Postpartum depression is not discussed enough and is way more common than statistics reflect. But what is postpartum depression? It is the terminology used for an episode of depression experienced by parents following the birth of a child. Postnatal depression, although often used in the same context, is in reference to feelings of depression associated with the baby.
Postpartum psychosis should be considered if symptoms present include hallucinations, paranoia, hyperactivity, or if the mother seems delusional. Medical intervention, hospitalisation, and administration of appropriate medication for the safety and well-being of the mother and baby are required in these circumstances. It’s estimated that this affects one in every 1,000 birth mothers.
Postpartum depression is not a reflection of you as a parent and can be navigated with the right information and support. Keep in mind that this isn’t just something that affects mums – even fathers can be affected. Let’s delve into the emotional and physical changes that impact birth mothers following the birth of a child to understand more.
Day 1 to 3 = The Baby Pinks
Elevated hormones during pregnancy drop after birth and may result in tearfulness, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, and sensitivity. The baby pinks can also present on the other end of the spectrum as feeling euphoric, overly thrilled, and having difficulty sleeping due to not wanting to miss any time with the baby.
Day 3 to 90 = The Baby Blues
Tearfulness, anxiety, fear, insomnia, and feeling emotional are experienced at this stage. It affects at least 60% of birth mothers.
Day 90 to the First Two Years = Postpartum/Postnatal Depression
Anxiety, lack of joy, loss of interest in social activities, lack of interest in sex, difficulty in concentrating, changes in appetite, and feelings of disassociation characterise this stage. Please be aware that these are simply guidelines, and individual cases may vary in symptoms and timeframes. There are many factors that can contribute to parents experiencing postpartum depression, although the exact cause is still unknown. Some of them include:
- Previous history of mental health issues
- A traumatic birth experience
- History of miscarriage or stillbirth
- Relationship difficulties
- Social isolation
- Feeling that one’s own expectations of themselves as a parent are not being met
- Loneliness and isolation
- Less time for family and friends
- Separation from work colleagues and social activities
My Journey with PPD
During the 18 months that I suffered from PPD when my son was born in 2017, I was extremely teary. I am a pretty emotional person normally, but this was on a different level! In the early days, I assumed the hormones were just wreaking havoc and it would all calm down. The fear of being judged or labelled as ‘not coping’ and my inner voice (which was lying!) telling me I was not being an amazing mum meant that many of those tears were cried behind closed doors.
When finally making the decision to talk to a counsellor over a Zoom call following a heart-to-heart with a friend, I repeatedly used the word ‘disconnected’. I described this sensation as “watching my life unfold in front of me, but not always feeling present”. My body language portrayed my feelings as I kept touching my head. When asked why I was doing this, I said, “Because it feels like my head is going to explode.”
The longer these feelings and thoughts plagued me, the more ‘shame’ I felt. After waiting so long to have our son (we tried for three years and I was 40 when I fell pregnant), here I was, wasting all of this time feeling sorry for myself. This train of thought did not help one bit, of course, but contributed to the spiral of depression instead. I was confused as we had so badly wanted to have our baby and the research I often came across referred to symptoms such as “difficulty emotionally connecting with the baby”. This could not be further from the truth!
If anything, I felt such overwhelming love and connection with my son that it made me question my own abilities and confidence in being the best mother I could be. I now understand that rather than not connecting with my baby, it was in fact some much-needed connection with myself that was required. Like so many other people who have experienced this, I did not fully acknowledge the issues I was facing. It was not a consistent feeling and, therefore, I believed that it was all getting better – until that dark cloud would descend upon me again.
Circumstances played a hand, too. Living overseas saw us begin this new chapter without the proximity of our families and, whilst supported through video calls and messages, it was not the same as the physical connection and ease of simply ‘popping in for a coffee and a chat’. The Zoom call with the counsellor was the catalyst I needed to begin the journey to showing up as the mum I knew I really was.
Around the same time, a friend of mine who was a life coach was hosting a retreat close to our home, and I decided that it may be beneficial for me to attend. Little did I know that it would change the trajectory of not only my personal life but also my professional life. Having that space, tools, and learning new things would lead me to a pivotal moment whilst sitting by the water with my son a few days later. I remembered to breathe!
It was at that moment I decided to study as a coach and provide much-needed support for other families. A trip to the doctor saw me begin to take antidepressants to ‘springboard’ me to a place of being able to get back on my feet. I hold no judgment over taking medication. However, I strongly believe that the answers do not lie solely within that pill. Creating a toolkit of habits, behaviours, and awareness of your own needs should go hand in hand with a prescription.
The last three years have seen me furthering my education and training in Life Coaching and Post Natal Depression Awareness, creating an online programme called Stepping Into Parenthood. Most importantly, I’ve implemented all I have learned to create a support system for my own mental health, where I no longer need medication and have the ability to navigate the down days.
Normalising Talking About PPD
It is now my mission to share my learnings, raise awareness, normalise talking about the challenges of being a parent, and provide a safe space for anyone who needs it to talk. Giving oxygen to the thoughts and emotions that occur after bringing a child into the world, to me, is one of the best ways to provide self-care.
It can be difficult to be truly honest with family and friends as their intentions to help with advice and opinions can add to the overwhelming feeling. That’s why having a coach, therapist, or counsellor is one of the best investments you can make for yourself. Yet, it’s unfortunate that this can still carry a stigma or feeling of embarrassment. Look at it this way.
When learning to drive, we all have a driving instructor to help us understand the workings of the car and the rules of the road. We then have to pass a test before being allowed to drive. Nothing like this is required to become a parent. When starting a job, there is usually a training period to learn how to do the job and what’s expected of you. Again, nothing like this is required to become a parent.
When playing sports, there is usually a coach to teach you best practices and support you as you learn. At one time in the UK, you were required to have a license if you wanted to own a TV! Of course, nothing like this is required to become a parent. What I am saying is that we need to normalise preparing to become a parent – both physically and mentally. The fundamental contributors to this chapter in your life are:
- Being aware of your own human needs and how you can meet them.
- Welcoming evolvement rather than the often discussed need to ‘spring back’, whether it is to pre-baby weight, career, or lifestyle. Of course, these make up your identity and it is important to have goals, but remember to be a little kinder to yourself. Allow some flexibility and reduce inner conflict by embracing this new version of yourself.
- Personal development will help you to identify any inner work that needs to be addressed as well as strengthen your relationship with yourself – which, of course, will impact your relationships with your loved ones.
I now realise that my obsessive need to clean the house was to meet my driving human need for certainty. I am someone who is routine-orientated, systematic, and does not do so well feeling out of control. Another massive contributor for me was that I was not meeting my own human need for growth. I naturally immersed myself in all things baby, and therefore stopped reading, listening, or watching anything that challenged or elated my own brain. When I began studying, it was like a big switch being turned on! Self-care makes you the best parent you can be for your child.