Facing the reality of postpartum depression

Postpartum depression changed my life.

I let my postpartum depression go untreated for a long time after I gave birth and I shouldn’t have done that, I suffered needlessly and caused my husband to suffer needlessly. I did go to a therapist, who very kindly referred me to a female psychiatrist (over and over again!).But, I refused to go see this psychiatrist, as I was nursing my son. My nursing times with him were the best times of the day, it was soothing to relax, sit down, and just feel the love between us! And I did not want to expose him to any form of medication through my breastmilk, especially not daily antidepressants!

Back then, 17 years ago, there wasn’t much perer-reviewed research literature published regarding the risks and safety of different psychotropic medications for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Now,  you can easily access accurate, succinct, and professional consumer information about pregnancy, breastfeeding and psychotropic medications on the Mother to Baby website , which is a website run by teratogen specialists. There is a mountain of information, plus free, live counseling with a teratogen specialist,  that can help you make an informed decision with your doctor.

I had a lot of the risk factors for postpartum depression. I had a previous depressive episode as a teenager, which coincided with the beginning of menstruation. I had left my job to be a stay-at-home mom, and we had moved 50 miles away to be in a more rural part of New Jersey.

The first year was very very difficult, I was very tearful and tired. I wouldn’t say that every day was terrible, but, it was very very difficult. I was very depressed and cried a lot. My husband helped as much as he could, but he was of course working full-time.I had alot of shame about how I felt. And I won’t lie, inexplicably, I still have shame about having postpartum depression, although I treat people every day who are working with their mental health.

The current literature  says, there’s always a risk. There are risks in not treating and risks in treating. But now we have information that shows the relative safety of using certain anti-depressants. I wish I had access to the information back then. But in the last 22 years, there’s been an effort to study the effects of psychotropic drugs during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Becoming a mother was a time of great maturation for me; a time of extreme emotionality, postpartum depression, loneliness and joy mixed together. With great pain came fertile ground for long-term personal growth, and this can be the case for others as well.

Motherhood changes you forever!

 

And this is the best kept secret ever, and it was right in front of my nose! I was thirty-six years old when my son was born, and I had never even changed a diaper! Becoming a parent caused a seismic shift in my core self-identity and feelings of self-worth. I did not truly understand what type of pressure it would put on my husband as he turned into the sole breadwinner. I didn’t fully grasp how vulnerable a woman becomes after having a baby. From personal experience, I now understand the true personal price (and joys) of motherhood, how small the safety net is in America, and how devalued both mothering and parenting are.

Our marriage relationship deepened and broadened as we made room for our son, but we also suffered stress and anger as our “we-ness” expanded to “three-ness.”

And while we were in the thick of having a newborn, there was no time to reflect on how we felt about being parents. We were so physically and emotionally drained. The baby cried about whatever babies normally cry about, such as what was going on inside of him, such as teething, fever, gas from something I ate, with all his emotional and physical needs all tied up in one feeling state!

At the time, I was just keeping my head above water, keeping the house clean (ha!), reading La Leche League crock-pot cookbooks for fussy day dinner options (ha!), and sleeping when my baby slept.

So many well-meaning people gave me unsolicited advice. I suppose they were trying to help me. But, I felt confused, attacked and stressed as the conflicting advice mounted. An example: One day, being very lonely in a snow-covered house, I went mall-walking with my son in a stroller. At one store, the salespeople asked me how old he was. I said eight weeks. They looked at each other and said, “I wouldn’t take such a young baby out, I’d be afraid!”  Man, people just have to shoot their mouths off!  I felt criticized and so lonely.  I  walked away, thinking, what type of mother am I?

I fought my way through a deep, core identity change, a shift in social perspective, and postpartum depression.  I began to look for a way to make sense of my life.  I used and then studied many healing methods, including shiatsu, acupressure and mindfulness. I eventually healed from my depression. I wanted to help other mothers so they wouldn’t feel so alone. I began teaching childbirth classes, providing as much information about the emotions of pregnancy and birth and about the transition to parenthood as best I could to pregnant parents.

Eventually, I went to graduate school, with the goal of specializing in the emotions of pregnancy and birth, to open a center where women and families could come for support.

There are so many conflicting, denigrating messages about birth, women, mothering and parenting in our culture. Messages like, be a professional woman, don’t be a professional woman…..be a mother…be both without a safety net of social support in the US….oh, well, you’re not really doing it right…..oh, you’re only a mother…etc, etc, etc…..

Because of my personal struggle with postpartum depression, I like to help others in this area.  I have a private practice as Licensed Professional Counselor in Wayne, NJ and I also do private coaching over Skype. My websites are  www.birthtouch.com and kathymorelli.com

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Kathy Morelli

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