Pregnancy-related depression and anxiety is still something that’s widely misunderstood. I remember being shocked when I told people I had postpartum depression and they didn’t really understand what I meant. In some ways, postpartum depression has become a buzz word…
Everyone’s heard it, but they still aren’t really sure what it means.
Adele recently admitted that she struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of her son, but she initially thought she didn’t have it because if you had postpartum depression she thought that you didn’t want to be with your child or that you wanted to harm your child. Because she didn’t feel that way, she assumed she couldn’t have it and was reluctant to get help. Many women who have struggled with pregnancy-related depression and/or anxiety, including myself, have never thought about harming their child. There is a form of pregnancy-related mood disorder where that is a symptom, but it does not have to be present in order for a mother to seek and/or need help.
There’s a stigma in our culture that says, if I admit I’m struggling with being a mother people will think I’m a bad mom.
I remember being terrified that my depression and anxiety would somehow be used against me. It didn’t help that many of my behaviors after the birth of my daughter were misunderstood by family members at the time. I was trying my hardest to be the best mom, but I couldn’t see how I would ever feel better in the months after my daughter’s birth.
Pregnancy-related depression and anxiety for me meant that I was constantly on edge. I never felt comfortable. Most mornings I was terrified when my husband left for work, leaving me alone with my daughter. Because I was still able to function for the most part, people assumed I was managing fine. I went through the motions and interacted with my daughter, but I felt dead inside for lack of a better phrase. I would burst into tears frequently while talking to my husband and I constantly told him, “I just can’t do this anymore.”
I was exhausted physically and emotionally.
People, including family, would ask to hold my baby and my initial instinct was to always say no. I was so terrified my daughter would get sick and I’d be left alone to care for her. I couldn’t explain this to anyone and I tried to quiet the panic that set in whenever someone wanted to hold her in the first months after she was born, but even normal social interactions and situations filled me with dread.
Isolating myself was both a symptom of and coping mechanism for my depression and anxiety. I hated being alone, but often times I couldn’t muster up the energy to be in public and feel the eyes of judgement that I was sure were on me.
I didn’t expect anyone to understand me and, after failed attempts, I didn’t want to try to make them understand. For a couple of months, I just accepted that life would be muted for awhile. I asked for help and reached out as much as I had the energy and finances for, but ultimately I felt I was all alone in my struggle.
The turning point for me came about a year after my daughter as born. I finally had the energy to be more proactive in getting the help I needed. I started going to a support group with other mothers who were struggling or had struggled with pregnancy-related depression. Hearing their stories and seeing that I really wasn’t alone was a huge moment of clarity.
I knew all along that I was not the first or last woman to suffer from pregnancy-related depression and anxiety, but I didn’t know anyone who was talking about it openly. Because of that, I was left to assume that all of my peers were managing fine. Even if they weren’t, they were pretending so well, that I would never know.
Hearing what other people had been through and what helped them feel better gave me hope. It showed me that I could get better too.
I also identified that working with practitioners who had experience with women who had suffered from pregnancy-related depression and anxiety was important. I needed to make sure whoever I saw was sensitive to the unique challenges I faced as a mother. When I finally started to feel better I told myself I would never forget my experience. I wanted to use it to ultimately help other mothers and make the journey less lonely for them.
Statistics say that nationally, 1 in 7 women develop symptoms of pregnancy-related depression and anxiety. In Colorado, the statistic is nearly 1 in 10 women. These statistics reflect the fact that pregnancy-related depression and anxiety is the most common complication of pregnancy. Many women may be suffering in silence as well, meaning these numbers may not reflect the true picture of what mothers are experiencing.
We have to start taking better care of our fellow mothers.
Arming ourselves with the proper information is a good first step. Start by looking up the signs and symptoms of pregnancy-related depression and anxiety. As mentioned before, many people have an antiquated view of pregnancy-related depression, which isn’t their fault. It’s a cultural misconception.
There are many other ways to support a mother. Look up resources in your community. Sit with her. Talk to her. Listen to her worries and her fears. Offer to go to her appointments with her or watch her baby while she goes alone. Show her that she isn’t alone. Above everything else, rally around the mother and cover her in love. What all mothers need, but especially those suffering from pregnancy-related depression and anxiety, is unwavering support.
If you are struggling with pregnancy-related depression and anxiety, please know that you are not alone. There are many people who can and want to help you.
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) recently launched a public awareness campaign to improve the awareness and knowledge of pregnancy-related depression and anxiety among pregnant and postpartum women and their support networks (partners, friends, family, etc.). CDPHE’s overarching goal is to reduce the stigma associated with maternal mental health and to increase the number of women who seek treatment. Visit www.postpartum.net/colorado to get information about pregnancy-related depression and anxiety and find Colorado coordinators who can give you support and resources in your area. You can also call 1.800.944.4773 for confidential, free and immediate support.