I'm grateful for the fact that, in my line of work, I'm able to highlight issues that are insufficiently discussed. I try to "write what I know," but, in some cases, I don't have first-hand experience with issues that I nevertheless want to do my part in exploring. So I'm also grateful for the opportunity to amplify other people's voices, and for the moms I spoke to willing to share what it's really like to live with postpartum depression.
In the decade or so, postpartum depression, which affects approximately one in seven women who give birth, has received more attention than in the past... but it's still not enough. It's an affliction that is often misrepresented, dismissed or, tragically (and stupidly) judged, which is par for the course for both mental illness and anything having to do with women. Many people (not unreasonably) associate any kind of depression with sadness and sadness with an emotion stemming from a particular problem. But not only is postpartum depression not always marked with feelings of sorrow (or at least not primarily or exclusively so) it's also not really a "logical" kind of sadness the way that, say, the death of a loved one would be. This can make an already misunderstood illness even more confusing to someone who doesn't have first-hand experience.
There are a number of ways postpartum depression can manifest, so I'll let 13 women who have been there describe what it was (or is) like for them:
"I was diagnosed with cancer when my daughter was about6-weeks-old. There’s nothing quite like a cancer diagnosis to kick your postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety into high gear. I spent a lot of time vacillating between being being so depressed that I wanted to die, and being overwhelmed with anxiety over the possibility that I might die. Even after four years, it’s too painful to talk about in detail."
"I have postpartum depression. I'm five months postpartum and still struggle daily. I've also experienced some traumatic things during my pregnancy... like my mom passing away right in front of me. Each day is a struggle for me. I don't feel the need to even get out of bed. I feel hopeless. Worthless. Anxious. Constantly stressed. I don't have any motivation to really get up and do anything. My house is always a wreck, my husband won't help me. I'm overwhelmed 24/7. I feel like my minds in a million different places at once. I've tried multiple medications, and nothing works well for me. I either don't like the way it makes me feel, it doesn't work, or I have bad side effects. After a long discussion with my doctor, I explained the only thing that even remotely helps is marijuana, but unfortunately I am in a state where it isn't legal."
"To have the logical side of your brain telling you one thing and the emotional side another. Logical me said I needed help, emotional me said if I asked for help they would take my baby away and tell him I didn't love him and that's why he didn't have a mom. It was also wishing everyone around me would die, the people I loved most, so that I didn't have to share my baby because I was so afraid they were going to take him from me."
"I’m two months and two days postpartum with number two. I had postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety with my son (who just turned 2), and it was awful. For about a week this time around, I thought I’d escaped it, but unfortunately I hadn’t. It took four to five weeks for the medication to kick in, and those were some of the worst of my life. I cried all the time, was always tired and didn’t want to get out of bed, but I knew I had to for my kids. It took hours to fall asleep at night even though all I wanted to do was sleep. I had no appetite and pretty much just ate once a day, and when I did eat, I’d end up with diarrhea because of my nerves. I felt like I was failing everyone. I felt like I should’ve been over-the-top happy that I had these two beautiful, healthy children, but instead I felt like I’d made a mistake having a second. I didn’t feel like I was bonding with my daughter. It was almost like I was taking care of my niece... like she wasn’t just any baby, but she wasn’t mine.
By far the hardest part was dealing with my toddler and his emotions while I was trying to deal with my own. When he’d cry, I’d almost always end up in tears. He’s at daycare four days a week, and when it was nearing the time he’d come home I’d be overcome with dread... and I felt like the absolute worst for dreading my child coming home. I was just so afraid because I didn’t know what his mood was going to be like and how I was going to handle it. I did my best not to cry in front of him, and every night, once he was in bed, I’d breakdown. Postpartum depression is so painful, physically and emotionally. The emotions are so strong they make you physically hurt. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy."
"For me, it was an unhappy haze: I was sad thinking that I didn't love my son enough, that he was unhappy and didn't like me, that I didn't know what to do and was failing him. (Not enough stimulation! Is he getting enough from breastfeeding?) I was so fragile and jealous: when my son would quiet down for my mom, if she did something differently and it seemed like he liked it, I would spiral into a "he loves you more" well and think he was better off without me, total breakdown crying, etc etc. I was always concerned that I didn't love him enough, that I was "wrong" — like the wrong type of woman.
I totally lost myself, too. People would tell me to do things that made me happy, and I couldn't think of a single thing. Stuff I used to love to do seemed like too much of a logistical challenge, or more energy than it was worth. I did cognitive behavioral therapy to help break some of the unhealthy thoughts — thought stoppage and replacement. That and some hormone balancing has helped me a lot, as well as getting closer with him as he gets bigger. Those newborn weeks were such a struggle. "
"I had severe postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression with both of my kids and is a large part of why we will not have a third. The best word I can use to describe it is tired. Physically tired from never getting enough sleep and mentally exhausted from not being able to shut my mind off. I second guessed everything I did and isolated myself constantly. The first six months were really hard but I had an amazing OB who helped me every step of the way."
"My postpartum depression felt dark, lonely, overwhelming and suffocating. I was living in a new area and did not have friends or family to help lift me up and, to top it off, my son was colicky and screamed for hours each evening despite my efforts. I did not know what I was dealing with emotionally and just felt very disappointed in myself for not being able to get it together when I should have been overjoyed to have a new and healthy baby. It took about nine months to come out of the fog, which I eventually did with medication. I still reminisce about that missed time with my oldest son and how I wish I could have been more in the moment and enjoying him back then, instead of just getting by."
"My postpartum depression was short-lived and not severe, but I basically resented everyone in my life: my baby, my husband, my parents, myself. I was tired, bitchy, sad, and pretty much thought having a second baby was a terrible mistake."
"I didn’t realize I had postpartum depression for awhile after my third child. I thought postpartum depression would make me sad all the time or cry all the time but it made me irritable. I became short tempered, panicky, and full of anxiety. I didn’t have patience with my older kids and everything they did bothered me. I would yell for the littlest things. I felt I wasn’t a good mom. I finally got treated about six months after my third child was born. I felt I became a better person and mom."
"Nothing felt 'enough.' I didn't feel like I loved my baby enough and that made me feel terrible, because I did love him but I felt like I should somehow love him more. I didn't feel like I was good enough or that I was doing enough or that I was 'woman enough.' All that made me think my son would be better with someone else. Thank God I didn't struggle with this for too long. It was a few months, but I know some women from my support group have gone a year or more."
"Have you ever seen The Babadook? It's a horror movie about a woman struggling to parent through depression and grief. The movie wasn't about postpartum depression, but if you ever want to understand it the metaphor works really well."
"I can't even talk about all the dark fantasies I had in the first postpartum months. It's been seven years and I'm still ashamed of it, even though I know it wasn't my 'fault.' I would never have done anything to hurt [my daughter] and probably wouldn't have hurt myself, but I thought about both a lot. ... It was never about wanting either of us to hurt: it was because I wanted us to stop hurting, and I was convinced my baby was as unhappy with me as I was unhappy with myself."
"I'm not in a place yet where I feel like I can talk about it in detail but I just want everyone to know that it's horrible, not shameful, and something you can and should get help for. I've never met anyone who ever said 'I shouldn't have reached out so soon,' but plenty who wished they hadn't waited as long as they did to admit they had a problem."