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I was crouched on the kitchen floor, sweating and gulping deep breaths to calm down. In this moment, I finally acknowledged what I'd denied for weeks—this was postpartum depression.

When you have a panic attack because your toddler is whining about jelly choices and your newborn is starting to fuss in the other room, it's not hard to recognize that something is off-kilter in your emotional regulatory system.

Here's the real kicker though: I'm a licensed professional counselor. As in, I'm the person you would call to get help if you had postpartum depression. I didn't have any of the common risk factors for developing postpartum depression, such as a high-risk pregnancy or delivery, lack of support at home, a colicky infant, or extreme sleep deprivation.

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I also assumed that if I started struggling, I'd know exactly how to recognize the symptoms and deal with it. And yet, even with all those advantages, here I was hiding behind the kitchen cabinets, totally thrown by this tidal wave of anger and helplessness that overtook me almost every day.

What moms should know about postpartum depression

How does postpartum depression catch so many women off guard? It's partially due to the perception that PPD is something that happens to someone else. There is a ton of growing awareness about the condition, but most people don't realize that one in five women will experience some degree of postpartum depression or anxiety in the first year after giving birth.

Also, it doesn't just affect first-time moms—it can happen after your first or third or even fifth baby. PPD can affect anyone, regardless of income, race, culture or education. Even Chrissy Teigen and other celebrities with nannies, personal assistants, and housekeepers still experience PPD.

Having supportive friends and family can help diminish your risk level, but these things don't inoculate you from the hormonal changes and stressors that also contribute to PPD.

When women don't think they have a "valid" reason to develop postpartum depression and anxiety, they are less likely to be watching for it or understand the symptoms if they do start struggling.

Many women aren't aware of some of the sneaky ways that PPD can show up. Moms usually expect symptoms similar to clinical depression: constantly crying, unable to sleep even when the baby is sleeping, difficulty bonding with the baby or finding enjoyment in the things they usually love.

Alternatively, women hear about typical signs associated with anxiety (which can often be a component of PPD): racing thoughts, constant worrying about the baby, and the inability to relax.

However, here are five lesser-known postpartum depression symptoms that can indicate postpartum depression or anxiety:

1. Fight or flight

One significant way that postpartum depression manifests itself is by triggering the fight-or-flight response.

When you're already struggling, getting just a little overwhelmed or stressed can prompt your brain to start sending danger signals to your body. Many women experience this as a feeling of panic, thinking, "If I don't get out of here RIGHT NOW, I am going to lose it!"

Often your physical response can feel way out of proportion to your thoughts. You might be able cognitively recognize that what's happening isn't that bad, but your body responds like it's in actual danger due to the stress hormones flooding your brain.

2. Rage and irritability

If you get triggered but can't escape the stressful situation (hello, dinner prep with whiny kids underfoot), your mental state can turn aggressive to shield you from the perceived threat. This makes total sense in a survival situation, but in the case of postpartum depression, the "threat" is often your toddler or baby.

Thus, you might find yourself lashing out in an explosion of anger—yelling, slamming your hands on the counter, throwing toys into their bins—that leaves you shaky, confused, and full of guilt after the surge of adrenaline passes.

3. Increased need for control

If you're a planner who thrives on routine and order, this tendency can go into overdrive with postpartum depression. As postpartum anxiety rises, the need to control your environment increases with it.

This is a common defense mechanism to cope with anxious feelings. But as any parent knows, newborns scoff at routines and toddlers live to create messes. Something as simple as a skipped nap or seeing toys all over the floor can be enough to send you into a tailspin.

4. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy

Because moms dealing with postpartum depression often feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, they often report thoughts such as, "What if I'm not cut out for this? Am I going to mess up my kids? I should be grateful for this time with them rather than feeling miserable!"

Even if you don't feel this way all the time, these thoughts can be especially difficult if you're already in a vulnerable mental state.

5. Physical symptoms of postpartum depression

Lastly, postpartum depression and anxiety can be a very physical experiences. It might feel like:

  • Rise in body temperature
  • Feeling shaky and sweaty
  • Tingling in your fingers and lips
  • Dizziness

If a trained mental health professional like me can miss the signs of postpartum depression and anxiety in her own life, then it can certainly happen to any other mom out there.

If you notice any of these signs of postpartum depression, reach out to a mental health professional for support. A therapist can help you connect the dots to see when and how you're most vulnerable for getting overwhelmed. Most of all, therapy is a dedicated space where you can focus on caring for yourself so that you can regain some emotional resiliency.

Check out Motherly's guide to getting started in therapy.

Postpartum depression can happen to anyone, and it manifests itself in many different ways—some obvious, and some less so.

At first, it was easy for me to say, "Oh, this is just what having two kids is like," when I found myself feeling overwhelmed and irritable. Eventually (thankfully) I recognized that although my circumstances were "normal," my responses were not, at least not for me. This realization enabled me to get the additional support and guidance that I needed to find my emotional equilibrium and start fully enjoying motherhood again.

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, please reach out to get support. Put your oxygen mask on first, mama. You deserve to take care of yourself.

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In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

News

Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life

I am broken.

It has happened again and I am breaking even more. Soon, the pieces will be too small to put back together.

The negative pregnancy test sits on my bathroom sink like a smug ex-lover. I am left pleading, How could you do this to me again? I thought it would be different this time. I had hope.

We are still trying. It has been 11 months and 13 days and there has been no progress. No forward momentum. No double solid lines. The emptiness of the space where the line should be mocks me.

I am broken.

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No amount of planning and scheming and effort is enough. I am not enough because I cannot make a chemical reaction happen at the exact moment it needs to happen. I cannot do what I want but oh how I wish I could.

It almost happened once. Two months ago, I felt different. Sore breasts and aware of the world like never before. I felt not empty. The blankness had been replaced by someone. I was sure of it. And I was late. Six days late and I thought this is it.

I didn't rush to test because I didn't want to jinx it. Or perhaps I just didn't want to let go of that string of hope. Without evidence that you're not actually here, I can pretend that you are.

So I waited. And I Googled early pregnancy symptoms and I kept an eye out for red spots I hoped I would never see. I finally couldn't wait any longer and decided the next morning would be the test.

But when I woke up, I knew it was just me. The feeling I had been feeling was gone and I knew, just knew, what I would find.

This test had words instead of lines. 'Not pregnant' it blared loudly, obnoxiously, insensitively.

I am broken.

It was four in the morning and I stood in my tiny bathroom apartment silently sobbing. Alone.

Perhaps you were there for a brief moment, but then you were gone.

I stared again at the stick.

Not pregnant.

Not pregnant.

Not pregnant.

It was taunting me now.

I wrapped it in a paper towel. Walked down three flights of stairs to the front of my building and threw it in the garbage can outside.

Later, when my husband woke, I told him I was wrong. There was nothing there after all.

And I mourned. All day long, I mourned. While I walked to work. While I said hello to my co-workers. While I answered questions and pretended to smile and tried not to think of the broken body I was living in.

The next day the blood arrived. Furious. Both of us infuriated it was there once again.

Can I keep doing this?

Am I broken?

Will I get to the point where I just… stop? Stop hoping. Stop praying. Stop wishing. Stop. Trying.

Am I broken? Or can I keep going?

Life
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