Four babies later, I have been around the proverbial block with postpartum depression several times. The topic is near and dear to my heart.
I could take this post MANY different directions but I am taking the “AWARENESS” path on this one. Awareness that roughly 1 in 8 women will experience postpartum depression. And it is estimated that only 15% of these women will get help. The rest suffer in silence because…you SHOULD have control of your brain, right? We can and SHOULD do a lot better than the 15% treatment rate. But it will take awareness.
Awareness helps dispel shame.
It combats ignorance.
Being aware fosters openness and support.
*The mother experiencing the hell of mental illness doesn’t need ANY more shame. She is creating enough shame for herself.
*Ignorant people surrounding the suffering mother tend to say unhelpful and often hurtful things, even if they are well intentioned. (For example, “Just try to think positive!” is not helpful to someone in the pits of true mental illness.)
*The mother gets better faster when she feels safe in talking about how she knows something isn’t right. Loved ones can’t be supportive unless they know something is wrong.
Who needs to be aware? Ideally, everyone who has contact with a new mother. But there are a few key people I’d like to single out in stressing their unique role of awareness and recovery from postpartum depression: The Mom, The Dad, The Family Member or Friend and The Religious Leader (if applicable).
Warning: I am about to get real link-y but it’s only because I want you to see how many resources are at your fingertips to combat this!
Key points of awareness for the Mom herself:
-First off, bookmark PostpartumProgress.com! Katherine Stone, a survivor of postpartum OCD, is the founder of this unprecedented resource. “Postpartum Progress is the most widely-read blog on postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth.” Almost everything I have links to in this post…is from Postpartum Progress.
–Know your family history. You are at a higher risk of postpartum depression if your mother, grandmother or aunts experienced it. If you don’t know, ask. It may be hard to talk about but it is important to know if you are at a higher risk.
-Depression and/or anxiety can start anytime during pregnancy or up to one year after having a baby.
–“Baby blues” happen to many women during the first couple weeks postpartum, due to the normal fluctuations of hormones following birth. This is not postpartum depression. It may be postpartum depression if it continues for longer than a couple weeks.
-Talk about it to someone you trust about your concerns. Hopefully this would include your husband. If he is not supportive…talk to someone else…until you find someone who takes you seriously and wants to help you.
-It is NOT your fault. You are not crazy. You WILL get better. Don’t give up if you feel you aren’t getting better. Keep trying, keep talking. You are not alone.
-Learn what the symptoms of post partum depression are.
–PLEASE be sensitive. I know of many husbands, including mine, who have been their wive’s ROCKS in getting through post partum depression. But I also know of too many husbands who refused to believe anything was clinically wrong and that it was just something their wife needed to get over. AHHH! If you want to help your wife…take her seriously and do everything in your power to help her get better!
-Find ways to help around the house, without being asked. Instead of being critical about dirty laundry…throw a load in yourself. If you’re getting tired of not having dinner made…bring home take out on your way home. If your cupboards are bare…make a quick shopping trip. She already knows what she ISN’T doing. Don’t say anything…just pick up the slack for awhile.
–Encourage and facilitate ways for your wife to relax and take care of herself. Whether it’s running up a hot bath, taking the baby and pushing her out the door for a Walk-Around-Target outing, setting up a pedicure or massage, or whatever it may be.
-Know that the woman you love is not gone forever. Even if you feel she is pulling away from you…don’t pull away from her. I had to tell my husband this several times when I was in the pits of antenatal depression during my 3rd pregnancy.
-It will be hard for you to see her suffering. It could wear you down very easily. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of her.
-Again, be aware of the symptoms.
-If you live close drop by at least weekly and be sensitive to changes in what is normal for her and what is not as your interact with her. If you don’t live close you can still stay aware by keeping in contact with her. Call at least weekly and ask about how she is coping.
-If you are a female family member and have experienced postpartum depression tell her about your experience. She needs to know she is not alone.
-It was hard for me to ask for help or talk about my struggles when I was in my deepest pits of depression. I needed people to offer help without my asking.
I have been fortunate to have had wonderful, supportive church leaders through my struggles with postpartum depression. Being reassured that nothing was wrong with me spiritually made all the difference in ridding myself of the unnecessary and unproductive guilt that I must not be “faithful” enough, if I was feeling so lousy.
That being said, I know of far too many suffers of PPD whose efforts to get the help they needed were severely crushed by insensitive and ignorant religious leaders or fellow members of their faith.
I am a Mormon and personally believe in the healing power of Christ’s atonement. But I also believe that mental illness is truly a disorder of the brain that could no sooner be mentally or spiritually overcome as a type 1 diabetic whose pancreas does not make insulin.
If you, in general, have good mental health then I believe that, yes, more prayer and commitment to your faith and worship and more service to those around your can lift you out of the normal dips that everyone experiences.
But when a person has a true mental illness, yes, prayer and increased faith certainly can only help in the process, but a person MUST also treat the physical and mental problem, however they choose to do that, simultaneously. I believe God expects us to not only turn to Him but also to utilize the earthly resources he has given us to help ourselves.
Please go here for some PPD resources for different religious faiths.
Folks: Help the expectant and new mothers in your life by being AWARE.
No woman would have to suffer if we were.
Disclaimer: This is purely from my own experiences. Please don’t diagnose and treat yourself based on this information alone. Talk to your health care professional if this brings up any concerns.
*PLEASE note that when I say postpartum depression I am including ALL “Perinatal Mood Disorders”, which is the “umbrella” term for the range of mental disorders during pregnancy and/or during the first year after pregnancy, including postpartum depression (PPD); postpartum anxiety (PPA); antenatal (during pregnancy) depression or anxiety; postpartum OCD; postpartum post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and childbirth trauma; and postpartum psychosis. It also includes post-adoption depression, Dysphoric Milk-Ejection Reflex (D-Mer), or Depression Only During Breastfeeding, and depression after a miscarriage or stillbirth. So when I say postpartum depression, I mean all of the above.