Postpartum mood disorders: Talking honestly about the number one pregnancy complication
It’s difficult to talk about postpartum depression. Most people won’t read through this article; unless you’ve experienced postpartum depression, it’s something that many believe only happens to a small number of women after they give birth. Postpartum mood disorders are actually the number one complication of pregnancy; it’s more common to experience emotional distress than all the things you are screened for during pregnancy.
So why do we still think it impacts so few families? It’s not just our discomfort in talking about postpartum depression, it’s also because we don’t do a good job of talking about it.
News and media portrayals too often focus on the rare cases of postpartum psychosis mislabeled as postpartum depression, and many public service announcements portray only depressed mothers, leaving out the most common experiences of new parents: a combination of both depression and anxiety symptoms.
We all know that the first few months of parenting can be quite stressful for all parents, but where is the line between normal — yet difficult — adjustment and a clinical mood disorder? The answer may be different than what you think.
Rather than focusing on a list of symptoms that you have or don’t, wouldn’t it make more sense to evaluate your overall well-being? If we were to frame new parents’ experiences in this way, here’s a list of 10 feelings that when experienced would indicate you need more support and help.
Feeling that something is not right, that you are not right.
Feeling completely overwhelmed, and it doesn’t go away.
Feeling worried all the time and you can’t turn it off — about the baby, about yourself, about doing it all wrong, about being a bad parent or that something bad might happen.
Feeling so much self-doubt that you can’t shake the feeling that you are doing it all wrong and weren’t cut out to be a parent.
Feeling so much shame and guilt that you are embarrassed to tell people how you are really doing, and feel as though you have to hide the truth.
Feeling less for your baby than for other things in your life — your dog, your spouse, etc.
Not liking parenting, not liking who you are, what you have become. Wishing you didn’t have the baby.
Feeling irritable about, angry at or resentful of baby, partner or whoever. Feeling unhappy.
Feeling like this wasn’t how you wanted it to be — the birth, coming home, being a mom.
Feeling upset, scared or angry about your birth experience.
This is not an exhaustive list of feelings that you may be experiencing. It’s focused on symptoms related to anxiety and depression. A small percentage of new mothers may experience more serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention. These include losing touch with what is real, feeling paranoid, hearing or seeing things that others do not, feeling like hurting yourself or baby.
Where to turn
Postpartum Support International of Washington (PSI of WA): Statewide toll-free Warm Line 1.888.404.PPMD (7763) staffed by mothers who have recovered from PPMDs or licensed therapists. PSI of WA has support groups throughout the state and maintains a providers list of specialists to ensure best care for all women. ppmdsupport.com
Postpartum Progress: Offers support, information and online forum called Smart Patients. postpartumpgrogress.org
Postpartum Support International: Information, monthly phone chats for moms and dads, and more. postpartum.net
Mia Edidin, LICSW, is Program Director at Postpartum Support International of Washington.