Bear each other’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
While most moms experience some sort of emotional change after giving birth, postpartum mood disorders are anything but normal. Unfortunately, when moms are going through them they don’t always speak out. Sometimes it’s out of fear of admitting the thoughts they struggle with. Sometimes it’s worry that friends will brush it off or belittle the severity. Sometimes it’s concern that no one can or wants to deal with such an emotional train wreck.
When I had my first child, I actually planned to leave my husband so that he wouldn’t have to deal with me. The only thing that kept me there was that I couldn’t decide what would be best for him, taking the baby or leaving him.
The statistics say that 1 in 5 moms suffer from some sort of postpartum mood disorder. This includes depression, anxiety, psychosis and more. Because 70-80% of moms get a case of the baby blues, it is easy for others to misunderstand postpartum mood disorders. The Baby Blues usually last for the first few weeks where as PPMD can show up anytime in the first year and usually last months upon months, especially when left untreated.
Because I’ve had two births that were followed by PPMD and one that was not, the way I would describe the difference is that having a PPMD is more severe.
When a normal thought is “I just want to go to bed and sleep forever!” the unhealthy thought is “I want something terrible to happen to me so I can go to the hospital and have pain medication”.
Normal thought “I am so overwhelmed I don’t even know where to start in my to-do list!”
Unhealthy thought “I can’t even do my every day chores. I suck as a mom and a wife and it would be better for everyone if I just left.”
Normal thought “I feel so isolated. I’m so lonely.”
Unhealthy thought “I have no friends. No one would care if I drove my car off a cliff”
I’m sharing my experience for two reasons, one is that I want moms who have PPMD to know they are not alone. But also because I feel that people who have not experienced PPMD do not always know how to support their loved ones who do experience them. If you are experiencing PPMD, having support from your friends and family is so important. Please find someone you love and trust to share with. Make sure your husband knows and understands. Tell him your scary thoughts. He needs to know exactly what you’re going through. Find articles and blogs, to help give him insight.
It’s very scary to say “I have postpartum depression” out loud and even scarier to say it to another person. Most of the moms I spoke to about this said they mostly just wanted someone to talk to. If someone you love shares a little, or a lot, of their struggle with you, here are some tips to help them out.
- Try not to compare experiences. If she’s saying she’s “overwhelmed” you might be tempted to say “Yeah, we all are overwhelmed with a new baby!” She might actually mean she’s feeling hopeless and desperate and not know how to say it.
- Don’t just say “Let me know if you need anything!” Offer her something specific. Ask her what would help and offer what you are capable of. Can you take her kids for a playdate? Can you come over with a cup of coffee? Can you fold some laundry? Really listen to her answer. If she sounds unsure, she might not want know how to tell you that she’s uncomfortable with what you’re offering. Another thing that’s helpful is to be assertive and tell her dates and times. Don’t leave it open ended by suggesting “sometime”.
- Don’t assume. Just because you see me post a picture of my kids doing awesome crafts on Instagram doesn’t mean it’s all June Cleaver over here. What you don’t see is that 20 minutes before that picture I had an epic meltdown, yelled at my kids, ran in my bedroom and thought “I need something for them to do before I leave them home alone and go check in to The Holiday Inn” so I threw the construction paper and glue sticks at them. The mess will then stay on my table for two days. I took a picture because I was proud of myself that they weren’t watching TV again.
- Ask a lot of questions. If you ask how she is and she says “fine”, ask again. Ask a couple days later. Ask more specific questions. “Are you up for company?” “Are you getting enough sleep?” “Are you still feeling overwhelmed?” “Want to go for a walk?” “How’s your relationship with your husband?” “Are you struggling with anything specific?” And then listen. Let her know you hear her and validate her. Don’t offer too much advice. Hormones are not rational and don’t respond well to “just let it go!”
- Just understand. Most of the time, I feel like I’m walking on thin ice. Sometimes I might be skating gracefully and doing spins and twirls, but then all of a sudden I feel the ice begin to break out underneath me. When that feeling happens, I’m embarrassed to be around people because I don’t know what they will think of me. When I can say to my friend, “I’m starting to have anxiety being here” and they answer with, “Okay, do you want to leave?” I immediately feel safe.
Because all moms have different symptoms and needs, I’ve asked a few other moms I know to share their own experiences.
Mama C: I have two children (ages 3 and 5) and have experienced postpartum depression twice, and it was definitely more severe after my second baby. It wasn’t just depression, however, as I also experienced intense anxiety as well as at least one obsessive-compulsive behavior. My experience included: severe insomnia, loss of appetite/weight-loss, thoughts of harming myself, severe irritability, and a pervasive sense of hopelessness and worthlessness. For the first four months with my second, I felt so overwhelmed, exhausted, and anxious that many mornings I simply couldn’t get out of bed to face life with a colicky baby. My husband had to call off work on several occasions to cover child care on those days, and I began to have feelings of anger and resentment towards my baby (though thankfully never had thoughts of harming her.) It was very difficult at the time to share with others what was going on – I truly felt that most people didn’t care (a lie that depression tells you) or just wouldn’t “get it” (especially if they had never gone through it themselves.) I deeply appreciated the few people who showed genuine concern and desire to listen/understand – whether by calling/texting to check on me, asking me to coffee to talk, or offering practical help. For me, deeper relief eventually came after talking with my doctor and making the decision to go on an antidepressant (a life-saver for me, literally), as well as hiring regular childcare to give me reliable breaks. Looking back, I know that I have never felt so alone or afraid at any other time in my life, and I still thank the Lord that – with help – I was able to climb out of the abyss. Life certainly isn’t perfect now, but I feel healthy and “normal” and truly enjoy time with my family and doing things that I love again. I want to tell any mom going through something similar that 1) you are not alone, and 2) please take the courageous step to reach out (sooner rather than later,) tell the whole truth of what you’re feeling, and keep asking for help until you get it!
Mama A: So I was told to keep this not too long however this is a topic close to my heart, in fact I am currently writing a paper on it. After each of two my boys I experienced PPD (Postpartum Depression). My chart says “Major reoccurring postpartum depression with recurrent episodes are mild” and “anxiety”. Each child I get bad PPD and I still struggle some days. Sometimes my anxiety is bad and other times my depression pops back up. I tried a few times to talk to my friends and family about it however PPD is almost taboo. Most people know the term “baby blues” and associate that with PPD however although they can be related but they aren’t the same. My family and friends didn’t understand or would think that I was fine and I went undiagnosed for months. It severely affected all my relationships in many aspects. I was a puddle of emotions and my husband didn’t know if I was going to flip or break down at any moment. The things that helped me were yoga. I do yoga every day and my kids too. My friends and family learning about PPD and us talking about what I needed from them and how they could support me was a big one. Lastly becoming friends with people who dealt with it and survived it. Postpartum Progress is a great resource to connect with moms and survivors. The hard thing about PPD depression is the signs/symptoms can vary. The common idea is that you can get it and deal with it from birth- a year, new research is showing some moms may get it while pregnant and it may be possible to have it even after a year. Common signs are: Loss of appetite, Insomnia, Intense irritability and anger, Overwhelming fatigue, Loss of interest in sex , Lack of joy in life, Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy, Severe mood swings, Difficulty bonding with your baby, Withdrawal from family and friends, Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
To any mom who is struggling I would say getting help takes a tremendous amount of courage but I am so proud of you. I am praying for you. You are an incredible mom because you are getting help so you can be the best mom/wife/friend you can be.
Mama M: I have a total of 6 kids, 4 are mine (soon to be 6, 4, 2, and due with 4th in 2-3 weeks) and 2 are my husband’s teenage siblings, 18 and 15, that we care for full time.
Around the time of my first three births, one or more very stressful life events have happened, so it is difficult for me to attribute my depression solely to PPD as it could very well be situational depression as well as symptom of my autoimmune disease and thyroid issues. Also, in between my first and second and second and third births, I had a miscarriage. The first one we lost twins and I was emotionally devastated and the second time was very traumatic physically and it took a while for me to heal from that.
I did not tell anybody because I am not one to ask for help and because at the time, I wouldn’t have thought myself to be depressed. It is only hindsight that I clearly see that I was in it deep. This 4th pregnancy is actually the first time that I have reached out and admitted that I needed help. It has been a humbling and blessed season for me.
I wish that I didn’t put up this supermom facade for so so long. Being broken beyond what I could fix myself has really allowed me to be open and honest with moms in particular and the response has been amazing. Being vulnerable and sharing that with others is incredibly freeing and is now my passionate prayer for other moms. My advice would be to find someone and to be real. It is scary at first, but I bet you will find that walls and facades are broken down real quick and true, genuine, beautiful friendships will be born.
Mama S: I have 2 children and I experienced postpartum depression with both of them to varying degrees. I have a history of depression, so I knew that getting postpartum depression would be more likely for me, but I wasn’t fully prepared for it with my first son. The depression was worst with him because I didn’t get any help or reach out to anyone. I felt very isolated, ashamed, and embarrassed and thought that I shouldn’t be feeling this way. To an outsider, I probably looked like everything was fine, but internally I was falling apart. I would still have enjoyable moments with my son, but I would often experience crying or anxiety and get overwhelmed in my emotions or negative thoughts. It was difficult for me to be around other moms because I looked at everyone else as ‘normal’ because they seemed so happy and have it together but I felt like a mess. However, keeping everything to myself caused me to suffer longer and harder than I had to. With my second son I was more prepared and sought help before he was born. I looked for a counselor who specialized in postpartum depression, which was very helpful, and I also attended a few postpartum support groups that helped me realize that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. I shared with friends and family that I felt like I could trust and asked for prayer and emotional support when needed. The most difficult part about having postpartum depression is reaching out for help because it makes me want to stay isolated in fear of being misunderstood. I believe that God has been with me through every tear and desperate prayer and that He continues to heal me.
2 Kings 20:5 (ESV) – “…Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you…”
All of these mamas and myself want to pray for you. If you want to comment here or on Facebook, we will be praying for you or you can send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will make sure it gets to the above mama. Remember that friendship cannot replace professional help, so if you are experiencing harmful thoughts towards yourself or others, you need to call your doctor or a crisis line immediately.