Post-Partum Depression: The push gift you didn't ask for
Soooo you did the do and you're pregnant. Maybe you are overjoyed or maybe you are terrified. Regardless of whether or not it was planned or welcomed, a new little one is definitely on the way (especially with the outpour of anti-abortion laws popping up here in the south...angry face emoji). So, fast-forward 9-10 months and you have had quite some time to process and accept the little one's arrival. There has maybe been a gender reveal, a baby shower, and the setting up of a nursery. Baby arrives safely and you are overwhelmed with emotion. Those little eyes that gaze lovingly at you, the coos, and that baby breath and new baby smell are everything! There is more love present than you know what to do with. Everything is new and wonderful, but then a few days or even a couple of weeks pass and you aren't exactly feeling as enthusiastic and energetic as you once were.
There are sleepless nights, you are barely eating, bathing, getting fresh air and sunlight, oh and what about the dishes, laundry, and dinner? What about giving attention to your other children or significant other? Just what about your sanity???? Where is the push gift for ACCOMPLISHING one of life's most common miracles? (For those of you who don't know, a push gift is something you are gifted from your significant other or from yourself as a reward for having a baby). Having a baby SHOULD be one of the happiest times in a person’s life, right? The truth is, all the happy moments can become overshadowed by symptoms like severe mood swings, sadness, crying spells, anxiety, sleep and appetite disturbances to name a few.
The aforementioned symptoms are otherwise known as Baby Blues. Baby Blues last for up to 2 weeks; there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But in some cases, symptoms may persist and worsen. Worsened symptoms include psychosis (paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, confusion/disorientation), difficulty bonding with your baby, fear that you are not a good parent, hopelessness, and even disturbing thoughts such as thoughts of harming yourself and your baby. What is worse than actually experiencing these symptoms is never having expected them to appear in the first place. Your expectations of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood have A LOT A TO DO WITH YOUR EMOTIONAL RESPONSE to parenthood. Also, contrary to the pregnancy being a "ladies-only" club, MEN can also experience post-partum depression.
So why do some women and men get post-partum Depression and others don't? The most accurate way to answer this question is to say there is no definite way to answer this question. All women who are pregnant experience rapid changes in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and once a woman has given birth, she experiences dramatic drops in hormone levels. This is the primary contributing factor to establishing symptoms of Baby Blues. Baby Blues are common (up to 80% of all women, and an underreported percentage of men experience these symptoms) during the initial period of post-partum physical and emotional adjustment.
So the next question is why do some people's symptoms disappear within 2 weeks and some people's persists for longer? You are at risk of symptoms persisting for longer than 2 weeks if THE PREGNANCY WAS UNPLANNED/UNWANTED. As SOCIALLY NORMAL as it is, the truth is, everyone just doesn't WANT kids. It can be assumed that the gestational period of pregnancy would foster enough time for a new parent to accept the arrival of a child but that is not the case in every situation. Other risk factors include having a history of depression, having experienced post-partum depression before, experiencing financial, housing, work and relationship stressors, and FEELING UNSUPPORTED.
The information shared here is a result of extensive research on the subject matter. Research including my own personal experience with post-partum depression. About 2 years ago...I had a 2 year old toddler and I was 8 months pregnant with my second child. My husband, (an AWESOME guy) was in school all day and working late nights as a restaurant server. My husband was also well rested and not sleep deprived due to not getting up with our first child (le sigh). I had ill feelings towards him for not helping enough with our first child but I IGNORED THEM (red flag). I was working full time during the day and then essentially a single mommy in the evenings. I was worn out physically and emotionally. I began to have dark thoughts about my 2 year old toddler. I began to have a desire to hurt him. He wouldn't let me rest. He wouldn't let me have peace. I was desperate and unstable. I didn't have help. It was just me and this battle day in and day out. I was alone.
One evening, my husband was home earlier than normal and I was desperately trying to get our toddler to go to sleep, to which he adamantly refused. I was literally in a dark room with him and began to have dark thoughts. I wanted to hurt him. I got up and started to walk slowly towards the bedroom door in an attempt to just exit the room. As I was backing out of the room slowly, begging and pleading with him to go to sleep in a quivering voice, tears began to roll out of my eyes. My husband was coincidentally passing by the room as I was backing out and witnessed me in one of the scariest and most fragile states I have ever been in. I explained to him with all the SHAME in me that I had been having thoughts to harm our child. It's something I had been experiencing for weeks before I said anything to him. My husband's response was along the lines of “well you are in control of your own thoughts so you can just not have the thoughts”...my thoughts were along the lines of THAT’S NOT HOW THIS WORKS buddy!! I became very concerned that my husband was not comprehending the gravity of the situation and I began to become even more distressed than before.
I knew this was serious, as I had NEVER had thoughts like this before. I knew I needed help. Still full of shame, I called my mother and told her I had been having thoughts of harming my child. Her response was simply, "what do you need me to do?" In an instant, I felt relief come over me. She didn't judge me, she didn't have an outrageous response, she just listened and SUPPORTED. My mom and I came up with a plan that I would call her if I began having bad thoughts and that she and my dad would come get my child. Fortunately, I never had to execute the plan arranged between my parents and I. Apparently just knowing the support was there was enough to provide me with comfort.
This is my story and this is my truth as it relates to post-partum depression. To be honest, I didn't know what I was suffering from, I just knew I wasn't feeling like myself. The point is, things got really rough, but I got through it with help...and you can too! Here are some steps that can help:
Before Your Baby is Born
Be aware of your desires and expectations as it relates to becoming a parent. Don't feel pressure from society and family to become a parent if you don't want to. If you find yourself in a situation with an undesired child, research your options in advance to obtain the best outcome for you and the child(ren).
Know and understand the signs and symptoms of Baby Blues and Post-Partum Depression. Educating yourself is very important. You cannot address and correct what you are not aware of.
Listen to your mind, body, and spirit. If you are just not feeling like yourself, there is a reason this is occurring. Don't just blow it off. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Have a conversation with your partner to set expectations about sharing responsibilities before the baby arrives. You can always make changes to the routine/expectations later as you figure out what works and what doesn't. (Example: hubby wakes up with baby TR&Sat nights OR Hubby wakes up with baby on saturday mornings so mommy can sleep in)
Consider planning ahead for the first week or 2 that you bring your baby home (when the baby blues usually rears its ugly head. (1) Some ppl make meals ahead of time and freeze them so they can pop a meal in the oven instead of spending a lot of time cooking. Another option is to make a parent or in-law responsible for meals if they plan to stay with you when the baby first comes home. (2) If you have the financial means, have a cleaning person come once a week for a couple weeks as you adjust to being home so that they can have some time to rest (nap when the baby naps or take a shower!) instead of spending your spare time cleaning.
After Your Baby is Born
Remember your basic physical needs. While breast-feeding, everything your baby needs is supplied by you. If you have nutrient deficiencies, you can become even more deficient. Simply eating regularly, drinking water, and taking vitamins can make a big difference in how you feel physically and emotionally.
Self-Care. Include self-care in your schedule daily. Examples of this would be to take a walk, take a warm bath, listen to music, or journal (my favorite!)
Stay connected. Staying home with a newborn everyday can feel lonely and isolating, especially for those who were very social or used to a busy office environment. Find opportunities to connect with other people. Join a mommy fitness group. Reach out to family, friends, and neighbors. Utilize online resources such as Facebook groups for new moms.
Have an action plan/safety plan. If suicidal/homicidal call 911 immediately. Reach out to a mental health counselor. Reach out to a loved one you trust. JUST REACH OUT! Now is not the time to be a superhero, you can't do it all on your own.
If this sounds like you, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed. Experiencing post-partum Baby Blues or Depression is common. Recovery is all about the steps you take to alleviate the symptoms and ensure everyone is safe. This takes education, planning, and just plain cutting yourself some slack.
Until next time,
About the Author
I am just a girl from the south trying to make sense of this journey we call life! I have a M.S in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and I am based in Atlanta, Ga. I seek to break down the barriers people face that prevent them from taking care of their mental health confidently, particularly people of color. I believe balanced connections between the mind, body, and spirit are essential for one to achieve optimal health and wellness. In my spare time I like to blog (https://happymadhatter.wordpress.com/) and spend quality time with my husband, 2 boys, and last but never least....with myself!! #SelfCareIsTheBestCare