When I was pregnant, I was extremely nervous about what my mental health would be like after baby. I have struggled with anxiety and depression since I was a teenager and pregnancy with all it’s glorious hormones seemed like the perfect recipe to take me to that dark place again. I made my husband aware of the symptoms, just in case I was too ‘in it’ to see them myself and I did my best to keep active, and practice meditation to prepare my mind for what might come.
Fortunately Postpartum depression wasn’t part of my story, but there was so much that was, that I wasn’t aware of before I had the baby, that I still struggled tremendously.
Postpartum depression has become somewhat of a blanket term for many Perinatal mental health conditions, that you don’t realise you might be suffering from one of them if you aren’t experiencing the most extreme of symptoms. It can range from the baby-blues to anxiety, to severe depression, all on a sliding scale. And if you don’t know this, you might just think you are ‘not cut out for this’, or you might be beating yourself up with ‘guilt and shame’ for some of the feelings or thoughts you are having.
I know I did. No one told me the ins and outs of the baby blues, that PP anxiety and depression can happen independently of each other, that ‘scary thoughts’ is an actual symptom that many parents suffer from. I remember walking Josef around the park during the 4 month sleep regression so lost and tired that I wanted it ‘all the end’, this triggered me to Google whether or not I could get PP depression 4 months ‘late’, followed by a wave of emotions ranging from guilt, to sadness, to fear.
If someone had only told me this was common, I wouldn’t have felt so unstable and alone. ‘Why was I the only mom going through this out of my friends?’, ‘Can I actually tell people what I am thinking, or will they think I have postpartum psychosis?’, ‘Do I have postpartum psychosis?’ All thoughts that raced through my mind, before I had to pull it together, walk Josef home, make dinner and do bed time.
I wanted to share with you what I have learnt on this mental health journey in hopes that I can shed a little light on what you might go/be going through. Just know that you are never alone and if you ever feel worried at all, please open up and tell someone.
The Baby Blues:
This is a hormonal shift that peaks around 7 days PP ( can start at 4 days), that of course coincides with exhaustion, and possible overwhelming feelings from being a new parent. It occurs in 80% of all new mothers. Symptoms include: irritability, tearfulness, mood changes, restlessness, sadness. It usually lasts around 10 days.
Post Partum Depression:
This includes many of the symptoms above but can also include: anxiety, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping (out of the normal range of new moms), symptoms that interfere with you caring for yourself and your baby. Usually symptoms are more intense, last longer, and are more frequent. PP depression affects 20-30% of women and 10% of men. Symptoms can start 1 month to 1 year PP. “to the untrained eye symptoms of depression can be difficult to distinguish from ‘normal’ postpartum conditions associated with being a new mother.” – Karen Kleiman, The art of holding
Post Partum Rage:
I remember texting a good friend of mine asking “is it normal to hate your husband after having a baby? I just feel so much rage towards him”. Thankfully she said yes.
All the changes you experience as a new parents, lack of sleep, overwhelm, increase in stress, less, alone time, adjustment to parenting and martial changes can all lead to feelings of rage. This is very common and may take some coping skills on our part, but know it will get better. Talk about it with your friends and your partner, find ways to get more sleep, alone time, proper nutrition, and exercise. Know it exists and that it can be helped.
Post Partum Anxiety:
It can be a symptom of depression but it can also occur on its own. Symptoms include a high level or worry, nervousness, racing thoughts, ‘scary thoughts’, difficulty sleeping, and agitation. Anxiety can be a sign of PP trauma and it can also be affected by lack of boundaries ( ie: how many people are coming over, judgements on your mothering, social media influence, media influence).
This is a symptom of PP anxiety and/or depression. 91% of parents have these thoughts. If you are like me, this is when I questioned myself about PP Psychosis, the key difference is you recognise these thoughts, find them distressing and do not act on them. Scary thoughts include: “dropping the baby, drowning the baby, doing something intentional to harm the baby, or baby being sick. They are unwanted, intrusive and hard to control at times” – Shannon Kane, EDMR therapist.
More information and ‘thoughts’ here: https://postpartumstress.com/get-help-2/are-you-having-scary-thoughts/
Occurs in 1-2 out of 1,000 deliveries. Usually happens within first month on delivery and can include hearing voices, hallucinations, acting strange, thoughts of harming yourself or a loved one (usually a baby) that seem like a good idea. This is a medical emergency.
Pregnancy and Birth Trauma:
30-45% of women say that they are traumatised by their birth. This can be due to “an unexpected or unwished for event during the childbearing year – Pam England, MA, CNM
I gave birth in the back of a Taxi with my husband yelling that my baby was blue. People thought it was ( and still is) a great idea to send me videos of other women giving birth in a cab, thinking that I feel some sort of kinship to these women. To this day I can’t watch the videos, I find them traumatic.
There are many reasons one might experience trauma in pregnancy or childbirth, that is individual to your life and birth experience, if you feel like you are avoiding or become obsessed with birth stories, you are avoiding reminders of the birth, you are having nightmares or flashbacks you may be experiencing birth trauma. If you have a difficult pregnancy this can also cause trauma. PTSD is a real and diagnosable condition for birth and pregnancy trauma.
I know on one hand you might be thinking, well I thought pregnancy and birth was supposed to fill me with indescribable joy?! And it might! But it may also leave you feeling any of the above and that is also ok! (unless it’s a medical emergency) These are common symptoms and struggles of new moms and I wanted to share them with you so that you know you are never alone.
I am not a mental health professional, just a mom wanting to share some information that I would have found helpful in my postpartum journey. If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms please ask for help for those around you, or a professional that specialises in perinatal mental health.
Much of my information in this article was gained from a talk by Shannon Kane, EDMR therapist in Calgary, Alberta. Please visit her website for more information or to seek out other resources. http://birthnarratives.ca
Other helpful resources
The postpartum stress centre – https://postpartumstress.com/about/
Birthing from Within – https://birthingfromwithin.com
Pacific Post Partum – http://postpartum.org/the-journey/journey-resources/