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What It's Like to Have 'Hidden' Postpartum Depression

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I recently spoke to a woman who had just been to her six-week checkup after having her beautiful baby boy. She was impressed by her physician, who had her complete a questionnaire about how she was feeling — a line of defense against postpartum depression going untreated. This was the second time she had answered the questions. She wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital without answering them the first time.

I knew right away that those questionnaires would not have found my postpartum depression. There would not have been any red flags for the hospital staff to assess or the doctor to question. My depression was hidden behind “real reasons” to be upset. It was hidden behind the intense love I felt for this new being. It was hidden behind depression being a normal part of life.

In the first week of motherhood I was told over and over again there was a 50 percent chance I would not be able to breastfeed as I’d hoped because of a breast reduction surgery I had 13 years before. I was told it was OK that my nipples were bleeding and sore, that was part of the process. I was told my baby wasn’t growing and she needed formula as a supplement. I was told “breast is best.”

I cried when I couldn’t feed my daughter, I cried when everything I was doing for my thrush wasn’t enough, I cried when I couldn’t produce even an ounce of milk when pumping, I cried when it hurt to hold my daughter after feeding her because of the burning in my breasts. There was always a reason for my tears, though. So it wasn’t postpartum depression, it was just the circumstances. At least that’s what I told myself.

I cried when I went back to work and throughout the day. I cried when my husband went back to work and my daughter started daycare. I cried when I saw a drop of milk in the shower weeks after I had stopped trying to breastfeed. I cried when women assumed I was breastfeeding. But I knew I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mother and I knew I always wanted to breastfeed. So it wasn’t postpartum depression, it was just frustration at not being able to get my picket fence.

Six months passed. Six months of laughing and enjoying my daughter as she grew. Six months of being amazed at how incredible she was and how easy it was to be her mom. Six months of crying when the circumstances were there, but no other times. So, I was fine. Until I wasn’t.

Six months postpartum, and I found myself cuddled in a ball on the floor watching my daughter roll around play, after realizing I couldn’t walk straight out of exhaustion. This wasn’t the exhaustion of a new mom who just needs coffee. This was the exhaustion of someone who had been hiding her depression behind a mask and the strings of the mask broke. My husband had to come home and take care of my daughter for the rest of the day. I slept for hours on end, and when I got up I called my psychiatrist. I couldn’t hide it anymore.

So, your friend, your wife, your daughter who just had a baby. Ask her how she’s doing, and then ask her again. Take note of her tears and how long they continue. Do everything you can to convince her she’s safe to tell you that she’s not really OK. And, if she is really good at hiding her depression, be there when the mask finally falls away to help her find her way again.

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Thinkstock photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Originally published: December 8, 2016
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