Mental Health

It’s OK to Talk About Postpartum

Today’s topic is near and dear to me as so many moms struggle with postpartum adjustments, blues, and depression. The goal for today’s blog is to give ourselves permission to talk about these significant changes in our lives once we give birth.

The Truth About Giving Birth

First, giving birth has become glamorized. Our culture expects women to give birth, immediately conform into a perfect mother, have her slim body back, keep her household running, and maybe even maintain a career. We all know this is a JOKE! However, we are so often fooled into thinking this is the “normal” thing to do. Giving birth is messy and takes a significant toll on your body emotionally and physically.

More than 10 years ago after giving birth to my son I recall not wanting any visitors, feeling completely exhausted, crying more often than usual, and feeling emotionally frail. I was lonely and confused, yet wanted no one except for my newborn son. As a clinician I knew I did not meet the criteria for postpartum depression — but I certainly was experiencing a postpartum adjustment. I wish someone would have told me that this was normal.

Today, it is to my goal to help moms feel supported, find their own sense of identity, and calm their wildly imaginative minds. Perhaps its survival mode, but new moms have an incredible way of thinking of every worse possible situation. This worry can translate into a safe baby but it can also hijack a lot of other things like marital bliss and a good night of sleep — both of which is already desperately missing.

Don’t Be Afraid to Discuss the Changes You’re Going Through

One of the first steps is accepting that its OK to talk about postpartum changes when you’re aware of what is happening inside of you. If you are the mom with the racing thoughts explore where that’s coming from, help others around you understand these changes, and channel it in the healthiest way possible.

As women and mothers we have a calling to be there for one another as iron sharpens iron. We need to focus on being present with our babies. And realizing parenting is not always about DOING. It’s about BEING present. A baby forces you to be present with them. This means letting go of some of the other forces in your life steering you in 1,001 difference directions. When moms are able to find a balance between doing and being they adjust better to the new role of being a mommy.

It might help to share your strategy of balancing being and doing with your spouse. You might have to prompt them, “the dishes are still dirty because I spent a lot of time with the baby today.”Sharing your internal adjustments with your spouse will help you work through the postpartum stage. “Please be patient with me tonight. I did not sleep well and I feel very emotional” is one example of how to kindly share how you are feeling.

Symptoms of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders

In addition to discussing the importance of discussing postpartum I wanted to share a resource for yourself and maybe the other moms in your world. This resource is NOT just for new moms — it is for all moms. I have worked with women who have no postpartum adjustments until their 2nd or 3rd baby. Each birth is unique for your body and adjustment.

Below are questions for you to explore or for you to share with other moms. If you believe you have a lot of these symptoms please seek out assistance from your healthcare professional.

Here are some of the recognized symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders:

  •  I can’t sleep, even when my baby is sleeping.
  • I have lost my appetite.
  • I feel sad.
  • I have been crying a lot for no reason.
  • I am feeling worried or anxious most of the time.
  • I am having anger or rage that is not normal for me.
  • I feel numb or disconnected from my life.
  • I can’t enjoy the things I used to.
  • I don’t feel like I’m bonding with my baby.
  • I am having scary “what if” thoughts over & over about harm coming to me, my baby or others (also called intrusive thoughts, a sign of postpartum OCD).
  • I feel a lot of guilt and shame.
  • I’m worried that I’m not a good mother.
  • My thoughts are racing.
  • I can’t sit still.
  • I feel like the only way to make myself feel better is by using alcohol, prescription drugs or other substances.
  • Sometimes I wonder if my baby or my family would be better off without me.
  • I’ve been having physical symptoms that are not normal for me (for example: migraines, back aches, stomach aches, shortness of breath, panic attacks)
  • I have had serious thoughts of hurting myself.
  • I have had thoughts that I should (not that I might or what if, but that I should or need to) hurt my baby or someone else.
  • I am worried I’m seeing or hearing things that other people don’t see or hear.
  • I’m afraid to be alone with my baby.
  • I feel very concerned or paranoid that other people might hurt me.
  • I feel overwhelmed with all of the things in my life.
  • I can’t concentrate or stay focused on things.
  • I feel like I’m losing it.
  • I want to be alone all or most of the time.

I have had these symptoms for more than _________ weeks. I am _______ weeks/months (circle one) postpartum. Here are some recognized risk factors for maternal mental illness that may help you understand my situation:

  •  I have had depression, anxiety/OCD or PPD before
  •  I have a history of bipolar disorder or psychosis
  •  My family has a history of mental illness
  •  I have a history of or am now going through trauma (for example: domestic violence, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, poverty, loss of a parent)
  •  I have had a stressful event in the last year (for example: house move, job loss, divorce or relationship problems, or the death of a loved one)
  •  I’m a single mom
  •  I don’t have much help or support at home from my partner or family members

(NOTE: This checklist is not intended to diagnose any mental illness. It is a discussion tool for moms to use with healthcare providers. It was created by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit supporting moms with maternal mental illness. For more free tools and support for perinatal mood & anxiety disorders please visit postpartumprogress.com)

This checklist can be used as a guide in starting your discussion regarding postpartum.

And remember, as you accept discussing postpartum there is a continuum of severity. Please reach out to safe people in your world to help you with your particular symptoms of adjustment. Just as it took your baby 9 months to grow inside you it will take months and sometimes years to feel “normal” again. Be gracious to yourself.

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