Understanding and Identifying Postpartum Depression

By Guest Blogger Erica Djossa

When you become a mom, no topic is off limits. Conversations float between the size, colour and texture of poop, to graphic birthing stories. We discuss how our lady bits got ripped in half, and we go from being modest to whipping out our boob wherever we are. So can someone please tell me why we have such a hard time discussing postpartum depression?! 

There seems to be so much shame and guilt around the emotions experienced in the weeks that follow delivery. Many women I have talked to think they are the only ones who have these thoughts and feelings, and feel loads of shame and guilt as a result. How can it be that giving birth to a new life is the most amazing and blissful experience, yet it can also be the most challenging and depressing? This can create so much confusion and shame. 

Well Mama, grab a coffee and get comfy because we are diving in head first today. 

I had a very challenging pregnancy with my third. I suffered from chronic migraines and was put on special medication by my OB. I found out that I was pregnant when my middle boy was 8 months old, and I continued to breastfeed until around 12 months. I was on baby number three in the span of three years, chasing around two toddlers, and my body was tired. To say that I was looking forward to having my body back is an understatement.  

Labour and delivery with my third started and stopped, but overall went really well. Recovery was great, feeding was great, and the older kids seemed to adjust fairly well. I experienced a blissful first few weeks postpartum, full of energy and able to get out of bed without a big belly weighing me down. I was out and about visiting with people and adventuring to the zoo with the kids– then it hit.

About 6 weeks after delivery I started to notice I wasn’t feeling like myself. I felt EXHAUSTED:  like it took too much energy to stand up or get out of bed type of exhaustion. I became extremely irritable and was often in tears by the end of the day. I felt myself becoming resentful of little things that didn’t usually matter and noticed that I was having a really hard time coping with everyday things like the kids getting sick. Life happens, kids get sick. But life happening meant they would NEED more from me, which was overwhelming considering I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed. 

Okay, pause. I have to acknowledge that it was really hard for me to share all of that. At the time I wrestled with thoughts of why was this happening to me? Shouldn’t I be able to snap myself out of this? I am a psychotherapist after all. But here is the thing: I am human, I am not exempt. And while this may be hard for me to share, I have to remind myself that this isn’t about me– this is about you. I am sharing so that you don’t have to suffer alone. So that you can work up the courage to be brave and tell someone about how you are feeling. I’ve told a handful of moms my experience and I have been  surprised to find out how many have had a similar struggle.. Adjusting to motherhood is no joke. Whether you experienced mild to moderate postpartum depression, struggled with anxiety, or made it through with only a few gray hairs– Motherhood is a MASSIVE adjustment. 

I am fortunate to have training and know the signs of depression. I gave myself the span of a week or two to shake how I was feeling, and knew that if the feelings lingered I would need talk to someone (other than my husband) about it. I felt the feelings, but I didn’t allow myself to sink into them. I made sure to take care of myself and talk to someone right away, both for my sake but also that of my children. I am a more patient, happy, present, and engaged mom as a result. 

Why do some struggle with postpartum depression and others don’t? Research suggests that roughly 15% of North American women experience moderate to severe postpartum depression. Often people don’t seek help until depression is moderate or severe, therefore it is hard to accurately report those that may have struggled with milder forms. There are many risk factors that make some women more prone to postpartum depression: a history of depression, wanted vs. unwanted pregnancy, the number of children, the presence of breastfeeding challenges, baby colic, ease of delivery, family support, NICU stay, anomalies and/or deformities, mother’s marital relationship satisfaction, and so on. Most, if not all of which are outside of the mothers control. 

All of that to say, many women I speak with feel so much guilt and shame about struggling. Coping with the adjustment to motherhood is A LOT in itself, let alone recovering from a 3rd or 4th degree tear, or having a baby in the NICU that you can’t snuggle and hold. Our birthing stories don’t always go as expected:. maybe you tried very hard but weren’t able to breastfeed. It’s ok to feel sad or disappointed. It’s ok to FEEL. As I mentioned before, just don’t allow yourself to sink into and drown in that feeling. 

How do you know if you are drowning? Well, here is a list of the common warning signs of postpartum depression. Usually you would have several of these and would feel them the majority of the time.

  • A feeling that you are not bonding with your baby

  • Depressed mood the majority of the day. This could look like being tearful, working extra hard to “keep it together”

  • Increase in irritability

  • Lack of patience (more than usual, lol)

  • Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy

  • Overall feeling of not being happy

  • Increase or decrease in weight and/or appetite

  • Challenges sleeping or wanting to sleep all of the time.

  • Less physical movement

  • Loss of energy or sense of fatigue

  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Example: Not feeling good enough and feeling no one cares

  • Impaired concentration or indecisiveness

  • Thoughts of death or thinking about suicide. These may be thoughts like “no one even cares about me”, “no one would notice if I’m gone”, etc. They could also sound like “if I were in a car accident, all of this pressure and responsibility would disappear” (side note: if you are struggling with serious suicidal thoughts, go to you local emergency room and talk with the crisis team, or call a crisis line 1-800-273-8255)

If you are going through this list and feel that this describes how you are feeling, TELL SOMEONE! I promise you, you are not alone. You can make an appointment with your doctor or find a therapist you feel a connection with. Find a mom support group where you can open up and tell your story. Advocate for yourself and your needs: don’t let guilt, shame or fear silence you. By taking care of yourself, you are also taking care of your baby and the bond the two of you share. That is something worth nurturing and protecting. 

Whoa, ok. I know that was a lot of information to take in. If you have struggled with PPD, pop into the comments to share your story. What was your experience and how did you push through it? 

Your story matters <3


Erica Djossa is a psychotherapist who specializes in parenting and postpartum care. She has a Master’s degree in counseling psychology and has spent most of her lifetime observing and learning about various relationship dynamics. As a passionate professional, she works full time in a private practice, writes a parenting and motherhood blog and has appeared on several television segments discussing healthy relationships. She has a desire to educate people on the ways they can nurture and strengthen their relationships with others and also their relationship with themself. Visit www.makeittonap.com or connect with her on www.instagram.com/makeittonap for more information.

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