Plus, resources to help you feel like yourself again
It was the middle of March. Flowers were blooming, my favorite season was around the corner and I just had my first baby girl. I expected it to be the happiest time of my life. Instead, I found myself pacing the bedroom, wringing my hands, wanting to crawl out of my own skin and praying to not wake up.
Editor’s note: This column is the first in a 12-month series on family mental wellness, written by local experts on topics pertinent to parents and children. Columnists include Truong, Dr. Erica Faulconer, pediatrician with Northwest Pediatrics and mom of three; and Stacey Johnson, LPC, (@staceyjohnsonlife) in private practice at The Purple Couch, owner of Studio 7 and mom of eight.
I was completely blind-sided by postpartum depression. I was excited to be a mom. I always loved kids and looked forward to the novel and fulfilling experience of raising my own baby girl. I even had a friend prophetically tell me to watch out for postpartum depression, but I laughed her off. I thought postpartum depression happened to other moms, definitely not me.
But there I was, several days after bringing my daughter home, finding myself unrecognizable. I felt like I had completely lost myself. I felt an additional layer of shame because I am a therapist. Shouldn’t I be immune to being stuck in such a dark, hollow space in my mental health? Apparently not.
Being aware of the most common symptoms of postpartum depression can help you recognize them in yourself, or others, and realize you aren’t alone. These are symptoms I’ve experienced and also seen in almost all the moms I’ve had the privilege to work with over the past three years. The sooner you or your loved ones can recognize the symptoms, the faster you can get the right help to get better.
We hear so much about depression in postpartum women. We expect moms struggling with postpartum depression to be sad and disengaged. However, anxiety is actually the most common symptom in postpartum women. You may find yourself feeling restless, tense and on edge, frightened about your new motherhood role and frequently worried about your baby’s well-being. You may also struggle with sleeping when your baby sleeps because you are consumed with worry about your baby. Anxiety in postpartum women can often come with intrusive thoughts, which are scary thoughts or images of bad things happening to your baby. While these images can be terrifying, they are completely treatable.
Sadness and loss of pleasure.
Many moms find themselves feeling sad, down and tearful after having their baby. Women I work with say “I don’t feel like myself” or “I don’t know who I am anymore.” They may not have realized how lonely motherhood can feel, and life can become bleak and gray in the midst of their exhaustion. Moms can also be surprised by the grief they feel: grief over their old life, when things were easier, when they had sleep, when they could get up and go when they wanted to, when they could just go to the bathroom when they needed to. Those simple actions become a luxury after having your baby. Then moms often end up feeling guilty for not being joyful at all times, as society tells us we should feel after having our baby.
Discouragement and hopelessness.
Moms can get to the point of feeling discouraged about their ability to “make it” and hopeless about the future. Every little thing feels overwhelming and moms may fear they’ll never feel like themselves again. The danger of this symptom is that it can lead to suicidal thoughts. Moms often don’t have an active plan to end their life, but when you’re suffering, it could seem like a relief to not wake up or exist another day. Moms may feel like a burden to their loved ones, believing their family would be better off without them. Please seek immediate professional help if you’re finding yourself having passive or active suicidal thoughts, and remember, they are also completely treatable.
Irritability and anger.
When you’re already overwhelmed it doesn’t take much to make you irritable and angry. This seems to be the forbidden emotion for women. “Good moms” and women “shouldn’t” feel angry or resentful toward their baby, partner or other loved ones. Moms may feel angry at themselves for not always being calm, kind and gentle with loved ones. The truth is, I haven’t worked with a mom yet who didn’t find herself having moments of irritability! Anger is often trying to clue us in to a desperate need for relief and support during this challenging transition.
Loss of self-esteem or feeling worthless.
It is painfully devastating when you care so much about being the best mom you can be but end up feeling like the worst. They may feel inferior to other moms and like their baby would be better off with someone else. It’s hard for them to recognize their own hard work, and labels like “bad mom” or “failure” overtake their identity.
If you have two or more of these symptoms and it’s been more than two weeks since you’ve had your baby, you may be experiencing postpartum depression and/or anxiety and could benefit from getting help. It can be hard to believe in the middle of your struggle, but you will get better by taking active steps forward, either self-help work or seeking professional help. Find resources at metrofamilymagazine.com/
Thai-An Truong, LPC, LADC is a postpartum therapist and mother of two who is passionate about helping pregnant and postpartum women overcome depression and anxiety. She has overcome her own battle with postpartum depression and anxiety and loves helping moms work to feel like themselves again so they can enjoy life with their baby and family. To learn more about her and her counseling services, visit www.lastingchangetherapy.com.