Postnatal depression affects one in seven women, but it doesn’t always manifest itself as sadness. It’s true that many experience sorrow and bouts of crying for reasons they often can’t explain, but there’s actually a spectrum of symptoms and illnesses that fall under the umbrella of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
However, because they don’t get the same limelight as depression, women who are struggling with them can feel even more broken, or hesitant to reach out for help.
Here are some symptoms of perinatal mood disorders that don’t always look like sadness:
Postnatal Anxiety (PNA)
You may experience: Racing thoughts, a constant worry that you’re not doing enough or that something bad will happen to your baby, disturbances in your sleep and appetite, or physical symptoms such as dizziness and nausea. Postnatal anxiety affects just as many mums as postnatal depression.
What it might feel like: “I don’t know if it was because she was a NICU premie, but I am constantly concerned that something is a sign of some mysterious illness that will take her from me. Sometimes it just manifests in the inability to think. It feels like my head and throat are going to burst. I am usually a fast thinker and a problem solver, and now I can’t sort through simple issues, like cleaning my house, or running errands, or making lists.
Everything becomes a fog. This particular symptom is triggered by stress. On days like this, I feel like the worst, most incapable mum in the world, because I can’t even wrap my head around just getting my kids out of the house for some activity.” — Nikki, via Romper
You may experience: Extreme, uncharacteristic, blood-boiling anger triggered by the slightest disturbances. You know the feelings are irrational, but you can’t stop them.
What it might feel like: “One night I really lost it on Anne when she was having a tantrum. I couldn’t control the words flying out of my mouth. I wanted to smack her and make her stop (which thankfully, I didn’t). I wanted to be anywhere but there. The rage coming out of me was other-worldly. Thankfully Hubs was there and was able to intervene. I feel physically ill when I think about how I acted and what could have happened. It was the most terrifying feeling I had ever experienced.” — JD Bailey, via Scary Mummy
You may experience: A lack of connection with your baby, or with anything else in life. You may be just going through the motions of motherhood.
What it might feel like: “In a lot of ways, caring for a baby just felt like a job I had to do and eventually I would get to clock out. Sometimes, it felt like I was taking care of a baby for someone else and eventually they would come to pick her up. I tried telling myself that I was doing this for my husband, trying to keep his baby healthy for him. So many nurses would beam and say, ‘Didn’t you just fall in love right away?’ I remember my family doctor asking me, ‘Is she a cuddly baby?’ and I told her that I didn’t know, because I really didn’t. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking other than being hungry or tired.” — Kim, via Reddit
Scary Thoughts (OCD)
You may experience: According to Postpartum Support International, symptoms can include obsessions (also called intrusive thoughts), which are “persistent, repetitive thoughts or mental images related to the baby” or compulsions, where the mum may “do certain things over and over again to reduce her fears and obsessions.”
What it might feel like: “One day I was walking to the mailbox with my baby wrapped in his blanket, his tiny face tucked into my neck, when I thought, ‘Slap his cheeks. Slap him really hard and see what happens.’ I ran back into the house in my hurry to get my son away from myself. I laid him down in his swing slowly, watching every move I made. I was his mother, and I felt like his worst enemy. I was terrified that someone would take my baby from me if I told them what I was thinking. I was terrified that someone wouldn’t take him away and I would hurt him.” — Maggie May Ethridge, via SheKnows
If you think you may have a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder such as postnatal depression, seek a health specialist with perinatal psychology training. Postpartum Support International and Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia are resources where you can find information and links to local specialists.