Like many mental health conditions, Postpartum Depression (PPD) is often suffered in silence. Feelings of fear, guilt, or shame can cause people to avoid talking about their symptoms or keep them from getting the help they need, and this can result in painful days spent in isolation. But whether discussed openly or not, the reality is stark: Postpartum depression has been cited as the most common medical complication related to childbirth, affecting at least 1 in 9 new mothers.
Do you know 9 moms? One or more of them is likely struggling. Or perhaps the one is you. And if you get nothing more from this post, get this: It is okay, and you are not alone.
The US Department of Health says it best: PPD doesn’t regard age, race, income, culture, or education. It affects women who breastfeed and those who don’t. It affects women with healthy babies and those whose children are ill. It affects first-time mothers and those with more than one child. It affects women who are married and those who are not. Women who had problems during pregnancy—and those who didn’t. Postpartum depression does not discriminate, not even on the basis of sex. Around 5-10% of males will experience Paternal Postpartum Depression (PPPD) too.
Despite the rate of occurrence, PPD is not a normal or expected part of being a new parent, and recognizing and reporting the symptoms early can decrease the risk of severe illness. Some of the most common symptoms in females include: mood swings, lack of interest in formerly enjoyable activities (including sex), over- or under-eating, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, difficulty making decisions, frequent feelings of panic, impaired memory, persistent headaches or stomach pains, withdrawing from friends and family, or thoughts of harm to yourself or your baby. Males can experience PPD very differently with symptoms including impulsiveness or risk-taking, increased anger or conflicts with others, violent behavior, increased use of alcohol, cynicism, loss of interest in work or working constantly, concerns about productivity, significant weight loss or gain, or crying for no reason. It’s also important to understand that symptoms of PPD can start during pregnancy or occur up to one year after birth.
No matter which partner is suffering (more commonly, it’s both) or how severe the symptoms, one of the most important things to know is what the National Institute of Mental Health says about the condition:
“Postpartum depression does not occur because of something [one] does or does not do.”
PPD is biological. A rapid decline in hormones, for both males and females, can lead to chemical changes in the brain, and frequently coupled with sleep deprivation and other physical factors, these changes contribute to the development of PPD symptoms.
In a time when our world is encouraging people to speak out about their experiences, I encourage you to tell us how you’re doing in your postpartum life. Yes, the nursery decor is lovely and the newborn clothes are adorable and your mom makes the best lasagna and your partner is the most supportive person in the world, but how are YOU? Really. Because how you are matters. If your honest answer is “not great,” please reach out. It is okay, and you are not alone.
Jenni Meyer is a certified nurse midwife at Willow. She lives with her husband, Danny, her baby son, William, and their Great Dane-Shephard, Oliver. She takes pleasure in traveling, baking pies, a strong cup of coffee, and long walks with her family.