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Postpartum Depression Decades Ago

Posted Jul 15 2013 12:50pm
Earlier this year, a woman with an adult son reached out to me after having found this blog a few years prior and occasionally commenting from the perspective of a woman born in the 1950's.  I was elated to hear from someone who was willing to discuss their experience so many years later, particularly as B. brings the perspective of a different generation, in fact that of my own parents.  As we know, parenting methods and medical practices were much different in the 1970's than they are today.  Many things have changed in 30+ years, some for the better and some, like mothers generally shifting from supporting one another to judging each other, for the worse.  Thank you to B. for taking the time, decades later, to care enough about other moms to write the following letter.


I survived PPD in the late 70's after the birth of my son.  I was hospitalized for a few months when the depression became so severe I was suicidal. I was able to get well with ECT and returned to my old self when my son was nine months old. My illness was not discussed in my family openly and I had no further children. I returned to work and had a very successful career and hope to retire soon.  The memory of my experience is still painful.  I have huge admiration for the courage and perseverance of young women, like yourself, who can be open about their experience with PPD and even have more children.  We've come a long way in 30+ years and even further since our grandmothers were young mothers.  As an example, I recently found a book titled, “Expectant Motherhood” by Nicholson J. Eastman, M.D.  It was originally published in 1940, updated in 1947 and lastly in 1957.  Following is the only information it has on postpartum depression:
“The Baby Blues.” – There are sound scientific grounds for believing that the nervous system after delivery is more sensitive than at other times.  Even if this were not so, it would be surprising if this long-anticipated event of childbirth, so epoch-making to the young woman, so far-reaching in its ramifications, did not occasionally evoke profound emotional responses.  Most common among such reactions, perhaps, is what is colloquially called the “Baby Blues.”  About the time that everything is going perfectly in the puerperium, with mother and baby both flourishing and everybody happy, the mother, for no accountable reason, bursts into a good, long cry.  Nothing can stop her; persuasion is futile; she simply continues to sob and weep for a good half hour.  When the episode is over, she can offer no explanation, “It just came over me, “ she says.  Such reactions rarely recur and following them the mother usually feels much better.  In view of all that has taken place during the past nine months, it requires no psychiatrist to interpret episodes of this kind, but simply an understanding heart.” [bold added].
How difficult it must have been to have PPD considered rare and requiring nothing but an understanding heart!   Today it is recognized as a risk of childbirth and hopefully discussed with mothers-to-be and their families.  There are more treatment options and support available while healing and getting back to “normal”.  I would encourage mothers and daughters to share not only the best parts of pregnancy and childbirth, but also if they had PPD, to discuss it openly and honestly and take steps to deal with it if it should occur.  We are not “bad” mothers, but mothers with an illness that can be cured.
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