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Postpartum depression: How do I maintain hope when I feel the unexpected?

November 14, 2013

You are overwhelmed with emotion after giving birth to your beautiful baby and are truly moved by how sincere everyone is. And then, it happens. Someone stops you and asks the BIG question. “How are you?” You respond with, “I’m good” or I’m great,” but she presses on and asks you again. “So really, HOW ARE YOU?” How do you respond? Maybe you say something like “really I’m great,” or provide a quick reassuring smile and say “I’m just tired that’s all,” but inside you know that this does not even scratch the surface of how you are truly feeling.

Who wants to admit, or believe, they could possibly be one of “them?” And by “them,” I mean a person who suffers from postpartum blues, depression or anxiety. If you are one of “them,” take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Postpartum blues, depression and anxiety affect 1,200 women every day. Approximately 20 percent of all women who give birth will experience some degree of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can occur during pregnancy and up to the first yearafter birth or adoption of a baby. It can happen to ANY WOMAN! Age, education, culture and socioeconomic status are irrelevant.

When indecision ends with no decision

When I think of postpartum depression, I envision a woman who has lost hope. She is desperate for help and fearful of being judged or classified. She is trapped by her own thoughts, feelings and emotions, her head is down, tears run down her face and she feels alone. However, recent accounts of patients who have experienced postpartum depression have not fit this description.

Let’s consider a recent incident where a 34-year-old Connecticut woman was shot and killed by police after a harrowing high speed chase from the White house to Capitol Hill. She had suffered from postpartum depression after giving birth to her daughter last year, and was experiencing delusions. This young lady was well educated, employed, and had an established support system. So what went wrong? How did we not recognize the signs and symptoms known to be associated with postpartum depression?

I believe that when women kick in to survival mode after having a baby, we become masters of disguise. It is inherently known that moms do not have time to be sick, since we must remain well in order to take care of others. But what happens when we need help and wait too long to get it? Prolonged, undiagnosed postpartum depression can lead to bigger problems, such as postpartum psychosis, and in the case of this young lady, it lead to her losing her life and endangering the life of her one-year-old child.

Seek support because YOU are worth it

The signs and symptoms of postpartum depression to look for include: crying, having thoughts of wanting to harm yourself or your baby, anger, delusions, increased fatigue and/or lack of bonding with your baby. Postpartum depression can affect any of us; more importantly, there is an increased need for women to recognize that these feelings are not normal and will not just go away. By creating the illusion that all is well when it is not, will not only lead to worse symptoms, but poorer outcomes.

Postpartum depression can develop within two months after delivery of your baby, and without proper treatment, one in three women will develop postpartum psychosis. On average, most women do not seek medical treatment until four months after birth. If you or a loved one know of someone who may be suffering from postpartum depression, it is important that you do not ignore the behavior or consider it to be normal. There are online assessment tools, support groups and community based resources that are free to use and can be of tremendous help. It just takes a little courage to take that next step.