For new moms, the weeks following birth are filled with joy and sweet moments of newborn bliss. It is truly a beautiful season, what we often refer to as the fourth trimester.
However, it is not uncommon for this season to also come with a set of challenges that many new moms don’t expect. “Baby blues,” for example, are a normal period beginning a few days after birth that lasts about 2-3 weeks. During this time, postpartum hormones are fluctuating and a lot of physical and emotional changes are happening.
The baby blues can cause sadness, unexpected tears, and even feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm. These fade after a few weeks and usually go away entirely on their own.
For those who continue to experience these emotions—or other symptoms—it could be a sign of postpartum depression and anxiety. That was my experience with my first postpartum.
The signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety can look different for everyone, and sometimes we mistake them for the baby blues. Not sure what it is you are experiencing? In this article I’ll walk you through my personal journey, how I battled my depression, and tips to help you successfully navigate your own postpartum season.
Something Must Be Wrong with ME
I waited until I was in my late 20s to become a mom. I had years of working as a registered nurse and traveling with my husband in ministry. This was supposed to be an exciting season of growing our family.
Because of my years spent working as a nurse in pediatrics and maternity, I felt really well prepared for this change. Nurses make for wonderful moms, right? My own mom was the essence of nurture. She gave me a childhood filled with playdates at the park, fun activities with my little sister, and the love and connection every child craves.
So when I found myself in the first few weeks of postpartum feeling somewhat disconnected from my baby, angry with my husband, stressed out with the challenges of breastfeeding and thrush, wanting to be alone all the time, and not feeling like myself, I thought it must be ME.
All signs were pointing out to me that I was the problem. Something had to be wrong with me as a mom.
The hardest thing about postpartum depression and anxiety is that it didn’t feel like an illness. It felt like who I was. I couldn’t separate my feelings from who I was as a person. The thoughts and emotions were so overwhelming that I found them redefining me.
I Do NOT Have a Chemical Imbalance!
A friend brought me groceries when I was around 6 weeks postpartum. I must have shared a little about how I was feeling because I remember her saying she thought it sounded like I had postpartum depression based on her own experience. I honestly don’t remember how I responded because the idea of admitting something was wrong was so painful.
Shortly after, my husband, Chris, and I were driving somewhere and he mentioned talking to this same friend’s husband about what she went through. He mentioned maybe I had “a chemical imbalance.” I think Chris was just trying to help and didn’t really have the words. But I remember being very upset and almost yelling, “I don’t have a chemical imbalance!” This kind of emotional instability was not my norm.
I think I reacted that way for a couple of reasons. First, I was afraid of taking medication. What if it meant I couldn’t breastfeed? What about the side effects? What if I ended up not being able to get off the medication later? I didn’t end up taking medication as a personal decision. But I suffered for 14 months because it took awhile for me to find some other solutions. In the end, I discovered it was a really a combination of factors that needed to be addressed so I could heal.
I also think I was experiencing a mix of denial and confusion. I had good days where the symptoms were less, and I didn’t think I fit the picture of what you hear about as “postpartum depression.” I was also confused because I’d never had something like this happen before. It was hard to recognize what was happening, and I wasn’t really in my right mind. I thought it was just me, that I wasn’t a good mom, and I felt so embarrassed about it.
What is Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety?
It turns out I had a combination of both postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA). The symptoms can vary from mild to more severe and some may be present but not all of them have to be. PPD can look like crying and sadness, anger or irritability, a change in sleep and/or appetite, fatigue, feelings of guilt, shame or hopelessness, lack of interest in the baby, feeling overwhelmed, loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable and less commonly, unwanted thoughts of harming self or baby.
Some women experience many of these symptoms without the depression. And they may have additional symptoms more consistent with PPA, such as intrusive and repetitive thoughts, excessive worry or concern, racing thoughts, feelings of dread about feared events, heart palpitations, shakiness or trembling, and difficulty sleeping.
It’s unknown exactly what causes PPD and PPA, but it’s thought to be in response to rapidly shifting hormones and a combination of other factors. Unlike “baby blues,” PPD and PPA are best resolved through proper treatment.
What is “proper treatment?” There are a variety of options. Talk therapy and/or medication are the standard approach. There are also some other natural remedies to help support healing from PPD/PPA.
I didn’t end up taking medication as a personal decision. I chose therapy and a few natural supportive remedies. I do feel like I suffered for 14 months because I struggled to find many natural remedies until after it went away. In the end, I discovered it was a combination of factors that needed to be addressed so I could heal.
What I Would Say to Myself if I Could Go Back in Time
When I look back on myself struggling as a new mom, I want to hug her. I want to tell her that the fact she is so distraught over the idea of not being a good mom is proof that she IS a good mom. That even good moms can have postpartum depression and anxiety. It’s an illness that doesn’t discriminate.
I want to encourage her that she isn’t to blame, and this isn’t happening because she did something wrong. I would want her to know that she isn’t weak for having PPD/PPA. In fact, she is SO strong because she keeps showing up every day to take care of her baby despite how she feels.
I’d share with her that it IS possible to recover from postpartum depression and anxiety with the right support. I’d reassure her that she is not alone, and that it’s possible to find support in sharing with other moms who’ve had similar experiences. I want her to know that in the right context, vulnerability breaks the power of shame.
I would tell her that she will get better with the right treatment that best fits her situation. I’d share with her that there are a variety of ways to treat this, not just with medication. And I’d also encourage her that if she needs medication to care for herself and for the sake of her family, there is no shame in that.
As hard as it may be to imagine, one day she’ll look back on that season as a gift. It may be the most painful thing she’s ever been through. And she may not wish it on anyone. But the woman she is on the other side of the struggle is worth it all.
She’ll be able to see that season as a gift because it gave her the opportunity to discover a new version of herself. She’ll see that she’s becoming the mom she dreamed of being—one who has depth of character, who knows how to persevere, and who knows how to conquer trials and vanquish fear with love.
And one day, she’ll find she really does enjoy and cherish being a mom.
To the Mom Who May Be Struggling Now
It’s never too early, or too late, to reach out for help. Be open to a variety of treatment options. There are multiple factors that may need to be addressed through talk therapy, support groups, dietary and lifestyle changes that support mental health, and/or medication.
As hard as it may be at first, seeking help and support is one of the best things a mom can do to care for both herself and her baby. She is worth investing in her mental health.
Postpartum Support International has a warmline that can be reached via phone or text 24 hours a day. They will support and encourage a mom in need of help. And they will connect her to online support groups, experts that can help, and resources (some may even be free) in her local area or available online. Call 1-800-944-4773 or text 503-894-9453. Their website may also be visited for more info: https://www.postpartum.net/get-help/help-for-moms/