Updated: Apr 17
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Christine sat in her car, tears welling up in her eyes. She hadn’t slept more than 6 hours in 2 days, and she was overcome by a combination of fatigue and adrenaline. The fatigue came from not sleeping properly, and the adrenaline came from the chronic anxiety that plagued her both day and night. There was a sense of dread within her, a constant knot of fear churning in her gut, which caused her to feel like she couldn’t breathe properly. Her baby was asleep, for now. She picked her newborn up out of her car seat, and tiptoed towards the house to put her in her crib. Yet, the sudden change of position woke the child, who in turn began to cry. Christine let out a scream that relayed a sense of frustration, fear, exhaustion, and anger.
Christine is not alone, though she may feel alone in her pain. After having a baby, so many mothers struggle to cope with the sudden hormonal, emotional, physical, and lifestyle changes that come with being a new mom. Pregnancy is a time where the attention is focused on the mother, when strangers help carry out groceries, and open doors, and compliment the glow on an expectant mother’s face. Then, within a 24 -hour period, the tide has shifted, and the focus and attention is turned to the newborn child instead of the mother and her needs. Mothers are delighted to meet their new children, but they often stuff their anxiety, depression, guilt, and insecurities deep within themselves. They are afraid that if they talk about their feelings openly, they will be shunned and scolded.
“Everyone just kept telling me how lucky I was. How perfect she was,” said one mother who wishes to remain anonymous. “Meanwhile, I felt strangely disconnected from my child, like she wasn’t quite mine and like I didn’t know what to do with her. I kept those feelings inside because I was so afraid of what people would think of me. Everyone just kept asking about the baby but nobody ever asked how I was feeling. I wish just one person would have asked how I was doing or how I was coping. I felt so unsure of myself and this new role that I was supposed to take on in life. The more I stuffed my emotions, the worse my depression became. It took a long time to get better, and it took therapy and medication to get there.”
Feeling slightly anxious and depressed is normal after giving birth. According to the Cleveland Clinic, up to 75% of new mothers experience baby blues. The blues are caused by hormonal changes that take place in the body, and can be exacerbated by preexisting mental health conditions, or unhealthy living situations. The symptoms include bouts of crying, anxiety, a feeling of deep sadness, and irritation. These symptoms can last for up to 2 weeks, but may end sooner or last longer.
The baby blues are different than postpartum depression and anxiety. Postpartum depression and anxiety affect 1 in 10 mothers. These symptoms are more severe than the baby blues and can last up to a year after the birth of the child. Symptoms include irritability, fatigue, severe anxiety, severe depression, and intrusive, disturbing thoughts. Postpartum psychosis is another, more severe type of mental illness that occurs after giving birth, and is much rarer than postpartum depression. It can cause hallucinations, paranoia, and depersonalization.
Though the movies often depict postpartum depression sufferers in the most dramatic sense possible, such as mothers who hurt themselves or their new children, this is rarely the case. In fact, most women who suffer from postpartum depression keep their feelings hidden, and may in fact look outwardly to be leading a normal, happy life. They may post beautiful photos of their new babies on Facebook, attend church, go to work, and join new mother groups. But inwardly, they are having trouble sleeping, coping, eating, and bonding with their baby.
So how can new mothers cope with postpartum depression and anxiety?
First, it’s important to know that any feelings you may be having, regardless of how unpleasant they are, are valid and common. Having a new baby is a huge change, and no book on parenting, or advice from your mother-in-law, or support from other moms, can adequately prepare you for it. The most important thing you can do is to talk with someone if you feel anxious and depressed.
Go to your family physician, and then look for a dedicated counselor who can give you some coping mechanisms for dealing with the stresses of motherhood. There are also many great medications which those who suffering from anxiety and depression can take, if counseling is not enough. These can help restore the chemical changes in the brain that can be contributing to the chronic anxiety and depression.
Having a great support group is crucial towards getting better. Also, remember to take breaks and get as much sleep as possible. Once your child is old enough, sleep training is a possible option that can help put your baby on a schedule and give you some much needed rest.
Finally, don’t compare yourself to other moms. There is so much pressure on new moms to be perfect, and so much of it is unnecessary and unhealthy. All new mothers are doing the best they can with the coping skills that they have, and everyone has a hard time adjusting to a big change like having a child. Give yourself a break and take a deep breath.
If you are struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, please call Straight Talk Counseling at
(714) 828-2000 to speak to one of our dedicated counselors.
Or visit our website at www.straighttalkcounseling.org for more information.
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