Postpartum depression is one of the hardest topics for me to talk about publicly, because it can take on so many different forms. Every new mama is different, and the idea that I, an untrained professional, can offer words of encouragement to a woman in the throes of PPD seems silly. Nevertheless, after dealing with postpartum depression for the first week of my daughter’s life, I do have a few thoughts I wish I’d known before PPD hit me:
I’ve struggled with panic attacks off and on for years, so I’m well-versed in the depression and anxiety department. So much, in fact, that I’d researched all the warning signs of PPD prior to giving birth, preparing myself for the worst. Yet when my sweet newborn arrived, I was so overcome with hormones, emotions and physical exhaustion, I honestly couldn’t see any of those warning signs I’d poured over just weeks prior.
My postpartum depression, like most, looked different than what I thought was the typical case. You’ve seen the scenario in movies: Mother can’t cope, mother resents baby, mother has suicidal thoughts. For me, PPD looked like love. It looked like transition. It looked like “normal” new motherhood stuff.
And I suppose this is where I write (both as a reminder to myself and advice to you): there is no “normal” postpartum depression. You might hate your baby and want to ignore her entirely. Or, you might love her so much that you have an unnecessary fear of her (like me). You might be overwhelmingly grateful when others offer to babysit, or you might feel incredibly guilty at the thought of leaving your newborn (also like me). You might feel like sleeping the day away, or you might lie awake every night watching your baby, worried that you’ll be a horrible mother (also like me).
Postpartum depression looks different for every new mother, but I do have a few thoughts I wish I’d known:
1. Put yourself first.
You’ve heard the flight attendant say it 100 times: In the event of a disaster, please put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others. As new mothers being presented with an intense responsibility for this helpless being that relies on you to meet their every need? It’s very tempting to forget your oxygen mask entirely.
For me, I thought putting on my oxygen mask meant admitting failure. It meant admitting to friends and family that, no, I can’t come to the door to accept the meal you were so kind to cook for me. It meant forcing myself to understand that, for some women, motherly instincts don’t just “kick in.” It meant allowing my husband to take over caring for the baby while I sought help, rest and comfort.
But in reality, putting on my oxygen mask meant releasing the guilt. It meant understanding that the many emotions I was experiencing had nothing to do with my abilities as a new mother. It meant caring for myself so I could care for my baby.
2. Take a good Vitamin B complex.
After day five of PPD, my husband called my midwife. I’d refused medication because I was nursing (even though there are many relatively safe options) and wanted to research natural alternatives instead. She recommended a good Vitamin B complex (this one is amazing), and after just one dose, my panic attacks ceased entirely. There were still overwhelming moments, of course, but vitamin B was a turning point for me. Paired with a good night’s sleep, morning walks and breathing exercises, I feel worlds better now (six weeks later) and can happily say I’m out of the PPD woods.
And this is where I feel it necessary to write a disclaimer: a Vitamin B complex worked for me. If it doesn’t work for you, find something that does. Whether you choose medication, therapy or natural remedies, please continue to seek treatment until you discover what works. Here is an amazing list of treatment programs.
3. Emotions are natural.
As a new mother, I still have moments where I feel completely, utterly overwhelmed, but I also see a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a strange gray area between a PPD diagnosis and the acceptance that raising a newborn can be incredibly difficult. I wish I’d talked to more mothers who were honest about how hard those first six weeks could be: the endless newborn crying, fussy stages and nursing issues. I wish I was more prepared to accept that I might not enjoy the newborn phase as much as I’d hoped. That I might not enjoy my daughter at first.
But here’s what I think is the difference between new motherhood emotions and PPD:
When I experienced PPD the first week following my daughter’s birth, it felt as if there was a dark, stormy cloud hanging over my head all day long (yep, just like in the cartoons!). Now that I’m no longer experiencing PPD, my perspective has shifted enough to see that my dark cloud is part of a bigger sky – one that we’re all living under, and one that has a bright sun amidst my dark clouds. Some days are stormy and others are sunny. And that, to me, is the difference.
So, to you, new mothers, I offer you a bit of insight from my brief experience as a new mother:
This is going to be very, very hard. But it’s do-able. And the moment it doesn’t feel do-able, check your emotions for PPD symptoms. Because we all deserve to see the sun, even on the cloudy days.
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