When I first became a mom, I thought I had a very clear understanding of postpartum depression. To me, it meant sadness and sweatpants, crying a lot, and the people you see on commercials walking through the rain before a kindly voice lets you know that depression hurts and Cymbalta can help.
I didn’t understand then that depression comes in many forms, or that postpartum mood disorders can also include anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, intrusive thoughts, and psychosis. I didn’t understand why I suddenly had panic attacks when my husband left for work, or why I needed to check the locks the exact same number of times in the exact same way every night before bed. I brushed it off when I started worrying constantly that I was going to get sick and leave my baby motherless, and also when that fear led to crazy things like giving myself breast exams several times a day or wondering if I should record myself singing lullabies so my baby could still hear me in case I died.
Anxiety and O.C.D. weren’t on the pamphlets I got at the doctor’s office. No one at my postpartum check-ups said, “Hey, are you by chance sleeping with your hand on your baby’s chest and checking yourself for tumors every 90 minutes?” I assumed I was fine, or at least ignored the signs that I wasn’t fine, because in my mind whatever was going on with me was not postpartum-related and common misconceptions about postpartum depression and mood disorders made it so no one really challenged my sense of denial.
I suffered quietly for seven months before a blog post on the internet about postpartum anxiety gave me the world’s biggest ‘me too’ moment and I finally started calling around to see if I could get some help. I was a little late in looking for a life raft, but a staggering number of women never even get that far. A study by the non-profit 4Children found that 10-15% of women are estimated to experience some form of postpartum depression/anxiety, and of those women who go through it, 49% don’t seek help.
There are a lot of reasons why a woman might not seek help for anxiety and depression, but I suspect a big one is simply that it’s hard to tell where the line is between ‘normal’ and ‘not normal.’ There’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues, and it’s way too easy to feel like a failure for struggling in motherhood. Everything in you wants to believe that you’re fine and that you’re on the ‘right’ side of okay, even if you aren’t.