There's no wonder that women get postpartum depression. The weeks after pregnancy are extremely tough, both physically and psychologically - add wild hormones to the mix and you have a percolating pot that is ready to boil over.
While I wouldn't diagnose myself as clinically depressed, I have been getting the blues and numerous times since my son has been born I've cracked and broken down in tears, in the foetal position on the bed.
Lack of sleep is probably a major factor, but as an attorney in New York, I've run on a few hours a night for a long time and it's certainly not the tipping factor. Physical pain is one of the primary suspects. After the pain of childbirth, I had pain from the stitches for several weeks - the bleeding was so bad that I ended up in diapers, along with my son- and then when the pain and bleeding subsided, I continued to have breast pain. This pain continued to increase until at nearly 7 weeks, I have done the rounds of what could go wrong with breast feeding and am still recovering. My son was tongue-tied and until a lactation consultant came last week and advised him to have a frenulectomy, he had been chewing on my nipples and not effectively suckling, causing plugged 4 milk ducts, nipple bruising, mastitis, nipple thrush and vasospasm. I've had to pump for the past week to give my nipples a rest and have slowly eased back into breast feeding, although it is still very painful - and not to mention how painful it is when I'm out in the cold (does anyone make nipple mittens?).
Apart from the physical pain of breastfeeding, the inability to solely feed my son from my breast and my milk has been crushing and I've felt inadequate. I never thought I would have issues doing something so natural. However, the more I have discussed it with people, including medical professionals and certified lactation consultants, it appears that although natural, breastfeeding is much more difficult than we thought. After all, childbirth is natural and many women died during it or had stillborn children for years. Likewise, many women couldn't breastfeed and either had the aid of a wet nurse or had to feed their babies cow milk, contributing to higher infant mortality rates. Although knowledge of these facts makes me somewhat more accepting of the situation, it still pains me.
One other factor is the massive life change that occurs when the little one arrives and changes take some getting used to. Suddenly, the whole epicenter of your life shifts and everything you've done before seems like a distant memory. When you and your partner find time alone together while the baby sleeps, you pass out along with them ("was that sleep as good for you as it was for me?") or rush to get errands done that you otherwise could not do. While the change itself can be daunting, the change of having total responsibility for another life, that can only communicate by cries that you at first cannot decipher, can be overwhelming. As many books as you may read, you will encounter a perplexing situation which leaves you cuddling your screaming baby in your arms, having run through the gauntlet of possible solutions (feeding, changing diaper, burping, adding clothing/blankets, removing clothing/blankets), crying along with them. My husband and I, for instance, were extremely panicked around the end of week 4 when our poop monster became extremely fussy and did not poop for four whole days. Then we found out it was perfectly normal for a breastfeeding baby to go even a whopping 20 days without pooping as their stomachs get more efficient at absorbing the breastmilk and they undergo a "poop conversion" - how could we have ever guessed that??
There's also the physical aspect. I was 106 lbs when I got pregnant, now I look at the scale - and I never even weighed myself before!- and cringe when I see 132 staring me in the face. I still wear my maternity clothes and haven't even put my wedding bands back on (I'm afraid that if I try again to wear them and they don't fit, a deluge will follow). My mobility is also impaired - the other day I was flabbergasted that it took effort to do a shoulder stand. I also haven't been exercising since I gave birth as I was petrified of ripping my stitches until I saw the doc at my 6 week test and she gave me the go ahead. For a movement junkie like me, it has been another psychological toll.
Each woman faces her own particular sets of pressures on top of the pain, the massive life changes, the added weight, the hormonal roller coaster and the sleep deprivation - for me, one major pressure was going back to work three weeks after I gave birth. I didn't go back into the office, but I did draft an opposition to a motion to dismiss and prepare for and attend a mediation on behalf of one my clients, for a case in which I was lead counsel and the opposing side were going to use any extension to prevent a mediation occurring (which my clients really wanted, believing the magistrate judge would persuade the opposing side to settle). While I filed my motion on time on the eve of Thanksgiving, to my chagrin, the opposing side asked for an extension for their reply due to the Thanksgiving holiday. It took some effort not to claw at my colleague opposing me in this matter, albeit I did question him as to why he pushed for all motion papers to be filed before the mediation, which I did so with great effort after giving birth and he, knowing full well when my deadline was due (and we all know we never file early) switched his tune right after. I felt overwhelmed and started to resent my clients and my life choices - for it was my decision for greater flexibility (ha!) to leave a larger firm and become of counsel to a smaller firm, thus controlling my own clients. Unfortunately, while week to week you control your own time in the sense that you do not have to deal with "face time" in the office any more, when it comes down it, owning your own business (which is essentially what of counsel do) means you have more inflexibility- there is no one to carry the load when you really need to off load it. Just like motherhood, minus the miracle and joy...