“I’m Probably Just Crazy, But … I Just Had a Baby and I’m Not Ok.”
Written by: Leah Bush
TW: Mentions of postpartum depression
I was 24 when I had my first child. My husband and I knew we both wanted kids from the time we first started dating, but this was a total surprise. However, the shock of having our life plans disrupted was quickly replaced with the excitement of anticipating this baby’s arrival. He was born in the middle of December, and we got out of the hospital just in time to spend our first Christmas together at home as a family. Our baby boy was healthy and happy. My husband was exhausted but contentedly enthralled by those tiny hands and feet and beautiful blue eyes.
And I was not ok.
I remember looking at this infant, reasoning with myself that I had wanted this. I had wanted motherhood my whole life. And I loved him, right? I love him because he is my child, and that’s what good moms do. I knew all of these things, but instead of feeling like they were coming from within - it was like someone was angrily yelling them at me from another room. Echos of what I “should” be.
In reality, all I felt was sadness, fatigue, and resentment that this thing needed me when I could barely get out of bed. My home felt like a cave that I had trapped myself in. I constantly berated myself because I must be the worst type of person for feeling anything but joy and love and wholeness. I felt so alone and I just knew that this would never end.
After about six or seven months, I started to feel better. I liked ... no, I LOVED, my son. And I relished all of his milestones and sounds and cuddles. I felt like, well, me again. Just with a kid strapped to me in a Baby Bjorn.
I mentioned how terrible those first months were to a friend of mine who was also a young mom.
“Do you think you had postpartum depression?” she asked.
I remember thinking, mouth wide open, “Oh….yeah. That makes total sense.”
But I never realized it in myself as it occurred, even as a medical professional. I had written myself off as lazy, sleep deprived, and selfish for not adjusting well to motherhood. I was afraid to admit to myself or to anyone else that maybe something was wrong. Because who wants to tell anyone that you’re feeling like you have already failed as a mother before you even really got started?
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a medical condition that affects mothers after they give birth. It affects one in seven postpartum patients. It is likely related to the massive changes in hormones after giving birth in addition to sleep deprivation and other profound lifestyle changes that come with caring for an infant. It’s important to remember that our bodies cannot differentiate between good stress and bad stress.
Anyone who’s ever given birth and brought home a newborn can tell you - it’s stressful. Mentally, we understand that the stress is for a good reason and we accept it as part of a rewarding trade-off. But stress is stress - and sometimes it triggers a reaction that we wouldn’t expect. And since we didn’t expect it, we often can’t recognize it. Neither can those around us.
As many as 50% of PPD patients go undiagnosed due to a variety of reasons, but stigma related to mental illness is the major factor. If it goes untreated, it can lead to chronic depressive disorder, poor parent-infant attachment with potential for neglect, and self-harm including suicide. Tragically, maternal suicide is one of the leading causes of death within the first year of childbirth.
So, how can I recognize this in myself or someone I care about?
The signs and symptoms of PPD are the same as general depression, just with the added stressors and the events of pregnancy and childbirth.
Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
Loss of interest and pleasure in activities
Change in sleep patterns
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
If you are experiencing these symptoms, please speak to your healthcare provider. As medical professionals, we are here to help with this. There is no judgment, and we want you to feel like you again.
After I gave birth to my third child, I started sensing these feelings creeping in again. I knew what it was, and I knew that I did not want to go back to the dark place. Even still, when I admitted my feelings to my OB, I felt embarrassed and started crying. She reassured me and said,
“You are not a failure or a bad mom for having these feelings. In fact, asking for help now is going to help you be the best mom you can be. I am thankful you are talking to me about this.”
I am thankful for the support I had from my family and my OB, but not everyone has that. As a community, we can be supportive by changing the stigma around mental illness, particularly mental illness regarding motherhood. Mental health has been talked about much more openly in recent years, but it is still stigmatized in many communities. It's important that we normalize discussing these issues.
And if you have friends or family who exhibit these symptoms, talk to them. Let them know that they aren’t a bad parent and they aren’t failing their child. We aren’t all Instagram moms out here, and sometimes, the postpartum period is TERRIBLE. They are not alone. There is help, and they are not defined by their diagnosis. The sooner we raise awareness about PPD and openly discuss it, the sooner we can offer real help and effective treatment.
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