I remember the flood of emotions I experienced when I gave birth to my first child and became a mother. This is it....there is no turning back....my whole world will be changed forever, I thought. I was happy and excited for this new chapter in my life, but Iike most new parents, I also felt very overwhelmed. Such an enormous responsibility. This little human depended on me. Like literally....to survive.
May is national Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month
1 in 5 women will suffer from a mental disorder, such as postpartum depression, during or after pregnancy. Sadly, this is a very prevalent issue that often goes untreated. So many mothers suffer in silence because of guilt, or they dismiss their feelings as normal fatigue and moodiness after childbirth. Some have unrealistic expectations on what it means to be a good mother. But there is no shame in feeling the way you do or in getting help.
Having the "baby blues" after giving birth is very common and to be expected (feeling emotional, tired, stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed) because of major hormonal changes. But if those mild ups and downs don't go away after 2 weeks, and your feelings of sadness are more intense, making it difficult to function--you may have postpartum depression.
I am 33 weeks pregnant today (I know, I need to take an updated bump pic). So I've been having baby on the brain lately. And when I say lately, I mean for the past year and a half--as this is my third pregnancy within that time period (having had 2 miscarriages). So I pretty much feel like I've been pregnant for FOREVER.
And I know what prenatal and postpartum depression feels like, because I had it to some degree with both of my children. While I have struggled with moderate to severe clinical depression for many years and before having children, my postpartum depression as it relates to the baby, has not been severe. I never had feelings of hurting my babies, nor did I struggle to bond or take care of them. But just because you don't experience those thoughts or behaviors, doesn't mean you don't have the disorder. So depression manifests itself differently and varies in severity for every woman.
What I felt when I ventured into motherhood and gave birth to my daughter was all totally normal; however, it took a long time for me to emotionally reach equilibrium with the sudden change of hormones. And almost a whole year to completely recover physically after tearing during delivery--to where intercourse was no longer painful (due to poor stitching or scar tissue not healing properly). I got down on myself during this time. I felt broken. But my husband was very patient and understanding.
About two years later, I had my second child. Lots of stress and anxiety. It was during my pregnancy that I started taking an anti-depressant for the first time. The first two brands I tried made me feel more depressed and very tired. And with just having a baby and trying three different new medications, my hormones were so out of whack. I eventually also started seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist, which is when I was first told that I had postpartum depression.
Also, I was induced at 37 weeks because of Cholestasis, a rare liver disease during pregnancy that poses risk to the baby. And then shortly after my son was born, he had to be hospitalized because of shallow breathing, due to some fluid in his lungs. When he was about 2 weeks old, I tripped over his bassinet with him in my arms. Trying to protect him, I landed on my shoulder--resulting in a precursor to a fracture. I could barely raise my arm for several weeks, making getting dressed and taking care of my kids even more difficult. And at this time, I lived in a remote area--an hour and a half away from the hospital and doctor's office. I didn't get out much, and staying cooped up in the house made me feel more depressed. When my son was about 8 months old, he was prescribed a correction helmet for plagiocephaly (flat-head syndrome), which he had to wear 23 hrs a day for 4 months. I felt guilty, as though it was all my fault.
Signs of Postpartum Depression
- Excessive crying for long periods of time for seemingly no reason
- Drastic changes in mood that go from calm to irritable frequently
- Easily angered or irritated
- Exhibiting intense anxiety, worry and fear that hold her back from performing daily tasks
- Expressing feelings of shame, guilt or hopelessness
- Describing feelings of extreme sadness and despair
- Seeming unable to focus or concentrate
- Forgetting things easily
- Becoming easily distracted
- Being indecisive and unable to make decisions about things
- Thinking she is to blame for however she is feeling and acting
- Muscle aches and pains
- Stomach pains
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of energy
- Change in appetite whether it’s eating too much or too little
- Unable to sleep
- Withdrawing from her partner, friends and family
- Not wanting to be alone with the baby
- Not interested in caring for or bonding with the baby
- Not wanting to participate in her usual activities such as exercise and hobbies
- Displaying outbursts of anger or rage directed at others
- Avoiding tasks and responsibilities
Throw out damaging myths about motherhood, such as "Taking care of a baby is easy for good moms," or "I should be able to do this all myself." Just take care of you (and that might mean asking for help); you will then be better able to take care of your child(ren). Don't get down on yourself. You just had a baby! You have been through a lot. If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression, line up emotional support from family and friends, as well as physical support if needed (someone to help clean your home or watch your kids, so that you can take a break and sleep). Consult with a healthcare professional as well to make sure you are getting the treatment you need.
To all you mothers out there....
first time mothers
still trying mothers
....and everything in between....
You got this. You're doing the best you can. And that is enough.
Happy Mother's Day
Mother Tell Me the Story
Duet with my daughter, who was 5 yrs-old at the time, for Mother's Day last year