Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders including postpartum depression are common. UnityPoint Health helps us to recognize them and when to get help.
What You Won’t Expect When You’re Expecting
I became a mom for the first time almost 13 years ago. I had wanted to be a mom for as long as I could remember. I just knew I would love being pregnant – what a miracle! – and would love the child growing inside me – it’s my baby! – and would bask in the glory of motherhood once my baby was born – cue image of me nursing my baby in a field of flowers while the wind gently blows my hair.
Turns out, pregnancy and motherhood were nothing like I had imagined. I had diligently read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” What I really needed was “What You Won’t Expect When You’re Expecting.” Although it was hard, I value every difficult, unexpected, uncomfortable moment because it makes me a gentler, more compassionate, more open-minded childbirth educator, mom and friend.
If I could go back, if I could speak to my younger, pregnant self, here’s what I would say:
- If you don’t enjoy being pregnant, that’s ok! It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that you will be a bad mom. I remember being resentful for the weight gain, the heightened blood pressure, the shortness of breath and the swollen feet. I thought pregnancy was supposed to be beautiful; I certainly didn’t feel beautiful, and I resented that loss. I have learned that it is ok to feel sad about unmet expectations. All your feelings are valid, even the uncomfortable ones.
- If you don’t feel warm, loving feelings toward your unborn or newborn baby, that’s ok! Those loving, maternal feelings don’t always happen during pregnancy. I remember feeling constant exhaustion and hunger. At one point, out of frustration, I told a friend that I felt like my baby was a parasite, sucking the life out of me. The horrified look on her face filled me with shame. “I should never have said that out loud,” I thought. “I am a terrible person. Why don’t I love my baby?” When I confessed these feelings to a therapist, however, she reassured me that I was not a bad person. For some people, those affectionate feelings only develop after they meet and get to know their baby. In fact, for many moms, those feelings don’t develop until days or even weeks after their baby is born. I have learned that each mother’s relationship with her baby deepens and grows at their own unique pace, and a faster pace is neither better nor worse than a slower one.
- If you are struggling with motherhood, that’s ok! I thought motherhood would come naturally, I would have no problems breastfeeding, and I would be confident in knowing what to do when my baby cried. I thought I would be content, happy and at peace. Instead, I felt awkward as a mother, never sure why he was crying but certain it was my fault. My baby and I struggled with breastfeeding at first, and I felt like a failure when I gave him formula in the hospital. I was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy while I was with him and overcome by deep, heart-crushing sadness when I was away from him. These feelings went on for months, and I dared not say anything to anyone, lest they look at me with horror like my friend had done while I was pregnant. Thankfully, I have learned to be honest about my feelings and ask for help when I need it.
When I finally asked for help, I learned that I had Postpartum Depression (PPD), one of a family of mood disorders called Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). What’s more, my experience was more normal than I realized. On average, as many as 8 out of 10 new moms feel the baby blues, which is a general sadness that occurs in the couple weeks after birth. This is totally normal and is caused by the fluctuation of hormones as you go from pregnant to not pregnant.
Postpartum Depression happens to at least 1 out of every 5 moms.
Do you have four mom friends? Chances are, at least one of you has PPD. In fact, new research suggests that the incidence of PPD may even be 30% or more of all new moms. This condition is more common than you realize. Symptoms can include sadness, uncontrollable crying, feeling overwhelmed or angry, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, mood swings and exhaustion.
Hear me on this, fellow mama: Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders are perfectly normal, and they can be treated. Be honest about your feelings, no matter how uncomfortable they may be, and ask for help. Your family and friends love you and want to support you. Your midwife, OB physician or primary care provider is there to provide you with the resources you need to feel better. Interventions can include counseling, exercise and medication.
For more resources, please visit Blank Children’s Hospital and their Childbirth Education page, where you can listen to Life After Baby, a FREE webinar series that addresses PMADs and provides helpful information on how to overcome this common condition.
*About the author: Melissa Sonnenblume has been a childbirth educator with Blank Children’s Hospital for 8 years. She is passionate about supporting and empowering pregnant women and new moms. Melissa has three children: an elementary kiddo, a tween, and a teen (heaven help her). She loves lifting other moms up by sharing her motherhood failures and triumphs with humor and honesty.
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This post is part of a series of sponsored posts by UnityPoint Health Des Moines.