It was the moment I had been waiting for -- meeting my new bundle of joy and becoming a supermom. After delivering a baby, I knew what I was getting into: sleepless nights, poopy diapers, and sore nipples, of course; but the feelings of inadequacy, the “baby blues,” and the indomitable “mommy pouch” completely blindsided me.
I needed to put down the armour, and turn to an expert.
“Being a new mom and a new dad is harder than you think,” says Christiane Manzella, PhD, psychologist and clinical director at the Seleni Institute in New York City. More informationa about the Seleni Institute's clinical services are featured in the video below.
As a new mother I couldn’t agree more. While there are some no-brainer things I knew would happen after giving birth (like stretch marks), I wish I had been schooled on the hormonal and emotional changes that have shaken up my life.
After a three-day hospitalization due to fainting spells caused by a severe lack of sleep and a non-existent appetite, I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and depression. I found that though I was prepared for motherhood with a well-equipped nursery, I was not at all prepared for a serious case of the “baby blues” -- mood swings, crying spells, insomnia, and anxiety.
1. No One Told Me I’d Be Disappointed
“The expectations of having a blissful experience sets parents up for real disappointment,” Manzella says.
The happy-go-lucky portrayal of motherhood in the media is partly responsible -- images of new moms suddenly falling in love with their baby and being supremely fulfilled bombard everything from parenting magazines to diaper commercials. “This doesn’t always happen which makes parents feel as if they have failed,” according to Manzella.
Two weeks after my daughter was born my feet were still swollen and unrecognizable, I had a pimples on my face, a baby at my breasts, and I still looked seven months pregnant! I thought I’d magically get back to my ballerina body and feel what celebrity moms describe as “complete.” This of course did not happen and as Manzella put it, I felt I failed.
The feeling of failure combined with a whirlwind of new emotions, a new set of responsibilities, and a significant drop in hormones not only caused me to feel disappointed, but it also contributed to my perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.
2. I Was Not the Only One
Although many women have high expectations of love and happiness after childbirth, as many as 80 percent of women get the “baby blues.” Not that I wanted to be another statistic, but I was relieved when my best friend explained that both her cousins had a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder after delivering their children. It was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only one wanting to secretly catch a flight to Nebraska and run away from my family.
Another 20 percent of women experience some form of postpartum depression or anxiety according to the Seleni Institute. With symptoms including feelings of anger, appetite or sleep disturbance, crying or sadness, and feelings of guilt or hopelessness, according to PPD affects more than 1 million people a year in the United States according to the Seleni Institute.
Fortunately, postpartum depression is temporary and treatable with professional help.
3. Being Diagnosed With PPD Doesn’t Mean You’ll Hurt Yourself Or Your Baby
I’m not sure when the term “postpartum depression” became inaccurately synonymous with “she’s going to hurt her baby,” but this description couldn’t be further from the truth.
Just because a woman is diagnosed with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she is a danger to herself or her baby. This is a big myth that stigmatizes the term postpartum depression.
Whereas PPD is quite common, another disorder -- postpartum psychosis -- is the disorder associated with suicide and infanticide. It occurs in about 1 to 2 in every 1,000 deliveries according to Postpartum Support International.
Facts like these are important to know for both new mothers and her family. When I was discharged from the hospital I couldn’t help but to feel as if everyone in my household was watching me like a hawk, making sure I didn’t hurt myself or my baby. I felt embarrassed and alienated.
Attending a support group with other women who had similar experiences helped normalize and treat my condition. Organizations such as the Seleni Institute cater to women’s reproductive and mental health by providing clinical services, research funding, online information, and several classes and support groups for new moms and dads.
“It’s important for women to know that they are not alone,” says Manzella. “At a support group they can talk and get understood and acknowledged.”