I expected to experience postpartum depression when my babies were born given my history of depression. I wasn’t expecting, however, how different it would be compared to my “normal” depression. My depressive episodes come on slowly over time, they are insidious. My postpartum depression arrived suddenly and with unexpected intensity. It was rather like being hit by a high-speed train. Postpartum depression had another surprise for me! My negative thoughts during my postpartum depressions focus on my baby and my abilities as a mother. The themes of these thoughts were different for each of my depressions. I thought they would be the same! How wrong I was. If you are getting knocked down by postpartum depression, here is how to get up again!
Getting Knocked Down by Postpartum Depression: How to Get up Again
With my firstborn my thoughts centred on being an inadequate mother. I was overwhelmed by this precious baby who was dependent on me to not only feed him and protect him, but also to help him grow into a decent and successful adult. The perfectionist in me was in charge. Of course, it didn’t help that my little man had a textbook case of colic and an excitable and intense temperament.
There were many days where I felt my son would be better off without me. I thought about suicide, but I also daydreamed of being able to get on a plane to a new city, leaving him to be raised by his dad. With all my heart, I believed that he would be truly better off without me in his life. I felt alone and isolated with these thoughts. What kind of mother wants to run off scared of her newborn, especially one she loved so completely? I was filled with shame.
Postpartum Depression: Community Support
These feelings eventually passed thanks to the City of Ottawa public health nurse, who visited weekly, counselling and medication, a peer support group for moms with postpartum depression, resource booklet, and time. I felt immense relief when I realized that I was not alone in feeling this way.
Eventually, I was able to fall in love with my baby all over again and enjoy the time I had with him before returning to work when he was three months old. We have a strong mother-son bond today.
My daughter was born several weeks ago. I knew postpartum depression was likely, all the statistics told me so. My husband and I knew this going into the pregnancy and had discussed it before deciding to even try to have a second child. We planned for it. He arranged to take a month off after the baby was born. Breastfeeding was out, partly due to medication issues, and he agreed to take overnight feedings. I know all you moms out there are jealous! I even knew when to expect the wave of hormones that would knock me down. But, the postpartum depression still had some tricks up its sleeves to throw me off-balance. The nature of my negative thoughts was different and quite unexpectedly so.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed I felt disconnected from my daughter. I felt like I didn’t love her enough since I didn’t have the rush of intense love when she was born as I did with my son. This was made worse watching my husband revel in new fatherhood (she is his first baby). In addition, I missed being pregnant and was thrown into grief over the idea that she may be my last child. I felt ashamed that I didn’t find her as adorable and cute as my husband and countless others. I am scared and ashamed to admit that even as I write this!
By the way, I do love her immensely. It is just in a way different from my son. The way you love each child is different, as people keep telling me, and the first child has a novelty that no child after can match. The younger siblings are not loved less, but differently.
Working Your Way Through Postpartum Depression
I am still working my way through this bout of postpartum depression. I am putting into practice all the tools I have learned through the years to deal with my ongoing bipolar disorder and the severe depression it brings. It puts me at an advantage, I think, over the mother (or father) who descends into depression without experience.
I’d like to share them with you. You might have heard them all before, but indulge me. The five key things you can do to help yourself through postpartum depression are:
- Get enough sleep. I know it is hard to do with a newborn, but well worth it for both of you if you do. Of course, your partner will thank you as well! Well, maybe not if they are taking all the night feedings for a while!
- Eat a healthy diet. Once again, I know this is hard to do with a newborn in the house. How many new moms are guilty of grabbing a quick snack instead of a balanced meal in between changing diapers and feedings? Probably too many! However, it is important to make the time, especially when it comes to getting enough iron. Even a little bit of anemia can really tire you out (even more).
- Get exercise. Research has shown that 20 minutes of aerobic exercise several times a week can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Get outside! Go for a walk with the baby and soak up the sun! Consider a mom and me yoga or swim class.
- Make time for yourself without the baby. I know, you love your little bundle of joy. Even putting him or her down can be difficult (let along sharing the baby with others!). But, believe me it is worth it to get out of the house or even just away from your mothering duties for a while. Make time to soak in a warm bath, read a book, get a manicure, or go and sit in have a baby-free coffee. I can’t tell you how much getting back of normalcy helped me start to get over this current postpartum depression, mostly because I actually left my house.
- Ask for support when you need it. Talk to friends about how you feel and how you are struggling. Ask them if they can babysit so you can get those hours free of baby you need. A listening ear can be the best therapy out there. If you can’t talk to them, find a counsellor who can help you. The City of Ottawa has an amazing program that pairs up new moms with public health nurses who can come to your home. They are a resource well worth looking into.
Postpartum depression may require medication to help you recover fully. Many medications are considered safe for baby when breastfeeding. Make an appointment with your family doctor to discuss your depression. Get immediate medical help, such as going to the emergency room, if you have any thoughts of suicide or hurting your baby.
I promise you, it does get better! Just hang on and take each day at a time. If you need to, take each hour at a time. Hold on to hope is the best advice I can give you.