As you all know, postnatal depression is a subject dear to my heart (and mind) and one of the huge reasons I started The Motherhood Project.
I feel that often us mothers try to do it all…. and we beat ourselves up, riddle ourselves with guilt, try our absolute damnest to be the best…. its really no wonder that we fall over sometimes. And yet, when we do slip up or fall to pieces, we berate ourselves for failing! Gah!
Yep, us mums really can be our own worst enemies!
Add to this situation how society perceives us. Generally, we’re ‘just’ mothers, taking time away from our ‘real jobs’ and not contributing to the economy. If we’re slightly in need or single or unsupported, we become a ‘burden’ on the economy.
(all those ‘-‘ are in reference to what I’ve read, heard and discussed about how others view parenting).
Society – and of course, again I am generalising, and here refer to our NZ culture, western society etc – thinks our babies should not ‘interrupt’ our lives – they need to be sleeping 8 hours from 6 weeks old, are cartable from party to social occasion to BBQ to picnic to wedding etc, and must not be cuddled, rocked or breastfed to sleep, lest we spoil them! So if your baby doesn’t fit this ‘norm’, you doubt your parenting, become frustrated and resentful.
Depression and other mental illnesses are generally misunderstood in our society. Still commonly dismissed as not a ‘real illness’ and combined with the Kiwi mentality of “harden up”, depression is surrounded in stigma and judgement. Its great when stars stand up and say, I have depression. I really like John Kirwans book for this.
In addition, we’ve cultured ourselves to see asking for help as a weakness. We’re covered in baby sick, the washing hasnt been done in 3 days, and do we pick up the phone to ask a neighbour, friend or relative for help?
It’s no surprise then, that new mums struggle to feel validated when feelings overwhelm them. With pregnancy and birth hormones surging, sleep deprivation and huge feelings of responsibility and hopelessness, post-natal depression can affect 15% of new mums.
Symptoms include feeling exhausted, stressed, tired, anxious and confused. You may feel unable to cope with your new baby, or feel little towards your baby. Managing daily activities can be tough, and it can be hard to make simply decisions, because of difficulty concentrating and thinking. You may be worrying, feeling guilty, useless or irritable or having negative thoughts. It can be a low flat mood or loss of enjoyment in the things that used to make you smile.
NOTE that of course, it’s understandable to have many of these symptoms post-birth! Some of these feelings are normal without throwing a baby into the mix!!!
In the days after you’ve given birth, its normal to be teary, exhausted and overwhelmed with emotions! This is commonly referred to as ‘baby blues’ and tends to pass after the first week – it is a result of your pregnancy hormones crashing and coming back to normal. Likewise, there will be bad days – teething baby, colic, growth spurts, job stress, moving house or relationship issues – and feeling angry, teary and fed up is also normal! It is when the symptoms linger on and start to affect your enjoyment of life, that post-natal depression is a problem to be addressed.
The first place to start is to talk to someone you feel comfortable with. Ideally, approach your midwife or GP and let them know how you feel (take a friend for support if you need to). There are also great resources at www.mothersmatter.co.nz.
You may find that talking to people who understand can help you feel better about what you are going through. Avoid people who don’t understand and can only offer judgement or criticism. I’ve met a few of these – people who think mental illness isn’t real, or that I need to get over myself. However, even worse I find, are the people who are down themselves, except they are trapped in negativity and determined to bring you down too! I have had to cut ties with people who are so depressing that they refuse to help themselves and despite my efforts to help, are determined to STAY grey. At some point, I’ve had to focus on MYSELF so I can focus on my family, and end contact with these people.
Taking antidepressants can lift your mood and pull you from the black cloud. I know there is alot of stigma around these drugs too. Indeed, some doctors seem to give them out like lollies, and they are not always the answer. But for those who genuinely need them, and can find one that works for them, antidepressants can help keep you out of the black cloud/keep your hear afloat. And for some, that can be just the lift they need, to get things back in order.
A trained maternal mental health counsellor can offer you strategies for coping, and call in any other support you may need. My experiences here include weekly visits (in my own home, so less stress!) and lots of chatting about whats happened, how I have felt/reacted, and how I could do better. What I got out of using a counsellor is giving me the tools/strategies to cope when the black cloud rolled in… and I could use these strategies over and over. Worth a try!
Often getting back to basics can pull you back to feeling happy again. Ensure you are eating well, exercising regularly, and getting sleep when you can. A naturopath or homeopath may be able to help as well. Work through your issues and do everything possible to ensure you have smooth day-to-day running so you can enjoy baby and have time to yourself! Allow yourself time to appreciate the warmth of the sun, the scent of flowers, the sand between your toes and the other goodness of nature!
There is a lot of pressure on mothers! Mothers need to stop judging each other, forget about pleasing the world, and do what is right for their family. We feel we need to be supermums, but we can’t have clean houses, happy children, healthy food and study or work commitments ALL THE TIME! The balance is ‘some of it, some of the time’! Be kinder to yourself and ease the pressure.
The more we talk about depression, the better it will be for new mums who are seeking validation of their feelings, and support for their new lives. Remember it can take some time to move out of the rut that is PND, but you will get through it!!!
Personally with myself and my friends, we find that we can stand up and shake ourselves off – and we’ve done it!!! But for many of us, we’ve revisted the black hole again – so dont forget to hit those basics again (sleep, exercise, good food, minimal stress), adopt your strategies again, and ride through the next wave of life 🙂