What Does Postpartum Depression Feel Like? One Mom’s Story
Inside: If you think you have postpartum depression, you’re probably wondering just like I did, “What does postpartum depression feel like”? Here’s what it feels like now, and what it felt like at its worst point, from a mom with postpartum depression who is still experiencing residual symptoms.
You never think you’ll be the one with postpartum depression. I’ve seen the checklist multiple times now with five kids, and every single time I breezed through it without much thought.
I checked all the appropriate boxes, got a clean bill of health, and hurried home from my 6-week postpartum check-up.
I had kids to homeschool, blogs to run, a home to manage, a new baby to care for.
I thought I was fine….
This is my postpartum depression story.
Speaking Up About Postpartum Depression
I’m going to tell you what postpartum depression feels like for me right now, what it felt like at my lowest point, and what I’m doing to get better.
I’m not a doctor, and this isn’t medical advice. (But you knew that.)
I’m sharing this in the hopes that it will help another new mom who knows for sure that something isn’t quite right, but she just can’t figure out what.
That you’ll read this and have your “ah-ha” moment.
The moment you realize you’re sick is the moment you can start getting better.
My postpartum depression symptoms may not be identical to yours. But the hardest part about postpartum depression, in my opinion at least, is admitting that something is wrong.
The more moms share their stories of postpartum depression, of what postpartum depression felt like for them, the more moms can get the help they truly need.
Postpartum Depression Symptoms
I’ll start by sharing the basic postpartum depression symptoms, the ones any doctor will tell you. These particular ones are from Mayo Clinic.
One or two of these symptoms on their own does not necessarily mean you have postpartum depression. Physicians tend to look for multiple symptoms and how long you’ve had them before making an official diagnosis.
At my most recent doctor appointment, the nurse asked me about my symptoms in reference to a two week time frame. I could tell she was using a postpartum depression symptoms scale of some kind.
According to this article from Mayo Clinic, the baby blues can last a few days up to two weeks after birth, while postpartum depression continues past that point and can last for many months after giving birth.
- 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
Again, you may not experience every symptom on this list. But if you are experiencing more than half, you may have postpartum depression.
Please Note: I am not a physician and am not in any way able to give medical advice. I am only sharing my own experiences with postpartum depression and these should not be used to diagnose or treat yourself. See a doctor and/or counselor if you believe you may be suffering from postpartum depression.
My Postpartum Depression Story
This fifth baby was loved and wanted, but I knew from the start that having a fifth baby was going to be difficult.
I was working from home and homeschooling through pregnancy for the first time and anticipated doing all of that WITH a newborn would be twice as difficult (it was).
I went into labor two days before my due date, much to my surprise. Every other baby was at least a day late, if not five.
Labor was relatively uneventful, except for the last moments of delivery when the midwife lost track of the baby’s heartbeat and everyone on the floor flooded into the room. That’s enough to scare any laboring mom to death.
Thankfully, the baby was just fine.
I, on the other hand, experienced severe pain from a varicose vein in my leg, enough to prompt me to ask for an ultrasound to confirm there wasn’t a blood clot.
My IV arm also caused severe pain in and around the vein where the IV was placed that lasted almost six weeks.
I needed pain medication and used a heating pad on the vein daily. It made postpartum recovery “down there” seem like a cake walk.
Added to my own recovery, my baby ended up having a rare eye cyst. The cyst is so rare, few doctors have seen one in person, and every doctor who saw her thought it was a hematoma from delivery.
That cyst burst one week after she was born, which landed us in the hospital for a day. She got a full work-up, including a spinal tap, because of her age and the doctors’ unfamiliarity with her condition. After being released from the hospital, she had tear duct surgery performed by a local ophthalmologist.
On top of all that stress, I had an extremely stressful interaction with a family member immediately postpartum. That interaction led to strained relationships, which only increased my anxiety.
My husband also started studying for an extremely difficult engineering exam right after I got out of the hospital a second time. He did his best to help out, but he worked five days a week and studied both weekend days for three months.
I also was going through the newborn phase without a support system for the first time. And homeschooling and working from home, to boot!
Prior newborn phases, I was surrounded by close friends who helped out with my other kids so I could recover and get to know my baby.
I believe all those stressors combined led to postpartum depression.
…But it took me quite a while to realize I had it.
What Does Postpartum Depression Feel Life? My Symptoms
Looking at all of the symptoms of postpartum depression together, I can honestly say I experienced every single one of them.
But it wasn’t until I was tempted to cut myself for the first time in my life that I realized something was VERY wrong.
Up until that point, I thought I just wasn’t a good enough mom, not strong enough to handle everything.
I thought the problem was me.
Postpartum depression never even occurred to me, although I do screaming out loud that my interactions with a family member were going to send me into postpartum depression if I didn’t limit contact with that person.
After I limited contact, I thought I was going to be o.k.
Four months later, after I thought about cutting, I decided to tell my husband.
He admitted that my mood swings and bouts of crying and anxiety were more extreme than my normal emotional ups and downs, but he didn’t want to say anything for fear of making it worse.
Once I admitted that I was far from o.k., that I most likely had postpartum depression, I started to look back at everything through the lens of postpartum depression.
And what I saw was pretty much every symptom of postpartum depression, and then some.
Withdrawing from Family and Friends
I stopped talking as frequently to friends because it didn’t seem to help.
How could I possibly communicate the intensity of what I was feeling? How could they possibly understand?
Withdrawing from family was more complicated than that since some of my extended family was the source of my anxiety.
I didn’t feel safe confiding in them about anything I was going through related to postpartum depression. When we spoke, I kept things light, avoided difficult questions and shifted the conversation to them, instead.
Severe Mood Swings
These mood swings are more extreme than your typical mood swing.
Multiple times a week, I would end up crying after an interaction or occurrence that I could previously handle with ease. These breakdowns were often accompanied by feelings of intense anger.
I was, to put it lightly, extremely irritable. My family tip-toed around me for months, especially my husband.
What I used to be able to laugh off, I no longer could.
It felt like I was on the worst emotional roller coaster ever invented. I literally felt like I was going crazy.
Difficulty Bonding with Your Baby
Only looking back did I realize that this was one of my symptoms.
The first several months of her life, I would hand my baby off to someone, saying, “Take this.”
I rarely referred to her with an appropriate personal pronoun, treating her more as an object than a person.
The hardest thing about this symptom is that you know if your head that you should feel something toward your baby, but you don’t. At least not feelings of affection.
Difficulty Making Decisions
As an Enneagram 6, I already struggled to make decisions on my own. But with postpartum depression, every decision felt exponentially harder.
I went back and forth about every little thing: whether I should let the kids have a snack, whether or not a child really needed to go to the doctor, should I renew our BJs membership, should I hire a babysitter for extra help.
Decisions were nearly impossible to make without consulting my husband.
And even then, I would resist making a firm decision or beat myself up for one I had already made, believing it was the “wrong decision”.
Sensitivity to Noise
For a long time, I couldn’t handle being around loud noises of any kind.
When kids started fighting in front of me, screaming for intervention, I distinctly remember ignoring them completely. I walked right past them out the door.
I spent a LOT of time on our deck alone, or with the baby.
Our tiny house felt extremely and painful-to-my-soul loud.
Thoughts of Hurting Your Baby
Long, unexplained bouts of crying were the most difficult to cope with. After I’d fed and changed and burped her, she would keep crying, crying that kept me from much-needed sleep.
It was during that intense crying, I imagined hurting her.
This is so painful to admit, but at my lowest point several months ago, I would imagine smashing her against the wall, just to get the crying to stop.
Thank God, I was able to put her down or give her to my husband before hurting my baby.
Severe Anxiety/Panic Attacks
I used to believe that postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression were two different things.
But after talking to a friend who is a physician, I finally understood that they are essentially the same. At least, most doctors consider severe anxiety to be part of postpartum depression.
The anxiety increases particularly around sibling fighting, loud noises, and anything with a deadline, even arbitrary ones I’ve constructed in my head (I HAVE to buy groceries tonight or we’ll have nothing to eat).
Today, this is one of the symptoms that has persisted, complicated by the fact that my father passed away unexpectedly two weeks ago.
Grief and anxiety are not a good combination.
Initially, I told myself that things would get better after my baby was out of the newborn phase. Then, after she was six months old.
But then I thought about the baby years. About two more years of dependence on me.
And I started to lose hope.
When I was only seeing through the lens of postpartum depression, I didn’t believe things were ever going to get better. I was hopeless, which brings me to my next symptom, the one that finally pushed me to speak up.
Thoughts of Harming Yourself
I remember feeling such intense emotional pain that I would sob, holding my middle because I felt such intense anguish.
I finally realized why people cut: they want a physical pain that can be fixed.
There are band-aids for cuts; there are no band-aids for emotional pain.
When I started to think about cutting myself (thankfully, I never got that far), I realized something was seriously wrong with me. I realized I was sick.
While I never had suicidal plans or thoughts per se, I did have thoughts that it would be better if I wasn’t here.
I’m actually thankful for this symptom because it was what finally pushed me to confide in my husband and a good friend. It’s what helped me realize I had postpartum depression, that I was sick.
Once I knew I was sick, the feelings of low self-worth and condemnation lessened. I knew postpartum depression was responsible, not me.
Admitting I was sick meant I could get better.
It gave me hope.
Why Moms Don’t Speak Up About Postpartum Depression
I used to wonder why moms didn’t get help for postpartum depression.
If things were so bad, why didn’t they speak up? Get help sooner?
Now I know.
Postpartum depression, like so many mental illnesses, is extremely subjective. All doctors have to go on is your explanation of your symptoms, as you are experiencing them.
Most of these symptoms? They are easy to explain away.
Especially when you’re not thinking clearly.
For a long time, I said, “Well, it’s just that my husband isn’t available to help. It’s just that I’m trying to work-from-home and homeschool. It’s not that bad.”
What makes it especially complicated is that when you have postpartum depression, you can have good days, too.
Those good days can fool you into believing that you’re o.k. They stop you from getting help you need.
I also chose not go to a doctor when I realized I had postpartum depression. I knew that a doctor would recommend medication, and I did not want to go on medication.
I decided to talk to my husband and close friends who committed to check in on me. They encouraged me to take it easy and do what I needed to do to get better.
Only after my father passed away recently did I decide to see a doctor for my postpartum depression because I realized how severe it had really been, and how I was still dealing with residual symptoms.
How I Am Recovering from Postpartum Depression
I am much better than I was.
I no longer have thoughts of death or cutting. I no longer have thoughts of harming my baby.
The extreme mood swings have reduced to once or twice a week, instead of multiple times a week.
The sensitivity to noise has gone away, though the anxiety remains.
So what helped?
1. I started treating myself whenever I wanted.
Up to this point, I was practicing pretty extreme frugality. We were trying to pay off student loans at a crazy fast rate.
Extreme frugality probably wasn’t sustainable WITHOUT postpartum depression, but it definitely wasn’t sustainable WITH postpartum depression.
I’m not saying I went on a huge shopping spree that put our family in financial jeopardy. I’m saying I let go of extreme frugality and let myself say yes to little pleasures.
If I wanted to get Starbucks? I got it.
A new throw pillow? Yep.
Duck Donuts every Saturday? Yes. (If you’ve never had them, they’re soooo much better than Dunkin!)
Sleep in on a Saturday? Yes.
Watch Netflix instead of doing the dishes? Heck, yes.
This definitely helped for a couple months at least.
2. I asked for help.
This was the hardest part. I reached out and asked for help, particularly with watching my kids.
In the process I lost a close friend. Or maybe I lost her before this?
Asking for help watching my kids was the hardest thing I’d done. And she said she couldn’t watch them.
It’s o.k. I know she was going through her own stuff, too.
Thankfully, other people jumped in to help, instead. I hired a babysitter for a while.
It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to take the edge off.
I also used the TV for my kids as much as I needed to. That was a lot at first, but we got back to a more balanced approach after a month or two.
3. I am (finally) getting counseling.
I recently, briefly, considered medication. But after weighing the side effects versus my symptoms, I decided that for me personally, it was not worth the risks.
That does not mean you won’t find medication helpful.
I have other friends who chose medication and found it extremely helpful. It greatly improved their quality of life.
If you consider medication, make sure to discuss side effects with your doctor in person so he/she can answer all your questions and concerns before you start taking the medication.
My next stop is counseling: I start next week.
My dad dying made me realize I really needed help.
Several months ago, I considered counseling and even made an appointment. But the counselor outside our insurance network and would cost $120 a session.
That made me feel worse, so I canceled. I didn’t reschedule.
If I could go back, I probably would have seen a counselor sooner. I would have worked harder to find someone in network that I trusted.
What Moms Need to Know About Postpartum Depression
If I was talking to another mom experiencing postpartum depression? I would encourage her to see a doctor or a counselor ASAP.
You need someone else’s objectivity to hear what you’re experiencing and tell you how to get help.
I tried to get better on my own.
I didn’t have to.
You don’t either.
Above all, you need to know that you’re not alone. There are SO many moms feeling what you’re feeling, going through what you’re going through.
You’re not a bad mom.
You’re just sick. And you CAN get better.
Motherhood is hard, but it’s not supposed to be this hard.
I’m finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, life after postpartum depression is coming. I can feel it.
I hope and pray it’s coming for you, too.