Welcome to the second post in a series on postpartum depression!
Recognizing postpartum depression can be challenging. I didn’t realize I was suffering from PPD until it got really intense for me. Even once I got better, I never grasped just how bad it got until I reflected on my experience to write about it. Not recognizing postpartum depression is actually pretty common among moms who deal with it, for a variety of reasons.
One reason moms don’t always realize they’re suffering is because we have a different idea in our heads about what PPD is supposed to look like. We line ourselves up next to that example and decide our experience doesn’t match. The reality is that postpartum depression can look different for different mothers.
My most obvious symptoms were a lack of appetite, an inability to bond with my child, feelings of misery and hopelessness, panic, irritability, depressed mood, and some thoughts of suicide (well, of wanting to escape/run away/be done/get out). Postpartum depression came on sometime around 1.5-2 weeks postpartum, and it got bad fast, to where I couldn’t function properly and everyone around me knew something was wrong.
Related Reading: My Postpartum Depression Story | PPD Series | Installment 1
For other moms, they’re high-functioning with PPD. Things are fine until 2 months postpartum. They don’t struggle to bond with their baby, but they feel intensely sad. Or they can’t sleep despite feeling utterly exhausted.
In this post, we’re going to dive deeper into the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, so we can learn to recognize it on a broader scale. The better our perspective on what PPD can look like, the more chance we have of identifying it in ourselves and other moms.
The Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression from Mayo Clinic
According to Mayo Clinic, “postpartum depression signs and symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide”
That’s a helpful list, but sometimes it’s hard to identify postpartum depression in action even when you know the clinical signs and symptoms. So what can postpartum depression feel like in real life?
Postpartum Depression Symptoms in “Plain Mama English”
Katherine Stone over at Postpartum Progress created a wonderful paraphrase of the signs and symptoms of PPD. Here’s a sample of what you may be feeling, in the kind of language you might use with a friend.
- “You feel overwhelmed. Not like ‘hey, this new mom thing is hard.’ More like ‘I can’t do this and I’m never going to be able to do this.’ You feel like you just can’t handle being a mother. In fact, you may be wondering whether you should have become a mother in the first place.
- You feel guilty because you believe you should be handling new motherhood better than this. You feel like your baby deserves better. You worry whether your baby can tell that you feel so bad, or that you are crying so much, or that you don’t feel the happiness or connection that you thought you would. You may wonder whether your baby would be better off without you.
- You don’t feel bonded to your baby. You’re not having that mythical mommy bliss that you see on TV or read about in magazines. Not everyone with postpartum depression feels this way, but many do.
- You can’t understand why this is happening. You are very confused and scared.
- You feel irritated or angry. You have no patience. Everything annoys you. You feel resentment toward your baby, or your partner, or your friends who don’t have babies. You feel out-of-control rage.
- You feel nothing. Emptiness and numbness. You are just going through the motions.
- You feel sadness to the depths of your soul. You can’t stop crying, even when there’s no real reason to be crying.
- You feel hopeless, like this situation will never ever get better. You feel weak and defective, like a failure.
- You can’t bring yourself to eat, or perhaps the only thing that makes you feel better is eating…”
This is just an excerpt from the plain mama English symptoms. To read the full list, click here.
I love how Katherine Stone writes these symptoms in a way that makes more sense. Identifying postpartum depression can be tough because you might be feeling such a whirlwind of things that you can’t easily sort out. These bullet points (and the full list at Postpartum Progress) really suss out postpartum depression in a plain, down-to-earth, and honest sort of way.
Real Life Stories
Are you starting to feel more confident recognizing postpartum depression? Let’s look at a couple of other moms’ stories for how this sneaky condition presented itself in their lives.
Brook Shield’s Story
Here are a few quotes from a longer excerpt of Brook Shield’s book, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression. To read the full excerpt, click here.
At first I thought what I was feeling was just exhaustion, but with it came an overriding sense of panic that I had never felt before. Rowan kept crying, and I began to dread the moment when Chris would bring her back to me. I started to experience a sick sensation in my stomach; it was as if a vise were tightening around my chest. Instead of the nervous anxiety that often accompanies panic, a feeling of devastation overcame me. I hardly moved. Sitting on my bed, I let out a deep, slow, guttural wail. I wasn’t simply emotional or weepy, like I had been told I might be. This was something quite different…It felt as if it would never go away…
…Besides the fact that I was physically incapable of performing many of the basic mothering duties, I also didn’t feel like I wanted to get too close to Rowan. I wasn’t afraid she was too fragile; I just felt no desire to pick her up. Every time I have ever been near a baby, any baby, I have always wanted to hold the child. It shocked me that I didn’t want to hold my own daughter…
I’d thought we would be undeniably bonded from the moment I laid eyes on her. What was wrong with me? What a horrible mother I was! Her cry didn’t annoy me or grate on my nerves, but it also didn’t register with me, either. I felt numb to it…
I needed and wanted a way out. My mind was full of visions of escape, and these constantly overshadowed thoughts about my miraculous baby girl…Brook Shields, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression
I see a lot of my own story in Brook’s. The wild roller coaster of emotions, the heightened intensity where every little thing feels like a monumental thing, the disconnect she describes between her and her daughter, panic attacks for no apparent reason, and a deep sense that something has gone terribly wrong.
She manages to capture how bizarre all of it feels. Her mind seems to be constantly asking questions about why she feels this way, how confusing it is, and whether it’s ever going to stop. In some ways, she’s totally aware of what’s going on, and in others, her brain is foggy. Where she has clarity on her feelings, she’s plagued by mom guilt for them.
She details the most frightening part of PPD: wanting to do anything just to escape. She paints a layered picture of the desire to make it all stop, from wanting to simply leave and go back to another life, all the way up to visions of ending her life.
Chrissy Teigen’s Story
In 2017, Chrissy Teigen shared her postpartum depression story with Glamour Magazine. Here are some notable quotes:
I had everything I needed to be happy. And yet, for much of the last year, I felt unhappy. What basically everyone around me—but me—knew up until December was this: I have postpartum depression. How can I feel this way when everything is so great?…
Getting out of bed to get to set on time was painful. My lower back throbbed; my shoulders—even my wrists—hurt. I didn’t have an appetite. I would go two days without a bite of food…
One thing that really got me was just how short I was with people…
When I wasn’t in the studio, I never left the house. I mean, never. Not even a tiptoe outside. I’d ask people who came inside why they were wet. Was it raining? How would I know—I had every shade closed. Most days were spent on the exact same spot on the couch and rarely would I muster up the energy to make it upstairs for bed…
I looked at my doctor, and my eyes welled up because I was so tired of being in pain. Of sleeping on the couch. Of waking up throughout the night. Of throwing up. Of taking things out on the wrong people. Of not enjoying life. Of not seeing my friends. Of not having the energy to take my baby for a stroll. My doctor pulled out a book and started listing symptoms. And I was like, “Yep, yep, yep.” I got my diagnosis: postpartum depression and anxiety. (The anxiety explains some of my physical symptoms.)“Chrissy Teigen Opens Up for the First Time About Her Postpartum Depression.” Glamour Magazine.
For Chrissy Teigen, just like for me, postpartum depression snuck up on her in a way that was hard for her to identify. She didn’t recognize postpartum depression in herself, but the people around her did. She felt like she had no reason to be feeling the way she felt, because overall, her life was pretty good. But inside, something was terribly wrong.
Chrissy experienced many symptoms similar to mine and Brook Shield’s. Her irritability with other people was more pronounced, and she experienced a bit more of classic depression, not wanting to go out or do more than she absolutely had to.
Her PPD also manifested itself in physical symptoms that couldn’t be explained by injury or other illness. She lived in actual, physical pain for a long time until her doctor identified postpartum depression in her description of symptoms. What she experienced was caused by a chemical imbalance in her brain that was only resolved by correcting it with an antidepressant.
Are you struggling with postpartum depression?
Now that we’ve gained a broader understanding, do you recognize postpartum depression in your own life right now? If so, let me remind you that you’re not alone. PPD affects around 20% of new moms. I went through it and I healed. Many mothers have!
Postpartum depression is also not your fault. You didn’t choose this. You didn’t cause it. But the power to turn it around lies with you. Take steps today to get help and get on the path toward being the kind of mom you dreamed you would be.
Here are two quizzes to help identify postpartum depression symptoms:
Here’s a resource that can get you connected to local support groups:
Here’s their help line: 1-800-944-4773
If you’re having thoughts of suicide, get help NOW.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Your doctor is there for you.
There are many resources available beyond the few I listed above, but really, your most valuable resource is your healthcare provider. If you believe you’re suffering from postpartum depression, or if you think you are, but aren’t sure, please call as soon as possible and make an appointment. Your doctor will be able to recognize postpartum depression signs and start treating you.
Motherhood really can be great!
If you’re battling postpartum depression, take heart. Motherhood may be a struggle right now, but it really can be a wonderful thing. Get help, focus on healing, and watch yourself bloom into the strong mama I know you can be.