You’re not a monster. Not even a little bit. You’re one of the many women facing postpartum blues or postpartum depression. According to a study published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, one in nine women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. But some believe the number is actually much higher, as many mothers don’t feel comfortable talking about their depressive symptoms.
While it’s easy to convince yourself that the lack of connection with your baby is a sign you’re lacking some essential “good mother” chip, it probably just means that wonky hormones, plus the ingredients of exhaustion and extreme change, are impacting your ability to bond. However, just because the causes of what you’re experiencing aren’t dark and sinister doesn’t mean you’re not feeling like this is the end of the world. Many of us are given the consistent message — especially during pregnancy — that the bond between a mother and child is unbreakable. That it’s the greatest love story we’ll ever experience. When that’s not our reality, it can feel life shattering.
Something important to remember as you navigate this likely heartbreaking experience is that it’s temporary. While any form of anxiety or depression can easily trick us into thinking we’ll never feel better, that’s rarely the case.
If you’re sad and unable to develop a bond in the two weeks following baby’s birth, you might be facing the common phenomenon of postpartum blues, which is believed to be caused by a combination of your hormone levels plunging and a struggle to adapt to the abrupt changes of motherhood. If the feelings of sadness and disconnection don’t lift after two weeks, you might be experiencing postpartum depression.
It’s also important to realize that you’re not scarring your child, or your future bond with them, by not feeling connected now. The mother-child bond develops over a lifetime, and it will happen for you, even if you first have to navigate medical and emotional support. And it’s wise to seek that support. Sadly, about 60 percent of women with symptoms of depression do not receive a clinical diagnosis, and 50 percent of women with a diagnosis do not receive treatment. As added incentive to seek support, consider this: studies have shown that while postpartum depression can have short-term impacts on infants, there are rarely long-term emotional effects if the mother receives treatment early-on.
What to do
Get help, as you should not have to navigate this pain alone. While I totally get the resistance to being open about your depression (I waited two years before I asked for help!), I can almost guarantee that your care provider won’t judge you. They’ll probably be relieved you were brave enough to speak up. And I want to remind you again that postpartum blues or depression is not a fatal character flaw, it’s a very common by-product of going through the intense physical and mental shifts of pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother, or that you’ll never bond with your baby. Asking for help is actually one of the best things you can do for your baby.
Here are a few support-steps you’ll likely need to take:
See your primary care provider. The first stop on the path to moving past postpartum blues or depression is your care provider. They can help evaluate what’s going on and refer you to a mental health specialist. They might also prescribe medication, like an antidepressant. For many women, medication is a key player in getting out of the grips of postpartum depression.
Be consistent with counseling. After you find a mental health specialist you resonate with, commit to showing up. When I was depressed, I cancelled on my therapist all the time because I felt too listless to leave the house. Needless to say, I didn’t get much out of the relationship. Years later I faced another bout of depression and forced myself to see my therapist once a week. If I couldn’t get out of bed, I would FaceTime her. I always felt lighter after our sessions and gleaned serious benefits from our time together — and I also needed medication.
As hard as it can be to keep showing up for counseling, it’s one of the most potent ways you can nurture yourself through depression. Even if some days you’re sure you have nothing to say to your therapist, you’ll benefit from simply arriving at the appointment.
Find quality care for baby. As you navigate this challenging time, it will be essential to ask trusted loved ones for help with your baby. Being their sole caregiver while trying to get through depression might feel impossible, which is why calling in reinforcements can ensure that you and baby get the care you deserve.
You might resist this because you don’t want to tell people about your depression. This is normal, but you’ll probably be amazed by how supportive friends and family are when you trust them with your vulnerability. (And you might also be surprised to learn that some of your loved ones have been through the same thing.)
Continue to spend time with baby. While being with your baby might be a painful reminder of how disconnected you feel, it’s important to continue being with them, even if you have to fake affection. Because “faking it ‘til you make it” might just help you develop an authentic bond with baby, and it will definitely support them in feeling bonded to you. If you don’t trust yourself to adequately care for your baby on your own, ask an adult to be with you when you’re spending time together.