Just minutes after my son Neel was born, he developed serious health problems that led him to the Neonatal ICU for a fortnight. When he came out of the NICU and I brought him home, I started fighting another battle–that of Postpartum Depression (PPD).
This was a battle so hard and all-consuming that it shook my belief in myself as a mother. This fog, this haze called PPD, took ages to clear up because I didn’t have the strength to move past the stigma of depression and reach out for medical help. But as I emerged from it months later, still shaky and very doubtful about my mothering skills, I learned to be gentle with myself. I learned to trust my own inner voice over others’ opinions, even if those opinions happened to come from people I loved. I learned that I wasn’t a bad mother, but just a new mom with Postpartum Depression.
I’m writing this piece with hope in my heart. I hope that if you are a new mother and you suspect that you have PPD, you will reach out for medical help without worrying about stigma or social pressure after reading about my experience. Here are ten things I wish I would’ve known about Postpartum Depression when I was experiencing it:
SIGNS OF PPD
1) You may feel a sense of disconnect with your baby.
Your baby may be the cutest little cherub that you have ever laid eyes on, but where others are melting into puddles of chocolate at the very sight of this little being, you might feel absolutely nothing.
2) You may not want to hold, rock, or talk to your baby.
Until the baby was born, you couldn’t wait to hold him in your arms. But ever since you started feeling that disconnect, you just do not feel like holding him close. You’d rather let your husband or your mom do all the holding, rocking, and cooing.
3) You may not want to be left alone with your baby.
In fact, you might be terrified of being left alone with your baby–not because you’ll harm him, though an urge to hurt the baby can be one of the symptoms of PPD. You just might not feel competent enough to mother your baby alone. Your mind might race with thoughts such as, “What will I do if he starts crying?” “Am I supposed to hold him?” “Gosh, I don’t feel any connection with this wrinkly little being!”
MYTHS ABOUT PPD
4) You may not find yourself sobbing throughout the day or having suicidal thoughts.
Symptoms of PPD range from suicidal thoughts and rage to fatigue, insomnia, and irritability. New moms with PPD may experience all of the symptoms or just a few. So if, like me, you don’t find yourself crying constantly or feeling suicidal, that doesn’t mean that you do not have PPD.
5) You may not start to feel the onset of PPD until several weeks or months after your baby was born.
For me, it happened two weeks after the birth of my baby; for other new moms, PPD might happen one, two, three, or even six months after they gave birth. This can cause some moms to question whether or not they could truly have PPD, but it is important to remember that PPD can happen anytime during the first year of your baby’s life.
6) Breastfeeding cannot prevent Postpartum Depression.
As wonderful as nursing a baby can be for some mothers, what I and several moms who breastfed while wading through PPD can tell you is that nursing does not prevent PPD.
7) Having a lot of family support does not prevent the onset of PPD.
It’s true that when you have a lot of support and help after the birth of your child, you’re less likely to develop PPD, but it does not make it impossible. I had my parents, in-laws, and husband helping me through the intense post-birth period, so I didn’t want to believe that I could have PPD. But I was wrong, and I should’ve sought help much sooner.
8) You don’t have PPD because you have the luxury of time.
Whether you have help or not, whether you’re a first-time mom or a second-time mom, mothering in the first year can be very intense. So, if someone ever says something like “I never had the time to be depressed,” (yes, you’ll hear things like that sometimes), don’t believe this because it’ll only make you miserable and guilty.
TRUTHS ABOUT PPD
9) You’re not a bad mother. I repeat, you’re NOT a bad mother.
You may often feel like an incompetent mom because of the lack of connection that you feel with your baby, the overwhelming fatigue, or the panic that sets in when you’re left alone with your child. But when you emerge from this all-engulfing fog, you’ll be the kind of mother you were meant to be. I do not mean a perfect mother, because that is another big myth, but the kind of mom who enjoys motherhood and with whom your child will thrive.
10) You can talk about PPD and reach out for help.
I know from personal experience that it’s very difficult to talk about PPD when you’re in the throes of it. Not everyone understands PPD, and some of those whom you talk to may not be able to lend you their support. But in spite of all this, know that you can talk about it. There will be people who’ll understand, and you can reach out for medical and emotional help.
New mothers who are reading this, I want to encourage you and remind you that you will come out of this difficult experience. You will not have Postpartum Depression forever. Give yourself time, be gentle on yourself, and reach out for help if you think you might need it.
QUESTION: What would you recommend someone do as her “next step” if she needs help with Postpartum Depression?
CHALLENGE: Share what you learned from reading my experience with PPD with moms you think might be suffering from these symptoms.
Edited by Aubrey Degn and Rachel Nielson.
Image from Microsoft Office Images with graphics by Julie Finlayson.
Originally published April 13, 2015.