When I’m teaching a childbirth class, and I begin to talk about postpartum mood issues, I see every pregnant woman tense up a little, as if stiffening the body will ward off the possibility of Depression Happening To Me. It’s a normal reaction, I think — even in this day and age, Depression carries a stigma. We’re supposed to be happy all the time. We’re supposed to be able to cope. Mothers, especially, are supposed to be able to cope. And if they can’t, they’re really not supposed to admit it.
We don’t even like to use the word “depression.” I can’t tell you how often I’ve been approached by new or expectant mothers who want to ask me about “Postpartum.” They mean: “Postpartum Depression/Anxiety/OCD,” but don’t want to say those words. Even the *words* are too scary. The word “postpartum” actually just means the time period after you give birth — it has nothing to do with depression! But it’s become so common now for women to say “Postpartum” to mean “Depression” that I can’t even say “postpartum” anymore to mean “the early weeks” without freaking out an entire roomful of women.
Here is the thing. For some moms, the ride into parenthood is bumpy. Well, hang on, I think for everyone it’s bumpy. What major life transition isn’t? But for some moms it’s More Than Normal Bumpy. Often this is a result of unexpected birth/breastfeeding/whatever situation + fatigue + isolation + unrealistic expectations having never seen a new mother before. For many, many of those moms, the thing that helps them pull out is company, especially the company of other mothers.
But for others Bumpy Ride derails into Depression or other Mental Illness. Company helps those moms, too, but they also need clinical help, whether in the form of counselling, or medication, or both. Depression is an illness. It requires treatment.
But, see, one of the classic hallmarks of Depression is: hopelessness. By definition, if you feel hopeless, it seems, well, hopeless to seek help. So, women who are depressed are singularly unlikely to go out and look for the help they need. Often they imagine that it’s … hopeless. So why bother? Add on the exhaustion of being a new mom, the logistical problems of getting out of the house when you have a baby, and the general stigma about Depression and you have a recipe for Depression that lasts, and lasts, and lasts, untreated.
It’s so sad! Parenthood can be tough, challenging, scary, and sometimes flat out annoying, as well as all the good things. It’s normal for women to have mixed feelings about any big life change, and mixed feelings include negative feelings. But feeling despair, predominantly, is not something to Just Cope With.
Women who are Depressed need others to take care of them, and one champion for mothers on this issue is Katherine Stone. This week she is looking for your support, beginning, today, with Strong Start Day 2011. You should support her. You should tell the new moms you know about her blog, whether they are depressed or not. You should talk about the stuff that’s hard even though there’s pressure not to. It helps.
By the way, you should also come to a New MOMs group. Because when you’re in the company of other new mothers, you can see, more clearly, the difference between a new mom who is feeling the normal range of “down, confused, worried and Not Loving It Right Now” and a mom who is really not coping. This helps you sort out what’s going on with you. You can get comfort and support if that’s what you need, and you can *give* comfort and support to the moms who need it. And, even if everything is going splendidly, you can meet some other cool folks who’ve also just reproduced.