What is postpartum depression? If you’re the spouse, partner, parent, sibling, friend, or coworker of a new mom, listen up; this part is for you.
Do you remember that scary movie that basically derailed your entire childhood? Everyone has one. What was yours?
The one that really did me in was The Exorcist.
I didn’t even watch the whole thing. I’m pretty sure I just happened to catch a glimpse of it at a sleepover.
Girl was spinnin’ her head around and projectile vomiting on people, and that’s all it took to destroy my poor, delicate, innocent little kid brain. It was years before I could even look at the DVD cover.
Do you remember what that fear felt like? How it consumed you? How it infiltrated your thoughts, no matter how hard you tried to push it out?
It was too hard to explain those feelings, and when you tried, it felt like no one really understood just how scared you really were. You knew the fear was irrational, but it was so overwhelming and real that you couldn’t reason with it. Eventually, it started to fade, but just as you thought it was over, a trigger would spark the fear all over again.
Well, that is exactly what living with PPD is like.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the technical definition of PPD is “a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion …”
And on a scientific level, according to the same source, “After childbirth, the levels of hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in a woman’s body quickly drop. This leads to chemical changes in her brain that may trigger mood swings.”
But if you want the real definition of postpartum depression, you have to ask the mamas.
What the experts don’t tell you is that PPD is far more complex than irregular hormone levels and brain chemicals. PPD does not abide by a list of symptoms; every mother affected gets her own customized list.
I gathered data from dozens of real moms who were willing to open up about their battle with postpartum anxiety and depression. What I found was how many different ways moms struggle with PPD, as well as how many moms share the same triggers or symptoms.
CDC research shows that as many as 1 in 5 women are affected by PPD.
To bring awareness to maternal mental health, and to help any new mom who may be experiencing similar battles feel less alone in her PPD, here are some of the struggles that moms with postpartum anxiety and depression face.
1. Fear of Germs
“I just want to keep mine in bubbles! Kids can be so ruthless, and I don’t want her to get hurt! I also worry when they are even slightly sick. My oldest ended up in the ER at 2 weeks old for influenza A, and we were admitted for 24 hours. The thought of not knowing what is wrong, if they are in pain, is absolutely terrifying! I don’t want to be the mom that goes to the doctor at the first sign of a cold, but I also don’t want to wait and see what it could turn into.”
2. Sleep Deprivation
“I had postpartum anxiety/depression really bad with my first. I couldn’t sleep at night for fear of SIDS, but during the day I wanted nothing to do with my baby. I was so stressed, but any time he cried, I panicked. I never left the house, because I feared he would get sick and die.”
3. Pressure to Perform
“I had horrible anxiety over being super mom and being able to accomplish daily tasks. I would feel like a failure and cry, and felt like I was being judged if I didn’t get something done like laundry or grocery shopping.”
“I got constant reminders from my mom of what I still needed to accomplish in life. Then I had other people nagging at me that I was doing things wrong.”
5. The Way It Just Pops Up
“I never had postpartum anxiety until after my 3rd baby. Then it popped up out of nowhere. I had an irrational and debilitating fear of SIDS so I hardly slept, but then I was exhausted and my brain just went into overdrive. It eventually affected all aspects of my life. Anxiety over my older children and everything they did left me in complete fear all the time. I didn’t speak about it until my baby was 15 months old, but finally I couldn’t take it anymore and got put on medication.”
6. The Sound of Baby Cries
“For me, the biggest trigger was babies crying. Right when I would hear my kids start crying I would freak out and have a panic attack and would want to scream. It was nuts. It’s finally started to simmer down and I’m 9 months postpartum.”
7. Being Left Alone
“My trigger was when I was left alone, even though I know I’m fully capable of taking care of my kids. I would panic. My heart raced. I would uncontrollably cry and worry about shit I know would be fine.”
8. Sunset and Nighttime
“My postpartum anxiety trigger is nighttime. 6pm-7pm rolls around and I’m a mess.”
9. Feeling Ashamed to Ask for Help
“My anxiety was constant and not really triggered by anything. I felt like I should’ve been able to take care of my baby by myself, and felt a lot of pressure to not ask for help. When people did offer help, I felt I’d failed as a mom.”
10. Fearing the Worst
“It’s when I’m alone with him. When my husband leaves for a longer period of time than, like, the grocery store, I feel so much anxiety. I wonder if he’s breathing normal, is his little body okay, is he happy? What if he dies all of a sudden? Also leaving him home with my husband and going to do something on my own. I usually end up crying in my car, not because I’m worried about him being with my husband, but because it feels like I’m doing something wrong by leaving him or like a piece of me is missing.”
11. Feeling Crowded
“People spending too much time at my house after my daughter was born. I would get sick to my stomach and cry for hours.”
12. Physical Exhaustion
“For me, it’s thinking about my body and how I’m not really in control of it. It makes every day challenging. Some days I can’t even drive. Emotionally I go through feelings of fear and sadness. Physically, my senses are overwhelmed and tired.”
13. Having to Feel in Control
“Having to be on my game 24/7 because nobody else knows my kid like I do. It makes me tired and sad that I waste so much time worrying instead of being present and happy. Emotionally, it’s draining. It feels like Mentos in Coke with the cap screwed on tight.”
14. Uncontrollable Crying
“The first week we brought our daughter home I cried over everything. I feel like I’m constantly in a terrible mood. Someone could tell me the best news ever and I’d still cry.”
15. Always Anxious
“I have terrible postpartum anxiety. Being away from my son (even just being in a different room) is the big one, but driving, and uncleanliness really triggers it too. It has gotten better with time, I’m nine months postpartum now, but I still have pretty awful anxiety attacks because of it on occasion.”
Can you relate to any of these struggles?
What triggers your PPD? Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Send this to your spouse, partner, parent, sibling, or friend to help them better understand your battle with your postpartum mental health.