Like any mental health challenge we may be facing, postpartum depression is very common and normal, though it looks different for everyone. It can make us feel nothing and take little pleasure in doing things.
We may think about the things we used to enjoy and assume they will no longer bring us joy.
It can make us feel negative about those around us and shut off relationships, even with the people closest to us. It impacts the part of our brains that makes us feel positive and can destroy our motivation to do anything, making us feel that almost everything is pointless or bland.
Unfortunately, this can also include our relationship with our baby. In non-depressed women, hearing a baby cry can actually trigger a sense of urgency along with a sense of being “rewarded” for soothing the baby. In depressed mothers, this “reward” system is shut off.
Finding the energy to deal with her baby can be hard enough, but even when she has met the baby’s demands she will not feel pleasure at the end of it. So it is no wonder that caring for a baby can feel so difficult for a mom who is experiencing postpartum depression.
For example, when the baby cries, a depressed mother may be more likely to see it as a feeling of how the baby feels about her, rather than recognizing there may be something else going on to make the baby upset. Similarly, when the baby turns away, a mother might assume it’s because the baby doesn’t love her, rather than recognizing that babies tend to do this during interactions to calm down for a moment.
What can be increasingly difficult about the situation is that the sadness and stress the mother feels at potentially being rejected by the baby can be picked up by the baby, and so the baby can start to feel uncomfortable. This can then go back to influencing how the mother behaves and create a cycle of negative feelings, behaviors, and interactions.