What I Wish I Had Known About Postpartum Depression

  I was 22 years old while wearing a pregnancy glow and preparing for my magical natural birth. A doula created my belly cast to save the shape forever. I wrote a letter to my unborn child. I prepared her room with Care Bear decorations because my favorite lullaby came from that cartoon. I traveled to another city for appointments because that was the location of the nearest midwife. I practiced breathing and had a birth plan. I did lots of prenatal yoga. During the birthing process, incense filled the room as my family thought I was sleeping through contractions. There were lots of lovely moments. However, during labor, I found myself screaming “GET OUT!!!” to both my daughter and my mother-in-law. One of the nurses was holding the door to my room shut as my mother-in-law was pushing back with a video camera; I didn’t want to be filmed.

That primal scream continued internally as I went home with my newborn baby. And when I say home, I mean my mother-in-law’s home. Without being made aware of the plan, my daughter’s grandmother invited over tons of people that I had never met. They all wanted to hold my baby. I just wanted to rest quietly between breast feeding. I was totally overwhelmed and condemned for not being sociable and for being overwhelmed. The situation was out of my control in more ways than will be shared in this blog. My mother told me that my hormones were out of whack because of the pregnancy. That was her response to our disagreements; that I wasn’t thinking clearly because my hormones were “off”.

               My situation was stressful. I didn’t have stability in my relationship or finances. This definitely added to my postpartum depression. There are a lot of new mothers that are similarly in difficult situations but even with the perfect home life, postpartum depression happens. Fatigue is definitely a contributing factor. It’s funny that moms expect themselves to be fully functional while waking up every 2 to 3 hours during the night. We don’t expect ourselves to function like that on a day to day basis; why do we pressure ourselves after creating and birthing a whole human being? Also, my mom was right in that my hormones were “off”; levels of estrogen and progesterone drop significantly after birth. This is a true part of pregnancy but it is an invalidating statement that dismisses the real need for support and treatment. Postpartum depression is common and treatable. We are going to review how common it is, the symptoms, and what to do:

How common is it? Postpartum Depression by the Numbers

·         1 in 10 women (after giving birth)

·         Approximately 600,000 U.S. women per year

·         Lasts 6 to 12 months

·         50% of women affected are not diagnosed by a professional

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression:

Symptoms of postpartum depression include depressed mood, mood swings, excessive crying, difficulty bonding with your baby, withdrawing from family and friends, loss of appetite or eating more than usual, inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much, overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy, reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, intense irritability and anger, fear that you’re not a good mother, hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy, diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions, restlessness, severe anxiety and panic attacks, thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, and /or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

There is also an experience with collective symptoms called “the baby blues”. It is different than postpartum depression.

Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression

The baby blues doesn’t last as long and is not as intense as postpartum depression. The baby blues affects 50 to 75% of mothers after delivery. The baby blues usually subsides after 2 weeks without treatment. Symptoms include: mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, crying, reduced concentration, appetite problems, and trouble sleeping.

If you or someone you know has the baby blues, here are some things to do to help alleviate it: rest, eat well, walk outside or other light exercise, do something for your spiritual health like pray or meditate, do something for your personal enjoyment like putting on makeup or watching a sitcom, take it step by step and day by day.

What to do if you think someone may be struggling with postpartum depression:

I moved in with my mom and stepdad about a month or so after my daughter’s birth. I remember one day being so fatigued that I didn’t want to go on a trip to visit my stepdad’s family. I didn’t want to get out of bed before 10am. He was very offended that I “didn’t want to see his family”. That response just packed in the stress, guilt, shame, and depression. An alternative response could have been of concern: to ask why do you think you are so tired? Was it waking up throughout the night? Or something more? Encourage the mother to share her experience with her doctor. Help the mother with tasks. Support her to rest and have space as she needs while not isolating. Any negative reinforcement may feel magnified through the lens of the depressed mother. Try to give as much positive reinforcement as possible. Share more positive feedback than negative.

What to do if you think you may be struggling with postpartum depression:

Do a reality check by assessing your situation, body changes, and sleep pattern. The reality is that you are going through a difficult time and deserve grace and self-care. This self-care could include: napping with baby, not over expecting of yourself, not allowing others to devalue you, telling your pediatrician or gynecologist and considering/taking their advice, knowing that you are not a bad person for the struggle, and know that you are not a lesser mother for the struggle.

 Postpartum depression is a real and common occurrence among new mothers. Let’s normalize the conversation and help our mothers get through this tough time.  

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