By Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT
She is sitting on the couch with her 1- month- old baby in her arms. The baby is crying and she is alone. She’s tried everything to soothe him- rocking, bouncing, feeding, singing, pacifiers, blankets, and swaddles. He’s still crying. She hasn’t eaten or taken a shower since yesterday and it seems like she may not accomplish either one of those things today. Just a couple of weeks ago, people were in and out of her house with hugs, words of wisdom, food, and arms to hold her baby. Her husband was home for two more weeks until his next deployment, which she hopes will be his last. But now, the excitement has worn off and reality is setting in. Her husband is in another country protecting ours. In just two weeks, she has to get back to her full time job that pays her. It hits her that she will have to learn how to balance the mothering thing and the real job thing. How in the world will she be able to do that when she can barely even get a shower and a meal?
All of a sudden, she finds herself in a place she never expected to be. She starts to wonder what is wrong with her; why she feels like she can’t get it together and why motherhood doesn’t look or feel like she thought it would. Last week, she finally gave up on breastfeeding after trying every single thing she could think of to make it work. But, her breasts still hurt and her conscience is beating her up, telling her that she could and should have tried harder. She’s remembering all of the articles in her OBGYN’s office and on the internet about the benefits of breastfeeding the baby. And, she’s thinking of that friend of hers who has a 2- month old that is solely breastfed and thriving. Her body doesn’t look or feel like her own and she wonders if it ever will again. She wants her baby to just stop crying long enough to allow her to use the bathroom. And now she is crying. And she feels like a terrible mother. Helpless. Alone. Afraid. Angry. Guilty. Inadequate.
She starts to have thoughts she never imagined she would have and they scare her. She remembers an article she read in her doctor’s office about postpartum depression and realizes that this may be more than just those baby blues her mother referred to a couple of weeks ago. She picks up the phone and calls someone for help.
According to the CDC, 11 to 20 percent of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms. Fortunately, the woman in the depiction above recognized her symptoms and was able to call for help. But what do we, as mental health professionals, need to do to help every woman be able to identify her symptoms and get help? Here are some potential barriers we need to recognize when thinking about our efforts to help women with PPD:
- Shame and Embarrassment: Mom may not feel comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings because she doesn’t want people to judge her. She is afraid that people will think she is a terrible person for not thinking that motherhood is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to her. When she hears the word depression, she associates it with being “crazy.”
- What Society Says: Moms are supposed to be totally and completely in love with their new addition, right? She is loving life and rocking at being a mommy! Or at least that’s what the status updates on her friends’ Facebook pages tell her…
- I Can Handle This On My Own: Mom may think to herself, “I just gave birth to an 8 pound baby completely naturally! I can definitely handle this one my own”.
- Foggy Lenses: Mom may be struggling so much that she doesn’t even have any idea that there is a name for what she is feeling and that there is help for her.
- Unknown Resources: Many moms may not have any idea where to go for help. A military mother, for instance, may have just moved to a new location and has not yet established any local friendships or identified any local resources.
So, what’s the solution to these barriers? Here are some possibilities:
- Shame and Embarrassment: We should be equipping soon-to-be mothers with the knowledge of PPD so that 1) they can recognize the signs and symptoms 2) they can be prepared for the possibilities 3) it is normalized for them so that there is no stigma attached to it.
- What Society Says: We need to be putting information out there where everyone can access it- social media is a great avenue- we should be showing the good, the bad, and the ugly too!
- I Can Handle This On My Own: By sharing information on the facts of PPD, we can convey to mothers that they may need a little bit of extra help from professionals and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
- Foggy Lenses: We need to arm women with community support- family, spouses, friends, doctors, etc. – so that they know what to look for in a new mother who is struggling with PPD.
- Unknown Resources: Having resources available in our practices and sharing those resources through social media and community avenues is key!
With our help, mothers like the one depicted above will know to recognize when there is a problem and know precisely where to go when they need help. Unfortunately, not all new mothers have the knowledge base of PPD to reach out for help like the one in the scenario. We need to take action and think about ways to inform soon-to-be mothers or new mothers and their family and friends so that they are prepared. Wouldn’t it be amazing if OBGYNs were talking candidly with their patients about the possibility of PPD during pregnancy? Or, if they were conducting surveys at the 6-week postpartum check-up. As mental health professionals, it would behoove us to start talking with these physicians about the statistics and realities of PPD so that we can all work together as a team to help these mothers.
This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the social media and webinar coordination specialist for the OneOp Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about OneOp Family Development concentration on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.