I am not a medical professional. I wasn't even diagnosed with postpartum depression by a medical professional after any of my 4 pregnancies and deliveries. I am, however, a mother who has spent a few years in her body and has recently been enlightened; all it took was paying a little attention to my before and after self.
Once you become pregnant, or even start reading up on pregnancy and delivery, postpartum depression gets thrown in to nearly every conversation. I read up on this topic and had lots of conversations with other moms. I even read Brooke Shield's book "Down Came the Rain". I felt for her and every other story I heard regarding postpartum depression. Problem was: I couldn't relate to any of them. I was having a hard time, but that's called running on two hours of sleep and being a new mom, right? My entire life had changed--I wasn't depressed like the stories I had heard or read. I pushed through.
When my first son was just over a year old we moved to a new city, my husband had a new job, and I had left the workforce as a full-time employee and was simply "Mom" 24 hours a day. I had an infinitely busy child and life wasn't my favorite. Things were hard. I was angry all the time. I was inexplicably sad just as often. I excused my anger and sadness because life had turned upside down. Of course I was unhappy and struggling to adjust. The first notion that something may be more serious than just "change" was the afternoon my husband called from work stating he had looked in to our insurance plan and psychologists were covered. Um... thanks, babe? You can go jump off a cliff now. (I guess he had noticed something was off.)
A short time later I became pregnant with my second baby and moved back to the city we were previously in. Life had settled down. I completely forgot about my anger, I cried less and simply laughed about my husband's well-meaning, but absurd phone call.
This routine continued every 2 years for the next 3 babies. Waves of emotions, moving, new jobs, change of plans, less sleep, more babies and one hundred more reasons to explain why I was having a hard time--I became an expert at justifying my emotions. If only I had realized what was truly going on.
My last baby is now seven; if I could go back to the new-mom version of myself, I would shake her and tell her to go to the doctor. Incessant anger and crying is not normal and, more importantly, is not normal for me. My unknowing fault was chalking up these new emotions (that seem to be sticking around) to the new version of me. Kids change you, they say. Your hormones will be crazy, they say. So I dealt with it. This had to be the new me.
I'm here to tell you that you should not accept a sad, angry, stressed out version of yourself as the new you. Babies change you, but they don't (and shouldn't) ruin your emotional stability (at least in the long term <wink>).
According to the World Health Organization, postpartum depression affects roughly 10 to 15 percent of women in industrialized countries and 20 to 40 percent in developing countries. The American Psychological Association puts that number at 1 in 7 women in the U.S. But hear me out--if I had taken this survey I would have marked that I did not have postpartum depression because I had no idea that is what I was dealing with! Makes you wonder what the real numbers are.
I can tell you now that my postpartum depression came in waves and usually displayed itself as anger and sadness. Anger at everything. Anger at myself. Anger at my kids. Anger at life. But it was never out of control--I never felt like I was going to hurt myself or my children. Mine was a consistent grouchiness (which I could turn on and off depending on my social interactions). When the anger fled it usually was replaced with sadness. The most frustrating part was trying to explain it to my husband. He would ask what was wrong and I truly could not explain it to him. Not even a little bit. I'd assure him that I really was happy (because I was), but sometimes I just felt off and didn't know how to climb out of it.
Let me describe my sadness--it isn't what you think. Fine, it isn't what I thought. I read about depression and saw all the commercials. I wasn't withdrawing from what I loved. I still went out with my friends. I still laughed with my husband. I still got out of bed without having to pry my legs off the mattress. However, I was sad about everything. I cried when I dropped my spatula on the floor. I cried when I didn't have time to stop and grab a diet coke. I cried when my son stopped abruptly and spilled his crackers. I cried when someone told a random story that had nothing to do with me or my children or my life--like at all (I hid these tears real good). I cried when I read about a mouse named Chrysanthemum. I cried when I forgot to change the laundry to the dryer. The most interesting part to me now?? I didn't question this behavior at all. None of this raised red flags to me, even though I had NEVER been like this before. This angry-sad-crying-thing is just what "having kids has made me". Right?! No. Guys...this is not normal. A dropped spatula should not make you cry.
As my youngest hit year 2-5, things had evened out. I cried less. I was angry less. I was happy! Again, our life situation had adjusted, calming down a bit, and I chalked it all up to that.
And then the tears started again. Everything was hard, and sad, and so sad and then sometimes I didn't want to get out of bed because my whole life would start over again and I just couldn't.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Lightbulb!
Oh... so this feels more like the depression I read about.
Then one morning I looked at my clock and said "I don't need to get up. I don't want to. I won't. Kids are better without a grumpy, crying mom." And then the word depressed washed over me. Every. Single. Thing. Clicked. So this is what depression looks like... for me. Anger and tears. In the last 12 years I only had this one inkling of what depression looked like on paper, but that was enough to tie it all together for me. Wow. What a long 12 years. Hindsight, amiright?
Bless our dear, sweet, patient (hopefully) spouses. This is hard on them, too. PsychologyToday.com published a wonderful article for dads (or any spouse) on how to help and what is not helpful when your loved one is dealing with postpartum depression. Share this with someone you love.
My dear friend who works as a doula and has spent many, many hours with postpartum moms made an off-the-cuff comment that postpartum often times mimics PMS. Imagine your bad PMS week -- then extend it for weeks and months and sometimes years. This is what I had! This was me! This was so very much me! And It is Not. Normal. Check yourself, Mamas! I plead with you. Assess your emotional state. Ask your spouse if need be. What is different about me? Your postpartum depression may not look like Brooke Shields or the pamphlet from the hospital. That doesn't mean you don't have it and it doesn't mean you shouldn't seek help. Don't compare your struggles to someone else. And the kicker--just because you are completely functional doesn't mean you are living your best possible life. If something feels off, get it checked out. It can't hurt anything to have a conversation.
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