As mothers there seems to be an unspoken understanding of what “post-partum” actually means. Women who say, “I have PPD” (or Post-Partum Depression), can get a variety of responses to this one statement. Many women simply are terrified of saying this statement due to the high levels of stigmas that have engulfed our culture and mothers in general.
When I work with a mother who is experiences the birth of a new child, whether it is her first, or fifth baby, my first job is to understand her emotional state. As a mother to three little ones, I can empathize with the “emotional state” she experiences, but as a clinician I want to help both demystify and normalize the experience of what having a little person can do her women emotionally, physically and intellectually. I help women identify whether they experience post partum depression, post partum anxiety, post partum psychosis, and the baby-blues.
What is all of this? One often asks, and I help by explaining, first, it is a very normal response that your body is having physical changes as well as the hormonal imbalances, but add to it, major life stressors that cause women to struggle. Most woman who experience anything other than sheer joy after having a baby, often keep the ladder to themselves, meaning they don’t share their feelings, fears, worries, or sadness for fear that people will judge them, think they are less than normal, believe they are going to harm their children, and they are treated similarly to how one might think an alien to be treated. It is OK to not be filled with elation after your baby is born, it is what you do with it, that can help yours and your babies future.
Our lives ar stressful enough, we have enough judgment and shame and fear as it is, why would, should we punish a woman who has just gone through what, anyone who has actually witnessed childbirth may describe as, a traumatic, yet life changing event. Let’s work on taking the stigma out of post partum and know that the majority of women who experience post partum often experience a mild form of depression or anxiety and typically very few women experience post partum psychosis. When we lump the names together there is much more stigma that comes from the experience, so let’s delineate them.
Post partum baby-blues; this is common in many mothers which often occurs shortly after having a child and typically only lasts a few weeks. Women are weepy, sad, lonely, feel isolated, overwhelmed, and often anxious. Baby-blues typically is short lived and corrects itself as hormones begin to find the places in and out of your body.
Post partum depression; otherwise known as PPD, often occurs within the first 18 months after childbirth. Women who experience depression, typically show signs of feeling depressed, such as sadness, being tired, losing energy, lack of emotion, distancing selves from others, lack of drive, inability to relate or connect with family, baby, or friends. Post partum depression can also overlap with anxiety in some women and is often heightened if there is a history of abuse in the home, substances are involved, and often with young mothers feeling like they’ve lost a sense of self.
Post partum anxiety; this often occurs within the first 18 months after childbirth and can manifest into full anxiety attacks and anxiety disorders if not supported or treated. Women are prone to anxiety when they feel unsupported, lonely, fearful, judged, tired, and nervous and as though they are not “keeping up” with what is expected. Anxiety is, in translation an experience of the body saying “this is too much, I can’t hold all of this in.” So when the body gives up to the stressors it is carrying, the mind begins to race, the heart will pound, hands may shake, and many other symptoms can begin to occur.
Post Partum Psychosis; this is the most severe form of post partum one may experience. Symptoms typically occur within a week to two after the birth of their baby, and are followed with depression sometimes at later dates. The psychosis portion is when a woman will begin to have severe and drastic mood swings, hallucinations, extreme irritability, mania, paranoia, delusions, and a rapid swing from depression to mania as well. Postpartum psychosis is treatable and will end, and when a woman is experiencing postpartum psychosis, this is very serious and needs medical attention and support immediately, so please help support yourself or her.
All forms of Postpartum can and are treatable and all women who are even curious, questioning, or feeling symptoms have the right to seek and find support. Finding the right support is imperative. Interview several doctors, ask them about their history in working with post partum, interview several therapists, and ask them if they can help support you with your family. Find support groups for women and mothers, one will be surprised at the number of women who struggle with the same things as you do. And always listen to your gut to determine your path and what you need, you know you best, and you are deserving of health and wellness.
For more information:
Lori Jackson, MA, NCC