Here’s a question for you – who do you know that has lived with postpartum depression? Or better yet, when is the last time you heard the words “postpartum depression?” I’m willing to bet that within your lifetime you’ve heard the words or have had a conversation around the topic less than 5 times. It’s not your fault, it’s our fault. No one is talking about it! As a result, this is affecting women (and men) all over the world and it seems like, for some reason, we are all afraid to bring it up let alone listen to and share stories of women who are suffering from the mental illness.
I should note that this is strictly an opinion piece and my goal in writing this is to bring awareness. This post is not based on my personal experience with postpartum depression.
The reality of it all
If you really think about it, it’s quite crazy that we expect women to give birth to a child (whole other post, but keep following). Then, 24 hours later get shipped back home. In the days to follow she is required to get sleep, which often does not happen. Her body is working it’s hardest to repair itself from the traumatic experience that is child birth. Organs and bones are realigning themselves. You’re most likely breast feeding and trying to figure that out. Maybe by day 3 dad is back to work and maybe her mom will come by the house to help with the day to day, which isn’t the case for a lot of women, so let’s get back to looking at the majority.
Cooking needs to be done, laundry is piling up. Hopefully the baby is napping during the day (yeah right). Mom is more tired than she has ever been. Bonding and crying (for mom and baby) are happening while mom is still finding her place and role as she becomes a mother. She is potentially dealing with body image as she stares at herself in the mirror multiple times daily not recognizing her reflection. Is it any wonder why postpartum depression numbers are on the rise? This all is enough to drive anyone up the wall. But hey, at least she’s home with her cute baby!
What is Postpartum Depression (PPD)?
If you’re of the majority who has not heard of postpartum depression, the term is defined as:
“a type of clinical depression which can effect both sexes after childbirth. Symptoms may include sadness, low energy, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reduced desire for sex, crying episodes, anxiety, and irritability. ”
Here’s what you’re probably thinking, “that sounds like me after a long work week and I don’t even have kids”. The symptoms can be hard to spot and if you don’t know what to look for, they can be missed. Hence why we are talking about this today. The post goes on to say that though many women experience these symptoms there is no real cause for alarm unless the symptoms become severe or last more than two weeks.
Here’s what we know (stats)
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that 16% of women are affected globally each year. Let’s break it down – based on birth rates in Canada & The US alone from 2016 we look at 4,392,000 births and roughly 707,000 women (reported cases) who suffer each year. That works out to 1 in every 6 women living with postnatal depression while the ratio for couples is 1 in 10! Let that sink in a minute. Further to that, the women who have more children at a later date and are then diagnosed with PPD may begin to experience symptoms during pregnancy, so it’s important to talk with a doctor early.
Signs and what to look for
PPD can also be referred to as “baby blues” (a milder form of PPD) or even “postnatal depression” and can take on many forms. I’ve outlined a few already but, like I said, you can miss them if you don’t know what to look for. Here are some more serious symptoms and what they look like:
- A loss of pleasure in things you used to enjoy
- Eating much more, or much less than normal
- Anxiety in the form of panic attacks
- Excessive irritability or anger
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Fear of not being a good mother
- Racing scary thoughts
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby
- Sadness, crying uncontrollably for very long periods of time
- Loss of sleep
- Disinterest in the baby, family, and friends
The list goes on but I think you get the picture. One thing to remember is that symptoms of postpartum depression do not always show themselves right away. They can often take weeks to manifest. Know the signs and if you start to feel anything different or “off” let your partner know.
6 Must-Knows about PPD
1. It’s not your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong
Though it may be difficult, you need to remember that PPD is not the fault of the host. Like many other illnesses, it can manifest suddenly and unexpectedly. Furthermore, your baby doesn’t think you’re a bad parent. They love you more than they know how to express.
2. It’s not just about women, men can be affected as well
Another stigma we need to break is that only women are affected by postpartum depression. As you read earlier, both sexes can be affected by PPD. Men are often seen as the partner in the relationship that need to be “strong” and “hold it together” or “be a rock”. I’m calling BS on that. We have feelings like anyone else, we hurt, we cry and most importantly we need someone to talk to about it. If this doesn’t happen we keep it all inside and we’re right back at square one. This is not a simply a women’s issue this is a parental issue.
3. It doesn’t just go away
Postpartum depression gone undiagnosed can wreak havoc on the body and mind for years to come if not treated properly. Beyond the symptoms we spoke about, PPD can change the way you view your spouse, handle money, interact with your kids and most importantly, it can play a huge role in your decision to take care of yourself. Seek help, talk about it, accept the treatment your doctor suggests.
4. Two are better than one
Depending on your geographical location your government will allow certain paid and unpaid time off for both mom and dad. Do your research and know what you are eligible for when it comes to paid parental and maternity leave times. Gone are the days when mom would need to stay home with the kids because dad had to go and provide for the family. In the first few months it’s sometimes (some would argue, crucial) best for both parties to “provide” by being together and taking care of your baby. You can learn together & make mistakes together or even tag in your partner when you need a break. This also gives you the opportunity of forming your own individual bond with your newborn baby.
5. Be honest and accept help
Whether it’s friends, family, coworkers or neighbours, people will offer to babysit, come over and see the baby or maybe just send a text to see how you’re doing. This is your opportunity to be honest and open, especially when it comes to those that love and care for you. When they offer a hand, a meal, a round of laundry, cleaning, etc, your response needs to be “when can you get here?” There is no shame in asking for or accepting help from those close to you. They would rather know that you’re healthy and in (somewhat) good spirits than internalizing all your feelings and making things worse.
6. She’ll need you to check in
Talking about it with your spouse can be the #1 way to combat PPD. Your love, support, and understanding are needed and appreciated in more ways than she is able to express right now. That’s not to say that things will magically get better. There will be days when she doesn’t want to talk (or be touched for that matter) but her knowing that you are close will make all the difference. Keep the conversation open and continue to be there for each other.
And then there’s this
Furthermore, it’s important to note the following: babies are cute and everyone loves to play with the cuddly little bundle of joy. What often isn’t taken into consideration is that taking care of a newborn is hard work, and for the parents, it isn’t always time to play. It’s too often that you hear things like “I get up with the baby at night because my husband has to work all day” or “I feel bad asking him to stay up, I’m home all day anyway”. It’s statements like these that enable the behaviour and aid in accelerating the symptoms of PPD.
The mom, who often stays home while dad is away is working as well. It’s not all giggles and play toys. It’s a full-time job with hours, responsibilities, short break times, sometimes no lunch, no workmates to catch up with, no water cooler to congregate around and often no adult interaction for hours on hours. Often the first interaction that mom has is when dad gets home from work, and by that time they are both too tired to break it down the day or vent about it. It’s no wonder these symptoms often go unnoticed and unaddressed.
What do I do now?
Assuming you’ve already been to the doctor and received some form of care, take these days and weeks to talk about your issues. Get connected with mom support groups in your area and swap stories with other parents. Community is a great channel for growth and healing. Find a relative or close friend who can take care of the baby even if it’s one day a week. Take walks, get exercise, and (try to) take naps during the day when your baby does. Prioritize the more important tasks and slowly work towards those. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Finally and most importantly, you are the overseer of your domain and only you will know how much you can handle. What’s important to remember is that you’re not alone. Others have worked through it and so can you, as long as you take the necessary steps. Let’s break the stigma and let all those suffering in silence know that there is hope. You’re not alone.
If you want to read some more personal stories of people who have dealt with other forms of mental health issues unrelated to parenting, Ariel, Melissa and Shaun have some really important things to say as well.
The Unfit Dad