When we become mothers, everyone expects us to be over-the-moon with happiness. They assume that we must wake up every day and beam when we look at our baby, and that we must be head-over-heels in love with our new roles and new responsibilities and new, added identity as "mom." While, yes, the arrival of a little one is absolutely a joyous occasion, it doesn't necessarily always feel that way for women who are suffering, often silently, from postpartum depression (PPD). So often, new moms are afraid to talk about postpartum depression, but why? Postpartum depression is shockingly common, as 1 in 7 mothers will experience PPD, so why aren't we talking about it? Why aren't we sharing our stories and discussing treatments? The answer, sadly, revolves around stigma and shame.
Why a new mom would want to keep her postpartum depression a secret is entirely up to her, and is a decision probably made for a variety of reasons. Those reasons are just as unique as they are painful for each and every woman who suffers in silence. Personally, I was in complete denial about my own postpartum depression, and I kept it to myself for far too long. I eventually fell into such a downward spiral that it terrified me to my core, and I had to lock myself into a room so that I wouldn't scream or lash out or hit something. It scared me so badly that I finally realized that I was showing signs of postpartum depression, and the only thing I could do was ask for help.
For too long, I was scared to talk about my postpartum depression, but the moment I finally let it out and finally acknowledged my postpartum experience and finally said what I was feeling, I felt like I could finally breathe again. I felt like a monumental weight had been lifted from my chest and like, despite how awful I felt, I was going to be OK. Everything was going to be okay. Having made it through the other side of a battle far too many new mothers face, I understand why women who hide their postpartum depression feel like they need to. I understand why many women feel like they don't have a choice and not talking about PPD is the only option. So, if you think you might be experiencing postpartum depression or you're currently suffering through postpartum depression, but hide it for one of the following five reasons, I feel you, but it's going to be OK. You are going to be OK. Everything is going to be okay.
They Feel Guilty
Feeling guilty about not feeling how you've been told you're "supposed to" feel after you've had a baby is incredibly common among women who suffer from postpartum depression. Motherhood is painted as this blissful and elating time for a woman and her newborn. We see it played out on our television screens and in magazines and books everywhere we look. we've constantly bombarded with that that picture of a new mother lovingly staring into her newborn's eyes, whether it's manufactured by the media or shared on social media. All of these pictures make a woman who is suffering from postpartum depression feel a painfully insane amount of guilt for not feeling the same way.
They Feel Like Something Is Wrong With Them
"What's wrong with me?" I would ask myself when I would look at my son and didn't feel the way I had imagined I would feel. He was perfect and beautiful and healthy. He had a head full of fuzzy hair and big blue eyes. He loved being held by his mom, so why wasn't the feeling mutual? I felt like the worst person on earth for not feeling as in love as I assumed I would or believed I should. I felt like I was unfit, like I wasn't deserving of the beautiful boy that God gave me, or like I was already a terrible mother before I had even had my maternal aptitude truly tested.
Of course I loved my son, then and now, but amid all of the changes that accompanied his arrival, I also felt resentment. Deep, angry, and shameful resentment that kept me awake at night during the few hours when my son was asleep. I knew that I was slipping, but I couldn't figure out why. Why wasn't I in love? Why wasn't I bonding with my son? Why wasn't I proud of my new life? Just, why?
They Don't Want To Be Labeled
Once I realized that I was suffering from postpartum depression, I didn't tell anyone, not even my husband or my best friend. I suffered silently because I didn't want to be labeled as someone who was battling a mental illness. Sadly, that label exists because our society has stigmatized mental health and mental illness. I could, rationally, tell myself that the stigma is fallacious at best, detrimental and and dangerous at worst, and that there was no reason to be ashamed. Still, when I was in the throes of postpartum depression, that shame was something I couldn't shake. I didn't want the label of "depression," even if it was something that was beyond my control. It made me feel weak and vulnerable, two things I'm not accustomed to feeling.
Feeling emotionally exposed caused me to become almost reclusive, afraid of what someone might think if they caught a glimpse of me in shambles. Instead of talking to my friends or family or husband about it, I did my best to conceal the side of me that wanted to cry and scream and run away. I was so afraid of what people would think if they knew how I really felt. The truth felt too ugly to share.
They Think People Will Assume That They Don't Love Their Baby
I smiled through many awkward visits with friends and family after my first son was born. I didn't want anyone thinking that I was "in over my head," or that I couldn't handle my new role as a mother, so I laughed and made jokes and put on a happy face for the crowd like all was well in "paradise." Then, in the middle of the night when it was just my son and I, I would lose it again. When I should have been holding and rocking my baby to sleep after he ate, I would just sit him down next to me and wrestle with the confusion and the indescribable pain that I felt.
I was able to provide everything for him (a roof over his head, a warm blanket for his bed, plenty of food to keep his belly full), but I felt like I wasn't capable of nurturing him in the loving way I was supposed to. Instead of allowing myself to feel my emotions, I was just going through them, mindless.
They're Afraid Of Being Judged
Our society puts so much pressure on new moms. We're made to feel like we should look a certain way and act a certain way and feel a certain way, and that if we didn't or don't, there must be something wrong with us. We're made to feel like failures if the pictures of our own lives don't compare to the picture society has arbitrarily painted for us. We're made to feel weak and unfit and unworthy of motherhood if we don't meet the standards that someone else determined . It's not fair, and no one should have to hide in the darkness when they're suffering. No one should have to pretend that they're holding it together when, in reality, they're just hanging on by a thread that could break at any moment. No one should be made to feel ashamed or alone or week when they're suffering from postpartum depression. No one. Not me, not you, not anyone. No one should be afraid to talk about it. So, let's talk.