Having a baby is supposed to be such a joyous time. Our TV commercials idolize the postpartum era as being full of sweet moments with tiny coos, squishy baby snuggles, and memories to be made with this new person in our lives. And it is those things. But, it’s also very hard. The postpartum time is demanding physically and emotionally, and I often find myself wondering why something so beautiful is also such a challenge? Not every mother will experience the level of “challenge” I have, but I do want other mamas to know what to look for if motherhood feels more like the pits than like a gift.
Often postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety is thought of occurring in the early weeks after birth and may be confused with the Baby Blues, which are usually seen within the first two to three weeks after birth. However, midwife Sheena Criswell says, “Postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety can be seen at any point within the first year after birth.”
That’s right, any point within the year after birth!
Postpartum depression and anxiety aren’t conditions we only need to look out for in the first days after birth, but we also need to keep an eye out months or even a year down the road. “l often hear of moms who are past the one year mark and still struggling with symptoms. Just because it’s beyond the one year mark, it doesn’t mean that it’s not still related to your birth,” says Sheena. A few symptoms that Postpartum Progress lists include feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, irritability, having trouble sleeping, feeling void of emotions, or worrying constantly about potential dangers for your family.
Despite the fact that postpartum depression and anxiety can occur anytime, Sheena says there are some predictable months to watch out for. “I have seen it more commonly around the two month mark, and then again between the fifth and sixth month mark,” she says. The six month mark is where I am right now after my fifth child’s birth, and I’m finding myself sinking rather than rising in adjustment after the newborn phase and recovering from pregnancy. Around six months is also when I got hit deep with postpartum depression after my third child’s birth. At the time, I thought I was abnormal because everyone talked about postpartum depression as happening immediately after birth. But I felt great for the first four to five months postpartum before slipping into a gloomy, anxious person I didn’t recognize anymore.
This time around, I felt too anxious to go anywhere, so I hardly left my home except when I absolutely had to, like for a doctor appointment. I ended up isolating myself because of exhaustion or fear, which only made me feel worse. Driving a car started causing me to have panic attacks, and I’d have to pull over to breathe. I couldn’t handle the thought of taking my kids to the grocery store and keeping them safe in this scary world while also trying to make food decisions, so I resorted to using grocery pick up services often. I felt trapped, yet I didn’t want to leave either, because my trap gave me the illusion of safety. Other times, I’d blow up in anger because I felt overwhelmed, and then cry because I felt awful about this monster mommy I could be at times. Often I felt my family would be better off without me— I lost my joy in life and felt like I was doing everything wrong.
Sheena has observed the two and six month marks to be higher risk times for mothers to develop postpartum problems. “These are often a time of multiple hormone level changes which may trigger some of the symptoms to begin appearing.This is because our hormones change and fluctuate multiple times during the postpartum period and during breastfeeding,” she says. She also suggests that vitamin deficiencies can lead to mood changes. “Pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding all increase the load on our endocrine system. Plus, with the nutrients we lose during that time period, our bodies can develop symptoms that then continue beyond the year mark, but still stem from the postnatal period.”
I am seeing this myself as I’ve sought out medical help from an integrative doctor. I went in expecting medication to help me out of my funk, but instead she took six vials of blood to see if there are other root causes of my mood shift. It turns out I am low in a few vitamins linked to mood, such as B complex and vitamin D. My doctor also suggested taking additional omegas, especially EPA, because pregnancy drains our own healthy fats to create our baby’s brains. Studies do show a link to omegas and avoiding postpartum depression. I have seen a noticeable difference when I take my supplements, and I feel much more grounded and in control. It’s worth checking your blood levels with your provider to get further insight into why you are feeling the way you feel.
Along with approaching my PPD and anxiety from a medical stand point, I’m also pulling out my tools for emotional support as well. Motherhood is demanding and sometimes we need our village to help us stay afloat. I’m humbling myself and asking for help when I need it…even with folding my overflowing pile of laundry that I felt too paralyzed to start on. If people offer, I accept. This isn’t a time for pride!
I’m also remembering how crucial self-care is, like real self-care. Not just indulging in a chocolate bar hiding in my closet or reading a book instead of scrolling on Facebook— which are good things too— but leaving for a few hours a week to truly recharge. Going out with friends or sitting in silence at a coffee shop while my husband takes completely over are moments that I need weekly.
Self-care is the battery to the light within a mother.
Knowing that you aren’t alone can be helpful, too. So mama— know you aren’t alone if you are feeling this along with me. I am starting to feel the light shining brighter within me once again as I take these measures to move forward in emotional and physical health. Keep pushing for your own answers. There is no cure yet for postpartum depression and anxiety— it’s a process with many aspects to consider.
Most of all, I want you to know there is hope even if you are feeling hopeless— whether you’re at six weeks or six months postpartum.