In a research study conducted by the National Institute of Health, “There are over four million live births each year in the United States. Nearly 800,000 — or 20% — of these mothers will experience an episode of major or minor depression within the first three months postpartum” (Werner, Miller,Osborne Kuzava, Monk,2015). Making depression by far the leading complication of childbirth. Gestational diabetes, something that every woman is screened for in pregnancy, only occurs 3-8% of the time but depression occurs 20% of the time, this is something that we need to be talking about. I don’t know about anyone else but I was shocked when I read that statistic.
I’m not even going to pretend that I understand how a mom feels because I don’t. I am not a mother, but I am a woman, and I am a therapist who does understand feelings of guilt, loneliness, and fear of failure. I specialize in women’s issues, anxiety, postpartum depression /anxiety, and eating disorders / body image. All of which can be concerns for mothers. It seems, Google may have a pretty good idea of what moms are feeling based on the auto populate screen shot I took.
It is no wonder that moms are feeling so overwhelmed. I have yet to find a more vulnerable time in a woman’s life than when she becomes a mother. A woman’s transition into motherhood is uniquely her own. It’s a sacred time and should be honored with space made for that kind of transition.
When it comes to postpartum depression and anxiety there is no one cause, but more of a perfect storm situation. After childbirth, a woman’s estrogen and progesterone hormone levels drop quickly. This leads to a chemical change in her brain that may trigger mood swings. Most new moms also cannot get the rest they fully need to recover from childbirth and are sleep deprived, which leads to exhaustion and physical discomfort. Our bodies and our brains need sleep and it is the process of sleep that allows our hormones to regulate, assist our bodies in healing, and assists our brains in consolidating memories. If you have struggled with anxiety and depression pre-pregnancy you are at a greater risk of postpartum depression.
In addition to all of these things, we also seem to be living in a culture of pressure. Our culture places a lot of expectations on people, let alone new mothers. Pressures like being “Pinterest ready,” whether to go to work or stay at home, how to lose the “baby weight”, whether to breast feed or not are just a few of the pressures that new mothers face from society.
In recent years, the conversation regarding the “baby blues” and postpartum depression has been started, which is great, but we need to include postpartum anxiety in the conversation. I like to describe depression and anxiety as besties; where there is one the other is usually close behind. Our current screening tools for postpartum depression such as Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) consistently identifies anxiety as well as depressive symptoms.
Now I don’t know about you, but that all seems very overwhelming and I’m not sleep deprived, experiencing hormonal changes, and trying to keep a small person alive. It’s these changes and expectations that bring about feelings of vulnerability not to mention feelings of overwhelming joy or love. If you are familiar with Brene Brown’s work and her book Daring Greatly she discusses that joy is the most vulnerable feeling one can experience.
When filled with love, adoration, and joy, we also feel the most vulnerable and usually put up our armor to protect ourselves. Joy foreboding and perfectionism are examples of armor we can use. Joy foreboding is when we create narratives and images in our mind of something horrendous happening to those we love. It’s waiting for the other shoe to drop because things just can’t be this good. That feeling of love and joy that is replaced by dread when you watch your child sleep or think about how much you love your partner.
Perfectionism is another armor that we can wear to prevent feeling vulnerable. I describe perfectionism as trying to control the environment around us and the setting of unrealistic expectations. Perfectionism works as an armor against vulnerability by constantly working to control everything around us, so that we don’t have to feel anything like vulnerability or failure. It also creates tension with those we are trying to control and doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity and exploration. Failure isn’t a bad thing, it is uncomfortable, but it isn’t bad. It is an emotion like any other.
For most of the new moms I have worked with, this fear of something bad happening creates a lot of anxiety that can manifest itself in many ways. For some it can look like difficulty sleeping, constant worry, headaches, catastrophic thinking, fear of driving in the car with their children, fear of children being hurt, compulsive checking on children, concern of leaving children with a sitter or at a day care, conflict in relationships, loneliness, or feeling not good enough.
First off, if you are a mom who identified with this post and the feelings I described, or know and love a mom who is struggling, please go talk to a professional therapist, your OBGYN, or encourage your loved one to talk to a professional. I very much look at the work I do as holding space and that space is unique to every individual. At a minimum, it can be helpful to just talk and say whatever it is you need to say and just be heard.
When I’m talking about letting go of anxiety these are tools that I practice and recommend.
If this post resonated with you please help to spread the message and remember: You. Are. Worthy.
Hello! Welcome to my Blog on self care . I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Registered Yoga Teacher.