Beyond the Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression. Are your hormones making you "crazy" after giving birth?
I was excited about becoming a mom with both my children. Though I will be the first to tell you that I was not one of those happy, bubbly pregnant women. I was grouchy, tired, sore although I did think it was “super cool” to be able to feel my child move inside my womb. However, if I could have outsourced the duration of pregnancy or somehow shorten it to that of house cat, I’d have been much happier about the process of becoming a mom. Oddly, the actual task of bring forth the child from womb to world was in my opinion much simpler than the 9 months of carrying the little one. I would taking giving birth over pregnancy any day. And, I am pretty sure that I am in the minority on that sentiment. Apparently, my body is built for birthing so perhaps this is why I think this way. Both my children were delivered naturally without any pain medication. My first birth took a “lengthy” 9.5 hours start to finish, the second 4hrs 11 mins. I digress though. What I wanted to discuss is what happens after birth, the unofficial 4th trimester. The one where the new baby and mom are getting acquainted with each other, bonding, learning, growing (well, the mom hopes to be shrinking) that is noticeably absent from all the pregnancy books. You might get a few tips on early infant care and to get plenty of fluids and rest, but a lot is left unsaid.
For starters, your hormones go crazy after giving birth. There are significant drops in progesterone and estrogen. Any woman who has experienced hormonal mood swings due to PMS can imagine how that is magnified after birth. At this time, your body must make startling hormonal adjustments to go from from the high levels of maintaining a pregnancy to a drastic decline. Add in the physical changes from no longer needing that 50% increase in blood volume which means waking up in sweat soaked sheets and changes in blood pressure as your body attempts to re-establish homeostasis for this new blood volume. Your body is a mess! And as if the physical changes weren’t enough, you now have this incredibly cute but also completely helpless little creature who is also attempting to re-establish homeostasis and learn new things like how to suckle and all the poor thing can do is cry he/she becomes upset. Of course, when you are a newborn baby, nearly everything upsets you because suddenly you are cold or hot because your body cannot regulate temperature very well, then your butt gets wet and uncomfortable and everything seems loud and bright! What’s a mom to do then? Your body is staging a physical/hormonal revolt and your much anticipated baby seems to eager to keep you up all hours making the suggestion to “rest” seem laughable.
You may find yourself in the first few days or few weeks experiencing the Baby Blues. Symptoms include:
- Mood Swings
- Inability to concentrate
- Trouble sleeping
Sometimes though, it is more than that. Sometimes, no matter how eagerly anticipated the child was, sometimes the task of just getting out of bed seems like climbing Mount Everest. Worse, you are sitting there with the knowledge that you are supposed to be happy and excited about your new baby. Sure you think, maybe I am supposed to be tired but too tired to smile, too tired to want to hold my baby? You feel ashamed. You feel like a terrible mother. Afterall, what kind of mother doesn’t want to hold her new baby? And when you have guests you attempt to cover it up, to smile a bit but you are just relieved when they ask to hold the baby or change the diaper or do anything really, because all you want to do, all you feel capable of doing is laying down, sleeping, maybe sitting down. You look at that gorgeous baby you just gave birth to and you feel disconnected and confused because this wasn’t at all how you imagined feeling. Whether you are first time mother or have been-there-done-that, each pregnancy is different and each one can cause post-partum depression. The best thing you can do for you, your baby and the rest of your family is recognize the symptoms and not be afraid to speak up and get help.
Post partum depression can frequently be the result of a thyroid disorder which you may or may not have had prior to pregnancy. Speaking with your doctor is important, especially to see if this could be the cause. A simple blood test & some medication could have you feeling like new in a couple weeks. And then again, sometimes, a genetic predisposition is suspected or perhaps you are just “lucky-enough” to be extremely sensitive to those naturally occurring hormone drops mentioned earlier combined with the stress of the changes a new baby brings and suddenly life can become overwhelming. There is no one “cause” for postpartum depression but talking about it and not hiding it is the key to overcoming it and getting to be the kind of mom you imagined.
When Little Bear arrived I had recently gone through a life-changing event with my husband. At age 35 a routine physical was followed up with a cardiac stress test which had some “findings”. As an FYI whenever a doctor says “findings” they generally mean, something bad. After another more invasive test, a cardiac catheterization this time, those “findings” confirmed an 80% blockage in his left main coronary artery right where it trifurcated, meaning… two other vessels joined up as well. Because of that, stenting was not an option as it could very well lead to him dying on the table if one of the smaller vessels became blocked. Hence, the only logical option was triple bypass to get around ALL THREE vessels. Maybe now you are picturing my husband as morbidly obese or with some other significant risk factor – nope! He was like many people, could stand to lose 15 lbs and exercise a bit more but definitely what you would say is “average” and “healthy”. But his father died suddenly when he was child of a heart attack. We were told his greatest risk factor to this “widow maker” was genetics. Which is why we were so shocked. I am GLAD we found & repaired things but, I guess, the stress of nearly losing my husband right before our son was born, then having him on disability when I delivered, our income being so much reduced AND adding a new baby - I don’t know but something inside of me said “ENOUGH!”.
Despite knowing how I should feel, what I should think and want I just spent hours crying. Holding my son and crying and feeling like a failure as a mom. Because I looked at him and he was cute but that was it, he was cute. I would willingly hand him off to the first person that asked and just hope they wanted to hold him for a long time. Because I was tired, to tired to be a mom. And sad, sad that I did not feel more bonded to him. Heck, like the determined lactivist I was, I nursed that baby despite his latching issues and sore boobies and hoped the oxytocin from my milk would help me to feel something towards him. But for most of the first month, I just went through the motions. BUT, before it got too awful, I did two smart things… First, I told my mother how I was feeling. She in turn rallied various friends to come visit me, saying I was bit blue and could use some visitors. I honestly didn’t WANT visitors but it was really helpful when they came, to just talk to someone and feel a bit “normal” for a couple hours. The second thing I did was to call up a professional and get some therapy where I could bring the baby and talk. I swear this was divine intervention too because I randomly picked a name that I “liked” that said the counselor handled women’s issues and my provider covered. It turns out she was an on-staff consultant for the birth center where I delivered. She helped me to realize I was doing an awesome job as a mom and that I would bond with Little Bear over time. And boy have I ever!! He is the two year-old apple of my eye!!! So, please believe me. Things will get better and they will get better a lot faster is you are brave enough to speak up!
What Postpartum Depression Symptoms Include:
- Lasts longer than a couple weeks
- Interferes with your ability to take care of baby/self
- Extreme fatigue
- Hard time bonding with baby
- No appetite
- Intense mood swings
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, like a failure
- Losing feeling of joy in life
- Severe irritation & anger
- Decreased Libido
- Withdrawing from family & friends
- Thinking about harming self or baby
It was hard to say the things I have said here. If my son ever reads it, I hope he will understand. And more importantly, I hope I have given another mom the courage to get the help she needs. Hang in there. You are awesome just because you are trying!