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Society’s Expectations and the Stigma of Postpartum Depression

Posted Jun 21 2013 10:02pm

I grew up watching 80′s sitcoms, namely The Cosby Show and Family Ties, where it was depicted that having a family was all comic joy with a few silly bumps in the road that could be resolved within 30 minutes. Neither of the mothers in these shows ever showed that motherhood was anything but smiles and hugs. Even when Elise Keating from Family Ties had a baby, she bounced right back without missing a step. So is it any real surprise that many of us don’t have a realistic view of the major life change that having a baby truly is? It is one of the most dramatic changes in lifestyle, new priorities and lessons in selflessness that one can possibly encounter. And yet, has society’s expectations of motherhood really changed that much?

From my own experience, I believe a new mother may feel a certain amount of pressure to “get it right.” Many people said to me, “You seem to be doing great!” While it was nice to have the encouraging support and feedback, there was a part of me that felt, if this well-meaning outsider thinks I am doing a great job, why don’t I? Was there even room for me not to be doing so great when everyone believed (and maybe expected) I was?! After all, I had been working with babies for the past decade and had to have gained some knowledge of newborns.

I clearly remember one difficult Wednesday afternoon when Shay was about 2 1/2 weeks old. All the family had left and our postpartum doula was not in that day. At this time, our pediatrician wanted Shay to eat every two hours. I had been up with him since 6am and managed to get him down for a few rounds of feeding. But our previously successful cycle of eat, change his diaper and put him down for a nap stopped abruptly. He had gone straight through three feeding with no nap. He was tired and irritable and I was exhausted. I tried every position and trick I had learned in my few weeks of motherhood. We bounced on the birth ball, I swaddled him, rocked him, sang to him, shhhh’d him. Around 3pm that afternoon, I called my husband asking him when he was going to come home. He said soon. I hung up the phone and just started crying. Fifteen minutes later, my husband entered the apartment to find me sitting in our bedroom, rocking on the ball with the baby in my arms and tears streaming down my face. He gave me a kiss and took Shay. After a few minutes of holding him, he said, “Thank you for calling me. Now please go to sleep.” I had never been so grateful for the opportunity to rest and for help to arrive.

I often share this story with my classes in hopes it will remind them that there will be moments of struggle and of being completely overwhelmed and that there is no shame in these moments. I also hope they will see that these dark moments do pass. However for some, these dark moments feel like they continue to go and on. It may be challenging and disappointing to face that one can not “pull themselves” out of the funk they are feeling by themselves. Some people may even be at a level of embarrassment or shame that goes along with experiencing PPD (Postpartum Depression) and needing a medication. Even though pharmaceutical drugs are very prevalent in our society, some may still feel stigmatized for taking SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). A close friend of mine recently talked to me about how she was finally able to accept taking medication for her PPD. She said she could acknowledge that if she had diabetes and needed insulin, there would be no doubt that she would take the medication. So she was then able to rationalize taking a medication for her mental health was no different then taking a medication for her physical health.

No matter what level of depression or anxiety one feels, there is always a way to find support and feel better.

Getting Help
Even the idea of reaching out for help may seem overwhelming. If you need to, start small, and maybe your partner can make a phone call or two to get the ball rolling for additional support.
* Seek professional help from a qualified therapist, preferably someone with experience dealing with PPD, or someone you’ve seen in the past.
* LifeNet Call Center – Listening Service for people in crisis, including substance abuse. 800-543-3638
* Get support from your partner, family and friends.
* Sleep! Sleep deprivation can really wear on the mind and body!
* Find a New Mother’s Support Group in your area. (PYC often offers two groups per season)
* Try to get some time away from your baby, even if that is just going outside and walking around the block a couple of times.
* Placental Arts. (Check out the article in NY Mag on this). It is believed that ingesting the placenta postpartum helps balance the new mom’s estrogen levels, which drop significantly after birth. This can be done by having a professional first dehydrate the placenta and encapsulate it. I had this done with my placenta and took the capsules for about 2 months postpartum. This also helps with low iron levels, which are not uncommon postpartum.

I hope this helps provide some resources for you postpartum. You’re not alone in feeling the way you do, and support will be there if you reach out.

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