I recently had the opportunity to meet Caroline Kwash. Caroline is a beautiful, bubbly, and outgoing stay at home mom to a little girl named Marley. Upon meeting Caroline, you would never guess that she was struggling with postpartum depression. Caroline admits that she, herself, did not think postpartum depression was something that she had or needed to worry about. Sure, she was asked about general feelings of sadness at the doctor’s office, but she brushed these questions off, giving it little thought. It wasn’t until her daughter was nearly five months old that she realized something was wrong.
Caroline noticed that she was doing everything to care for her daughter and was no longer caring for herself. She watched as her friends went out and continued to live their lives as they wished while she was home caring for her daughter. Her daughter was screaming to be fed, but Caroline wanted nothing more than to have her body to herself, to have her time for herself, and to have her old life back. Caroline felt alone. She felt as though she had no one she could talk to about this. She sought help.
I believe many new moms struggle to see the signs of postpartum depression (PPD) and instead brush the feelings off as the “baby blues.” The “baby blues” affect up to 80% of mothers and differs from PPD in that they only last one to two weeks with symptoms that can be described as somewhat mild. PPD, on the other hand, occurs in about 15% of births and includes symptoms such as worrying or feeling overly anxious, feeling sad or overwhelmed, crying more than usual or for no apparent reason, feeling moody or irritable, feeling anger or rage, having trouble bonding with the baby, etc. PPD lingers and usually requires diagnosis and treatment by a professional (NIMH).
As Caroline spoke, I felt a sense of relief as I could relate to many of the things she was saying. I have also struggled with the stress and frustration of feeling like my body is not my own. The feeling of just not wanting to breast feed for one day of my life. Unlike Caroline, I also struggled with feelings of anger boiling inside me like a pot on a stove, threatening to boil over. The anger I felt would come on so suddenly and so intense that it horrified me and I found myself scared that I would do something regrettable. As a child protection worker, I could never understand how someone could physically harm a child, and now thoughts of seriously harming this baby who I loved more than anything were flooding my mind. I remember asking my husband one time, “do you ever want to throw him out the closed window or just… throw him?” My husband stared blankly and responded, “no.” We decided that it was just the hormones causing me to feel these things and was probably normal. This was not normal.
Other than a conversation with my husband, I worked through my feelings in silence. I assumed other mothers didn’t warn me of these feelings, not because they weren’t normal, but rather, because it was socially unacceptable or would appear ungrateful to express negative feelings related to my child. How much easier things would have been if I could have talked about it.
Caroline is in the process of developing the answer to this struggle for moms throughout Maryland, with the dream of expanding nationally in the future. Happy Mama is a website and app where moms can seek information and support for PPD, can make childcare arrangements with local moms for a few hours at a time, and can schedule playdates and events with local moms. Essentially, Happy Mama is an online mom tribe waiting to happen. Caroline is in the fundraising stage of her venture, but after just 11 days, received enough donations to start a basic website. I, for one, can’t wait to see this website unfold as I believe it would be a truly valuable resource for moms throughout Maryland who are silently struggling to feel the joys of motherhood and receive support like only a mom tribe can offer.
* The views expressed in this article are simply my own. They are not intended to diagnose or promote self-diagnosis. Please seek professional support if you feel like you may be struggling with Postpartum Depression. For more information and/or support, visit Postpartum Support International and information on HelpGuide.