by Erin Newton, LCPC
My baby has been screaming for what feels like hours. She won’t nap unless I hold her. How the hell am I supposed to hold her nonstop and still care for my other children? I’m sweaty from having her pressed up against me for so long. My arms feel sore, heavy. My neck aches from nursing her while trying to sleep the night before. There are toys everywhere, my final attempt in keeping the other kids busy while I bounce and sway a screaming, tired baby. I smell like spoiled milk. I haven’t changed my shirt in two days.
As the screaming gets louder, I can feel heat rising in my cheeks. I feel my teeth grinding together, my grip on the baby tighten. I want to shake her, I want to throw her across the room…but really I just want her to STOP. CRYING. My oldest asks for a snack. I snap at her to leave me alone, guilt washes over me immediately, followed by resentment. Resentment for the baby, resentment for my husband having to work, resentment for my other children needing anything else from me. How can I give them any of myself when I’m out of everything right now? My toddler starts to cry. Her cries and the baby’s cries and my own rage are so loud in my own head that I can’t hear anything else for a moment. It’s all drowned out by crying and the color red.
Finally, I hear my husband’s truck pull up and the sound of the side door opening and closing. He walks in, lunchbox and briefcase in hand and I charge over to him, practically throw the baby in his arms proclaiming “HERE! I can’t. I’m out.” I am so angry now I can’t even form decent sentences. I head for the door, no shoes, in my pajamas, walking fast, practically running. I speed walk all the way to the end of my driveway and collapse behind a bush. I pull my knees up to my chest and try not to scream.
The above actually happened to me when my youngest was about five months old…at least, I think it did. The thing is, I was so angry when this happened that all I really remember is my husband coming home, me handing him the baby, and walking out to the driveway to sit. My brain was so overloaded with emotions, that when I try to think back to it, it’s all a blank. I mention the color red because for me, sometimes when I’m really overloaded, feelings feel more like colors. I remember crying and screaming and chaos and the color red. And being angry. Really, really angry.
Postpartum rage is an “unofficial” symptom of postpartum depression (PPD) that is very common, but is not included as one of the official symptoms of PPD (although irritation is). Despite this,
a lot of women report feeling intense bouts of anger as part of their PPD symptoms.
It’s so often mentioned that research from the University of British Columbia states that “women in the postpartum period should be screened for anger in addition to depression and anxiety” when screening for PPD. Currently, anger as it pertains to PPD is not well studied and is not widely used in all screening tools; however, this study found it to be a significant feature in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD’s).
When we think of PPD, we think of feeling sad, crying a lot, and withdrawing from the family or your baby. And PPD can certainly look like that! But it can also look like intense rage seemingly out of nowhere.
Postpartum rage refers to overwhelming anger. Anger that feels out of place or too intense for the situation. Women many lash out at their baby crying (a perfectly normal thing that babies do), their other children or spouse, or even inanimate objects. The anger can feel misdirected too. For example, maybe you’re really mad for one reason but you’re directing that anger somewhere else.
And it’s not as if new moms don’t have plenty of things to be angry about. Motherhood is rarely what you expected it to be. Maybe you thought you would breastfeed, but you just can’t get your baby to latch. Maybe you expected your baby would sleep in their crib, but now they won’t let you put them down. What if you expected to love co-sleeping but you’re so anxious about having the baby in your bed that you can’t sleep at all?
Well meaning family members and even strangers have all kinds of opinions about what you should be doing or what you’re doing wrong. And it seems, no matter what advice you take or how hard you try, that shame button inside of you is getting pushed over and over again. When we’re exhausted and overwhelmed and feeling judged and ashamed, it’s pretty easy for that all to come out as anger.
If this sounds like you, know that you are not alone. Anger is a common symptom of PPD, even if it’s easier to talk about feeling sad and weepy. We know that 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression and that symptoms that last beyond the first two weeks postpartum are not the baby blues and need to be evaluated by a professional. These feelings are not your fault, they do not mean you’re a bad mom, and there is help available to you. Please reach out to a professional.
Right now Wellness & Co is offering drop in support groups for moms in a group called Mom’s The Word: A Confidential Support Group for Moms with different topics offered every Tuesday at 1:00 pm. This group is open, meaning there is no commitment – you can come one week and not come the next. It is also open to everyone, even those outside of Maryland. To keep up with our weekly topic changes, please follow us on Instagram or like our facebook page. Also, if you join our mailing list you will not only get group updates, but also updates on all the awesome things we are doing at Wellness & Co. to support the community and the people in it.
You are not alone, mamas. We are here for you.
You are not broken.
I’m here with support and love.