A friend very dear to me told me a few months ago what her experience with postpartum depression was like. Exhausting. Terrifying. Lonely. She talked about feeling so angry and sad & waking up every day wondering when it would stop. If it would stop. What was the most difficult thing to hear amidst all of her struggles was that she had experienced all of this tough stuff at the exact same time that I had … and I had no idea. I love this woman fiercely and I saw her every single week for almost the entirety of her maternity leave and I didn’t know. She didn’t know. That broke my heart. We had been living the very same & scary story with postpartum mood disorders but we walked it alone. Why? We talked about the kids’ routines and killer crock-pot recipes and we talked about all of the other emotions, elation and struggles that come with new motherhood but we didn’t talk about ‘that’. Our daily struggle with postpartum depression & anxiety never came up.
In light of my personal experiences with postpartum anxiety and of Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” and their wonderful program designed to break the silence and the stigma around mental illness I wanted to share this post. I do not have a PhD in Psychology but I’ve travelled this road twice now and have supported many women through their experiences. I do not feel you have to be an expert to weigh in on something so important that affects so many new families. It is so vital to communicate that they are not alone and how they can get help.
What makes Maternal Mental Health a little different is that in a lot of ways there are more layers to it. New parenthood is ‘suppose’ to be one of the happiest times of your life, right up there with your wedding day & your first trip to Europe, but for many new mothers and fathers the transition to their new lives with a baby is not the joyful story they anticipated. It’s difficult not to feel guilty and shameful of that, especially when the baby has been yearned for. It is not easy to admit that reality and fears of being seen as ungrateful or an un-fit mother can fuel the silence for many of what is really happening.
Sometimes well-meaning comments can reinforce those fears. How much harder would it be for a new mother to confide or make the realization that she does need help when her efforts to communicate her concerns and fears are invalidated or ignored? ‘I just don’t feel right’, ‘I thought this would be very different’ or ‘I’m terrified he’s going to stop breathing in his sleep’ should never be met with ‘oh honey you just need to get more sleep’, or ‘be grateful, there are so many people who would give their left arm to be where you are right now’, but this happens. We need to be more aware.
Many mothers and fathers’ experiences with postpartum mood disorders go uncommunicated and unsupported because they maybe do not fit the box of what a typical postpartum mood disorder experience might look like. My postpartum anxiety hit me when my son was 7 months old and my daughter when she was over a year and in neither one of those situations did I even realize what was happening at first. Postpartum mood disorders can also affect new father’s as well and this is not always common knowledge and can very easily go undetected and unseen.
When I think back and try to figure out why I didn’t ever bring it up with anyone other than my husband, I think it comes down to never wanting to be seen as less than. I didn’t want to have to feel shame because people were looking at me like I was missing out on my motherhood or my life because I was battling this postpartum anxiety. A very wise woman helped me to see that although my challenges in motherhood were different than many they were of no less value. If I had broken my arm as a new mother I would have needed more support and this was no different. I needed to change my perspective to start to heal.
I can’t even imagine how different recovery would have been for myself and my friend if we had known we were in the same boat. How powerful could it have been to be able to call her up and tell her ‘you can do today, I’m right here’ or to have her show up and say to me ‘give me a hug, let’s do today together ok?” YES!! So let’s talk about this and let’s work together to make it safe for new parents to talk about this.
As a society we must understand that maternal mental illness is an important thing to not only be aware of but to get comfortable talking about. The stigma needs to go. People struggling with postpartum mood disorders are not bad parents and it is not their fault. They are not alone and they deserve to get help and be supported. Give them a genuine opportunity to get help. Watch the kids, make dinner & fold the laundry when she’s out at therapy or he’s at a support group. Take time off work if you can to help her get her feet on the ground and talk about it. If you love them, do not be afraid to ask, “Do you think you could have postpartum depression or anxiety?”. Be there and help them get help. There are a lot of incredible professionals and organizations with a passion for supporting new families. See below for some.
From Belly to Bloom!
Bell Let’s Talk; https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/
Pacific Postpartum Support Society; http://postpartum.org/
Canadian Mental Health Association; http://cmha.calgary.ab.ca/mental-health/understanding-mental-illness/post-partum-depression/
Families Matter; http://www.familiesmatter.ca/programs/family-mental-health
Birth Narratives; http://birthnarratives.ca/
Alberta Health Services; https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/services/page15072.aspx