Julie Lamb, LCSW who is a life coach at julielambcoaching.com shares with us about postpartum depression and anxiety, and how to cope with it.
- Julie’s personal experience with postpartum anxiety and depression
- How many weeks are considered postpartum
- Difference between postpartum depression and major depression
- What makes postpartum depression worse
- How to cope with postpartum depression and anxiety
Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD, episode 77. I’ve been trying to do an episode for a little while on postpartum depression and anxiety because this is. Such a common issue in our society. And actually, as several of, you know, I have a young daughter, but actually, I’ve been trying to do this show way before I became pregnant. And it just didn’t work out with guests and so forth. But we have a guest today that has both personal and professional experience. So I’m super excited to interview Julie Lamb, LCSW who’s a life coach at julielambcoaching.com.
Carrie: Julie, welcome to the show today.
Julie: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here.
Carrie: Talk with us a little bit about postpartum depression. How would you define it on a basic level for people?
Julie: One of the first things I wanna talk about when it comes to postpartum, depression is we have to understand that birth is traumatic. It is a traumatic thing that happens to your body, and yes, we can say it’s normal, natural, whatever.
It doesn’t matter. It’s still traumatic to your body. It increases all those hormones. It increases all of that adrenaline within our body. The parasympathetic nerves kind of go out whack. And what happens is that every woman that has a child will experience it. Some symptoms of loss, sadness, and some anxiety, everyone will experience. However, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety come into play. When those symptoms continue generally about two weeks after birth. And so the biggest thing to think about is. Everybody’s gonna have these normal feelings, but if they continue past two weeks is when postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety come into play.
Carrie: Okay. So it’s gotta last for at least two weeks.
Carrie: How would you say that it’s similar or different to someone who’s maybe going through a major depressive episode or a dysthymia
Julie: depression has so many different layers. And one of the things that are really fascinating about depression is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all.
It’s not a, oh, you’re sad. Therefore you have dyslexia or you are manic, therefore you’re bipolar. It doesn’t work that way. But there are certain categories that we say that would then say, this is the kind of depression that you have a major depression is essentially where for a period of a long time, you have had these feelings of sadness of overwhelm, perhaps not being able to sleep or having no desire to do anything.
Those continue dysthymia. You have to have that for at least a year. I mean, can you imagine, I have to feel this way for a year before I can finally say something’s wrong. And major depression tends to be a shorter period. So a lot of times people will be diagnosed with a major depression first because it’s something that you can diagnose quicker generally before six months when somebody’s had those experiences and SEIA says, well, you’ve had these a lot longer.
And this is what this looks like. Postpartum depression is just different from that because it’s quicker onset. Essentially you have nine months and some people will also experience depression during their pregnancy. And unfortunately, people will tend to people, meaning doctors will tend to be like, it’s just your hormones, just your body changing.
Women kind of get put to the side, basically. Like that’s not really a problem you’re just changing. And then what happens then is you may have had those feelings and then after the baby is born, they are magnified and they’re made so much bigger. And if you’ve ever had any depression in the past, then you’re more likely to have this postpartum depression and we’re talking any, you could have seriously a week of just feeling really down.
And then you’re more likely to have this postpartum depression that will hit and it will feel even. More triggering more sadness, more overwhelmed, more irritability, more feeling like you just can’t get up and do the next thing. And it all is because of that one event. And that’s having a baby.
Carrie: Yeah. It’s interesting. I’m glad that you brought up being depressed in pregnancy because I got depressed in pregnancy and I felt very isolated because there was all this conversation surrounding postpartum depression that it almost, I felt like a weirdo. I was like “I’m supposed to be happy being pregnant.” And was really struggling because I had a lot of friends and family members that either, you know, had infertility difficulties and I thought, well, here I am supposed to be. Really happy and thankful that I was able to get pregnant and give birth, but it absolutely wrecked my body. Unfortunately, it’s interesting that you said a little while ago, that birth as being traumatic.
And I necessarily wouldn’t have said that for myself and my situation, although I will say that just even the process of the pregnancy and the hormones and different things really mess some things up for me. And I’m still dealing. Some ongoing back issues and stuff that I’m trying to get straightened out because of the pregnancy stuff.
But I think in my situation was a little bit different because it was connected with chronic pain. That was really kind of fueling that depression. I’m curious too, about the onset of postpartum depression. Is this something that happens right after people give birth or can it have a later onset? Like when they go back to work, for example,
Julie: It can happen later and it can happen both.
It can happen almost right at birth, and then it can happen later. Part of my story with postpartum depression is I actually have had very difficult pregnancies when I had my first baby. I actually, my body started to shut down. And so I had to have her cuz it went into help syndrome. If anybody knows what that is.
So my body was shutting down, saying, you have to have this baby. I have an epidural. So it was all natural. She was about three and a half weeks early. So she was little, the whole. I had this baby feeling pretty good. I will say afterwards, you know, maybe a little bit of the blues, but then I had a significant loss.
I had a brother that died about two weeks after the birth of my baby. Wow. And so what happened is that that compounded all of those feelings. Here’s this supposed to be this happiest time? Which I think is a misnomer anyways, but supposed to be this happy time. And yet I’m dealing with this grief and I’m supposed to just move forward with it.
I’m supposed to just, you know, grieve move forward refined. And what I noticed is it was about four or five months later that I went into a real deep depression. You could say, yes, it was postpartum. You could say, yes, it was because of this grief. You could say it was cuz I went back to. You could give all those different circumstances.
The point is that I hit that depressive wall where essentially it was like, I wasn’t bonding with my child. I wasn’t viewing life could be any better and all, because essentially all those circumstances compounded together. And my body said, you have to deal with this one way and we’re gonna make you deal with it mentally.
It’s kind of how I viewed it. Looking back how I viewed it now.
Carrie: Wow. So it was just like, that’s how it felt. It just kind of a shut or like hitting a wall and like, you couldn’t go forward or do the things that you need to do. I mean, there’s a lot that goes into caring for a baby. It’s very time-consuming and it’s very exhausting.
Julie: Yeah, absolutely. And the thing with caring for a baby is that we all think, again, this is supposed to be the greatest time babies are so sweet and precious. You have a lack of sleep. You’re not eating well. You’re 100% focused on this little person and forget the whole idea of taking care of yourself.
Forget the idea of even having a relationship with your partner. Like any of that, it suddenly becomes, I am so focused on just a survival instinct of that day to day. And a survival of this infant, of this person that 100% relies on me. And that’s a lot of pressure. And if you are already not taking care of yourself with sleep with food, or even just rest like mentally resting, it just compounds more and more and more.
And then you throw in the idea that you have some depression in the past, you throw in any circumstance, job loss, financial insecurity, you throw in any of that. And suddenly our brains go, I just can’t do this. it’s just way too much. That’s when postpartum depression almost seems to flare a lot more.
Carrie: Yeah, this is pretty common. I think I read something like one in seven women. Just kind of from what you’ve seen statistic-wise. Okay. Mm-hmm cause this is a pretty common issue, but I think a lot of times people feel. Very isolated by it. If they haven’t heard other people talk about it or, or known someone that’s gone through it.
Do you feel that way? Like just the, what you were talking about, the shoulds and the supposed to that you feel like are on society.
Julie: Yeah. And there’s also this idea that this is what you’re supposed to do, so you should just be okay with it. . And so I think it also leads to a lot of women that are afraid to talk about it.
You mentioned something. And I saw this a lot when I worked with adoptions for years was the fact that there were women that felt guilty for having babies because their friends couldn’t. And I, again, I worked with adoptions and I felt guilty that I could get pregnant. And it becomes this fear of like, well, I should love this.
I should be happy. And if you suddenly feel like you can’t. That’s a huge amount of pressure that you put on yourself and that you put on everybody else around you. And I noticed something really interesting with me was this idea that I had to do it all. And so here I was with this new baby and I was like, I have to make sure the house is clean.
I have to make sure that I’m, you know, that I’ve got food on the table. I’ve gotta make sure my husband’s taken care of and that, oh, I have to go back to work and I’ve gotta make sure I’m working all these hours. And I’m doing all these things. And suddenly it was like, my husband was not good enough with the baby.
It was only me that could do it. And all of us as women. We have this idea that there’s a standard we’re supposed to meet, and this standard comes from maybe something we’ve been taught to, maybe something we’ve experienced, maybe it’s even something that we just inherently believe. And that standard is sometimes what creates this feeling of. Unworthiness this feeling of I’m not good enough. And when we feed on those feelings that it can lead to a lot more depression. And especially that can lead to a lot of anxiety because you’re not living up to that standard.
Carrie: Yeah. I know that that was hard for me more so when I went back to work of handing over more responsibilities to my husband, we had like a dramatic household shift in our world where I was at home for maternity leave for three months, you know, I was doing the majority of the baby taken care of, and he was very much involved and he would come home and spend time with her and spend whatever time we could together, so forth. But then it was like this light switch flipped.
He quit his job. And became a stay-at-home dad. So all of a sudden he was like the primary baby caretaker. And I was like, full-time household provider. And that role switch was just like very jarring for us. And it took a lot of communication and a lot of adjustment, but for me learning that I had to let go of some things and trust him to be able to handle the baby stuff that I had learned to do. Like he can’t actually do some of these things, but I think what you’re saying, like that sense of like, oh, I have to be the one to take care of this, or I have to be the one to handle it. Was it pretty easy for you to recognize that you had postpartum depression? Or were you kind of in a little bit of denial?
Like, no, that’s not me.
Julie: I was in denial because as a therapist, I knew all the signs. I even remember before I had my babysitting down with my husband and saying, here are all the signs of postpartum depression. So you are aware of it. You get to know what it is. And my husband (bless his heart) was like, okay, I get it.
I got it. I’ll know, and this will be fine. but a lot of people think postpartum depression is just that, like, I wanna kill my baby. That’s honestly like, we’re gonna go that extreme. And so here I was like, no, no, no. Like if you notice I’m crying a lot or you notice that I just feel more lethargic. I don’t have a lot of energy.
Those are things to watch out for. It was interesting because he was very aware of that. But I think because we had a death that got mixed in and very confused. Oh, He said he was really good at that. But what happened is that after I started to feel that way, my training kicks in was like, you can’t have postpartum depression.
You’re not allowed to have postpartum depression. So here’s what you need to do. And I remember trying to tell myself, do this, this and this, this, and of course, none of that worked. So I was still feeling really off. And I was like, well, I’ll go talk to a therapist. I went and talked to them, it was not a good therapist.
And I went, talked to a therapist who basically was like, you’ve just had a lot of things going on. Just make sure you get some. Make sure you let your husband do things, you know, whatever. And it wasn’t helpful because on the way home, I could acknowledge that I had postpartum depression and he missed it.
I feel like many times we, as women, we think we know something is wrong, but we almost discount it. Like I discounted because, well, you know, I’m qualified. I should know better. Mm-hmm but I also discounted it because it didn’t seem as severe as what I had thought it should look like. And it wasn’t until somebody actually did discount it, that I was actually able to say, okay, wait, maybe there is something going on here.
And I think many women go to their doctor afterwards. And the first thing they asked them was like, do you wanna hurt the baby? I’m like, no, no, I never wanna do that. Okay, then you’re fine. I
Carrie: just wanna tell you what my doctor asked me six weeks after I had the baby. Literally, this was a question and this was the.
You’re not depressed. Are you? And I was just like, I’m smacking my forehead, you know, as a mental health professional, I’m like, that is not how you ask somebody. And funny enough, the paediatrician’s office, I feel like has been much more sensitive and has given me a questionnaire. Like every time that I’ve gone in there, But, you know, if somebody says, well, you’re not depressed, are you, I mean, then you feel like, well, what if I was like, would I wanna open up about that right now?
Would I wanna tell you if I was, of course, I’m not gonna open up yeah. That was an interesting response. Let’s talk about anger connected to postpartum depression because maybe that’s a sign that sometimes people don’t necessarily like see as being connected and anger can be really connected to depression.
Julie: Absolutely. And anger, a lot of times are like, well, that’s just something that happened to you that made you mad. And they don’t actually recognize that there’s sometimes a rage. And that’s what that anger tends to feel like in postpartum. Depression is just this idea. I’m yelling. I’m screaming. You may not wanna hurt anybody, but you just feel like I said, this intense rage going on, and that is an irritability.
And the funny thing is, is that people will say, well, you just need to go get some sleep or you just need to go relax or something. Yes. Sleep is vital and important. And I wanna know any new mom that gets sleep. It’s more than that. It’s the fact that I want you to imagine all these pressures, all these feelings, all these thoughts being put into a kettle and they are just put pressure upon pressure upon pressure.
And then you have a doctor saying you’re not depressed, or you’re not anxious, or you’re not whatever. And you’re inside you’re bubbling. And you’re just thinking what I am like. You don’t understand. And it just feels like it’s exploding. And what’s interesting is that if you have experienced ever some postpartum anger, you will most likely experience it.
Every pregnancy after. And people don’t think that they’re like, no, no, you can overcome it. But realistically speaking, when your body naturally holds that it almost associates that with every next pregnancy, I had a client that came to me specifically while she was pregnant and said I’ve had postpartum anger, and I need to know how to deal with it now, because I don’t like who I.
So we worked with some very specific tactics that helped with anger. That would also help her as a new mom. And it was interesting. She went to her husband, she says, here’s what I’m gonna do. And she messaged me after she had the baby. She’s like, I have to just tell you my anger. Yes. It’s there, but because I can acknowledge it and it’s safe to say it just doesn’t feel like it’s overwhelming.
It doesn’t feel like that rage that’s gonna come out and just explode at any moment. She’s able to say I’m angry and it’s okay. That I’m angry. and these are the things that I do with it. And I think that’s, yes, anger is definitely a part of all of. Yeah, that’s really good. How did you get the help that you needed?
I knew that something wasn’t right. So I, I first went to my OB doctor and she is fantastic. She delivered all my kids. I’m a high risk pregnancy, so she very much, her and I are, are really good friends. She was like, Julie, here, you should take some Lexapro. You should take, you know, just take something. It will help.
And I will admit that I didn’t want to, because I was like, no, I can do this on my own, but she was there. That’s like, then talk to me, tell me what’s going on. And you need to make sure you have somebody to talk to that you have some resources in place. So it was really great that she was one. She prescribe the medication, if I needed it and wanted it. And there’s nothing wrong with taking that. But she also was like, if you don’t want to, here’s the things that you need to do. So I did go that’s when I went and found that therapist, I would recommend that you don’t go see a male therapist. That’s my number one mistake.
I think I know we should say no out. They’re all getting no, no, no. You need somebody that understands women’s hormones. And that specifically understands postpartum and understands what that is like when you have somebody that knows those feelings, those emotions, and can help you through that. That’s one of the best things I did do some cognitive behavioral therapy.
So with him, he didn’t help me at all. So I went to like with another therapist, friend of mine, And I said, okay, this is where my thought is and help me with my thought process. And so I did have that available, but at the same time, if it wasn’t available, I would have gone and sought out somebody else, another therapist, another somebody else to talk to.
So by all means, that’s kind of what I did. The other thing is, is I actually allowed myself to just take a break. And so I acknowledged that. I’m not okay. I’m not good. This is not what I need to do. And I told my husband, I said, I need to just get away for a little bit because I am not in okay. Place. I wasn’t breastfeeding.
So I was formula feeding at that time. And so I was able to kind of walk away and just like take some time to myself. I knew she was in good hands. When I say take some time, it was literally like a weekend. It wasn’t like I was gone for months on end. I’ve thought about it. No, it was just, it was like a weekend.
And I went and I just like, was able to just kind of relax into that. And I came back. I was really overly in love, I think, with my baby at that point, because it was like, I felt healthy. I felt good at that moment. And I think those are the things that really helped me, especially when I had my next. You and those next two were very difficult and there was a miscarriage in between.
I mean, there’s lots of stories there that just compound all of that. That essentially after I have had my third, I was able to look back and say, here’s the things you did that work. Do this again. Here’s the things that didn’t work. Don’t do that. And I implemented that a lot quicker with number three than I did with number one, obviously
Carrie: From what you’ve seen in your experience is postpartum more common for first-time moms or not necessarily?
Julie: Not necessarily. I’d love to say, oh yes, if you have it once, then you’ll never have it again. But, or if you’ve never had it, you’ll never have it. That’s not true. I believe that there is a chemical that does get impacted very much so with every pregnancy, I explained it kind of my first pregnancy, I left feeling like something was just incomplete within me.
My second pregnancy. I literally felt like all my hormones went back into place. It was like the weirdest sensation. And it was actually the healthiest, I would think after that pregnancy. But I got pregnant really soon after that one. And then it was like, I was depressed pre-having this baby because it was so close.
It felt so soon. I wasn’t sure I could handle this. And then that impact. I feel like my depression. Well, no, actually it was anxiety that hit me after the third one. Depression was the first one, but then I had anxiety the third one. And so I think that that’s important to recognize too, is that you don’t always have to have depression.
I had depression and then I had anxiety at the last pregnancy and they can also look very different. I think the second one, I did have a lot more of what we’re gonna call the baby blues because it was, you know, a new baby. It was hard. She didn’t latch. She was so difficult in that way. It was like some of that.
Whereas with the third one, she was in NICU and that escalated my anxiety escalated some of my concerns in that aspect. So I think you really have to look at the circumstances around each pregnancy to understand sometimes which one somebody may perhaps have.
Carrie: That makes sense. Tell us briefly about postpartum anxiety.
Like, how does that typically show up for moms?
Julie: Anxiety is a worry and it’s a fear almost this is fear-based. And so postpartum anxiety is where for moms, it’s like, you’re deeply worried something’s gonna happen to the baby. And so many moms may not sleep at night because they’re constantly making sure the baby is.
Like nothing’s gonna happen or they are afraid to leave the baby with anybody because something could happen to them or the baby they’re even afraid of. Sometimes they’ll leave their house because what if something happened to them and the baby. And so it becomes a fear-driven base where you are so afraid that something terrible is going to happen, that you then try to protect it and hope that nothing does happen.
Anxiety really shows up that way, shows up more. If that fear and that worry about the incessant, worry about the future.
Carrie: I think that that’s a good distinction to make. And this, we have some listeners who also have O C D. So it’s important for people to realize too, that OCD latches on to things that are important to you.
And so you may have different themes come up, either when you’re pregnant or after you have your baby. And if you start to have, you know, obsessions about harming them, Those types of things, that may be part of your OCD that you might need to get help for. How did you handle that anxiety? I mean, obviously, you felt like, okay, you know, you wanted your baby to make it through the NICU and be okay at home.
I know, like for me, I didn’t realize how still babies can be when they’re sleeping. I know I definitely did a lot of like breathing checks and was a little worried about SIDS, not to an extreme level, but I definitely was like, is she still breathing? Like, oh my goodness. She’s been like, so still she has not moved.
Julie: Yeah. I think what helped me with the anxiety is that actually, this is the same doctor when my baby was in NICU. She came and found me and pulled me aside one day and she. It doesn’t feel like this is a good thing, right? She says, but you know, your baby’s gonna be fine. And she said, you did everything right during this pregnancy.
I was like, of course, she would say that because, you know, she’s the one that delivered this baby, but she’d been with me through two other pregnancies. This pregnancy was more challenging and she’s like, we did everything, right? This is not your fault, which I needed to hear from that professional. Yeah.
And then she told me, you know, that this baby will be right. Be okay in the ni. Your number one focus she said is to sleep. She said “I want you to heal because you’ve had, again, this traumatic experience of giving birth, I need you to heal and Trust NICU will take care of your baby.” And she said, “You will actually feel so much better”
And I really wish that we had more professionals like this doctor that actually were the ones that cared about us as patients. Not only to be able to say, yeah, this sucks. This is hard. This is not what you signed up for, but it will be okay. And here is what you need to do in the process. I did. I cried every single day when I had to leave the hospital, but my husband was so good cuz she also pulled my husband aside and said, you make sure she sleeps.
And so I would get home and that was my job was to just go sleep. He took care of the other two and he’s like, you just go take a nap. You just go to sleep and then we will get there as early as you need in the morning. And during the day I would have all the anxiety that’d be like are my other two.
Okay. And I lived an hour from the hospital as well. So it was like all those things compound. I just remember, as soon as I could bring her home, I was grateful that I’d had the rest because I knew mm-hmm it was like a blessing in disguise where I was able to get this rest where I could heal from giving birth.
And then I was able to bring this baby home and then I was able to know that she was okay and she could breathe. And it was fine. It was interesting though because she had one episode where I think like, I felt like she struggled. And that’s when my anxiety was like, came back in full force. And when I recognized it, I didn’t say, “Oh, Julie, just sweep it on, it’s fine.”
I allowed myself to say, of course, I’m anxious. Of course, this is difficult. And I allowed myself to say, it’s okay. And I cried. And I just, I allowed that. I think sometimes we are so used to just. Pushing through and being strong that you have to be okay to allow yourself to just cry, to allow yourself to feel that.
And there are, some other things that I did, if any of your listeners are familiar with tapping? I did a version of tapping for myself at that time. Okay. I also did some guided imagery just for my myself to kind of find my places that helped me. And those were things that helped a lot. And then it’s interesting.
So my baby isn’t such a baby anymore, cuz she’s seven. And I noticed that this summer my anxiety seemed to spike. It was like, I was worried about my kids, worried about something happening to them, worried like all of those. And it was interesting how I could recognize, of course I’m anxious because I’m worried and I love these children and it’s okay that I’m anxious about them and it’s okay that I then do something with it.
So I. Never ever tell yourself that my anxiety, my depression, my OCD is a problem is wrong. Like it hurts because it doesn’t it’s normal. It’s absolutely just a part. And it is okay to be anxious. It’s okay. To be depressed. It’s okay to have O C, D it’s okay. To tell yourself I have me. I’m alright. And then to be able to say, this is what I’m gonna do with it.
This is what this means. This is how I handle it. And what that may look like for you definitely is very different per person, but that’s, for me, that was the best thing you to be able to say. Of course, I’m anxious and it’s okay. That I’m this way as well.
Carrie: Yeah, it is. Okay. that you feel a certain way and so normal and so understandable.
A lot of times, like when we really look at the situation that we’re going through, it’s like, yeah, this makes sense. you know, that you’d feel that way. One question I like to ask people towards the end of the podcast is what would you say to your younger self who is going through postpartum depression, and postpartum anxiety?
Julie: I’d wanted to know that one, this was completely normal, even though we have those, you know, one in seven we’ll have postpartum about 50 to 75% will experience some sort of baby blues. So that’s definitely more than half. All of us will experience those feelings. Not only is that normal, but it’s also a sign that everything has gone.
Right. And I wish that I had told my younger self that even though the pregnancy felt like none of it went right. The delivery, none of it went right. Like nothing happened the way that it was supposed to happen. Everything went right. And that it was okay for me to take a step back. It was okay for me to not have to do it all.
It was okay for me to acknowledge that this could be somebody else’s response. Or something else somebody else could help me with. I didn’t have to do it all. And I think that would’ve been the advice I wish that I had gotten then. Yeah. Good.
Carrie: Thank you so much for sharing your personal story and your professional experience with postpartum depression, and anxiety.
I think this is hopefully gonna be a really helpful show for people.
Julie: Thank you. I love talking about this. So I’m hoping that this will help others as.
I really feel like this is one of those. You are not alone type episodes. And I love it. If you are struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety, please reach out and get the help that you need. Whether that’s medication therapy, support group, friends, spiritual counsel, whatever that is, just make sure that you reach out and get the help that you need. If you like this episode or found benefit from it, let us know. You can always contact us on hope for anxiety and ocd.com. There’s a contact form at the bottom of the front page of our website.
Thank you so much for listening. Hope for anxiety and OCD is a production of By the well Counseling. Our show is hosted by me, Carrie Bock, a licensed professional counselor in Tennessee. opinions given by our guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the use of myself or By the Well Counseling.
Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum until next time may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.