Every time I went in for a checkup for myself or my baby, up until he was about six months old or so, the doctor’s office would hand me a clipboard to fill out about PPD. And every time I passed with flying colors! Here’s how you can delude yourself too:
Question 1: I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things.
O As much as I always could
O Not quite as much now
O Definitely not so much now
O Not at all
My brain: I mean, I had to go to urgent care yesterday for an infection in my c-section incision. I have to drink a half gallon of gross tea every day to try to increase my breast milk and it’s not working at all, which means my baby had lost weight at his last checkup. I don’t laugh because nothing funny is happening.
I’m sure I would laugh if something was funny. Definitely.
X As much as I always could
Question 2: I have looked forward with enjoyment to things.
My brain: Things? What things? Do I look forward to waking up at 5:30am after 4 hours of sleep? Obviously not. That just means I’m sane.
I do look forward to the afternoons the babysitter comes. I am looking forward to preschool, and Kindergarten. That gives me great enjoyment. But hmm, not a lot. So I’ll mark —
X A little less than I used to
Question 3: I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong.
Brain: “Unnecessarily”? It’s all necessary. I’m the mom, after all. This is my job. If my breast milk isn’t flowing freely, it’s because I’m not chugging enough tea and I can’t bear to sit up after a 2 am feeding to pump. If my baby won’t nap it’s because I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s my own fault. I don’t know anything about babies. I should have read more books but now I’m too tired. I chose this.
X No, never
Question 4: I have been anxious or worried for no good reason.
Brain: Ha! Trick question. I’m anxious AND worried ALL the time, but it’s always for good reason. My baby could have leukemia or a heart murmur or die of SIDS for no reason at all. I might give him too much formula or not enough. I might smother him when we fall asleep in bed breastfeeding. We could get in a terrible car accident every time we go anywhere. A wildfire might come burn our house down. All good reasons.
X No, not at all
Question 5: I have felt scared or panicky for no very good reason.
Brain: See question 4.
X No, not at all
Question 6: Things have been getting on top of me.
Brain: I’ve never been a person who was on top of things. I’ve always been disorganized. I’ve always had trouble getting things done. This is just the baby version of that, right? That’s why it’s so hard for me to make it out of the house most days. Everyone feels like they’re drowning when they have a newborn. Right? Frankly, it’s amazing I even made it into the doctor’s office today. I’ve only cried once since I got here. Go me.
X No, most of the time I have coped quite well
Question 7: I have been so unhappy that I have had difficulty sleeping.
Brain: What a stupid question! I sleep perfectly well all five hours of the night. What new parent can’t sleep? I basically fall into a coma as soon as the sun goes down. I fling myself out of bed and onto my feet the second my baby coughs, or cries, or wiggles too loudly, but that’s just being a good parent.
X No, not at all
Question 8: I have felt sad or miserable.
Brain: Honestly? I feel miserable a lot. All the time, in fact. Not sad, exactly. Feeling a feeling sounds exhausting. But that misery is real.
I’m just not cut out for this.
X Yes, quite often
Photo by Lux Graves on Unsplash
Question 9: I have been so unhappy that I have been crying.
Brain: Hmm, I definitely cry a lot. When we first got home from the hospital I cried multiple times a day. Then it went down to once a day. Now it’s only a few times a week. Five or six tops. I’ve got it totally under control.
X Only occasionally
Question 10: The thought of harming myself has occurred to me.
Brain: No, that’s not something I think about. Some days I wish I would fall asleep and not wake up, but I don’t actually want to hurt myself.
Ican look back at this with (some) levity now, but it also makes me angry. I question how well self-assessment for depression works, particularly in women. The answers above are no exaggeration. I really thought those things. I especially remember reading that first question and thinking, “Sure, if anything funny happened I would probably laugh.”
Depression makes you think things are true, and so it’s impossible to step back and think you are being too hard on yourself. After all, it’s just that you’re a failure, right?
Wrong. Having a baby is hard. But if you feel like you’re drowning, you need help. Which is a bit of a catch-22 isn’t it? I remember that it took me months to find a sitter because I could only manage to squeeze out a few minutes a week to focus on it, yet I insisted on doing it myself.
So what can you do? If you are currently pregnant:
- If you have a history of depression, talk to your partner, doctor, and anyone else close to you about the signs of PPD, and how hard it can be to realize you need help. If you do not have a history of depression, talk to your partner, doctor, and anyone else close to you about the signs of PPD, and how hard it can be to realize you need help. While some studies show a history of depression makes you 20 times more likely to have PPD, that still leaves plenty of new moms with no prior mental illness.
- Find help before you need it, both for you and the baby. If you don’t love your doctor, change now. They’re the one who is going to walk you through the postpartum period. If you don’t have family nearby who you are sure will be helpful and take the baby off your hands, find a sitter now, even if you plan to stay at home full time.
If you’re currently in the throes of the baby stage and concerned you might have PPD:
- In my 100% unmedical, not to ever be used as a diagnosis opinion, if you think you have it you probably do. Talk to your doctor, no matter what the quiz says. Talk to your partner or someone else about a plan B if the doctor brushes you off, a phenomenon that happens disproportionately to women and even more so to women of color, despite the fact that most evidence points to women downplaying their struggles.
- Remember: the days are long, but the years are short. The thing that helped me the most was when I realized how fast everything did, in fact, change. Family members came to visit and gave me some breaks. I gave up on breastfeeding with feelings of sheer relief. Eventually, my son started part-time preschool and I could shower and feed myself again.
In the worst of my depression, it felt like this was going to be my life forever. That for the next 18 years I would be trapped in misery as I was forced to put the needs of another before my own. Then every few weeks it would get just a tiny bit better. In the beginning, the change was so small I couldn’t see it, not until I looked back and saw what it added up to. I did get more help. I did learn what I was doing–or actually, sometimes I never learned. Right around the time I really learned how to put a baby down for a nap, my kid dropped them entirely. Too young! Or so all the books told me Yet another sign of my failure. Except it led directly to him sleeping through the night regularly.
Which led to my first deep breath.
Which led to me being better able to care for both of us.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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