The happiest day of your life?
A lot of women describe the birth of their children as the happiest days in their life. Mothers across the world swear that nothing makes you happier than holding your baby for the first time. Watching all of your child’s first steps and first discoveries. Most women describe all the pain and exhaustion they expierence during birth as absolutly worth it. But what if that doesn’t apply to all women? Most sufferers of postpartum depression don’t talk about it. Out of shame that others think they are bad mothers and out of fear that they will never be like other mothers.
Pregnancy is not only extremly exhausting physically – it also takes a huge toll on women mentally. Hormone levels are all over the place and often giving birth comes with a lot of physical side effects. Giving birth also means a disruption. The disruption of never having been alone for 9 months, having taken care of another human being and sharing one’s own body with another person. For many women, this disruptive moment comes with psychological symptoms such as a depressive mood, anxiety, trouble sleeping, a lot of crying, or feeling sad. Almost all women experience these symptoms after giving birth as part of their hormone levels adjusting, but about 10%–20% of women develop postpartum depression, and even 4% of the fathers suffer from PPD.
The exact causes of PPD are not yet known, though there are factors that put women at a higher risk of developing it, such as a family history of postpartum depression, previous mental illnesses, low socio-economic status, unwanted pregnancy or birth-related psychological and physical trauma. Therapy has been proven to be a very effective treatment for postpartum depression. Like with any other mental illness, a lot of women and men are ashamed to seek help. To reduce the stigma around this topic, we had a very honest and open conversation about it.
Conversation #6 about Postpartum Depression
What would be the title of your autobiography?
It didn’t kill me, it made me stranger.
When did you realize that you struggle with something not everyone struggles with?
In high school.
How does it affect your everyday life?
I can’t be myself. Often I don’t have the energy or the will to socialize. I used to binge and purge to calm myself down. It affects most of my closest relationships – with my parents, my kids and my husband.
How did your family and friends react when you told them? What impact did it have on you?
I only recently got my diagnosis. When I was finally diagnosed with panic attacks and anxiety disorder, my mom started studying everything about it. My husband was shocked by the symptoms. But they treated me just the same.
What was the most valuable advice anyone has given you?
Number 1 is something nobody said to me, but something I read somewhere: Relax. Nothing is in your control.
Number 2: There are relationships that are meant to just come and go. Where you have a role to play for that person, or the other way around. Not all relationships are meant to last.
What did you discover to be a helpful coping strategy?
Naming objects and colours around me; breathing deeply into my stomach. I use a breathing technique where you exhale longer than you inhale to calm down. I use an app to help me with that.
How did it feel to reach out for help? Did anything make it easier for you to do so?
I have a problem with asking the people I know for help, but I never had issues to ask for professional help. To get my mental and emotional state in order. I was raised to be very capable and independent. So I “can do all by myself and never ask for help.” But since my teenage years, I have asked for professional help and talked to mental health professionals. It felt amazing! I am still taking professional support. I think it’s crucial for all of us to get regular mental check-ups just as any other check-ups. These are even more important than the others.
Could you describe in one sentence what it’s like to live with anxiety/postpartum depression?
Floating in a limbo of nothingness, with occasional threats of life endangerment.
Is there anything that still bothers you about having to live with anxiety/postpartum depression, but you made your peace with it?
Yes, the anxiety attacks. I am living with them for now, but I hope to treat them one day. As said, I am going to therapy.
What’s something you want people to know about your condition?
My condition or any other – go see someone just out of curiosity, out of responsibility for yourself and those around you. If you won’t, take your kids. Growing up is messy and hard. You don’t have all the answers, you are just human – parent or not.
What’s a positive thing about your illness? How did it have a positive impact on the person you are today?
This made me think. I don’t really see any positives. My illnesses have cost me my marriage, affected my children and many other relationships. The only positive thing would have been if I hadn’t had them at all. But since they are there… maybe I can manage the damage with my daughters, to make sure I don’t transfer my anxiety and fears onto them. I think it has also made me very sensitive to other people’s suffering.
[interview has been edited for length and clarity]