Postpartum Depression (PPD) is not a one-size-fits-all kind of illness, nor are Postpartum Anxiety (PPA), OCD or Postpartum Psychosis. Many women (and men!) experience it in different ways, like many other mental health and mood disorders. Most new mothers and fathers have bad days. The shift from pregnant to mother is hard. So hard. But PPD is more than a bad day or two. Astonishingly, 1 in 7 mothers experience PPD. Yet: most new parents have never been told how to recognize, cope, or ask for help when they recognize symptoms.
Many of the symptoms of PPD are simple to spot because it can manifest like depression itself: fatigue, change in eating habits, loss of motivation, feeling distant, numb, empty, or restless.
But, here are some unexpected signs of PPD:
- You feel overwhelmed: we’re not talking about when you’re trying to get out the door with three kids in tow. We’re talking about when your husband comes home and asks if you want tea or coffee and your mind suddenly goes black and you can’t think because you are so overwhelmed. If you feel overwhelmed all the time and to the point of despair, wondering if you should even be a mother at all, you may be experiencing PPD
- You feel guilty: as a mother, I’ve done things I wish I hadn’t, but if those thoughts are continuous and to the point you feel your baby deserves better than you, you may be experiencing PPD
- You feel isolated: classic depression feels isolating, but as a new mother that isolation takes a unique twist to feeling like you’re failing to bond with your baby and are disconnected from everyone around you, even your husband and other children
- You feel irritable: if coffee or your other favorite things can’t shake an irresistible feeling of irritability, anger or impatience towards your spouse, family, or even your baby, then you may be experiencing PPD. This one is especially ruinous to family cohesion and difficult to see through to the cause.
- You feel hopeless: PPD puts a wicked turn in the tunnel with the light at the end, which makes that light seem nonexistent. If you believe your current state will be your reality forever, you may be experiencing PPD.
- You feel foggy: mommy brain is PPD Lite. If you are in a constant mommy brain moment, like you’re unable to focus, concentrate, or communicate effectively, and are beginning to feel lost, you may be experiencing PPD.
- You feel desperate to escape: this is not a normal thought at any time, but a symptom of more serious PPD. If you have thoughts of getting away, abandoning your family, and even more drastic means of escape, you are very likely experiencing PPD and should seek help.
Postpartum Anxiety and OCD express themselves differently and have symptoms like: the inability to calm down, spurts of mania and intense activity, extreme worry, racing thoughts, disturbing thoughts, fear of being alone with your baby, shakiness, edginess, and a sense of dread.
These things are to an extreme. It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed, guilty, isolated, irritable, and generally off your kilter when you become a mom. But if these feelings are consistent and last for weeks on end, there may be something more going on. If you suspect what you’re feeling is NOT right, it probably isn’t. Others want to help you. Reach out to someone safe: your partner or best friend or mom. Tell them that you need help. Real help. No one will judge you. And no one will take your baby. Reaching out is a step towards good things. It’s the first step and the hardest.
If you, or your spouse, are exhibiting any of these symptoms and would like to learn more or want to speak to a professional, please use these resources:
- Talk to your doctor. MDs do not have the training to treat a psychological illness like PPD, but they are confidential and will be able to refer you to a medical professional who can.
- National Postpartum Depression Hotline: 1-800-PPD-MOMS
- Postpartum Support International
- Postpartum Men
- Use the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. Call for yourself or someone you care about; free and confidential; network of more than 140 crisis centers nationwide; available 24/7. Or text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.