The term ‘postnatal depression’ can be confusing. New mums go through a variety of feelings and often are in that emotional tangle not sure whether they suffer from depression or not. The Internet is full of professional definitions, but many times these would not help identify when it really is depression.
Firstly, I would like to point out that it is not as important to be concerned with the right definition. If you don’t feel well, do not hesitate and contact your doctor. It does not matter whether it is depression or something else. If you underestimate your condition, the initially harmless thing can eventually grow into something more serious.
But let’s go back to the definition of postnatal depression. As I’ve mentioned above, on the Internet you can find a lot of information and articles that give you basic information about this disease. However, when I went through them, I found many of them too theoretical. To some extent, they even lacked a connection with reality. That’s why I’ve prepared for you my personal, unprofessional definition, which is based primarily on personal experiences.
So what is postnatal depression?
Personally, postnatal depression is synonymous for a hell. It is a demon that takes over you and you suddenly have no power over your thoughts or actions.
You do not know why, but you want to scream and cry. You want to flee from this world and never come back. Nothing makes sense anymore. Even the smallest activity like getting out of bed or brushing the teeth suddenly seems totally pointless. There is nothing that could cheer you up. You feel like an empty machine without any emotions. After some time, the suicidal thoughts can even start to control you. These may gradually result in the belief that ending your life is the only thing that gives it some meaning.
Paradoxically, these feelings can alternate in relatively short intervals with feelings of happiness. Personally, I was able to feel a wide range of feelings during one day, from extremely pleasant to extremely scary.
Whatever you do, you feel like a useless, worthless mother. You constantly cry at your next life as a mother, which suddenly you no longer desire. You constantly ask yourself whether you really should have had a baby, whether you had lived your life enough before they were born, whether you’d partied enough, whether you’d dated enough, whether you’d studied enough, whether you’d traveled enough, whether you’d done everything you wanted… Often you long to turn back time and reconsider your decision.
At one point, I was convinced that having children was the worst decision of my life. I kept blaming and asking myself what was it good for. I felt like this decision had ruined my life. I was terrified of the idea of becoming just an automatic machine without my own life.
Symptoms of postpartum depression do not significantly differ from the symptoms of regular depression. The main difference is their trigger and, in the case of the postpartum one, a wider range of symptoms. As a mother suffering from postpartum depression you tend to hate your child or on the contrary, protect them too much. You can even feel a strong urge to hurt them.
Although the symptoms of depression vary depending on the individual person, the main symptoms such as feelings of uselessness and reluctance to life are, in my opinion, a pivotal pillar of any depression.
I remember walking down the city with a blank expression on my face and watching the people around me. Some people had serious faces, some smiled, some were talking, some were drinking coffee, some were shopping, some were just entering the restaurant… But… everything seemed to be so pointless. “What is the point of all this?” I kept asking myself.
Depression does not allow you to live your life and does everything to drag you down to the bottom. And it does it systematically and on a long-term basis. It’s the darkest place in the world you can get to. But most importantly, it is a disease that can be extremely dangerous for you and your children. You have no power over it and you cannot control it at all. The more you try, the more it pulls you down.
Therefore, it is essential to seek professional help.
What is the cause of postnatal depression?
Since postnatal depression is a disease, it can not be explained by pure logic. Many people do not understand, or even judge mothers suffering from this disease, which is really not right. Asking ‘how can someone suffer or have postnatal depression’ is like asking how someone can suffer from or have cancer. I understand that what I have just said is a very shocking statement but you would never hold it against someone to have a very serious illness such as cancer you must also believe that of postnatal depression. It’s out of the person’s control and indiscriminate and merciless on how it attacks and leaves you so completely vulnerable.
In terms of reasons why it happens, every woman needs to realise that having a baby is a massive change that has a very huge impact on her life. When having a baby, your life as you know it is changed forever. The way I experienced motherhood was that suddenly, in front of you there is a crying child who is basically a stranger to you. And that baby cries and cries nearly all the time and you often don’t know how to help them. The continuous crying is like torture and soon feels like it is drilling into your brain and you think you will go insane. You feel like your whole being is like a soothing, feeding and changing machine. You feel hopeless and desperate. You try to do your best, but you feel like the worst mother in the world.
Please trust me when I say that this is definitely something you cannot pass or gloss over with a smile on your face and your feet up.
Please do not feel that I am using scare tactics and trying to scare you, I am trying to honestly express how I felt. It is not the same for every mother this is from my personal view which I am trying to show you it is valid as much as what you may be feeling.
Your life changes literally from one day to another, but you cannot process it from one day to the next. The process of adaptation always takes some time, and in the case of a child’s arrival is this process even longer and harder.
Believe me that only a few mothers go through this phase without any mark in their mental health.
Another factor that closely relates to the beginning of postpartum depression is the influence of the media and the environment of a new mother. Have you noticed that motherhood is mostly spoken of in positive associations? Magazine titles, stories you hear from friends, interviews with celebrities, movies, songs, social networks… From each side, we are fed by the illusion that a new mother should experience the feeling of greatest happiness and love from the very first moment. Reality is often different, and if feelings of happiness do not arrive a mother feels bad and guilty. I say more about this topic in the post Why do we pretend happiness when feeling depressed?.
A mix of these factors is, in my opinion, the core reasons that are very likely to make a new mother feel like a failure. She does not necessarily have to suffer depression, although the ice she stands on is very thin. When experiencing feelings of failure, a mother often disappears into her shell, puts on a happy face and does not let anyone see what is happening underneath that mask. This is the beginning of the hell and that seclusion is the fastest way to the open arms of postnatal depression.
When is the time to seek a medical help?
As soon as you feel that something is wrong. Despite your desire for hiding your feelings from others. Remember, that the feelings cannot be suppressed forever. The longer you suppress them, the more they eat you inside. It is much easier and more effective to start talking about your feelings as soon as they arrive.
How do you know something is wrong?
Us women have a sixth sense that leads us throughout our whole lives. Whether we admit it or not, we simply know when something is wrong.
What are the treatment options?
- Talk about how you feel. With a partner, a friend, a doctor, a sister, a mother, a stranger… with anyone who will listen to you. Because what you really need is not the advice, but the willingness to listen. Speaking will take a huge load off your shoulders and is likely to lead you to further forms of treatment.
- Seek professional help. The specialist will guide you to the best path for your recovery. For someone, it is necessary to start using the medication, someone can cope using the therapy only. Whatever the treatment, always follow the doctor’s recommendation.
In any case, do not listen to the type of an advice that might come from your surroundings like “get yourself together”, “you have a beautiful child, why are you depressed?”, “you have to get over it,” and so on. Many people still do not realise that postpartum depression is a disease and not a choice. This type of advice is meant well of course, but for someone who had never been through a depression, it is hard (if not impossible) to empathise with a depressed person.
Your feelings are natural and do not say anything about you as a mother. Never forget this a repeat it to yourself every single day.
If you need anything, you always have plenty of options to turn to. From family and friends, through other mums, supportive groups that specialise in postnatal depression, to a GP or other professionals. If you feel overwhelmed with feelings of depression, do not put it off, because the sooner you start the treatment, the sooner you and your child start to feel better and enjoy each other.
I will finish with one of my favourite quotes, “Don’t cry when the sun is down because the tears won’t let you see the stars”.
And don’t forget that there are millions of stars up in the sky ;).
Lots of love,