I recently created a short survey on pregnancy and postpartum life and posted it on Facebook. Around 60 of you took it (thank you SO very much) and I found the results very interesting. My main goal in having people complete this survey was to collect information for a side project I’m working on. But obviously, it gave me some great material for my blog as well.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things I learned was that roughly HALF of you who completed it (and I assure you, it was all anonymous) voiced your struggles with postpartum depression and/or anxiety. Less than a quarter of you had those struggles before/during pregnancy so there was no direct link to any previous mental health issues or difficulties during pregnancy itself.
The American Psychological Association lists that statistically, 1 in 7 women will suffer from postpartum depression. That’s roughly 14% of women only. Other sites, likehave lumped postpartum depression and anxiety together, STILL claiming that only 10-15% of women suffer from these disorders.
So then – my survey results leave me scratching my head. Because though I only pooled a small group of women, I still find it very significant that precisely HALF admitted to struggles with these issues. So where are we going wrong? My guess (which is no brilliant hypothesis) is that there is still a huge stigma and great deal of embarrassment surrounding these conditions. Somehow, admitting to depression or anxiety post-birth is an indicator of your inadequacies as a mother… or somehow implies a lack of gratitude toward being given the “greatest gift of all.”
My other thought on this (and maybe this is even more of an issue) is that these conditions are going undiagnosed or undiscussed. I will be honest when I tell you that in the throws of new mommyhood, it took us moving to Boston and seeing Logan’s new pediatrician for the first time (at about 4 months of age) for someone to ask me how I was doing mentally/emotionally. My experience with my OBGYN postpartum was a quick look to make sure I had healed appropriately and a laughter-filled discussion of “how mean I was to Chris lately.” It never occurred to me that my constant tears and nightmares about people hurting my baby were NOT NORMAL.
I remember leaving Logan for about 3 hours with Chris’ parents when we were in Michigan for Thanksgiving last year. He was only 3 months old at the time and I was thrilled to have a few minutes to myself to go on a date to dinner and the movies with my husband. Within 30 minutes of leaving the baby, as we were pulling into the movie theater parking lot, silent tears started rolling down my cheeks. I turned and looked out the window – the thing I always do when I cry because Chris asking me, “what’s wrong?” always makes the tears flow that much harder. However, he’s fairly astute and immediately saw what I was doing.
It was then that I admitted that I kept thinking about the possibility of someone hurting my baby. That a babysitter might kidnap him or hit him because he cried. That if I went back to work and he started choking or went into some sort of respiratory or cardiac distress while I was away, I wouldn’t be there to save him (I’m a nurse and clearly if you are not a nurse, you wouldn’t know what to do… or so I thought). The thoughts and worries were constant. And I assumed they were normal.
They were not.
When we finally went in and saw our new pediatrician at Logan’s 4-month appointment, she asked how I was doing and I said, “Oh I’m OK, you know, just tired!” with a tight smile and a laugh (after all, I hate admitting to a struggle). Chris chimed in immediately and said, “No she’s not. Her anxiety is through the roof.” (Or something like that). I remember shooting him daggers. He OUTED me. The doctor was going to think I was not a good mother or put some note in the chart that they needed to monitor me closely. I just knew it.
She did none of those things. She smiled and said, “tread lightly, Dad.” Then she looked at me and said, “If you need some assistance in getting help, we can help you.” I was grateful but told her I was OK. I wanted to give it some time because, well, hormones and sleep deprivation and a huge move across the country with an infant at the holidays is enough to send anyone soaring. Throw in the dog’s emergency surgery and I was fit to be tied.
I gave it another month. And when I was offered my dream job at a pediatrician’s office and almost backed out because I was so afraid to leave my baby with anyone else, I knew I needed to fix something. I couldn’t live my life paralyzed by fear. And so I got the help I needed. I found someone to talk to who helped me work through my irritational fears and worries and I took my dream job. Our two babysitters are two of the kindest, most lovely people that I have ever met and they ADORE my baby. He also adores them. Everything worked out. I sleep at night, I rarely cry, I feel HAPPY. Life isn’t perfect, but I feel calm in my heart again.
Writing this down is HARD. Chris was basically the only person who really knew what was happening at the time. I continued posting my funny and adorable pictures on social media and talked about how much I loved being a mom. And I do love being a mom – but I am loving being a mom SO much more without the constant worry and tossing and turning at night. That’s not to say I don’t still worry – I will always worry and want the best for my baby. After all, we live in a pretty crazy world and the love I have for him is indescribable. But I also need to walk through life with faith that my baby will be OK and give him the opportunity to be independent and experience this world without me constantly running behind him to protect him from every single bad thing that MIGHT happen.
If you are a new mom and you are worried about your baby, this post is not meant to send you running for help. Some worry is normal – worrying means you care and are trying to do things right. But if you, like me, have worry that leaves you crying daily and is keeping you from doing what you love and really ENJOYING your time as a mom, speak up. There is nothing embarrassing about it.
We live in a society where moms go back to work at 6 weeks, sometimes still wearing the mesh underwear and pads they send us home with at the hospital. We are pumping in closets at work to try to feed our babies and are shoveling our lunch into our mouths at the same time. We are being inundated with ways to get back to our post baby bodies when for some of us, it still hurts to squat. People are telling us we need to save for college starting when our babies are one month old. Other moms are throwing filtered pictures of themselves all over social media and shaming each other over feeding choices and whether or not we work or stay home. Our families don’t live nearby. There is no one there to help us at a moment’s notice much of the time. It’s NO WONDER we struggle. We are given very few tools and not enough help or support. We are trying to bounce back faster than we should. And it’s REALLY HARD.
So please PLEASE know you are in good company. And that GOOD MOMS have HARD TIMES too. And that there are ways to feel better – you don’t need to suffer in silence.