Depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder, is a mood disorder which affects approximately 1 in 10 Canadians at some point during their lifetime.
It is a complex medical condition with symptoms affecting emotional, physical, behavioural, and cognitive areas and is characterized by a persistent (two weeks+) feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Depression is not an indication of weakness, a flaw in character, or a temporary change in mood. It is serious and can present itself in many forms. Last week we touched on a specific type of depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and today we would like to shed light on Postpartum Depression.
Postpartum Depression (PPD) is still sometimes used interchangeably with the ‘baby blues’, though it is actually a much deeper depression which lasts beyond the first couple weeks of childbirth, beginning at any time within the first year and last weeks to months, unlike the latter. It is mostly speculated to be caused by a fluctuation in hormones as well as sleep deprivation, but there are many other factors involved as well including social isolation and a family history of depression. Unfortunately, symptoms of PPD are most often chalked up to natural bodily changes and the ‘new normal’ of parenthood. This is harmful, as it delays treatment and can therefore prolong problems and even allows them to grow and worsen over time. In addition to symptoms associated with depression, PPD usually involves scary, intrusive thoughts in relation to being a bad parent, feelings of guilt, and in some cases, thinking about harming oneself or the infant.
Being a parent is a journey, not a destination. It may sound cheesy, but there is no ‘perfect pregnancy’, ‘perfect birth’, ‘perfect parent’, or ‘perfect baby’. With COVID-19 impacting our daily lives over the past 7 months, postpartum depression is expected to be on the rise, as problems grow in isolation. Below, we have outlined some of the less commonly talked about feelings from the postpartum experience, and steps that can be taken to start the process of feeling better.
This may seem like a bit of a harsh word, but more often than not, when we lead with resentment, anger, and frustration, it is usually stemming from underlying emotions. You are not a bad parent for feeling this way. You may feel resentful towards:
- Your partner…who gets to go to work and have an ounce of freedom
- Your friend…that continues all the regular social groups you were a part of
- A coworker…who got a promotion in your absence
- The mom influencer…on Instagram who looks like she has everything together
- Your infant…who always needs you
Some find themselves wishing they could go back to their lives pre-baby. Behind the resentment is likely an unmet need, such as empathy, validation, attention, or help. Acknowledge these feelings, accept them, and then decide what to do with them. Essentially, we can let the superficial emotions of rage or sadness guide our behaviours or we can recognize the value in what we are feeling (trapped, isolated) and reach out for help (ex. let you partner know you appreciate cooperation and it can alleviate unwanted feelings for you). You deserve support.
Part of the postpartum experience can be described as a cutting block, taking away chunks of your identity. It can feel like who you were pre-motherhood is erased and you only exist in relation to your baby (the new star of the show!) It is frustrating that in the year 2020, parents continue to face the challenge of being recognized as a multi-layered human. It is important to make times for the other aspects that fuel yourself- physical activity, creative expression, professional development.
On the other hand, it can feel as though you are acting as a fraud. This phenomenon, Imposter Syndrome, can make you doubt your skills, accomplishments, and abilities. Parents might feel that they do not fit the stereotype of what it means to be ‘maternal’ or ‘paternal’ and therefore feel like inadequate to fulfill the role of a parent. If you blame yourself for something that wasn’t your fault, fear what others think of your parenting, or fail to recognize your role in your efforts or the success of your child, this can be an instance of Imposter Syndrome.
It is important to realize that you will make mistakes and you do not have to give up who you are for the sake of your child. It does not make you selfish or a bad parent, just human.
A common struggle among the symptoms of postpartum depression is the feeling of helplessness. Rather than dwelling on what cannot be changed, decided to focus on the agency you do have, what is within your power. For instance, social support is the biggest protective factor in postpartum depression.
ANXIETY & GUILT
Though we are wired to experience anxiety and guilt to protect ourselves, in the context of postpartum, these feelings can be all-consuming. This can look like:
- Panic attacks
- Racing thoughts
- An overwhelming sense of dread
- Pretending everything is fine when it isn’t
- Fearing being alone with the baby
- Feeling on edge
- Physical symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and sleep disturbances
- Constantly worrying about the baby’s health, development, and safety
Feeling guilty for…
- not bonding with the baby
- wanting to do things for yourself
- struggling to breastfeed
- not finding your baby to be cute
- for not spending your MAT leave the way you pictured it to be
First of all, that is A LOT a big emotional load for one person to take on, yet it is all too common among new parents. Remember: thoughts are not facts. You have not done something wrong, nor is there anything wrong with you. However, it is important to address these intrusive thoughts so they do not cause you continual distress. Check out this free ‘Mom Guilt Workbook’ to help work through this.
When the terms ‘postpartum’ or ‘baby blues’ are used, it is usually in the context of referring to mothers, but fathers are also at risk for developing postpartum depression. In fact, this affects around 10% of men. Society’s response to new families tends to address babies first, mothers second, and fathers last, if they are even acknowledged at all. Men are most likely to struggle if their partners are experiencing symptoms as well. Unfortunately, men often refrain from showing vulnerability, asking for help, and showing emotion, because our society does not recognize such behaviours as being ‘masculine’. They feel the need to be strong and tough, to be the support for their birthing partner, but support doesn’t need to be restrictive- there is enough to provide to everyone involved (fathers, same-sex partners, adoptive/step parents, other guardians). Do your part to reduce stigma and practice checking in on each parent if you have the opportunity! All caregiving experiences matter.
It takes a village to raise a child, and you do not have to do this alone. Demand more from your partners, take people up on their offers to help, reach out when you feel overwhelmed. Putting this into practice allows it to be normalized. Support groups act as a safe space to share, connect, and learn from the experiences of other parents, as other parents are the most likely to understand what you are going through. Other methods in treating postpartum depression include:
- Establish boundaries: specifically with your triggers. Whether this be family, friends, social media, news, COVID-19, or yourself, identify what makes you vulnerable so you can limit the information you take in and know when to be extra self-compassionate.
- Therapy: specifically Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy. CBT helps you learn how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours work together and how you can break unhelpful patterns, while Interpersonal Therapy focuses on relationships and helps you navigate the changing roles brought on by parenthood.
- Medication: specifically antidepressants can help with mood, energy levels, and sleep. Please consult with your doctor to inquire whether this is a good fit for you, and to learn about the risks and benefits.
Please contact us for assistance in connecting to services that can help.
If you know someone who may be showing signs of postpartum depression, do not ignore it. Check your own biases and understand that every responsibility does not fall on one parent alone. Encouraging
your loved one to speak to a health care provider, being there for emotional support, and helping out with tangible tasks (household duties, child care, accompany them to appointments) are options for how you can offer to assist. If they reach out to you for help, this is what it may look like and how you can respond:
If you are going through it today, you are not alone. Be gentle with yourself, you are doing just fine.