Picture postpartum depression. What do the words mean, really? What do they look like, or feel like? Is it a mother who can't pick up her child? Or a mom who's crying every day in the bathroom?
Maybe not. As Tova Leigh, an online blogger and mother of three shared recently on Facebook, it might actually be the mom who can't tear herself away from her child. Whose restless nights are made even more unbearable by the effort of just trying to go to sleep instead of staring at her new baby, only inches away from her at all times.
"Eventually, she would wake for a feed and I would feel relieved that I don't have to fake sleep anymore and that I could go back to watching over her, because of course in my mind no one apart from me was able to do it properly," she wrote, about her first child, in an Aug. 16 Facebook post that was later featured on Love What Matters.
"She would feed and go back to sleep and I would stay awake. I remember sitting there, shattered and broken and utterly exhausted but I just couldn't let go," Leigh wrote.
"It felt like I was slowly losing my mind. Like everything was foggy and unreal. I felt alone and desperate and I didn't know what was wrong with me. But mainly, I didn't realize I needed help," she admitted in the post.
"That's what PPD looked like for me for the first three months after giving birth to my first baby," said Leigh, who regularly reflects on parenting in her Facebook page.
Sometimes postpartum depression signs show up in the mom who can't be torn away from her new role, even to sleep or feed herself. Sometimes the signs include an almost paralyzing fear of the worst-case scenario.
And many times, in fact all too often as one new study shows, those signs go fully unrecognized and untreated by a new mom's physician, doula or midwife, and she's left to suffer alone.
In a recent study on postpartum mood disorders (PPMD), researchers from North Carolina State University found that just over half of the new mothers who participated showed signs of PPMD. Among that group, roughly 1 in 5 of them didn't tell a doctor, midwife, or other caregiver that they were suffering from PPMD.
While awareness of the problem has grown, in part thanks to celebrities helping to crack the barrier – including Adele, Lena Headey, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Hayden Panettiere, who sought inpatient treatment, and Chrissy Teigen – there is still a sense of shame about having depression or mood disorders. As Teigen revealed recently at this month's BeautyCon Festival, "it can happen to anybody." She added, "When you're in that hole, you feel like you’ll never be out of that hole. You can't even ever imagine being happy again."
Betty-Shannon Prevatt, the Ph.D. student who led the North Carolina State University study, said one thing they know now is that more women suffer than are treated for it. “We know that 10-20 percent of women experience significant mood disorders after childbirth, and those disorders can adversely affect the physical and emotional well-being of both mothers and children,” she remarked in the study.
What made women more likely to report their symptoms? Having a strong social support network, or having very acute stress levels, the researchers found.
Leigh's plea at the end of her Facebook post echoes that powerful conclusion:
"The reason I am telling you this is because I want you to know the signs. I want you to know that for each woman, they may look different. I want you to look out for them, and look after the new momas, because they may need your help more than you think," she said.
A few other signs to look for, aside from extreme anxiety or worry, include acting withdrawn, feelings of rage, and a major change in eating or sleeping habits.
Yes, sleep changes after a newborn comes home, but as one expert noted, if a new mother is exhausted and cannot fall asleep when given the opportunity to nap or rest, this may signal a more serious issue.
Leigh said she hopes her story will prompt other mothers to seek help if they are experiencing postpartum symptoms.
"Please reach out and tell someone if you are suffering," she wrote. "There is no shame in asking for help. You are not alone."