Having a baby is stressful. Very stressful. Of course, it is also a beautiful time, a joyful time, and an amazing time, but the truth is the early days of motherhood are difficult.
They are inexplicably difficult. I cannot tell you how many days sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, and new mommy frustrations brought me to my knees — reducing me to a blurry-eyed, teary-eyed, incoherent mess.
Make no mistake: I knew motherhood would be tough. I knew it was going to be thankless and selfless, tiring, taxing, exacting, and demanding, and I knew motherhood would ask more of me than I could ever imagine. Physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. But I wasn’t prepared for the sadness or the anger. I wasn’t prepared for the contempt, the anxiety, or the tears, and I didn’t know childbirth could make me bitter and resentful.
I mean, I wanted nothing more than to have a child. I couldn’t wait to meet my beautiful baby girl.
Unfortunately, shortly after my daughter’s birth, I knew something was off. Something was wrong. Because that instant connection I was told I would feel? That overwhelming and boundless love, that “I didn’t know I could love like this” love? Yeah, it wasn’t there. Instead, I felt empty. I felt numb, and I felt as though I had just been handed someone else’s baby.
The slimy, wriggling newborn on my chest felt strange and foreign.
Of course, that — in and of itself — should have been a red flag. A sign of things to come. But I ignored it. I choked my feelings up to hormones, stress, and exhaustion — sheer-fucking exhaustion (Because labor, 34 full hours or labor). But our bond didn’t get better. I didn’t get better, and the chasm between me and my baby only grew.
In the days, weeks, and months that followed, the bitterness, sadness, and anger became overwhelming. But that was because I had postpartum depression — untreated and yet-to-be diagnosed postpartum depression. So how do you know if your feelings, tears, and fears are “normal” or if they are the result of something deeper, something darker, something “more”?
What is the difference between postpartum depression (PPD) and the baby blues?
Well, the good news is the latter — the baby blues — are short term. Very short term. In fact, the baby blues usually last less than two weeks and almost always resolve on their own. Unfortunately, for those two weeks you may feel sad and frustrated, angry and overwhelmed, eager to escape and anxious about your new life. However, the difference between these feelings and those associated with PPD is that, with reassurance, anxiety will decrease. With time (and experience), one’s parental confidence will increase, and the desire to escape? It will wane when your baby is soothed, when you get a “break,” or when you finally get some sleep.
That said, it can be hard to differentiate the baby blues from postpartum depression, especially early on, because on paper, they appear so similar. In fact, according to HelpGuide.org, “postpartum depression and the baby blues share many symptoms, including mood swings, crying jags, sadness, insomnia, and irritability.” And these similarities are precisely why it took me so long to get help.
I was a new mom, a first-time mom, and I was just struggling to get it together. I just needed time to get things together. Unfortunately, waiting didn’t make things better, waiting didn’t make me feel better, and waiting nearly cost me my life.
Of course, crying and moodiness are not the only symptoms of PPD. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, postpartum depression can present itself in a variety of ways including, but not limited to:
– Depressed mood or severe mood swings
– Excessive crying
– Difficulty bonding with your baby
– Withdrawing from family and friends
– Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
– Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
– Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
– Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
– Intense irritability and anger
– Fear that you’re not a good mother
– Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
– Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
– Severe anxiety and panic attacks
– Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
– Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
If you experience any of these symptoms for two weeks or more, reach out. Get help.
You deserve help.
That said, every woman’s experience is different. Every mother’s experience is different, and while my PPD was punctuated by bouts of crying and of red-hot rage — while I experienced death fixations and had suicidal ideations — not all women who have had (or will have) postpartum depression will feel as I felt.
The presence or lack of one symptom does not dictate whether or not you have PPD.
However, if your thoughts are intrusive; if your feelings are overwhelming; if your moods are interfering with your ability to care for yourself, your baby, or other daily tasks; and/or you just feel “off,” get help. There is no guilt in asking for help. There is no shame in getting help, and it is always better to air on the side of caution.
If you think you might be suffering from PPD or depression, or need some extra support, there is help. For a list of resources, click here.