Postpartum depression. Doctors warn you of it, people pay lip service to it, but for the most part we–especially those who have suffered–don’t talk about our own experiences with it. While depression is not a “taboo” topic, it’s not warm and fuzzy either. Talking about your cute new baby is much more fun. Depression can also be hard to recognize because it can take different forms in different people. From experience I can tell you that postpartum depression is hard to spot, but it is a very common, and a very real, challenge for new families.
Generally, I’m a pretty busy and happy person. There are days when I’m a little down, but for the most part I am not one of these people you would think of as being “depressed.” Prior to having children I had never been diagnosed with depression or paid much attention to my mental health, or anyone else’s for that matter. However, years (yes, YEARS!) after the birth of our first daughter I realized I had spent months suffering from postpartum depression. As I read more about depression, I began to identify how I had missed recognizing it for what it was.
We were distracted with a tiny human.
Unless you have suffered from postpartum depression, you’re likely rolling your eyes thinking, “how is it even possible to not know you’re depressed?” The answer is simple: Tiny people. I was distracted by the tiny being we had created. The funny thing is, a doctor had warned us about depression. Maybe it was the midwife right after our daughter was born. It’s all a hazy blur, but I remember someone saying to my husband “your wife will not notice that she’s depressed. You don’t recognize depression when you are in the middle of it.”
My husband was a great partner and father right from the start. I don’t think either of us recognized my depression because we were both fighting against the sucking vortex that is the first six weeks with a newborn. Then, we were trying to adapt our previously busy, independent lives to include a baby.
We were busy pretending we knew what to do with a baby. I was pretending that I wasn’t totally overwhelmed. Our sweet girl was not nursing well. She was not sleeping well. I remember one night in a delirious stupor thinking that something was wrong with the baby. Then I actually thought “Well, if she passes away, at least I’ll get some sleep.” I cringe to write that now and think what a warning sign it should have been, but at the time I was clueless.
I was busy
not “sleeping while the baby sleeps.”
Some people’s newborns nap for hours during the day. Ours rarely slept longer than 45 minutes. When she was awake she only wanted to be held. People told me to be thankful she slept at night, but “sleeping at night” for a nursing newborn still means awake every 3-4 hours. I was a zombie but still refused to sleep when she slept because I was desperate for some time to myself. The funny thing is, when I got time to myself, I was too tired and felt too bored to do anything.
I did nothing when the baby was awake and nothing while the baby was asleep.
As she got older, she would only sleep on my lap or while riding in the car. (Yes, in retrospect I realize that I created that problem.) The first seven months of our daughter’s life I spent my days either sitting on our couch holding her or driving around. I wanted a break from her desperately, but couldn’t stand to be away from her. I resented her for taking up all of my time and freedom, but didn’t want to put her down to do anything.
Even when our daughter slept in her crib or a grandparent came over to stay with her, I did nothing. I was debilitating bored. I became a grumpy, irrational human being. I criticized everyone and everything. My mother-in-law would come over and fold our laundry. It annoyed me to no end and I would gripe to my husband, “Tell your mom to stop folding our laundry!” Really, what mentally stable person would EVER say that ?!?
Depression is not always sadness.
What I find most surprising is that during the first nine months postpartum, I never felt sad. I assumed (wrongly) that this was the number one sign of depression. It wasn’t until years later as I did some training and reading that I came across the best description for depression: “Depression is the emotional equivalent of watching paint dry.” Bingo! The perfect summary for my nine months of just being too bored to do anything.
I am not an expert on mental health, but I know first hand how hard it can be to notice and break the cycle of depression. Whether someone has just had a baby or you just notice a personality change, remember that people don’t recognize depression when they are sinking in it. The good news is that our daughter grew into my precious, talented big girl. Now I recognize my own crabby, depressed symptoms and have learned how to deal with them. And the second time around I WAS an expert on what to do with a baby.