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Hi there! I’m Christina, a mom of two littles, a licensed mental health therapist, and a soon-to-be children’s book author! Thanks for checking out my site. Look around! I’m sure there’s something here for you! Read on to learn what postpartum depression and anxiety actually look like.

Disillusioned. Despairing. Dissociated. This was me as a new mom.

You wouldn’t know it by the picture above, but that smiling girl is actually the face of postpartum depression.

It was one of many faces, of course, and that’s the reality of postpartum mood disorders. You do have some positive moments mixed in with the low ones.

When that picture was taken, I was happy. It was a good nursing session (no latch pain, along with a good latch), and my sweet husband captured a real, proud smile. It is a picture that still brings me joy.

My Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Experience

As a new mom, I remember seeing other new parents enjoying the early days of parenthood. They seemed to return quickly to pre-baby activities like cooking, crafting, writing. And I was pleased for them — earnestly pleased.

But seeing them made me reflect upon myself, and I felt upset and envious for my own recovery.

My postpartum experience after the birth of my daughter didn’t look like that of many exhausted but happy first time parents, blissful as they walked through the glowing haze of the newborn stage.

My new motherhood didn’t feel like theirs. Instead it felt rough, jagged. I had wanted to be a mom for as long as I could remember, and yet those first few months were far from the joyous vision I had imagined.

It took me much longer than the two expected weeks of “baby blues” to feel like myself again. The shock of postpartum hemorrhage one week after my daughter’s birth that required a hospital visit didn’t help.

In fact, it took longer than the six weeks of my hormones regulating again.

It even took longer than surviving the “fourth trimester”.

In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve fully recovered, though I am so much better now than I was.

How Common is Postpartum Depression and Anxiety?

Does my story sound familiar to you?

It wouldn’t be surprising if it does. 8 out of 10 moms will experience the “baby blues” in the weeks after delivery.

Beyond that, 1 in 5 women will experience postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA). Some women will even be afflicted by postpartum psychosis.

And now, with the pandemic in full-force, those numbers have skyrocketed. Being a mom is already hard without the restrictions of lockdown and isolation. If you’re going through PPD/PPA right now, this article may help.

I believe that the occurrence of postpartum mood disorders is actually higher because it is not only under reported, but under recognized.

New parenthood is all encompassing and emotionally taxing; it is easy to not know if what you are experiencing is normal and temporary, or if it is something more.

Additionally, the symptoms vary from woman to woman, leading those of us who are going through it to not realize what is going on until it’s really bad, or even until we are finally out of the fog.

Then there’s also the fact that we women can be very good at appearing put together to the world. We often do not look like the classic image of depression and anxiety, making it hard even for us to see ourselves honestly.

What are the symptoms of PPD/PPA?

So then, how are we supposed to know if we are experiencing PPD and / or PPA?

Your first step really needs to be listening to your gut.

If you have a nagging feeling that something is wrong — or less specifically even — that something is not quite right, acknowledge it.

Our instinct has a knack for being correct, yet we often rationalize it away.

Please, please, if you aren’t sure if what you are feeling is normal, do something about it.

Write down what’s going on and share it with someone you trust. Talk about it with a loved one. Contact a therapist.

If it does turn out that what you are experiencing is normal, then great! And, no harm, no foul. But if it turns out to be clinical, it will be so good and important that you have reached out.

Symptoms

Symptoms (adapted from the DSM-V, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed., American Psychiatric Association, 2013) to look out for that may be considered clinically significant are:

  • Feeling sad, depressed, or hopeless
  • Low-level or no sense of pleasure in many, if not all, activities
  • A decrease in your interest in things that would usually bring you joy
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • High levels of exaggerated guilt
  • Feeling like you are on edge, restless, or tense
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Constant worry and anxiety
  • Unexplained physical pain
  • Having trouble remembering things
  • Thoughts of fear that something bad will happen
  • Vivid daydreams of terrible things happening to you, your family, or the baby
  • Feeling out of control
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others (including the baby)

You may be reading these symptoms, and noticing that you have many of them simply from the big change of having had a baby and the intense sleep deprivation.

You’d be right.

Of course, having a baby is life-changing, but it does not need to be earth-shattering. If you are finding that your symptoms are impairing your ability to function, and that they are persisting without an end in sight, you may be experiencing a clinical problem that needs mental health support.

There is another postpartum disorder that not many people have heard of. It can and does happen, sometimes to a woman who has never previously experienced a mood disorder: Postpartum Psychosis.

It is very scary for the mom going through it, as well as for her family, as this mama may experience delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and / or grossly disorganized behavior.

If you are experiencing any number of the symptoms above, and you are finding the beginning of motherhood to be much harder and emotionally painful than you think is typical, again, please seek support.

You are not alone.

If you are not sure who to speak to, message me! I am here for you and I will help connect you to a resource in your area.

Also, please know that you can and you will feel better. I need you to have hope. Depression and anxiety can be improved by time alone; and you can feel better faster by reaching out.

There is nothing to be ashamed of, you have done nothing wrong, and you have not caused this to happen.

You will find yourself again — she’s still in there.


Reference: American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

A helpful resource is Postpartum Support International


You may also enjoy this post: The Shock of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety with your SECOND child

Christina Furnival

Christina is a mom to two wild and wonderful kiddos, a licensed psychotherapist (LPCC), the founder of her website ChristinaFurnival.com and therapeutic motherhood blog Real Life Mama, and a children's book author of a social/emotional wellbeing series, Capable Kiddos! She and her Scottish husband are raising their family in San Diego, where they love to hike, play soccer, cook, walk around the lake, and go to the beach.

16 thoughts on “What do Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Actually Look Like?”

  1. I love this so much. Its so iMportant to bring light to these topis, as they are not talked about enough. Im clapping for you mama, its not easy to be so vUlnerable. But your story wIll help so many. Hugs to you.

    1. Thank you so much! Your comment touched me to my core. I really do hope my story helps someone going through it and not realizing they need support. Even with my background, training, and experience, it was still hard for me to recognize! Thank you 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. Being a mom of a 2.5 year old little girl, I understand part of what you are saying. Even though i did not have ppd, i had really bad baby blues. I never thought that i would be myself again. It was a very scary time in my life. It helped me to talk to my family and friends about it, and eventually my baby blues went away. Your post is so amazing and so helpful for other moms that are going through ppd. thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you so much. When you’re feeling that way, it does feel like it will be that way forever. I am so glad you naturally moved away from the baby blues, and that your family and friends were helpful. Please share if you think anyone else could benefit!

  3. IT is true that it can be better over time just be patient to ourselves sometimes and take it one day at a time. Its just hard when you don’t have support and instead of people to help others will simply judge you. I love this quote just fake it until you make it.

    1. Oh man, handling any sort of challenge without support is so hard. I hope you and your friends, if ever faced with this, have at least one person they can count on, and if not, that they seek therapy and support. Fake it til you make it can work in a lot of cases, and sometimes it can work with depression and anxiety. But sometimes it is not enough! We weren’t meant to be mothers on our own!

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Christina! The STATs you gave reminded me that no woman really knows or ANTICIPATES what her mental state will be like after delivering a baby. That’s something I’ve wondered about a bit when I first found out I was pregnant, “HOW will this change me?” But as you said, there is support out there and it’s never permanent.

    1. You’re so welcome, Aubree! And thank you for your comment! I had never had any mood issues and was completely blindsided. I love that you had thought forward to wonder how you would be affected. Knowing that everything is temporary is so helpful.

  5. THIS IS SUCH AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TOPIC THAT PEOPLE SHY AWAY FROM. IT NEEDS TO BE TALKED ABOUT MORE!!! SO MANY WOMEN GO THROUGH THIS, AND EITHER DON’T REALIZE THEY ARE, OR FEEL ALONE. THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR STORY AND YOUR EXPERIENCE!

    1. Thanks, Felicia! I couldn’t agree more. Please share share share so that other mamas can feel heard, understood, and supported!! THanks!

  6. Thank you for sharing this. People don’t know enough about postpartum issues and its Not talked about enough. Moms need to Know that its okay to not feel okay after baby comes. ❤️ And that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness or failUre.

    1. Hi, Samantha. You’re so right that it’s not talked about enough. Hopefully this post can inspire some women to open up to someone they trust!

  7. This is a great topic! When I had my first son, he had colic for about 4 months, and it was rough. He would cry continuously from about 5:00 PM to Midnight, and then finally go to sleep! My husband worked nights, so I had to try and calm him down by myself, and as a new mom, it wears on you. There are so many moms that will benefit from your post!

    1. Oh man, Denise. I am so sorry your son had colic and that you had to live with an upset baby for so long. That sounds terrible! Gosh, a lot of us get night-dread anyway, but with a baby that has colic, that takes it to a whole new level!

  8. I can absolutely relate to this. After my son was born, it took me months to recover from PPD/PPA. And of course, I also had mom guilt for not always being happy like how I saw other new moms being. Thank you for being open, and sharing your experience. I think a lot of other moms can definitely relate.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that Denise. Gosh, isn’t that mom guilt a jerk?! As if you weren’t already feeling bad enough. Thanks for your kind words! I hope you are doing well now!

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