I read an article from the New York Times this morning talking about Maternal Mental Illness.
It did a lot of things to my emotions. I was angry, I was sad, I was irritated, and many many thoughts went through my mind as I was reading it.
I thought of my first birth and first postpartum experience. When our daughter entered the world I was on the most amazing birth-high. I had never experienced anything like it. I didn't get to hold her for a half hour or so after she was born, but she did nurse right away when I did finally get her to my breast. I loved the time we had in the hospital. It was just my husband and I, and we of course had family who were there visiting. It was really quite blissful.
Then we went home. It was -40 degrees or something like that the day we left the hospital. We got home to a completely empty house. It was so cold outside that the toilet was frozen. My mom had left a casserole in the fridge, but that's all we had to eat so Randall had to go to the store. Baby slept all the time still, so I didn't really know what to do. I was never scared to be a mom - I had been around enough babies and little kids to know what to do to care for her, but I didn't really feel tired, so even though I had been told to sleep when the baby sleeps I didn't, and I just had this feeling of "what now?".
The first week was ok. Randall had the whole week off work so he was here taking care of me and just being with me when I needed someone there. Then he had to go back to work. I called my mom and asked if she could come spend the day with me. She did. Thank the Lord.
I was in a place where I just didn't want to be alone. I never ever had feelings of wanting to hurt the baby. I just felt SO sad and needed someone to be there with me. I almost had this feeling that the baby couldn't be mine. It was so weird. I felt unbelievable love for her, I had the normal mothering "instincts", and I took good care of her. I was just in this place that I almost didn't believe she was actually mine and that I got to keep her. Even though I obviously knew she was and that I indeed did. I remember laying in bed one night and Randall was just holding me as I sobbed. He asked what was wrong - he thought a baby is what I wanted. I assured him that I did. Being a mommy is exactly what I always wanted, I just couldn't help feeling so sad.
I knew a tiny bit about postpartum depression, the "baby blues", etc, but not much. I knew I had the baby blues. And I didn't really think it qualified as postpartum depression because I didn't want to hurt myself or the baby. I just had such an empty feeling inside. I figured it would go away pretty quickly. It didn't.
We were brand new in town so I didn't know anyone local. We had recently moved back from Portland and hadn't really gotten established...I had one or two friends other than my family (who of course were always there for me). The "alone" feeling stuck around for months. I honestly don't really know when it went away, but it did eventually.
It really sucked.
So as I was reading the article, it made me so incredibly sad for all the moms out there who go through those kinds of feelings after baby comes. They are actually finding that depression can actually begin before baby even gets here or not until weeks and weeks after birth (it doesn't have to be immediately or within the first few weeks)!
That's kind of a big deal. Moms can also have more than one mental issue at one time. Also a big deal.
I pray that moms who are suffering through and dealing with any kind of depression or other maternal mental illness gets the help they need. If medical/medicinal intervention is needed then DO it! It's not worth feeling so horrible that you want to hurt yourself or baby.
I feel pretty blessed that I didn't need medicine to deal with mine. I easily could have.
My other prayer is that research turns not only to the broad spectrum of the illnesses, but also to potential causes. I have a sneaking suspicion that today's birth practices and medical OB care can certainly contribute. I would never say they are the only cause - as the article states, there are reported cases way back to the 4th century and also reports during the middle ages (they thought the victims were witches or victims of witchcraft). Clearly long before modern OB practices.
I certainly feel like my pitocin-induced birth, episiotomy, early separation, and epidural contributed to mine. My first birth kind of happened "to" me. I wasn't really in control the entire time.
My second birth was obviously very different, being at home with the intimacy of just my hubby and mom. Yes, I definitely had hormone fluctuations and adjustments that took a week or two to work through. But I didn't have that "completely alone" feeling that I had after the first.
I also believe that the overall nutrition and basic "over-medicalization" of our culture can also contribute. Again, certainly not the only cause, but nutrition can absolutely and most definitely affect hormone balance, as can medications, medical procedures, radiation from all kinds of different sources, etc. Add in stress, crazy-busy lifestyles, and the pressures many women have to be "back to work" in just a few short weeks after birth, and it seems to me that it's like a "perfect storm" for mental illnesses for moms.
I pray that researchers don't ignore these potential contributors and that they can help find some answers. It was hard enough for me, who clearly had a very mild case. I can't imagine the hell that many new moms live through. If you are one of them, PLEASE seek help - it's out there!