Over the years, many celebrities have come out and opened up about suffering from postpartum depression (PPD). Brooke Shields, Courtney Cox, Marie Osmond, and Bryce Dallas Howard come to mind.
In the case of Marie Osmond, she detailed her experience in her memoir from 2001, Behind the Smile: My Journey Out of Postpartum Depression. It was particularly revealing that her depression came after the birth of her eighth son, Matthew. This shows PPD doesn’t have to affect someone who gives birth for the first time; it can happen with any number of childbirths.
There’s a strange polarity in reactions when celebrities reveal they suffer from postpartum depression. The first thought automatically goes to, “They have a lot of money and resources at their disposal. What do they have to be depressed about?”
But at the same time, some might feel more empathy or kinship that they’re like everyone else. Celebrities, no matter how rich and beautiful, are susceptible to the same emotions as the rest of the women after childbirth. They’re human beings after all.
Whatever your opinions are of such celebrities, it can’t hurt that they come out and share their experiences. They’re famous and wield a lot of influence on how media and society perceives women with postpartum depression.
In fact, Brooke Shields is paramount to putting the term postpartum depression on the map in 2005. Before that, it was something that people knew about, but didn’t discuss much in public. It was only 11 years prior to that in 1994 that the medical community acknowledged PPD as a legitimate condition.
PPD can be self-diagnosed, although doctors may ask to run a blood test to see if any thyroid glands are responsible for lack of energy and lethargy. Symptoms are akin to non-postpartum depression, but many confuse the “baby blues” with PPD, so it’s important to distinguish between the two.
The Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression
You may have certain feelings after having a baby. These feelings can be moodiness, irritability, exhaustion, or anxiety. Are these feelings normal, or are you depressed? How can you tell?
The baby blues are totally normal and a majority of women (60 to 80%) experience it soon after giving birth. Soon is the keyword here and one factor that differentiates the baby blues from PPD.
The baby blues start within a few days of childbirth. Postpartum depression doesn’t necessarily begin right after (although it can) – it can happen anytime within the first year post-birth.
The baby blues generally go away after 2 weeks. Postpartum depression symptoms last longer than that. Length is another telltale sign you have one condition or the other. Once your hormones level off, you should feel normal. If that doesn’t happen, it’s likely you have PPD and you’ll need medical intervention.
The baby blues are typically mild, whereas PPD symptoms are much more intense. Mood swings are normal, but negative feelings toward your baby aren’t. If the thoughts involve hurting yourself or your baby, those aren’t the normal baby blues.
The Baby Blues Symptoms
The American Pregnancy Association defines the symptoms of baby blues as the following:
- Mood swings
- Lack of sleep (insomnia) even when the baby is sleeping
- Crying for no reason
- Poor concentration
You can have some or all of the above symptoms post-baby. They’re expected to go away after 2 weeks. Some symptoms also feed off of each other. For example, if you’re suffering from lack of sleep, that’ll undoubtedly lead to other symptoms like fatigue, irritability, poor concentration, etc. That happens in people without newborn babies!
But if the symptoms don’t go away after a couple weeks, you may have postpartum depression.
Postpartum Depression Symptoms
PPD symptoms can include all of the baby blues symptoms, but with deeper intensity. In addition, PPD symptoms can include:
- Lack of interest in your baby
- Lack of concern for yourself
- Negative feelings towards your baby
- Changes in appetite – you eat too much or too little
- Changes in sleep pattern – you sleep too much or too little
- Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death
- Worrying about hurting your baby
- Lethargy – lack of motivation and energy
- Loss of pleasure
If these symptoms persist, you may have to enlist professional help. When you do, you’ll often be asked to fill out a questionnaire that screens you for postpartum depression.
- Do you ever cry for no reason?
- Do you have trouble sleeping or eating?
- Do you feel restless or irritable?
- Do you feel sad or depressed?
- Do you have no energy?
- Do you hyperventilate?
- Do you have chest pains or headaches?
- Does your heart beat fast?
- Are you losing weight from lack of appetite?
- Are you gaining weight from overeating?
- Do you have trouble remembering, focusing, or making decisions?
- Are you overly worried about the baby?
- Do you have no interest in the baby?
- Do you feel worthless or guilty?
- Do you fear hurting yourself or the baby?
- Do you have no interest in pleasure or fun activities, including sex?
Depending on how you answer these questions, your doctor will be able to diagnose you as having postpartum depression and set you on the appropriate treatment course.
Lack of Sleep
What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Does sleep deprivation cause postpartum depression, or is it the depression that causes lack of sleep?
Lack of sleep is such a pronounced symptom that it deserves its own category. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a torture method frequented by some unsavory characters in this world. It can do a number on your body and psyche.
The usual adage is “sleep when the baby sleeps.” But that’s easier said than done. Sometimes you may wonder why you can’t sleep when you’ve never been more tired in your life.
New parents rightly expect to not get much sleep, but there’s a difference between “waking up between the baby’s cries” and “being unable to sleep even when there’s time.”
When you can’t fall asleep even when you have the opportunity to do so (i.e. when the baby sleeps), it’s a sure sign of postpartum depression.
There’re also emotional components that contribute to postpartum depression. You may feel a loss of sense or identity. You have a newborn, whose being depends entirely on you. That’s a lot of weight on your shoulders and you may feel like you’re losing control of your own life.
Your body after pregnancy and childbirth will change drastically. It may take some time to get back to the way you were. But preparing a healthy meal and exercising regularly is so hard, plus you don’t have the time. You feel less attractive and may worry your partner feels the same way. And although it’s your own body, sometimes you have bodily functions you can’t entirely control. That leaves you feeling more helpless.
You may have taken time off work for maternity leave, but caring for a newborn all day long may feel “stuck.” You miss adult conversations and being outside. You feel the loss of autonomy.
All these feelings snowball and you feel guilty for feeling this way. You don’t understand the post-baby joyful bliss every new mother speaks of. You wonder if there’s something wrong with you, because how can you possibly feel depressed when your child is so beautiful?
In the worst-case scenario, your partner isn’t all that supportive. You may have mommy friends, other family members, or even your own mom, who claim this is all in your head. They didn’t go through with what you’re dealing with. You feel isolated.
These emotions can build up and contribute to postpartum depression.
When postpartum depression is left alone or isn’t treated on time, it can become full-blown psychosis. It’s estimated that about 0.1%-0.2% of women experience postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis is often mislabeled as postpartum depression. This usually happens when a new mother ends up on the front page of the news. The distinction is significant and you should understand that just because you suffer from postpartum depression doesn’t mean you’ll end up hurting your baby. That’s what psychosis is.
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis include:
- Feeling very irritated
- Inability to sleep at all
- Paranoia or suspiciousness
- Rapid mood swings
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that don’t exist)
- Difficulty in communicating
There also may be some anxiety or obsessive-compulsive (OCD) symptoms. Your thoughts may be “running” in your mind and you can’t seem to relax. You may feel like you have to always be on the run, cleaning baby bottles, cleaning house, cleaning baby clothes, or just keeping busy.
More serious symptoms of postpartum psychosis may involve thoughts of suicide or harming your baby. You may be afraid to be alone with your baby because you might do something to him/her. You could also be afraid of things in your house that might cause harm, like sharp objects or knives.
If you feel you’re on the edge and always pacing back and forth, your anxiety levels are high and not likely to disappear on their own.
What You May Experience
Postpartum depression isn’t always obvious from the first glance. There’s a lot of negativity associated with admitting any kind of psychological problems in this society. So a lot of women shy away from sharing their experiences.
The truth is, you can’t tell someone has PPD just by looking at her. There are many stories of women, who are smiling in their photos on Facebook but are secretly harboring fatal thoughts, crippling self-loathing, and anxiety. Some even report having a detailed suicide plan that they decided not to pursue.
The words they use to describe their experiences are chilling:
- Felt like life was over because of the baby
- Felt resentful and lacked confidence to parent
- Was going through hell
- Was never happy, worried all the time, wanted nothing more than to disappear
- Felt like I was drowning
- Felt out of control with intense feelings of anxiety
You might be going through the same thing. You’re acting happy and put together in front of people, but there’s a dark corner in your heart where you feel like your life is spiraling out of control.
Many times, even your supposed best ally, your doctor, can be wrong. It’s not unheard of to have doctors embarrass their patients or dismiss them by saying there is no postpartum depression months after childbirth.
You live in a more judgmental world than ever. The same celebrities who’re open about their postpartum depression at least have access to nannies and best personal trainer to drop their post-pregnancy weight. They can even consider “mommy makeovers” and other cosmetic options to make themselves feel pretty again.
But if you’re a normal middle class mom, you don’t have such options. The rest of the world is quick to judge your baby weight. The person who hates you the most, is you.
Treating Postpartum Depression
Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression doesn’t resolve on its own. Once the baby blues symptoms don’t go away after a couple of weeks, it’ll be best to see a qualified psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor.
The current approach to treating postpartum depression is two-fold: psychotherapy and antidepressants. Psychotherapy is the preferred method. If your symptoms don’t go away after 8 to 12 weeks, your doctor will likely recommend antidepressant drugs.
Other non-medical ways to deal with postpartum depression include joining a support group, maintaining a diet, and exercising regularly. Getting enough sunlight can lighten your mood.
A support group of like-minded individuals can be especially therapeutic. You’ll be in a judgment-free environment where you can freely share your feelings and experiences.
The most important step in treating your postpartum depression is to not blame yourself. You’re not guilty or worthless for feeling the way you do. With psychotherapy and medications, majority of women suffering from postpartum depression see marked improvement.
Notice that only a very small segment of PPD population develops symptoms for postpartum psychosis. That should give you a lot of hope for treating this condition and recovering from it.