I distinctly remember sitting down to eat a bowl of Mac & Cheese. It was past 4 PM and I hadn't yet eaten that day. There were visitors outside laughing, but I was inside alone finally sitting down to my first meal. As I raised the first bite to my mouth, my daughter--just over a week old--began to cry. I tried soothing her and eating at the same time, but, through my own tears, abandoned my food to tend to her needs.
The first few weeks of motherhood are hard. They may be some of the hardest weeks of your life. Through sleep deprivation and complete disregard of our own needs, we are expected to keep a tiny human alive and thriving. They said it would be joyous and magical, they lightly mentioned hard and exhausting, I heard nothing about it being scary. There was talk of hormone adjustments and lack of sleep--the reminder to sleep when baby sleeps--but no one spoke about the insomnia that may come. No one told me I'd be running on adrenaline, unable to force myself in to a nap. Even when she slept at night, I woke up thinking she might too, making sure she was still breathing.
They talk a lot about "the baby blues" that comes while adjusting to hormones and the new-lack-of-sleep-normal. This emphasis on the baby blues causes many moms to chalk their feelings up to this and ignore early signs of a perinatal mood disorder. While we know 80% of women experience mental health changes after childbirth, a far lower percentage are diagnosed, and even fewer receive help.
There is the feeling during new motherhood that strange feelings that come up are both normal and not normal at the same time. We are made to feel that feelings other than happiness should not be voiced though we tend to minimize those tough feelings as normal. Pinning the feelings on hormones or lack of sleep minimizes those feelings and makes new moms less likely to seek help.
I'm here to tell you that your feelings are valid, your struggles are real, and you shouldn't let anyone, not even yourself, minimize them.
Though symptoms of a perinatal mood disorder may not be present, it doesn't means new moms don't need help. We need help in the form of therapists, support groups, lactation consultants, doulas, family, and friends. We need people to look us in the eyes and mean it when they ask us how we are. We need people who really want to know, no matter how dark or difficult the answer.
Below is a printable for symptoms of perinatal mood disorders. If you believe you may be suffering, don't wait to seek help.