Six weeks ago, I gave birth to my third baby.
And since I have done it three times now, I can personally verify that everything you hear about each child being a gift is true. Every child, and every birth experience, is a breathtaking miracle.
But after each of my pregnancies, the days after giving birth were not only filled with euphoric joy—they brought sadness too.
About a week after giving birth, when all three babies were finally sound asleep in their beds, I sat on the kitchen island and tearfully confessed to my husband all the unpleasant thoughts that had washed over me since giving birth.
I told him I felt jealous when other people, including him, spent time with my older children while I tended to our newborn—yet I felt guilty leaving the newborn with someone else.
I told him I had waves of regret that I had not been more present to our older children before the baby was born, and that I experienced painful nostalgia for times when my feelings were more simple and clear.
Worst of all, I told him, I suddenly felt a crisis of meaning, purpose, and vocation. I was agonizing over my past career and mothering decisions, and anxious about taking my next steps should be, as a mother, teacher, and lawyer.
Fortunately, since this was my third time experiencing those feelings, I was able to recognize them as part of the “baby blues.” According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), 70-80% of women experience some negative feelings or mood swings after the birth of a child.
But based on conversations with other moms, I bet the number is much closer to 100%.
The APA says the baby blues often hits between four and five days after birth, and is related to hormonal changes and changes in the mother’s sleep pattern and routine. The blues cause crying for no apparent reason, sadness, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and impatience.
For some women, the baby blues turns into postpartum depression (PPD), a very serious mental health condition that requires intervention.*
Thankfully, I have never experienced PPD. My symptoms have been limited to the baby blues, and they have abated after a few weeks. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy.
I wish I would have known that the baby blues were coming before I had my first baby—that far from being a cause for shame, they’re a normal part of motherhood.
With time, I’ve learned three important tools for managing these feelings:
01. Embrace your feelings
I’ve learned to embrace—rather than fight—the baby blues. Although acknowledging my ugly feelings makes me uncomfortable, I have found that ignoring them or distracting myself makes them worse.
Embracing my feelings means naming them (telling my husband and friends that “I’m feeling bluesy”), letting myself have a good cry, and voicing my irrational fears to trustworthy friends and family. The process of airing my fears is an important step that helps me begin to conquer them through discussion, exercise, fresh air, and socializing.
02. Don’t feel guilty
Experience has taught me that there is no reason to feel guilty for experiencing the baby blues. After giving birth to my first baby, the emotional rollercoaster of the early postpartum days was entirely unexpected, and I felt like something was wrong with me.
So not only did I feel rotten, I felt morally defeated. I was sure my feelings were my own fault, related to some deficiency of mine or failure of virtue. It took months for me to realize what I went through was completely normal.
03. There is purpose in the sacrifice
With each baby, embracing the baby blues has helped me become a better mother. I am often embarrassed to admit that I’m struggling with something, because the majority of my experience as a mother is positive and privileged. I don’t want people to think I’m weak or ungrateful for the gifts I’ve been given.
But the fact is, motherhood always comes with crosses. To ignore our crosses dishonors them and strips them of their glory. But when we kiss the crosses of our motherhood and lift them high, both in our hearts and for the world to see, I believe they accentuate the significance and value of our gift of self, in a world hungry for meaning and purpose.
Since my tearful conversation with my husband on the kitchen island, each day has become better than the next. We have gradually settled into a new family routine, and every day brings more opportunities to get dressed, leave the house, and feel productive.
With time, I have slowly become more comfortable leaving my baby with others while I rock the older kids to sleep, take them out for a treat, or read them a book. With each passing day, the tough bluesy moments became fewer and far between.
So to you, mama, who might be going through these tough early days with a new little one: embrace your feelings, even the ugly and negative ones. It’s better to address these feelings head-on than to be ashamed of them, to hide them, to bury yourself into isolation.
You are not alone, and if you give yourself a little time to transition, you will start feeling like yourself again too.
* You might have PPD if your mood swings are extreme, you feel hopeless, you have difficulty bonding with your baby, you have excessive fatigue, or if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
If you believe you may be experiencing PPD, please contact your healthcare provider, such as your OB/GYN, immediately, or consider calling the National Postpartum Depression Hotline at 1-800-PPD-MOMS.