As some of you may know, I had my first child at the beginning of this year. Welcoming this addition to my family has been so special, incredibly emotional and, at times, completely overwhelming. I am so grateful for the many Mamas who have shared their stories both personally (and in writing,) helping to bring the variance of experiences into the open.
A theme that continues to surface is the importance of being aware and informed of the potential challenges, risks and changes that may arise during this major transition. This way, if /when something comes up, you can identify what is happening and give that experience a ‘name.’ Once it is named, you can externalize your symptoms; step outside of the feeling momentarily and recalibrate your response. Most importantly, you can know you are not the only person with these thoughts and feelings.
My hope is that through this series, more mothers and fathers can be empowered to seek solidarity in their experiences, better identify any symptoms they may have or see in their partners’ and open a dialogue for parents to explore the gifts, challenges and surprises of the transition to parenthood.
Part 1: Postpartum Depression
As a therapist, one of the biggest risks that I am mindful of is postpartum depression. It is likely you have heard of PPD and how scary it can be, or perhaps you know someone who has experienced it; for those who haven’t, postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth.
“Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion. After childbirth, the levels of hormones in a woman’s body quickly drop. This leads to chemical changes in her brain that may trigger mood swings. In addition, many mothers are unable to get the rest they need to fully recover from giving birth. Constant sleep deprivation can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion, which can contribute to the symptoms of postpartum depression.” - National Institute of Mental Health
While I am able to identify the symptoms of PPD and help my clients navigate and treat their own experiences, this does not mean I am in any way immune from the experience itself. I found myself feeling all sorts of emotions in the weeks after my daughter was born. I was sleep deprived, my hormones felt like they were on a rollercoaster and I was overwhelmed by the demands of a newborn baby. I could cry at the drop of a hat, and found myself snapping at my partner (who was also going through his own transition!) After a few weeks, getting outside, exercising, getting support from other mamas in my community, and allowing time for my hormones to normalize I began to feel more like myself. Knowing that all of these symptoms are completely normal and even to be expected, made them much easier to weather (both for myself and my partner.)
While many of my symptoms dissipated after a few weeks, that is not always the case and it is so important to recognize this risk;
“While many women experience some mild mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15 to 20% of women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety…Women of every culture, age, income level and race can develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth.” – http://www.postpartum/net
Here are some helpful questions to ask if you feel that you or a loved one may be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety:
· Are you feeling sad or depressed?
· Do you feel more irritable or angry with those around you?
· Are you having difficulty bonding with your baby?
· Do you feel anxious or panicky?
· Are you having problems with eating or sleeping?
· Are you having upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind?
· Do you feel as if you are “out of control” or “going crazy”?
· Do you feel like you never should have become a mother?
· Are you worried that you might hurt your baby or yourself?
If you answered yes to one (or a few, or all) of these questions - please know, you are not alone in these feelings and with informed care, you can prevent a worsening of these symptoms and can fully recover. There is no need to continue suffering. Please see below for additional resources and emergency support if necessary.
Post Partum Depression (PPD) is one of many experiences that can arise from the transition to parenthood. Other areas to consider are the couples’ transition to parenthood including changes in arousal and desire, the new division of labor at home, financial responsibility and continuing to find ways to practice self care as parents. I will address these and many other topics in my new Transition to Parenthood series. Stay tuned!
Additional Resources & Supports:
SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
NorthShore MOMS Line
The NorthShore MOMS Line is a free, confidential, 24/7 hotline staffed by licensed counselors who can help you find the information, support and resources you need to feel better. You don’t have to be in crisis to call.