Until her son was born in 2008, Karen (not her real name) had never suffered from any kind of depression. Her health was good, she liked her job, she was financially secure and her marriage was strong. “My husband and I were very excited about the baby’s arrival,” says Karen, 31, who lives in Chicago. “I was doing all the normal things to prepare for a baby—getting the nursery ready, planning a last getaway for us as a couple and looking forward to my baby shower.”
At 24 weeks, Karen suddenly began hemorrhaging, and her husband rushed her to the hospital. After 10 days on bed rest, she delivered her son via emergency Cesarean section. He weighed less than 2 pounds and would have to spend three months in the hospital. The next weeks were very difficult: While spending as much time as she could with her baby, Karen developed a blood clot in her leg and had to be hospitalized. Her son underwent heart surgery. When she lost her appetite and developed insomnia, Karen chalked it up to stress. But then she started having some scary feelings. “I suddenly was convinced I wasn’t fit to be a mother and that my husband and son deserved so much better. I would think about the fact that they might be better off if I left and my husband could find someone better,” Karen says.
One day when she drove to the hospital to see her baby, Karen couldn’t leave her car. “I was numb and frozen in panic,” she recalls. When she finally was able to move, Karen headed for her OB-GYN’s office and shared her feelings with a trusted nurse. She was soon diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). Although it’s known to strike 10 percent to 20 percent of new mothers (see “Facts About PPD,” below), the condition is often kept secret because women who develop it feel ashamed or guilty.
Medication and therapy helped Karen feel better. Now, both she and her son are fine. Karen was shocked when she found out she had PPD. After all, she had none of the major risk factors, such as a history of depression before pregnancy or anxiety during it. But like many women, Karen didn’t realize that PPD can strike nearly anyone, especially if any of a number of less-common factors applies to them. Some will surprise you. For example, women who have diabetes before becoming pregnant are twice as likely to develop PPD. Women who blame themselves for things that are not their fault or who take rejection very personally are also at greater risk.