Postpartum Depression: What I Wish Someone Had Told Me
Like any health condition related to pregnancy and postpartum, one of the most important things we can do to support each other is to share what we’ve been through, to normalize what can go wrong so that others won’t be blindsided. But doing that is much harder than it sounds.
At Origin, we often hear pregnant and postpartum patients say that they don’t want to talk about their physical or mental struggles because they don’t want to scare their expecting friends or take away from their joy. The problem with holding back is that it contributes to more birthing people staying stuck: confused about their symptoms and unsure how to get help, or if help is even possible.
Perinatal Mood Disorders (PPMDs), which include Postpartum Depression (PPD), can affect up to 20% of birthing persons, and simply hearing about others' experiences can be part of the healing process. That’s why Origin patient Giovanna Masci chooses to talk openly about her experience with postpartum depression. With a son who is now 7 and a daughter who is 3, Giovanna reached an emotional breaking point after both deliveries. “I want to normalize how I felt and let others know that it’s ok to feel that way — and that it gets better.”
In honor of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re sharing her story and hope you’ll share it, too.
How soon after delivery did you realize you might be dealing with postpartum depression?
I pretty quickly felt a combination of depression and anxiety that was very obviously different from anything I’d felt before. What really stood out was that I didn’t feel the deep connection with my baby that I was expecting — or any connection at all. I had moments where I looked at him and thought “What have I done? Who is this person?”
I had heard new moms say how they could barely sleep because they were up just watching their baby, they were so enthralled and in love. I’d hear these things and think “what’s wrong with me?” I kept thinking “Maybe I am not meant to be a mom. This was not meant for me.” I wasn’t getting any joy out of it.
I kept thinking “Maybe I am not meant to be a mom. This was not meant for me.”
We expect it to be so joyful, but even without postpartum depression, it can feel more like survival.
I remember this billboard next to the hospital that said “Go in pregnant, come out happy.” And there was this picture of a mom with a smiling, playful baby looking back at her. That baby was probably 6 months old. Newborns aren’t like that. They don’t smile, they don’t do much. It wasn’t what I thought a baby was like based on the images I saw. You may not feel that instant connection. I didn’t feel it and I didn’t know that was normal.
This is a big part of the problem — we need to normalize that postpartum can feel very different for different people. No one told me that. I’d heard about breastfeeding challenges. I’d had one friend talk about how painful childbirth was. But no one had prepared me for this.
What was it like to feel so unprepared?
I’ve always been a Type A person, a strong person. I tend to be very good at handling any kind of challenge. I’m also very organized, but with a newborn, nothing happens on schedule. It’s very chaotic. Emotionally, I just couldn’t handle it. I strive to be good at everything and I felt I was failing at being a mom — and that contributed to a cycle of guilt.
I also didn’t expect how lonely maternity would feel. With my first baby, I felt like a speed dater trying to connect with other moms. I’d go to support circles organized by a local center, breastfeeding groups, baby yoga. I went to all of them looking for people to talk to who would understand. I felt the need to be with other people who were going through the same thing.
I think what I needed was to be comforted. I needed to be told that what I was going through was ok and justified.
I needed to be told that what I was going through was ok and justified.
Were you also dealing with pain or injuries from your delivery?
My labor was ok, but I developed symphysis pubis dysfunction during delivery — an extremely painful separation of my pubic bone. That’s what brought me to Origin and I was working with my PT and in the process of healing, but I couldn't do much physically. I couldn’t carry my baby easily. I couldn’t take walks. I had this vision of postpartum that involved me taking long walks with a stroller, but I couldn’t do anything like that.
As a mom, I needed to have energy, but I didn’t even have the strength to do anything.
Did you have help at home in those first few months?
I did. My mother came for a month after the baby was born, and my mother-in-law came later as well, which I was so grateful for. I realized I needed more help though. I experienced this weird transgression. I wanted to be with my mom all the time. I wanted someone to mother me, to be babied myself. And that didn’t feel like me. I had never felt that way as an adult. I felt a lot of guilt and shame about that.
It’s also not part of our culture to need help — I have friends from India who have female relatives who took care of everything for a month while they rested after their delivery. That’s not something we do in our culture, and I felt like I wasn’t supposed to need it.
I thought “I’m not really cut out for this because I need my mom. Look at these other mothers who can do it all themselves.” I was lucky that my mom was able to come back and spend more time with me, but I felt guilty about how much I felt I needed her.
Did postpartum depression impact your relationship with your partner?
With my husband, it was a constant cycle of guilt. We had this conversation before I had my son. I was like, you know me, I’m going to go into boss mode. I need you to be able to take it. I won’t have the energy to make you feel better if you get upset.
And then I was the one who was overwhelmed and at a total loss. He got to be in a different role when I was depressed. He had to be strong and be there for me. I was so low and needed him so much, and that made me feel even guiltier and more anxious. It must have been kind of scary for him. I thought “he’s not going to put up with this.” But he did. He was a saint in so many ways.
How did you get help for depression and anxiety?
I was literally Googling “postpartum depression.” The process of finding a psychiatrist felt like this huge hill that I had to climb. I think I finally found one through the midwife practice. I started going to therapy every week. I did that for a few months and was still struggling, so eventually I went on anti-depressants when my first was 6 months.
I’ve now given birth twice and, both times, I went on medication postpartum. With my son, I didn’t go on antidepressants until he was 6 months. The second time, with my daughter, it was almost more like I was treating my PTSD. My body and mind were saying “omg, I’m back here, back in this reality.” I went on antidepressants when she was 1 month old.
With my daughter, I am so glad I went on medication early, I was actually able to enjoy her while on maternity leave. Once I was on medication, it no longer felt like the world was ending all the time. I could get some amount of joy from just being with my baby. I thought “Oh… this is how it can feel. People weren’t lying to me, I really could experience this differently.”
Now that I’m on the other side and feeling good, I have more perspective. Not everyone’s mind/body handles the changes we go through postpartum in the same way. Some of us need a little extra help, and that’s ok.
Not everyone’s mind/body handles the changes we go through postpartum in the same way — and that's ok.
Do you make a point of sharing that wisdom with friends who are pregnant?
Now when a friend tells me that they’re having a baby, I’m sure to say “look, this is what can happen. And if it does, you call me.”
But while I share my experience, I emphasize that each person’s experience with postpartum is different, and trying to fit into one particular expectation is wrong. There’s a spectrum. And at one end, you may feel like you don’t like your baby or like being a mother. And that’s ok. You may feel something else. You may want to stare into your baby’s eyes all day. That’s ok, too. There’s no right experience.
I just remember feeling… I just wish someone had told me that it could be this way. That it could be so different, that it can get better, and that it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom.