As I mentioned in a previous post, I started attending a New Moms Support Group when my daughter was born. I remember at one of these meetings, one of the mom's, "Cathy," started to tear up as she announced to the group, "The doctor officially diagnosed me with PPD. I'm going to see a counselor and take medication to see if that helps. It was so great to have what I've been feeling acknowledged as more than just 'the baby blues' and I'm hoping that treatment will really help." My heart ached for Cathy as the tears rolled down her cheeks and she clutched her beautiful son. She looked so desperately sad and lonely.
Post-partum depression affects 1 in 7 women, according to this piece that aired on NPR yesterday. PPD is distinguished from the "baby blues", which are much more common and typically occur within the first few days or weeks of birth (but are also significant and ought to be taken seriously by a mother's support system). PPD includes serious depression symptoms (severe mood swings, loss of appetite, insomnia, overwhelming fatigue), possibly suicidal thoughts or even attempts, difficulty bonding with the baby, and oftentimes, obsessional thoughts and fears about harming self or the baby. Rarely, some women can even develop postpartum psychosis along with PPD, which may include hallucinations and/or delusions.
Many women suffering from PPD or even a significant case of the baby blues feel guilt or shame because they think they "should" be nothing but overjoyed with their new child...particularly with a "planned" pregnancy and healthy baby. This guilt or shame can prohibit women from seeking support and treatment. However, treatment--including counseling from a therapist specializing in postpartum issues (such as Alternative Choices, actually), joining a support or therapy group, and possibly medication--is crucial to both the health of the mother and the baby. In general, I can't stress to parents enough the importance of self care in order to take good care of our children.
As Cathy spoke to the group that day about her struggles with PPD and her search for treatment, I remember feeling not only a sense of compassion for her, but also pride. I felt proud of this mother who was brave enough to not only seek treatment, but also to openly share her story with other mothers. Now--after several months of treatment--she is much happier and her son is flourishing.