Having a baby is the one of the most joyful, exciting, happy and wonderful things you can experience in this world. And it was this way for my first 3 births. I LOVED giving birth, and LOVED how I felt afterwards. I was immersed in this exhausting, hazy, wonderful bubble of love from the moment each of my little girls entered the world…
until I had my 4th.
Having my 4th was different in every way. The labor was different, the delivery was different, the emotions were different. I was anxious, scared, uneasy and overwhelmed almost instantly. At first I thought it was the hospital, then I thought it was being tired, then I thought it was Thanksgiving. But with each day that passed the feelings got worse.
And then 5 days after Emmy was born I was immersed in a panic stricken, depressed, psychotic state that can lasted for months and took numerous medications, family support, and a lot of time to come back from.
But there are a few things that I wish I had known BEFORE I had been diagnosed with Postpartum Depression, things that I wish that my OB had told me – or that ANYONE had told me – at some point while I was pregnant. No one wants to warn you about what can happen, because no one likes to talk about mental illness. But there are some things that you need to be aware of if you are pregnant, that are not meant to scare you, but that are meant to keep you informed.
1. Postpartum Depression can happen to ANY woman, in ANY pregnancy, in ANY circumstance. You don’t have to have a preexisting mental illness, a history of depression, a bad diet, a stressful life or an unexpected pregnancy to experience PPD. In the same way, being perfectly healthy, part of a loving marriage, and having a perfectly planned pregnancy won’t prevent Postpartum Depression. It can affect anyone. And if you are picked, it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you, it just means that you are 1 of countless women who suffer from this common pregnancy complication.
2. Feeling disconnected from your child is not a requirement for Postpartum Depression. In fact, being depressed isn’t even a requirement. My first symptom was anxiety. Anxiety turned into panic, which turned into self deprecating negative thoughts. After a while those thoughts became my identity, and that led to depression. It didn’t start there. And I never felt disconnected from Emmy. In fact, I was afraid of leaving her side and had major guilt from not being able to enjoy her early months.
3. Recognizing that something is wrong, and seeking treatment early does not make you a failure as a mom. It makes you the BEST mom that you can be in the midst of an illness outside of your control. Even though I wanted to hide from the world or pretend everything was okay, I was sick and I needed help. I needed a psychiatrist, I needed medication, I needed people around me all the time. Hiding it, not treating it or pretending that it wasn’t there would have made it worse. Healthy mom = healthy family. Its okay to ask for help.
4. Effective treatment will take advocating for yourself. Not all doctors know how to treat Postpartum Depression, not all therapists truly know what it is. If you think that you might be at risk for PPD, or you are someone who likes to be prepared, get a plan in place prior to giving birth. What makes you at risk? Being pregnant. So at the very least, ask your OB about doctors and therapists who specialize in PPD in your area. If you have a preexisting struggle with depression, even if it was a long time ago in your past, creating an action plan for yourself as part of your birth plan might be beneficial. Most likely you won’t have to use it, but we make birth plans for potential complications with the baby, why not be prepared for yourself too?
5. Time is the ultimate healer. There is no magic pill or formula that cures PPD. It is hormonally charged, and it can contain so many factors that differ from woman to woman. Medication side effects affect all women differently, certain treatments work for some women and don’t for others. Some moms become depressed while pregnant, others don’t even realize it until their child is 10 months old. Be kind to yourself, take care of yourself, take it easy. Don’t listen to anyone who says you will be better in 2 weeks, 2 months or 6 months. Don’t compare your illness to another mom.
6. Isolation is the enemy’s stomping ground. Don’t try to fight on your own. If you do develop a Postpartum Mood Disorder, keep a close support team near by at all times. Ask other moms for help, lean on your spouse, talk to your doctor, seek counsel from your church, request prayer from the elders. Fight against the desire to crawl in bed and hide. Seek out other moms who have suffered from a Postpartum Mood Disorder and share stories, cry together and support each other. Whatever you do, don’t do it alone.
The most recent surveys have found that 15% of births result in a diagnoses of Postpartum Depression. I am not a doctor, but I am sure that the actual number is higher because so many women don’t even know what is going on with them. Until the medical field gets on board and starts increasing education and awareness on the prevalence of this illness, we must advocate for each other. We need to be open with our struggles, offer help to other moms and support one another.
What did you wish you knew before you developed a Postpartum Mood Disorder?