After my first son was born, I expected to feel the thrill and joy of being a new mother, totally in love with this new little person. And while I was so thankful for my boy, I found myself feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and distressed a lot of the time. There was so much I didn’t know about being a mother, handling sleep deprivation and finding a new sense of “normal” after having a baby.
The diagnosing of postpartum depression is a little tricky. Technically, it’s not it’s own diagnosis; with peripartum onset is a specifier added to a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and other mental health disorders to clarify that the mood disturbance started either during pregnancy or shortly after the birth of a baby (although many practitioners recognize that it can start within a full year of birth). It affects approximately 1 in 7 women.
- Sluggishness, fatigue
- Feeling sad, hopeless, helpless, or worthless
- Difficulty sleeping/sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating/confusion
- Crying for “no reason”
- Lack of interest in the baby, not feeling bonded to the baby, or feeling very anxious about the baby
- Feelings of being a bad mother
- Fear of harming the baby or oneself
- A loss of interest or pleasure in life
I wasn’t prepared to be experiencing postpartum depression. Even though I’m a counselor and knew the signs to look for, I never thought I would go through it. But shortly after my first son was born, I felt like I was walking around in a heavy darkness. It was difficult to find joy or the energy to be optimistic about my future. I loved my son, but taking care of him was about all I had the energy for. I’m so thankful for my husband, parents and friends who stepped in to remind me of the truth, that this sleepless season was temporary, that I was meant to be this boy’s Mama, and that I was enough for the job. They cooked meals, did the laundry and let me nap. I had good days and bad days.
I was reminded of this verse from Isaiah, and on some of the hard days, it brought hope. I wasn’t experiencing much peace. My mind wasn’t dependent on the Lord. I wasn’t leaning on Him, turning my mind towards Him during the dark of nighttime feedings or the frazzled hours of inconsolable crying. I was allowing my mind to stay focused on those feelings of exhaustion and worry and fear, which only led to more distress. In whom was my trust? In myself? In the wisdom of mommy-blogs and parenting books? I was being led by how I felt, and my feelings were a product of sleep-depravity and a postpartum hormonal roller-coaster. It’s so important to remember that the circumstances surrounding a pregnancy and birth, physically (the physical strain of labor and delivery and hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth and the postpartum period) and emotionally (adjustments to your sense of self and focus in life, the demands of a tiny infant), are what set postpartum depression apart from other experiences with a mood disorder. These things do not last forever. This season is temporary.
If I wanted the perfect peace Isaiah spoke about, I needed to turn my mind to the Lord, trusting and depending on Him in every moment. I needed to tear my focus away from the feelings long enough to breathe in the Word of God, being refreshed by a perspective that wasn’t awash in the stale air of anxiety and exhaustion. I needed to lie down in the green pastures and beside the still waters where He would refresh my soul with His word. These are things that helped me find glimmers of hope during that season of heavy darkness.
After about 10 months of bad days, I made an appointment to discuss my depression with my doctor. Shortly after that, I suddenly (and noticeably) started feeling better. The darkness had lifted, my energy was more steady and predictable, and I felt a distinct hope for the future of our family. This is the mark of the hormonal element in depression. When my postpartum hormonal roller-coaster stopped and my body became more regular, my mental state changed markedly. Because I already had a strong support system and other helpful practices in my life, I believe my recovery was quick once the biological factors were resolved.
Some studies will suggest that if you have a history of mental illness or postpartum depression with one child, then you are more likely to experience it again. But don’t let fear drive you! I was nervous about the possibility of another season of PPD when I learned I was expecting my second. However, a number of things were different this time. We were living in Florida, full of sunshine and the opportunity to be outdoors all winter long (as opposed to Germany with my first). I had made several health changes, including taking Omega 3s and getting chiropractic adjustments throughout my pregnancy and postpartum period. My labor and delivery wasn’t emergent with my second, which allowed for a much better recovery. I was up and able to go for walks in the sun within days, and had no trouble breastfeeding (it was a challenge to get going with my first). We also prepared for it! I had a freezer full of healthy meals and snacks, family support for those early days so I could nap when I needed, and a much larger friend network. I was honest about my fears and needs with my doctor, and she helped me find alternative resources to help, including a local doctor who was certified in Chinese Medicine to encapsulate my placenta. And this time, I didn’t have even the hint of postpartum depression. In fact, my second son had some health issues arise in his infancy that would have been the perfect storm of circumstances to jump-start a depressive episode, but they didn’t. Instead, I was able to peacefully and joyfully navigate becoming a family of four. So if you have PPD with once child, don’t assume you will have it with every child, especially when you take steps to prepare for the physical and emotional transition.
If you think you or someone you love might be dealing with postpartum depression, this article can be a helpful resource to start the conversation. Above all, don’t be afraid to talk about how you feel with your loved ones or a doctor. This is a real experience, and there’s no reason to feel guilty or ashamed for what you’re going through. And being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to this very common, human experience. Developing and using a support system will go a long way in getting you through this season!