Content contribution from Terry Blanton, LCSW
A Personal Journey
I’ll never forget the day I took my first newborn son home from the hospital. There was a flurry of fear mixed in with joy as I changed him into his ‘going home’ outfit and strapped him safely into his pumpkin seat, all while my discharge nurse echoed off directives for our first night away from the care of the hospital. I felt a strange pit form in my stomach as she left me with the final statement “Now, you’ll be emotional. You’ll probably shed some tears- but if you find yourself not wanting to get out of bed, that’s when you know something is wrong.”
That one, vague statement was the extent of information I was given about postpartum depression as a first-time mom with virtually no prior experience of newborn care. Though I had done my own research prior to labor and birth, I still felt unsure about what I was experiencing in the emotionally charged weeks to come. Was the breaking into a sobbing mess of tears because I couldn’t take care of myself after my C-section to be considered ‘normal’? Just part of the emotional aftermath of bringing another human into the world? What about the feelings of claustrophobia that, at one point, caused me to literally run from my home into the front yard just so I could breathe better? Or the anxiety I felt as I lay awake in bed, despite being utterly exhausted from lack of sleep, while my husband and newborn son slept peacefully on either side of me?
I’ll be honest in admitting that I lived in a fog for the first few weeks of my son’s life. While I was never formally diagnosed with postpartum depression, I do feel certain that some of what I experienced was not your ‘normal’, run-of-the-mill emotions. There was very real anxiety, very real worry and very real sadness that ran deeper than the “baby-blues”.
What Is Postpartum depression?
The truth about postpartum depression is that, despite the stigma often surrounding it, it is a legitimate medical condition which can be treated through counseling, hormonal therapy, anti-depressants or a combination of the three. It is classified as a mood disorder of moderate to severe depression that can occur anywhere from days after birth to up to a year postpartum. Symptoms can vary but generally includes:
- Insomnia in the form of going to sleep, staying asleep or waking prematurely or a combination of the three
- Irritability and restlessness
- Constant feelings of anxiety or fear
- Panic attacks characterized by sweating, chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath
- Intense mood swings
- Difficulty bonding with the child
- Fatigue and inability to concentrate
Who Experiences Postpartum Depression?
The truth about postpartum depression is that it does not discriminate. It can happen regardless of age or socio-economic status and whether the child is the first or seventh. In fact, 14% of women will develop this condition after giving birth. To put that into perspective, it is twice the number of women who may develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. While the exact cause is unknown, there are contributing factors which can heighten one’s risk of developing this disorder, including:
- Shift in hormones after birth
- Difficult or traumatic pregnancy or delivery
- Lack of social support
- Previous history of depression in individual or family
- Loss of sleep
How Knowing The Truth Can Help Break The Stigma
While it is with gratitude that I can say I came out of the ‘fog’ stronger for having endured it, I not only wish, but believe, that I could have been better prepared to handle this struggle had I been offered more comprehensive education, more easily accessible resources and more conversation surrounding the topic in general.
Now, armed with the knowledge I do have, it is my personal belief that every expectant mom has the right to know the truth about postpartum depression and to be prepared to face it if she must. To be screened for it, if she deems necessary. To be able to talk about it in a way that doesn’t feel cliché or stigmatized. To be validated and supported through what will be some of her darkest and most difficult moments of navigating motherhood.
The truth is that while it can happen to you, it doesn’t have the right to tell you that you are at fault for its presence, it doesn’t have to be endured in silence, it doesn’t have to “win”. Through the necessary support like therapy and counseling, it can be overcome.
You have taken on a role of importance and you do have the strength, ability and support to find the joy in your motherhood. Don’t wait to ask for help! Reaching out is a sign of strength. Don’t allow the depression to convince you ‘you “can’t”.’ You can come through the fog and find the sunshine awaiting you.