How To Deal With Postpartum Depression As A Single Mom (From Moms Who’ve Been There)

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How To Deal With Postpartum Depression (PPD) As A Single Mom
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Postpartum depression, or PPD, can happen when you least expect it and differs greatly from the better known " baby blues" that some women experience after childbirth.

For single moms, postpartum anxiety or other signs of postpartum depression might go unnoticed because you may not have someone there to tell you that you're not quite acting like yourself. So if you're having a child as a single parent, or you suspect that you may have some issues postpartum, there are steps you can take to help you feel better.

What is postpartum depression (PPD)?

Postpartum depression is defined as "a type of mood disorder associated with childbirth, which can affect both sexes. Symptoms may include extreme sadness, low energy, anxiety, crying episodes, irritability, and changes in sleeping or eating patterns. Onset is typically between one week and one month following childbirth."

RELATED: My Postpartum Depression Turned Me Into A Woman I Didn't Know

It's important to understand that postpartum depression can affect both moms, dads, and even adoptive parents. In fact, up to 32 percent of adoptive parents may experience signs of postpartum depression.

Postpartum or "postnatal" depression is a real concern for any new mom — especially single moms — since according to postpartum depression statistics, it can affect up to one in seven new parents.

For single moms, postpartum depression can be especially difficult because they don’t have a partner who can share the load of looking after a newborn or who can spot the signs of depression when it starts to appear. Depending on their support network, they might also lack emotional support.

So what can you do if you suspect you're struggling with postpartum depression as a single mom after giving birth?

I recently interviewed two single moms who experienced postpartum depression — Ann, who gave birth to twins, and Jackie, who had a baby girl — to learn about their experiences dealing with PPD, plus their best tips after going through it.

Jackie describes her experience with postpartum: "One of the things that didn't reconcile in my mind is that [...] this was my lifelong dream to be a mom and here’s an amazing, beautiful, healthy newborn in my hand. All I wanted to do was sleep and never wake up or I had thoughts of hurting — hurting her, hurting myself — and just making this all go away and not have to deal with it.”

If you've felt similarly, you're not alone. Here's how to tell for sure you're suffering from postpartum depression, plus ways to make yourself feel better if the baby blues are keeping you down.

Here are 6 ways to deal with postpartum depression from single moms who've been there:

1. Expect the unexpected

Jackie explains that postpartum depression was something she was aware of, but not something she thought would ever happen to her. She didn’t know much about the impact it could have, emotionally or physically.

When she went for her two-week check-up after having her daughter, she completed the survey she was given as honestly as possible but was surprised when the doctor expressed concern about her answers. Being a first-time mom, Jackie had assumed the way she was feeling was normal and had no idea she actually had moderate to severe depression.

When Ann went for her check-up, she thought the questions like how are you feeling were, “Very awkward and kind of corny.” She knew the simple thing to do would be to write that she was feeling great, but she actually ended up crying as she answered the survey.

While you can be prepared financially and have practical support lined up, it’s quite difficult to prepare for the emotional side of having a baby. The best you can really do ahead of time is know that postpartum depression and other complications are possible and that they could happen to you. Make sure you have a good support network and be prepared to lean on them.

2. Don't let shame overwhelm you

It’s important to remember that depression is an illness and a common one at that. It can happen to anyone and nothing you’ve done could have caused it.

Having depression also doesn’t make you a bad person, and your baby will not be taken away from you because of it.

3. Don’t delay in asking for help

It’s important to get help as soon as possible as the symptoms of postpartum depression can get worse over time. There’s no point struggling on and hoping that the problem will fix itself.

Your doctor or health care provider should be trained to recognize the symptoms of the illness and be able to point you in the direction of support. There are a range of approaches that may help, from lifestyle changes to therapy and medication.

Ann’s advice is to trust other people to be kind and supportive, even if that doesn’t come naturally or easily for you. “Give people the opportunity to help you, to be kind, to enjoy this experience with you. Because boy, is it lonely alone.”

Jackie gives the same advice. She recommends talking to your closest, safest, circle of friends and being as open as you can. If you can afford it, you can hire a night nurse or a mommy helper, or even just arrange for various people to come and visit you so that you’re not alone with your baby all day.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Fight Postpartum Depression (& Feel Like Your Awesome Self Again)

4. Remember you’re not alone

One of the reasons Ann reached out was because she felt so alone during her experience of postpartum depression as well as during other stages of her journey to motherhood. She’d like other people to be able to search online for stories of people in situations like theirs and find the information they need.

There are people out there who know what you’re going through and who can help you to realize that none of this is your fault or indicative of your abilities as a parent. Seek them out and get the support you need.

5. Remember you don’t have to love the newborn stage

Almost everyone loves babies; we’re biologically programmed to find them cute. So Ann was surprised to find that she really didn’t like the newborn stage. “It's really fun to hold other people's newborns — not so much holding them at three o'clock in the morning,” she says. When you’re constantly tired and no one’s thanking you for all your sacrifices, it’s easy to get upset.

“It was very tragic at the time, but I can remember them sitting in front of me in their Rock ‘N Plays and I’m sitting on the couch crying,” Ann recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘Who can I call to give them to? What did I do? What did I get myself into?”

“There was that void. I always used to think, ‘Oh, people say there’s this void. They’re just crazy people.’ No. It was like this detachment that was interesting.” Ann explains how she cried at everything and then inevitably felt guilty about the way she was feeling. Particularly if you’ve had a hard time getting pregnant, suddenly wishing away everything you wanted so badly can make you feel selfish and ungrateful, which just adds to the emotional load.

Now, Ann can look back at photos from the time her children were newborns and think they were sweet. She sometimes finds herself wishing they were that small again and she is flirting with the idea of having a third child so, in hindsight, it’s not all bad. But in the moment, it can feel neverending and hopeless.

But the newborn stage does end and is followed by a whole range of ages that each come with their own quirks, difficulties, and delights. These days, Ann delights in the “most beautiful little innocent spirits” that are her children. “I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s just the most fulfilling thing now that I have these two humans that I get to mentor. I get to show them life. And the love they give you is amazing. It’s really neat.”

Just because life is difficult now doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

6. Remember your baby will be OK with a bottle

At Ann’s two-week postpartum checkup, she had to fill out a questionnaire about how she was feeling. She ended up crying. When she saw her doctor, he suggested she try some medication. He reassured her that her babies would be fine on formula. “It’s more important for these children to have a mother that can function versus this ‘breast is best’ mantra.”

Ann cried for twenty-four hours at the thought of not breastfeeding her children before calling him and saying he was right. She then pumped all she could until she took her first pill.

Within a day of taking the first tablet, everything turned around. “It was like, I went to bed one day and woke up the next a brand new person.” Ann acknowledges this is not a normal response to postpartum depression treatments and that it would usually take longer than this to feel the effects, but credits the tablets with giving her the little bump she needed to see that life was amazing. In total, she was on medication for six to eight months before weaning herself off.

Postpartum depression is a real and serious thing that you should not try to handle alone. If you recognize the symptoms of depression in yourself, please speak to your doctor about it. Also remember that both Jackie and Ann had no idea they were suffering from depression. So, if someone mentions that they are worried about you, listen openly and take action to find out.

Seeking out support, both practical support from friends and emotional support from those who have experience with the illness can also take a weight off your shoulders. Just because you’ve chosen to become a single mom does not mean you have to go this alone.

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RELATED: 7 Things Women With Postpartum Depression Need You To Know

Sarah Kowalski is an author, podcast host and coach providing support groups to women contemplating single motherhood, women who are pregnant and single or raising children alone. Visit the Motherhood Reimagined webpage to join Sarah's mailing list, buy her book, Motherhood Reimagined: When Becoming A Mother Doesn’t Go As Planned or listen to The Motherhood Reimagined Podcast, including her full interviews with Ann and Jackie.​