By Julie-Ann Sherlock
Those of us who have embarked on the most difficult “career” of all, parenthood, often bear invisible scars. The sleepless nights when they are tiny babies merge into sleepless nights when they are teenagers. It seems neverending. Our hearts, minds and souls belong to these other beings in a mystical world of love, stress and fun.
These immense, occasionally overwhelming feelings of unconditional love we have for our children often cause a struggle to find a balance in our lives. This is particularly difficult to deal with when our offspring are at their most delicate, having recently entered the world, leading to a condition called Postpartum Depression (PPD).
We should be feeling on top of the world, excited about the new life we created and basking in the joys of motherhood. Then along comes a demon to strike us down.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
About 50-80% of new moms experience what is known as the “Baby Blues” within days or weeks of giving birth. This is a natural phenomenon as our bodies work to recover from the birthing process, and hormones attempt to rebalance themselves. The lack of sleep that usually accompanies caring for a newborn feeds into the baby blues, making it even harder to cope.
But this is not PPD. Postpartum Depression is more severe and lasts far longer.
Described by WebMD as “a complex mix of physical, emotional, and behavioral changes that happen in some women after giving birth”, PPD generally begins within the first 4 weeks. It results from a combination of the chemical changes to our hormones after labour and how the physical and social changes of having a newborn baby to care for affect us.
During pregnancy, a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels increase tenfold to support the baby’s growth. These rapidly drop off shortly after the child is born. This sudden imbalance can trigger depression and cause anxiety as the body tries to readjust. Add in the heady mixture of sleep deprivation, lack of energy due to breastfeeding and worries about your baby’s safety, growth and development; it’s no wonder some of us find it hard to lift our heads from the pillow!
And even baby-daddies can be affected sometimes, making it a really tough time for the family at a crucial time of bonding.
COVID-19’s Impact On PPD
As if bringing new life into the world wasn’t hard enough, some brave warriors chose to do so during a global health crisis. The pandemic seems an ideal time to start or add to your family, as many are working from home and can spend more time with the newborn.
It’s been far from ideal, however. Negative factors include the stresses of visiting the doctor/anti-natal clinic while protecting yourself from this devastating illness. Many clinics only allow the mom-to-be to attend, forcing them to face any news, good or bad, on their own, without any support. There have even been cases where mothers had to give birth without a partner to help them. It’s no wonder PPD spiked alarmingly during the pandemic!
Studies show that those with a predisposition to depression and anxiety are more likely to suffer from PPD, but this was exacerbated by the stress the pandemic was causing.
Why Don’t We Talk About It More?
When I gave birth to my second son over 24 years ago, I suffered from PPD. Back then, it was whispered about as if it was something to be ashamed of, and while things have changed somewhat, there is still a long way to go.
Mental health issues are becoming easier to discuss openly, especially with so many celebrities speaking out about their problems and encouraging more frank dialogue.
Yet, very few talk about PPD. It’s like this crazy cocktail of mixed up hormones, bodily changes, lack of sleep, and worry about how you can cope with raising a child does not give you an excuse to struggle. Thanks, world!
Thankfully, Meghan Markle and other celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon and Alanis Morrisette are speaking up and telling it how it is. They are sharing their stories about the mental struggles they have encountered prior, during and after pregnancy.
While this doesn’t cure the condition, by highlighting that even those with all the resources at their disposal, including nannies and the best of medical care, can still be laid low with PPD, we mere mortals can begin to understand that this can be a regular part of parenting.
If you or your partner are struggling with mental health issues of any kind, speak to a medical professional as soon as possible and get the necessary help.
Like most mental health issues, medication and counselling can genuinely help and get you back on your feet to enjoy the experience of raising your baby. I know, I have been there.