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Hi there! I’m Christina, a mom of two littles, a licensed mental health therapist, and a soon-to-be children’s book author! Thanks for checking out my site. Look around! I’m sure there’s something here for you! Read on to learn what postpartum depression and anxiety actually look like.
Disillusioned. Despairing. Dissociated. This was me as a new mom.
You wouldn’t know it by the picture above, but that smiling girl is actually the face of postpartum depression.
It was one of many faces, of course, and that’s the reality of postpartum mood disorders. You do have some positive moments mixed in with the low ones.
When that picture was taken, I was happy. It was a good nursing session (no latch pain, along with a good latch), and my sweet husband captured a real, proud smile. It is a picture that still brings me joy.
My Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Experience
As a new mom, I remember seeing other new parents enjoying the early days of parenthood. They seemed to return quickly to pre-baby activities like cooking, crafting, writing. And I was pleased for them — earnestly pleased.
But seeing them made me reflect upon myself, and I felt upset and envious for my own recovery.
My postpartum experience after the birth of my daughter didn’t look like that of many exhausted but happy first time parents, blissful as they walked through the glowing haze of the newborn stage.
My new motherhood didn’t feel like theirs. Instead it felt rough, jagged. I had wanted to be a mom for as long as I could remember, and yet those first few months were far from the joyous vision I had imagined.
It took me much longer than the two expected weeks of “baby blues” to feel like myself again. The shock of postpartum hemorrhage one week after my daughter’s birth that required a hospital visit didn’t help.
In fact, it took longer than the six weeks of my hormones regulating again.
It even took longer than surviving the “fourth trimester”.
In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve fully recovered, though I am so much better now than I was.
How Common is Postpartum Depression and Anxiety?
Does my story sound familiar to you?
It wouldn’t be surprising if it does. 8 out of 10 moms will experience the “baby blues” in the weeks after delivery.
Beyond that, 1 in 5 women will experience postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA). Some women will even be afflicted by postpartum psychosis.
I believe that the occurrence of postpartum mood disorders is actually higher because it is not only under reported, but under recognized.
New parenthood is all encompassing and emotionally taxing; it is easy to not know if what you are experiencing is normal and temporary, or if it is something more.
Additionally, the symptoms vary from woman to woman, leading those of us who are going through it to not realize what is going on until it’s really bad, or even until we are finally out of the fog.
Then there’s also the fact that we women can be very good at appearing put together to the world. We often do not look like the classic image of depression and anxiety, making it hard even for us to see ourselves honestly.
What are the symptoms of PPD/PPA?
So then, how are we supposed to know if we are experiencing PPD and / or PPA?
Your first step really needs to be listening to your gut.
If you have a nagging feeling that something is wrong — or less specifically even — that something is not quite right, acknowledge it.
Our instinct has a knack for being correct, yet we often rationalize it away.
Please, please, if you aren’t sure if what you are feeling is normal, do something about it.
Write down what’s going on and share it with someone you trust. Talk about it with a loved one. Contact a therapist.
If it does turn out that what you are experiencing is normal, then great! And, no harm, no foul. But if it turns out to be clinical, it will be so good and important that you have reached out.
Symptoms (adapted from the DSM-V, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed., American Psychiatric Association, 2013) to look out for that may be considered clinically significant are:
- Feeling sad, depressed, or hopeless
- Low-level or no sense of pleasure in many, if not all, activities
- A decrease in your interest in things that would usually bring you joy
- Significant weight loss or gain
- High levels of exaggerated guilt
- Feeling like you are on edge, restless, or tense
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Constant worry and anxiety
- Unexplained physical pain
- Having trouble remembering things
- Thoughts of fear that something bad will happen
- Vivid daydreams of terrible things happening to you, your family, or the baby
- Feeling out of control
- Thoughts of harming yourself or others (including the baby)
You may be reading these symptoms, and noticing that you have many of them simply from the big change of having had a baby and the intense sleep deprivation.
You’d be right.
Of course, having a baby is life-changing, but it does not need to be earth-shattering. If you are finding that your symptoms are impairing your ability to function, and that they are persisting without an end in sight, you may be experiencing a clinical problem that needs mental health support.
There is another postpartum disorder that not many people have heard of. It can and does happen, sometimes to a woman who has never previously experienced a mood disorder: Postpartum Psychosis.
It is very scary for the mom going through it, as well as for her family, as this mama may experience delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and / or grossly disorganized behavior.
If you are experiencing any number of the symptoms above, and you are finding the beginning of motherhood to be much harder and emotionally painful than you think is typical, again, please seek support.
You are not alone.
If you are not sure who to speak to, message me! I am here for you and I will help connect you to a resource in your area.
Also, please know that you can and you will feel better. I need you to have hope. Depression and anxiety can be improved by time alone; and you can feel better faster by reaching out.
There is nothing to be ashamed of, you have done nothing wrong, and you have not caused this to happen.
You will find yourself again — she’s still in there.
Reference: American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
A helpful resource is Postpartum Support International
You may also enjoy this post: The Shock of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety with your SECOND child
Christina is the writer behind the blog Real Life Mama. She is a mom two littles, a 4-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. Christina and her family live in San Diego, where she is a full-time mama, part-time mental health therapist (LPCC), and round-the-clock blogger, writer, and author. If she ever gets a moment to herself, she can be found singing at the top of her lungs, cooking, and crafting. Thanks for reading!