After the birth of your baby, it’s normal to feel a lot of different emotions. Excited at the arrival of this little person you’ve been carrying around inside for the last nine months. Nervous about taking on the big role of Mom. And, maybe, a bit sad, anxious or overwhelmed by all of it.
For the first two weeks after the birth of a baby, up to 80 percent of women experience what’s commonly called the “baby blues,” or weepiness, irritability, exhaustion, and trouble sleeping. After the rush of labor and delivery is over, your hormones readjust and you settle into your new life at home, it’s common to go through this slump.
However, if those feelings linger longer than a couple of weeks, or if they become so intense that they interfere with your ability to care for yourself or your baby, you may be among the estimated 15 percent of women suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).
If you think you might be experiencing PPD, your instinct may be to brush it off, thinking that you have no reason to feel sad or that you can work through your emotions on your own. But talking to your doctor is essential to get you the help you need — for the health and safety of both you and your little one. Here, six women who suffered from PPD share what it felt like for them and how they overcame it.
“Most of the time, I felt like I was in a fog”
I experienced PPD years ago after the birth of my first child. For me, PPD was a heavy feeling of dread coupled with general anxiety about most things, especially sleep. Like all infants, my baby woke up to eat many times throughout the night. I couldn’t get back to sleep afterward, and I couldn’t nap during the day. Most of the time, I felt like I was in a fog. When the sun started to go down, I would dread the long night ahead. I didn’t feel like myself, but I didn’t know what was happening.
I looked up symptoms for PPD at the time, but mine didn’t exactly fit. I think I was mostly in denial. I hid my symptoms well from my friends and family. My husband was just as confused as I was as he helplessly watched his wife fall apart. He tried to talk to me, but I felt like I shouldn’t be asking for help. I told my doctor I couldn’t sleep and felt anxious at my six-week follow-up. She smiled and said she didn’t know why I was feeling that way and hoped I felt better. I figured I was on my own after that. I never got treatment, and I didn’t talk about what I was going through with anyone. I felt too ashamed to admit it. With no treatment, it was well over a year before I felt like myself again.
After the birth of my second child, son Aaron, I knew immediately what I was feeling. Looking in retrospect to my first baby, I realized that I was suffering from PPD but didn’t want to admit it. When I felt the same way the second time, I knew the symptoms fit. I sought help from my new doctor soon after, and he was very helpful. I went on an antidepressant, and I felt back to normal within a couple months.
PPD does not mean you are flawed or that you don’t care about your baby. Your body and brain are just having a difficult time getting back to normal. The way everyone adjusts is different, but you are still a caring, wonderful mother. Seeking help is the hardest but the best thing to do.
— Jennifer Rodgers, author of You Made It to Motherhood: A Guide for New Moms, Auburn, CA
“I worried about everything”
I’ve struggled with depression since my 20s and treated it with therapy and medication. I stopped taking medication before conceiving and hoped that the natural happy pregnancy hormones would continue after baby was born. But that wasn’t the case.
I should have recognized the symptoms immediately and visited my doctor at the first signs, since previous depression increases the risk of PPD. I didn’t talk to friends and family, because I felt they wouldn’t understand PPD. And I felt conflicted because I couldn’t understand why I was feeling depressed. I had every reason to be happy, between my baby, husband and new home. But I didn’t want to hear about how grateful I should be. All my life, I wanted to have a family, yet I couldn’t be happy about it. What was wrong with me?
After baby was 1 month old, my husband noticed that I was still weepy and irritable. We both knew that the depression I suffered in the past was returning. I went to see my doctor, and I burst into tears when she asked how I was feeling. I didn’t have a clear answer as to why I was crying. I felt a deep sense of sorrow, but there wasn’t a defining reason. That’s when I knew it was more than the baby blues. She put me on antidepressants. After a week, I started feeling better. I felt as though the brain chemicals were leveling out, and I started to feel more like myself again.
With my second baby, I went off my medication before conceiving and then went back on after giving birth without hesitation. But I also felt more prepared. He didn’t have colic like my first; I felt more confident as a mother in doing daily tasks like diaper changing and breastfeeding. And I also felt more comfortable asking for help, which I didn’t do with my first.
With PPD, you can’t “shake it off” or “snap out of it”. You can’t just will yourself to be more positive. The brain is such a complex organ. Sometimes we fail to realize that mental illness, just like a physical illness, is real. There is no shame in getting help. — Maria Lianos-Carbone, author of Oh Baby! A Mom’s Self-Care Survival
Guide for the First Year and blogger at amotherworld.com, Toronto, Ontario
“PPD was feeling overprotective to a detriment”
I didn’t have PPD with my first child, but my second child Pepper’s birth was a traumatic, life-altering moment. Shortly after arriving home, I began having horrible nightmares. I wouldn’t let Pepper out of my sight. I worried constantly; if we went for a walk, I would envision my kids getting hit by a car. It was paralyzing. I could not control my emotions or get the thoughts out of my head. It’s almost as if something had taken over my body.
My husband noticed there was an issue and that all my senses had been heightened. He would try to talk me down and tell me I needed to relax. Neither of us had any idea the severity of the situation and thought it was just hormones from pregnancy. While I had heard about PPD, I thought it was a disconnect between mother and child. I was not aware there were other ways to suffer. If I had known that PPD was also feeling overprotective to a detriment, I might have been able to get help much sooner.
One day a helicopter flew low nearby and I dove across the room on top of my kids because I was afraid it was crashing into our house. I began to cry, thinking something was wrong with me but not knowing what it was. It gave my husband and me a scare, so I reached out to a therapist that day. I was diagnosed with PPD, and the doctors also thought I had PTSD from my traumatic birth. I began antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds and went to two-hour therapy sessions twice a week.
At first, I brought my kids to my appointments because I couldn’t leave them. My first “homework assignment” was to go to Target alone for 30 minutes. I spent 25 of those minutes in the bathroom vomiting and crying. But I pushed for my kids and my husband. I wanted to feel happy and secure again. My husband was supportive and made a habit of asking me if I was okay. I know that my behavior impacted my family, yet they all circled around me and helped me back up. Within a month, I was able to process what was happening and start putting things into perspective. In about four months, I noticed a real difference. But I still have days where I flash back to the delivery room. I still have overly protective thoughts, and I have to take a deep breath and stop for a moment.
I’d tell any woman diagnosed with PPD to cut yourself a break and give it time. And do not ever doubt yourself as a mother. We as moms have to find the strength to put ourselves first sometimes, knowing if we don’t our children may suffer. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for a shoulder.
— Jeni Elizabeth Bianco, network and celebrity wardrobe stylist
“I felt that I’d done harder things and I could just cope”
I didn’t truly understand that I was suffering from PPD for at least a year after the birth of my only son. But I started to feel sad and anxious right away. I had very low self-esteem and doubt about being a good enough mother. I was angry and frustrated, and I cried a lot. At the same time, it was mixed in with joy at the birth of my healthy son — plus a lack of sleep and the drastic change of becoming a stay-at-home mom after working full-time — and it was difficult to parse out my emotions.
I had seen a therapist a few years prior for depression, although I hadn’t been for years. I went to see her again when my son was about 10 weeks old. She said I had PPD and told me I was at 30 percent higher risk of becoming depressed after giving birth as I had a depressive episode before. Because I didn’t think I needed that much help, I didn’t go to therapy consistently. I believed her and was glad to get a name for it, but I felt that I’d done harder things in my life and I could just cope. I also felt ashamed. I kept it a secret; 26 years ago, PPD wasn’t talked about the way it is now.
When my son was about 8 months old, I went back to see my therapist, and she urged me then to see a psychiatrist for medication. I was afraid to take an antidepressant because I was breastfeeding and there wasn’t much research back then. In retrospect, I wish I had, as it would’ve probably helped me. Instead, I sought out counseling. My therapist became my safe haven. After two years, I felt more back to myself.
Because of my experiences with PPD, I studied complementary methods of healing to become a licensed massage therapist and professional counselor. In 1997, I went to school to study shiatsu and acupressure, and then I studied birth hypnosis and doula work. I studied psychology and got my masters degree, becoming a licensed psychotherapist in 2004.
The biggest [misconception] my clients have about PPD is that a woman can do it all: keep at her same level of professional work, take care of a baby and just get back to work. But a perinatal mood disorder can be devastating, and there are many forms of perinatal mental illness besides PPD. Becoming a parent is an adult developmental life stage that needs to be identified and discussed so that people know it’s difficult, there are many emotions that accompany it, and it’s normal to go through an identity shift. Help is available, and you can get better!
— Kathy Morelli, LMT, LPC, licensed massage therapist and professional counselor, Wayne, NJ
“I didn’t think it could be PPD because I didn’t have it with my first two kids”
About two days after the birth of my third son, I knew something was wrong. It felt like a heavy weighted blanket. I was crying all the time. I would watch my baby sleep, and I was so overwhelmed with love for him but felt so sad. Sad for all of the pain he would endure throughout his life, sad because I couldn’t protect him, sad because I felt crazy and that he had a crazy mom. I was worried that he wouldn’t like me.
At first, I didn’t think it could be PPD, because I didn’t have it with my first two kids 12 and eight years prior. I hid it from my partner well, being home alone all day. But he began growing concerned when I would have a panic attack whenever he touched me. I couldn’t even sleep in the same bed with him. About two days later — within a week of giving birth — I asked him to call my midwife because I wouldn’t be able to talk on the phone without crying. She put me on an antidepressant, which helped within days. I continued taking the medication for several years.
I want other moms to know that PPD is real, and you are not crazy. Just because someone doesn’t understand what you’re going through doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. Communicate with your health care provider sooner than later — there is hope.
— Jennifer Snyder, professional organizer, Waco, TX
“I would stare at the mirror and not recognize who I was”
For about a month after the birth of my first son, I didn’t realize anything was wrong other than hating every moment of breastfeeding. I just thought being a mom was new and hard. But I wasn’t sleeping, and I was withdrawn. I felt helpless and stupid, like I should have known what I was doing. Like motherhood was supposed to be amazing but was a black hole. I would stare in the mirror and not recognize who I was. I had many moments when I would wonder what it would be like to fall down the stairs, because if I got hurt I wouldn’t have to take care of the baby and maybe, just maybe, I could get some sleep.
Then my husband encouraged me to get help, and I knew that something was really wrong. I talked to my doctor at our 6-week postpartum check-up. Because of a family history with drug addiction, I was adamant that I didn’t want prescription drugs for treatment. Instead, I sought help from a local group for women with postpartum mood disorders. There, I found a psychotherapist who I visited every few weeks for talk therapy. My husband was relieved that we had an answer and we could make a plan. Unfortunately, that plan involved me being able to sleep through the night, so he bore the brunt of overnight feedings and sleepless nights and still had to get up and go to work in the morning. He was incredible!
I had a turning point at about six months where I had a fleeting “we should have another baby!” moment. It was short lived. It kind of came in waves — I would feel awful for a few months, then turn a corner, then feel awful again. I finally felt better when my son was 2.5 years old. And I didn’t suffer from PPD with my next birth a year and a half later because I was looking for it. I knew what my triggers were, what to expect and how to manage it. I was open with our doula and health care team about my fears surrounding it. I think because I took control of it, it didn’t take control of me.
I wish other parents would understand that PPD doesn’t always mean you are sobbing or hate your life or don’t want your baby. Sometimes it looks like screaming uncontrollably and then sinking into a sobbing heap on the ground, or throwing your phone at the wall because you’re so angry at life, without understanding why. PPD and other postpartum mood disorders look different for every person. We need to be more supportive and more compassionate with each other.
— Shannon Moyer-Szemenyei, birth and postpartum doula, London, Ontario
If you or someone you know is suffering from PPD, remember that you’re not alone and help is available. Check out these resources for more support and information: