May is Postpartum Depression Awareness month and we should all start to talk about it. Postpartum depression does not discriminate. It isn’t reserved for the “lesser” Mom or the one that is an all-star. It doesn’t always announce itself loudly but then again sometimes it screams it’s name. It doesn’t just effect the Mom in question, it touches everyone in her life and beyond. Postpartum depression can change a marriage, ruin a job, and destroy a person – if not handled. What is more crazy to think; postpartum depression is common. More common than you might think; someone you know and love could be suffering right now.
My first daughter was born in 2007 and was the best surprise in my entire life. I was shocked to be expecting her but so very happy and excited. I loved her so much from the moment I met her but I had a difficult time connecting. I cried a lot well past the initial few weeks and by 4 months I was in a dark place. Nothing felt right and it was all clouded by isolation and sadness. I had trouble celebrating all of her firsts and stopped sleeping. It wasn’t until 6 months that I truly bonded with her and by 8 months the fog started to lift. It was a very difficult time and I still feel awful when I think about what I missed to because of my postpartum depression. I have a clear memory of getting in the car at 3 am to drive away. I remember feeling that they would all be better without me and that I was failing at motherhood. My heart hurts that anyone else might feel the same way. I know now that it is not true and never was but at the time it felt so real.
Between my first and second daughter I lost 6 babies. A few were in the second trimester and one was particularly traumatic. I lost a life threatening about of blood and was saved by an incredible emergency room staff. After surgery and while I was recovering it became very clear I was suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); I wasn’t able to enter that emergency room without a full blown panic attack. What I wasn’t expecting was a lasting hormonal impact similar to that after a baby is born. My doctor explained my PTSD had been replaced with Postpartum Depression and I was shocked and heart broken. It is one thing to go through that with a beautiful baby in your arms but a whole different ball game when there is no baby. In this situation I immediately sought help to make sure I stayed healthy for my family. Getting help, talking about it and identifying early what was wrong is what helped me get through it without dragging on for months.
After the birth of my second daughter I didn’t experience postpartum depression in the traditional sense. I started to get intense anxiety following her birth that increased over the next year. I became obsessed with the smallest tasks but also overwhelmed by them. This is when I learned that postpartum depression can show up in many different ways. Thankfully it was mild and after two previous bouts I knew that i had to deal with it ASAP. I was feeling better within weeks.
I am now nearly 3 months postpartum with my third child and things are going great. After the initial weepy first few weeks I have evened out and am enjoying the freedom to be happy and relaxed for the first time in a long time.
If you know someone who might be suffering from postpartum depression the most important thing you can do is ask if they are ok and suggest they get help from a professional. Beyond that there are some things you can do to make their life a bit easier.
- Don’t make general offers like “let me know what I can do”. Make concrete offers like “I will watch the kids on Friday” or “I’ll be over with lunch tomorrow”. Most people have trouble asking for help and general offers put them in that position. Find out what she needs and just make it happen.
- Bring or send nutritious food. This is a classic for a reason. Preparing and cooking a meal with a newborn is hard but doing it when you are also fighting depression is impossible.
- Reach out often but don’t expect a reply. It can be so hard to keep up with communication but knowing someone is thinking about her will help.
- Clean the house. This depends how close you are but if you are getting a glass of water put some dishes away. While talking in the living room pick up some toys. If you are not close and cleaning might be weird then arrange for a cleaning person. This gesture is worth SO much to someone who has trouble doing the simplest task.
- Help her get as much rest as you can. Hold the baby while she naps. If you are in the same house, get up at night and change a diaper. It is amazing what even a few minutes of sleep can do.
If you can do nothing else just be there for her without judgment. Postpartum depression can harbor some shocking thoughts and we all need to remember it is a sickness not a personality trait. This new mom needs love and support; not judgement and fear.