The books and videos show it one way — unshowered mom, not bonding with baby, thinking about hurting her baby or herself, grumpy and tired, unmotivated, unsatisfied, and the list goes on and on.
The cause? Postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis or postpartum anxiety. Or the more modern term, postpartum mood disorder.
These disorders are typically explained briefly in a booklet distributed by a medical professional, one that all moms are expected to understand after reading. The symptoms seem obvious. If you have a disorder, you will definitely know.
But this wasn’t the case for me.
A few days after bringing my daughter home, I went through three weeks of baby blues, like many moms do. I was weepy, I was tired, I was overwhelmed. But I still showered, I went for walks, I bonded with my baby. I felt better after the three week period, thinking I was out of the woods. And then it hit me.
Constant worry. Paranoia. A fear of leaving the house. I’d dealt with some anxiety for most of my adult life, but it was managed with everyday things, like fresh air and exercise. This time, I felt like I was trapped inside of my own mind. This was different than anything I’d ever felt before. The anxiety consumed me.
Most people around me probably never noticed it. I still got myself ready in the morning; I still worked out. I never had thoughts of hurting my baby or myself, and I felt very attached to my baby. I made plans to go back to work from home, and I looked into playgroups for my baby. But the nagging, anxious feelings did not go away.
Around the three month mark, I made an appointment with my OB. I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted help. My doctor referred me to a counselor who specializes in these types of disorders, and after seeing her, I learned that there are a lot of things about postpartum mood disorders that we’re not usually told before we experience them ourselves. Specifically, that they affect people in a lot of different ways.
For some people, it comes in the form of moodiness or sadness; for some, anger; and in my experience, extreme worry and panic. In some cases, it can affect a spouse, and other times, it can occur during pregnancy, before the baby is born.
Having a baby is huge life change, whether it’s your first or your fifth. Hormones are out of whack, the body is healing, and a little person is requiring 24/7 attention.
I’m thankful that I was able to get the help that I needed, and that I know what to look out for next time, but that might not always be the case.
Now, I try to do my best to reach out to my new mom friends. After having a baby, many people ask moms how their new baby is doing, but I always felt the most touched when people asked me how I was handling everything. Even if a friend seems to be doing great in Facebook photos or in text messages, it never hurts to reach out and ask.
The darkness might look different than we’d think.
* If you are seeking help, I’d recommend visiting a doctor you trust. They should be able to assess your symptoms and refer you to a counselor, prescribe medication, or direct you to a program that will help. Other helpful resources include: postpartumprogress.org and postpartumhealthalliance.org.