Postpartum Depression: More Common Than You Know
New mothers with postpartum depression can feel very alone. But at least 20% of new mothers experience it. Here's how to cope.
Tina Merritt, now 39, of Virginia Beach, Va., had heard of postpartum depression when she was pregnant seven years ago. But when she gave birth to her son, Graham, she expected nothing but joy as she and her husband welcomed the baby boy who would be the first grandchild on both sides of their families."It took me a while to get pregnant, and it was a huge deal for everyone," Merritt says."I worked right up to the end of my pregnancy and felt great. I'd planned so long for this baby, I really thought everything would be wonderful."
Of course she did, says Michael Silverman, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "Most women have bought into the belief that when you give birth to a child, you immediately feel love like you've never experienced. [But] for many women, that's not reality. They feel that they're defective, that something's wrong, and they can't talk to anyone about it."
Instead of the picture-perfect motherhood she imagined, Merritt found herself terrified of taking care of her new son, worrying she would make a mistake. She describes the first year or more of his life as a big fog. "I don't remember much at all. I don't remember how old my son was when he crawled, don't remember him taking his first steps or eating solids for the first time."
It wasn't that she didn't want to care for her son, Merritt says -- she just didn't feel that she could. "I thought my husband or my mother-in-law could do it better, that I was supposed to be this perfect mother but I couldn't be," she recalls. Merritt's husband took on most of the child care, and she returned to work when Graham was 6 weeks old. "That was the one thing I could do right. I could work. Before that, my husband would come home from the office, and I'd be in the chair in my pajamas holding the baby -- exactly where I'd been when he left. I was so afraid to be alone with my son. He was 2 before I even took him to the grocery store by myself."