When I was pregnant with my first child, I had moments when I felt like an alien was growing inside me and taking over my body, causing me to be sick and tired all the time. I was scared – was this a normal thought to be having? Was something wrong with me? I called a friend who was pregnant with her fourth child and admitted how I was feeling. She said, “I have felt that way with my pregnancies, too! That’s totally normal and the feeling will eventually go away.” I felt immediate relief that at least I was not alone in my thoughts, that there wasn’t something desperately wrong with me.
I shared this story recently while talking to a group of pregnant women about perinatal depression/anxiety (the term “perinatal” is used instead of “postpartum” to include mood disorders during pregnancy AND postpartum) because some of the mothers were concerned that they wouldn’t feel comfortable telling anyone if they felt depressed or anxious in the postpartum period. I was encouraging them to share their feelings with someone because people often find that others have similar thoughts and feelings. When nobody talks about it, everyone feels alone. Women sometimes don’t tell anyone if they have distressing thoughts, feelings, or behaviors after birth because they are afraid of what people will think of them, because they are afraid that something is wrong with them, or because they think they are a bad mother.
There is a stigma associated with perinatal depression/anxiety, as if it is the fault of the mother that she has it, or as if it is something she could get rid of if she wanted to. If you have perinatal depression/anxiety, it does NOT mean you have done something wrong. It does NOT mean you are a bad mother. It does NOT mean you are going to feel this way the rest of your life. Perinatal mood disorders happen as a combination of genetics, hormones, sleep deprivation, family dynamics, societal influences, and economic stress, among other factors. And, in fact, perinatal mood disorders can happen to parents of all genders, whether they have given birth or not!
What will happen if you tell someone? Hopefully, they will help you figure out if what you are feeling/thinking is “normal” or if there is a larger concern of a mood or anxiety disorder. Hopefully, the person you tell will help you access more help if you need it. There are many types of treatment and support that can be helpful, including (but definitely not limited to) support groups, therapy, and medication. If you don’t want to tell a friend, tell your partner, doula, doctor or therapist. Tell another mother at a playgroup. Tell your baby’s daycare provider. Go to www.postpartum.net to look at resources from Postpartum Support International, or call their “warmline” at 1-800- 944-4773 to leave a message and receive a call back from a support counselor. Just tell someone because you don’t need to suffer in silence.