What is Postpartum Depression?
By Not like a cat on May 21, 2012
A recent email exchange made me think about what people understand postpartum depression to be.
When I mentioned to an acquaintance that I'd had postpartum depression, she responded that she had, too, but then her parents came to help when the baby was three weeks old and things were much better after that.
That is not postpartum depression. That's the "baby blues." That's the wash of rapidly shifting hormones after the baby is born. You might feel down, or overwhelmed, or anxious. You might cry a lot. It happens to a great many women after childbirth and lasts two or three weeks, and then you feel better.
Postpartum depression settles in for the long haul. Months or years. When you have postpartum depression, you might even feel okay for the first couple of weeks or months--exhausted and overwhelmed and hormonal, sure--but overall okay. And then at some point you realize that you're the only one who tears up during the baby-mommy singalong, because all the songs seem so sad. The baby's cry makes you sad. The sleeping baby makes you sad. Your baby smiles at you for the first time and you just stare at it, feeling kind of sad. You cry. You might be explosively irritable.
You are completely alone and no one can reach you. You don't make contact with friends; you put off the few people who offer to visit. Leaving the house with the baby--the endless damn baby--can make you feel a little better, but not really, because then you are outside all alone in the bright sunshine, and all your friends are at work or busy with their lives, and you don't know anyone, and you're sad and alone.
You buck up and go to a new mom's class, except you don't know how to make friends when you're like this, and they all seem so nicely dressed and perfect; they can laugh about their spouse's fumblings with the baby, and they talk about having their coworkers or friends over for dinner.
You cannot imagine this.
There's no way out. The baby is several months old. A year old. The first birthday comes like a miracle, and you realize, "A year. We have survived a year. I am still alive."
But not much so. Sometimes you think about killing yourself. You really want to. You hide in the shower, sobbing, and your confused and worried husband asks what you need. All you want is a razorblade. Or someone to take your baby away.
You love your baby, but you still want that.
If it gets really bad, you're not just feeling hopeless and flat and alone and sad. You may or may not want to kill yourself. You may start to worry, though, that you are going to hurt your children. You do not want to hurt your children. You love them. You'd kill anyone who tried to hurt them.
But yet. You have these thoughts, worries, fears, intrusive and unwelcome, that your family may become a grisly headline. You wonder who you could call in such a moment who could keep you all safe and not take your children away from you or judge you as crazy and lock you up.
You can't get help, because no one takes your insurance or no one is taking new patients and the one therapist you do manage to see suggests you start your own business; another therapist does not like children and doesn't understand why anyone would have them.
One bad night you call your own doctor and the amazing receptionist asks exactly the right questions and you get a glimmer of hope that somebody understands and can help, and the next day you start taking medication and soon you are feeling much, much better and wonder why it couldn't have happened sooner, like maybe two years earlier.
That is postpartum depression. Or at least my version. Two to three weeks of the baby blues is not postpartum depression. The baby blues suck, for sure, but they don't settle in for the long haul like a rot that is eating your life away.
If you can relate to any of the above, call your doctor. Call your midwife or OB (my midwives weren't too helpful with this, to be honest). Be honest in hopes they understand the seriousness. It never occurred to me or my husband to simply call my own primary care doctor, but fortunately she was very well versed in postpartum depression (sadly, many medical professionals are not). Go to the E.R., if you feel you or your children are really in danger. Don't worry about what will happen, whether anyone will judge you, or if they will take your children away.
Be sure to check out Postpartum Progress, the fantastic website by the wonderful, generous, kind Katherine Stone.
Life can and will get better. One day you will realize that you are no longer defined by your illness. You will come to understand that you used to have postpartum depression, but you don't have to live there anymore. You can find yourself feeling pretty happy or good most of the time. Normal, even. You can feel like yourself again.
You will feel better.
Feel free to email me with questions or if you want more resources: firstname.lastname@example.org
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