Mental health issues carry a stigma, but when we break the silence and talk about them openly they become less scary. I may be wrong, but I think if we’re honest, most people struggle with mental health issues to some degree at some point in their lives.
So, what’s the deal with postpartum depression? Why would a new mom, who has just welcomed a bundle of joy into the world, get depressed?
a) postpartum and nursing hormones have thrown her emotions out of whack
b) she hasn’t had more than a 90 minute stretch of sleep in several weeks/months
c) she is socially isolated
d) she has not yet formed an attachment to her newborn, and wonders “who is this helpless creature I’m now spending all my time with?”
e) she spends the vast majority of her day sitting on the couch breastfeeding
f) her body has been severely injured in the process of giving birth
e) she wonders what the f***k has happened to her life
In sum, postpartum depression is understandable. In fact, given all the above, it’s rather remarkable when a new mom doesn’t experience some degree of postpartum depression or anxiety.
For my part, I really struggled with depression and anxiety when my daughter was about 3-5 months old. I think I was coping rather well until then, despite the extreme challenges of caring for a newborn. I won’t go into the details in this post, but you can read my post about it here. Or just read the poem if you prefer.
Around three months I no longer felt like I was coping. In retrospect, several things collided to make things a giant awful mess:
1) I lost my job
2) I lost my health insurance
3) my husband started working longer hours
4) I started taking birth control
Although I had told my doctor that I was concerned about postpartum depression (because I have a history of depression) he told me I’d be fine and prescribed me birth control without warning me that it was associated with postpartum depression. Birth control never seemed to affect my moods in the past, so I thought it would be fine. I had also looked forward to going back to work part-time and reconnecting with the outside world, but I lost my job and with it lost my main link to the world beyond my apartment walls. Losing my health insurance made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to have mental health issues because I couldn’t afford access to treatment. So, it was a hard and scary time — I really began to feel like I was losing my grip.
I got through it by becoming involved in as many activities as possible. The first time I took my four- month-old to a library storytime, I almost broke down in tears because it felt so good to be outside of my apartment and around other moms and babies. That fall we also took baby sign language class, mom and baby yoga, and signed up for MOPS. Mom and baby yoga was a lifeline because it was basically a group therapy session for new moms, followed by some yoga. My husband and I also occasionally invited people over for dinners so I could still feel like I had some sort of social life.
Some facets of attachment parenting really helped me as well. One of the scariest aspects of the depression for me was not feeling much attachment to my child. Wearing her in the Ergo carrier during daily walks was incredibly comforting and helped ease my anxiety. Eventually we ended up co-sleeping too, which we still do (I wouldn’t necessarily endorse it but it definitely helps with attachment).
So that’s an abridged version of my story. Slowly I started feeling better, and at this point life feels pretty normal again. Postpartum depression and anxiety can easily happen to anyone, even if you don’t have a history of depression/anxiety. I strongly recommend all new moms join some sort of support group whether it’s MOPS, postpartum yoga, or a new moms group at the local hospital. Just being able to talk to other women who are going through a similar experience as you should be extremely helpful. Also it’s probably wise to avoid any hormonal forms of birth control.
Did you struggle with depression or anxiety after becoming a mom? How did you cope?