Belinda looks at her 9-day-old son and feels the tears well up again. She’s surprised at how her moods have swung from joyful to sad and back over and over again since his delivery. “This isn’t how I expected to feel,” she whispers to the soundly sleeping infant in her arms. “I thought I would be so happy once you were finally here.”
Rosa can’t believe her daughter is already 3 months old: a bright-eyed, precocious infant who has gained weight and met many developmental milestones early. Rosa herself has had a much more difficult time since Carmen’s birth, experiencing persistent insomnia, problems eating, and waves of doubt and confusion about her own identity. “I don’t even know who I am anymore. Sometimes I feel like a robot,” she admits. “I go through the motions of caring for the baby, relating to my husband, and doing my job at work, but I don’t feel anything. It’s even hard for me to think sometimes. My mind seems all fogged in.”
Liz has been avoiding her family and friends for almost six weeks because she believes they will see how evil her newborn is. When Liz looks at the baby these days, she’s aware only of how wrinkled and defective Tracey seems compared to other smiling, cooing babies on television. The voices tell her the baby isn’t normal, and that a good mother wouldn’t have brought such a bad child into the world. She knows the voices are right. She knows when they tell her that the baby should never have been born they’re only trying to help her make a decision about what to do next.
Belinda, Rosa and Liz are three of the more than 400,000 American women who will experience a postpartum mood disorder this year. But their illnesses, like many other psychological and medical conditions that are lumped together in popular discussions, have much less in common than is generally believed.
Three Chameleon-Like, Complex Conditions
Cheryl T. Beck, D.N.Sc., professor at the School of Nursing at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and co-author of Postpartum Depression Screening Scale, describes the psychological disorders that mothers develop following the birth of a child as “chameleon-like” in their complexities and varying presentations.
“These disorders take a different form and have a different shade of emotional coloring for each mother,” Beck explains. “What they share is an onset or diagnosis linked to the birthing experience.”
Beck describes the conditions as the “blues,” postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.