When a New Baby Isn’t Bliss

After a difficult pregnancy, I wanted to love motherhood after my older son was born. But I didn’t love it. I didn’t love it all. Being a mom was hard and it seemed like the more effort I put in, the harder it became. Everyday tasks were overwhelming chores, anxiety and self-doubt were my default emotions, and I spiraled into shame and guilt. It took three years, and the birth of my second son before I lost my ability to function and was forced to seek help. It was only then that I realized I had been struggling with severe postpartum depression.

If you or someone you love recently became a parent or is about to become one, and you’re struggling, you should know you’re not alone. One in six women, and one in 10 men (yes, dads get postpartum depression too!) will struggle with an adjustment to new parenthood. If that number seems high to you, it may be because shame and ignorance keeps many new parents quiet and forces them to put up a fake front to convince the world that they’re okay, even as they fall apart on the inside.

Here are some things I wish someone had told me about postpartum depression when I first became a mom.

1. It’s often not depression

Postpartum depression is often used as a catch-all term for a variety of perinatal mood disorders, many of which have nothing to do with depression. In fact, one of the most common mood disorders after birth is anxiety. For examples, some parents constantly worry or suffer debilitating anxiety attacks. There’s a wide range of other emotions that come into play as well: anger, numbness, guilt, helplessness and shame are just a few. What is common for all affected parents is that they’re struggling.

2. Scary thoughts are common

Intrusive thoughts – scary thoughts that won’t go away – are common for people with postpartum depression. They involve sudden, vivid images or thoughts that are upsetting, such as seeing yourself throwing the baby off of a balcony or driving your car into a wall. The thought or image is then followed by a strong reaction of repulsion. Many people with intrusive thoughts worry they will act on them and harm themselves or the baby. They won’t – the stories you see on the news about parents hurting their babies is a result of postpartum psychosis, a very rare and very serious medical emergency.

With proper care, intrusive thoughts can go away. Learn more from this video.

3. You are strong and you are a great parent!

Do you do your best – the best that you’re capable of without hurting your mental health, not the best you think you should be doing? If so, give yourself a high five because you’re doing fine.

4. Perfect is the enemy.

When I first became a mom, I had taken several courses and read every baby care book I could get my hands on. I was determined to do everything exactly right. And I tried. But that impossible standard just made me feel like a failure and my mental health deteriorated. Paradoxically then, perfectionism made me a worse mom than if I’d just relaxed and aimed to be a “good enough” mom instead.

5. There’s help

If anything you’ve read here sounds like something that you or a loved one are going through, you need support. Your first step should be to ask for help from friends and family, and then make an appointment with your primary health care provider. You can also find great support right here in New West!


2 Replies to “When a New Baby Isn’t Bliss”

  1. In my reading about low thyroid, how common it is without being properly diagnosed, I came across a suggestion that it can be misdiagnosed as postpartum depression. The usual first tests are not necessarily enough to understand that it is a factor. Having enough energy to get through the sleep-deprived phase is just one part of it, yet a very important part. I hope you find the support that means most to you.

    1. Good point! Problems with the thyroid and low iron levels can both mimic postpartum depression. That’s why it’s so important for new parents to make their family doctor their first stop in finding help. A proper medical screening can easily determine if these are factors.

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