May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
In recent years, more women have begun to open up about the mental health struggles they faced after giving birth. That’s super important, because postpartum depression (PPD) affects more people than you probably think. According to the American Psychological Association, about 1 in 7 women experience PPD, and the effects can last for weeks or months if left untreated.
As Dr. Sanford says, there’s an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that comes with postpartum depression. In order to cope, doctors will suggest women practice self-care, ask for help, and find ways to make their mental health a priority. But when you’re adjusting to life with a newborn, that’s easier said than done. So we asked 10 women to give us the reality of what living with PPD is actually like, and what they did to cope with postpartum depression.
Find a sense of purpose
“For me, it took over a year to realize I was suffering from postpartum depression. I tried everything to pull myself out of it — exercise, counseling, herbal teas, more ‘me time,’ more sleep. Finally, I realized that I had to give in to antidepressants. I tried avoiding it, but in the end, it’s what helped pull me out of the PPD. I only took the medication for about six months, but it was what I needed and it helped.
Now, I manage the depression and anxiety of being a parent to twin toddlers under two by running and working. Not being able to work, and being at home all the time, was a big cause of my depression. So having a place to go and a sense of purpose (other than being a mother) was a huge help.”
— Jessica, Ottawa, Canada
Work through identity changes
“My recovery was helped by having a very supportive husband and also a supportive therapist. I used mind-body methods to feel better, which included integrating the major changes to my identity because of motherhood. I was very much changed by becoming a mother. I saw how vulnerable women really are and what happens to a woman economically as she has a newborn to care for. The social change is quite staggering and eye-opening. I took time in therapy to work through my emotional and identity changes. So therapy, body work, walks in nature, a supportive husband, being able to integrate motherhood into my identity, and sleep were all important to my recovery from PPD.”
— Kathy, Wayne, New Jersey
Reach out for help
“I had a great pregnancy with my first daughter, but her birth was very difficult. She had to stay in the NICU for a week and we had trouble breastfeeding as well. I felt incredibly guilty, worthless, and like a failure. I cried often. It took me four months to realize I had postpartum depression, at which time I reached out for help. I attended a support group and therapy to get better. At the end of the day, effective treatment definitely varies from person to person.”
— Bridget, Bay Shore, New York
Have a safe space to share and work out feelings
“After having an open and honest conversation with my doctor, he recommended seeing a behavioral and cognitive therapist to discuss some of my feelings and emotions. Luckily I had a care provider who truly cared about my well-being, wanted to help, and respected me as a person, and not just a patient. This was my starting point.
Therapy is awkward, uncomfortable, and 100% about yourself. I didn’t know what to expect. My husband wanted answers, and I just wanted to feel better. I wanted to feel like myself again. I’ve learned that you are only able to receive what you are willing to put into anything. It’s been going on five years now that I’ve gone to therapy every other week, consistently. I have good days and I have bad days; sometimes at sessions I don’t even have anything to share. But knowing that I have a safe space and an unbiased listener has helped me work through some of the hardest times in my life. ”
— Patricia, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Forget what anyone else says you must do
“I decided not to listen to anyone anymore. It seems that every person has sound advice for new mothers — whether or not they’re parents or doctors — and so we’re completely bombarded by tips or things to be afraid of. The one tool I used that truly saved my sanity during those months was going on walks, even with my daughter being only a week old. Some pediatricians shake their heads at taking your child outside for the first few months. I wrapped her up in a baby carrier draped in a muslin blanket and went out for a stroll, sometimes multiple times a day. It probably was the best decision I ever made. And she is now a healthy 2-and-a-half year old!”
— Christina, Aberdeen, New Jersey
Use every resource available
“I had postpartum depression and anxiety and the number one way that I coped was not choosing just one way. I decided to ‘pull every lever’ and use everything available — therapy, support groups, medication, exercise, vitamins — I tried it all. Maternal mental illnesses affect body and mind. Mothers can use all the support and help that we can get!”
— Graeme, Charleston, South Carolina
“After having three babies and being lucky enough to never experience post-natal depression, it came as a massive shock when I was slapped in the face by it after baby number four! It was hard to fully notice, as I never actually felt sad or depressed. I didn’t even cry more than normal. It took me a while to realize, but after slipping further and further into this quiet introvert person who wasn’t ‘me’ at all, it finally hit me.
I made myself an appointment at the doctor, who asked me a list of questions and decided that a very low dose of antidepressants would be the right course of action for me. I started my medication right away and within three days, the difference in myself was so unbelievably noticeable! I was back to being me and it felt great. Talking about it and being open with someone you feel safe with is definitely the most helpful thing you can do. I knew that wasn’t going to be the end of it though, and there was quite a bit of recovery to do. So keep talking about it. Don’t let it silence you.”
— Annalise, Norwich, United Kingdom
Make adjustments and give it some time
“I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety when I had my son, and there are so many ways I coped (and still cope with the ongoing adjustment to motherhood!). Laughter, although it may not be the ‘best’ medicine, certainly helps. Antidepressants, sleep aids, anti-anxiety meds, etc. There is no shame in having some chemical assistance during this time. I called my therapist, whom I hadn’t seen in years, and she supported me. Good therapy allowed me to feel all of the conflicting emotions, and reassured me that I was not crazy. I had to redefine what my self-care routine (and I use that term loosely) looked like.
Then there’s the element of time. Figuring out who you are now, accepting that life has changed forever, and realizing that as your baby grows, it does get easier. I did not say EASY. It’s never easy, but you learn what works for you, your child, your relationship with your partner, and your family unit. You just keep doing your best.”
— Kayce, Wake Forest, North Carolina
Do little acts of self-care
“When I first was diagnosed by my family physician, he had recommended medication to help with the severe anxiety and depression. While the anxiety medication worked, the anti-depressant didn’t. Being someone who absolutely can’t handle pills, I had to find small ways to contribute to coping with my symptoms. What I find helps me the most at this time is writing. I have always written journals, private blogs, and scribbles on loose papers to ease the moments that feel ever-so-overwhelming, since I was a child.
I also pushed myself to take ‘self-care’ seriously, which is one thing I have never considered in the last nine years of motherhood. It’s so important to take the time to sift through the emotions, to quietly think, and breathe. Every small thing helps, nothing is the same for everyone, but these little joys are helpful to your mind’s health and your emotional health. In the long run, these little acts of love for yourself can uplift your spirit. The key is to want to do things for yourself, before you feel you’ve drifted too far.”
— Maria, Toronto, Canada
Find strength in fellow moms
“I’d like to begin by saying that I’m a first-time mother and an independent woman, and not long after giving birth to my son I was also diagnosed with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. The best word to describe the way I felt after I gave birth is ‘overwhelmed.’ Being a mother and giving birth is so natural, and women have been doing this for ages, I felt like I should have instantly known what I was doing. However, I found that I was constantly conflicted because of all the information I was reading on social media.
The first thing I did was to talk to my OB/GYN. It was a very difficult step, but it helped me feel validated. I knew something was wrong and the PPD diagnosis confirmed I was not ‘crazy.’ After that, I started using private online forums and applications to share with other moms. It was a really great help!
When I felt a little bit more comfortable, I reached out to a therapist. I’m still seeing her today, one year later, and she has been an amazing guide. It’s hard to reach out, but I believe that this is what ‘saved’ me. Mamas, even if we love our babies, it isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. Don’t be fooled by social media, it isn’t always picture-perfect. Follow your instinct, reach out, and deal with each situation in a way that you feel is best for you and your child. You are stronger than you think you are. We got this!”
— Cindy, Mount Shasta, California
The reality is, there’s no one magic way that works for everyone. For some, medication does wonders. For others, it’s writing, taking walks in the park, or therapy. Although PPD affects everyone differently, it’s important to know there’s a huge worldwide community of likeminded women who are going through — or have gone through — the same thing. Apps like Peanut can help connect you to other moms who are going through the same thing. Using a resource like Postpartum Support International can give you up-to-date info on PPD. Always remember, you’re not alone.