8 Truths About Postpartum Depression

March 20, 2012 Guest Blogger 5 comments

me_and_fitz_christmas_2011

Read the previous post, 8 Myths About Postpartum Depression

Truth #1. It is common.

PPD affects 1 in 8 new mothers – approximately half a million women per year. These statistics are based on the cases we know about – the women who seek help. The actual numbers may be much higher, since there are many women who don’t know they have PPD, don’t know how or where to look for help, or have significant barriers to seeking help (e.g., financial or language barriers). While the rates are nothing to celebrate, you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone. As impossible as it may be to believe when you are suffering, many women have been where you are and have come out the other side.

Truth #2. It can happen to anyone.

PPD affects: young mothers, older mothers, working moms, stay-at-home moms, women with a history of depression, women with no previous mental health issues, mothers who are single, partnered, married, adoptive moms, women with multiple postgraduate degrees, women who didn’t finish high school, moms who breastfeed, formula feed, combo feed, moms of multiples, moms who had unplanned pregnancies, women who became mothers after infertility, women who gave birth at home, at a birth center, in a hospital, who had medication in labor, had a non-medicated birth, had a Caesarean birth, women of all races, religions, socioeconomic levels, occupations… in a word: anyone.

Truth #3. It’s not your fault.

After a friend of mine had her first baby, she developed a serious kidney infection. For two weeks, she was barely able to hold her baby, let alone take on any other newborn care duties. When talking about this situation, she doesn’t blame herself. It’s something unfortunate that occurred, and of course something she never would have chosen – but the placing of blame doesn’t enter the picture. An unforeseen kidney infection has nothing to do with her capacity for motherhood.

PPD is no different. This is something I have to continually remind myself of when I think back on the early weeks and months with my son. PPD is not a character flaw or a lifestyle choice. You could not have prevented it, and you cannot snap out of it. PPD is an illness.

Truth #4. You are a good mom.

If there is one thing women with PPD need to hear over and over again, this is it. PPD puts insidious thoughts into your head that play on a loop, over and over and over again. Yael Saar at PPD to Joy calls these thoughts “PPDemons.” In the early stages of treatment, it is an exhausting full-time job to battle the thoughts that insist you’re a bad mom, that you’ve made a mistake, that you’re not cut out for motherhood. But those thoughts are symptoms of the disease. They are not reality. Your baby needs a healthy mother, and you will fight this daunting fight because you are that good of a mom.

Amber with Fitz in the laundry basketTruth #5. You love your baby.

One of my most vivid memories of the early postpartum period is of staring at my son as he lay sleeping beside me, and thinking, “I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life.” When I attended a local PPD support group for the first time, a woman talked about feeling like she wanted to leave her baby on the front porch for a stranger to take away. Danielle Elwood of Momotics writes about saying “I hate you” to her newborn baby.

One thing that the three of us have in common is that we love our babies more than we can express. As Yael Saar writes at PPD to Joy, “just because you can’t feel your love for your child right now, doesn’t mean that you don’t love your child already. All it means is that you have no access to that love.” As you get better, you will begin to have greater access to the love that’s already there.

Truth #6. You need help.

For many of us, asking for help is a very difficult thing, especially in a society that promotes the illusion that we should be able to handle motherhood completely on our own. The reality is, all new mothers need help. And the reality for women with PPD is that for the vast majority of sufferers, the disease will not go away on its own. Just as you would not be expected to “tough out” cancer or a broken leg, help is a requirement for recovering from PPD. What that help looks like will depend on your specific situation, but some examples include: a therapist specializing in perinatal mood disorders; a psychiatrist; an inpatient or outpatient treatment program; your midwife or OB/GYN; a local peer support group; an online support group; online resources such as blogs and social media; help from friends or relatives in caring for the baby and giving you much-needed breaks; a night nanny; a postpartum doula; antidepressant medication; and complementary care such as chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture.

Truth #7. Treatment options are available for many different situations.

Just as there isn’t one standard experience of PPD, there also isn’t one prepackaged treatment plan that will work for all women. Try not to be daunted by the things that might seem to make your situation “unique” – there is a treatment plan that will work for you, it’s just a matter of finding it. For example, some women believe that they cannot take antidepressant medication if they are breastfeeding, but this is not true; many medications are compatible with breastfeeding. You and your support team will work together to come up with a plan that is right for your symptoms, schedule, infant feeding situation, sleep arrangements, and more.

Truth #8. With treatment, you will get better.

During my first visit with my therapist at three weeks postpartum, I was a mess of nerves, tears, and pain. I couldn’t stop sobbing and was convinced I would never be able to climb out of the dark pit in which I’d found myself. But my therapist was calm. She assured me that I would get better. She didn’t say I might get better, or use modifiers like “probably” or “possibly.” She made a definitive statement. She used the phrase “100% curable.” Unlike me, she did not see my recovery as a question of if, only of when (and put no pressure on me for a specific time frame, either). I didn’t believe her.

If you find yourself in the grip of PPD or another perinatal mood disorder, it will be hard to believe the voices assuring you that you will recover. But keep listening to them. One day you will look around yourself and realize they were right.

More resources for help:

Many thanks to members of the Atlanta Momma Group on Facebook for contributing ideas for this post and the previous one.

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  • Great article, Amber! I was one who had NO risk factors, none. Seriously. Not a single one. It took me totally by surprise. I was able to manage it without medication, with natural supplements and some changes to lifestyle (MOSTLY to how we were handling sleeping arrangements). Sometimes, that’s an option for women who are nervous about the medications, as I was. But there definitely ARE meds that are safe while breastfeeding. The most important thing is to reach out.

  • So love reading your posts, Amber. Glad to know you and especially glad to have your writing to share!

  • This is a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing this information.

  • Lindsey

    I appreciated this article. Im experiencing ppd and ppocd, it’s terrible and feels like its getting worse, words of hope help so thank you for your article! How did you feel after your first psych. Appt? I’m so scared I’m never gonna get better an be able to enjoy my beautiful baby boy! :-(…Laura- I was wondering what natural supplements you used, I’m nervous about meds. Thanks again for this blog!

  • Hi Lindsey,

    I am sorry to hear that you are suffering. I have been where you are, and I can assure you that you WILL feel better. It will take time and work, but what you are feeling now is not forever. How did I feel after my first appointment? Honestly… I felt doubtful. I doubted that I would get better. I doubted my therapist’s confidence. I thought I must be a “special case” that would never recover. But I kept going each week, learning new techniques for my toolbox, and gradually the fog lifted.

    You mentioned being nervous about medication. Many people express this worry, but when you are deeply suffering, it is important to be able to hit a “reset button” on the brain. The only thing that is proven to do this is the combination of therapy and medication. As you begin to get well and you have a toolbox full of cognitive behavioral coping strategies, you can begin to “layer on” complementary treatments such as supplements. They tend to work well at preventing depression but do not work well at hitting that reset switch.

    I hope you will continue to work with your support team to find treatment that works for you, and reach out to some of the resources I posted above. We would love to see you at the next Atlanta Postparum Support meetup, for example.
    Be well,
    Amber