Post Partum Depression & Relationships
I’ve been seeing lots of new Mom’s that are experiencing post partum depression so I’m anxious to share some great information that I found on WebMD.com.
“Between 10% and 20% of new mothers experience postpartum. When Tina Merritt gave birth to her son Graham six years ago, she expected what all new mothers expect: a joyous experience getting to know her baby. Instead, she found that she was terrified of her own child.
“I came home and I cried for hours straight. I was afraid that somebody would leave me alone with this baby that I had no clue how to take care of,” she recalls.
Stricken with the fear that she would be an incompetent mother, Merritt went back to work when Graham was 6 weeks old, ceding most of the baby’s care to her husband and the grandparents. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to take care of him — I just thought they were better at it,” she says. “I felt like I couldn’t do it right. My husband knew something was wrong, and he picked up the pieces. He just thought, OK, I need to step up to the plate and be a responsible husband.”
Merritt, who now lives in southern California, wouldn’t learn the truth until her son was more than 2 years old: she was suffering from postpartum depression (PPD). Between 10% and 20% of women who have recently given birth experience PPD, but like Merritt, more than half of them go undiagnosed.
Recognizing Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is very different from the “baby blues,” a heightened emotional state that can hit 80% or more of new moms in the first days after the baby is born. Baby blues usually ebbs within a couple of weeks. True postpartum depression is actually part of a constellation of conditions that experts call “perinatal mood disorders.” These mood disorders involve more than just feeling depressed, and they can occur during pregnancy as well as afterward.
How can you tell if you have a perinatal mood disorder? Here are six signs:
- Eating and sleeping disturbances: You haven’t eaten in two days because you’re just not hungry, or you can’t stop eating. You sleep all the time, or you can’t sleep even when you have the chance.
- Anxiety: Your mind races with fears and worries and you just can’t shut it off.
- Feelings of guilt and shame: You have the sense that you’re “not doing this right,” that you’re a bad mother.
- Anger and irritability.
- Uncontrollable thoughts of harm coming to the baby.
- Just not feeling “like yourself.”
These symptoms usually appear within the first three months after the baby is born, and peak around the four-month mark. But, as with Tina Merritt, they can go on for years if undiagnosed and untreated.
Overwhelming Anxiety and Stress in a Relationship
Merritt says she barely remembers the first year or so of her son’s life. “I can’t remember his first steps. I can’t remember the first time he ate solid food. It’s all a blur. I was able to take care of him, but I was in a complete fog,” she says.
Overwhelming Anxiety and Stress in a Relationship continued…
The crippling, overwhelming anxiety made it difficult for Merritt to become close to her baby, something she says she still feels guilty about.
The mother-baby relationship isn’t the only relationship affected by perinatal mood disorders. Merritt and her husband were lucky — their marriage survived the strain of her withdrawal, until an emergency brought them into counseling when Graham was 2 1/2. But many couples don’t survive a bout with perinatal mood disorders.
“There’s a very high rate of divorce in the first year after having a baby,” says Birdie Gunyon Meyer, RN, coordinator of the Perinatal Mood Disorders Program at Clarian Health in Indianapolis, Ind., and the president of Postpartum Support International.
“Even when there is no mood disorder, having a baby is very stressful on a relationship. Then, if she gets postpartum depression and anxiety, it’s that much worse,” Gunyon tells WebMD. “Men say things like, ‘I was disappointed. I was doing my part and she wasn’t pulling her weight. She was very depressed and anxious, and I had to take care of a new baby and my wife.’”
Postpartum Depression Is a Family Illness
Men can also get postpartum depression, Meyer says, noting that an estimated 10% of new fathers experience the condition.
PPD is a family illness, says Karen Kleiman, MSW, LSW, director of the Postpartum Stress Center, which has locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And, it can affect your relationship for years to come.
“It is so isolating and self-absorbing for moms, that we often forget that dad is a big player here. I see a lot of couples who struggle with this and get through it, but at the other end, they are still angry and unforgiving,” Kleiman says. “I know women who 10 years later have said ‘I will never forgive you for not being there for me,’ and the husband replies, ‘I didn’t know what to do, you were shut down and wouldn’t talk to me and weren’t treating me well.’”
Coming up we will look into the treatment for perinatal mood disorders.