If you break a leg, you see a doctor and have it heal. If you get the flu, you take care of yourself and maybe take medication to relieve symptoms until your body heals itself. But when it comes to depression and mental illness, the majority of us ‘deny til we die’.
I guess that is why so much pregnancy related depression goes untreated.
- Up to 1 in 7 women experience PND
- Most women experience some form of “baby blues” or brief depressive episodes in the year after pregnancy
- PND can effect men as well as women
- PND can effect a person’s ability to form and function in relationships, including that of a baby
The dangers of untreated pregnancy related depression cannot be overstated – it is a mental health issue which directly effects the most vulnerable people in a growing family, a newborn child. I think this is why the shame and guilt of depression at this time is so overwhelmingly difficult to acknowledge. The rest of the world can usually be found cheering about a new arrival, it is rare that people respond to the news of a pregnancy or baby’s birth with anything short of “awesome baby, bro”, or something similar. Yet this is the paradox of our responses to pregnancy and birth. We can turn this major life event into the most isolating and confusing period of a mother’s life. How can they feel ambivalence, or even disgust at a baby who everyone else seems to be so happy about?
Recently British singer Adele discussed her experience of post-natal depression, explaining how in the year after her son’s birth, she was both obsessed with him while also feeling fearful and inadequate. Her description of her experiences highlight another complexity about pregnancy related depression that it comes in such different forms and no two experiences of it are necessarily the same.
As I read through her experiences as a new mother, battling with her own emotional reactions, I realise how important her statements are for new parents and for society. She is perhaps one of the world’s most popular entertainers, honestly and clearly describing the feelings which have brought her shame, fear and vulnerability. And she is telling millions.
I wonder how hard it was for her to talk about her PND and why it is that so many others struggle with it – what can be done to help new parents connect with other people to keep themselves and their families as safe as possible?
I wonder to myself if the starting point is not the new parent at all, but the rest of the world. As whack as that sounds, I believe this is one specific type of mental health issue that is even more stigmatised than other types of depression or mood disorders. It directly involves a parents’ capacity to parent, often a biological drive to care and nurture. The effects of this are intrinsic and worrying to the core of a person’s being, as we are biologically driven to raise our children.
What makes matters worse is how society expects that a new parent or a parent who has just had another child, will be ecstatic and jumping for proverbial joy. This is obviously not the case, and there is absolutely no shame in that. Yet shame is the resounding response that parents feel when they experience pregnancy related mental health issues – the overwhelming sense that they are not good enough and that something is wrong with them. Unfortunately, society agrees with them – something must be wrong if a parent does not ‘light up’ when they see their newborn. How could a parent possibly fear their own child?
The next time you see a parent, wild haired and cross eyed, ask not what is wrong with them. Ask how you can help them, or maybe just chat with them. In many ways parenthood is a struggle, it is a wonder we all don’t experience depression or anxiety while going through it. With the crushing weight of everyone expecting babies to bring only joy, it is totally conceivable why some parents struggle. Isolation break us, and with this struggle and shame comes with it a sense that we need to hide our emotions for fear of being judged.
Before I wrap this up, ask yourself if you had any reaction when you thought of a parent feeling disgust about the birth of their child? Did you judge that parent? If so, you have proven the very point of this article.
Ray Medhora can be found practicing child and family therapy in Sydney Australia in the field of family separation as well as training other aspiring counsellors to help them reach their goals.. Ray always feels odd writing in third person.