About four million babies are born each year in the United States. Many of the mothers of these newborns will go through the “baby blues,” a period of hormonal shifts and mood swings for a few days or even a few weeks as they adjust to their new baby and perhaps, new parenthood. For some women, these “baby blues” may persist for a longer period.
It is estimated that over 600,000 mothers each year experience postpartum depression (PPD), many of whom are not diagnosed, as only about 15-20 percent of these women will seek treatment.
In my role at Mental Health America in Sheboygan County, we get many calls each year pertaining to depression, and some of these are people concerned about themselves or a loved one who may be struggling with postpartum depression.
Some signs of PPD include losing interest in activities, crying often, feelings of despair, difficulty bonding with the baby, and feeling like you aren’t doing a “good job” as a mom. Sometimes it can be hard to notice or recognize these symptoms, as some changes in mood are to be expected with a new baby. Parents may feel overwhelmed. They may have mood swings or feel very tired.
However, feeling tired after bringing home a newborn is common and expected, feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or despair are not. It was because of my knowledge of the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression that I found myself in my doctor’s office the week before Christmas filling out the Edinburgh Post Natal Depression Scale (EPDS).
I had noticed over the previous weeks that I had been socializing less, laughing less, and my irritability was through the roof.
Several weeks prior to my appointment, I had been attempting to put my son’s initials on a package of baby food to make sure his green beans would be properly marked for daycare. The surface was too waxy to allow the permanent marker to remain permanent and I threw both the marker and the baby food across the counter and a word that can’t be published here left my mouth.
Things were starting to feel overwhelming and out of my control. I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things have gone wrong. As I sat there filling out the EPDS screener, I found myself thinking back to that unfortunate green bean incident.
I thought about my own role as a mental health professional, and how we try to break stigma by teaching others that there is no shame or blame when it comes to struggling with a mental illness.
Yet somehow, I was blaming myself every time something went wrong and constantly second-guessing my mothering skills, even though I love my son so much. Even though I have a supportive husband and family and friends close by. Even though I work in the mental health field and knew all the signs and what to watch out for. There I was, a week before Christmas, being diagnosed with postpartum depression.
My doctor was amazing, and rather than feeling upset or ashamed, I felt relief. The way I had been feeling had a name and treatment options that work. My doctor even had me watch an online video about how normal it is to be an imperfect mom and reminded me that no mom is perfect. Postpartum depression is not your fault.
Getting help means you’re a mom who happened to get postpartum depression. Getting help means you care about yourself, your children, and your family enough to be the best mom you can be. I encourage anyone who is worried about themselves or someone they love to reach out and get help. Talk to your doctor, or call us at Mental Health America at (920) 458-3951.
From one imperfect mom to another, I wish you the best in this wild, imperfect ride called motherhood.
Trisha Erpelding is the education coordinator and lead mindful instructor at Mental Health America in Sheboygan County.