[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Warrior Mom Catherine Barber. She lists the things she wish she’d known more about postpartum depression before experiencing it first hand. -Jenna]
Our culture celebrates the joys of motherhood. We shower expectant mothers with gifts and tell new moms to “enjoy every minute” because babies grow up so fast. But what if pregnancy or motherhood is nothing like what you expected?
Many women have heard about postpartum depression, perhaps when a friend or celebrity shared her experience. But we don’t talk enough about how common, complex, and devastating postpartum depression can be. One in every seven mothers in the United States gets postpartum depression; much of it goes untreated. Suicide has become the second leading cause of death in the first year after giving birth.
I love children and have always wanted to be a mom. Although mental illness and mood disorders like depression and anxiety run in my family, I never expected to have postpartum depression.
Like me, you may have an image of a depressed new mom in your head, who recently gave birth, and is so weepy and sad she can’t take care of her baby or form an emotional connection to them. But I want all mothers-to-be to know postpartum depression may be nothing like this. It is a treatable illness that passes. You are a good mother. This is not your fault. You are not alone.
1. Depression is Common in Pregnancy and in the First Year after Giving Birth
I thought postpartum depression was a continuation of baby blues—the normal hormonal shifts many women experience in the first few weeks after giving birth. It is for some women. But you can develop mood disorders in pregnancy or, like me, when your baby is older. Mine hit when my baby was four months old and we began planning a stressful move.
2. You Might Know Something Is Deeply Wrong, but It Doesn’t Seem Like Depression
I seemed fine to others, and didn’t believe I was experiencing depression and anxiety. I seemed together, but on the inside, I was falling apart. I was completely overwhelmed by everyday activities like grocery shopping, driving, and preparing meals. I was scared and ashamed I was feeling the way I was. I felt like I was going crazy. And I was angry.
I knew something was very wrong and I didn’t feel like myself. As a first-time mother though, it’s so hard to know what is “normal.” You might be thinking to yourself, “This is so much harder than I expected. Other moms seem to be doing fine. Why can’t I handle this? What’s wrong with me?” You don’t want to feel the way you do, but you can’t help it.
3. Recognize Your Symptoms and Find Support
Things improved quickly after I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, anxiety, and panic disorder. I finally knew what was wrong and found great local and online resources. I learned about postpartum mood disorders and connected with other moms who were going through them. We all had different stories and symptoms, but we all loved our babies and wanted to feel like ourselves again.
4. This Treatable Illness Passes
It is not my fault I had postpartum depression. Like physical illness, it was out of my control. I needed treatment to get better. Joining a support group for first-time moms with postpartum depression and anxiety, combined with counseling and medication worked for me.
It was hard to believe the illness would pass when I was in the depths of it. But it did. My daughter, the love of my life, just turned a year old. She is doing great, and I feel like myself again. I can laugh and make jokes, appreciate the natural beauty around me, see the good in people, and discover the world through my daughter’s eyes. None of this would have been possible without knowing I had postpartum depression and getting treatment and support.
We owe it to mothers to talk openly about postpartum depression. One million women in the United States experience postpartum mood disorders; only one in five gets treatment. Let struggling mothers know they are strong, good mothers. What they are experiencing isn’t their fault, they are not alone, and they will get better.
Catherine Barber is a first-time mom living in Los Angeles. She works in healthcare and loves exploring Southern California with her daughter. Catherine is Climbing Out of the Darkness with other survivors to raise awareness about postpartum mood disorders this June.