The birth of my daughter took me on an unexpected journey. It was one of deep, unsettling pain — and one I couldn't "snap out of" without proper care. At the time, I didn't know it was postpartum depression (PPD). I just new something wasn't "right." I felt hopeless and alone and the kind of despair no new mom should feel. After, thankfully, coming through the other side, I know there are some things every mom struggling with postpartum depression wants pregnant women to know. Because if I would have known then what I know now, things would have been exponentially different.
When I was pregnant I didn't research postpartum depression or anxiety. While my doctor and nurses mentioned it every other visit or so, there wasn't really an urgent emphasis or explanation of the warning signs I should have prepared to watch out for — even with my history of mental health issues. All the women in my family have some form of mental illness, as do some of the men. But having my first child, and the emotions that came along with, failed to compare to my struggles growing up. It was different; stronger. Then again, maybe it wasn't. Maybe it just felt that way because I had a baby to look after at a time when I couldn't look out for myself.
Needless to say, there's a lot I know now, as a mother of two, that I didn't know when I was pregnant for the very first time. So to every pregnant woman, on the precipice of this amazing journey called "motherhood," here are some things about postpartum depression I want you to know:
You Might Get It, You Might Not
I don't want to alarm all the expectant mothers. Instead, I simply want to inform. As someone who had postpartum depression for months before it was actually diagnosed, I'd have loved to hear from a mom who'd already been through it. It's one thing to get the basic facts and figures from your trusted medical professionals, but it's extremely helpful to hear from someone who has actually been there.
So, honestly, you might get this diagnosis. According to the American Psychological Association, an estimated one in seven women will experience a serious postpartum mood disorder, including postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum psychosis. If you do, be proactive. And if you don't, be thankful.
You're Not Alone
Throughout pregnancy I had anxiety and depressive spells that made me feel isolated from the rest of the world. And being predisposed to mental illness, I experienced bouts of both before pregnancy, too. It's important to know that, if you're diagnosed with postpartum depression, or even if things don't feel quite right (as in what you're feeling is more than "baby blues"), it's not atypical to feel alone. Here's the thing, though: you're not. Much like any depressive disorder, postpartum depression changes the way your mind works. It will try to force you away from others, instead of towards the very people who can support and help you. Don't listen to those voices. They're wrong.
It's Not Your Fault
No one can say, with 100 percent certainty, who will or won't get postpartum depression. You can watch for the warning signs, but until you're in it, there's no way to know. If you're a mom who has it, please know it's not your fault. You'll likely experience feelings of guilt, regret, and grief over things beyond your control. You might — like me — feel like a terrible mother and like your baby deserves better. You might even have a hard time bonding with your newborn, like me. I didn't know how to connect with my daughter, because my postpartum depression was in the way.
It wasn't until I was diagnosed and received treatment that I was able to see things as they were, and now how I perceived them when I was in the thick of postpartum depression. It wasn't my fault, and if you do end up struggling with depression after you give birth, it won't be your fault, either.
Build Your Support System Now
I didn't have a lot of people rallied around me after the birth of my daughter. I lived a state away from my family, and those who cared for my partner weren't thrilled about me, or our baby. There was the occasional friend, but no one I could talk to about my disturbing, intrusive thoughts. My partner wasn't even someone I could turn to. I tried, but he wasn't as empathetic as I needed him to be at that time.
When I look back now, I wish I would've said something and told more people about what I was feeling. I wish I looked harder for therapy (even though I didn't have insurance at the time, which made it difficult). I wish I'd done a bit more than I actually had, because I could've gotten better sooner instead of living in such despair for such a long time.
Pregnancy is a good time to build a solid support network, regardless of whether you'll end up diagnosed with postpartum depression.
Self Care Is Everything
A lot of changes happen during pregnancy. For me, sure, the physical changes were awful, but emotionally I was really suffering. If self care isn't a regular part of your life right now (particularly in terms of mental health), make it one. If you need a break from life it's important you take one. Your body is growing a baby. Afterward, your hormones are on overdrive as they attempt to settle down and find neutral. Do whatever you can to find whatever bit of calm you can. It's not selfish — it's mandatory.
Pay attention to the warning signs of postpartum depression after you give birth. According to The Mayo Clinic, PPD symptoms may include (but aren't limited to):
A 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 and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Don't Stop Advocating For Yourself
It can feel frustrating when those around you aren't speaking up on your behalf. Pregnancy is scary, motherhood is scarier, and postpartum depression can steal every piece of joy you might experience in between. Long before you might get the official postpartum depression diagnosis, do your research. Know as much as you can about the disorder. Be proactive in recruiting your support system (especially if you're genetically predisposed to mental illness, like I was). Talk about it and don't stop talking about it. You can't be too cautious when it comes to any form of depression — particularly once you've become a mother.
If you struggle with depression or feelings of self-harm, please seek professional help or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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