I came across a social media post last week by Chrissy Tiegen in which she shared her partnership with Allegheny Health Network focused on increasing awareness of postpartum depression during the month of May, Maternal Mental Health Month.
In her post, Tiegen shares that more than 500,000 women, or 1 in 7, will suffer from postpartum depression each year, but only 15% of women experiencing this or other perinatal mood disorders, such as postpartum anxiety and postpartum bipolar disorder, will seek help. This is likely due to the stigma surrounding mental health and/or lack of knowledge about these disorders.
I’m choosing to share more about postpartum depression and anxiety because this is something I am currently dealing with. I never imagined this would be my struggle, yet here I am.
About a month or so after giving birth, I knew that something was off, but I felt connected to my baby and I had no thoughts of harming myself so I didn’t think I was experiencing postpartum depression. I didn’t understand that the signs and symptoms of the condition were more than that.
Our pediatrician asked me how I was doing at all of Skylar’s initial doctor visits. In the first few weeks, I felt fine, but after about one month I started feeling more tired and overwhelmed. Even though I felt this way, I didn’t really admit it to anyone. Every time someone asked how I was doing I said I was fine, even when I wasn’t.
I did the screening assessment for postpartum depression at my 6 week postpartum visit and again at Skylar’s two month visit. If I’m truthful, I may not have answered the questions with 100% honesty. Again, I felt connected to my daughter and I didn’t want to hurt myself. I continued to assume that the way I was feeling was a normal part of life with a newborn. I wasn’t aware of the other ways postpartum depression could present itself. I also feared what it would mean to have postpartum depression. Did it mean that I was weak? A bad mother? Incapable of handling my responsibility? I felt ashamed.
I have learned that the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders are often mistaken as normal feelings that occur with caring for a new baby. Understanding the signs and symptoms is important because perinatal mood disorders can impact the entire family and if not treated can get worse or last much longer.
Common Signs of Postpartum Depression
- Loss of pleasure or interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Feelings of sadness
- Change in appetite
- Feeling guilty about not being a good enough mother
- Irritability and anger
- Mood swings
- Lack of focus or feeling that you don’t care about anything
- Struggling to connect with your baby
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Feeling like a whole different person
- Thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby
Another common perinatal mood disorder that isn’t discussed as often is postpartum anxiety. It is estimated that about 10% of moms will experience postpartum anxiety, but there are likely more that suffer in silence.
Common Signs of Postpartum Anxiety
- Constantly feeling on edge
- Racing or irrational thoughts
- Excessive worry
- Rapid heartbeat
- Lack of focus
- Muscle tension
As I read about the common signs of these conditions, I realized that there was more to postpartum depression than a lack of connection with my baby or thoughts of self harm. I was oblivious to all the other signs. Based on what I read, I realized that I might be struggling with both postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety in some form.
Some signs I have experienced are:
- Feelings of sadness, sometimes crying for no reason
- Mood swings
- Lack of focus/feeling like I don’t care about anything
- Feeling like a different person
- Feeling on edge
- Irrational thoughts
- Muscle tension
The weekend before I went back to work at 6 weeks postpartum, I had a mild anxiety attack. I remember nursing my baby and having to wake my husband to take her because I started to tense up and shake out of nowhere. My heart felt like it was racing and I couldn’t control my body. The only thing I could think to do was lay in bed and try deep breathing to settle myself. I ended up falling asleep and when I woke, I felt a little more relaxed, but my body ached the rest of the day. It was such a weird experience and I couldn’t identify why it happened. Looking back, I suspect that days of anxious thoughts and worry about returning to work may have been the trigger.
I went back to my OBGYN office around 9 weeks postpartum for a visit unrelated to postpartum depression, but I talked to the nurse practitioner about the symptoms I was experiencing. I did the screening assessment again and my score indicated postpartum depression. The NP discussed treatment options with me including therapy and medication. I decided to try therapy first.
In the last few weeks, the biggest step for me has been acknowledging that I’m not okay. I’ve had highs and lows, good days and not so good days. I am taking it one day at a time.
Writing this post has been one of the hardest things I’ve done in a while. I went back and forth about whether I would share it. What I’ve learned recently is the power of vulnerability and the importance of sharing your story because you never know the impact it will have. I’ve been encouraged by others sharing their stories. They have helped me realize I’m not alone and that there is hope. I pray my story helps someone else know that it’s okay to not be okay. Embrace how you feel. Share your struggle with others. Seek help. Most importantly, remember things will get better. I believe now more than ever that there’s a purpose in our pain and I’m hopeful that I will find mine as I work toward becoming healthy.
For more info about postpartum depression and anxiety and to hear other women’s stories visit http://www.mywishformoms.org and follow the hashtag #MyWishForMoms on Instagram.