Though this series is called Baby Blues, I know firsthand that the “baby blues” are very different from postpartum depression. The baby blues, says Mayo Clinic, is a short-lived emotional rollercoaster that the majority of new moms experience, while postpartum depression is a longer, more severe form of depression. That’s one way to describe it.
But that’s not exactly how it was for me. I did have the “baby blues,” for sure. But when my daughter was born, I didn’t just feel blue–I felt like every shade of the rainbow, all at once, in explosive Technicolor on LSD times a million. Those period-related mood swings I had back in the day had nothing on this. This was, somehow, deep sadness and elation all at once.
I was a blubbering mess after reading about a mom whose infant son was hit by a truck and launched out of his stroller (he survived, so you know, in case any of you are going through baby blues right now and you’re about to jump off a bridge because you just read that sentence). But I also broke down every time I looked at my sleeping newborn’s dainty little lips, or her microscopic fingernails, or her chest rising and falling in uneven breaths.
Baby blues hormones didn’t just mess with my mind, either, they messed with my body. I was constantly warm. No, I’m sorry, not warm, but burning the hell up. Pouring out sweat like some inane SNL character. And this was in December. Having my daughter’s body glued to me didn’t help, either. I got many a stink eye from strangers for not putting pants or socks on my newborn even though she was right against my body in a Mei Tai carrier. They didn’t understand! My daughter would overheat and DIE if I put socks on her feet! I wanted to go up to these strangers and grace them with my surface-of-the-sun presence, send a few Fahrenheits their way so they’d direct their meanmugging elsewhere. Instead I just obsessed over it all. Questioned my mothering and vented to my husband. Blubbered some more.
I have good news for most of you, though. The intensity off the baby blues tapers off. There finally came a time when I could read a depressing piece of news somewhat objectively, when I could appreciate my daughter’s beauty without breaking into tears. There even came a time when I could sell outgrown baby clothes to the secondhand store without feeling like I’d just sold one of my own vital organs!
But a new feeling settled in, a feeling I now understand to be postpartum depression.
The difference between baby blues and PPD, for me, was the feeling of going numb. If baby blues was like ecstasy, PPD was a vegetative drunkenness. It was like my real self had taken up residence somewhere in the sky and was sleeping while my body carried out daily tasks. Make a lunch, drive to the park, unload baby. Smile here, nod there. I used to bring my daughter to my grandparents’ house every Friday, where we would all gather with my mom and eat snacks and chat. At some point, I became nothing but a baby-delivery vessel. My family was probably interested in my life, in what I had to say, but I wasn’t.
In retrospect, the main thing that triggered my PPD was my attempt to live a lifestyle that didn’t suit me. Essentially, I was trying to be my mom. Where my mom was creatively fulfilled putting all of her time and energy into motherly tasks, I could only feel fulfilled putting that energy into my writing. To me, motherhood wasn’t an opportunity to perfect my sewing skills or develop interesting crafts and games. It wasn’t a career, it was a role—something that would always be an essential part of my life, but not something to build a career around.
I’m not a doctor, and everyone’s personal situation is different, but in my experience baby blues was just a short-lived acid trip of emotions. And I can verify that baby blues goes away on its own. But depression doesn’t, and if you think you may have PPD, you have to make changes. That may mean seeing a therapist, getting more alone time, or resuming work again. Whatever coping mechanism you choose, it may not fix everything, but I can assure you from the other side that it’s definitely worth a try.