What Does Postpartum Depression Look Like?

After speaking with another woman who has been through PPD yesterday, I got to thinking about what people think that postpartum depression looks like.  It’s talked about…  Sure–but generally in extremes.  We hear crackpot quotes by Tom Cruise.  We think of Andrea Yates or at least of women who absolutely can’t function.  I hurt for the women living through the extremes of PPD and I know that is the experience of some, but my experience was different.

When I thought about PPD before my diagnosis I thought of a woman who couldn’t get dressed, who stayed in bed every day, who couldn’t function, and cried at the drop of a hat.  When I took the screening tests at Well-baby checks, I didn’t necessarily test in a range that was alarming (which is probably partly because I’m good at taking tests). 

And so I assumed that I couldn’t have postpartum depression.  I blamed the way I was feeling on other things:  My husband’s impending deployment, the two-year anniversary of Mom’s death, the grief that splashed up at me as a result of having a baby in my arms that Mom would never see and reliving the memories of Little Miss’s first four months superimposed on Mom’s last four months.  Then I blamed it on the deployment, and the difficulty of parenting an infant and a toddler by myself for 3 months. 

And then those things faded into the background.  Husband came home.  I got into the ‘easier’ part of the calendar that was less filled with trigger points for missing Mom…  And I still felt “off.” 

But I could function.  I got up and got dressed every day.  I hardly cried.  I ordered my eating habits for probably the first time ever so I neither lost weight or gained weight because of the depression.  I managed to keep up with my commitments.  I even spearheaded a few new efforts in our church, and began leading a ministry for Moms.  If I could do all of that, surely I wasn’t depressed, right?

So was it real?  I asked myself that a lot. 

It was.  It is.

For me, PPD looked (looks) like this:

  • Feeling off.  Just off.
  • Feeling disconnected–from my life, from my kids, from my husband
  • Feeling like I’m in a ‘fog.’
  • Lacking joy.  Lacking joy in being a Mom, in little things that I normally love, in life in general.
  • Guilt, guilt, and more guilt. 
  • Just feeling down
  • Having my ‘default’ attitude be negative and pessimistic rather than fairly optimistic
  • Wanting to run away.  To sleep, to hide, to curl up in a ball.
  • Shrinking when my children cried.
  • Inability to focus
  • “Escaping” often.  To the computer, to phone calls, to books, to anything to get me out of my ‘real life’ and my feelings.
  • Snapping at my children very, very easily
  • Feeling overwhelmed all the time
  • Feeling like no matter what I just couldn’t get it all together.

Interestingly enough, I felt different immediately.  I can remember feeling very distressed in the Labor and Delivery room after Baboo was born because she felt like a stranger.  I didn’t know what to do with her.  I was so shaky I was afraid to hold her.  I couldn’t figure out how to move my own body.  I didn’t feel right.  After Little Miss’s birth this tremendous euphoric feeling of empowerment took over me.  After Baboo’s birth I just felt fuzziness and confusion and exhaustion. 

I wouldn’t say that I had trouble bonding with my youngest…  But for certain, those first couple of months especially, the only time I felt anywhere near happy or content was when I was holding her.  I can remember just wanting to burrow into a spot on the couch with her snuggled in my arms to breathe her in and do nothing else.  Everything else seemed like too much. I just wanted to hide away and snuggle her and pretend that nothing else existed.

There is still such a stigma attached to PPD.  And so much guilt involved.  Plus there seems to be a very fuzzy understanding of the spectrum of ways that it can present itself.  Not everyone is Andrea Yates.  Not everyone ceases to shower and cries all the time.  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem.  That doesn’t mean that a woman shouldn’t seek help. 

So, just in case someone out there is looking for someone’s story to relate to, as I was…  I wanted to share what it looked like for me.  It took reading two or three accounts of different people whose experiences sounded like mine for me to realize that I needed help too. 

Should you be that person, help is out there.  A good resource to start with is Postpartum Support International.  You can overcome this.  Motherhood doesn’t have to be like this.  You can break through the fog and reclaim your joy.  I believe that, and I’m reaching for it.

And as a postscript, as I was thinking over this post I happened to go read the latest post at Finally Getting Somewhere.  She relates her experience with depression and postpartum depression as well (And it’s not surprising to me that we both happened to do this today…  We seem to be in some sort of weird parallel universe at times ;)). 

And as a second postscript:  I know that I have some special ladies reading who are expecting kiddos any moment, or who have just had a new little bundle.  I hope that reading posts about  PPD doesn’t scare you.  That is not my intent.  Be aware, but please don’t worry.


12 thoughts on “What Does Postpartum Depression Look Like?

  1. I am expecting our first late summer/early fall, and I felt better after reading this, not scared. I think it is amazing when people can share so much of themselves to help others. It is good to know that PPD may not present itself in an extreme way, and that if I’m not feeling ‘right’ after the baby comes, there is support out there and help if I need it. So thank you for posting this!

  2. Wow, we are in a parallel universe, aren’t we? Or we could just say that great minds think alike! As you could when reading my blog, I felt myself shaking my head reading this because I could relate so well. I think people do tend to think of the extreme cases like Andrea Yates when they think of PPD. There still is such a stigma to it; that is why I think it is important for those of us who have encountered it to speak up. I finally did last year at a MOPS meeting. If my story can make even one mom feel less alone, then it was worth it. Like you said, people tend to think of those with PPD, or any type of depression, as those who can’t function. That is far from the truth. Like you, I am very good at putting on the happy face. If I didn’t tell anyone, they would never know. Thank you for writing this. I am sure we will reach many women even if they never post a response to let us know that.

  3. I greatly admire and thank you for your courage on speaking out on this issue. Very brave of you. PPD is something that needs greatly increased awareness, that’s for sure. Although I haven’t experienced it myself, I’ve witnessed a close friend face it, and after doing some research (we found most of our information through this site) she is now getting help. She is also taking natural daily multivitamin and herbal supplements (info can be found on that linked site) that have herbs, minerals, and vitamins that support symptoms of depression in women. My thoughts are with you and thank you again for your courage! You’re an inspiration.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. I believe it takes an incredible amount of courage to speak about something considered so taboo. It is a tremendous help to hear other women coping with the same feelings of despair and just feeling “off”. I am currently reading “Down Came The Rain” by Brooke Shields. Poignant, real, supportive.

    I will keep you in my prayers.

  5. I can’t even begin to thank you enough for this post. I have been dealing with post partum depression for so long, yet my stubborn nature has yet to tell a doctor. I keep thinking that i’m “a warrior” and so I don’t need help. Yeah. Some warrior I am. This thing is so much bigger than anyone.

    All of your symptoms mirror mine… to a ‘T’.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I have experienced PPD twice and like you, I functioned pretty well. I had my low moments without a doubt, but I kept so much hidden until I cracked…more than once. Thank you again for sharing.

  7. This post is so great – I was more of a busy-busy and cry-when-nobody-is-around kind of PPD mom. Plus, I had PMDD in there when I wasn’t nursing. Talk about a roller coaster. AND, I was (and still am) a mental health counselor at the time of my depression. I thought I knew what depression looked like. Even I fooled myself as it all unfolded.

    Three and a half years of that hell until I finally put together the patterns and the feelings. Medication and brief therapy, and I was finally free. Still a few years recovering post-medication just getting my healthy mind habits back in good shape.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. It doesn’t all look the same. And the Big Pharma was available to me when I needed it. Nobody shoved pills down my throat. I was in control. My counselor understood and was supportive. I am grateful to have myself back.

  8. Thank you. I have exactley the same symptoms and I feel like I have nobody to confide in or talk to about this because I feel like it’s all just me and it’s something I should be able to fix/control myself. I am going to my doctor on tuesday but still feel like I will be looked down apon for feeling like this like it’s my own fault. Thank you again for posting this it made me feel alot better.

  9. I’m so glad I’ve found your story. I can relate to just about all of it. The hardest part for me is feeling disconnected from everyone and everything. Strangely apart is the best way to describe it. I feel like I’m in a different world than everyone else. I hope I start to feel better very soon cause this is just awful! I want to feel my babies in my heart and soul and enjoy every single moment with them.

  10. Thank you so much for this post. As having just figured out that I too am living with “functional PPD”, it truly helps to know that it doesn’t always have to be non stop crying, and staying in bed to be PPD.

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