Becoming parents is one of the most monumental things we’ll do. We look forward to our babies coming, like CRAZY! There’s so much excitement, so much uncertainty, so many expectations. You’re going to have this baby, be completely and totally smitten, and motherhood is going to be the greatest! Right?
But… what if it’s not? What if you don’t feel all the “right” feels? What if you’re miserable? Crying and angry and scared and anxious and you can’t sleep and you don’t feel that unconditional love, that bond that everyone told you you’d feel? Mama, you’re not alone. And it’s not your fault. And with help, you will be well.
One in seven women will experience some form of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD). Only 15% of them will seek help. Many women experience what we know as “the baby blues”, feelings of teariness and being overwhelmed in the first week or two after delivery. This is a normal response, as you adjust to your new life, and your hormones – which have been on a giant roller coaster – settle back down.
Sometimes, however, these feelings are much more intense, and last beyond that time. Sometimes, they don’t rear their ugly heads until months after delivery.
What does PMAD look like? Often it shows itself as depression (lack of appetite, insomnia, or extreme fatigue, anger, irritability, crying, lack of interest in things you used to enjoy), but it can also take the form of anxiety (eg. racing heart, feeling of impending doom), OCD (eg. intrusive thoughts), and PTSD (eg. hypervigilance, flashbacks).
In very rare cases, psychosis can even develop (and it’s worth noting here that this is a true emergency). Dads can develop PMADs, too, with their risk drastically increasing if their wife is also suffering.
What’s a Mom To Do? Find Resources.
Fortunately, the first step is simple: call the Postpartum International Support Warmline (1-800-944-4773). What’s a warmline, you ask? This fabulous phone service is staffed by trained volunteers, who will truly listen to you and direct you to resources in your local area. That might be a support group, a therapist, a doctor, or all of the above. Most of the volunteers are PMAD survivors, so they really know how it feels, and can tell you, with certainty, that you are not alone, it’s not your fault, and you will be well again.
The PSI warmline is not the only resource. Their website is a wealth of information, if you’re not quite ready to talk to someone but want to learn more, or if you’re looking to arm yourself with information for a loved one. Postpartum Progress is another organization that seeks to educate people on PMADs and direct people to helpful resources.
There are also a wealth of books available, including workbooks, journals, and coloring books, to help you through your journey. There are books for dads, books for moms who want to know what is happening to them, books for moms who are pregnant again after suffering from a PMAD with a previous pregnancy, even books by celebrities who have experienced a PMAD, and want to share their story to help others.
Locally, there is the Huntsville Postpartum Support Network (and accompanying Facebook group), which meets on the third Monday of the month at Hope Church in Madison, at 6:30pm.
What’s really important, though, is that you don’t suffer in silence. Like any other illness, PMADs can be treated, and treated well. There is no shame in this, in seeking and accepting help, and doing so is surely a sign of strength, and a show of love and commitment for your child.
Most of us moms go back to see our OB providers 6 weeks after baby, but you don’t have to wait that long, and shouldn’t wait that long, if you’re suffering. Make the call, or have someone make it for you, please. Also, don’t participate in the taboo. Talk about this, when you’re ready, when you can. Take part in events like Climb Out of the Darkness, a yearly hike organized by volunteers with Postpartum Progress, in their local communities, to raise awareness on this very important subject. Volunteer with Postpartum Support International to staff the warmline, keep track resources in your area, or start a local support group. It’s actions like these that help to spread the message: you are not alone, this is not your fault, and with help, you will be well.
Katrina Dial is a Certified Nurse Midwife in Fayetteville, TN. She has a Master’s degree in Nursing with certification as a nurse-midwife and is currently working on her Doctorate in Nursing Practice with a focus on Perinatal Mood Disorders. She is a board member of Safer Birth in Bama, volunteers with Postpartum Support International, and has struggled personally with PPD.