How to Accept & Move Beyond Postpartum Depression

I didn't know much about postpartum depression even after I had a baby. I heard of baby blues, but not postpartum depression. I thought only crazy people experience postpartum depression and therefore, I shouldn't feel depressed. It's funny how something so normal and common can be seen as taboo. No one talks about it. No one shares. Perhaps its due to the societal pressure to always appear as a happy mom. Perhaps its due to lack of honest dialogue between mothers. Whatever the reason, its rarely discussed openly.

I think the term postpartum depression is misleading because it makes it seem like a disorder that only crazy people get. A disorder one must avoid.  It took me many years to realize that it's okay to feel depressed, even as a mother. It's a normal human emotion, not a disorder that defines who we are.

Accept, cope and move forward.

To me, postpartum depression is not necessarily a psychiatric disorder but a state of mind that all mothers will feel at some point of their motherhood, especially during the first year. A mother experiencing postpartum depression may not necessarily feel depressed every single day. Just like anything else in life, some days will be good, some days will be bad. And it's entirely normal for any mother to feel mixed emotions of joy followed by loss or loneliness.

I was hit hard with postpartum depression when my second daughter was about 3 or 4 months old. I don't remember the exact time, as those early months are a blur. One day I was okay, and the next day I felt miserable. Or at least, that's what it felt like. There were no warning signs or ways to prevent my unpleasant feelings. Visualization and meditation didn't work. One day, I found myself yelling at my husband for no apparent reason, then feeling guilty, hiding away in a closet and crying for hours.

Looking back, I crashed because I wasn't taking care of my needs. No one told me at the time that the first year was about me as well as the baby. Don't let your mother, husband or anyone tell you otherwise. It's not all about the baby. It's about you too.

During that time I felt a wave of intense mixed emotions.  I loved my child, then wanted to run away from her cries. I loved holding her, then wished someone else would come and rock her to sleep. I loved being next to her, then wished I can spend a few hours alone in silence. Then I felt guilty for feeling this way. It was a vicious cycle.

It was the epitome of crash and burn. I was on this maternal high (feelings of joy and love) since the day I returned home from the hospital and three months later, I crashed. Three months of sleep deprivation and being unable to take care of one's own needs can do that to anyone, really.

So why are these feelings termed postpartum depression again? To me, it's simply a natural state of being a mother who has no time or energy to take care of her needs.

When I couldn't get myself out of the fog, I seeked professional help and was prescribed anti-depressants. I felt weak and guilty for acquiescing to medication but felt I had no other choice since I had to take care of my baby. At the time I thought it was better to operate daily duties on medication than be unable to get out of bed without medication. It worked for me for about three months. Then it made me feel worse. Looking back, I wish I had other options.

1. Keep a gratitude journal

For mothers feeling hopeless or depressed, I'd like to recommend keeping a gratitude journal. This really worked for me. Every morning when you wake up, make a list of all the things that you are grateful for. Even if it's something simple and dumb like "I'm glad I have two arms and two legs," write it down. Because really, missing important body parts is probably a lot more difficult than taking care of a baby. I'm not saying taking care of a baby is easy- God knows it's not- but get in the daily habit of positive thinking. Be grateful for everything, even simple things like breathing, walking, and being able to have a child (because sadly we know there are mothers out there who want to, but can't.)

2. Replace should with I get to.

This was a powerful lesson for me. I was using the word "should" way too much. There were too many things I should be doing like cleaning, making healthy solids, doing laundry and cooking. Instead of should, use the words I get to. Tell yourself "I get to watch my child all day," "I get to do dishes," "I get to make babyfood," "I get to cook for my family." Keep repeating this over and over again. Rewire your brain. Be mindful of your word choices. Know that things can be a lot worse.

3. Be kind to yourself

Being a mother means always feeling guilty. One is never truly free from this even as the child gets older. A full time working mother feels guilty that she is leaving her child at a daycare or with a nanny, while a stay-at-home-mother feels guilty for wanting to return to work or leave the house without the baby. A busy mom feels guilty for not being able to cook healthy meals for her children, while a bored mom feels guilty for spending way too much time on Facebook or playing Candy Crush.

It's okay not to be perfect. It's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to not feel happy all the time. It's okay to have a meltdown once in awhile. It's okay to cry in the shower. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay. You're trying your best and you love your baby. That is all that matters. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

4. Don't lose yourself 

This is straightforward. Don't ever lose yourself in motherhood. I know how easy it is to become so immersed that you lose sight of who you are, where you came from and where you want to go. You are temporarily putting your life on hold to raise your baby because she/he needs you, but you will have time to live your life again. I know sometimes it feels like this day will never come- but take a deep breath, repeat the above practices and take it day by day. Take care of yourself and your emotions first and foremost.

In emergency situations on a plane, it is recommended that mothers put on their oxygen mask before putting it on her child. It's the same thing. If you feel like your plane is crashing, think about why. Most likely, you are forgetting to take care of your needs first.

Don't feel guilty to take care of yourself. If you don't forget to take care of your mind, body and spirit, your baby will be okay too. It will be okay. You are doing an amazing job. You always have, you always will. It will be okay.

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