Never Assume that All is Blissful for the New Mom….Preventable Tragedies

If you have been following my blog, you may have read my previous post from April 9, 2009 titled “Pain, Sadness Hiding Behind Smiles….Never Assume and Think That All is Blissful for the New Mom.” 

Today, February 27, 2010 marks the second anniversary of the tragic suicide of Joseph Raso’s daughter, Crystal, four months after she gave birth to her second child.  I’d written about this sad, sad story last April when I first heard about it through Susan Stone’s blog, that included Joseph’s touching letter about what happened.  

Here’s a link to a very moving piece written by my friend Marcie Ramirez.  And click on the video montage that fellow PPD blogger Lauren Hale sent me, which Joseph sent her just a couple days ago.  

I urge you to please do the following:

  • Help Joseph’s efforts to spread awareness about PPD by sharing this story and the video montage with as many people as possible, particularly expectant/new parents. 
  • Become knowledgeable about PPD, including its risk factors and symptoms (and how to distinguish from the blues).  If you have a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker that just had a baby, ask her how she REALLY feels.  Offer her your emotional and/or practical support.   From what you know about her, including whether she has been particularly stressed/concerned about anything recently and whether she had any pregnancy/childbirth complications, if you get any sense that all is not well (i.e., she is not able to sleep even when the baby sleeps, she is overly anxious), encourage her to tell the truth about her thoughts and feelings.  Print out my post detailing PPD symptoms and the difference between the blues, and show it to her.   This way, if she is in fact suffering from PPD, she will be less likely to try to hide how she is REALLY feeling.  Knowing she is not alone in her experience, there is no reason to feel any shame or guilt, and she will get better as long as she seeks treatment….such knowledge can decrease the likelihood that feelings of hopelessness and helplessness will take over and make her think that the only way to escape her pain is by taking her own life.

For more information, including the email Joseph sent to Lauren, click here.  

If you are struggling with a postpartum mood disorder, you can:

  • Contact the Postpartum Support International (PSI) warmline* at 1.800.944.4PPD.
  • Go to the PSI website for a list of coordinators for each state who can provide referrals to those who specialize in treating PPD in your area.

* Some states offer toll-free phone (either hot or warm) lines.  Hotlines operate 24/7 and can serve callers in different languages and are staffed by licensed mental health professionals.  For example, New Jersey has a hotline (800.328.3838).  Warmlines don’t operate on a 24/7 basis and are staffed by volunteers.

Pain, Sadness Hiding Behind Smiles…Never Assume and Think That All is Blissful for the New Mom

Never assume….never take for granted that everyone always has smooth deliveries and postpartum experiences…..never think that just because she’s smiling that everything is fine and blissful, as it always has to be after the birth of a baby.

I just got through reading a touching letter on Susan Stone’s blog written by a father who lost his daughter to postpartum depression (PPD) and is encouraging people to petition for the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act.   His daughter seemed fine though people realized too late that she appeared to be more consumed with worry in the days leading up to her suicide.    Touched and with tears in my eyes, I started to write this post.

Something has to be done to stop the silent suffering of so many new mothers, bring more public awareness on PPD, and more healthcare professionals (GPs, OB/GYNs) up to speed on detecting PPD before it spirals out of control and leads to sometimes disastrous consequences.  What we need to do is prevent these situations from happening in the first place.  The only way we can make progress is through public awareness, which includes dispelling the myths of motherhood.  Now, if you happen to be one of the proponents of those ridiculous myths because you feel threatened or whatever the reason might be, then take a reality pill and get with the program.  Jump off that la-la train that you’ve been riding.  You cannot possibly ignore the fact that PPD is the #1 complication of childbirth, with 1 out of 8 women suffering from it.  If you still want to ignore it, then that’s YOUR problem.  Don’t make it anyone else’s. 

How many more lives should be torn apart from an illness most people still think is a make-believe illness?  Some marriages do not survive.  Children of women with untreated PPD may end up with cognitive, social, emotional and behavioral delays and potentially anti-social issues down the road.  For God’s sake, some women whose illnesses spiral out of control don’t even make it through alive. 

Sure, mothers have been giving birth for thousands and thousands of years. Just because most women with PPD don’t speak up doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And you mothers out there….if you don’t speak up, people will continue to go on scoffing at the idea that PPD does exist.

Why the fear?  Why the secrecy?  Why not speak up?

You may be wondering why the heck, then, doesn’t a mother who’s not feeling herself get help in the first place, then think about this.  

  • Many (like me) don’t even know what is happening to them in the first place. 
  • Many go see their doctor about why they’re feeling the way they’re feeling, but are told that what they’re feeling (baby blues) is normal and should go away by itself; yes, doctors still misdiagnose even today (more on this in my next post – stay tuned). 
  • Many are afraid of what their family/friends may think. 
  • Many are afraid others will look down at them and call them weak/bad mothers. 
  • Many may even fear that if they speak up, their children will be taken away.  After all, media is doing a great job in painting the wrong picture about PPD  (see earlier post on ABC’s Private Practice) and the public seems to think, ever since the Andrea Yates case, that everyone who has PPD is at minimum a bad mother or will turn into an Andrea Yates.    Well, Andrea Yates had postpartum psychosis (PPP)–which occurs in 1 in 500 to 1,000 mothers– and was never successfully diagnosed and treated, and look at the disastrous consequences that resulted.   The healthcare system failed her and those around her didn’t help her.  Instead, the public chooses to put the blame squarely on her shoulders. This is why public awareness and education are CRITICAL!

Basically, with the exception that the birth of a child is a life-changing experience for all women, though in different ways and to different degrees, no one woman’s motherhood experience is the same as any other. The only experiences you will hear are the mothers who have positive experiences gushing to everyone they know and run across “I love being a mother. Being a mother is such a fulfilling, wonderful experience that I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s all I ever dreamed motherhood to be.” Since you only ever hear about the positive experiences, women whose experiences aren’t as positive will tend to keep their feelings to themselves.  It takes courage and a desire to empower other women to speak up.  Slowly, the numbers of women who speak up are growing until hopefully, one day, this suffering in silence nonsense will finally come to an end.  I’m hoping this momentum continues to the point until the motherhood myths disappear and mother-centered programs (mental/physical health and practical/social support) during the postpartum period become the norm rather than the exception.

Don’t compare yourself to other mothers that appear to be coping extremely well with motherhood–those who never look tired, always look happy and seem to do it all without needing any help at all. I know how tempting and almost second nature it is, but you must resist doing so.  Don’t assume that, just because other new mothers around you seem to have a picture-perfect motherhood experience, they’re natural mothers because they seem to know what to do and do everything right, and even look great  even immediately after having given birth. It could also be that some of these women have hired help in the form of a doula/nanny/housekeeper, which does in fact help new mothers get the rest they need to recover (see previous post on social support).  Unfortunately, however, not everyone has the ability to hire such help. 

You don’t know what truly goes on behind closed doors.   Just like others won’t know something’s wrong unless you open up, you’ll never know whether these seemingly perfect mothers are just putting up a façade. It’s scary how common it is for a woman to disguise how she’s truly feeling–it’s called make-up and good acting–all so others won’t know she’s not coping as well as she thinks she should.  She wants to give the impression that she’s handling it like the supermom that other mothers give the impression they are and how she wants to be viewed as.  This is one of the reasons why even today people are surprised to hear that PPD is the #1 complication of childbirth.  

No one’s life is perfect, despite appearances.

Please see a doctor if you don’t feel yourself even after 2-3 weeks postpartum, and you’re feeling down, unable to smile, unable to enjoy anything and/or unable to sleep even when the baby sleeps.