I always try to keep up with the multitude of articles that feature Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center and author of numerous books on perinatal mood disorders. This particular article from October 4, 2017, titled “Postpartum Depression May Look More Like Anxiety Than Sadness” that appeared on Well and Good, by Annaliese Griffin, caught my attention. It caught my attention because it’s because when my doctor told me 13 years ago that I had postpartum depression (PPD), I didn’t believe him. I thought “How could I be depressed if I’m not even sad?” He explained that depression could manifest as anxiety, but did I understand that at the time? Nope. Little did I know that I was about to embark on a journey to discovering what PPD really was….that it’s a catch-all term that encompasses all postpartum mood disorders, which includes postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis. That my PPD caused insomnia, weight loss, loss of appetite, and being a shell of a person unable to enjoy anything, and unable to pretty much do anything. I was so concerned about my baby’s cradle cap and eczema and her bowel movement/feeding schedules that, by the time her colic came and went at my 6th week postpartum, PPD set in and I had no idea what was happening to me.
This article is very important because the number of women suffering from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) is pretty common. And I should know because of the number of hits I get on my blog for the symptoms that I experienced. So, if it’s been over 3-4 weeks since you had your baby and if you are feeling anxious, unable to sleep even when the baby sleeps and unable to function and enjoy things you’re normally able to enjoy (like listening to music), having moments of rage, having panic attacks, and/or having obsessive and even scary thoughts, please go the Postpartum Support International (PSI) website to seek help near you. You are not alone, there is nothing to feel ashamed of, and you will get better with the right help. Do not be afraid to ask for and accept help.
Jessica Porten’s story went viral a week ago because she admitted to the nurse at her OB/GYN office that she was experiencing feelings of anger, and that admission was unfortunately not handled correctly. This, my friends, is why I have been blogging for the past nearly 9 years. My mission is to help spread awareness and in so doing dissipate the stubborn stigma that refuses to go away because there is still so much ignorance about PPD. My mission is to also help mothers as much as I can to get the help they need. Anger/rage is another way that PPD can manifest for some mothers. Everyone’s PPD experience is unique to that person because we are all complex people that– when emotions, temperaments, hormones, heredity, childbirth experience, and history come together–symptoms manifest differently from one person to the next. Symptoms can range from feelings of sadness to anxiety, anger and even rage to insomnia, sleeping too much, lack of appetite, eating too much, obsessive/intrusive thoughts, etc. As such, treatment of these moms will vary from one mother to the next. Some moms need medication. Some moms need therapy. Some moms need a combination of medication and therapy. The duration of treatment will vary as well. But there is one thing in common among all mothers suffering from PPD: they need help. They don’t need to be treated the way Jessica Porten was treated. They don’t need to be treated like I was treated 13 years ago.
Erica Chidi Cohen, a doula and co-founder and CEO of Loom in Los Angeles attributes postpartum anxiety to first-time mothers feeling uncertain and anxious about going through childbirth and taking care of a baby for the first time. It is more common than you think for first-time mother to feel anxious but when the anxiety morphs beyond worry to insomnia, lack of appetite, etc. is when medical attention is needed. A traumatic childbirth experience increases the chances for a new mother to experience PPD.
Click here to visit Kleiman’s The Postpartum Pact. It is an important postpartum toolkit for expectant mothers and their partners and loved ones to review before baby’s arrival. It truly pays to be prepared, regardless of whether you think you may be at risk for PPD or not. One never knows, as I have said in prior blog posts and in my book, whether something may happen during pregnancy/childbirth that could lead to PPD. It can’t hurt to review the pact and prepare to have folks lined up to help once baby arrives to ensure the new mother has adequate practical support, especially if this is her first baby or if she has another little one(s) to take care of already.
Speaking of adequate support, it’s organizations like Loom in Los Angeles and Whole Mother Village in W. Orange, NJ — two examples of many childbirth, pregnancy, and reproductive wellness communities that have sprouted around the country to provide support, information, referrals and services from preconception to parenthood– that are critical because it takes a village when it comes to a family’s well-being. Going it alone is not a viable option nowadays, especially when the significant other needs to work to support the family and the new mother is not well and family members are not close by and/or are too busy to provide emotional and practical support. It really is no wonder there are so many cases of PPD. Please see my past posts about the importance of mothering the mother and how it takes a village to minimize the occurrence of PPD here and here.