How to Recognize Postpartum Depression

More than just the Baby Blues

postpartumdepressionWhen I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I was relieved. In some way, I knew it was my saving grace. Just two months earlier my beloved father had been severely injured in a car accident while on vacation in New Zealand, and he was still lying in a coma on the other side of the world fighting for his life. While his fate was undecided, I knew that this tiny life growing inside me would give me the strength I needed to nurture myself and my son while sitting in the limbo of my father’s uncertain outcome.

At the time it didn’t occur to me how compromised I was emotionally, I was just trying to get through from one day to the next caring for a toddler, working, being a wife, daughter, and friend. When my little girl’s name crept into my dreams at night I woke in the morning ready to face another day that otherwise might have been unwanted.

As the pregnancy neared an end, things had become more stabilized with my father, and he had long since returned to home in the US where he was stable and recovering. The loss of who he was before the brain injuries was still a grief on my shoulders, but I could rest easy knowing he was safe and sound in his bed at night.

After a long and arduous labor, I gave birth to Pieta Joya, and she was a beautiful addition to the family. I was so in love with her, but it seemed things were moving a little too fast for me right from day one. I felt like the world was spinning and I just wanted to get off the ride.

As I was breastfeeding a newborn and tending to my toddler son, each day I expected things to get easier but they just kept getting harder. Because my daughter came 2 weeks late, my 6 weeks before work was to begin was suddenly 4 weeks, and I felt like I was always in a rush. The adjustment from 1 child to 2 is hard for everyone, but even still it just felt like things were too hard and I couldn’t understand how I was going to keep up. Sure, there were stresses like money and a house that was too small and the cesarean was taxing, but the anxiety was building and there was no apparent cause. Just 3 months after my daughter was born, I was suicidal, then catatonic when my husband and friends took me to the hospital to be treated for postpartum depression.

I always loved the line I heard in the movie “Prozac Nation” about depression that went something like: “It happens gradually, and then suddenly.”

Every new mom knows what it feels like to be hormonally insane – all of a sudden you are laughing hysterically or flying off the handle at your husband for no apparent reason or you are crying your eyes out because the toast got burnt. You go through the motions of motherhood and you do your best to be kind and loving in this moment, to get a shower, to eat your breakfast finally in the afternoon. Then you are in the next moment and the next and then suddenly you realize that something is just not right and you start to wonder if you are going to be able to make it through the day. . . and then suddenly you can’t sleep because you aren’t sure you will make it through the night.

Postpartum Depression and mood disorders have many different faces, and affect about 1 in 8 women. It is widely expected that PPD is underdiagnosed because this disease is especially insidious. Most of us would expect to feel like crap after having a baby, right? Well, there are some serious symptoms to look out for, and it is highly important that new moms are screened for PPD ongoingly because PPD is a serious medical condition that can be prolonged and disabling without treatment and can affect the baby’s development as well.

Thanks to some very courageous mothers like Brooke Shields who have graciously told their stories, understanding and awareness of PPD has grown over recent years.  It was invaluable to hear the stories of other women going through the nightmare I was going through, because the only thing I could dream of was being able to mother my children while I felt my health slipping away. It is surprising how isolated we new moms can become, and though I went to many moms groups and talked with many women about postpartum depression, I rarely met women who were willing to talk about their experiences candidly. Honestly, it is frightening to revisit the dark places that mental illness can take you, and this is why it is all the more important to bring it out into the light.

My name is Heidi Howes and I have postpartum depression. I usually say “severe” postpartum depression because that’s how it feels to me, very severe.

Take the PPD screening on WebMD

Comments

  1. As men, we have no idea what this feels like. However, your words speak to me Heidi and you opened me up to a new world of what PPD actually is and that it is a severe issue for a number of women.

    We think sometime, “why is that crazy woman crying over spilled milk” when really we have no idea what is going on mentally and emotionally from a mother who just gave birth.

    I hope when I have children Ill be able to be understanding and helpful for my wife if she ever feels these emotions.

    thanks for sharing sis!

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  2. Very insightful. I don’t have any children but when I grew up I was dealing with a paranoid schyzophrenic mother so mental illness isn’t anything new to me. I hope things get better for you. Thank you for letting the world know about this. It is important and people need to know. No Tom Cruise rants are necessary.

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  3. hormonal insanity…a thread that binds us all as mothers…just at varying degrees and levels of awareness/acceptance.

    living with the reality of our motherhood brings us CLOSER to our selves and to our kids…always. there is no good or bad experience in motherhood, only experience, especially when we have the strength to look our realities straight in the eye as you are here. you are courageous. thank you for being u and sharing!!!!

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  4. You’re so right about the need for ongoing screening! I was going along fine until my son was about 5 months old. Then after a month of having him inexplicably wake up every hour and a half, I lost it. I descended into a horrible hole of depression, despite loving and wanting my son and husband very much. It took months to climb back out into sunlight.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    If you’re in Missouri, St. Louis has a great peer-to-peer telephone support program for mothers with PPD. http://www.mothertomothersupport.org

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  5. Didit Araneta-Reyes says:

    I am 61 years old, with 5 children, 2 grandchildren, one adopted daughter. Looking back while the children just kept on coming, how did I do it? Yes the depression came, inevitably with the pain of the stiches, painful nipples, etc. but what helped me was my extended family which we, in the Philippines are so blessed to have; extended even to household helpers who function as part of the family too. So there are a lot of “hands” who can hold your baby and the other children, as you heal, physically and emotionally. Aside from “hands” to help, we also have a slow pace of life, time to chat with friends, sleep siesta, just do “nothing”. But all that is changing here, especially in the cities, so I expect PPD to go up here too. So a support group for moms is a good move!

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  6. Thanks for commenting, mom! :) That extended family is something that is not quite so available here, although I feel blessed to have amazing mommy friends who are always at the ready to help. I can’t imagine life without my peeps!

    Postpartum doulas are also becoming more acceptable and available here. I am considering doing a series on “mother’s helpers” soon.

    And Jessica, I’ve heard great things about Mother to Mother… in fact, a friend of mine who is a therapist sent me a contact there and I’m hoping to collaborate in some way.

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