I want to write today about a topic that is neither glamorous nor pleasant to discuss…postpartum depression. Research shows that 20% of new mothers experience some postpartum depression; however, this number may be even greater since many cases go unreported. Postpartum depression is a real medical illness and often requires medical treatment.
The new mother may feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and unable to cope. Although exhausted, she is usually unable to sleep. It can be challenging to diagnose because many women attribute their symptoms to the “baby blues”, a normal and milder form of sadness and mood swing that occurs in the first two weeks after birth of a baby.
Symptoms may include:
- frequent crying,
- sleep disturbances
- feelings of anger/irritability
- Suicidal thoughts
- Sometimes, anxiety or panic attacks
Many moms dealing with postpartum depression are ashamed, fearful that admitting their symptoms will cause others to view them as unfit mothers and be mistaken for a lack of love or bonding with their new child.
Well…here is my personal testimonial as an obstetrician and new mother. I can tell you postpartum depression is real and it can be awful. Retrospectively, I know I suffered it with my first child. At the time, I was unable or maybe subconsciously afraid to admit it despite my years of obstetrics training and ability to diagnose it in my patients.
I felt helpless, afraid that in becoming a mom I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I feared that I would be miserable for the rest of time. Despite a large and supportive family, I felt alone and overwhelmed. The most memorable and scary part for me was the recurring and intrusive thoughts that are classically seen in postpartum depression. In my case, I repetitively visualized myself actually placing my adorable newborn son in the large black trash bin by the garage door, covering him with newspapers and watching him get taken away by the trash service in the wee hours of the morning.
I knew, deep down, I would never carry it out, but nonetheless I questioned my ability to be a fit mother because I could not get the image out of my head. Can you imagine?
Fortunately, I managed to recover completely when he was about 6 months old and have even had another baby since then, this time without depression. But my inability to recognize and admit my diagnosis robbed me of some wonderful experiences in his early life. I am sharing with you my tale so you can understand just how terrible the symptoms can feel and perhaps identify them earlier if it happens to you.
Please, do not be afraid to admit it. Talk to your doctor about it. There is help available.
Motherhood should, and can be the happiest time of your life!
-Reena Talreja-Pelaez, M.D.