You just had your first baby. It is a momentous time and something you’ve looked forward to ever since the pregnancy test results came out positive.
So why do you feel like you are losing your mind? Why are you wringing your hands, fretting, eaten alive with anxiety and despair? Why can’t you enjoy this experience?
There are many reasons you are feeling the way you are.
After giving birth, a woman undergoes a profound drop in hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. Additionally, hormones issued by the thyroid may plunge abruptly causing the new mother to become depressed, tired and lethargic.
Likewise, if changes occur in the woman’s blood pressure, blood volume, metabolism and immune system this promotes mood swings and tiredness, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Some women sail effortlessly through the aftermath of childbirth, even though sore and sleep-deprived. Others, however, are not as lucky and may feel panicky and anxious, experiencing obsessive thoughts and the belief they are going crazy. Some may be so depressed they are hard-pressed to get out of bed. Or they may experience both anxiety and depression.
These psychological reactions have nothing to do with being a ‘good’ mother or ‘bad’ mother. They are the outcome of the colossal changes the woman’s body is enduring, which can disturb her brain chemistry and thought processes.
Just because your sister breezed through the postpartum months like a walk in a park doesn’t mean you will and you needn’t apologize for, or hide the fact, you are in trouble and besieged. What you need to do is get help and fast.
Society often idealizes motherhood. But the reality is the first year after giving birth is extremely hard on the mother. If predisposed to mental health issues to begin with, this makes it even more difficult. If isolated and her support system is nil, the experience is even more challenging.
The ‘Baby Blues’
You may have heard the expression ‘baby blues,’ which refers to the postpartum woman who is sad, anxious, suffering from mood swings, irritability, suffering crying jags, can’t focus or sleep. This is not uncommon and usually temporary.
However, the ‘baby blues’ can become full blown postpartum depression and hinder a woman’s ability to care for her baby and herself. Postpartum depression is an acute condition because the woman may become homicidal or suicidal.
Postpartum depression (PPD), a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, can pop up at any time during the pregnancy or within the first year post-pregnancy.
A woman may be at higher risk for experiencing PPD for various reasons including an unplanned pregnancy; a non-supportive partner; a family history of mental illness; bouts of depression or apprehension while pregnant; monumental life changes such as a death or divorce; complications during delivery and early childhood trauma.
Holli had never heard of postpartum depression, nor had her mother or sister, so no one was able to recognize what was going on when she was stricken:
“I remember feeling disconnected and kind of on auto pilot just to get through the days. I remember thinking no one told me about this part of being a new mom. I was scared and there was little support to be found.
“I eventually went to the doctor, at my mom’s suggestion, and was told it was my hormones and to give it some time.
“After several more days of me sobbing at the same time, every day, not showering or eating, I went back to the doctor. He started me on Zoloft. Eventually, the medicine took effect. I found it helpful to keep myself and the baby on a strict daily schedule. I also found a support group. Only then did I not feel so alone.
“It was a constant struggle for me to bond with my baby. Eventually things started to feel somewhat normal and I began to feel more like myself. That happened about the time I went back to work.”
“I had it with both children. It was horrible. My poor husband was put through the wringer. The baby would not stop crying and I was crying right along with her. I got sick to my stomach thinking my baby hated me. I was a terrible new mom.
“My husband worked second shift. One night be walked in and the baby and I were both crying uncontrollably. He took one look at us and, without any questions, he slowly walked over and took the baby out of my arms. He patted her a few times and, voila, she went to sleep.
“Later the doctor told me he knew I was upset. He told me I had PPD. The whole time he was talking he was handing me Kleenex after Kleenex. He said to give it a few weeks or months and I would be fine. My response: But my husband will leave me! The doc laughed, handed me a script, patted me on the leg and walked out of the room.”
Postpartum anxiety (PPA), which this writer experienced after the birth of her third child, and which was never accurately identified or treated, causes a woman to worry disproportionately over the health and safety of her baby. The woman experiences chest pains, shortness of breath, numbness and tingling, a sense of losing control and full-blown anxiety attacks. The individual may feel claustrophobic and have heart palpitations. Those having a history of anxiety or a thyroid imbalance are at higher risk of experiencing PPA.
Postpartum psychosis is considered the ‘extreme sister disorder’ to the ‘baby blues.’ Approximately one in 1,000 new mothers is afflicted. Postpartum psychosis takes place within the first two weeks after giving birth. When stricken, the woman becomes disoriented and confused andparanoid, has delusions and hallucinations and may attempt to harm her baby or herself. The woman with postpartum psychosis experiences a break with reality and can no longer differentiate between what is real and what isn’t. Some experience a psychotic merger and cannot tell where they end and the baby begins. This is a horrifying experience and can result in infanticide, also called suicide by proxy, or suicide.
Don’t Ignore the Signs
There is a nationwide dearth of post-natal care teams, which is inexcusable. If more women were diagnosed and treated for postpartum mood disorders, there would be fewer tragedies. This writer’s Ob-Gyn retorted, after I’d expressed I was having difficulties following the birth of my last child, “You don’t have your head in the oven yet, do you?”
I was so stunned by this tasteless and insensitive remark I couldn’t respond. However, I thought, give me some time, and I might and then it will be too late. I should have promptly gone to another doctor but, unwisely, I didn’t. Do not make light of your condition or that of someone you know who is struggling after giving birth.
For information or help, call the Kristin Brooks Hope Center hotline for postpartum women: 1-800-773-6667 or Baby Blues Connection, 1-866-616-3752, which provides 24 hour phone support. Another option is Postpartum Support International (PSI). Call 1-800-944-4PPD.
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