Not just the "Blues"... when motherhood hurts

When you attended your ante-natal classes, you were probably told that the majority of mothers who have just given birth, become weepy, agitated, and generally emotional a few days afterwards - in fact, you probably expected "The Baby Blues". Typically, this distress lasts only a day or two, at the most, a fortnight, and the new mother then recovers her equilibrium, and is steady enough to cope with the enormous adjustments involved in accepting her new baby into her life.

Certainly, in the early months you will be tired, short of sleep, and will feel that your life is chaotic. It is amazing how such a small person can create such a huge impact. You will have very little time for yourself, or for the baby's father, and it may take quite some time to establish a routine. You may wonder whether you will ever have a life of your own again. It is quite normal to be anxious, to feel more dependent, and to feel incompetent. But basically, as the weeks go by, you ought to feel as though you are learning to manage better and better.

But sometimes things don't work out this way. "The Blues" don't go away; or maybe they do in the beginning, but as the weeks and months go by, slowly you get sucked into a downward spiral, feeling more and more unhappy, or anxious and panicky, and less and less competent. Perhaps you feel numb, or unreasonably angry, or that you are "just going through the motions", or that you are "cut off" from everyone. You know that you are meant to be happy because you have just had a baby; but you don't feel happy. You feel terrible. You may even think you are "going mad". And NOBODY TOLD YOU THAT THIS MIGHT HAPPEN.

In fact, at least 10-15% of all mothers feel like you. They are all over the world, in all kinds of economic situations, from every social class and every nation; and this has been happening for thousands of years. Why did nobody warn you, you may ask? Probably because they did not want to spoil the joy of your pregnancy, or to challenge the myth that the birth of a baby always makes a mother happy. Or maybe the women around you were too ashamed of their own similar feelings of depression to share them. Some experts think that there is "a conspiracy of silence" about Postnatal Depression, perpetrated by older women and doctors!

Or maybe they did tell you, and you did not believe that Postnatal Depression could happen to you, which is what happened to me.

Most women are ashamed, unprepared, unable to ask for help, and feel guilty, unnatural and isolated if they are unhappy after the birth of a baby. Often the women who develop PND are perfectionists, competent, high achievers who are accustomed to being in full control of their lives. Now they seem to have lost the sense of who they were.

PND is probably the result of a combination of biological, social and psychological factors, although there are some who regard it as the result of a hormonal imbalance, or other physical factors.

It is more likely that because the birth of a baby changes a woman's life so dramatically, she experiences a crisis as a result of which she has to rediscover who she is, and what it really means to be a mother. This crisis is very stressful, and some people react to too much stress by becoming depressed, or unbearably anxious and afraid.

To some extent, it has been found that if you have a really good support system you may be less vulnerable to PND. It has to be the right kind of support, though - the kind that makes you feel safe. In a way you may be saying to the people around you, "Help me, but do not make me feel more inadequate.. Help me, but do not take over altogether." But even such support may not be enough to prevent PND altogether.

Less PND has been reported in some primitive tribes, where the extended family is intimately involved with the woman, and where she is treated as "special", and important, and it is understood that she is going through a "rite of passage".

PND occurs in adoptive mothers and in new fathers. So it is not "just hormones"!

For the last few years, I have been collecting information about the women I have known who became depressed in the first year after their baby's birth. Some of them had been depressed for several years before I met them. They had children of four years' old. They had suffered in silence, not knowing what was wrong with them... and their families had suffered too.



Understanding PND

Help for Family and Friends

Help for Depression in Pregnancy