Photo Credits: Florencia Alvarado (http://florencia-alvarado.com)
In the advent (or dusk by now?) of Social Media and over-the-top Mass Communication and Expression for everyone, seems like each year holidays and observances are louder, boulder and more in our faces than ever before.
This month the world celebrated World Mental Health Day (October 10th) and suddenly I saw from left and right articles and pieces about struggles with different conditions, from Depression to Schizophrenia, covering anything and everything in between, both in the professional context and in the personal one. It has been INTENSE. And amazing. And, to someone who struggled with these most of her life, also highly triggering.
However, the healthcare professional in me feels both sad, at the commonality of occurrence of Mental Health conditions, and happy, at the fact that more and more people are daring to speak up, share their struggle and, collectively shed some light, break paradigms and remove the stigma related to them.
Now, this piece isn’t about sharing my journey through Depression or Post-Natal Depression you can read about that here, this is about the 10 lessons that dealing with Post-Natal Depression, both personally and professionally working with dozens of moms who, like me, at some point were trapped in it.
- As much as you think you’re the only one struggling, the reality is YOU’RE NOT ALONE with it: The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 13 percent of women worldwide suffer from postnatal depression within the first year after giving birth. So, the next time you’re scrolling through your timeline, looking at all the perfect lives other moms have, remember that what they choose to show versus what they are feeling can be completely different.
- Post-Natal Depression isn’t just the “Baby Blues”: A HUGE misconception among parents and medical professionals is that the early signs of Post-Natal Depression are just the famous “Baby Blues”, caused by a dramatic drop on hormones after the birth of the baby. The reality is that it goes beyond that. In fact, different studies (like this one) have found that in Post-Natal women, Suicidal Ideation is found in up to 20% of the population.
- As guilty as we later feel about them, kids recover fast: Now, this is a huge one for mothers on their journey to recovery. We have all asked ourselves: ‘Will my baby be messed up for my PND?’. The answer: Yes and No. The reality is that attachment studies show that a lack of secure attachment of the child towards the main caregiver (most likely mom) causes anxiety and other issues that can impact the baby’s brain development. HOWEVER (and this is a massive All-Caps one), thanks to Neuroplasticity (a.k.a. the brains ability to heal, adapt and recover) during the first 2-7 years of life, they recover and thrive. In fact, even the most wounded and injured child can grow into being a safely secured and thriving adult with the right support.
- It affects fathers as much as Mothers: According to this study 1 in 3 new fathers are concerned about their mental health after the birth of their child. Now, beyond that, there are also two key components here: Fathers DON’T KNOW how the birth will go for their partner, this alone can be scary as heck (in a society that doesn’t allow men to have any feelings other than Superhero Mode); and, later one, caring for a depressed spouse is hard and can potentially deeply affect you.
- It has NOTHING to do with the actual events: Whether you had a vaginal birth surrounded by fairies and unicorns in the middle of the forest on a fresh summer day, with all your loved ones humming in the background and chanting affirmations; you planned your birth and everything went as per plan; or you had all these awesome ideas and ended up being wheeled into an OR unexpectedly, you might still experience PND. In my years supporting mothers, I have seen it all and it’s all normal. I myself had two “perfect” vaginal births as per my Birth Plan and yet I struggled for over 1 year with PND after Matthew was born. The facts mean little on this.
- According to some experts, it’s really a Depression Relapse: Women who have experienced depression in their life are more likely to experience it in motherhood. For this reason, support groups and programs that focus on Depression Relapse Prevention are the best in this situation. In my research, those based on the principles of Mindfulness are in the top in lasting results and how they truly transform our brains.
- However, just because you experienced it once, doesn’t mean you’ll always go through it: You see, after I had Matt (and experienced the most horrible 14 months of my life due to PND) I was very scared. Not only about losing myself if I ever had more kids, but also about how that could affect him. Yet, my experience with Mikey was completely different. I worked on all aspects I could to prepare for the worst and even got my family ready for it. But then he was born and, even with some awful things happening to our family during his first year of life, I survived, I thrived and I suddenly had a new understanding of motherhood because depression wasn’t ruling my experience.
- It can make parents decide not to have more children if severe enough: In my practice and in my professional life, I have seen time and time again couples who, after a traumatic first experience in Parenthood field, are so traumatised that they can’t imagine having another child. From PTSD due to emergency c-sections, and grief and trauma from breastfeeding issues that hinder the baby’s development, to the effects of PND in both parents, it’s difficult to think about growing the family when we fear the process will break one of the team. In our case, after my first experience, #MrB was done and happy to say we were sticking to one only. He feared losing me in that process and that was completely valid.
- It can rob you of your motherhood experience: I remember during my first months as a mother, flipping through Facebook and wondering who were these women who LIKED being a woman. To me, despite the fact that I ALWAYS dreamed with it, motherhood was pain, shame, guilt and sorrow. I just couldn’t think it was possible to enjoy it. Once I recovered and with the birth of our second child, Mikey, I realised most of these women were NOT faking and that, in reality, motherhood can be the most beautiful experience we have ever lived… as long your mind and body are up for it!
- Needs mindfulness, compassion, vulnerability and validation for recovery: I truly believe that the only antidote for Depression is Empathy, Vulnerability and Mindfulness. After working with countless women and holding space for their recovery, I know more and more that their recovery, and our collective recovery, depends on our voices and messages being heard and validated so that from the trauma we can heal and grow. The problem is that depression, like many other mental health conditions, comes with a veil of shame and guilt, that keeps whoever is battling it, small, weak and at the mercy of the inner demons. For this reason, I always ask other moms and women to offer compassion first, because we never know the inner battle those around us are facing.
Post-Natal Depression can destroy marriages, families, dreams and futures.
The more we speak up, honestly and equally about our struggles and fears, our accomplishments and joy; the more we use our platforms to remind society of the secret struggles we’re all facing, and the more we demand better care for new parents, the least mothers and fathers will hate their roles as creators of life and the happier our future generations will be.
For this reason, and in the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month (and all things good) I ask you to take a moment and share this post with other mothers, fathers and humans who might need it the most. At the end of the day, we never know when our simpler actions make all the difference needed in someone’s life.