There are more people out there who don’t know about postpartum depression (PPD) than do. And that’s a scary thing. This means that all too many women will continue to be hit from left field with PPD. All too many women hear the words “postpartum depression” and think “Gee, what are the chances I will have PPD?” Take it from me, you would not want to be caught unprepared by a surprise visit by PPD. Don’t assume you will NOT be one of the 15% who falls prey to PPD. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right? Absolutely!
Regardless of whether depression runs in your family, it will be worthwhile to arm yourself with the knowledge of what PPD is, and to prepare for the possibility that you may experience it. Put aside your thoughts of “I would never let that happen to me.” That’s what I did whenever I saw the words PPD while I was pregnant.
Don’t be like me. I believed I wouldn’t let PPD happen to me. So, when it did, I didn’t know what was happening to me. The symptoms caught me totally off-guard. And believe me, being ignorant and unprepared for it causes unnecessary fear, anxiety, guilt and inability to appreciate the baby to which you just gave birth. Empower yourself with the knowledge of PPD so you won’t be like me, the following of which describes my experience:
- caught off-guard and clueless
- not knowing what’s wrong with you
- thinking you’re going nuts
- thinking this is the way you’re going to be for the rest of your life
- thinking you’ll never be your old self again
- feeling hopeless
- feeling like you’re the only one who’s ever felt this way
- feeling regret that you can’t enjoy your baby the way you’d dreamed you would
- not knowing how to get help so you can get well again
Had I known about PPD before my daughter was born, I would not have been so scared as to why I had insomnia and couldn’t sleep even though I was exhausted beyond words and even during the times my daughter slept. My fear would not have escalated to full-blown anxiety attacks. I would’ve recognized other symptoms like loss of appetite (I lost so much weight so fast that within a couple of weeks I weighed less than I did before I got pregnant!). As soon as I started to have insomnia instead of merely taking the Ambien prescribed to me by my OB/GYN, I would’ve immediately known to question it as a sign of PPD and gotten the right treatment then, instead of having to go through the hell that I went through not knowing what was wrong with me.
From seeing the happy moms around you to those on the television and in magazines, you look forward to your future with your baby with joyful anticipation, thinking that with happy thoughts, there will only be happy days ahead. And just because you never hear anyone you know talk about having PPD doesn’t mean no one you know has ever suffered from it. A friend, relative, colleague or neighbor may one day suffer, or at this moment could be suffering, from PPD and you may never even know it because she doesn’t know what is wrong with her and is ashamed to let anyone know that she needs support and rest, and/or is feeling anxious and unable to enjoy her baby as she’d dreamed she would.
It should be the responsibility of OB/GYNs to educate their patients who are depending on them for their perinatal (before, during and after birth) care. Providing the warnings would help prepare the new parents in the event they may experience postpartum blues and/or PPD, thereby preventing a slew of negative feelings ranging from fear and anger in reaction to being blindsided to bewilderment, isolation, shame, guilt, anxiety, panic, confusion, etc. Knowledge of what is causing them to feel the way they feel—something that is completely foreign to most who’ve never previously experienced any psychiatric history—can help minimize these very negative feelings. Never hearing any other mothers say they’ve experienced any of these negative feelings, many of these women may end up thinking, incorrectly, that they are completely alone in what they’re experiencing. Not knowing that PPD is causing these feelings, they don’t know what’s wrong with them and fear, needlessly, that they will never return to their old selves again.
The problem is you cannot rely on doctors to recognize and treat PPD, because many of them still do not know how to. Or could it be that doctors are afraid they will only be causing unnecessary worry about an illness that only strikes one out of eight moms? Well, it is wrong and irresponsible to keep women in the dark about PPD. Information is not a danger to patients. Information about the reality of motherhood must be made available if we want to help other mothers, not sabotage them, and reduce those PPD rates once and for all! It’s keeping the truth from patients that will do way more harm than good. I’ve always believed in the saying “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” In many cases, it happens to be true. But it couldn’t be further from the truth when it concerns a person’s health and well-being. Ignorance is not bliss and in fact can be quite detrimental, particularly when it comes to PPD. Not knowing what is happening to you can be very stressful indeed. There’s nothing worse than not knowing, being in the dark.
During childbirth/childcare prep classes, the instructor may (or may not) mention the words “postpartum depression” and how some women develop it. They may (or may not) give you a handout about PPD, but you choose subconsciously to ignore it because you think that it couldn’t possibly happen to you. I was amazed about how little is mentioned about PPD at the hospital where I delivered my baby. They have a pretty good educational program for expectant parents in terms of Prepared Childbirth (including Lamaze and prenatal nutrition), Infant Care (including Car Seat Safety), Sibling Classes, and Breastfeeding. I took the Prepared Childbirth, Infant Care and Breastfeeding classes. Aside from the great breastfeeding support program, there is no new mother support program as far as I’m aware. However, even if I had known there was a number to contact for other new mother issues, I don’t think I would’ve picked up the phone and called. I thought my experiences were unique to me and others would not understand what I was going through.
Avoiding the topic–like throwing out literature about it during childbirth or childcare prep classes–doesn’t automatically mean you will not get PPD. It’s only natural for you to not want to hear about anything that could go wrong during the postpartum period. You may have enough pregnancy-related concerns as it is, with things like nausea, difficulty sleeping, getting everything ready for the baby’s arrival, spotting, cramping, bloating, preeclampsia, etc. I mean, who wants to look forward to their baby’s birth with anything other than positive thoughts? And who wants to think about something you’re convinced won’t happen to you? It’s natural to deal with concerns as they arise, rather than worry about something that more than likely would not happen anyway.
But remember, a cross-that-bridge-when-you-get-to-it mentality won’t help you if, once you cross that bridge, PPD hits you like a ton of bricks—suddenly and quite mercilessly