If you’re a mom or dad, you’ve walked through the otherworldly time surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. The time following the birth of a child is incomparable: It brings the gift of life and the fun of seeing your family grow.
Parenthood also brings upheaval. Daily routines become irrelevant, sleep is sporadic and scarce, and guilt can take over in ways it never did before. Our old, familiar lives vanish. Like our babies, we’re born into new way of life, and it can take a while to adjust and adapt.
This happens even if all goes well. When you add in a postpartum condition, it can be debilitating. Nine years ago, I struggled as a new parent. After the traumatic birth of my first child, I developed postpartum depression (PPD).
I needed a roadmap. And with the help of other moms, a therapist and research, I pieced one together. My roadmap turned into a book about my journey called When Postpartum Packs a Punch: Fighting Back and Finding Joy. The key points on my roadmap back to wellness are these:
Mental health conditions typically don’t go away on their own—they get worse when untreated. Treatment is key, so do not wait to seek help; you are in charge of your treatment plan. A combination of psychotherapy and medication are the standard line of intervention for PPD, but it varies by person. Different forms of therapy are available, such as supportive therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Talk to your doctor about what would be best for you.
Know You’re Not Alone
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders affect many women. While the exact prevalence is unknown, some estimates say as many as 1 million moms face it each year in the U.S. alone. Other moms can be your greatest source of strength. If you have persistent symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, sleeplessness or crying spells, reach out to someone you trust. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, contact Postpartum Support International. They have an invaluable network of women who are a phone call away. There’s no shame in seeking support.
Remember That This Isn’t a Character Flaw or Weakness
Psychiatrist and chair of the U.K.’s Maternal Mental Health Alliance, Dr. Alain Gregoire, says: “The reality is that we are all vulnerable to mental illness. Our brains are the most complex structures in the universe and our minds are the uniquely individual products of that structure. It is not surprising then that occasionally things go wrong.” Just because you aren’t feeling well doesn’t mean you’re not meant to be a mother. It’s not a subconscious sign you don’t want your child. If your symptoms seem to be telling you this, don’t believe them.
Cling to Hope
Perinatal mood disorders can turn something already difficult—transition to motherhood—into a seemingly impossible hurdle. Just know that the symptoms don’t last forever. They’re temporary and treatable. Keep asking for help until you find the care you need. There’s an army of people who want to help you get better.
A two-time graduate of Northwestern University, Kristina Cowan has 20 years of experience as a journalist. She spent five of those researching and writing her first book, When Postpartum Packs a Punch: Fighting Back and Finding Joy. It’s available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Powell’s. Cowan lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two children. Online you can find her at www.kristinacowan.com or www.facebook.com/cowankristina/, and on Twitter she’s @kristinacowan.