Today I want to start talking about a topic very near to my heart: postpartum depression. According to the agency I volunteer with, Postpartum Support International, at least 1 in 8 women suffer from PPD, perhaps as much as 20 percent or 1 in 5.
It's likely you've known someone or heard of someone who has been through it. It could be a friend, neighbor, sister, sister-in-law, spouse, daughter, daughter-in-law, grand-daughter, co-worker. It can happen to anyone.
Thanks to Brooke Shields and her very public discussion and book on her personal PPD experience, the issue is much more in the mainstream than it was 20 years ago. I'm so glad someone with seemingly everything was willing to share her experience. Another brave soul who did was the Money Saving Mom who told her story a few years ago on her blog which reaches hundreds of thousands of people each month.
I think sometimes people assume PPD is confined to those who already struggle with depression or who have a hard life, but that's not so. Both the Money Saving Mom and Brooke Shields are successful people with supportive families and husbands and good jobs. Here is what PSI says about PPD:
"There is no one cause for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Women who develop depression or anxiety around childbearing have symptoms that are caused by a combination of psychological, social, and biological stressors. Hormonal fluctuations cause reactions in sensitive women. Risk factors do include a personal or family history of mood or anxiety disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive), or schizophrenia, and sensitivity to hormonal changes. Developing a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder is not your fault. You did not do anything to "get" this."
Today I'll just give a brief synopsis of my connection to this disorder and a little information on where to get help (and anyone who wants information on any of this is free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Over the next few days, I want to talk about risk factors - both before and after the birth of the child; where to seek help; how to support the mom and dad; and how to move past the experience without guilt or shame. Feel free to pass this post on to anyone or anywhere you like.
Despite the fact that PPD is more in the public arena, it still carries a hushed stigma. So much so that when I was pregnant and had several - not one, but several - risk factors going into birth and a few more coming out, only one person ever addressed the subject with me.
My OB never talked about it. A close family member who experienced it never mentioned it. My son's pediatrician didn't, even when I took him constantly to be weighed. The lactation consultant I called daily didn't and even prescribed me a medication that has a depression side effect 4 weeks after birth.
I thought later, how can this be? How can there be so much attention given to this disorder yet no one talked to me about it before or right after my son was born? I chalk this up to the fact that people are scared to insinuate a mother might experience it.
But why not? It is a physical disorder like any other and they certainly aren't afraid to warn you of gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia.
The one person who did was a friend who lived in England at the time. She had been through it and made a point to call me and give me her experience. It was her words I clung to. That it wasn't my fault, there was something I could do about what I was feeling. This is the reason I will tell anyone about this disorder that wants to hear, and even some who don't.
So here's how it happened for me. I was a fantastically happy pregnant woman. Loved every minute of it. Towards the end though my blood pressure was going up and I developed a horrible rash that 1% of pregnant women get. My OB took me out of work for the last month of pregnancy. This alone had me a little tired and stressed going into the birth.
My family has a history of anxiety and depression, and I had personally struggled with anxiety, again upping my risk. Beyond that I had no family nearby and was 34, additional risk factors. I had planned a natural birth and due to complications with delivery had to have an emergency c-section and my son spent a day in the NICU. More risk factors.
Add to that breastfeeding problems and Brady's dad's employer piling a great deal more on him just a week after Brady was born, and it was a recipe for disaster.
In the 5 weeks after Brady was born, I dropped 40 pounds, and could hardly sleep or eat. I was prescribed Reglan for milk supply and the lactation consultant only casually told me "the only side effect I have heard of is depression."
And a frantic call to my OB resulted in a Zoloft prescription over the phone and an appointment for one week later with a psychiatrist.
My body gave up before that appointment and I spent a few days in the hospital getting back on track. Once I was diagnosed, stories and resources came out of the woodwork. Turns out there was a PPD clinic and support group 15 minutes from my house. More than that, friends and family started telling me their stories. So did a doctor at the hospital whose wife called him one night saying she was afraid she was going to hurt their new baby. A nurse manager told me her PPD experience from 20 years earlier.
I got the help I needed, bonded so securely with my baby boy that we are practically inseparable now, 7 years later, and made it my mission to tell the world about this disorder and help any woman I can who is experiencing it.
Let me tell you, it is a particularly deep isolation when you're going through PPD. You're supposed to behave one way in the eyes of the world but everything inside you feels the opposite.
That's why it is imperative a woman in this state reach out to her spouse, friends and family, or to a support group, and get the help she needs to move forward.
The best place to start is at PSI's website. They have lots of information and links to local contacts to get help.
Tomorrow: The risk factors.
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