Please indulge me with this personal post, so I can tell you why this book is so important to me.
Those of you familiar with my work, know that my support of women with perinatal depression & anxiety began a long time ago. The Postpartum Stress Center started in 1988. This is when I knocked on doors of uninformed doctors with the hope of enlightening them – long before anyone really talked much about PMADs and the strong emotions/thoughts new moms experience. In the meantime, I was learning about maternal mental health from my clients, and I drew upon their experiences to write and teach others. While some are helpful to partners and support people, my books are primarily geared to women in distress and the therapists who work to help them navigate this distress.
This NEW BOOK is the first book I have worked on that is suitable and necessary for EVERY MOM – diagnosed or not, in therapy or not. I have witnessed the shift of social and medical attention to women’s moods. I am thrilled that women are expressing themselves and medical providers are beginning to listen. We have come very far. But as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. WOMEN ARE STILL RELUCTANT TO TALK ABOUT HOW THEY ARE FEELING. We all know why. There is a great deal at stake.
This is why this book is so important. It is a small sweet book that expresses the inexpressible. It calms a mom’s greatest fears and embraces her anxiety. It reduces her shame. It offers expert guidance. It provides tools for self-help relief. It will help her feel less isolated and better understood. It will curb her spiral into the darkness of her own fears. It will inspire her to ask for help, if she needs it. It will help her feel grounded and reduce her distress. That is why this book is for every.single.mom. That is why our Instagram account will spend the next couple of weeks highlighting the book so we can make sure EVERY MOM feels understood.
Bravo. Your articles about postpartum depression are a comprehensive, accurate account of the various ways that perinatal illnesses can present. Postpartum depression often manifests with acute and high levels of anxiety. Anxiety can take many forms, and for the majority of postpartum women, it appears as negative, intrusive, scary thoughts. The article cites Jeanne Marie Johnson, who “imagined suffocating her [baby] while breast-feeding, throwing her in front of a bus, or ‘slamming her against a wall.’ ” You report that most women who have such thoughts do not hurt their babies. This is true.
This phenomenon is extremely common. One researcher found that a whopping 91 percent of all new mothers (not restricted to women with depression) experience these unwanted thoughts. Furthermore, 88 percent of new fathers experience similarly negative thoughts. And when we talk about scary thoughts, we are sometimes talking about horrific, gruesome, shocking thoughts.
These are not easy to shake off, and women fear that the worse the thoughts are, the sicker they must be. This part is not true. When women feel safe enough to disclose these thoughts and don’t feel judged, they often experience immediate relief, even if the thoughts persist.
Rosemont, Pa., June 17, 2014
The writer is director of The Postpartum Stress Center and the author of “Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts.”
“Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able.” -Charlotte Perkins Gilman 1892
NOBODY WOULD BELIEVE…
Maybe it’s because nobody’s listening
Or maybe it’s because women are not telling us how bad they feel
Or maybe it’s because nobody’s asking the right questions
Or maybe it’s because women are so good at pretending that everything’s okay
Or maybe it’s because we are bound by social constraints that make it hard to admit that being a mother doesn’t always feel so good.
Maybe it’s because women afraid to tell someone how they really feel for fear that they’ll be misunderstood
WHAT AN EFFORT IT IS…
It’s hard to pretend that everything’s okay when you feel so bad.
It’s hard to get through the day when you believe that your children would be better off without you.
It’s hard to go through the motions when you’d rather be sleeping or crying or withdrawing, or running away.
It’s hard to cope with the daily task of living when every breath hurts, when the day feels impossibly long, and when being alone with your baby feels paralyzing and life threatening
It’s hard to make sense out of feeling so bad, so scared, so alone, so misunderstood, so guilty, so angry, and so confused.
WHAT LITTLE I AM ABLE…
Symptoms get in the way. Suddenly, little things become big things and big things become insurmountable. When you factor in the depression, the deep sadness, the weakening of spirit, the exhaustion – there’s nothing left to access in order to simply get through the day…
“Nobody would believe the effort it is to do what little I am able.”
I was one of the lucky ones who determined very early on, without much guilt, that I would be a much better mother to my children if I returned to work, part-time at first.
The part-time option sounded good. I could be home early to spend more time with my baby, and it felt right, because i was to tired to work a full day, anyway. It was relatively easy for me – I’m not particularly proud to say – to be selfish during those early postpartum months and put my needs right up there next to those of my baby. I have a slight rebellious streak that dates as far back as i can remember. I remember the exultation I felt walking into the high school gymnasium with my boyfriend, clad in jeans, to the formal prom. I remember the work boots I wore with colored socks accompanied by a way-too-short mini skirt, long before it was a fashion statment, simply because I hoped I could get away with it.
Similarly, as I entered the world of motherhood, I recoiled from what was expected of me, whether that pressure came from my family or society as a whole, and soon discovered the comfort in doing things that felt right for me, even if it meant ruffling some feathers. That didn’t mean I wasn’t tempted to surrender when I found myself sucked into the pressure cooker of “opportunities” for young mothers and their babies…
Longing for daytime companionship, I took my 4-month-old baby to a local baby gym class. Hopefully, I won’t offend any readers by saying I am almost positive he did not care whether he was in this brightly decorated room filled with expensive baby-friendly equipment or snug in our living room surrounded by unvacuumed dog hair and a Sesame Street video that had looped in repetition for the fifth time. I sat for a while in the circle of neurotic competitiveness, listening to mothers chatter on about whose baby was doing what and how many activities they had squeezed into their sleep-deprived schedules. Why was I there, I ask myself. Who, exactly expected this of me? That was the first and last class to which I would drag myself.
It was then that I decided that if I were to maintain my sanity, I would pledge to:
Not go to baby classes programmed to make my baby smarter, faster, more agile, or speak foreign languages.
Not compare myself to others.
Not compare my baby to other babies.
Do what I needed to do for ME and bring my baby along in the process.
Do the best I could.
Not be hard on myself if I failed to live up to unrealistic expectations.
Ask for help when I needed it.
Trust my instincts.
This is what I try to help other mothers do, today. ♥
Before I became a specialist treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), I was a postpartum therapy client. 6 weeks after our oldest child was born, my husband and I decided to check in with a wonderful and experienced therapist whom we knew both liked. At the start of the session my husband looked lovingly at our daughter and talked about overwhelming adoration and paternal bliss. I sat with my shoulders hunched as our daughter nursed, bracing myself against the intense pain I felt in my breasts. I described constant nursing without a break, constant severe pain throughout each nursing session, and insisted that I would be nursing for a year no matter how much it hurt. I said I was stressed, sad, and hopeless. With a caring and warm expression our therapist quietly and gently offered “sounds like it’s time for some formula” and shared stories about formula feeding her own children. When we left, my husband suggested we talk with our pediatrician about trying some formula, energized, encouraged, and empowered by our therapist’s suggestion. He was comforted by the experience of another mother and was relieved to have a solution for my apparent problem. I, on the other hand, was gutted. We never visited that therapist again.
I was gutted because deep inside I knew that nipple pain wasn’t my problem. That I was postpartum was my problem. I felt isolated, profoundly exhausted, confused about why having a baby seemed so easy for everyone else. I felt like there were right and wrong ways to do things, and I really didn’t know if I was getting more things right than wrong. I focused so much on breastfeeding, that I decided my nursing relationship must be the barometer for my success as a mother, a woman, a human being. Imperfection did not seem like an option. I was failing. I couldn’t believe I could be feeling such emotional pain at this time in my life. I couldn’t believe the therapist said what she said.
Almost 8 years later I am a therapist specializing in PMADs. Here are a few things I’ve learned from sitting on both sides of the couch:
A lesson for you and a lesson for me: good therapists say the wrong thing and can still be good therapists. Speak up if you are triggered or if your feelings are hurt. Your therapist will learn from you and that will benefit you and others. Be braver than I was and use your voice.
If you are a few days or a couple weeks postpartum and you feel a little sad, weepy, or teary, you might have the baby blues. Baby blues lasts for a few hours or maybe a few days and feels better with self care- rest, eat well, enjoy Netflix, and surround yourself with good company. If you are more than a few weeks postpartum and you are still feeling “blue” you may need a little more help overcoming your symptoms. At this point, see suggestion number 3.
Remain hopeful and do not give up. There are an incredible number of resources for pregnant and postpartum women around the world. Specialists, groups, and online communities are eager to help you. Don’t stop asking for help until you find it. Your person is out there.
MOST important, there is no such thing as not sick enough for support. All mothers, happy, sad, anxious, blissful, depressed, all mothers, are entitled to support. Becoming a mother is a monumental change and no matter how you spin it, it’s hard. No matter how well or how bad you feel, reach out if you want to talk or grow your support network.
Bonus tip: I learned that if you show everyone who will look your bleeding and cracked nipples eventually a pediatric nurse might recommend antifungal medication and all purpose nipple ointment…. Which just might miraculously clear up that nasty 6 week old case of unusually presenting thrush that was causing So. Much. Pain.
For couples who believe in their relationship, aspire to keep it strong, and wonder how awesome it will be to read this together in 20 years… Each of you should fill it out separately and share as a gift for a special occassion that is meaningful to you. Then, put somewhere for safe keeping.
The first time I knew I loved you was__________________________________________________
One of my favorite things to do with you is _____________________________________________
One thing I don’t tell you enough is ___________________________________________________
Sometimes, when I find myself needing you the most, I ___________________________________
One of the things I need most from you is ______________________________________________
After twenty years together, I’ve learned that you ________________________________________
When I’m sad or scared, I ___________________________________________________________
I love it most when you _____________________________________________________________
What makes me laugh the hardest when we’re together is __________________________________
If I were to be completely honest, sometimes I wish _______________________________________
Loving you has always felt easy, but one of the hard parts is _________________________________
One of the things I like best about you is ________________________________________________
One of the things I think we should do more often is _______________________________________
When we’re together, I wonder if you know ______________________________________________
My life with you is __________________________________________________________________
I love to hear other people tell me that you ______________________________________________
Since we’ve been together, I’ve gotten better at __________________________________________
I love the way you _________________________________________________________________
I need you most when I _____________________________________________________________
One of my favorite memories of us is___________________________________________________
One of the dreams I dreamt that has come true is_________________________________________
One of the dreams I dream that I hope will still come true is_________________________________
I wonder if you really know how much __________________________________________________
Twenty years from now, I hope ________________________________________________________
I am so proud of how we_____________________________________________________________
“I know what I’m ‘supposed to do’ to feel better. Everyone keeps telling me the same thing. I should exercise. I should sleep more. I should eat well. I should take the medicine. I know, I know, I KNOW. But something inside my head keeps telling me to push through this. I can get better. I don’t want to take the medicine while I’m breastfeeding. I can’t possibly keep feeling this bad, so I’ll just wait. But then I start feeling desperate, like I’ll never feel better again….This isn’t working. Nothing I’m doing is helping. It doesn’t matter if I exercise or not, everything is dark and heavy around me. Inside and out. Nothing looks the same. I wish someone would just tell me what to do. Or do it for me. My head keeps spinning with all the reasons I shouldn’t take the medicine. I know I’m getting in my own way, like my therapist keeps telling me. I know that. But I can’t help it.”
Women with postpartum depression know only too well how the symptoms of depression interfere with help-seeking and solution-oriented behaviors. Therapists, doctors, partners, friends and family members can tell them over and over and over again, how they should be taking care of themselves, but many women find themselves swirling around the vortex of distorted thoughts and misperceptions. Anxiety driven ambivalence becomes a fierce enemy, what if…? Why can’t I just…? How do I…? Maybe I could just…
Postpartum depression and anxiety do not discriminate. Symptoms impede the functioning of devoted stay-at-home moms and Harvard-educated attorneys. Intrusive thoughts can puncture the most perfect plan. When this occurs, rational thought seems to evaporate. Any previous accomplishment or personal triumph takes a back seat to the all-consuming and interminable anxiety. Soon, that is all that is felt. Women describe this by proclaiming “this isn’t me” or “I just don’t feel like myself” or “I’m usually so easy-going, I don’t know who I am now.”
As thoughts and feelings alternate between despair and rapid-fire obsessiveness, women with PPD begin to lose focus, along with the ability to successfully advocate for themselves.
If your baby were sick right now, would you know what to do to get him help? The answer is usually yes.
If your husband needed to get to the emergency room right now, while you’re feeling this bad, would you know what to do? The answer is usually yes.
But women have difficulty fighting for themselves when they are entrenched in this battle of their lives. Their energy, motivation, inspiration and zest for life has been eclipsed by the cruel paralysis imposed upon them. They also have difficulty responding appropriately to the loving guidance from those around them. They simply cannot see through the shame, the guilt, the incredible disbelief that they feel so ineffective in their own life. And so they sit, rocking back and forth between their opposing thoughts.
If symptoms are bad enough, if hopelessness sets in, functioning is severely impaired, and clarity has vanished – others must make some decisions for her. When it reaches the point when her wellbeing is at stake, we become less concerned about hurting her feelings or saying things to protect her. At this point of personal crisis, we no longer defer to her sadness or her longing to do this “her way.” If doing it her way means postponing treatment or prolonging suffering, it is not okay. This is when it becomes necessary to intervene on her behalf, tell her exactly what she needs to do next and how we will help her do that.
This commanding posture is not always a comfortable one for therapists who are working hard to empower their clients. But remember: Our objective is to lead her to symptom relief, before any other work can be done. One of the ways we do this is by demonstrating a sense of expertise, confidence and composure. After all, it is our composure, our self-control, our trust in the process, that will convey our expectations of a positive outcome. And that, indeed, is empowering for her.
And so, we say:
1. You will not always feel this way.
2. You must take care of yourself and you need to follow through, whether you feel like it or not.
3. If medication is part of your treatment plan, you need to take the medication – whether you are breastfeeding or not. Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor and then decide whether you will continue breastfeeding or whether you will wean. Either way, take your medicine if it has been prescribed for you.
4. Do not let the noise in your head sway you from doing what you need to do. It may feel like you have no energy but you do. It may feel as if you have no power left, but you do. It may feel like no one knows how bad you feel, but some do.
5. Pick a person you trust and listen to them. Do not question the veracity of their words. Let yourself believe that this person can help guide you through the darkness and then, stop fighting against them.
6. You need to keep moving forward through this, even if you don’t feel like it. Get up when you don’t feel like getting out of bed. Go outside even if the sunshine is too bright for your weary eyes. Eat even though you may not be hungry. Rest even when you are not tired. Try to turn off the chatter in your brain. Distract yourself. Count backwards from 300. Take a walk. Call a friend. Avoid caffeine. Avoid alcohol. Avoid people and things that make you feel bad. Come to therapy. Talk to your partner.
7. Your depression is not your friend. It is an illness that confuses you and distorts your thinking. Do not forget this. Challenge the illness, not those who are there to help you. Take your pills, no matter how you feel about having to take them. Remember that your fight is against the illness, not against yourself or those who support you.
It has been reported that maternal suicide is the leading cause of death during pregnancy and the first year after birth. This is why the current shift in attention toward greater awareness to maternal mental health is urgently necessary and long overdue. We are just scratching the surface, and have far to go, but this momentum toward improved care and education can only be seen as positive energy in the right direction.
It has taken a long time and too many women have died.
Many of us in the field would agree that awareness is increasing and medical organizations are responding with attention to improved screening protocols, services, and resources. The advocacy movement has been wildly successful at shedding light in the dark corners of widespread misunderstanding across multiple disciplines. More research and powerful legislative initiatives are emerging. Universities and medical settings are beginning to identify and actualize the relevance of perinatal research and recommendations. Clinical trainings are expanding. Families are becoming informed and collectively speaking out of their own behalf with robust determination and strong social media support.
This is all good.
One of the problems with identifying and treating perinatal women in distress is that symptoms are hard to discern. This is true for the women, men, and families who suffer. And this is true for the healthcare providers who treat them. Symptoms overlap with normal, expected perinatal changes and do not always fit into discreet or identifiable categories. Unlike other medical conditions that might present themselves in a measurable fashion, perinatal distress is often subjective.
There are an infinite number of barriers that prevent her from asking for help in the first place and even if she DOES find the courage to ask for help, the outcome of that effort depends on many hard-to-define variables. Clearly, the outcome that follows a mother’s cry for help doesn’t always simply depend on the circumstances or obstacles. An accurate assessment can, indeed, be achieved despite the challenges listed here. Still, these examples, to name just a few, show what is likely to contribute to the overwhelming lack of clarity:
It “depends” on her willingness and readiness to express how she is feeling.
It “depends” on how bad she feels. Or how sick she is.
It “depends” on how much her symptoms are interfering. Or how worried she is.
It “depends” on how much, or what, she actually chooses to reveal to her family or healthcare provider.
It “depends” on her current belief whether she is in a safe place where she can be transparent about how she feels.
It “depends” on the culture of the society in which she lives and how her disclosure might be perceived or misunderstood.
It “depends” on whether or not the provider asks the “right” questions.
It “depends” on how well trained the healthcare provider is to recognize and respond appropriately to the nuances of the perinatal period, which can masquerade as a million things and never quite reach the surface of precise diagnostic distinction.
And just to complicate things further, it “depends” on her personal history, her family history, her mood/symptoms at the moment, her relationship and support system, her biological and genetic influences, her personality and belief system, her history of trauma, current environmental stressors, her relationship with the provider, her level of distress, her symptoms, and so forth.
And it “depends” on the ability of the treating professional to tease out what this woman is saying, from what she might be feeling, from what she may be hiding.
Even the very best, well-training, attentive healthcare provider who is leaning into the needs of his or her patient can be stymied by the very nature of perinatal symptoms which can easily be mistaken for “normal” perinatal mood and anxiety experiences.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. If symptoms of a serious depression or anxiety disorder are missed by a healthcare provider, even with screening, even with a good assessment, even with a mother who wants and asks for help, there is reason to believe that her suffering will persist and the risk is increased that she will feel worse, before she feels better. The risks of untreated perinatal mental health issues—to the family, to her children, and to her own well-being—are well-known, and beyond the scope of this article.
Suffice it to say, that the amazing advances in legislation, public awareness, expert training and improved interventions will make little difference if we continue to miss what she is saying when she reaches out for help. Or if we continue to overreact, or underreact, or don’t know how to react to the acute, sometimes, terrifying, presentation of severe perinatal distress.
Should primary care providers, obstetricians, or pediatricians be asked to make a psychiatric diagnostic determination during their 10-to-15 minute visit? Of course not.
But every single physician and provider who comes face to face with a pregnant or postpartum woman can and should provide every single pregnant and postpartum woman resources. They should talk about postpartum depression and anxiety. They should say those words. They should talk to their patient, the way they talk about high blood pressure, or good nutrition, or what to do and what not to do during pregnancy and the postpartum period—they should encourage her to take care of herself with an action plan, if she does not like the way she is feeling. They should tell her that symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety are common. They should tell her that while we expect some level of adjustment distress, she should not have to suffer or wonder what is wrong. Because symptoms of depression and anxiety quickly morph into a distorted core belief that “something is terribly wrong with ME” and then, it is no longer just about symptoms, it’s about who she is. This irrational belief that she is impaired, or flawed, or somehow unfit to be her baby’s mother, is part of what drives the shame and potential for suicidal thoughts.
To repeat: Every healthcare provider who treats or comes in contact with a perinatal woman should hand her a list of reputable, reliable, and accessible local maternal mental health professionals. (If that list is not available, make one. If there are no available resources in your area, try here or here or here.)The provider should inform her that she should contact someone if she does not like the way she is feeling and share this list with her partner. Every single woman should receive this. Period.
Perinatal women continue to die. The need for medical vigilance and careful monitoring is mandatory. Not just during the early postpartum weeks. Perinatal women are at an increased risk for suicide for months into the first postpartum year. Some of them are more likely to visit their primary care provider for mental health reasons. If you are a healthcare provider and you have not asked your perinatal patient if she is having thoughts of harming herself, you have absolutely no idea if she is having suicial thoughts or not. Even if you do ask, she might not tell you.
Give her printed resources that she can take home with her.
So she can hold tight to that information.
So she can know you care.
So she knows she has options.
So she can increase the likelihood that she will get the help she needs.
copyright 2018 Karen Kleiman, MSW
The Postpartum Stress Center postpartumstress.com
5.Sample of selected research by top PPD researchers
*Disclaimer: Many of the articles listed below with Obsessive-Compulsive in the title also mention or review the nature of intrusive thoughts that are subclinical and not related to an OCD diagnosis. Red notations are ours to highlight relevance for specific providers. Some are available online as pdfs. If you are unable to find them, you can try finding access to an academic database through your local university library.
Risk of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Pregnant and Postpartum Women: A meta-analysis. Russell, E.J. Fawcell, J.M. Mazmanian, D.
(2013) Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 74(4): 377-385.
In light of the recent focus on the inexcusable ways some healthcare providers respond to acute distress in postpartum mothers, let us do some teaching here.
Please share and inform your local resources.
**NOTE TO ALL HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS**
Some postpartum women are afraid to tell you how they really feel. They are worried that you are misinformed and may overreact. They are worried you will call the cops. They are worried you will contact Child Protective Services. They are worried you will think they are unfit to be a mother. They are terrified they are going crazy. They are worried you will not know what to do to help them feel better. And still, they come to you for help.
If a postpartum woman finds the courage to speak her symptoms and put words to her pain, please be informed. Read about postpartum anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Learn about obsessional thinking. Do your research on postpartum depression so you will not be alarmed by the high rate of fierce obsessions that accompany it.
If, for any reason, you do not feel you are in a position to offer your patient the appropriate care, it is imperative that you find the words, the gestures, and the compassion to guide her to a safe resource where she will be heard and treated with responsible attention to her vulnerable state. Unless you truly understand the extent to which she is suffering, you have no idea how hard it is for her to tell you how she is feeling and thinking. She is entitled to your best professional/clinical practice.
In light of the recent focus on the inexcusable ways some healthcare providers respond to acute distress in postpartum mothers, let us do some teaching here.
Pay attention, please. There is a great deal at stake.
This post was written anonymously by a mom in response to our #speakthesecret campaign. We thought her words would resonate with many of you:
“I want to share my personal story of dealing with postpartum depression. The reason I’m doing this now is because in the last 3 months, 2 mothers from my home town have killed themselves from postpartum depression and I strongly feel that the best way to help each other is to talk about this. We rarely talk about it when going through it and almost never talk about it once it’s over.
I found out I was pregnant on Dec. 31. My husband and I didn’t particularly want children so it was obviously unplanned. But we were both 29 and had good jobs so I said I guess we’re doing this. I tried to talk myself into being excited but I couldn’t. My mom about fell down the stairs when I called her and told her, but I just couldn’t get there. I had 3 baby showers and each one left me feeling worse. I would think ‘What am I supposed to do with all this plastic crap? I don’t have room for it.’ And ‘what do you mean I have to wash these new clothes in special detergent? They’re new. Aren’t they by definition clean?’. And then the guilt set in. Why couldn’t I be grateful? I just couldn’t. My whole pregnancy went like this and it was just one “annoyance” after another. I went into labor early and delivered at 37 weeks which was fine with me. I had a C-section because he was showing distress and ended up going to the NICU. All of which was still totally fine with me. “At least I don’t have a huge vaginal tear and at least I can sleep while the nurses in the NICU take care of him”. Who thinks like that?!?! Me. Someone experiencing a perinatal mood disorder that’s who.
I had a brief reprieve for about 2 weeks following delivery and then reality hit. I wasn’t crying all the time or feeling like I wanted to drive us into a lake or anything but I was nowhere near happy either. I couldn’t figure out how to do things like go to Target and Home Depot in the same day. Daily tasks, that I used to not think twice about, completely overwhelmed me. I couldn’t make a plan or a decision to save my life and I had previously been very much a type A/planner/decision maker. Could NOT get my shit together which then upset me even more and led to more irrational thoughts. I would tell myself it was ALWAYS going to be this hard and I would NEVER get back to normal. I became more and more resentful of everything he needed and then felt more and more guilty for feeling resentful. As time went on, my resentment turned to feelings of incompetence. I’d try to talk myself out of feeling resentful just to then be convinced I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. It was an out of control spiral that lasted over a year. I never sought treatment and I really don’t know why other than I never identified it as postpartum depression. It started during my pregnancy so how could it be that? I am a nurse and didn’t even know depression DURING pregnancy was a thing! It is most certainly a thing. My husband knew it but didn’t call me out. To this day I don’t know why.
Fast forward 3 years to my 2nd pregnancy. This time it was planned and I didn’t have prenatal depression the 2nd time around. But the postpartum depression hit hard. Same debilitating anxiety like symptoms although I will say I was also sad with this one. Constant feelings of failure and sadness. What little of myself was left felt completely gone. When my 2nd son was 2 months old I left him in his crib during a crying fit and called my mom to come over because I had to get out. I was still on maternity leave and my older son was at daycare so I put him in his crib and left my house. Before she got there. Now granted, she lived 2 miles away and I had talked to her and knew she was able to come over. But still, people, I freaking left him before she got there!!!! Not ok. My husband was PISSED. Didn’t trust me after that and was basically like “listen crazy lady, get your ass to the doctor and get some help because I’m not doing this for a year again”. So I did and it got better.
Take home points:
1) Experiencing a perinatal mood disorder (i.e. Postpartum depression) does NOT make you a bad mom.
2) Getting professional help for a perinatal mood disorder does NOT make you weak.
3) The screening process for perinatal mood disorders is half-assed at best. Don’t wait for your doctor to just “pick up” on it.
4) But…. your family and friends may very well pick up on it. If THEY think there’s a problem, there is.
5) You don’t have to suffer, treatment is very successful.
*The number one cause of death during the postpartum period is suicide.*
Let that sink in.
Think about all the testing and monitoring that happens for complications during pregnancy. Now think about how the follow up for the issue with the highest mortality rate during the postpartum period is almost nonexistent.
Although most people aren’t suicidal, please know you don’t have to feel like this and it’s not your fault. Please know you are not alone, or even in the minority, and there is very successful treatment.”
I ask everyone who has experienced a perinatal mood disorder, or a family member who loves someone who experienced it to comment with your story and share the post. We must talk about it because it’s the guilt and shame that keeps women from getting help. In order to save the lives of these Mommas we must destigmatize this and let them know they are not alone.
Pic credit: The PPSC magic bracelet. You know who you are. Wear it. Believe in it.
The Holiday crunch is here. Shopping. Eating. Rushing. Spending. Talking. Family. Friends. Gathering. Too much? Not enough? Too crowded? Too lonely?
Excited about it?
Anxious about it?
Overwhelmed by it?
Ambivalent about it?
If you have a history of depression or are currently depressed, the weeks and days before and during the holidays can descend with crushing anxiety.
It is easy to feel out of control when there are so many events and obligations tugging at you at once. NOW is the time to plan for it. With a little preparation and armed with a script to rely on, you can reduce your anxiety and feel better about experiencing the weeks ahead.
These reminders will help you manage the overwhelm and navigate the days ahead.
Do NOT forget to:
Remind yourselfyou are doing the best you can. (And that’s way good enough right now)
Do NOT drink too much. (Limit alcohol & caffeine)
Modify your expectations. (Keep things simple)
Try tostay in the present moment. (worry = future, ruminating = past)
Incorporate one ME moment each day toreplenish your spirit. (Really do this)
Set boundaries. (This is not being selfish)
Avoid conflict. (Or postpone. This is not the time)
Allow griefor loss to find a soft place to rest. (It’s okay to be sad)
Accept imperfection. (Yours, others)
Ride the waves. (Up & down & up again; keep going)
Sleep more. (Every chance you get)
Say THANK YOU. Say I LOVE YOU. Say I’M SORRY. (With a full heart)
Connect with your partner (Touch, smile, eye contact)
“Maternal mental illness is a significant complication of pregnancy and the postpartum period. Depression and anxiety are common manifestations, with prevalence rates up to almost 20% during pregnancy and the first 3 months postpartum. As research and public awareness gains momentum, more attention is being placed on medical protocols, interventions and better access to treatment.
For many years now, Karen Kleiman has changed the face of maternal mental health for both clinicians and families. As a speaker reaching many through outlets such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and as an author, through her many books for families and clinicians, Karen is a pioneer in this field providing the mainstream community with an understanding of this devastating illness, validating the women who suffered and helping clinicians gain insight into the experience postpartum depression.
Karen and I first spoke several years ago when I called her out of the blue to brainstorm solutions. I, as an advocate in maternal metal health policy and systems change was combing the landscape to learn why women weren’t being screened, diagnosed and treated routinely by their physicians. I knew that Karen had developed one of the only training programs for clinicians in the U.S. at the time.
After speaking, Karen and I knew that more providers needed to be expertly trained so we could reach more women, augment recovery and improve outcomes. Since then my organization, 2020 Mom along with Postpartum Support International has launched web-based training to easily reach clinicians all over the U.S. and meet a growing demand to learn about this field. Though we have a long way to go, training is now available to more people than ever and Karen’s intensive postgraduate training program at The Postpartum Stress Center continues to produce expert clinicians and is recognized as a best-in-class training.
Recently the United States Preventive Services Task Force, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Council on Patient Safety in Women’s Health Care, joined in this mission and have highlighted the importance of screening and proper treatment of maternal depression. It is now more important than ever that we train providers.
Therapists in this highly specialized field often turn to Karen’s books for guidance when working with the perinatal population. The Art of Holding: An Essential Intervention introduces a novel strategy for treating women with postpartum depression and anxiety. At a time when we are finally paying attention to this widespread crisis in maternal mental health, this book provides a hands-on resource for therapists who are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of women seeking their help.
Clinicians, we need you now more than ever; moms and families are counting on you. Karen Kleiman, thank you for your extraordinary contributions to the field – without your work we would be several steps behind.”
Joy Burkhard, MBA
Founder and Director
Chair, The National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health