When I was eight months pregnant, a friend asked me if I was worried at all about postpartum depression. I quickly shot her down. "Oh, that would never happen to me," I said. "I’m so excited to be a mom." As far as I was concerned, I was going to give birth to my son the old-fashioned way, fall deeply in love with him, breastfeed him for months like a champion, transform into the DIY domestic goddess I was always meant to be, and take him with me everywhere I went.
Instead, I was in labor for 24 hours, a process that led to two hours of pushing, followed by a C-section. Afterward, I found that I felt nothing toward my healthy new baby boy, became crippled by anxiety, quit breastfeeding after five days, decided I had made a terrible mistake becoming a mom, started taking antidepressants, and barely left the house for six months.
Maybe if I had received more education about postpartum depression, I would have been more aware of what was happening to me, less ashamed, and more prepared to seek help. There are so many things I wish I’d known about postpartum depression before I became a mom, and I want you to know them too.
1. Postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate.
Postpartum depression doesn’t care about your race, ethnicity, how much money or education you have, how excited you are about your baby, or what your support system looks like. I felt like I had lucked out with the ultimate new mom set-up: I have a wonderful husband, a supportive family, and couldn’t wait to be a mom. I even hired a baby nurse to help out the first two months… and I still got postpartum depression.
2. There are real risk factors.
I had so many risk factors and had no idea risk factors for postpartum depression even existed. Some of mine: having 30 family members in town on my due date, moving three months before my due date, an extremely long labor, and having a type-A personality. Although each mom’s risk factors will be different because postpartum depression is not a one-size-fits-all illness, I’d recommend checking out the list.
3. Postpartum depression doesn’t mean you want to harm your baby.
I always thought moms with postpartum depression were the ones I saw on television: the people on the news who hurt their babies and sometimes themselves too. I never had the desire to do either of those things, which left me feeling confused about what was happening to me. Most of those folks are actually suffering from a form of postpartum psychosis, the least common form of postpartum depression. (And although many people with postpartum psychosis have delusions, they’re not always destructive—and those harmful thoughts aren’t exactly brought on because the person wants them, either.)
4. Postpartum depression isn’t like other depressions.
I learned later from my therapist that postpartum depression often presents itself as more of an irritable, anxious depression. At first, I didn’t realize I was depressed because what I really felt was overwhelming anxiety. This also made it more difficult for others to notice that something was wrong. And because women just can’t catch a break (ever, really), postpartum anxiety is its own condition—one that doesn’t get as much attention but is definitely something to watch for.
5. Hundreds of thousands of women get postpartum depression each year.
For a while, I felt like the only one. I didn’t know any moms who had postpartum depression—or if I did, they weren’t talking about it. I just thought I sucked at motherhood and couldn’t understand why everyone else was so much better at it. I also felt ashamed and didn’t want anyone to know about any of the negative thoughts running through my head. If I had known that postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth, affecting 1 in 7 new moms, I might have felt less alone.
6. Having postpartum depression doesn’t make you a bad mom.
When postpartum depression hit, I couldn’t understand why everyone else loved being a mom and had such an easy transition into motherhood. I couldn’t understand why everyone on my social media feeds posted pictures with captions like, "The best thing to ever happen to me," or "so in love" or "life is now complete."
I just thought I was a horrible mother because I couldn’t relate to any of that. The truth was I didn’t cause my depression or ask to get sick. I wasn’t a terrible mom. I had a real mental health issue that required treatment.
7. Taking medication isn't the end of the world.
I never thought I would begin motherhood by taking antidepressants, and I questioned what that said about me as a mom. Was I weak because I needed drugs to help me function? Would I be judged for trading breastfeeding for anti-anxiety pills? Taking medication turned out to be the best decision because it helped me get healthy and happy for my family. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t judged myself so harshly.
8. Not everyone in your life will be supportive.
I could barely leave the house, let alone have the will to return phone calls, texts, and emails, or explain what I was going through. I was too exhausted and often too embarrassed, but many of my friends understood and continued to send messages filled with love and support without expecting anything in return. However, some stopped reaching out when they didn’t hear back from me; they couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort. They aren’t my friends today, and I’ve come to accept that that’s OK.
9. Finding the right therapist is everything.
The first therapist I met with spent our first session asking me to list ways I could be a good mom… which was not helpful at all when I was feeling like I didn’t even want to be a mom in the first place. I didn’t see the light until I met with a therapist who specialized in postpartum depression and knew exactly how to talk to me about this issue. I could have saved myself some time and frustration if I knew seeing someone who specializes in maternal mental health is a must.
10. Motherhood is a team sport.
I now know that motherhood isn’t meant to be done in isolation, but when I became a mom, I thought I had to do it all on my own—and with a big smile on my face. I thought that’s what made someone a good mom. So when I got sick and couldn’t do anything without help, I felt like a failure; I didn’t know that all moms struggle and need help. Now, I openly share my struggles and always ask for help when I need it because motherhood becomes easier and more fun when we all do it together.
If you think you might be suffering from postpartum depression, it’s OK to ask for help. Postpartum Support International is a great place to help you find local resources in your area.
Jen Schwartz, expert postpartum depression survivor is the co-founder of MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD and the creator of the blog The Medicated Mommy. She is on a mission to empower moms everywhere to accept themselves as they are, let go of the “shoulds” and share the uglier sides of motherhood so other moms can feel less alone. She’s revolutionizing the conversation about the mom experience by coming from a place of much needed empathy, authenticity, and sisterhood and asking every mom out there to join her. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook, and join the M | U mom crew here.