Postpartum depression (PPD), and depression for that matter, is an imaginary, or make-believe illness, a state of mind that can be changed at will, a means to get attention, an excuse to take medication to escape from reality, a sign of weakness or self indulgence, an excuse to avoid the reality of motherhood.
Yeah, get a grip on reality–and get educated while you’re at it–for crying out loud. These statements couldn’t be further away from the truth. In this day and age, how anyone can believe any of this BS (especially other women) is beyond me. Why can’t women be supportive of each other instead of being so critical and competitive with each other?! That includes being supportive of and contributing toward efforts that will help mothers experiencing PPD rather than impeding those efforts (those people, by the way, should be ashamed of themselves). Why women have to be so feline (note: my #2 anger trigger is feline behavior, after my #1 anger trigger of behavior & remarks made out of ignorance/racism/condescension) is beyond me!
Skeptics will claim that, since PPD isn’t necessarily detectable via blood work nor a growth or wound or handicap that is visible to the naked eye, that it must not be real. And please don’t say this is a recent phenomenon or that women have been giving birth thousands of years and we’ve only seen a rise in PPD awareness–and thank goodness for that–in the past decade, so it must be a new invention made up by women in today’s generation because they can’t cut it like the tougher women of previous generations. Right. Anyway, this “recent phenomenon” is thanks to the women out there (you go girls!)–plus celebrities who are finally gaining the courage to speak up more about a condition that has been documented as far back as the days of Hippocrates. Scientists have not been spending years on research on treatments, detection, determination of risk factors, etc. for lack of anything better to do.
People out there scoff at the idea of PPD and claim to know all about it, when in fact they don’t. Why? Because they never suffered it themselves…duh. They’ll claim that all new mothers experience mood shifts after childbirth. Hello, you’re thinking of the blues, which happen within the first couple of weeks postpartum and resolve on its own. They’ll claim that there is no scientific evidence that PPD exists. They’ll claim that insomnia, a classic symptom of PPD, is merely sleep deprivation and fatigue that all new moms experience. They’ll also claim that having a panic attack is the same thing as anxiety that comes from difficulties in transitioning to motherhood and being a first-time mom. Now, had these people actually experienced real PPD, including real insomnia and real panic attacks, they would understand what it’s like to have PPD, insomnia and panic attacks. Until then, they should keep their ridiculous claims to themselves. I’m not going to tell these skeptics to do their reading because no amount of facts will change these peoples’ minds…unless perhaps they experience any of these conditions for themselves. It’s really a shame, isn’t it, that people insist on maintaining their stubborn beliefs, regardless of how ridiculous they are.
Many of these skeptics of PPD are also skeptical of depression, in general. They’ll claim that depression is a matter of mind over matter. They’ll claim that anyone can snap out of depression on their own accord. Well, wake up! The ability to will or wish away depression is a myth. You can’t overcome it by just putting your mind to it. PPD is a real illness with a biological cause, just like diabetes and heart disease. You can’t just “snap out of it” any more than you could if you had an ulcer, diabetes or heart disease. Until I experienced PPD, I thought depression is just a state of mind. I used to say things like “I’m depressed” whenever I felt sad. Now, I’m careful to not use the word “depressed” in the context of sadness. I believe the majority of folks out there mistakenly think that being depressed is the same thing as being sad, feeling down or feeling blue. People, particularly OB/GYNs, need to stop getting these two very distinctly different conditions confused with each other because by doing so, they are preventing women with PPD from getting the help they need right at the beginning. Not to mention, perpetuate the misconceptions about PPD.
With PPD, the longer you wait to seek help, the harder it is to recover from. But why wouldn’t you get the help that you need to get better and enjoy motherhood sooner? Why suffer longer than you have to? There are many possible reasons, though high up at the top of the list would be 1) mistakenly thinking that this is just the way it is with being a first-time mother who is trying to cope but just going through a rough patch (because they don’t know any better due to lack of education about PPD and their doctors’ misdiagnosis as blues) and 2) fear from the stigma associated with mental illnesses and what others would think/say and. All too many women will unnecessarily struggle with toughing it out or self medicating with alcohol or other substances.
My best piece of advice to you moms out there is to not give a damn what other people think. Now, if I could take a dose of my own medicine, that would solve one of the biggest habits—or weaknesses, that is—I’ve had so much trouble kicking over the course of my lifetime! Your priority should be the wellbeing of you and your family. The best thing you can do for yourself and for your baby—in fact, for your whole family—is to seek help as soon as you experience three of more of the symptoms described in my post “Baby Blues is NOT the Same as PPD!” Don’t wait until you are crippled by the effects of PPD like I was. Prolonged and untreated depression can not only negatively affect your marriage and your baby’s cognitive and social development, it can unnecessarily strain your relationship with your partner. Worse yet, untreated PPD can lead to such feelings of hopelessness that ending your life may seem like the only way out of the pain. Don’t try to tough it out, thinking what you’re experiencing will pass on its own just as quickly as it developed. Don’t try to tough it out because others around you are trying to convince you that this is all part of the process of transitioning to motherhood, that every new mom experiences sleep deprivation and anxiety (see previous post on the difference between that and true insomnia, a very common PPD symptom if it is experienced 3 weeks or later after childbirth).
Though the symptoms and their severity may be unique to every woman, PPD is debilitating to all those who suffer from it. Depression–and there are thousands in this country today that are afflicted with it– affects people physically, not just mentally. It is a physical illness that is the result of a chemical imbalance. Hormonal changes are responsible for perinantal (during pregnancy and postpartum)—and even premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)—mood disorders and an imbalance in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Serotonin is one such neurotransmitter. Research shows that serotonin dysregulation is a primary cause of PMDD and PPD. A sudden and huge drop in estrogen levels immediately after childbirth contributes to a decrease in serotonin availability in the brain. Since serotonin promotes normal mood, a decrease in serotonin availability in the brain is associated with anxiety/depression. This is why medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which increase serotonin availability in the brain, have in many cases been effective in the treatment of PPD. An SSRI was effective for me.
Let me explain something here, lest the words “medications” and “SSRIs” trigger a violent reaction among the anti-pharma faction out there. I am not advocating medication for everyone. Different treatments will work for different women. A woman must be informed enough to be able to make a decision that she feels is right for herself. Being informed means having ready access to information about PPD, its symptoms, where to go for help, what treatments are available, what medications are usually prescribed and their side effects and risk of being passed to the baby via breastfeeding, etc. It also means having a doctor that is adequately trained to detect, diagnose and treat perinatal mood disorders. But many doctors are still not adequately qualified to do any of that, plus lack adequate tools and resources. This is why awareness about PPD and preventive measures (like lining up adequate social support and getting 5 hours of interrupted sleep as much as possible in the first 6-8 weeks postpartum) are so, so critical to everyone who plans on having a baby.
I’d like to close with this piece of advice to the skeptics. Without knowing the full story (or without ever experiencing PPD or any other illness directly) one should NEVER pass judgment on the situation of others. Women with PPD do not need to be scoffed at, doubted and criticized. They need support and understanding. If you were in their shoes, would you want to be on the receiving end of these negative or–shall I say–tasteless behaviors?