It’s not a secret that I’m pretty passionate about maternal mental health. Actually, it may not be something I’ve communicated very well in the past. So maybe it is a secret and I’m outing myself! Anyway, if there is one thing that keeps me in doula work it’s maternal mental health. How we feel and the stability of our emotions have an incredible impact on how we parent. How we perceive our births and those first few months postpartum have a huge impact on us for the rest of our lives.
Postpartum is already an incredibly emotional time. Our hormones are going crazy as they transition our bodies from pregnancy to no longer being pregnant and often lactating. Our brains have just completely rewired themselves to bond with and parent this new little person. And if it’s the first baby, we are adjusting to a completely new way of life. We need the best start possible here to thrive.
My own experience with postpartum depression (or rather mood disorders) started as what I would describe as anxiety. I did not fit the descriptions of postpartum depression that I could find. I was functioning. My baby was cared for. I got up each morning and went to work. I made it to church on the weekends. I still showered. I concluded that how I was feeling must just be parenting. Except I wasn’t okay. My brain was in a state of semi panic all the time. I couldn’t breath. I was paralyzed be the 99 bajillion things in my head. This progressed to the occasional panic attack. I didn’t get treatment until my daughter was three. By then, things had progressed passed just anxiety. I didn’t realize how bad I felt until I felt better.
In my case we also had a series of very significant life events happen in the year before her birth and in the two years after. I remember constantly trying to figure out if how I felt was because I was postpartum or because of our life circumstances. Nevertheless, I needed treatment and I fell through the cracks.
My takeaway is this: Parenting is hard. Having a new baby is hard. All of this is hard and you are changed. But. BUT. Postpartum mood disorders don’t always look like depression and we do ourselves and new mothers a disservice by continuing to promote that model. It may take a few weeks but you should feel mostly like yourself (just with your heart now running around outside your body). The things you enjoy in life should not completely disappear. You should still get excited about things that you did before even if you have less time to pursue them. Panic attacks are not normal. Flashbacks and PTSD symptoms are not normal (and are terrifying common among postpartum women). These are signs that things are not as they should be and you may need outside help.
Surround yourself with support. If your family and partner don’t understand, seek support elsewhere. Support groups that are specifically for postpartum mood disorders can be incredible. One of our local hospitals here in Indy has one I highly recommend. But so can general parenting support groups like Breastfeeding USA or ICAN or MOPS. Sometimes just knowing you aren’t alone makes all the difference.
Sometime, though, you need more than just support and it’s time to talk to your doctor. If your OB is unsupportive or blows you off, find a doctor who is supportive. It doesn’t have to be an OB. Medication is not evil and doesn’t have to be forever but it can be lifesaving in the short term.
This is why I’m a doula. As women, as mothers, we deserve better. Our mental health is incredibly important and impacts every aspect of our lives. We need our struggles to be recognized and taken seriously. It’s vital to our lives and our families that this is the case. Our children deserve it as much as we do!
Adina Nelson, CD(DONA)
I am a birth & postpartum doula and chlidbirth educator practicing in North Idaho.
She was there every step of the way for me and my husband...I thank Adina for everything she helped us with. She truly is a special person and we will be forever grateful for her! ~Erin