This post has been a long time coming. I’ve sat in front of the screen several times to share my heart on this topic. I don’t often share personal experiences but in this case it is necessary. Each time, I’ve gotten a few sentences written, then started thinking about what I was writing and stopped. A couple of weeks ago I participated in a Q&A at church about denial. I was asked “what does denial mean to you as a counselor?” and part of my response was this, “denial is a psychological defense mechanism that helps a person avoid distressing truth. it can also be looked at as a form of avoidance”. It is thought that denial protects the ego from things we cannot cope with.
In my case, it has been more of an issue of avoidance, not denial. I know what happened, I know it hurts. Knowing this I have had a couple of choices. Option A: I can deny that anything happened. Option B: I can avoid thought or discussion about what happened. Option C: I can acknowledge that something happened and continue to do nothing, or Option D: I can acknowledge that something happened, and do something. (Here’s where I’d like to stop…but stopping would be choosing option C, and that’s no good. So let me tell you a story.
I’m originally from Illinois. I lived there until I was in the 9th grade. I’ve always been extremely shy, and I’ve always been a listener. Contrary to “popular belief” being shy does not mean that you don’t like people or that you do not want or have friends. As an adult I can see the benefits of being shy. Growing up I didn’t have a huge amount of friends, but those that I had were TRUE FRIENDS. I know what you may be thinking, “you don’t have true friends in elementary and middle school”. But I did. I still treasure many of those friendships to this day. My story is about one of those very best friends. We met in middle school and when I moved away to North Carolina we continued writing to each other. As we got older, even though we were across the country we shared in our accomplishments and milestones, going to college, getting married, having a baby, having another baby. We didn’t talk extremely often, but when we did it was always for hours, and it was always as if a day hadn’t passed since we last spoke.
When I would go back to Illinois to visit family we would always get together. I remember each visit. The first one we were still so young, so much to learn and experience, we were not yet married and didn’t have kids at that time. We got our undergraduate degree and I started work, and she continued on to get her Masters. We both got married and shortly after had our first children. Both of us had girls, we didn’t realize it until after we settled on a name with our husbands but we had even chose the same name for our girls! We would talk on the phone and email back and forth about all of life’s happenings. About how much we loved being a mommy, about how our girls grew so quickly, about how hard it could be at times juggling everything. At my last visit to Illinois, three of us that went to junior high together met. Our girls played together and we chatted. We smiled and we laughed. We hugged and I so cherished the time we spent together. I always did, because we only got to see each other once every couple of years.
Quite a while had passed before I was informed that my dear friend, the one that I spent countless hours with in my childhood days, the one that I shared secrets and sorrows with was no longer with us. Now, when I think back to that visit (which I often do), I have so many questions. I try to remember if she showed signs of the sadness and distress she must have had at that time…if there was something I may have missed. I wondered how it was that I didn’t notice something was wrong. I later learned that she had been suffering with postpartum depression.
Almost anyone you talk to has heard of postpartum depression. However, it appears the majority of people do not understand how common, how treatable, or how serious maternal mental illness can become if untreated.
The period of pregnancy up to one year after birth is called the perinatal period. Many women experience mild mood changes after the birth of their baby. this is referred to as the baby blues and typically last 2-3 weeks. 15% to 20% of women experience more significant symptoms of depression and anxiety that persist, the symptoms can begin in pregnancy, and the range of related disorders are called perinatal mood disorders. Perinatal mood disorders such as postpartum depression and anxiety can affect women of any race, culture or socioeconomic status.
Women who are experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety may feel scared, alone and helpless. It may be a surprise to know that perinatal mood disorders are among the most common pregnancy complications. The good news is there is help, and perinatal mood disorders are treatable. If you are mom dealing with these symptoms you are not alone. There is help. And with help, you will get better.
It hurts my heart to know I can’t hug my friend and tell her this. But I can tell others, and so can you. There is much to know about perinatal mood disorders, much more than I can express in one post but I hope I got your attention long enough to bring light to this personal issue. In my practice I focus on treating women who are struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety and other issues related to womanhood. I am one person, and one person cannot change the world, but one person can change a life. If you are a woman struggling, take the first step in getting help. Tell your partner, tell a friend or loved one, talk to your healthcare provider…seek help. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can recover. If you know or love a woman who is pregnant or just had a baby support her, ask her how she is feeling, help her take the first step and make sure you show her that she is not alone.
When I found out about my sweet friend, initially I chose option B, followed by option C. I couldn’t settle for either of those. I no longer “do nothing”. Now, what will YOU do?
*If you would like more information on perinatal mood disorders feel free to contact me. You may visit the following websites:
Postpartum Support International– The goal of PSI is is to increase awareness among public and professional communities about the emotional changes that women experience during pregnancy and postpartum. PSI is also a good resource for identifying local resources for women. It is important to seek help from an individual that is trained in treating perinatal mood disorders.
Postpartum Progress– Postpartum Progress Inc. is a nonprofit that exists to improve the support and services for pregnant & new mothers with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. It was created for moms by moms.