I will admit to getting pissy when seeing celebrities all gaga over their newborns. As someone who had postpartum depression, it reminds me that I did not feel that joy when my kids were infants. And I gotta tell ya, the truth is that Chrissy Teigen was one of those that made me grind my teeth cause it all seemed so perfect. First of all, she’s gorgeous. And second, the girl is married to John Legend. And Luna is beyond adorable. They’re a beautiful family. How could you not growl at that?
So a few weeks back when Chrissy Teigen admitted she suffered from postpartum depression, I was surprised. Shocked really.
I realized that I had fallen for it. I had fallen for one of these postpartum depression myths. Everything looked like the embodiment of perfection. I never looked passed that – and I suffered from the illness myself. Chrissy Teigen did not look sad. Just because things look like perfection on the outside, you never know what is going on behind closed doors….
Imagine what folks who don’t have any experience with postpartum depression and related illnesses think?
Myths, untruths and misunderstandings do no favors to halt the stigma of the illness – and in turn, do not help mothers overcome the illness. I connected with some women who have also suffered from maternal mental health illnesses – who I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a bit – to get their thoughts about some myths regarding the perception of the illness. Myths that even we, as PPD survivors, sometimes fall victim to.
Myth #1: Postpartum illnesses only occur in the first few months after the baby is born
- Many published materials state that postpartum illnesses can occur any time during the first year. But that “deadline” isn’t a “complete” button by any means. At the end of one year, I kept waiting and waiting for “it” to go away. And when “it” didn’t, I spiraled even worse.
- I did not receive a diagnosis until my son turned 14 months old.
- Even if I brought up the thought of having PPD to friends and family, the response was that it couldn’t be PPD because my baby was almost a year old.
- I’m only 20 months Postpartum and I still have anxiety and an internal bully that can be pretty mean. I feel people judge me (now this could be the anxiety talking) that I’m not ‘better’ yet, my baby is going on 20 months and though some of the darkness has lifted I still don’t feel like me.
Myth #2: The doctors will know what to do. They’ll recognize the symptoms to diagnose me
- It took a full blown panic attack and a trip to the emergency room for someone to recognize my condition.
- What I learned over the years – to no fault of any medical specialty – was that postpartum depression is just not always something on a medical professional’s radar.
- When I raised the question of postpartum depression with my OB/GYN, he blatantly dismissed it and then suggested that I change my lifestyle.
- I adopted my kids so I never expected to have postpartum depression – and neither did any of my doctors.
Myth #3: I don’t feel sad, so I don’t have postpartum depression
- I wasn’t really sad, but I did have really bothersome thoughts and a slew of body aches. Little did I know that “depression” was not the only ailment associated with maternal mental illness. There is Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) with/without intrusive thoughts; Postpartum PTSD, Postpartum Psychosis – and antepartum (before birth) versions of all of these too. There is very little talk about these other maternal mental illnesses, which led me to believe that I couldn’t have been suffering from a postpartum illness.
- I had physical pain EVERYWHERE, including chest pains, headaches, dizziness, and stomach pains. Surely I had a brain tumor or maybe a heart condition – or both. Surely I was dying.
- ……that there is only PPD. I was in a constant state to angst.
- ……that rage is not an aspect.
Myth #4: Give it time, I’m sure you’ll just snap out of it
- I think there is much confusion between baby blues and PPD. Baby blues typically goes away on its own after a short amount of time.
- Unfortunately, postpartum illnesses do not always go away on their own. But the good news is that the illness is treatable and there is help available. Remember to advocate for yourself when speaking with medical professionals.
- Being told that I just needed sleep and relaxation was so frustrating!
- I’d been told that taking a hot bath and getting sleep will cure it all. I heard all of the remedies and “you will be fine” and no one understood that I could not control it. It wasn’t a matter of just snapping out of it.
- …..that exercise, prayer, quality time will make it go away.
- This illness is a jerk (I could call it worse names). What I’ve come to realize is you do not get better overnight no matter how much you try. It’s exhausting fighting it every day.
Myth #5: You’re fine! All moms worry.
- People used to love to tell me that worrying was normal and that all mothers worry. Even when I explained to them that if I heard the microwave go on and I wasn’t in the room I immediately went into fight or flight mode thinking that my husband might be putting my baby in the microwave. While my logical brain would tell me that is not true, my postpartum brain wouldn’t allow me to feel secure and I would be in panic, sweating, etc and would need to take considerable time to recover from it even after seeing that all was fine. That, is not, normal motherly worrying.
- It wasn’t supposed to be this way….people said that it would take time to get to know the baby and to feel comfortable with being a mother, but what I was feeling was so much “more” – there was sheer panic in every waking moment. What if he didn’t eat enough? What if he ate too much? He didn’t burp! What’s going to happen to him?
- The constant checking to see if the baby was breathing when he was sleeping. I could not control it. It was like an out of body experience.
Myth #6: If you have never experienced depression or anxiety type illnesses, you are not at risk for a postpartum illness:
- I did not suffer from depression or anxiety growing up, but I had a very traumatic birth with my daughter. This seemed to have contributed to developing postpartum depression.
- In many ways I had risk factors for it – but a history of depression and anxiety were not among them.
- Medical professionals suggested that I must have been an anxious type A person before kids and the hectic pace of motherhood just must have exacerbated this in me. While I know pre-baby mental health issues are certainly a risk factor, it is not a prerequisite for having a postpartum condition and in my case that was not true. I had not had these issues before. And I think it in a way minimizes PPD to frame it exclusively in this way.
Myth #7: I must be a terrible mother
- We want SO very much to “feel” what all those books told us we’d feel. And when that does not happen, it’s utterly heartbreaking. This made me feel like a horrible mother – and a horrible person.
- Society puts such pressure on moms in general that we are supposed to love and bond to our babies immediately – that we should be happy we just had a baby. Heck even before the baby is born the books, lists, endless opinions of what you should do, shouldn’t do….
- When we are suffering and living in that dark place, it’s hard to admit that you wish there was a return policy on the baby – that you would rather live in a dark hole (well for me anyway). There are those that just don’t understand why you are not enjoying this thing called motherhood.
- OCD and intrusive thoughts is the absolute worst. I couldn’t be a “good mother” with these odd thoughts floating around in my mind.
- Consumed with guilt because this was supposed to be the best time in my life – and I was miserable.
Myth #8: Postpartum Depression and Depression are the same
- It has been suggested that I might want to attend general support groups for people with depression and anxiety because of course there aren’t any for PPD moms. While I recognize that many of the symptoms of generalized depression and anxiety are the same as PPD, I don’t think those people would understand the thoughts and feeling of a mom with PPD. While they may be sympathetic, I think they might even judge if we said we just wished our baby to disappear or whatever we ruminating thoughts there are. All because of the stigma that giving birth to a baby automatically makes you happy.
I’ll reiterate again that there is no medical advice here. We are not professionals, but sharing our words as women who have been there…. (Thank you AZ, SN, RS, MD, JL, JH, AB, DG and MD for sharing your wisdom!)
It’s the most natural thing in the world for a women to give birth – and the expectation is this insta-love and insta-bond. It doesn’t always happen – and that is plain ol’ OK. If some of this does resonate with you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor. And/or share your feelings with a loved one…..or even just show them this article and nod your head if that’s all you have in you at this time.
Personally, I’m thankful to celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, Hayden Panettiere and Brooke Shields for bringing attention to postpartum depression and related illnesses. If it takes celebrities to bring attention to the fact that up to 1 in 7 new mothers will suffer, so be it. At least it is getting some much needed spotlight.
For further information on this topic: http://westchestercounty.citymomsblog.com/health-and-fitness/mommys-worries-get-big-postpartum-anxiety-panic-attacks/illnesses.
Postpartum Support International is a nonprofit organization which has coordinators in almost every state that can help find an experienced professional in PPD and related illnesses.