A friend texted me the other morning that a woman she went to high school with was suffering from postpartum depression and hanged herself. The baby was five weeks old.
Extremely upsetting. Tragic. Untimely.
Before I was a parent, I absorbed these stories from a social work perspective. Not enough resources, support groups, coping mechanisms.
Now, as a new mom, there is a part of me that understands the pain, the confusion, the insane hormones.
For most women, pregnancy is a joyful time. Strangers are nicer, food is plentiful and you spend your spare time picking out furniture and baby clothes. For the few days after your birth, whether you choose to birth in a hospital, birthing center or at home, you are cared for. Doctors, nurses and midwives are checking in on your well-being. Then it stops. Abruptly.
Prior to giving birth you may have been a lawyer, a marketing executive, a salesperson, a teacher. Once maternity leave begins, your sole job in life (without any training) is to make sure the fetus-like creature who just came out of your body survives. Of course new moms feel stress. Add to that crazy hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, a crying baby, a childbirth recovery, a new body and possible family conflict.
Baby Center says “Up to 80 percent of new mothers experience the baby blues, an emotional reaction that begins a few days to a week after delivery and generally lasts no longer than two weeks. If you have the blues, you may be weepy, anxious, and unable to sleep. You may also be irritable or moody. About 10 to 15 percent of new mothers experience clinical depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).”
Most women know about “the baby blues,” but we may not realize when those blues escalate to something worse, especially if friends and family are telling us it’s “normal.” More so, our spouses or partners are not educated on the signs of postpartum and antenatal depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
Why isn’t there more preventative education on this topic?
WebMD says “Close monitoring after childbirth is important. If you are worried about developing (postpartum depression), have your first postnatal checkup 3 or 4 weeks after childbirth rather than the typical 6 weeks.” Whose responsibility is it to schedule an earlier appointment? Most of us just follow doctor’s orders. Someone in the hospital tells us to make a 6 week appointment, and so we do. Six weeks is an extremely long time if you are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It’s not fair that new moms are expected to find their own resources. It is hard enough to seek out and connect with a good therapist or support group when you aren’t postpartum. I wish there were more preventative measures – a class in the hospital or a social worker working in all gynecological offices who spoke to women during pregnancy and then followed up after birth for the first two months.
I also wish there were more local support groups. In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, there is a wonderful resource called Park Slope Parents. Park Slope Parents is a group of local parents dedicated to supporting the families of Brooklyn. This group provides resources on many topics, such as breastfeeding, going back to work, and hiring a nanny, but the most useful aspect was the new moms group.
Park Slope Parents essentially builds you a local support system. In the weeks following childbirth, when you may or may not be able to leave your home, you can send an email to women who have just gone through the same experience and say “I’ve been a weepy mess.” “Didn’t think it would be this stressful.” “I’m not sleeping.” It may seem insignificant, but most women in my area will say that the new mom support groups is what got them through postpartum. Just feeling that you are not alone can make a big difference.
Katherine Stone, a PsychCentral contributor, writes a wonderful blog, Postpartum Progress, which has resources, information and stories from survivors of postpartum depression. Postpartum Progess “is the world’s most widely-read blog on postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth, including: postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, depression during pregnancy (antenatal depression), post-adoption depression, postpartum PTSD, depression after miscarriage or perinatal loss and postpartum psychosis. We focus on positive messages of empowerment and recovery, because PPD is temporary and treatable with professional help.”
I don’t know the details about the woman who hung herself. Did she seek help? Did she have a history of depression? I wish she knew she could get better; I wish she would have felt less alone. I hope her story can somehow help others
BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board. (n.d.). Postpartum depression and anxiety
WebMD. (2011, November 2). Postpartum Depression Health Center