Almost nine years ago, I was a new single mom in graduate school. In many ways, this should have been a time of great celebration. New baby and new opportunities in life. But instead, I was full of dread. I believed that I was alone in the world and that nothing would go right. Postpartum depression was a subtle, but persistent presence in my life—a dark cloud that affected how I interpreted everything.
In hindsight, I now see the different ways my depression manifested itself. Sometimes, after putting my son to bed, I was so exhausted that I would fall asleep on the couch and wake up a few hours later to the TV blaring and the front door wide open. My relationships with others suffered as well. This ranged from yelling and screaming at my son’s father to nights when I would just hold my son in my arms and cry. Other times, I would get so frustrated with my son that I would have to leave him crying in his crib until I calmed down enough to care for him. I also had unhealthy attachments to drugs and alcohol. Since my mom lived down the street and regularly babysat, I had plenty of time to have a couple of drinks or smoke a few joints. I didn’t realize that I was self-medicating or that my usage was substantially higher than before I became pregnant.
For the most part, I chalked my sadness and anxiety up to “a crazy life.” I was so good at hiding my feelings and unhealthy behavior from others that others thought that I had it all together. And in fact, I thought my pain was just part of being a “strong Black mother.” But it became too difficult to handle. Thankfully, my insurance covered mental health services, so I sought out a therapist. She taught me how to question my unhealthy thoughts before they turned into depressive episodes. With her support, as well as exercise, my mood lifted. When I had my daughter, I chose to take anti-depressants, as I was at high risk for another bout of postpartum depression.
Since 10 to 15 percent of mothers will experience postpartum depression, it is important to note that depression isn’t always the stereotypical portrayal of crying and overt sadness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, postpartum depression includes less obvious symptoms such as:
Pregnancy-related depression may begin during pregnancy as well. Since my mood swings began during pregnancy, I was used to being sad and didn’t really notice that I wasn’t getting better by the time I had my son. There’s a stereotype about pregnant women that “hormones make us crazy, ” which I believed as well, but it may be more than hormones causing those intense changes in mood.
If you think you may be experiencing postpartum depression, don’t just ignore it or assume that struggle and pain are normal aspects of Black women’s lives. Reach out to a trained professional who has learned how to treat mental health issues. While I’m all about reaching out to friends, family or spiritual counselors, these individuals are better suited to offer you support while you heal. There are multiple treatment options, such as counseling and medication. In mild cases of depression, exercise and stress-relieving activities help women balance their moods.
Postpartum depression is a serious issue. I am thankful my children weren’t harmed because of my symptoms and self-destructive behaviors. If you think you are experiencing depression, contact a professional ASAP. We owe it to ourselves and our families.
For more information on postpartum depression, go to the Office of Women’s Health website.
Dr. Ebony Reddock’s mission is to support mothers in living healthier, more balanced lives. She is a writer, researcher and workshop facilitator on mothers’ health and wellness. She’s also an advocate for the conditions that help mothers take care of themselves and their families. You can find more information about her work, including her blog and other resources, at ecreddock.com