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SALT LAKE CITY — It seems that for centuries it was taboo to talk about. Countless women suffered in silence and many questioned their sanity. Sometimes the children of these women also suffered as a result of a need to keep a very big secret, so as to avoid negative attention and questioning from others.
Awareness of postpartum depression seems to have increased over the years, as the media has been willing to expose what it is and what one can do to address it. Women in the public eye have courageously shed more light on this topic by speaking about their own experiences, which has helped others to get the help they need.
In working with postpartum depression, I have had the opportunity to see people learn about and work through this very real and very difficult issue. Postpartum depression has many negative associations — and rightfully so. The symptoms and impact they have on the lives it touches are significant and unpleasant to say the least.
However, I have also had the opportunity to see that sometimes having postpartum depression is not all bad. This may sound ridiculous, and it is understandable that most would raise an eyebrow at this statement. After all, postpartum depression makes the person experiencing it feel like she has lost herself, confused, helpless, and downright miserable. But from negative experiences, we can often draw positive lessons that will impact our lives for the better. Below are some of the most common lessons I have had the honor of being present for.
1. I am doing too much.
This is extremely common. A woman comes into my office and says that she can’t do the things she used to do. And then she gives me the seemingly never-ending list of activities she was involved in prior to the birth of her baby and the onset of her depression. She wants to get back to the things she was involved in previously, which is understandable.
However, sometimes depression is our body’s way of telling us to slow down. This is particularly true when we don’t listen to our bodies regularly and take the cues it is giving us to say "no" to requests of others and take time for ourselves. Realizing that the depression is a big message your body is trying to send and listening to that message can be a huge step forward in beginning to resolve the depression symptoms.
- Postpartum Support International
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah:1- 800-421-4211
- The Postpartum Stress Center
- Utah.gov Pregnancy Risk Line: 1-800-822- BABY (2229)
- Click here for a list of PPD symptoms and Mental Health centers by county
2. I need to take better care of myself.
This is true of many people. Most of us can learn to take better care of ourselves. But the fact is, as nice as it is to talk about, we, as a society, tend to continue to run ourselves ragged instead of following through with our own good judgment. Sometimes it takes something as big as depression to clue us into another big message from our body — a healthy mind follows a healthy body.
A person who is being mindful of their self-care, and following through with it, is far less likely to experience continued depression. This is especially true for postpartum depression. The body is trying to heal from childbirth and will need extra care. The tricky part is that time is now more limited with a new baby in the house. Self-care must be made a priority and supported by those in the support network so the mother can be successful in caring for herself and her child.
3. I am too critical of myself.
Self-criticism is not usually constructive feedback. It is more of a self-beating that does not result in higher productivity or achievement of goals. New mothers in general can be very critical of themselves and postpartum depression tends to make this issue even worse. Often, self-criticism started before pregnancy. The presence of the postpartum depression can be a signal that you are being too hard on yourself.
Treating yourself like a good friend is a great practice, whether you are suffering from depression or not. It is a great preventative tool for future bouts of depression and people who are nice to themselves are also usually able to accomplish goals very effectively, as being overly critical of oneself takes a lot of precious energy.
4. I can readjust my expectations of myself.
This ties into lesson 3, as not meeting expectations can precipitate self-criticism. When a baby is born, life changes. Many women have expectations of themselves that are unrealistic. Postpartum depression is sometimes what forces us to readjust the expectations we have of ourselves as mothers, partners and women. Expectations one had before may not have been realistic in the first place and might have lead to burnout if a change wasn’t made. It’s OK, and actually very healthy, to readjust expectations.
5. I can accept myself even though I am not (nor will I ever be) perfect.
There is no such thing as a perfect mom, partner, or human for that matter. Postpartum depression is very painful, but is a reminder that we are all human and susceptible to human emotions and conditions. Part of treating postpartum depression is helping the woman to accept the depression for what it is: a message from the brain and body, alerting her that changes must be made.
When a woman can accept herself for who she is — no matter the challenges she is currently facing or the reaction of her brain and body to those challenges — she has already won when it comes to future challenges. She knows that she can overcome hardships, as being brave and persevering is not the same as being perfect.
Anastasia Pollock, MA, LCMHC, is clinical director at Life Stone Counseling Centers. She is certified in EMDR through EMDRIA. Learn more about her by visiting lifestonecenter.com or email email@example.com.