to seek help. I was only 17. I had no idea.”
“That PPD can affect anyone. No one is immune and so many people get it. You're not alone, you're not a bad mom, and there is always help available. Don't be afraid to advocate for yourself to get the help you need.”
“It won't always feel this hard.”
“That no one can see how miserable you are, how much you're suffering. You feel like it's written all over your face, but the truth is, no one knows until you tell them.”
“That postpartum anxiety is just as common as postpartum depression and to talk to your doctor about it sooner rather than later. I didn't feel like myself, but I wasn't depressed. I was feeling panicky and anxious. It wasn't until I almost had a panic attack one night and mentioned it to my husband that he Googled it and sent me an article about postpartum anxiety, which I had never heard of. He encouraged me to go to my doctor and about a month after I started taking medication I finally started to feel like myself again.”
“It isn't your fault. You're not alone. This doesn't make you a bad mom. You will get better. Just get help right away, there is no need to suffer in silence.”
“Don't be ashamed.”
“I would tell myself it's not normal. Like, struggling is, but wanting to kill yourself is not. I would also tell myself to get help sooner (financially, I relied on a friend to pay for my doctor visit and then I got generic meds which made life OK again).”
“Go now. Don't wait seven months to seek treatment. Take the meds. They will help, I promise. And remember that all the people asking you questions are not being intrusive, they are concerned. Things will get much better.”
“It’s really hard to see it when you are in it, but there’s no reason to silently suffer. Speak up and tell someone. If they don't listen, tell someone else. Don't stop until you get the help you need.”
“It gets worse before it gets better, but you are strong enough to handle it.”
“I would tell postpartum me that the anger and rage is not normal, that the sobbing isn't normal. I would tell her please don't wait until your six week postpartum appointment to get help. And I would hold her in my arms and rock her while she cried.”