When I became a doula, it was important to me to support women in the…
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve encountered who think the word “postpartum” is shorthand for postpartum depression.
To be clear, the word postpartum means “after giving birth.” And since our society gives no value, space, or acknowledgement to what is really going on, it makes sense that perinatal mood disorders are misunderstood, overlooked, or all jumbled together.
No one is being clear. No one is naming them specifically. No one is talking about what they really look like. And feel like. I hope by now you understand that that’s not what we do here. We will never lie to you, tell you half truths, or withhold knowledge.
Because knowledge is our power.
So I’m going to be clear. I’m going to name things specifically. And talk about what perinatal mood disorders look like. Before I go any further I do have to let you know that I’m a doctor of nothing. None of this is medical advice. Or knowledge gained from medical training.
This is a mom (me) sharing information with another mom. I have worked with hundreds of moms so this is a collection of experiences from real people and their experiences. Plus, information gathered from my own research and experiences.
None of this is designed to give you a diagnosis of any sort, but to delve into more detail around perinatal mood disorders because googling doesn’t really help. There’s a lot of grey area, there’s a lot of overlap, there are a lot of both generalizations and absolutes. It’s confusing and makes an upsetting experience worse.
So here we go, let’s get a clearer idea of what this all looks like in real life. How postpartum anxiety is different from postpartum depression. And how postpartum rage is a real thing and is a symptom of anxiety and depression.
Postpartum depression has most often been used as a blanket term for any postpartum change in mood. It often feels like it’s thrown around to dismiss or explain any strong feeling experienced by a new mom. Any “irrational,” “dramatic,” or “emotional” behavior.
People talk about the baby blues which very specifically has a two week shelf life. This happens because of the drastic hormonal shift immediately postpartum which can regulate and be managed in a fairly straightforward manner.
Postpartum depression and/or anxiety persist longer than two weeks. Sometimes they don’t show up until six months later. A year later. Years later. Yes, really. And since our society thinks of the postpartum as being six weeks tops, these cases are even more difficult to admit, address, and move through.
This information isn’t here to make you nervous, but to empower you to speak to a professional if you are questioning whether or not what you are feeling is common, normal, expected, overwhelming, or in need for further support. There is so much stigma around experiencing mental health issues and getting the support you need and that is what we are here to debunk and discharge.
So, let’s be clear on the differences between PPD and PPA.
Postpartum depression is often characterized by a feeling of detachment from yourself, your baby, life in general. Depression is associated with feelings of sadness and feeling so overwhelmed that it’s paralyzing. You can have intrusive thoughts about harming yourself and/or the baby and fantasize about leaving your family because they’d be better off without you.
Postpartum anxiety shows up differently. It’s more of the hypervigilance, racing thoughts, being so overwhelmed you can’t stop doing things. You don’t trust anyone else to do anything for your baby, so you do everything. The constant fear of something happening to the baby can interrupt sleep (even more than a newborn) leaving you irritable, cranky, and often lashing out.
Something less talked about is a symptom of both of these disorders and that’s postpartum rage. Postpartum rage is a symptom of postpartum depression or anxiety. It feels easier to talk about feelings of sadness and disconnection, or fears around someone else caring for the baby, rather than admitting to uncontrollable, unrecognizable anger.
And with everyone telling you to enjoy every moment because it goes so fast, it can take every ounce of any energy you have left over from not sleeping and having a newborn to not punch them in the face. Or the anger you feel towards your spouse for being able to tolerate the baby crying when your brain explodes every time it happens.
Anger that suddenly you’re supposed to know all of the answers because you’re a mom now.
Anger that you’re a mom now.
Anger that your partner acts like you’re their mom and you’re not.
Anger that the baby is hungry again.
Anger that you’re hungry again.
Anger that no one seems to be able to read your mind.
That no one knows how much you are suffering. That no one asks how you are really doing. That everyone else seems to have an easier time with this and is “enjoying every moment.” That the cat litter needs to be cleaned. That your partner asks what you want for dinner.
Does any of this sound familiar?
I know it does to me. I often found myself exploding at my kind, thoughtful, and also completely overwhelmed husband. I resented him for not feeling the way I felt. While also resenting him for having any feelings at all. And then I’d cry because I felt awful that I yelled. That I was being mean to him when he was being so kind to me. That neither of us knew how to handle this.
I didn’t know how to talk about it then, but I know how to talk about it now. And this is what I want to encourage you to do. Talk about what you are feeling. Talk to a friend. Talk to your doctor. Talk to a therapist. Talk to another mom. Talk about how you really feel.
Ask, “Do you ever feel this way too?”
In sharing your story you can inspire someone else to share theirs, and then you both feel less alone and more empowered to get support where and how you need it. Which can be different for everyone.
Postpartum rage isn’t always a component of depression and/or anxiety. It can also be a reaction to gendered expectations people put on anyone who gives birth. Or to a partner who is experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety (yeah, our partners can get it too).
What I’m trying to say is: everything about the postpartum experience is currently completely f*cked. And we all need support. So we are calling out all of the things that are happening behind closed doors, that make us feel alone, like we are the only ones struggling, that this somehow reflects how much we love our kids or how good of a parent we are and will be.
And we are saying. No. It’s not you. It’s the system. In fact, 2020 highlighted how little the United States cares about mothers. Over 2 million left the workforce. Rates of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders skyrocketed affecting 10-20% of new mothers before COVID-19 and research now shows closer to 70% of mothers are affected.
The system is currently failing you. We deserve accessible and accurate support.
In addition to forwarding this article to everyone you know and screaming from the rooftops, here are three things you can do to start supporting yourself and your mental health. These tools can help you when you find yourself in a moment of rage, depression, and/or anxiety.
- BREATHE Deep breathing actually, literally resets your nervous system and calms you down. Read more about how to access this superpower here.
- MOVE Mindful movement can help you ground yourself in the present moment instead of being swept away by your emotions. Explore using movement to guide you back home to your body here.
- EAT Serotonin is made in the gut! So let’s feed those feel good hormones. Easily digestible foods (cooked instead of raw, warm instead of cold) puts less stress on your digestive system which also supports everything calming down and regulation.
So this is your inspiration, your pep talk, your call to action to start talking and demand that you, your new mom friend, your old mom friend, every single birthing person you know, come in contact with, and are yet to meet has a voice, is heard, and feels safe and supported getting the help they need.
Feel like you need guidance and support with your mental health? Here are three organizations we recommend.