Updated: Jul 14, 2019
By Glyndora Condon MS MFT LPC
Many misnomers surround the disorder known as Post-par-tum Depression. This is most likely due to the normal blues that women experience approximately 2 weeks after the birth of their babies. It is normal for women to feel sad and helpless at times after their baby's birth due to multiple factors: hormonal changes from the birth and the pregnancy, being drained due to the feedings throughout the night and being on call day and night. In addition, it sinks in that this baby is my responsibility and wonder if I mess up? Husband is also a factor since he may or may not be assisting and may also be expecting sex to occur as it once was, readily after giving birth, and therefore may be pressuring and possibly ridiculing the mother for neglecting him. Both may feel some resentment of their lives being changed drastically due to less freedom with outings they once enjoyed. This is simply an adjustment period as this little bundle of joy, work, and questions is demanding attention and care.
With this frustration then enters feelings of guilt since this little baby is helpless and therefore I "should" not be so irritable at times and more understanding. In addition, we may look at our mates as one who could be doing more or less depending upon our level of emotional maturity and priority. However, this adjustment comes and goes as the developing years continue to add more dynamics, and parents find a way to adjust and find their station and level of happiness. If the couple does not adjust then they need to seek counseling to help them.
This is NOT post par-tum
depression however. It sometimes does not raise its head until months later. Suddenly the mother is overwhelmed with darkness, lack of energy, lack of pleasure, obsessive intrusive dark thoughts of either life without her baby or herself. She may neglect her hygiene and sleep, can gain excessive weight or lose excessive weight within a 30 day period, and/or begin neglect of her baby as the baby cries without her coming to assess and to provide care. Images of her baby or herself drowning, falling down stairs, or other nightmarish thoughts swarm within her head as she fights to resist compulsion of behaviors that may make these thoughts become reality. Guilt and shame shroud her most inner being and she is extremely weak. If others come to her aid then she may react with anger, apathy, resentment, or helplessness. When this continues for at least 2 weeks then she is already in a major depressive episode. This now is a clinical issue which requires a professional's attention.
For some, then the adjunct of counseling, or/and meditation, and self care programs can help the mother to regain herself, especially if healthy food and exercise is included to naturally increase the dopamine and serotonin chemical balance of her brain; as she learns coping tools. Husbands would also benefit as they accompany their wives and learn how real this disorder is, and how to be a support to them.
Husbands often want to fix it for her and will tell her all kinds of encouraging words and ideas, then become frustrated when she is unable to listen or allow him to fix her. He cannot fix her. Sometimes he only needs to try to help make life easier for her and just listen without a word; since words will not fix her and may even add more tension. He learns what is helpful and how real this darkness truly is during counseling; and he also is then able to glean from the support given during counseling.
Other women are greatly helped with an anti-depressant or anxiety medication that accompanies counseling to also learn the tools. When taken as prescribed for a temporary time then her brain aids her to think which helps her to learn the tools that will continue her progress even when the medication is done. Usually 6 months is a good amount of time for the woman to feel like herself again regardless of which forum of aid she chooses, and with the counseling, then she can press forward when any dark thoughts try to enter. If she only chooses medication then she is less able to progress if darkness attempts to return once the medication ends-and she is at risk of building tolerance if she does not discontinue the medication. Without counseling or medication, then the woman is fighting a brutal, exhausting, demeaning, and frightening battle; which can take casualties such as the marriage, self worth, addiction, and even death.
This article is written to help new mothers and their partners/spouses to heed a very real disorder that can cause real harm if the mothers do no receive help. It is real and it can be helped.