Myths About Postpartum Illnesses From Moms Who Have Been There

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postpartum depression mythsWhen a celebrity gives birth, we are often bombarded with photos of the mother beaming the widest of smiles and lovingly gazing into the baby’s eyes.  

As someone who experienced a postpartum illness, or more accurately referenced as a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD), it can be a reminder that I did not feel that same joy when my kids were infants. And I admit to feeling slightly pissy when seeing celebrities all gaga over their newborns.

Every so often, pictures of new celeb moms cause me to grind my teeth because it appears beyond ideal. They just gave birth to a baby. And many still look stunning.  Flawless magazine photos aglow with happiness.  These beautiful families living in a utopia – c’mon, how could you not growl at that?  

Then it happened. Celebrity after celebrity opening up about their battles with PMADs. Many surprised me.  Some even shocked me. 

I had fallen for it. I had only seen the embodiment of perfection. I never looked beyond that, and suffered from the illness myself. These famous new mothers did not look sad.  Just because things look like heaven on earth on the outside, you never know what is going on behind closed doors.

Imagine what folks who do not have any experience with postpartum depression or a related illness might think. They’d never believe the smiles or words of elation could be forced and fake.

Myths, untruths, and misunderstandings do us no favors to halt the stigma of PMADs, and in turn, do not help mothers accept, overcome, or sometimes even recover from the illness. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with many women who have also suffered from PMAD. I’ve asked them their thoughts about myths regarding the perception of the illness. Myths that even we, Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder survivors, may fall victim to.

Myth #1: Postpartum illnesses only occur in the first few months after the baby is born.

  • Many published materials state that postpartum illnesses can occur any time during the first year. But that “deadline” isn’t a “complete” button by any means. At the end of one year, I kept waiting and waiting for “it” to go away. And when “it” didn’t, I spiraled even worse.
  • I did not receive a diagnosis until my son turned 14 months old. 
  • Even if I brought up the thought of having PPD to friends and family, the response was that it couldn’t be PPD because my baby was almost a year old. 
  • I’m only 20 months postpartum, and I still have anxiety and an internal bully that can be pretty mean. I feel people judge me (now this could be the anxiety talking) that I’m not ‘better’ yet, my baby is going on 20 months, and though some of the darkness has lifted, I still don’t feel like me.

Myth #2: The doctors will know what to do. They’ll recognize the symptoms and diagnose me.

  • It took a full-blown panic attack and a trip to the emergency room for someone to recognize my condition.  
  • What I learned over the years, to no fault of any medical specialty, was that postpartum depression is just not always something on a medical professional’s radar. 
  • When I raised the question of postpartum depression with my OB/GYN, he blatantly dismissed it and then suggested that I change my lifestyle. 
  • I adopted my kids, so I never expected to have postpartum depression, and neither did any of my doctors. 

Myth #3: I don’t feel sad, so I don’t have postpartum depression.

  • I wasn’t really sad, but I did have really bothersome thoughts and a slew of body aches. Little did I know that “depression” was not the only ailment associated with maternal mental illness. Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) with/without intrusive thoughts; Postpartum PTSD, Postpartum Psychosis, and antepartum (before birth) fall under this umbrella. There is minimal talk about these other maternal mental illnesses, which led me to believe that I couldn’t suffer from a postpartum illness. 
  • I had physical pain EVERYWHERE, including chest pains, headaches, dizziness, and stomach pains. Surely I had a brain tumor or maybe a heart condition, or both. Surely I was dying.
  • There is only PPD. I was not depressed, yet I was in a constant state of angst.
  • That rage is not an aspect.   

Myth #4: Give it time. I’m sure you’ll snap out of it.

  • I think there is much confusion between baby blues and PPD. Baby blues typically go away on their own after a short amount of time. 
  • Unfortunately, postpartum illnesses do not always go away on their own. But the good news is that the illness is treatable, and there is help available. Remember to advocate for yourself when speaking with medical professionals.
  • Being told that I just needed sleep and relaxation was so frustrating! 
  • I’d been told that taking a hot bath and getting sleep will cure it all. I heard all of the remedies and “you will be fine,” and no one understood that I could not control it. It wasn’t a matter of just snapping out of it.  
  • That exercise, prayer, quality time will make it go away.
  • This illness is a jerk (I could call it worse names). What I’ve come to realize is you do not get better overnight no matter how much you try. It’s exhausting fighting it every day.

 Myth #5: You’re fine! All moms worry.

  • People loved to tell me that worrying was normal and that all mothers worry. Even when I explained to them that if I heard the microwave go on and I wasn’t in the room, I immediately went into fight or flight mode, thinking that my husband might be putting my baby in the microwave. While my logical brain would tell me that is not true, my postpartum brain wouldn’t allow me to feel secure, and I would be in a panic, sweating, etc., and would need to take considerable time to recover from it even after seeing that all was fine. That is not normal motherly worrying.  
  • It wasn’t supposed to be this way. People said that it would take time to get to know the baby and to feel comfortable with being a mother, but what I was feeling was so much “more.” There was sheer panic in every waking moment. What if he didn’t eat enough? What if he ate too much? He didn’t burp! What’s going to happen to him?
  • The constant checking to see if the baby was breathing when he was sleeping. I could not control it. It was like an out-of-body experience.

Myth #6: If you have never experienced depression or anxiety, you are not at risk for a postpartum illness.

  • I did not suffer from depression or anxiety growing up, but I had a very traumatic birth with my daughter. This seemed to have contributed to developing postpartum depression.   
  • I had risk factors for it in many ways, but a history of depression and anxiety were not among them.   
  • Medical professionals suggested that I must have been an anxious type A person before kids, and the hectic pace of motherhood just must have exacerbated this in me. While I know pre-baby mental health issues are certainly a risk factor, it is not a prerequisite for having a postpartum condition, and in my case, that was not true. I had not had these issues before. And I think it, in a way, minimizes PPD to frame it exclusively in this way. 

Myth #7: I must be a terrible mother.

  • We want so very much to “feel” what all those books told us we’d feel. And when that does not happen, it’s utterly heartbreaking. This made me feel like a horrible mother and a horrible person.
  • Society puts such pressure on moms to love and bond with their babies immediately. Heck, even before the baby is born, the books, lists, endless opinions of what you should do pile on the pressure. 
  • When we are suffering and living in that dark place, it’s hard to admit that you wish there was a return policy on the baby, that you would rather live in a dark hole (well, for me anyway). Some don’t understand why you are not enjoying this thing called motherhood.
  • OCD and intrusive thoughts are the absolute worst. I couldn’t be a “good mother” with these odd thoughts floating around in my mind. 
  • I was consumed with guilt because this was supposed to be the best time in my life, and I was miserable.

Myth #8: Postpartum Depression and Depression are the same.

  • It has been suggested that I might want to attend general support groups for people with depression and anxiety because, of course, there aren’t any for PPD moms. While I recognize that many of the symptoms of generalized depression and anxiety are the same as PPD, I don’t think many would understand the thoughts and feelings with PPD. While they may be sympathetic, I think they might even judge if we said we just wished our baby to disappear or whatever ruminating thoughts there are. All because of the stigma that giving birth to a baby automatically makes you happy.    

I’ll reiterate that there is no medical advice here. We are not professionals but sharing our words as women who have been there. (Thank you to my fellow PMAD survivors for sharing your wisdom!).

It’s the most natural thing in the world for a woman to give birth, and the expectation is this instant love and instant bond. It doesn’t always happen, and that is plain ol’ OK. If some of this does resonate with you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor and/or share your feelings with a loved one. Or even show them this post and nod your head if that’s all you have in you at this time.  

Personally, I’m thankful to celebrities like Hayden Panettiere, Serena Williams, Alanis Morissette, Cardi B, and Brooke Shields for bringing attention to PMADs. If it takes celebrities to bring attention to the fact that up to 1 in 7 new mothers will suffer, so be it. At least it is getting some much-needed spotlight.  


For further information on this topic:

When Mommy’s Worries Get Too Big: Postpartum Anxiety and Panic Attacks

My Neighbor Just Had a Baby (a reflection on postpartum depression)

Postpartum Depression on the Small Screen

A Mom’s Guide to Postpartum Resources in Westchester County

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If you or someone you know is suffering from a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, there is help:

The Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness

Postpartum Resource Center of New York

The Motherhood Center of New York

Postpartum Support International

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Melissa Jacobowitz is a Bronx native who moved to Westchester County after she and her high school sweetheart got hitched in 1997. She and her husband live in Mount Kisco with their son Corey (b 2004) and daughter Mia (b 2007). Melissa spent many years working in Human Resources and currently works in enrollment and marketing for a child care organization. Melissa is a two-time survivor of Postpartum OCD. Melissa initially became interested in writing to raise awareness for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, but has discovered that writing is a newfound aspect of her life that she thoroughly enjoys. She was also a contributing writer with Suburban Misfit Mom and you can find her stories at http://suburbanmisfitmom.com/writer/melissa-jacobowitz/ Melissa is also a featured writer in the book “A Dark Secret,” which is a compilation of where 15 women share their stories of maternal mental illness from diagnosis to recovery. Melissa is excited to write with the Westchester County Mom team and hopes that you’ll enjoy her stories of the trials and tribulations of a born-n-raised city girl raising a teenagers growing up here in Westchester.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Couldn’t agree with this more! I had postpartum depression for a little while, but I still have postpartum anxiety and my baby is 18 months old. I hate the way people portray ppd, as if it’s just something that magically disappears, or they think your baby doesn’t make you happy. It makes it so hard to open up about.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. I don’t have kids, but I have many friends who have gone through Post Partum Depression and my mom did, too. This is a subject that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

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