Advice Column, Health, Pregnancy & Baby

THIS IS POSTPARTUM: A message for Maternal Mental Health Week

  • Tilda Timmers
  • Category Advice Column, Health, Pregnancy & Baby

Have you just had a baby and feel ashamed that you’re not feeling as blissful as you thought you would be? Do you feel afraid and alone?

Do you feel like no one understands you, or that people think you’re not a good mother? 

Do you cry with pain during breastfeeding but grit your teeth because of your mother-in-law’s comments?

Do you scroll through endless Happy Mummy Instagram accounts, wondering what the hell is wrong with you?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, please know you’re not alone. Whether or not your symptoms fit a specific diagnosis, the bottom line is this: You don’t feel your best right now, and you want to feel better. Being a mum is hard. For every woman. Even the ones who look like they’ve got it totally sorted. (Especially those ones?)

After giving birth to my oldest daughter, Livia, I was as far from that image of a proud, radiant new mum on cloud nine as it is possible to be. I felt like my throat was being squeezed and I couldn’t get any air—like I was slowly drowning. It was as if someone had thrown a huge, dark blanket over me. When I looked at my baby, I was both madly in love with her and filled with terror. What if something happens to her? The anxiety was oppressive and I became more insecure every day. I didn’t know what to do about how I felt and, bit by bit, I lost myself. Eventually I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). Wanting to be the perfect mother had paralysed me.

What makes PPD worse is that it’s so hard to talk about. But speaking out is vital. That’s why I’m advocating for Maternal Mental Health Week in May to be a globally recognised day for talking about the challenges new parents face when their baby is born.

Causes of PPD

The risk of a woman suffering from depression triples in the first month after delivery, compared with childless women of the same age. Fluctuating hormones make mothers more vulnerable to depression, but difficult psychosocial conditions also increase susceptibility. Such conditions might be one of the following:

  • You have a bad relationship with your parents.
  • You have lost your mother or a key figure in your life.
  • Your parents or close family live far away.
  • You want to keep everything under control.
  • You have very high expectations of yourself and of life in general.
  • You have an argument with people in your social circle.
  • You have problems at work.
  • You have financial difficulties or debts.
  • You are in a toxic relationship and/or have experienced domestic violence.
  • You have had mental health issues in the past.

Signs of postpartum depression

(if these symptoms last longer than 2 to 4 weeks, ask for help immediately)

  • You’re irritable.
  • You can barely concentrate.
  • You feel dejected.
  • You sleep badly, even when your baby is asleep.
  • You eat a lot or very little.
  • You think about suicide or death.
  • You have difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
  • You lose interest in the world around you and no longer enjoy the things that used to give you pleasure.
  • You feel that everything takes a lot of effort; you don’t want to be asked for anything.
  • You feel that you’re outside of life.
  • You have negative thoughts and feelings about motherhood.
  • You cry a lot and often during the day.
  • You’re unreasonable and unkind to people in your immediate environment (family, friends, colleagues, etc.).
  • You feel incredibly insecure and you put an enormous amount of pressure on yourself.
  • You experience intrusive thoughts. For example: You vividly visualise throwing your baby down the stairs or choking your child.

It’s important to know that many women can also suffer from prenatal depression during their pregnancy. It’s thought that lack of social support and presence of marital discord may increase the likelihood of this type of depression. Sadly, this is currently a neglected topic, with little research from which to draw guidelines and recommendations. Much more work needs to be done in this area.

However, many of the recommendations given to women with postpartum depression are also relevant if you’re suffering from depression before you’ve had your baby. Seek help as soon as possible. Talking to someone is a brave and important step. Choose someone you feel comfortable with and tell them what’s bothering you, what you’re up against, and what you’re really embarrassed or ashamed about. Choose someone who can listen well without judgement; someone who accepts you exactly as you are. First choice might be your partner, if you have one, but if you find that too difficult, choose a good friend, your sister, your mother, or that dear neighbour who always gives you good advice. Here are some conversation openers you could use:

  • I don’t need you to say anything, I just need you to listen to me until I’m finished talking.
  • I haven’t been feeling well lately and I think I need professional help.
  • I have a problem that’s been really bothering me, and I’d like to talk to you about it.
  • Ever since I gave birth, I worry all the time and I don’t know how to stop.

Maybe the other person will reach out and grab your hand or give you a hug. If you can, try and accept these warm and loving gestures. You deserve it so much.

If you’re reading this, please speak up. Please share your story at home, with loved ones, friends, and the new moms you meet. Maternal Mental Health Week is from May 3-9 and World Maternal Mental Health Day is May 5. Join us in campaigning for this day to be a globally recognised day dedicated to talking about the challenges new parents face when their baby is born.

You’re invited to get real about motherhood by sharing photos and posts on social media that show the real face of motherhood. Hashtag  #maternalMHmatters #MMHWeek2021 and #MakingOverMotherhood to draw attention to the conversation. And feel free to connect with me on Instagram @thisispostapartum as we continue the conversation in support of new moms everywhere.

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