Anyone who knows me is probably going to be extremely surprised to hear this: I silently suffered with postpartum depression and anxiety… twice.
For those around me, I’m sure they would say I am typically a positive and happy person, always chatting up new moms at the park and organizing play dates and activities with friends. I get to stay home with my two boys and work whenever I want, and I have an extremely supportive husband.
But that’s the thing about perinatal mood disorders (classified as from the time of conception through the first year of the infant’s life) — they don’t care what kind of person you are.
They don’t care if you work or stay home, are single or married, live in the city or suburbs, eat straight organic or hide in the pantry and shovel M&Ms in your mouth so fast you can’t breathe (just me?). These mood disorders can, and do, happen to anyone and it is crucial we start talking about it.
Having experienced severe anxiety with some depression at the beginning of my first pregnancy, I was highly aware that I was more at risk for postpartum depression and made sure I was educated about the signs in case I needed to get help.
After my second child was born, I was pleasantly surprised with how well I felt. Sure, I had the wild hormonal mood swings the first few days, but then it was smooth sailing. It was hard adjusting to two kids, and dealing with sleep deprivation again, and seeing my son try to navigate the sudden addition of a sibling, but I didn’t feel sad or anxious at all. After a month or so of this continued feeling, I figured I was in the clear.
Around the second month was when the anger started. About everything. And everyone. I would be fine one moment and then the next feel an almost scary sense of rage, lashing out at my husband for not unloading the dishwasher, or yelling at my toddler for being too slow to get out of the car.
This was definitely not me. I was always so calm and patient. I hated yelling and barely ever raised my voice. I knew this rage wasn’t right and I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t control it. If I didn’t yell, the rage boiled inside of me to the point that I would want to go upstairs and scream or hit my mattress. What?? Hit my mattress?! This definitely wasn’t me.
Then, as if the rage wasn’t enough, the extreme overwhelm crept in. Small tasks that should have seemed easy enough would send me into a huge panic. Every other day I needed to give both boys a bath, and from the second I woke up in the morning I would be so overwhelmed with the idea of that one task. Even if I had nothing else to do the entire day, the thought of having to give two children a bath was almost more than I could handle.
I started wondering if maybe I wasn’t doing so well and that I had some kind of postpartum depression or anxiety. But the thing that so confused me was that I wasn’t sad, or crying, or hopeless. I was angry. And it turns out I’m not alone.
According to research by the CDC, as many as 1 in 5 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. Some of these common symptoms include: loss of energy; lasting sad or empty mood; feelings of guilt or worthlessness; loss of interest in hobbies and activities; and problems concentrating. Apparently, as found in a recent study, anger is actually fairly common in postpartum depression or anxiety, but it is often overlooked.
I thought I knew what to expect — I had suffered through debilitating anxiety during my first pregnancy, I had experienced what the beginnings of depression can do, and I had felt extreme postpartum anxiety after my first son was born. I thought that I knew what it all looked like and would be able to recognize it if it happened again. I was even going to a therapist throughout all of this for lifelong anxiety so I was confident I would catch anything out of whack. It turns out that mood disorders can look entirely different during and after each pregnancy.
So I met with my doctor and got on antidepressants and within a week, the rage almost completely disappeared. Now I’m not writing this to say that if you have these feelings of rage that you need, or should automatically turn to, antidepressants; each person and situation is too unique for a one-size-fits-all solution.
I wanted to share this journey because I know how many mothers are probably going through the exact same thing but are too ashamed/embarrassed/confused/tired/guilty to get help. Or, like me, you don’t even know what is happening to you — but you know it doesn’t feel normal.
So, mamas, I am here to tell you that maternal mental health matters. Having a healthy mama is SO important not only for yourself, but for your kids, and your family, and your friends, and your community. If any part of my story rings true to you, I encourage you to meet with a health professional that is familiar with treating perinatal mood disorders.
Over the course of that first week on medicine, I started yelling less and having more patience and smiles for my toddler and I could see a huge shift in him. He was more playful and he wanted to be around me more. He joked with me again and gave me kisses just because. My husband felt like he had his wife back, and me… well, I wasn’t afraid of the angry person I was becoming anymore. I felt good again. I felt happy again.
Motherhood is hard. Motherhood with a mood disorder is even harder. Don’t suffer alone or wait too long thinking it might just get better on its own. Or if you take more supplements. Or eat healthier. Or exercise more. Or have more girls’ nights. Or use better self-care. Those things may help some people, and should definitely be part of your mental health arsenal, but sometimes they are not enough. And that’s okay.
Therapy, coping skills, lifestyle changes, and medicine are all there to support you because if mom is happy, everyone … might still whine a lot and ask the same question a million times and forget to replace the toilet paper roll. But they’ll be happy, too.