By Anna Harcharik, LPC
“This should be the happiest time of my life! I don’t know what is wrong with me.”
“I started crying last night and couldn’t stop. I couldn’t explain it to my husband because I didn’t know what was wrong myself.”
“I keep having terrible thoughts and worries about what could happen. I don’t even want to say them out loud.”
“I just blew up on my husband yesterday and now I feel terrible. It really wasn’t a big deal, but I just reacted.”
Sound familiar? If so, you may be struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety. After having a baby, many women struggle with feeling low, mood swings, an increase in crying, and difficulty sleeping. However, when these symptoms persist or start happening more than 2 weeks after having a baby, it may be postpartum depression or anxiety. Postpartum depression can cause low mood, feelings of worthlessness, excessive crying, difficulty sleeping, reduced interest in activities that used to be pleasurable, and irritability. Postpartum anxiety can cause racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, panic attacks, excessive worry, fear of being a bad mother, and thoughts of dread.
Unfortunately, most women having symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety are embarrassed and ashamed about how they are feeling. Since they were excited about having a baby and planning for the big day, they’re shocked to feel down or anxious afterward. If this is happening to you, please know you are not alone.
Feeling a sense of shame or embarrassment is understandable when you consider the daily pressures new moms are up against: Our society places enormous expectations on moms, and social media is not helping. Seeing another mom’s post of a picture of their smiling baby in a perfect outfit can create a feeling of failure, especially when you’re sitting in a spit-up-encrusted t-shirt and have been up all night with a crying baby on 2 hours of sleep. It’s difficult not to play the comparison game and begin thinking that you aren’t measuring up. Although we all know that people are posting their very best versions of themselves on social media, those perfect snippets can still bring on feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth. These feelings can be even more difficult when you’re experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety.
So what can you do if you’re struggling?
- See a counselor. Counseling can help you develop coping strategies, feel supported and validated, and offer helpful perspectives during this time. Counseling can also be a great place to talk about what you’re going through without feeling judged or made to feel like less of a mother. Sometimes, talking to a loved one or a friend can lead to advice on what you should be doing differently, which can make you feel worse. It may also be helpful for your partner to attend a few sessions as well to help them know how to best support you during this time and also provide support to them as well.
- Find social support that is helpful and encouraging. Joining a local group of mothers or a support group can provide additional support during this time. Postpartum Support International provides online support groups that are available 5 days a week.
- Self-care, self-care, self-care. Being a mother is really hard. It’s a difficult job that’s even harder when you have postpartum depression or anxiety. Be kind in how you talk to yourself and how much you expect from yourself. Try to let go of the idea of being a perfect mom or having the perfect child. Maybe take a break from social media for a while and reach out to people in your life who are positive and supportive. Take time to get outside, go on a walk, or do something you used to enjoy.
If at any point you have thoughts of harming yourself or the baby, please seek help immediately. If you are having thoughts of suicide, call a suicide hotline. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use their webchat on suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. If you are having thoughts of harming your baby, please seek help from a loved one or your partner to help with the baby and contact a licensed mental health therapist. If you feel you may act on these thoughts, call 911 immediately.
If you are going through a hard time right now, the most important thing to know is that you are not alone and there is help for you. What you are going through is difficult and isn’t something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. Remember that taking care of yourself is also taking care of your baby and being a great mom.