It’s a rainy Monday morning and a very pregnant woman arrives with her husband, bags in hand, at the hospital. Today is the day she will welcome their new child into the world. She can hardly contain her excitement. She also can’t hide her obvious worries. Despite all the birthing and breastfeeding classes, as a first-time mother, she still has lots of questions. No matter how many times she was reassured that her motherly instincts would kick in once the baby arrived, she felt no indication of it. Before all of that, she will finally experience childbirth. From the time she announced her pregnancy, every mom she knew shared every birthing horror story with her. All these thoughts swirled in her head as she was lead back to her birthing suite.
Her heart skipped a little as she looked at the rocking chair where she’d soon be rocking her baby. Her suite had a large tub, big windows and a cheery feeling. Soon her bags were put away, she was changed, and resting in the bed. The staff began checking her vital signs, asking questions, and preparing for the forthcoming arrival. She felt a sense of peace come over her. Over the next few hours, she was encouraged to walk the halls to help speed up labor. She thought this would be the perfect time to visit the nursery where they would be bringing the baby shortly after the birth. As she approached the window she gasped at what she saw, snakes… There were snakes in the nursery slithering inches from newborn infants. “What’s going on here?” she cried.
“It’s okay,” a nursed comforted. “We have had a snake infestation for years and we have never been able to completely eliminate the pests.”
“Why wasn’t I told of this ahead of time?” asked the now crying mother.
“No one ever talks about it so we have learned to ignore the problem. Besides, who wants to hear that in birthing class, right?” she chuckled.
The mother stood stunned in front of the nursery window. The air escaped from her mouth when her husband turned to her and said, “It should be fine, just go back to the room.”
“Yes”, the nurse agreed, “very rarely will one of the snakes actually bite one of the newborns.”
The mother, now completely dismayed, wandered back to her room. She couldn’t understand what was happening. She certainly couldn’t have been the only one to notice the invaders, yet the birthing suites were full and babies were making their way down to the nursery. The new mom now had a choice, remain quiet or speak up. If she spoke, she wondered who would believe her and worried if she would sound crazy. She wondered if this was all in her head and became too scared to speak up so she decided to take her chances with the snakes.
This story itself may sound crazy but something just as vile is invading birth experiences everywhere. No one would allow snakes to roam freely in a nursery but there is a very real problem that does happen every day, it’s Postpartum Depression (PPD). And here is the reality; Postpartum Depression is just as sly as a snake lingering about a nursery. It’s waiting to strike and squeeze the life out of what should be a beautiful moment in a women’s life, the birth of a child. It can strike so quickly that it can even interrupt the bonding experience between a mother and child shortly after birth. Yet, many people are still tight lipped about PPD and some women don’t feel like they can be open about it. These women often feel brushed off, just like the mother in this story, and end up deciding to take unnecessary chances with an invader rather than speak up. This is why the discussion about PPD needs to happen and turning a blind eye to PPD can no longer be acceptable.
I struggled with depression after my first son was born and anxiety with the subsequent three. I was fortunate to have a supportive husband and a knowledgeable family physician that worked with me when the hospital and gynecologist failed. After his birth, I had experienced unexpected complications and by the time I was released from my six day hosptial stay on a mere couple hours sleep, I felt like I was falling apart. I began to sicken over the reality that I was expected to care for my child alone when I felt no will to take care of myself. I felt worthless as a mother and the overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame were crushing. My husband felt very alone as I was deteriorating before him and he had no idea what he could do to help. I was a shell of myself and I couldn’t make myself better. Thankfully I had a common sense family physician who removed me from the counterproductive medication I was given at the hosptial and a supportive family. They assured me that my feelings were common among many mothers and in time, I would feel like myself again. It took me weeks before I begin to feel better. Getting the proper help and listening to my body was a must. I had to realize that it was okay to open up and ask for help, but it wasn’t easy. Like many mothers, I didn’t want to admit that I needed help because it felt like if I wasn’t able to care for my child, it meant that I didn’t love him. Or, others would judge me and deem me a bad mother.
Over the years I have personally witnessed other women struggle with PPD in various degrees, most more severe than my personal experience. The biggest issue I saw was the judgement these women faced. Comments like, “Shake it off,” and “You just have to get on with life” invalidated their struggle and made them afraid to reach out. PPD has nothing to do with how strong or weak a woman is anymore than someone dealing with physical pain. If a woman broke her leg on a icy sidewalk, she would be encouraged to seek medical care, so the same woman suffering deep emotional distress cannot be asked to brush off her emotional pain and steer free of a qualified professional.
Pregnancy and childbirth are wonderful and natural. The changes that has to happen to a woman’s body to sustain another life is astounding but it can also come with a price. Women experience very real hormonal and physical changes before, during, and after pregnancy. It is very important to emphasize this: hormones and the effect they have on a woman are real! With all the recognition of all the amazing things a woman’s body can do, why is there still a stigma around the emotional changes that can happen during any of her body’s natural processes?
Real change about PPD needs to happen long before a women ever gets pregnant. Healthy conversations about how hormones can effect mood and cause depression need to couple the with the discussions explaining the physical processes of womanhood. Young women need to know that jokes and sneers about a woman’s monthly cycle further add to the problem and she should never feel ashamed of it. Young women need to know they are supported and loved even when they are struggling with the real emotional effects of hormone fluctuations. So if the time comes, she can feel like she is able to be honest and speak up about how she feels.
PPD and Depression is real and treatable. Seek help and discuss depression with your daughters (and sons). Don’t feel ashamed to seek help. New moms also need a friend in which they can speak to with honesty without judgement. Please be aware of some signs of PPD:
Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, and emptiness.
Lack of concentration.
No interest in every day things.
Loss of appetite or weight loss, a sudden weight gain is also possible.
There is hope but we have to start talking about it. We have to discuss it often and we have to support each other. When we fail to acknowledge the mere existence of PPD and depression, we are all failing.