Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Postpartum depression is badly named

I am one of those women who tells mothers-to-be about about all the wonderful things to look forward to in their pregnancies. You won't hear any horror stories from me about childbirth. Funny? Yes. Mundane? Sure. But not scary. (There's no need to scare pregnant women, people, they have enough worries/fears already zipping through their heads.)

But there is one area where I am always serious. And that is about postpartum depression. This is because most people don't understand what it really is. 

So, let's be clear. Postpartum depression isn't just "missing being pregnant." Can that be part of it? Yes. But the term covers a host of other emotions as well. Postpartum depression is the vacuous, emptying feeling that sits in the bottom of your stomach where there should be joy. It is the inability to trust your own instincts when it comes to taking care of your child. It is the constant state of fear/worry/paralysis that prevents you from taking care of your baby or yourself. It is scary and awful and we need to tell women about it before they go anywhere near the delivery room.

A few months before I had my son, I was at my baby shower and a friend of mine tried to talk to me about postpartum depression. I sort of laughed her off, and said I would watch out for it – the half-hearted promise of someone who wants to return to talking about baby clothes and nursery colors. But, she took my face in her hands again and said, “Postpartum depression is real. And it is not what you think it is.”

She had my attention, and I listened.

A few months later I had my son. I adored him at home for the full six weeks of my leave. I went back to work missing my alone time with him every day. And I somehow narrowly escaped experiencing postpartum depression.

I say “narrowly escaped,” because a recent study from the University of Maryland School of Public Health suggests that longer maternity leave reduces postpartum depression risks. The study finds that new mothers might need at least six months of time with their child before returning to work. I can completely relate to these findings: We don't give long enough maternity leaves in the U.S. (but that is a post for another day).

So, I want to pay my friend's postpartum depression talk forward to the hardworking women who return to work too soon, or who don't feel any joy in motherhood or to the women who feel "wrong" or "empty" or scared all the time after having childbirth. To those mothers, I want to say: You aren't alone. Please reach out to your doctor, your friends, or your family and get help. Mommyhood can be a wonderful thing and you need to talk to someone so you can experience all the highs with the lows. There is nothing wrong with having postpartum depression. There is everything wrong with not seeking help for it. 

Just as important: Talk to your spouse about the signs of postpartum depression before you enter the delivery room so they can keep an eye on you, too.

Did you find out about postpartum depression before or after you had your baby? What do you wish you would have known about it beforehand? Tell me in the comments.

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