A few weeks after Emmeric was born, I found myself sinking into a depression like I haven’t experienced since I was in middle school. I walked around the house in a painful fog, my brain on autopilot. My body struggled to recover from a painful delivery and extensive tearing that scarred me internally. My brain repeated hurtful words from the first pediatrician we visited as I tried to help Emmeric learn to nurse.
I went to my six week follow up appointment at the OB and answered the questions on the PPD survey they handed me. The doctor mentioned that I could go on medication for PPD at that time based on my responses or could choose to keep doing what I was doing. I decided to wing it and see if I couldn’t beat it on my own.
Not long after that I realized it wasn’t working.
Emmeric spent a long evening screaming his lungs out. Daniel and I traded off on trying (and failing) to put him back to sleep. He screamed, I cried, and Daniel stormed around the house in frustration.
Eventually I wound up in the bedroom, huddled under the covers, holding my ears. I tried desperately to drown out the noise of my screaming child. And then the thoughts came rushing through my brain.
What if he never stops crying? You’re a horrible mother. You should quit now before you screw your child up permanently. There’s that hunting knife in the bedside table drawer…you could always use it, end all this pain, quit feeling anything.
I jerked upright, shocked at where my brain had taken me. Was I really thinking about suicide? Yes, I was, and this was most definitely not me.
I realized then that I needed help, and that started me on a path that I’m still walking to recover from the postpartum depression and anxiety that haunt me. Today I want to share some things you should know about a mom with postpartum depression and anxiety.
Before we start, I hope you can use this list if you deal with a mom who struggles with these diseases. And if you’re a mom who has either or both these diseases, share this list with someone who needs to understand your struggle.
Things You Should Know About A Mom Who Has PPD/PPA:
Postpartum Depression and Anxiety are mood disorders, not permanent states of being. You can and should understand that a woman who suffers from PPD/PPA will not always deal with this. Sometimes we need medical help, therapy, or other assistance, but with help, we can beat this. You should offer your own support because we will take all that we can get!
Your support (or lack of it) can make or break us. If you see us struggling, reach out. We might not be willing or able to tell you the real problem. But if you reach out to us, we can take strength in our support group, and we so need a support group!
PPD does not mean we want to kill our babies. Postpartum depression can trigger lots of unpleasant thoughts, but it is not the disease that causes women to kill their children. That’s postpartum psychosis, and it’s a whole other ballgame of crazy thoughts, hormonal impulses, and horrific results if left untreated. The depression may tell us terrible things, but it does not force us to act on those thoughts.
Depression looks different for every mama. Postpartum depression can mean we stop caring for our bodies and our health. It can mean we let the house go into a state of chaos. We might stop talking to you or engaging with anyone other than our babies. Depression can mean anger and yelling or sadness and tears. Just because it doesn’t look like you expect doesn’t mean it isn’t depression.
If we go off our medication for a day, we won’t automatically go off the rails crazy. We might see a dip in our mood, but we won’t turn into raging lunatics. Medication is there to support us and balance our hormones, which really need that help. It assists our hormones but doesn’t control our actions. So if we miss a day, we can pick it up again tomorrow and not lose our cool.
Postpartum anxiety fills our heads with a thousand fears all trying to get our attention at once. Have you ever felt like your brain is going too many directions at once? That’s a little of what we feel with PPA, but it fills us with fears. We wonder about our children constantly, whether they’re safe, breathing, alive, in pain, or any number of things that trigger anxiety. We feel the need to constantly check on the baby, even more so than most new moms, because there’s the panicky feeling that maybe he isn’t really okay.
Postpartum anxiety doesn’t just mean anxiety about the baby. Sure, our baby is our priority, so it’s easy for PPA to trigger when we think about him. But PPA also triggers with other stressors in our lives. Do we have enough money to make ends meet? What will we do at the end of our maternity leave? Can we leave the baby with someone else for hours on end? How will we handle grocery shopping now that there’s a baby in the mix? What happens if we lose our job? What if our grandparents or parents get sick? Anything in life that functions as a stressor can trigger our anxiety.
Panic attacks feel a lot like an asthma attack with out of control emotions. If you’ve never had a panic attack, it might be hard to visualize this. Anxiety pushes you into crazy emotions and thoughts that swirl around your brain until you can’t pick out just one thought to hold onto. That anxiety turns from swirling thoughts into a lack of breath, leaving you panting and convinced there isn’t enough oxygen in the air. Between the thoughts driving you mad and the struggle to breathe, you’re left drowning in intense panic.
Postpartum depression looks a lot like not caring about anything. While depression can mean deep emotions that leave onlookers shocked at our anger or sadness, it often manifests in apathy. The problem with depression is it exhausts us. It exhausts our mental capacity to care about anything and leaves us struggling to engage emotionally.
Between PPD and PPA, we’re too tired to care and too wired to relax. This perhaps is the number one thing you should understand about a mom with PPD and PPA. We want to sleep, we really do, but we can’t relax because our fight or flight reflex is on high alert. It’s a battle to engage emotionally but we fear every sound from the crib or bassinet as the last one our child makes. Yes, that sounds kind of dramatic, but that’s really what it’s like.
There you have it, my list of things you should know about a mom who has PPD/PPA. Do you have anything to add to that list? Let me know in the comments.
I really hope you’ll take this list and share it with anyone who struggles with these diseases. And if you know someone dealing with this, please do the one thing that really helps: offer support. Let this mama know you’re there for her and will do whatever she needs you to do. That’s the best thing you can take from this post.