When I had my first child, I’m pretty sure I experienced what I now know is called postpartum depression. I had an “easy” pregnancy followed by a traumatic birth experience that ended in an emergency c section. I wasn’t able to breastfeed like I had planned and my baby was never satisfied so he was always awake and always fussy.
I felt like such a failure and realized quickly that I had no idea what I was doing as a mom. Despite my years of experience as a child therapist, I had no idea how to be a real parent myself. At my postpartum checkup, I just couldn’t stop crying. I answered all the questions on the form they give you to fill out honestly and my doctor recommended I take an antidepressant.
I was desperate to try anything so I had the prescription filled, but I never took it. Somehow, I talked myself out of taking medicine because I didn’t think I really needed it. Guess what? No one followed up with me to make sure I was ok. No one from my doctor’s office even called to see if I needed a refill or a referral to a therapist.
Luckily, I had supportive friends and family that were able to help. I had friends who showed me that I wasn’t alone and told me that it would get better. There were people like my mom’s best friend who said, “You just need to get outside and walk every day. There’s no reason you can’t put that baby in a stroller and go for a walk.” It was a combination of these things that got me through those first few years of being a mom.
But not everyone is as fortunate as I was to have the support to keep me going. Approximately 1 in 7 women develop postpartum depression or anxiety following the birth of a child. Up to 10% will experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy. Many of these women don’t seek help though.
Maybe they’re like me and they think they need to be strong. Maybe they think that asking for help means admitting defeat as a mother. Or maybe they think that having postpartum depression means you want to hurt your baby. That may be a symptom, but it’s not the only one and many moms with PPD never experience those feelings.
Sometimes moms might think that these symptoms are normal and all moms go through this, so maybe they don’t realize that they need help. Or maybe the reason that so many women don’t seek help when they experience depression or anxiety during the postpartum period is because they don’t know how. Even as a therapist I didn’t know how to reach out for help. I had never heard of any of the resources for perinatal mood disorders that I know about today.
For example, Postpartum Support International is an amazing resource for moms. They have multiple free support groups that range in topic from infertility to teen moms. They even have a support group for dads. PSI also has an online chat feature where you can talk with an expert for moms and a hotline if you’d rather talk to someone over the phone. There are resources on their website about which medication is safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding. If you’re at the point of seeking counseling, they also have a directory of professionals who specialize in maternal mental health.
Another great resource that I’ve found for moms recently is the book “Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts”, by Karen Kleiman. It includes cartoons about many of the challenges that mothers face which helps to break the stigma and validate their feelings. It also includes practical tips to help moms overcome these thoughts.
Sometimes it’s easier for moms to listen to a podcast while they’re doing laundry or going for a walk. One of my colleagues, Keisha Reeves has a podcast called Push Thru Mom that is just for moms. She talks about the struggles that moms face and ways to help women navigate the journey of motherhood.
I think the best thing that moms can hear is that they aren’t alone and that there is hope. Every challenge of motherhood is one that can be overcome. But if you don’t reach out for help, no one may ever know that you need it.