I never thought I would suffer from postpartum depression. To be honest, I never understood it. How could a new mother not feel a connection to her precious bundle of joy? How could she feel down when surrounded by so much joy? How could thoughts of hurting herself or her family ever cross her mind? Mothers whose minds are flooded with such thoughts must be horrible people, right? Wrong. You know what else is wrong? Postpartum depression doesn’t always look like this. Mine didn’t. The problem is, since my symptoms weren’t this extreme, nobody asked if I needed help.
At my 6 week postpartum appointment, the nurse checked my weight, blood pressure, and ooh-ed and ah-ed over my newborn. She then said (not asked), “No baby blues, right.” Before I could respond, I saw her write down my response for me. She focussed her time on congratulating me on returning to my pre-baby weight so quickly and asking questions about my beautiful new baby. I then saw my doctor, who not once brought up any conversation of postpartum depression. He quickly examined me, asked a few routine questions, and mentioned how great I looked for just having a baby.
A lot of assumptions were made during that first visit. Both the doctor and the nurse assumed that because I had lost all of the baby weight, that everything was hunky dory.
Fast forward a few months, it was time for my annual OBGYN appointment. The time between the two appointments had been difficult. Now let me preface by saying that I have not shared all of the thoughts and feelings I was having until now. I was feeling very anxious – I had anxiety over silly things like checking my email or bank account. I was also very irritable and weepy – the only thing I can compare it to is extreme PMS. I found myself having thoughts of What would they do if I was gone? As I completed everyday tasks, I would wonder how my family would do these things if I wasn’t there. And most importantly, I just didn’t feel like myself.
What I didn’t feel was any sort of resentment towards my children. In fact, during my saddest days, the only thing that put a smile on my face was my kids. I didn’t fit the stereotype. This is why it took me so long to realize that what I was experiencing was indeed postpartum depression.
I was prepared to bring up the topic with my OBGYN at my appointment. But once again, nobody asked. Again, the doctor and nurse were more fixated on how “great” I looked physically and how well-behaved my baby was. My time in the office was so brief, that the doctor never even asked if I had any questions.
A couple of days after this appointment, I hit my lowest point. I finally worked up the courage to tell my husband how I was feeling. He was extremely supportive, but also adamant that I get back to see a doctor to get help. So I did. The hardest part was admitting I needed help. Making the call was not easy, but I did it and I asked to see a different physician this time.
At this appointment, the doctor was understanding of my feelings and my fears. He asked questions. Lots of questions. And to my surprise, he didn’t make me feel guilty about my answers. He did ask why I hadn’t mentioned this at my appointment just a few days prior. My answer was simple, nobody asked. I was prescribed an antidepressant and within a week I was feeling like myself again.
So my question is: Why was everyone so fixated on my miraculous weight loss? Are we that vain as a society that losing the baby weight trumps a new mom’s mental health? I wish that I was told at that first postpartum appointment what signs to look for in the following weeks. I wish someone would have seen past the smile on my face, the skinny jeans on my body, and the beautiful baby in my arms. Because behind all of that was a mom who was sad. A mom who was struggling. A mom who was confused.
There is a stigma tied to postpartum depression. I’m still embarrassed to talk about it. In fact, at first I wanted this post to be anonymous. I’m afraid people will look at me differently as a mother once this goes public. I’m afraid people will think I’m going to hurt my kids. These are real fears. Unfortunately, postpartum depression isn’t talked about enough and that’s why we’re so afraid to come out about having it. But I’m faced with a choice: be a chicken, or be brave. I’m choosing to be brave. Because the truth is, it’s such an easy fix once you speak up and get help. So I’m challenging you. I’m challenging you to share your story. I’m challenging you to get help if you’re not feeling like yourself. I’m challenging you to ask the new moms in your life how they’re feeling – physically and mentally. Together we can normalize postpartum depression. Together we can be brave.