Postnatal depression. The holy grail of new mother guilt.

It affects 15% of us (probably more), yet it’s so poorly understood. It’s so ‘improper’ to say we’re not coping, and admissions of finding this mothering thing so much harder than we expected are often met with ‘well, did you think it would be easy?’ When we’re told it’s ‘normal’ to feel overwhelmed and that ‘if we told you how it really is, no one would ever have children’, how are we supposed to know the difference between the ‘three-day blues’ and actual postnatal depression or anxiety? For so many mothers, there’s a fear that if we admit it, it will be real, and if it’s real, then we’re truly a bad mother.

“It’s just the depression telling her she’s a bad mother.”

Actually, I don’t think so.

I don’t think I can count the number of times I’ve heard that the first three years are critical, and that a mother can make or break a child in this time, setting the scene for the rest of that baby’s life. Or the number of times I’ve heard that babies of depressed mothers can have lower IQs, behavioural difficulties, are less sociable, and have growth problems. Or that depressed mothers have children with ‘broken’ attachment.

And let’s not forget the way we expect new mothers, whose bodies have just grown an entire human for 9 months (or so) and then allowed that child to somehow magically emerge from their bodies alive, just get back to it. Can we hold the fort for a second? The sheer incredibility of that fact should stun us into such awe that we care for mothers the way we do our most precious babies.

But instead, these new mothers, who are now continuing to keep that child alive, who have enormous changes going on both inside and out, who now have this entire new person to accommodate into almost every facet of their life.

And, in general, they’re essentially expected to do this alone.

It’s a crazy combination, where a mother and the role of a mother are unsupported by society but blamed for the outcome of any children.

Depressed mothers are not bad mothers. They are mothers who are in need of more support.

And, it turns out, a new study from the University of Utah* showed that it wasn’t depression that affects the babies most. It’s being detached, or ignoring your baby. For some of us, this might be concerning or upsetting, but it doesn’t need to be.

It doesn’t need to be upsetting because it means that depression is not the final say in how our kids turn out. It doesn’t have to lay foundations that extend into adulthood. It doesn’t have to mean our kids will struggle the way we imagine they will (spoiler: kids will struggle, they need to struggle, but there’s struggle and there’s STRUGGLE, and it’s the latter we can help them with).

So what can you do?

  1. If this is you, speak up and get help. Speak to your GP. Speak to your mothers group. Speak to your online mothers group. Speak to your maternal and child health nurse. Find someone who understands, and take the steps you need to be ok. This isn’t always easy. I know when I had post natal depression with my eldest, I tried to reach out. Just that alone took Herculean effort, and was not met with the actual help that I needed. I didn’t know how to reach out again. But if I had, I may not have gone through the depths that I did and lost as much time as I did. Reaching out is important.
  2. Call or contact PANDA. Their website is incredibly resourceful.
  1. Don’t believe the lie that you are a failure, that you ‘shouldn’t’ feel this way, that you are a bad mother, or that no one cares. It isn’t true. I know the voices are loud, but for the sake of you and your baby, don’t believe them.
  1. Respond to your baby. This may be one of the most important. We know now that how emotionally balanced a baby is has a lot to do with sensitivity – how well a mother can respond to her baby. Being depressed does not make you a bad mother. You can ease the effects of depression by being responsive. Pick up your baby when they cry, even if you’re not motivated emotionally. Feed them when the need to be fed. Change their nappy when they need to be changed. Mirror their feelings by letting your face change as their expressions change. The biggest impact of depression on babies is NOT that their mothers are depressed, it’s that the mothers do not engage. I know this is hard, but a baby is more hurt by the lack of response from a mother, or inconsistent response, than the actual depression itself. You can totally buffer your baby from some of the effects of depression, and let go of some of that guilt.
  1. Get support. Rally your friends and family. Hire a postnatal doula. Create your tribe and connect yourself with people. Depression is worst when you’re alone. Don’t let yourself suffocate in the sinkhole. Do what you need to do to get by.
  1. Be gentle with yourself. This is hard. It’s ok that it’s hard, and you’re not doing anything wrong.

And if you see a mother struggling?

Sure, ask her if she’s ok. But she might not be able to answer truthfully. If you think that between the lines she’s not ok, offer some practical help. Fold her laundry with her. Do her dishes. Drop her around a meal. Go for a walk with her. Listen. Encourage. Meet her feelings with empathy, and help her get help.

It’s ok to not be ok.

But sometimes, we need help to get through. Don’t give up.

You’re worth so much more than that.

Anna is a certified Childbirth Educator, Doula & Parenting Mentor, working in Adelaide and country South Australia.

For more information about her workshops, birth coaching, birth support, and post baby support services, please visit www.annasiebert.com.au.

© Anna Siebert and Anna Siebert Blog, 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Anna Siebert and Anna Siebert Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

*Read the whole article here: University of Utah. “Mommy and me: Study shows how affectionate mothering can combat the effects of maternal depression.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 February 2016. .

About the author

Anna is a Motherhood Mentor, who works with busy mums to beat overwhelm, stop yelling and enjoy parenting. As a Childbirth Educator, Anna helps parents prepare for their birth to overcome fear, feel confident and come out the other side of birth positive and empowered. She is the founder of Calm in the Chaos, where mums learn how to feel calm, joyful and confident in modern parenting, and Preparing for Birth, where parents learn how to have a positive birth regardless of how their birth unfolds. Her mission is to take the fear out of birth and the overwhelm out of parenting. Anna runs live workshops, online courses and trainings, and is the author of Preparing for Birth.
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