If you’re pregnant or recently gave birth, it’s seen as a positive, joyful, even miraculous experience. But giving birth and raising a baby can be scary. Most women expect to sail through the whole experience, but things can take an unexpected turn if you suffer from pre- or post-natal depression.
Maybe you’ve drawn up a detailed birth plan and researched everything, so you’re not scared of what to expect or how you’re going to cope. But many pregnancies are high risk with 8% of all births experiencing complications. Then there’s the fact that between 10 – 20% of women suffer from post-natal depression.
These numbers could even be higher, if you consider new mothers without any access to proper health care or support, or the ones who are too afraid to speak out. I hope that this article lifts the veil on post-natal depression so that it becomes less of a stigma and encourages new moms to seek help and support.
Giving birth is not easy
Even the smoothest and most natural birth involves some highly uncomfortable experiences. Sometimes it goes according to plan and you have an ‘easy’ natural birth or a planned caesarean, but it just isn’t how you imagined it would be. Or maybe your natural birth becomes complicated and you have an emergency caesarean. Either way, many women emerge from the birth experience with painful physical and psychological scars, even if they block out memories of the experience.
Many of my clients tell me about the lack of privacy and sheer invasiveness as complete strangers examine their bodies. They tell me about the brutality of their experience. The pain, during or after. The feeling of being completely out of control. Then there’s the fact that you might need stitches. You might have scars and your body might never bounce back.
The process of having a baby can also stir up old traumas and depression. Suddenly you’re responsible for this being who is utterly dependent on you. You can’t stop thinking: Am I up for the job? Am I good enough? Should I even be a mother?
It’s not just baby blues
For some lucky moms, raising a baby is easy. But for many, breastfeeding is a difficult, even agonising experience, both physically and mentally. Often, your baby won’t latch, in which case nurses, lactation consultants or even family may manhandle your body some more. Or maybe you don’t have ‘enough’ milk, or so much milk it nearly drowns the baby.
Imagine you hate the feeling of breastfeeding, even though you might think it’s your duty as a mother. Sometimes your nipples crack, resulting in indescribable pain. Maybe you turn to bottle-feeding with a sigh of relief. But not being able to breastfeed can be psychologically devastating, leaving you grief-stricken and insecure.
Or your baby doesn’t sleep like a baby, (s)he just cries and cries. And doesn’t stop crying. Until you feel like you’re going mad! Or it’s you who cries and cries. And can’t stop crying.
Family, friends and even your doctor may dismiss your tears as “baby blues” but if your sadness lasts longer than the first few days or, at most, the first 2 weeks, you could be experiencing Post-Natal Depression (PND), also known as Post-Partum Depression (PPD).
Some signs you might be suffering from post-natal depression
Sometimes post-natal depression is so severe that you’re unable to function, but it can also be more low-key. Symptoms can develop slowly, or they might come on suddenly. About a third of women who experience PND begin to have symptoms while they are pregnant, and these continue after giving birth. Symptoms include things like:
- Feeling sad or low
- Mood swings
- Negative thoughts
- Lack of energy
- Inability to stop crying
- Sleep problems
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling anxious or tense
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating or making decision
Some of these feelings might be part of adjusting to being a mom (combined with general exhaustion), but you might be experiencing PND so it’s important to take yourself seriously!
You might feel overwhelmed and hopeless and avoid seeing friends and family. Or maybe you just feel like you’re ‘not’ yourself. Often, some of these symptoms are accompanied by doubts about whether you can care for your child, difficulties bonding with your baby, thoughts of self-harm and even, thoughts about harming your baby.
Even if you only experience a few of these symptoms, you need help and support. It’s not just you! Two in 10 women experience PND and it can even affect fathers and partners.
It’s okay to have unexpected feelings
Many new parents expect that it will all feel worthwhile as soon as they look down at their precious little baby. You expect to bond with your child immediately and feel overwhelmed with love and happiness.
But when you look at this tiny, wrinkled little alien that you are responsible for (in a way that you have never been responsible for anything else), you might feel completely numb. Or scared. Or angry and resentful. Or so shocked and overwhelmed by what’s just happened to you that you don’t even know how you feel.
There might not be a ‘reasonable’ explanation
The odd thing about PND is that it might not strike after the first birth, but after the second, or third birth. It might not happen immediately after the baby is born but come later.
Maybe you didn’t have a difficult pregnancy or traumatic birth experience. Maybe you’re an adoptive parent!
You might not have a history of depression or mental health problems; you could have a great support network and a fantastic relationship with your partner.
Perhaps you always planned to bottle-feed, didn’t experience any difficulties with breastfeeding or came up with innovative solutions to any other problems. You might have been proud of how well you were handling everything. Then suddenly or gradually, you began to feel miserable, often during the first year of your baby’s life.
There’s no shame in getting help and support for post-natal depression
Some women find it helpful to join new parents or mom’s groups, or online support groups. Just talking to other women with similar experiences can be wonderfully supportive.
But you might feel even more isolated when you compare yourself to other moms. Maybe you can’t bond with your baby and you’re too frightened to tell anybody how you feel. Maybe you have horrible thoughts about hurting your baby. Or thoughts about hurting yourself.
If this is you, seeking help isn’t a choice, you need to reach out. Don’t despair. Don’t delay!
Post-natal depression is treatable, but it doesn’t go away on its own. You can suffer from PND for years. It can steal your joy and interfere with your relationships.
If you have any reason at all to think that you might be suffering from PND, approach your doctor or gynaecologist. Or contact a licensed mental health professional for a clinical assessment.
If you’d like to talk to me, I’m available for an online consultation. I’d love to help support you, wherever you are in the world – no matter what you’re going through.