Motherhood. Depression. Grief. Phew. That’s a title for ya, isn’t it?
Heavy stuff to talk about on a Monday morning, I know…but it’s harder to live through and not talk about.
So that’s why I’m here shining a light on an experience I think many of us feel or have felt to some degree during our experience as a mother and opening the discussion around how we can help ourselves and others if/when we find ourselves here.
There’s a big gap between our “global” understanding of depression in mothers and the “individual ” level of understanding and support that mothers actually get around this (very, very common) issue.
We have these textbook descriptions and neat little check lists to try and identify depression in moms right after birth, but in my experience living through depression is muddy. It doesn’t always look like what the checklists ask for. And it doesn’t always present itself immediately after birth, either.
Our primary care docs and OB-GYNs often are woefully unprepared to adequately deal with women who are presenting with depression symptoms. We have this chasm between the study of our body and the study of our mind in the Western model of medicine and it shows up painfully clear in the issue of mood imbalances and mental struggles in all people- but, well, you know over here my heart is aimed at the mamas. 🙂
The very best model I’ve come across of what postpartum depression can look and feel like is when it was juxtapositioned to the stages of grief in this excellent article over at Postpartum Progress by Katherine Stone.
Taken directly from her article, she expresses the stages of postpartum depression in these ways:
The Six Stages of Postpartum Depression
1. Denial: This must be what new motherhood is like. I’ll be alright. It can’t be postpartum depression, because I’m not mentally ill. I’m sure it will wear off soon. I just need more sleep.
2. Anger: Nobody understands what I’m going through. Why me?! This is supposed to be a time of joy. I don’t deserve this. I don’t want to have to take medication. I don’t want to go to therapy. I shouldn’t have to call a doctor. This is not fair.
3. Bargaining: If I just exercise more and eat better I’ll be fine. If I could just get to the point where the baby sleeps through the night, I’ll be okay. If I get closer to God and pray more, this will surely go away.
4. Depression: I should just leave my family. I’m bringing everyone down. They all would be better off without me. My poor baby doesn’t deserve a mother like this. I’ll never get better so there’s no point in going on.
5. Acceptance: What’s happening to me isn’t normal and I can’t ignore it anymore. It’s not my fault. It is okay for me to talk to a doctor. It’s okay for me to ask for help. I can take medication or go to therapy or do whatever is necessary for my health and that of my family.
6. PTSD: I still worry that PPD will return. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder. Every time I feel bad I’m convinced that I’ve gone back there. I feel like I’ve lost a lot of confidence in myself and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back. I worry I hurt my child in the long-term because of how I was when he was a baby.
This mirrored so much of what I knew to be true about the process and the many-layered issues that mothers feel who are struggling.
It also began to clarify why so much of my previous training in trauma response was so darn helpful when I support myself and other moms through the murky waters of overwhelm and stress. What is happening in your brain when you are experiencing chronic unmitigated stress, trauma, grief and depression is very similar. The way to find your way out and re-wire your mind toward wholeness, well-being and health is very similar too.
Recently I was reading my brilliant friend, Christina Rasmussen’s, book Second Firsts. Her work focuses on transforming grief into an amazing “second” life that can thrive and grow from those dark, difficult places. I was struck, again, by how many of her strategies and perspectives mirrored what I know to be absolutely true for the path through hard, difficult years of mothering.
I imagine not every mother experiences “dark nights” along the journey– but the truth is I haven’t met an actual mom yet that hasn’t – so while I’m not saying they aren’t out there, I am saying they must be in the very very small minority.
Most of us have experienced imbalance in our mental well-being.
There are many factors that could potentially contribute to feelings of extreme stress, intense overwhelm, apathy, or depression. For some of us it was the intense hormonal shifts around pregnancy, birth or weaning.
For others, it was simply the intense role of mothering very young ones without adequate support, tools or outlets for well-being. For others it was brought on by an extreme life circumstance that challenged us beyond what was healthy for us to sustain.
In any case, moving your way into a fuller, brighter, more stable and vital place requires that you begin to give yourself the chance to re-wire how your brain experiences life, how your mind interprets the world around you, how your stories imply what the truth is…and how nourished (literally, as in nutrient accessibility) your brain is to the molecules it needs to regain harmony.
Recently I led my Harmonize Your Hormones course and put together a bonus module on pregnancy and postpartum well-being. As I was creating this guide, I had this incredibly strong feeling that I needed to get this information out to my larger community.
I’d like to offer an abbreviated part of that guide to you, as my gift.
If it can open up our conversation around this topic and help you feel equipped to take some small but meaningful steps forward in getting yourself the care and support you need to help with what you are feeling and experiencing- I would love you to have it.
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(But before you do, please share this page with others as well. You never know what other mom in your social circles may be outwardly seeming fine, but inwardly is caving in. It may be exactly what she needs to read right now.)