What You Need to Know About Postpartum Depression
There is a lot of stuff to think about when you're having a baby.
Will I have a boy or a girl? Do we have enough onesies? Is that how the crib is supposed to be set up? Do I really need a Diaper Genie?
There's even more stuff to think about once you've had the baby.
How am I going to get this child to sleep through the night? Why can't I get her to burp? Is he latching on correctly? What on earth is that rash?!
In one fell swoop, you have to figure out how to fold this new and precious person's life into the already busy and complicated lives of adults. How to handle this tiny little thing without breaking it. How to show it all the love that you can muster, plus a little more.
It's no surprise, then, that the last thing we pregnant and brand-new mothers want to spend time thinking about is postpartum depression.
Oh. That. Well, okay, if I'm feeling bad I'll be sure to call someone.
First, you need to know that postpartum depression and all of the other mental illnesses related to childbirth -- postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD and postpartum psychosis -- are, as a group, fairly common among new mothers. You can't ignore the possibility that it might happen to you, because it happens to so many. On any given day, 11,000 babies are born in the United States alone. At minimum, 1,375 of the moms who deliver on that one day will develop a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. And another 1,365 the next day. And the next. This number doesn't even take into account those mothers who develop a postpartum disorder after a perinatal loss like a miscarriage or stillbirth, or the moms who've just adopted children, who are also susceptible. It also doesn't count the women who experience depression or anxiety while pregnant.
Second, you need to know that there are a wide variety of symptoms that you may experience. Each woman's illness may manifest itself in a different way. Check them over and know that if you have some of these symptoms, and if they interfere with your ability to function on a daily basis, you need to reach out for help. We're not talking about a bad day here and there. We're not talking about the baby blues, a normal hormonal adjustment period that happens in the first two weeks postpartum and resolves on its own. We're talking about symptoms that remain consistent or are getting worse, and prevent you from caring for yourself and your baby in the way you would like. Oh, and it doesn't matter if you had your baby four weeks ago, or seven months ago. If you learn about these symptoms so that you can recognize them should they occur, you'll know if it becomes time to ask for help.
Third, you should know that getting postpartum depression or anxiety is not the end of the world. It is a momentary, albeit painful, setback in your life. It may feel like the world is ending, and it may feel like your life as you knew it is lost. That's just the illness talking. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are temporary and treatable with professional help. You will get better and your joy will be restored. (I know from experience.)
There are LOTS of people who understand exactly what you're going through and whose mission is to help you get better as quickly as possible. Next up, I'll share some great links that you can tap into immediately should you need help ...
Katherine Stone writes Postpartum Progress http://postpartumprogress.typepad.com. You can also find her on Twitter at @postpartumprogr.