For most new moms, reveling in the throes of the new baby love fest is expected. Rightfully so. There is a lot to celebrate. No doubt, your journey has been filled with many emotions and you have put forth a lot of effort toward the final destination –“baby on board”. During a time when it is expected that you experience the happy glow that comes with being a new parent, coupled with all the positive attention that you may receive from family, friends, and colleagues; it is not surprising that any negative emotions you experience may be dismissed or even denied because they are perceived as incongruent to the new baby experience.
I can tell you, however, Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a real condition and does not discriminate whether you are a first time or experienced mom, conceived with or without help, of low or high SES, working-at-home mom or working-outside-of-the-home mom. You get the idea. In fact, during the first month after delivery, childbearing women have three times greater risk for depression compared to non-childbearing women. Some of the symptoms include, sleep disturbance, guilt, self-criticism, tearfulness, loss of appetite, low motivation, forgetfulness, numbness, disproportionate levels of anxiety for a particular event, and difficulty focusing or completing a task. It is important to distinguish PPD from the “baby blues”, which includes similar symptoms but occur within a few days after the baby’s birth, lasts up to two weeks and can usually resolve without treatment. With PPD, the symptoms last longer with onset typically between 4-6 weeks post-delivery up to anytime during the first year and more commonly requires treatment. As difficult as it may be, the first step to feeling better is to acknowledge to yourself that something is not feeling right and to tell another person. When you’re feeling down is when you most need to speak up.
If it is a condition that affects many without discriminating, why are there still as many that may be suffering in silence? Because having depression still evokes stigma, which generates shame and fear that you may be judged by others. Sadly, my own experience is consistent with what I’ve heard from my clients, colleagues, and friends – that they don’t want to share they are actually struggling because they worry about being labeled as “bad mothers”. “Should” messages are abundant; “I should be happy because I have this great gift”, “I should do more because my baby is relying on me”, “I went through so much to get here, why am I not happier?!” As a result, we are wrought with confusion about our feelings and experience extreme guilt and shame for having them, further exacerbated when we cannot seem to “get over this”. I recall vividly the wise warning calls from my OB/GYN about PPD prior to delivering my first child. I remember thinking at the time, “how could I get it when having this child is something I want and have so much going for me in my life?” What I find is that societal pressure does not give permission for moms to have the space to experience a range of emotions that come with such a pivotal event in our lives. For some, this social stigma may even act as an antagonist to early detection, preventing us from sharing our feelings and struggles with our loved ones and with caring others, or taking advantage of available treatment.
As a woman, mom, and psychologist, I try to empower women who think they may have PPD to break the silence and talk to someone. At M&N Psychological, we offer an on-going PPD support group where you can share your thoughts and feelings without judgment in the company of other courageous and accomplished moms.