Most women look forward to the birth of their child with anticipation and excitement. Thoughts and daydreams about “what it will be like” come fast and furious to the expectant mother. While there can be some anxiety surrounding these thoughts, most women believe that it will be one of the most wonderful times in their lives. And many of them are right.
However, for some women the reality of new motherhood can be a rude awakening. Sleepless nights, a screaming newborn, painful/lactating breasts, and intense mood swings can leave women spinning and asking, “What have I done? No, seriously, WHAT HAVE I DONE!?”
Here’s what you should know: feeling emotional and tearful after the birth of your child is very natural. Between 50-80% of new moms experience the “Baby Blues” within the first 3 weeks of delivery. Consider this a hormonally-driven roller coaster of emotions. You might feel up one minute and down the other. Loving your partner then resenting him/her. And all the while, experiencing a mood that is best described as, well, blue. While this can be a very intense period, these symptoms typically disappear about 3 weeks after delivery.
But for 1 in 7 women, the feelings don’t go away. In fact, they get worse. Instead of joy, they feel anguish. Instead of excitement, they feel resentment. Instead of happiness, they feel a deeper sadness than they have never known. And even worse, they tend to suffer in silence. We live in a society that does not support the idea that the postpartum period is hard and can to lead to such intense negative emotions. When people ask how the new mom is doing and she suggests all is not well, a common response is, “Oh, but its worth it, right?” For the postpartum mom, this is not only invalidating of what she’s feeling but suggestive that she should just suck it up. Or worse, it leads her to interpret these feelings as wrong and she is a terrible mother and person for feeling that way.
Women with Postpartum Depression (PPD) (or Postpartum Anxiety) are experiencing a very agitated depression that occurs following the birth of a child. These symptoms are more than the Baby Blues. In addition to depressed mood, a mom with PPD may feel anxiety, racing and/or ruminating thoughts, scary thoughts, overwhelmed, guilty, inattentive, hopeless, disconnected from their baby and everyone else in their lives, and have thoughts of death, dying, or suicide. It goes without saying that this can be pretty overwhelming and scary for a new mom! Katherine Stone, the founder of Postpartum Progress, wrote an excellent blog summarizing the wide range of symptoms a mom with postpartum distress may experience: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/the-symptoms-of-postpartum-depression-anxiety-in-plain-mama-english .
Now, let me speak for minute directly to any postpartum mamas out there who may be relating to what you’ve read so far: things can get better. Let me say that again…things can get better. These feelings do not define you. And more importantly, you do not have to suffer in silence. There’s a chance the people around you don’t know just how bad you are feeling–new moms are often very good at hiding the depths of their distress. Whatever your reason for keeping this to yourself (a topic to discuss on another blog), try letting your loved ones and support system know so they can provide you with help, even in small ways. As I like to tell clients, small things can add up to big things. Therapy is another excellent way to access support during this difficult time. A therapist trained to work with PPD will understand what you are feeling and provide you with non-judgmental support to help you find a way out of the darkness. No matter how dark, scary, or invasive your thoughts may be, your therapist can provide information and guidance. And yes, there is a way out of the darkness.
If you are the partner of a woman suffering from PPD, there is a great book by Karen Kleiman called, The Postpartum Husband. It provides an excellent and succinct overview of the range of symptoms your partner may be experiencing and different ways you can provide them with support.
Just in case you didn’t believe me the first two times, let me say it again: Things can get better. One day at a time.