I am sure this title caught you off guard, and for those of you who know and care about me, concerned you. Please know I did not entitle today's entry because I am feeling that way. Today I title this entry as a beacon of hope for those who are feeling this way. If I had to narrow suffering from a PPMD down to two descriptors, I would certainly choose these words. I hear them over and over again, and while the daily happenings of my life during the worst days are difficult (thankfully) to fully recover in my memory, those words resonate with me.
Imagine being defined by those two words...if you have never suffered from a major mental health crisis, you may not be able to fully feel, taste, smell, and hear those words. But try...think about losing every ounce of zest for life and appreciation for the blessings in it completely. Imagine not having the energy to shower, dress yourself, comb your hair, or brush your teeth. Imagine being convinced that what you are feeling will never, EVER, go away. That you have been given a TRUE life sentence (not the 20 years the federal courts mandate for criminals) but the true life sentence that those who live out their entire lives on Death Row face.
Now, I want to share the grace and hope of PPMD that is true for each and every sufferer. Read this carefully: PPMD is 100% CURABLE!!!! That is what ALL the research has shown. In every case of PPMD ever documented, with a combination of treatments (therapy, medication- if deemed personally appropriate, and support- in the form of a group or friends and family) everyone who desires to recover and makes efforts to do so does. AMAZING, no? Since there is good news and bad news to every situation, I want to share the downside. PPMD is one of the most under-diagnosed and under-treated conditions that women of childbearing age are at risk for.
Just the facts, Mam: Here they are... 1) PPMD strikes up to 80% of all women after giving birth or adopting. It can even occur in fathers or partners. 2) The sooner PPMD is treated the faster the sufferer recovers. 3) Any signs of depression, anxiety, or OCD that occur more than two weeks postpartum indicate a condition more serious than the hormonally induced "baby blues" which occurs to some degree in nearly all women after giving birth. 4) All women and their children will have an opportunity to form a bond, regardless of PPD. However, many efforts have to be taken by the mother and family to be sure the bond takes place. The sooner the mother gets well, the sooner the mother and baby will bond, which is key to keeping babies cortisol levels (stress hormone) low and to the mother so that her instinctive bond provides insights and cues for behavior and interactions with her child. Studies have shown that once infants reach an age/stage that social interaction is capable that children of mothers with untreated or under-treated PPMD show less positive indicators such as smiling, eye contact and responsiveness.
And now a word about SLEEP. Recent studies have shown that 5 continuous hours of sleep per night are necessary for the brain to regenerate its cells. A study that was recently performed on a physically and mentally healthy person in his/her early 30's showed that just 3 DAYS without 5 hours of continuous sleep caused the subject to exhibit highly psychotic behaviors. What does this mean for us? It means that it is not only recommended, but imperative, that new parents find a way to share responsibilities or ask a family member, friend, or baby nurse to help with nighttime baby duties. Most infants under 2-3 months of age wake several times per night to feed, for a diaper change, or to be soothed. If at all possible, make an effort to get 5 continuous hours of sleep, even over getting more hours of sleep in shorter intervals. Your brain will thank you for it!
Today I ask each of you to be a supporter to pregnant and new moms with whom you come in contact. Tell expectant parents the truth about the early days. The gift of reality will prevent the low level of depression that occurs in most families after bringing baby home. While parenthood is a gift from God and is rewarding, it challenges us to our core- physically and emotionally. You will be sleep-deprived. You will feel inadequate. You will become frustrated when you can't seem to soothe your newborn. Your child will get sick or experience some difficulty such as diaper rash, thrush, acid reflux, weight issues, colic, etc. You will lose your identity during the first few months. Your identity will return to you eventually, but it will be forever changed. Your relationship with your partner will be changed and challenged. Your friendships will be strained. Your faith will be restored, renewed and strangely modified. You will thoroughly enjoy some aspects of parenting and loathe others. You will wish to have your old life back at least once (if not once daily). You will need to ask for help, no matter how proud and independent you are. You will argue with your spouse no matter how much you love him or her. You will find that dinner conversation turns from politics and philosophy to diapers and favorite infant toys. Your job will become less and more important to you in a flash. You will feel guilty A LOT! You will (eventually, if not at first) love your child, whom only you and your partner share, more than you can imagine.