What Is Postpartum Depression Really Like? Here Are 5 Incredibly Honest Stories From Women Who Overcame It

by Amanda Metcalf

There is a thief among us. Silently, stealthily, and steadily making its way into the homes and hearts of the ones we love. Our mothers, our sisters, our aunts, and our best friends can all fall victim. This thief is uncompromisingly callous and calculating; it seeks out the most precious and irreplaceable of commodities: their hope, their joy, their self-worth, and tragically, sometimes even their lives. This thief is Postpartum Depression. As a society, we have still done little to address this critical issue. In fact, there have been many instances in mainstream media that have only served to perpetuate negative connotations and stigmas. It might be many years ago now that Tom Cruise infamously suggested that all anyone with PPD needed to do was take vitamins and start exercising, but words like that stick. 

Fortunately, there have been increasingly more women using their celebrity status to raise awareness for this issue, such as Hayden Panettiere and Drew Barrymore, both of whom have recently gone public about their struggles with PPD. While celebrities are just... ya know, celebrities, it undoubtedly matters that more and more, the faces that spring to mind when someone mentions "postpartum depression" aren't famous for shaming the disease and its methods of treatment, but are survivors who have shamelessly owned their experiences, and awesomely been proactive about seeking very real treatment for this very real condition. This shift matters a great deal.

As I type this, the responsibility I feel to every woman who has ever endured Postpartum Depression, weighs heavily on my shoulders. I want nothing more than to validate their feelings and experiences and depict PPD as the sneaky, isolating beast that it is. Even more so, I feel indebted to the various women who courageously stepped out of the shadows to help shed light on a subject that is all too often shoved under the rug. I am humbled and awed by both their bravery and their selfless concern for fellow mothers. Each of these women are unique. They come from different backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnicities. The manner in which their PPD symptoms surfaced and the methods of treatment that ended up working for them varied. However, there was one common thread among all the women who shared their stories: a mutual desire to spread awareness, cast out the secrecy and shame that has long been associated with this disorder, and let other women know that they are not alone. I hope that each story speaks out to you, in the same way that they spoke to me, and inspires you to seek help if you or someone you know is currently experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. 

Sarah, 34

In April of 2011, my daughter, the baby I had wished for for 10 years was finally born.  She was the joy of my life, which made the year after her birth so much harder. Her birth was ridiculously hard so I naturally assumed that everything after would seem like a piece of cake — I was wrong. I was sore from all the birthing positions, perineal pain, stitches, hemorrhoids, and non-stop nursing sessions. I was SO TIRED! As a result of all of these factors, I started crying every time she woke up. I cried when she cried, I cried while changing her, I cried while nursing her, and I even cried while rocking her. Sometime during that first week home, I began to resent her. I loved her, but I dreaded taking care of her. 

I went through the summer months with very little interaction with anyone. Honestly, I can barely remember it. Survival was my only goal. Eventually, I started taking her to the local library and I made friends with 2 other moms. I realized that they had the same problems that I did. Not feeling so alone helped A LOT! Life got much better after that and I felt my depression lifting, but it never fully went away.

Fast forward to August 2013, when my son was born. His birth was almost magical. Easy labor, slow pushing, everything went right. Nursing was easier this time, I even had my in-laws living with us, so I didn’t have to stress about simultaneously looking after of my daughter. It should have been perfect, but it wasn’t. I was still sad. I had a nagging ache in my chest all the time. I hated my life. I hated being at home. I hated feeling trapped like I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything by myself. The thoughts in my head were so twisted. I even went so far as the think that if my husband and I split at least I would get every other weekend off (crazy, right!?!?). I stayed this way for a whole year. 

I remember the day that the depression started to lift.  It is as clear to me as the day both of my kids were born: It was the day I decided that I wanted to stop feeling like a victim and start taking charge of my future. I had a long talk with my husband that day. I told him how I felt and how I planned to change my outlook. My magic cure?? I started working out and eating well. That’s it. I am not the person I used to be. Sure, I have doubts creep in sometimes but I have learned to overcome them. With that being said, I won’t be having any more kids. I don’t want to go through the depression again and I know it will come back. And I’m not sure I’d be able to get a handle on it again. I just can’t take the chance.

Danielle, 25

Prior to having my son, I was under the completely misinformed idea that mothers who were diagnosed with postpartum depression were weak. I thought that these women sunk into depression because all the changes and exhaustion were just too much for them. I couldn't have been more wrong. PPD is not a choice a woman makes and it can happen to any woman.

I chose to have my son. We planned the pregnancy and the entire 41 weeks I carried him, I was overjoyed. Even during labor, I felt joyful and euphoric. The euphoria carried on for about 8 weeks. At my postpartum appointment, I even passed the depression inventory with flying colors. However, the euphoria slowly wore off and I found myself feeling numb. Here I had this baby, whom I had wanted so desperately, and I found myself faking all my smiles. I remember distinctly reminding myself to smile at him so that he wouldn't think he was doing something wrong. Of course he wasn't doing anything wrong, but something was definitely not right.

A year passed. A year of fake smiles, insomnia, feeling numb in moments that should have been complete bliss. Though I never had a single thought of harming my child, the self-harm thoughts were constant. Eventually, I scheduled myself an appointment with a therapist. I was told that having failed to acknowledge my PPD and seek help meant that it had transitioned into near-clinical depression. I spent the following year venturing to weekly therapy appointments, and taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. The meds affected my ability to mother, and even function; far worse than the actual depression did. I was a zombie. 

I decided to wean myself off the medications after 6 months. Yes, I was still depressed. Yes, it was incredibly difficult. There were a lot of days when I never thought I would make it through. But I found peace in God and my faith grew stronger than ever before. I opened up to my sister and my husband too. That was 3 years ago. I think it's safe to say I'm finally cured. Now, when my son gives me a hug, I can actually FEEL his love, his warmth, our bond. There are still times when he is sleeping, that I’ll snuggle up next to him and whisper my heartfelt apologies for being so emotionally distant for so long. I know there is no one to blame, because this is never anyone's fault. But I pray that my son never realized fully what was going on around him. It's hard. So very, very hard. But if I can make it, I promise you can too.

Luz, 33

From practically the minute I got pregnant, I was a single mom. After I had my daughter the reality of that began to sink in and I found myself randomly crying for no specific reason. I was lonely, tired, and confused about all the changes my body was going through.

Eventually, I was able to speak to my mom and my best friends, which was a great, big help. I personally feel that talking to people about my postpartum depression, even if they were just listening, made all the difference in the world. Keeping all that stuff bottled up inside prevents you from moving forward. 

Vanessa, 26

I had postpartum depression with my 2nd and 3rd children. The first time around, I was afraid to get help because I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously and because it hit me within the first week after giving birth. Everything I had been told was that PPD began after 2-3 weeks. The second time [I experienced PPD symptoms], I was prepared. Afraid [what happened to me after the birth of my last baby] would happen again, I started seeing a counselor during my pregnancy and communicating my concerns with both my primary care doctor and OBGYN. I am so glad I did. My PPD hit hard. It quickly turned into postpartum psychosis. I had the most perfect little girl, who was an amazing sleeper and a happy baby. But I knew something wasn't right. I felt nothing most of the time. When I did feel anything, it was sadness and fear. I would wake up to panic attacks. I thought people were trying to take my children. I couldn't sleep, eat, or get dressed. I even had trouble changing diapers. I couldn't function. 

I called my OBGYN and a nurse told me to get to the ER. She told me she was worried about me and she genuinely sounded like she cared. When my daughter was only a week old, I admitted myself to the local psych unit, and stayed there for a week. After I left, I went to a partial program for 6 weeks. I am so, so, so glad I asked for, and accepted help.

What I really want others to know is that PPD can happen much quicker than 2+ weeks [after giving birth]. If you think you might have PPD, ask for help. If someone turns you away, ask someone else, and someone else, until you get the help you need. You're not alone. You're not a bad parent. And your kids are not going to be taken away if you ask for help.

Nancy, 32

My PPD was horrible. My symptoms were extreme fatigue, scary thoughts (like I didn't care if I lived anymore), no appetite whatsoever, lack of concern for my baby's needs and a blah, just "who gives a shit" attitude. I felt so alone and scared. I felt like a failure. I wanted so much to have this baby, so I couldn’t understand why I was so sad. Fortunately, my family noticed the dramatic change in my personality and took action. Initially, they had to take shifts watching over me. The worst part was that I thought it would always be that way. I didn't realize it was only temporary. My family made sure I made it in to see the doctor. Once I was on medication, I greatly improved.

I think what got me through it were the little things: opening the blinds, putting on sitcoms, having family and friends over (even when I didn't want them there) and ultimately, the medication. As I healed, got out more, and felt more like myself; I had hope. I had hope that it wouldn't really last forever.

I was able to move through it and became the mom I thought I'd always be. My son is 4 now, and the love I feel for him is far greater than any love I've ever felt. He brings me this sort of ridiculous happiness that can't even be explained. I want to tell any women out there struggling with PPD right now to get help. Get support. Don’t spend another second of your life dealing with this alone. Tell your doctor, a family member, or your spouse. You're not alone. So many women experience these symptoms. Nobody talks about it because when they eventually come to a place of normalcy and happiness, they don't want to revisit the darkness. You're not going to be this way forever, I promise. You will feel like yourself again and you'll get there faster if you get help sooner.

Images: Robert Tumini/Unsplash; Giphy(3)