15 May Alone in the Crowd
When you see a new mom, do you ever ask, “Aren’t you so happy?” Most of the time the responses vary from, “incredibly happy” to “overjoyed.” But what if that mom said, “I’m completely overwhelmed and unhappy.” What would you think? How might you judge her? I pose these thoughts, because that’s how I wanted to answer those first-time mom questions after I delivered my son. I was screaming inside and no one knew it. I felt trapped, taking on a role as mother and wanting to run away from it as fast as I could. No one came to me and asked, “Stefanie, how are you coping with this big change?” Yes, that’s a complex question, but I always wonder, why don’t people ask it? In reality, it’s because many of us don’t truly want to know the answer. It’s a loaded question and the answer can be very surprising.
Nearly 8 years ago, I became a mother for the first time. I had longed to have children since I was a little girl. I still have fond memories of playing with my dolls; wrapping them in their blankets and parading around the house telling my parents “my baby” was sleeping in my arms. Unfortunately, a few weeks after I delivered my son, the reality was nothing like those childhood days. I felt exhausted, mentally and physically, full of responsibility I didn’t know how to process and the need to get everything right without room for failure.
Many people don’t fully comprehend what postpartum depression (PPD) really is. This type of depression, as the term is defined, develops in the mother after the delivery of a child, or anytime throughout the first year of the baby’s life (Nivin, 2016). It can manifest from a fluctuation of hormones, stress in one’s life, and/or family history (Nivin, 2016). I think it’s important to point out PPD does not only affect first-time mothers; such a depression can arise in subsequent pregnancies, even if PPD was not present after an earlier delivery (Nivin, 2016). The symptoms associated with PPD include, but are not limited to, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, excessive crying, difficulty bonding with the baby, guilt towards your feelings as a mother, and despair (Nivin, 2016). Unfortunately, these symptoms are sometimes numbing and difficult to explain to those around you.
About 3 weeks into motherhood, I expressed my feelings to some close family members around me. I said I didn’t feel right, that I wasn’t happy, but couldn’t express why. The responses were extremely devastating, including, “This is your life now” and “You got what you wanted.” If there were a cliff, I would have jumped off. It was at that point the feeling sunk in: I must be alone in how I felt. I thought something must be wrong with me as a parent and I just had to get over it. So from then on, I slapped a smile across my face and went on with my life, literally hating myself on a daily basis. And with each person I encountered, they would either say, “Isn’t this the best thing you’ve ever done?” or “Do you know how lucky you are?” I would smile and agree, of course, because what kind of a witch would I be if I didn’t, but deep down I was miserable.
After so many years in nursing school, I always thought I’d be aware of the signs of PPD. I was convinced I couldn’t be suffering from it, because I loved my son and I assumed with PPD I wouldn’t feel such love and affection for him. I also never thought that the ill feelings I had toward myself were classified as postpartum depression. At my 6-week postpartum visit my doctor “assessed” me by asking, “How are you feeling?” What an open-ended question to throw at a new mom. The first response was “TIRED!” But that was the extent of an assessment I got for PPD. That question was the only marker she used to check on my mental wellbeing. I remember thinking, “that was easy to pass.” There was no follow-up regarding PPD. She did not attempt to clarify how I may feel or give me any resources to guide me if I was to become depressed. It’s laughable how these assessments between patient and physician occur. I needed someone to sit me down, alone, and just ask flat-out: “Do you feel like yourself anymore? Is this overwhelming you to a point that you can’t find a way of coping?” Those would be questions I could answer and give full disclosure on.
I honestly didn’t know I had postpartum depression until a year after my symptoms had subsided. I was sitting with a friend who had recently had a baby. My son was 2½ years old at the time. She started to share how she had suffered from PPD a few months prior. She listed her feelings and I looked up at her and said, “I had all those feelings, too.” That’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t alone. I am still amazed it took me so long to realize that I suffered from this. I suffered silently for nearly a year and a half. And when I got out of this depressive state, it wasn’t because I had come to terms with it and got the help I needed. Someone very close to me had passed away and I was able to see that life was truly precious. I think that’s when I finally understood my life was important and that those around me needed me. But it took this very difficult time in my life for me to give value to myself, because up to that point, I really didn’t know if I should exist.
Last summer there was a news story about a woman who committed suicide due to PPD. Her parents were interviewed saying she was always smiling and seemed happy. That story stuck with me, because that could have easily been me. And I bet many women out there will say the same thing. When someone is suffering with PPD, it’s important to get support. I personally found talking about my feelings and seeking therapy to be a great resource. From there, I was able to express myself and benefit from talking to someone outside my inner circle. I also gave value to taking time for myself, and even asking for help with the kids when I felt I needed it most. I tried to surround myself with people who were supportive. Recently, I found a love for yoga. I know that had I found this form of exercise sooner, it would have served as a wonderful outlet for some of the frustrations I was having in my life during my PPD.
I can only assume this blog is difficult for those close to me to read. It’s hard to sit and realize someone you love has suffered in such a way and you may have had no idea or you never even thought to ask. But I don’t post this to make those around me sad. I post this to be a voice to something that is, unfortunately, very real and very common. Due to my experiences, I have changed my mentality on how I interact with women who have just given birth. Although I serve to assist the family as a whole in my job, I really focus on the mom during the postpartum phase. Instead of only asking, “How are you doing?” I proceed to dig deeper. I think people who come in contact with a new mom should go in without judgment, because it is such a delicate time for her with a new baby. Postpartum depression doesn’t present the same way in each case. Every person copes differently and their response is unique and, therefore, subjective. I always try to keep that in mind when I assess a new mom. I’m always looking for clues, little hints that postpartum depression might be surfacing, because the sooner I can provide support and guidance to that person, the sooner these mothers can move forward in a positive direction. Further, I take the time to speak to the spouse, family members, and friends, making sure they are aware of the signs and symptoms associated with PPD. Much like my story, some women may not know how to process these feelings and may not realize they are suffering from PPD. Postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate. Everyone is at risk and we must shed light on this dark time in women’s lives.
Nivin, T. (2016, July 26). Postpartum depression: what you should know. Retrieved
If you or someone you know is suffering with suicidal thoughts, please call:
A list of resources in your neighborhood:
Shira Kfir, LCSW:
366 San Miguel Drive, Ste. 209
Newport Beach, CA 92109
Marissa Zwetow, LMFT:
23181 La Cadena Drive #104
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
Miriam Henderson, MSW:
Case Manager, Social Worker—Mental Health Center
207 Placentia Ave. Ste 100
Newport Beach, CA 92663
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