If you are reading this, you or someone you know may have symptoms of postpartum depression and/or anxiety.
You have probably scanned articles that discuss the signs and symptoms of PPD/PPA, and while I recommend being aware of this, sometimes you need a little more than those textbook medical terms. This article will provide a discussion of the lived experience, and what most mothers don’t talk about.
Life Was Perfect and Normal…Until it Wasn’t.
When a baby arrives into a family, it is a joyous event. You may feel that the world is right and experience this wonderful “high”. As your hormones begin regulating, and any drugs you’ve been taking for labour and pain start to wear off, feelings of sadness, worry, and anxiety may set in. However, it doesn’t always happen right away. These feelings may set in so gradually that everything may seem great until six months later you realize you aren’t doing as well as you could or think you should be. Maybe this is where it gets really bad, because you may feel like you’re not doing the best job at being a mom.
There is an excessive amount of worry put on parents, and mothers typically get the brunt of it. In the early days, there is a focus on how much milk the baby gets, the pressure to breastfeed, the pressure of whether you’ll even produce a sufficient milk supply, not letting your baby sleep in the car seat or swing in the swing too long due to the risk of SIDS, the number of dirty diapers in a day…and let’s not forget: SLEEP! How much is your baby sleeping, are they sleeping through the night, and heaven forbid if they colic! After such a list, let’s pretend you have some time to worry about yourself here. So, Mom, have you slept? (Don’t answer that…I know you haven’t.)
Venting and reaching out for help from family and friends inevitably brings opinions and judgement….SO much judgment. There is a nauseating amount of pressure put on mothers to do the perfect job! If anything goes wrong, you are deemed a terrible mother. Well-meaning family members are constantly saying things like “Don’t do that, you will ruin them for life! Don’t hold them too long, you will spoil them. Let them cry it out! Don’t provide formula because breastmilk is better!” Some mothers are even shamed for not being able to produce enough milk to feed their child.
This is all too much! No wonder you’re drained.
Postpartum Depression & Postpartum Anxiety…What Do These Mean?
Postpartum Depression is not always just sadness and crying. It can mean isolating yourself, feeling angry, feeling resentful, and wanting to escape. While there is a lot of discussion about postpartum depression, the same cannot be said for postpartum anxiety. PPA can look like an excessive worry about your baby’s wellbeing, a fear of driving with the baby in the car, and general worries about having to care for the child on your own at home or in the community. Postpartum depression and anxiety have a wide array of symptoms and it is best to speak to your doctor to get diagnosed.
What Do I DO?
Speak to your partner. Let them know what is going on. Having the support of your partner can help to reduce the feelings. Also, allow your partner to support you with care for your child and step away from criticism if it is not the way “you” would do it.
Speak to your doctor ASAP. Let them know what has been happening. Some women worry that if they speak to their doctor, they will just prescribe medication. This is not always the case, but they will assess how severe your depression and anxiety are and discuss appropriate options.
Find a therapist that you can talk to about these feelings. When you speak to a therapist, they will help you to see that what you are experiencing is normal and together you will find strategies to help you cope.
Connect with a local mom’s group that specializes in Postpartum Depression. Connecting with other mothers can help you see that your struggles are normal and help you find support among other mothers without judgment.
How Can I Be Supportive of a Mother Going Through PPD?
Partners struggle to know what to do and feel very helpless. Let your partner know that they are loved and cared for by you. Practice a lot of patience and recognize that they are not able to control their feelings at this time. Participate in childcare as much as possible, take charge of bath time, feed where you can, offer to do diaper changes, and play with your child. Not only does this help your partner, but it allows you to bond with your child as well.
Friends and family members can
help by asking the mother what she needs. Most of the time, friends and family
want to visit and play with the baby. While that can be fun for them, it is not
always the best way to care for moms. Helping them with household duties,
making a meal, or bringing something for the mother may be more effective. Making
the time judgment-free is also important; mom is already feeling pressure and
stress, so they don’t need to hear what they could do better. If you want to
give advice, tread lightly and ask her if she wants it.
To Take Medication, Or to Not Take Medication
Taking meds is a personal choice that should be discussed at length with your physician. There is no shame in taking medication. We would not judge someone for needing to take medication for heart disease, so why should we think of medication for our mental health any differently? Taking medication does not mean you are weak, or something is wrong with you. Sometimes it’s the strongest individuals that struggle the most. Medication may be temporary until the symptoms subside.
Where to Get Help
At the Vaughan Relationship Centre, we support many individuals who are struggling with Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety. Give us a call. Your visit may be covered under your employee health benefits. We provide in-person sessions as well as e-counselling sessions for those who are struggling to find childcare to attend sessions.
Written by Amanda Bacchus and Edited by Maria Iannizzi