When Maternal Bliss Isn't So Blissful
“We’re having a baby!” For most couples, few words elicit as much excitement as those letting family and friends know that you’re starting a family. And for a woman, the rite of passage into motherhood is one of the most monumental life transitions that she’ll go through.
Especially for those who have struggled with fertility, and all the uncertainty and frustration that goes with that, finally becoming pregnant and moving well into pregnancy is a time to celebrate. Needless to say it can come as a surprise for many couples that after baby is born, the elation and joy of bringing that precious life into the world can wane, and a cloud of depression can loom not just for days or weeks, but much longer.
Throughout pregnancy, well-meaning family and friends excitedly ask about belly circumference, baby’s first kick and potential names. After baby, we want to hear her birth story, details about the baby and nursery decor. These positive topics of conversation leave little room for less than joyous feelings of uncertainty, inadequacy, exhaustion, marital tension, trauma from a difficult delivery, and a host of other feelings, not to mention hormonal fluctuations and other physiological changes which can lead to depression.
Society teaches us that this is a happy time and floods us with advertising images of maternal bliss. It’s no wonder that a profound sense of shame and guilt may wash over the new mother if she’s feeling depressed, resentful or even questions the decision to start a family. “But this is not how I’m supposed to feel,” she may say to herself. The truth is, there is no one right way to feel about motherhood. It’s new, stressful and can be downright messy.
Doing Motherhood Right
Women put enormous pressure on themselves to get motherhood “right.” Obviously, there is no one right way to “do” motherhood, but new moms are notoriously adept at trying to do it all (perfectly); the perfect mother, wife, housekeeper, friend, employee, you name it. This tremendous and unrealistic pressure is just that, a pressure cooker. Something surely has to give and when it does, she can feel inadequate, overwhelmed and unequipped for the job, especially when friends have their children dressed in freshly pressed clothes with hair braided in bows. At least her exhausted eyes perceive it that way. The new mother needs to be willing to let go of what she can’t control and prioritize what’s really important, and her own self care must be on the top of that list.
Symptoms and Risks Factors of PPD
Compared to decades ago our increased awareness of postpartum depression, now referred to as peripartum depression (PPD) in the new DSM5, has allowed women to become more vigilant of possible symptoms. PPD is highly treatable especially if diagnosed early, unfortunately, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) screening for maternal depression is not standard and treatment does not always follow a diagnosis.
Furthermore, stigma associated with mental illness and the mother’s shameful feelings about feeling anything less than joyful can leave the condition underreported. According to the Center for Disease Control, “As many as 8 to 19% of women report having frequent postpartum depressive symptoms.” Typical symptoms may include:
· Loss of appetite
· Intense irritability and anger
· Overwhelming fatigue
· Loss of interest in sex
· Lack of joy in life
· Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
· Severe mood swings
· Difficulty bonding with your baby
· Withdrawal from family and friends
· Scary thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
PPD can strike any mother but there are risk factors. According to NIHCM undiagnosed depression during pregnancy is the number one risk factor for PPD. The following list outlines additional risk factors:
· Depressive symptoms before pregnancy
· Birth of multiples
· Physical abuse before or during pregnancy
· Partner related stress during pregnancy
· Traumatic stress during pregnancy
· Financial stress during pregnancy
If you are a new mother experiencing some of the symptoms of PPD it could be more than the baby blues. Remember, you did nothing to cause this, you are not a bad mother for experiencing these symptoms, and it is treatable. Talk therapy may help you through this challenging time. Evidence-based treatment includes a variety of approaches including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), new mother support groups, in-home therapy, couples counseling, and infant massage. For many women, these approaches can alleviate depressive symptoms and help to improve mother/infant bonding. However, in some cases medication may be recommended. Please talk to your physician about your symptoms and be your own best advocate. If you don’t feel heard or feel dismissed by your physician, continue to explain your situation and symptoms until they are fully addressed to your satisfaction.