We've all known women who've had it rough after having a baby. Maybe we are those women. But about 15 percent will deal with something more. They'll deal with postpartum depression.
Beth Anne of Raleigh, North Carolina felt very capable for several weeks after her son was born. Then he spent the next four months crying. Beth Anne sank into despair.
"I wanted to snap out of it. I went out with girlfriends, had date nights with my husband and bought a few new outfits. I had everything that should equal a perfect life. And I still was not happy. I felt like a failure."
Lily from Alberta, Canada lay welcoming a baby in her arms a few hours after he was born. She was devastated when nurses ran in to take him, apologizing for bringing her the wrong one.
"When they did show up with my baby I was still feeling so guilty that as a mother I wouldn't even know my own child. Then as they put him in my arms, I looked down at him and I felt NOTHING. He looked up at me and started to cry but the crying sounded more like growling, and I felt more distant from him than ever."
Katherine Stone is founder of Postpartum Progress, a blog for and by women dealing with PPD. Stone expected to handle the transition to motherhood. But the adjustment didn't happen.
"I cried over everything, and I was convinced for some reason that my son wouldn't love me.Then, at about seven weeks postpartum I started having intrusive thoughts like 'what if I drop my son down the stairs?' or 'what if I drown him in the bathtub?' These thoughts freaked me out, as you might imagine, and at that point I was convinced I'd gone crazy."
In the midst of depression you may fear that you're not a good person, that you're weak. You "should" be able to handle it all.
But many physiological factors are involved here.
After the birth, your hormone levels change dramatically. Blood pressure and volume are affected. Your immune system and metabolism undergoes major readjustment.
Very little is as it was.
If you've lost your appetite and your libido, you could have postpartum depression.
If you're ashamed or angry all the time, if your mood swings like a pendulum, it could be postpartum depression.
If you're having thoughts about hurting your baby or yourself, consider postpartum depression.
Without treatment, PPD can be prolonged. See your doctor if conditions continue longer than two weeks.
Beth Anne loved her son, yet blamed him for her feelings of worthlessness. This stirred up greater guilt.
Convinced he'd be better off without her, she found herself googling adoption agencies. That shook her up.
She contacted her OB/GYN, who diagnosed postpartum depression.
Such a diagnosis is overwhelming but it's also a step toward recovery.
Unable to sleep or eat, Stone tried to ignore her terrifying thoughts and feelings. "When you are in a place like that it's pretty much impossible to see how you'll ever get out of it. Then there's also shame and guilt, and a feeling of being completely alone because you are sure there is no one else out there who can possibly be as messed up as you. That's not true of course, but that's how it feels."
Eventually Stone sought help. "I went to see a therapist, who helped me see that I had a postpartum mental illness called postpartum OCD and that she could help me get through it."
Some women with mild symptoms benefit from therapy sessions. Others with severe symptoms become unable to function and may need medication.
Beth Anne saw a psychiatrist and took antidepressants. But her depression deepened, and she ended up in a postpartum psychiatry ward.
She switched psychiatrists and changed medications. Life began to turn around.
Beth Anne appreciates her support network. "My husband has been incredibly supportive and understanding. And thankfully, we live near my parents, who have been instrumental in helping. The blogging community has really wrapped its arms around me as well, offering me daily support through my blog, through emails. The power of strangers caring and praying is a heady thing."
Stone's life improved after getting help, and her friends and family pitched in. "My mother watched my son whenever I needed to go to therapy sessions. My husband would help feed him at night so that I could get more sleep. They all wanted me to get better and I know that their support helped that process along."
For women without such support, help is available through their doctors, through mental health professionals, through support groups and the online community. "That is why we need more support groups and more services so that we can assist them in making it through, even if their families or friends won't," Stone said.
Lily didn't have the type of support Stone and Beth Anne leaned upon. A couple of months after her baby was born, Lily told her doctor she was considering suicide.
"He said it was due to a lack of sleep and gave me (the woman who said she wanted to commit suicide) a complimentary bottle of sleeping pills and sent me home," Lily said. She later went to the hospital ER, told them about the pills and that she planned to use them. They took her to the psychiatric unit.
"I felt anxious and exhausted. I felt like I was grieving all the time. I was weepy with a deep empty feeling. Hopeless. My body and brain refused to relax. I couldn't read a book, write a list, or take a nap. I felt numb and very alone. I felt like someone who was stuck in a maze with no way out," Lily said.
"I was in a new city. In hindsight I might have had a way out, except for the fact that when others were around I forced myself to act as though everything was alright so that they wouldn't be disappointed in me and try to take my kids away."
Do you have PPD? Stone encourages you to face it head-on.
"I would say that PPD and related mental illnesses are not something you can ignore. If you have symptoms while pregnant, or you have them after two weeks postpartum and they are bad enough to impact your ability to function on a daily basis, you need to call your doctor. It's the best gift you can give to both yourself and your baby. Also, don't be afraid. You will not be like this forever. You simply have an illness, and it's not your fault that you have it. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are temporary and treatable."
Lily is reassuring. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. If you're feeling sad or hopeless tell somebody, anybody. The best thing you can do for yourself -- and your new baby especially -- is to go for help. If the first doctor doesn't hear you, see someone else. There is hope. It isn't an instant fix -- be patient with yourself. Accept help, like babysitters and meals. You're not alone. This happens to more people than you know. Cry when you feel like crying. Pace yourself. And if the medications aren't working, don't pretend they are, especially if you're feeling more suicidal. Some drugs can do that."
Beth Anne offers this counsel. "My advice to women that are suffering is to hang on. I know that it feels hopeless now -- my God, do I know. I know what it feels like to be stripped raw, down to your emotional core until you feel that you have nothing left to give. But I promise that you will beat this. You are worthy and strong and enough for your child. And please seek help. You are not weak for admitting that you have postpartum depression. On the contrary, you are a strong, good mother for wanting better for yourself and your family."
Stone issues an open invitation to anyone experiencing postpartum depression. "If you're not sure how to get help, or want to learn more, please visit Postpartum Support International at www.postpartum.net or visit me at Postpartum Progress at www.postpartumprogress.com. There are lots of people out there who understand what you are going through and are ready and willing to help."
eMedicine: Postpartum Depression