Childbirth can trigger a gamut of emotions from elation to fear to anxiety — after all, it affects a woman’s hormones immensely. Many mothers experience mood swings, crying bouts, anxiety and difficulty sleeping after giving birth. These typically come on within the first two to three days post-delivery, and they may last for up to two weeks.
But, for upwards of 20 percent of women, according to the Center for Disease Control, these emotions devolve into depression. And postpartum depression (PPD) doesn’t just take “adjusting” — it can last long after a mother’s maternity leave has been used and certainly well past that. In fact, PPD can develop anywhere from a few weeks into motherhood to even a year after delivery, which means many women cope with it day in and day out, even while they work.
I spoke with five women in vastly different careers with vastly different situations, and they've each shared their tips on staying positive, dealing with PPD at work and, for some, bouncing back. To follow is what they had to say, and perhaps a little motivation.
1. Cassie Tanner, 30, Nonprofit Executive Director:
“I returned to work when my son was nine weeks old, and my PPD peaked when he turned seven months old. Some of the mental symptoms I experienced were racing thoughts, feeling like a failure, self-loathing and deep depression. Physically, I was experiencing panic attacks, loss of appetite, the inability to concentrate and I had trouble breathing — these symptoms combined to make me feel like a complete failure not just at home, but at work, too.
“My staff and our clients depend on me to be on the top of my game, and I felt (and still sometimes feel) like I am letting everyone down. I would start a project and have trouble finishing it. I became very forgetful, and I was incredibly emotional. Fortunately, I work with all women, and I felt the best policy was honesty. I shared with them, without going into details, that I was struggling and appreciated their patience and understanding. I have always tried to extend grace to my staff, and it was repaid back to me in spades.
“As far as coping, I make sure I keep good lists of what I need to do and set achievable daily goals so I can leave work feeling like I accomplished something. I also take time to go on short walks outside to stretch my legs and re-center myself, especially if I start feeling overwhelmed.”
2. Abbey Davis, 23, Registered Nurse:
“I’m a single mom and I work as a registered nurse on night shifts, from 7:00 pm to 7:30 am. I went back to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave, even though the majority of my leave was unpaid because I didn’t have enough paid time off accrued; I also became pregnant before I had benefits, so I didn’t receive any short-term disability pay.
“A lot of what I feel is because of my situation as a single mom and my baby’s dad not wanting to be a family. We tried to work on things during my pregnancy, but I had experienced some anxiety and depression during that time and, after having my baby girl, [they got] pretty severe to the point at which I had multiple thoughts of either harming or killing myself. I was extremely angry with her dad and the fact that I was a single mom, and I continually felt hopeless, very irritable, and my mood swings were all over the place, but mostly I was just sad and depressed and would cry all the time, even if I didn’t know what I was crying about.
“I had started therapy six weeks after having her, but my anxiety and depression became worse when it was almost time for me to go back to work. So a week before I went back, I was started on Lexapro. It seems to be working OK, while still going to therapy.
“When I’m at work, it mostly depends on the night with how I feel. I work in an ICU, so sometimes nights can be pretty intense and the patients are tasky. I find myself irritable most nights and getting frustrated over simple things, though that’s not how I ever want to feel when I’m taking care of someone in their most vulnerable state. However, I have some of the best coworkers and family and friends, and they’re the reasons why I’m still standing and pushing through every day to be the best mom I can be. And, I know it’s biased, but having the most beautiful baby girl who lights up every time I see her after working a long night is a huge coping mechanism for me. I do occasionally write in my journal and I’ve started doing yoga again, which has also helped.”
3. Alex Griggs, 24, Steel Company Document Controller:
“I lost my son shortly after birth and had two other little ones relying on me. I'm a single mom so, really, I had no other choice but to suck it up and be strong because I was doing it all alone. I still have PPD, bipolar depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. It's a daily struggle. Some days are easier than others, and some days it takes everything I can do to get out of bed in the morning.
“But do it. Get out of bed. Drink a glass of water even though you feel like you'll throw it up, take a shower and get dressed. Eat some food and take vitamin D. Go to work and prove to yourself that you're stronger than you or anyone else thinks. You're a woman, a mom and a damn warrior.”
4. Sofia Leah, 38, Speech Pathologist:
“I have two children under two and my PPD started with anxiety, overwhelmingness, tearfulness, not being able to complete simple everyday tasks, loneliness, social isolation, feelings of worthlessness and wanting to run away. My babies cries would send me into a frenzy, and I would be constantly in tears.
“I am currently unable to work because I am still very overwhelmed and not coping. But during the weeks I worked, what got me through the workday was trying to not overdo it. Knowing that my kids were safe with trusted people (daycare/nanny) helped tremendously. [And] the distraction of work does help a little bit, and getting out the house does, too. And definitely medication and therapy.”
5. Annalise Green, 28, CEO of Casino Review, Blogger/Vlogger:
“As CEO of a media and marketing company, it can get quite stressful. I work from home and manage our contractors and employees remotely — we currently have two contractors and three employees on the team. Luckily, several of my friends had previously suffered [from PPD] and were quite open about it, so I knew what to look for and be aware of. I was actually at a work event in London, away from my children, and I realized that I was absolutely hating being there. I didn't want to talk or socialize with potential new clients like I was supposed to. I was jealous of the women walking around who looked carefree, beautiful and confident. I felt horrid, ugly, out of place and unwanted. In that moment, I realized that something was seriously wrong as I used to be so confident, bubbly and always ready to mingle and socialize at the drop of a hat. I was unable to do my job properly as I absolutely must talk to people — new and old — in my position, and... sleep deprivation definitely didn't help, as it had made me lose a lot of my 'get-up-and-go' mentality.
“When I returned home I went straight to the doctors, and I burst into tears before I could even say anything. I explained what was going on, but how I didn't feel 'depressed' or 'unhappy.’ The doctor said that PPD comes in all shapes and sizes, as it’s a hormonal and chemical imbalance; you don't have to feel depressed to have it. He prescribed me a course of tablets and explained it would be a long and slow journey to recovery, but that I would get there... and I did!
“I only ever suffered after having my fourth child. I had previously had the baby blues with two of the others, but that is now so common that it's classed as normal, so getting PPD was a bit of a shock as I never expected it the fourth time around. My advice: Talk about it. Always talk about it and get it out of your system. Bottling it up will only give it more power and cause it to eat away at more of you. Once it's out there and people realize that you can still function even while suffering or recovering from it, it starts to break the stigma around mental health, and that's really, really important. Be proud of being a survivor. Every day that you wake up, refuse to give in and strive to get better at beating it. You are amazing!”
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.