New moms shouldn’t have to explain, justify, defend or substantiate the reasons they do things or the way they are feeling.
But we live in a culture that demands that they do so, usually indirectly, but sometimes, blatantly. Do this. Don’t do that. Feed this way, not that way. Go here, not there. Wear this, not that. It’s mind-boggling, even for the most stable and well adjusted mommy-brain. Mothers are constantly put in an untenable position where they must stand their ground and assert with clarity and conviction, what they are doing and why.
And then we wonder why they hesitate to tell us how they are feeling when they are besieged by symptoms of depression and anxiety. We wonder why they retreat deeper into isolation, fearing the public flogging if they dare disclose the truth of what they are thinking and experiencing. Regrettably, the reality is, they ARE judged. They are indeed judged by their family, their doctors and their peers. They are told how they should feed their baby, how they should feel, what they should to do feel better and what will happen if they don’t. The judgment doesn’t always come in the form of condemnation. Sometimes it is shrouded in words of love or support so it’s hard to know what is what. That can make a postpartum brain spin relentlessly.
Therefore, postpartum women shut down. They suffer in silence and try desperately to simply get through the day with no one noticing how bad they feel or how much difficulty they are having.
Still, the message from the PPD community is to challenge this inertia and push forward despite the very real obstacles. Your suffering matters. You need to talk about your postpartum depression. It is real. It is treatable.
For women with prenatal or postpartum depression and anxiety, the list of help-seeking barriers is extensive:
- Fear that someone will judge you. Stigma and shame are pervasive.
- Fear that someone will label you a bad mother or worse, take your baby away.
- Inability to distinguish symptoms of depression and anxiety from normal changes during pregnancy or motherhood.
- Worry that your partner or family will deem you incapable of caring for your baby.
- You may be denying that you are experiencing symptoms of depression.
- You don’t think a healthcare provider wants to know or can help, or may not trust them to understand and respond appropriately.
- You don’t see mental health issues as part of your provider’s job description.
- You may not understand postpartum depression and anxiety so you might assume that what you are feeling is a normal part of motherhood.
- You may feel pressure to pick yourself up and just cope.
- Deep depressive symptoms, such as feelings of despair, fatigue and apathy may have set in making self-advocacy difficult.
- You may simply feel too tired to make the phone call or drive to the appointment.
- You may hope it will all go away on its own.
- You may feel that disclosing how you really feel would be a burden to others.
- You may find it difficult to focus or concentrate on the things you need to do.
But this is why you should tell someone how you are feeling:
- You will feel better, sooner.
- You will be modeling good self-care behavior for your children.
- You will be advocating for yourself and your health.
- Untreated depression can lead to a longer course of illness and increase the possibility of recurrent episodes.
- Earlier initiation of treatment is associated with a better prognosis.
- Untreated depression during pregnancy has been linked to other adverse outcomes.
- Women with untreated prenatal depression are also at increased risk for postpartum depression.
- Untreated depression can be harmful to both you and your baby. Perinatal women with depression ten to eat poorly and have trouble sleeping.
- Your moods and your symptoms will have a direct impact on your ability to take care of yourself and your baby.
- If you are having thoughts that are scaring you about harm coming to your baby, you will likely feel better if you find a safe person to tell this to.
- If your symptoms’ persist, they have a tendency to reinforce themselves and can lead to an increase in worsening symptoms.
- Untreated depression as been associated with dissatisfaction in relationships.
- Your symptoms may directly affect your physical health and make you more susceptible to illness.
- It is not unusual for women to knowingly or unknowingly self-medicate their distress with alcohol and/or drugs.
- Untreated, severe postpartum depression can interfere with the mother-child relationship.
Talk about your postpartum depression and anxiety. Remember that YOU are your best advocate. Take care of yourself. Do what you need to do to get the help you deserve. You will feel better again.
Image credit: 123rf.Viktoria Lukonina