Tuesday, January 12, 2010
THE MYTHS AND TRUTHS OF POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
Nearly every woman who gives birth to a baby (and even many who become mothers by adoption) gets some form of postpartum depression. There are three types of new mothers. There is the type who gives birth and resume their lives with confidence, clear thinking and enthusiasm. The kind who gives birth and wishes that a fairy godmother would make the baby disappear and restore them to their former life and then there's the rest of us.
The first group of new mothers, the ones that breeze through like nothing happen are either incredibly lucky or incredibly unobservant. The second and third group really can be grouped together as one, just at different levels. Some women don't notice their symptoms of postpartum depression until their baby's first birthday. I think it is that we just start factoring in our altered states and feelings as normal. Postpartum depression is a lot like being drunk....looking back, there can be blackouts. Postpartum depression is like PMS, just on a grander scale. Friends might suggest that your hormones are toying with you, but you feel persecuted and misunderstood by your friends, not betrayed by your estrogen levels. I don't know if we have such a hard time diagnosing this completely normal condition because we don't want to see it or because we can't see it. So many new mothers are completely unprepared for any feelings other than happiness after the birth of their baby. Everybody is so full of congratulations, they expect you to glow with maternal satisfaction, and, truthfully, they don't really want you to tell them otherwise. Most women would rather sleep than talk to anyone and not tell anyone that they cry several times a day or that they secretly resent the toll the baby is taking on them. Heaven forbid a new mother should speak the truth about how she is, or is not adjusting. There are several reasons why it remains one of the womanhood's deepest, darkest secrets:
The Shame of it all
First, there is a lot of shame attached to feeling less than perpetually elated by becoming a mommy. Mention postpartum depression and the first thing people think about is a woman who doesn't want or love her baby. People unfamiliar with this condition usually fail to understand that loving your baby and loathing your life can be done simultaneously by new moms. Ultimately, not only are we ashamed to talk to other people about our feelings, we are also ashamed to think about them. Don't think for a minute that husbands, mothers or mothers-in-law are any more enlightened about postpartum depression than the rest of society. Unfortunately, not talking about how we feel makes most of us feel worse. It would be such a relief to purge ourselves of our less acceptable thoughts because at least 50 percent of them would disappear into the ozone as soon as they were uttered. About half of our negative thoughts are just that, thoughts. They are not opinions or beliefs. But they get scary when we hold them inside of us for too long because then we can't tell the difference between what we really feel and what we can imagine feeling. I am not saying that all mothers feel miserable, depressed and disappointed after giving birth but it is common for a bit of 'down' feelings and it is common that we feel that it is unacceptable to talk about it with anyone for fear of being judged.
The fear of it all
Another reason that so many of us fail to recognize postpartum depression in ourselves is that we are afraid of it. We are afraid that if we have it, our behavior is completely out of our control. In our own hysterical way we think postpartum depression is a sin. Since new mothers need to feel in control of the universe in order to protect their fragile babies, the worry that we, ourselves, may be the one uncontrollable factor freaks us out. Don't be freaked out and calm down. Your baby is absolutely safe in your loving care. You will devote your life to ensuring his happiness and well-being. Postpartum depression is actually a piece of cake for the babies, but it can really be tough on the mommy. Just remember, if you are caring for your baby, loving him and giving him attention, he will probably escape unaffected by your guilt about eventually going back to work or how resentful you are that you haven't slept in a lying down position in more than three weeks. In other words, relax as you go through your changes. You'll soon become the person you recognize as you and the baby won't have noticed a thing.
One of the most striking symptoms of postpartum depression is an utter lack of optimism. Some new mothers just can't imagine any time in the future when they will not be tired, or sad, or forgetful or anxious. The demands of caring for a child, usually alone in our society are so repetitive and unrelenting that we measure our days in diapers changed and feedings. Sure, the books say you will soon recognize a hungry cry from a bored or hurt cry and you probably will, eventually. In the meantime every cry gets your blood pressure into the triple digits and your adrenaline pumping like I don't even know what. Then there's the baby's first illness; projectile vomiting alone has been known to make a mother lose her mind for good. There IS an end to this tunnel. Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest bogeymen in a mommy's life. We have very little control over the baby's growth, however, and many aspects of postpartum depression actually have more to do with YOUR growth so let's move on and give your growth a jump start. A good place to begin is by clearing all the misconceptions about postpartum depression out of the way. There are five myths about this.
MYTH 1: Normal postpartum depression, also known as the baby blues, occurs three or four days after giving birth and is usually little more than a one-day unexplained crying jag. The truth about this? Sure you may get weepy shortly after giving birth since that is when the most dramatic change in hormone levels occurs, but that is NOT postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is when you haven't slept in two months, your baby is going through a growth spurt and you worry that you're not making enough milk, you are not eating much of anything with nutrients, you are still overweight and then the whole family comes down with the flu.
MYTH 2: Postpartum depression can be prevented by keeping a good and positive attitude during pregnancy. Truth? Yeah right. You can try and try all through pregnancy and maternity to be as positive as can possibly be but you can still feel the effects of postpartum depression, except now you can add disappointment and self-doubt to the experience. Pregnancy and motherhood are incredible physical and emotional upheavals, no matter how thrilled you are to become a mother. Your marriage may be changing, your looks definitely are and if you think that your job is to stay grateful, happy and content through the water retention the vulnerability, the fear and the invasion of the body snatcher, it's no wonder you end up depressed.
MYTH 3: Postpartum depression is a figment of a woman's imagination; there are no medical justifications for it. Oh really? They used to say this about PMS and cramps, too. I guess it took more women insisting that people without uteruses might not know what they were talking about in this area. As a matter of fact, all of pregnancy and new motherhood are hugely affected by our biology. As soon as we become pregnant, our hormones combine with our genetic programming to make us hopelessly devoted and fiercely protective of this new little life. Then, when the baby is born, add fatigue and inexperience to the equation and everything just multiplied.
MYTH 4: Postpartum depression is just that; feeling depressed after having a baby. ha ha. That's a very narrow view of the landscape. Postpartum depression is a catch-all phrase for all sorts of emotions and behaviors that are new and unusual or more intense than before you had a baby.
MYTH 5: Once you get postpartum depression, there is nothing you can do about it except wait it out. Nope. If you feel like you are having trouble coping with motherhood, the first and simplest thing you can do for yourself is ASK FOR HELP. Do not feel ashamed about needing i; you weren't intended to do this alone. Humans are a tribal breed, and nature never intended for you and your baby to survive without the assistance of the other women in your tribe. Whatever you do, do not take a passive approach to your unhappiness and do not pretend it doesn't exist. There are so many thing you can do to get back on track; it may be as simple as getting more sleep or exercising, it might be so stubborn as to require medication, but there is help out there. If you think that you and your baby are supposed to get through this first year isolated from the rest of the world, it's no wonder you're crazy.