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Why Is Postpartum Depression So Hard to Talk About?

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Have you ever had a really vivid dream or nightmare? When you woke up, you pondered your dream. As you considered your responses and reactions while you were in the dream, you realized they were wholly irrational and made no sense? But of course, while you were in the dream, all of these actions, thoughts and deeds were completely rational, right?

That’s sort of what postpartum depression is like, only it’s not a vivid dream, it’s an unending vivid nightmare.

The other day I read an article about a woman, Allison Goldstein, who took her life after experiencing postpartum depression (and possibly postpartum psychosis, but it’s unclear), and no one knew.

No one knew.

It’s so hard when you are the friend or relative of someone going through what Allison went and you just didn’t know. I’ve had conversations with friends and coworkers (since my Washington Post article came out), and they’ve been horrified that they didn’t know I was suicidal in January. They feel horrible. They feel like they should have known and should have been helping.

So why didn’t they know? Why didn’t Allison’s family know how bad her depression was? It’s not a fault of theirs at all. But still, it’s a really hard question to answer. I even struggle with it today. As my friends and family know, I’m a very open, blunt (and at times, brutally honest) person. So it was sort of shocking to me that I struggled to talk about my depression.

Because of that, and watching Allison’s family go through this horrible situation, I wanted to write a piece on why it’s so very hard to talk about postpartum depression. I don’t even know that I have a solution or suggestion in this discussion.

My opening dream analogy is an attempt to explain how your whole world changes when you have postpartum depression. I was depressed, but I didn’t know it. That sounds so strange – how could I not know?

Well, it’s complicated. First of all, I had a new baby. Everyone had told me I’d be hormonal, tired, my life would be completely changed, etc. So it was really challenging to separate the “well this is my life now” from actual depression symptoms, such as fatigue.

Even without that confusion of depression versus change, your brain doesn’t make the logical and rational connections you make under normal conditions.

I remember sitting next to my husband, five months postpartum, both of us exhausted from watching the baby nonstop over a cold weekend. I told him, “Well this is our life now. This is what our weekends will always be like. Forever. Until we die.” I truly believed that, which is why the hopelessness was so deep. But looking back, I think, What? That’s ridiculous. Babies change (especially in the first year) at an extremely rapid pace. A month after I made that statement, the little guy was sitting up and could play independently if we wanted to relax. Eight months after I made that statement, we’ve got a busy guy, but he’s still pretty fun on the weekends and I’m not constantly exhausted. Plus he goes to bed at 7 p.m., which is awesome. But you couldn’t have gotten me to believe a simple fact – that things would change – at the time. That was my reality.

Even more importantly, being a depressed mother is an incredibly isolating experience. Depressed moms may have feelings of, “What a huge mistake I made” or “I don’t love my baby” or “I hate motherhood.” Those are not feelings that very many women feel comfortable sharing. No one says those things. Not even in the anonymous world of the internet. Women say, “Oh it’s hard, but so very worth it.” When you’re depressed… it doesn’t really feel worth it, especially if bonding is an issue. Women say, “I never understood unconditional love until I had my baby.” When you’re depressed… you can’t comprehend how anyone could love this new little interloper, alien to your family.

Last April, a gentleman asked me, “How can you possibly not feel connected to your baby?” as I was discussing postpartum depression. The intention behind the question was actually less judgmental than it seems, but those types of comments intensify the “What’s wrong with me?! I’m a monster who can’t love her baby!” feelings a depressed mom feels on a daily basis.

Depressed moms ask themselves, “What is wrong with me? Everyone told me I would love being a parent. Everyone told me I would love my child. Everyone told me to enjoy this wonderful time.” Depressed moms can’t share these thoughts and feelings because then they will be deemed (or perceive they will be deemed) an unfit, selfish, lazy monster. Depressed moms feel there is something wrong with them. They are different and not in a good way. They feel like horrible humans. Many depressed moms miss their old life and hate their new one… because all their brain can see is the bad and none of the good.

How do you sit down and share that with other parents who don’t relate to those feelings at all?

How do you admit you are society’s most critical label – a bad mother?

How do you acknowledge that you fail to meet a universal truth* – that every parent will love being a parent?

Of course, all of that is the depression talking. None of that is truth. Women who experience postpartum depression are not bad moms. They’re not monsters. They’re not lazy. They’re not selfish. They’re not unfit.

But because the depressed mom’s brain has tricked her into believing this altered reality, she is powerless to fall for these lies, hook, line and sinker.

Because I know how hard this is to express (and near impossible to express while in the throws of postpartum depression), that’s why I write now. That’s why I spend an hour (or two, some nights) in the evening after my son goes to bed, pouring through the online internet forums, listening to these mothers who are struggling, making sure no one goes unanswered. I write them and give voice to the unspeakable, so they understand they’re in a safe space. I write about my experience over and over to show them that yes, they are going through postpartum depression, but yes, they can overcome.

Because I’m at a loss of how to stop postpartum depression from happening. Because I don’t know how my postpartum depression could have been avoided. Because this is the best way I can think to help… so hopefully I can be a glimmer of light in the darkness.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Stock photo by monkeybusinessimages

Originally published: October 27, 2016
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