Updated: Feb 13
According to a study by Katherine L. Wisner, MD, MS; Dorothy K. Y. Sit, MD; Mary C. McShea, MS; et al 21% (or 1 in 7) of mothers suffer from post-partum depression in the first year after the birth of their child. This is partly due to hormonal changes that take place due to pregnancy and childbirth. Sleep deprivation from caring for a new baby can also be a factor.
I think that, as moms, we feel ashamed of not being happy all the time, because we really do love our babies, we just feel sad.
As moms, we have spent 9 months carrying our beautiful babies inside us, feeling like they are part of us. We have lovingly created a perfect nursery, chosen their clothes with care, and been showered with gifts. The anticipation of having a baby is a special and remarkable time.
Some women describe the day their child was born as the best day of their lives. For me, seeing my kids for the first time was a moment of sheer love, as was seeing my partner gazing into our little one's face for the first time.
We moms need to be gentle with ourselves though. Loving our babies is a special feeling like nothing else. Just remember, like with any other love relationship (think your relationship with your partner, or your parents or siblings), our relationship with our kids isn't always sunshine and roses. Love doesn't magically make life perfect like in the movies. Real love takes work.
It is OK to love your baby and still be depressed. It isn't a negative reflection on you. It is hard for us moms to admit we need help, but seeking help for depression is so important, and has no reflection on what type of mother you are.
Sometimes, we feel weak to seek help, but actually, it means we are strong. Getting help isn't selfish! Taking the best possible care of yourself can enable you to be the best possible mom for your kids, and be more present with them every day!
At the bottom of this article are some links for you to get help if you are struggling with depression. You can also talk to your healthcare provider any time. An OBGYN or General Practitioner can prescribe your medications, and refer you for therapy.
Also, if you talk to your OBGYN to get your medications, they can ensure that what you are taking is safe for your baby too if you are nursing. I nursed my toddler until she was 2.5, and I started taking medications for depression and anxiety when she was about 9 months. There is no harm to her at all, so no need to worry that you need to choose between caring for your baby and caring for yourself!
Societal factors can play a role in depression.
What should be a beautiful time bonding with our new born, having family and friends to help, can often become isolating in the US culture today. In Europe and other places, some moms have as much as a year to stay home with their little ones.
In the US, often our partners are unable to stay home with us for very long, maybe only a few days, so we are on our own with a new baby right off the bat, trying to figure things out.
Going back to work right away, instead of getting time to bond with a baby, can cause post-partum depression for dads too.
Being a new mom can be quite a learning curve, of learning our babies' cues, creating a new routine, trying to sleep and heal our bodies from what is actually a major medical procedure.
In the US, we often have to go back to work at 6 weeks post-partum, or even earlier depending on our job's leave policy. We are torn away from our babies too soon, sometimes filled with guilt and regret at being away from them. Other times, we leave our jobs completely to stay home with our little ones. Either way, it can be an emotional life change.
Also, when in the past most women had mothers, aunties or sisters to help them, which made having a new baby easier. Now, many of us live far away from family, and have little to no support. It can help to find groups of other moms to bond with, either online or in person, to find support in our times of need.
It is important to me, as a mom with depression, to be a part of breaking the stigma around mental illness, so I am making it a point to speak up. Hopefully me sharing my story can help someone else that is struggling to get help a little bit sooner!
Over the years, I have been in therapy for my depression, and been told that I was "high functioning" for as much as I had been through. I think the people telling me that meant it as a compliment, but honestly, it irritated me. I was looking for help through my inner darkness, and here were professionals telling me that the darkness was invisible from the outside. I felt opaque, and unheard.
I was diagnosed with depression in my teens, so I had already been treated with medication and therapy before I was a mom. This might be the case for some of you as well, or the post-partum experience could be your first bout with depression.
When I had my oldest daughter, I sought out a counselor right away when she was born, because I knew that I would be at risk for post-partum depression.
Since I have spent most of my life coping with depression, for the most part in silence, I have often asked myself what qualities that I posses that keep me going even in the face of extreme adversity.
When I was in my teens and early 20's, I had some extremely unhealthy coping strategies. I turned to pot and alcohol to numb the pain. At night, when everyone else was asleep, I would drink until I cried, and cry until I could sleep. Then in the morning I would get up and do what needed to be done. Not a very healthy way to live.
Through it all, the thing that kept me going was the vague hope (which I sometimes wished would die) that there was something better out there.
Finally, around the time I turned 30, I started to get free of all the people in my life that made me feel bad about myself. I started learning to set boundaries, to tell people NO, and to make my own happiness a priority. It was a radical shift in my thinking, because before that I had thought of myself primarily in a functional capacity; I thought I only had value for the things that I did, not for the person I was.
But that was wrong. Everyone has value for who they are.
YOU have value for who you are.
If you are like me, sad and struggling, read that sentence again. If it feels hard to say to yourself, that means it is the message that you need today. It means that, like me, you can find hope. You can find a better life.
There is that popular quote that says, "Before you go diagnosing yourself with a mental illness, make sure that you are not just, in fact, surrounded by assholes."
That isn't wrong. Sure, mental illness is partially caused by a genetic predisposition, but it is also partially caused by being in a stressful environment that brings that predisposition to light. Your genes are only half the story. Your environment is the other half.
You Can't Get Well in the Same Environment Where You Got Sick
In order to start recovering from my depression, I had to get out of an abusive marriage. No matter how much I meditated and said affirmations, or how much personal therapy I went to, I was never going to get better while I was living with someone who was screaming horrible things at me every day.
Just like the people in Flint, Michigan aren't going to get better while they keep drinking the tainted water, you can't recover from a mental illness if you are around people who don't support your recovery.
Originally, I started marriage counseling with my ex because I thought the problem was that I was crazy, or that I was just incapable of being happy.
The problem with that? No One is incapable of being happy.
I was so out of touch with my feelings at that point that when my counselor asked how I felt about something, I told him, "I think that I feel..." I didn't even know what I felt. I was thinking about what I should feel, then repeating that back.
I grew up in a family that constantly invalidated my feelings, so I learned that feelings were bad and to be avoided. I learned to make my face a blank, expressionless mask. I learned how to cover my mouth when I cried, so that no one would hear it. All this, probably by the time I started elementary school.
Recovering from years of trauma has been slow. In addition to depression, I also have anxiety and PTSD. So that is the lens that I view the world through.
After leaving my ex-husband, I also cut off several other toxic relationships. I told myself, if I had gone through all that trouble to get out of a relationship that made me hate myself, I wasn't going to get into other relationships where I was treated the same. I was learning to set boundaries, and to tell people that I deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect.
I told my mom that, when I was trying to work on my relationship with her, and she told me that I didn't deserve to have boundaries.
Several years later, after a lot of inner struggle, I stopped talking to my mom too. It still hurts inside, and I am still working on this in therapy, but especially as a mom myself, I had to put my own well being, and that of my kids, first.
I don't want my kids to grow up feeling sad and broken the way that I did. Putting their needs first has been a big motivation for me to take control over my mental health, and try to get better. I want to be the best mom I can be, and I can't do that when I am stuck in relationships that are constantly hurting me.
Things I have Learned from Feeling Sad
Since I have been coping with depression for a long time, here are some things that I have learned, and that have helped me to move forward:
Asking the RIGHT people for help
It might feel easy to give up when you feel sad, and I have sometimes actually envied people who just helplessly gave up and expected other people to take care of them. For most of my life, I didn't have anyone to take care of me, so I couldn't give up. I kept going because there was no other way.
As a mom, I always put my kids and their needs first. That has kept me going for a long time too. The desire to be a better mom has pushed me to be a better person for my kids. They deserve to have a better life than what I had, and I need to be at my best to be able to provide that.
Is it easy? Never.
But it is worth it. After years of struggle alone in my inner darkness, I have finally found a partner who supports me, in both good times and bad. He listens to me, and picks up the slack when I am struggling.
I have also finally found a good counseling center that provides wrap around services. I cannot stress enough how important that is. I have a team of professionals that work together to help me. I go to two counselors, and a medication provider. My center also offers case management. A case manager can help with setting appointments, applying for disability, and finding additional services to help in other areas of your life.
Therapy - I always will advocate for therapy for whatever is going on with you internally, it has helped me a ton! In therapy, you can talk through the issues that you are having with someone compassionate and removed from the situation. That has really helped me to have someone to talk to without any involvement with my family or friends. It is ok to vent to people sometimes, but friends and family may not always have a solution or be available when you are needing help the most! You can also read about How to find a therapist.
CBT/ Behavioral Activation - This is a type of helpful therapy for depression, that calls on you to take helpful actions in your life (behaviors) that will make you happier. What I have done in my own life is to get out of bed and do things even if I am sad, unmotivated, and would rather keep the covers over my head for the rest of my life. Getting up and doing activities that either need to get done (like dishes and laundry), or activities that you previously enjoyed (reading a book or getting coffee with friends) can really help to improve your mood!
Journaling - When you get your feelings out onto paper, it can help you feel more balanced and like all those thoughts aren't forever rolling around in your head. There are several types of journaling that can be helpful. You can wake up and do stream of consciousness writing, to get all of the dark thoughts out of your head. Also you can keep a Gratitude Journal, to help yourself focus on the good in life, and flip the script on your thinking from negative to positive.
Meditation - According to Healthline, "meditation teaches you to pay attention to thoughts and feelings without passing judgment or criticizing yourself. Meditation doesn’t involve pushing away these thoughts or pretending you don’t have them. Instead, you notice and accept them, then let them go. In this way, meditation can help disrupt cycles of negative thinking." There are a ton of YouTube meditation videos, and you can also find meditation music to listen to. Or, if you want to do a Buddhist meditation, most major cities have a Buddhist temple where you can take a beginning class.
Exercise - According to Harvard Health, "Exercising starts a biological cascade of events that results in many health benefits, such as protecting against heart disease and diabetes, improving sleep, and lowering blood pressure. High-intensity exercise releases the body's feel-good chemicals called endorphins, resulting in the "runner's high" that joggers report. But for most of us, the real value is in low-intensity exercise sustained over time. That kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better." This means basically, that the more you exercise over time, the more it can rewire your brain chemicals for happiness!
Yoga - Starting a yoga practice is great, because it is a combination of meditation and exercise. Also, it is very gentle for your mind and body, helping you focus on your breathing to connect your body and mind. I started yoga about 2.5 years ago, and I feel like it has really helped me to ground myself, and get out of my head and into my body. I would highly recommend starting yoga to anyone! You can do as little as 5-10 minutes a day and experience a huge change over time.
These are some coping strategies that have worked for me over the years, but it is not an exhaustive list. When you get into therapy, your therapist can help you learn additional coping strategies that fit with your personal situation and personal struggles.
All in all, I am in a better place now. A place where, day by day, I am getting well. That is something I wish for anyone else who is struggling with depression. A diagnosis doesn't have to be a death sentence. You can get your depression under control and live a good life!
I have also made a video about what depression feels like if you would like some more information, or would like to try to explain depression to friends and family who don't understand how you are feeling.
Please know that there IS help out there if you are struggling with depression like I do!
If you, or someone that you know, is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: (800) 273-8255.
For more resources on finding assistance for mental health, you can visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Also, you can always contact your healthcare provider, or insurance company for a referral.
If you are seeking inpatient services, The Recovery Village has treatment centers for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery in Florida, Colorado, Ohio, Washington and New Jersey:
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, or if there are other coping strategies that you would like to share!
I have a BA in Psychology from University of Colorado, however, I am NOT licensed as a therapist, and cannot personally provide treatment for depression.
For more about mental health, from a mom's point of vidw, check out these related blog posts: