Like many women preparing for their first baby, I experienced a mix of excitement, anxiety, and anticipation in the months leading up to my son’s birth earlier this year. As a mental health provider and friend to many moms, I was also familiar with the concept of the dreaded “Baby Blues,” and its cousin, postpartum depression.
But looking back, what surprises me most is how sure I was that it wouldn’t affect me. After all, my husband and I were overjoyed expecting our first baby and we had the support of family and friends. Even throughout the 30 hours between my admission to the hospital and his birth (yes, 30 hours), I managed to stay relatively positive and upbeat. And I have to tell you, that wasn’t easy considering I was exhausted, underfed, and more exposed than ever before. Seriously, where does that soccer team’s worth of strangers come from when it’s time to push?!
But sure enough, within days (hours?) of his birth, it hit me. I felt overwhelmed . . . confused . . . scared. The highs were high, like holding him for the first time, staring into his big wonder-filled eyes, and introducing him to his family. But the lows were low, and ambiguous. I found myself crying for seemingly no reason. I noticed that, unlike my traditionally independent self, I felt strangely needy and dependent. I found myself frequently saying (through tears), “I don’t know why I’m crying. I’m happy. What’s wrong with me? Does this make me a bad mom?” When I’d start to well up, I’d find a way to excuse myself to the bathroom, not wanting my family or friends to see that I wasn’t consumed with joy 100 percent of the time.
Bottom line: I was afraid to admit I was feeling that way.
And perhaps that speaks to the stigma (social or self-imposed) that comes along with experiencing mood changes post-baby. There is an unspoken expectation in the way that people, even well-meaning loved ones, sometimes talk about having a baby: “Are you just loving it?! Isn’t motherhood amazing? Your baby is so cute, how do you not kiss him all day?!” The expectation seems to be that, aside from extremely tired, new moms will be a ball of joy after their baby arrives. And it’s true that there are many joyful moments! But these unspoken expectations can be a heavy burden on moms who are also experiencing the very common emotional swings that come with joining Club Motherhood. What’s more, those expectations can ultimately lead to waiting longer to seek help.
Quick and informative side note:
According to the American Pregnancy Association, “Approximately 70-80 percent of all new mothers experience some negative feelings or mood swings after the birth of their child.” Wow, that’s almost ALL of us!
They cite the symptoms of baby blues as:
- Weepiness or crying for no apparent reason
- Insomnia (even when the baby is sleeping)
- Mood changes
- Poor concentration
And it’s no wonder considering the enormous changes that new moms undergo in those first few weeks — both mamas who give birth (can you say tidal wave of hormonal shifts and taxing physical recovery?) and mamas who adopt (exhaustion, diapers, and feeding, oh my!). Although becoming a mom is one of the most joyful experiences in life, it’s also one of the most monumental life transitions we will ever experience. Bear with me on the analogy, but becoming a mother is almost akin to a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis . . . the end result is beautiful, but what a necessary struggle to get there!
I was lucky. After three weeks I found that, almost magically, I began feeling more capable, calm, and emotionally stable again. I say it lifted magically, but that’s really not the case. In those three weeks, I did find the strength to acknowledge my feelings and talk about them with my husband, mother, mother-in-law, and mom friends . . . and it made a huge difference! While I still had the mood swings and was teary at times, at least I knew I wasn’t alone, and that having the baby blues didn’t reflect on my capacity to be a wonderful mom.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 8-19 percent of women aren’t as lucky and go on to develop postpartum depression (PPD). And as with the baby blues, developing PPD doesn’t have anything to do with their parenting abilities. But, not seeking help or treatment for postpartum depression can have an impact on parent-child attachment, baby’s cognitive development, behavioral problems, future psychiatric disorders, and many more . . . and nearly every mom cares about that (University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, Summary of Research on PPD).
In my professional life, I’ve observed that depression has a cruel way of convincing people to keep quiet, to hide how they’re feeling, to not seek help. But whether or not you feel strong right now, mama, know that you are! One of the best steps we can take to raising a healthy child is making the effort to raise a healthy mama, and that means caring for our mental health too.
If you’re feeling this way now, please tell your doctor, your partner, a friend, or even your own mom. I guarantee you’ll find that you’re not alone . . . and that many of your motherhood idols have likely experienced the same thing. The quicker you get on the road to recovery, the quicker you’ll be bouncing that baby buggy on the path to fulfilled and happy motherhood!