Postpartum Depression Looks Like Me
Before pregnancy, and then when I was pregnant with my daughter, postpartum depression often felt to me like a boogeyman. I didn’t want to get PPD, because I was worried that if I did develop it, I would hurt my baby or hurt myself. It was the monster that lurked silently in the background, stigmatized, haunting, devastating. I knew I had a higher risk for it, but I still didn’t think it would happen to me.
I thought I had prepared and done everything I needed to do to get ready to have a baby. I read all the books and articles, had multiple pregnancy tracking apps, took classes offered by my hospital on both birth & baby and breastfeeding, and had a running list of questions to ask my OB at every appointment. My hospital bag was packed and ready at the top of our stairs by the time I was 35 weeks pregnant. I’m a Type A, prepare-for-all-options kind of person. I thought I was prepared, that I was ready, that there wouldn’t be too many surprises.
I was still shocked by my postpartum depression diagnosis. PPD doesn’t look like me. PPD looks like the mom who takes her own life, or harms her child, her image splashed across the evening news, her name ridiculed by social media commentators who don’t understand mental health.
I thought it couldn’t be me. There was nothing more I wanted than this precious baby girl I now had. How could I be depressed right now?
The thing is, postpartum depression (and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis) don’t discriminate. They don’t care if you thought you prepared for anything, or that you desperately wanted your baby, or that you don’t have a history of mental illness. There are people who are at higher risk, and some that have no risk factors and still develop it. It’s not your fault, and there’s nothing you did or didn’t do that caused it.
And the thing is, postpartum depression does look like me.
If you know 7 moms, or 3 moms of color, or 10 dads, you know someone who has been affected by a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.
Postpartum depression looks like me. And your sister. And your friend. And your college roommate. And your neighbor.
Because postpartum depression doesn’t look just like harming yourself or your baby. It can also look like anger, or not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much. It can look like feeling numb, or not being able to eat because food just doesn’t taste good anymore. It can look like not being interested in your baby, or not being interested in things that you used to enjoy (I’m a bookworm, and always have been. I didn’t pick up my Kindle or a book for MONTHS after my daughter was born, and until I had started treatment for PPD). It can look like feelings of guilt, and shame (“I shouldn’t be depressed right now, because this should be the happiest time of my life”), and hopelessness (“I just can’t do this anymore”). It can look like intrusive thoughts of falling down the stairs while holding your newborn, or running away and not coming back because you feel like you’re a failure of a mother and a burden to your husband.
We do so many parents a disservice by not showing them what postpartum depression looks like. If they only think the symptoms are self-harm or infanticide, they won’t catch the other symptoms, too. We need to lift the stigma that keeps parents silent and suffering, because they think they shouldn’t feel the way they do. Having a baby is hard. Yes, there’s a lot of joy, but there’s also a lot of upheaval and struggle, too. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it.
You’re not alone. Postpartum depression looks like me, and probably like a lot of people you know, too. It’s okay to ask for help. Because you can feel better.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, call or text the at National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. If you are experiencing a crisis, you can call 911, proceed to your nearest emergency room, or text HOME to 741741. If you are not experiencing suicidal thoughts but still need to talk to someone, call or text HELP to Postpartum Support International’s HelpLine at 800-944-4773.