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Is It Really Postpartum Depression or is New Motherhood Just Depressing?

Photograph by Twenty20

My six-week-old son was sleeping in his car seat as I sat on the examination table at my OB’s office. I was crying. My nipples were burning and my guts still hurt when I moved certain ways from the incision of my C-section. My elbow burned with tendonitis, my wrist was throbbing from carpal tunnel syndrome and I was so exhausted that I wished I was dead. I was definitely in rough shape.

My doctor expressed concern, “I think you have postpartum depression.” So I started seeing a therapist that specialized in postpartum depression. I wrote publicly about what I was going through and I started making mom friends. The more open I was with the other mothers, the more open they were with me about their own experiences with new motherhood.

Some told me they also struggled with PPD and went on medication. Some told me they only realized after a year or two that they thought perhaps they had undiagnosed PPD. They all told me it gets better. This made me start to wonder if what we call postpartum depression is actually just adjusting to new motherhood.

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Your world literally changes overnight, the sleep deprivation is crazy intense, and your breastfeeding experience can be a total nightmare. They tell you the “baby blues” are normal—extreme emotions and sadness for about two weeks after your baby is born—but they warn that if you still feel terrible six weeks later, it’s most likely postpartum depression.

What if having a baby is really, really hard and we just didn’t know it would be that hard?

But what if we feel terrible because motherhood isn't meeting our expectations? What if we feel depressed because we are expecting to feel a surge of love like we have never felt before and then we don’t have that experience? What if we realized that we appear to have bitten off more than we can chew (or ever expected to chew) by having a child? What if having a baby is really, really hard and we just didn’t know it would be that hard?

Maybe that’s why we get sad, maybe that’s why we cry and feel regretful. Maybe that’s why we wonder if we are cut out for this motherhood gig. Maybe it’s not the hormones after all, maybe it’s the reality check that having a baby is not all snuggles and coos—it’s a lot of work.

Thankless work that involves fluids and feces and torture levels of sleep deprivation. Work that makes your back, feet and and joints ache. Work that pushes your partner away as you become so worn out and tired you can’t think straight, let alone find time to get freaky. Work that pushes who you used to be so far into the shadows you are sure you will never see that person again.

Maybe we miss the work we used to do.

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I had planned on staying home full-time with our baby. We even moved from California to Colorado to lower our cost of living. I thought I would love being a SAHM, but it turns out I miss my job. I thought it would be delightful to be a homemaker, but it’s not. Now, I’m not saying that some women don’t find being a SAHM mom delightful, but I’m just not one of them.

I’ve been working part-time and I'm actively seeking a full-time job. A new friend innocently asked me if I was sure about returning to work full-time, “Don’t you want to have that bond with him? Don’t you want it to be you, not a nanny?”

I admit, I felt a little judged in that moment but the truth is, I am bonded with my baby. He’s my son, I know him. I can smell his poops from across the room. I love the feel of his little head on my shoulder when he’s so tired. I love watching him crack up with laughter when we tickle him or blow on his belly or sing him a song. I love seeing his new skills and his emerging personality. He’s perfect.

But lately I've been feeling better and better, and when I go to work, I feel really good! I don’t think I have postpartum depression anymore and I’m not saying I never had it, but now that I have a bunch of mommy friends, I go to work, have a regular exercise regime and a nanny twice a week, I feel cured! Things did get better just like everyone told me it would.

So if you're feeling down in the dumps after having a baby, absolutely consult your doctor, but know this: You are not alone. You will make it through. Trust me, it does get better.

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