I met Robin of Farewell Stranger at a writing workshop hosted by Island Parent magazine. During the workshop, she talked about her struggle with postpartum depression and how she blogs about that. Since then, I’ve been reading her blog and really enjoy Robin’s sense of humour. While I’ve had bad days as a mother, Robin’s blog has helped me realize that’s normal. Bad days happen (and so do good days). What happens, though, when the bad days never end? That’s why I asked Robin to share a little bit about PPD with us.
When Bonnie asked me to guest post for her on this topic, I immediately said yes. After all, I suffered—badly—with PPD and it’s become something of a mission to raise awareness. And how hard could it be to write about this?
Harder than I thought.
First, I totally forgot about the date I’d agreed to. (Which, in a way, is one thing you should know about PPD. It kills brain cells. Or that’s what happened to me, anyway.) And then I couldn’t figure out what to say about it because it’s such a complicated illness. So let’s start with that.
The first thing you should know: Postpartum depression takes many different forms. I always thought of PPD as being “depressed” or having difficulty bonding with your baby (and reading Brooke Shields’s book when my son was a baby reinforced that perception. It’s a great book, but just one person’s experience). Women suffering from PPD can feel depressed, sad, hopeless, or just nothing at all, but there are other symptoms as well.
For many women, PPD is experienced as guilt, anxiety, or feeling overwhelmed. I think all new moms feel those things on some level at some point, but with PPD these symptoms tend to really hold on tight.
A lot of women—many more than I ever imagined—experience PPD as irritability, anger, or rage. That was my experience, and I never once connected my incredible anger and frustration with depression.
I just, unfortunately, didn’t know the symptoms were so varied. If I’d known, I’d probably have asked for help much sooner than I did. (If you’d like to read more about symptoms, Postpartum Progress has a great post in “plain mama English.”)
Second, PPD is not limited to the first few weeks. PPD can happen any time within a year of birth, but I’ve heard of so many women whose doctors told them it’s not PPD if it occurs later. That’s wrong, and it leaves so many people without the help they need.
Third, to address the PPD elephant in the room, postpartum depression is not just about women killing their children. It’s not even mostly about that. It is sometimes, of course, and in many cases those women are suffering from what’s called postpartum psychosis. This is tragic for everyone involved, but it’s thankfully not the average family’s experience. People (ahem, media) who characterize PPD sufferers as monster mothers are doing everyone a disservice.
The fourth thing on my list is related (sort of). PPD is really common. Much more so, sadly, than most people realize. 15-20% of new mothers suffer from PPD, so chances are you know someone who has dealt with this.
The fifth and final thing you should know is what I consider the most important: It’s okay to ask for help. It is. If you are struggling, you are not weak. You are not the worst mother in the world. And you are not alone.
There are many of us who have walked this path before—or are still on it—and are willing to help. I’ve got a page on my site with the best online resources I could have hoped for, and these communities saved me many times. If you or someone you know has PPD, please reach out.
You’re not alone.