What if you really wanted to be a Momma? What if you and your partner tried for a long time to get pregnant – and it finally happened? What if you were not in the “right” relationship at the time you found yourself surprised by a pregnancy? What if you chose to do this whole thing on your own because you never found the “right” relationship? What if, no matter what the circumstances surrounding getting pregnant, you were (immediately, eventually, finally, reluctantly?) happy about it? What if you had a super challenging birth? What if your birth was fantastic?
So many questions today! But what I’m trying to get at, is that no matter what the circumstances or level of happiness you might have had about your pregnancy or birth, you might find that once the baby is born, you’re not feeling the way you had expected to feel.
Maybe you’re having a hard time getting through the “baby blues” that everyone told you about. It’s those hormones readjusting postpartum, and should taper off by about two weeks after your baby’s birth. But maybe nobody told you that this “normal” hormonal fluctuation would be so severe or random. It feels like you’re on this emotional rollercoaster – first you’re up, then down, racing through corkscrew turns at breakneck speed before starting all over again.
What if these blues don’t subside? It’s so important to check in with your partner, especially right around that two week mark to take stock of how you’re feeling. If you’re able to breathe a huge sigh of relief because you’re feeling more and more like yourself again, then you’re on your way.
But if it’s the opposite, these feelings are not lessening and being replaced by more positive feelings about yourself, your partner and your baby, then I want you to be on the lookout for a potential PMAD: Postpartum Mood or Anxiety Disorder. We used to call this postpartum depression, but now it’s more comprehensive to talk about mood or anxiety disorders because not everyone presents with depression. This term has been expanded to include other emotions like anxiety and anger so women understand they should be checking in with their provider if they’re not feeling more like themselves in a relatively short period of time after their baby’s birth.
Currently, 1 out of every 7 women will experience a PMAD following the birth of their baby, and 1 in 10 men will do the same. Hormonal fluctuations, negative birth experiences, living far from our families of origin, lacking a strong support network, societal expectations that we be back at our desks and ready to work too soon, and the pressures from social media to share only good and positive emotions could all be contributing factors to these high numbers.
It’s important to talk about this and share widely, to shed some light on this subject. Because no matter what the circumstances of our pregnancy or birth, we’ve been fed the myth that parenting a newborn child is supposed to be the happiest time of our lives. Just look at any media depicting the newborn period. Can you recall even one that doesn’t show an impossibly perfect and well put-together woman glowing as she holds her gorgeous, smiling, baby who never cries?
I’m just arguing that for most women, their reality of early parenting looks nothing like this. When the expectations for our babies, partners and ourselves are set so incredibly high then the gap that exists between those expectations and our reality must also be a contributing factor.
The symptoms of PMADs can include the following: Frequent sadness or crying, changes in appetite, not being able to sleep or wanting to sleep all the time, feeling emotionally numb, helpless or despairing, being irritable or having surges of anger, feeling guilty or ashamed, not being able to concentrate, having a lot of anxiety or panic about caring for the baby, or the health of the baby, lack of sex drive, or lack of feelings for your baby. Some of these symptoms can be experienced by almost every postpartum woman at one point or another – but it’s the frequency of experiencing these symptoms that matters.
If there’s even the slightest recognition in the above symptoms, you might be experiencing a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder – and I want to give you a message of hope. What you’re feeling at this moment does not negatively reflect on you as a parent, or on how much you love your baby. You can feel better than you do right now. There’s an amazing organization that can help called Baby Blues Connection. This is a local organization that has been instrumental in helping Mommas and families find hope since 1994. But even if you’re not local to this area, BBC has information that can help you and your partner navigate the world of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Please check it out.
One of the biggest barriers to getting help when you’re experiencing a PMAD, is the stigma of asking for help. We still tend to think that parenting is a DIY activity and that if you’re struggling with any aspect of it, you should just wear a fake smile and never admit it to anyone – not even to yourself. But once you receive the help that you need, you’ll be parenting so much closer to how you were hoping you would.
Parenting a newborn is hard, stinky, thankless work sometimes. But despite all of this, it should be something that can bring you joy. I want that for you. I hope this message reaches you so that you, in turn, can reach out for the help that you need – help that will make you feel whole and hopeful again.
Have you experienced any of the symptoms of a PMAD before? Are you just now realizing that how you’re feeling might be more than just “baby blues?” Will you reach out for the help you need to make parenting something you can enjoy?