Postnatal Distress & Depression

The baby’s fine – how are you?
There is no doubt that having a brand new baby brings some challenges. Whilst this is indeed an amazingly special time, it can also be fraught with issues ranging from struggling to define oneself as a woman, who is also now a mother to managing on one income and the financial pressure that can bring. These kinds of issues are often compounded by lack of sleep, hormonal changes and, depending on family circumstances, feelings of isolation, proximity of extended family and so on.

Each addition to our family alters the dynamic slightly, it isn’t just first-time mothers who struggle, the leap from one child to two can be particularly demanding, caring for a newborn when you have an active toddler is often difficult. Combine this with the current economic climate where often households need two incomes to function, and you have a recipe for stress.

In our westernized society we lead busy lives, we tend to be most comfortable ‘in control’, and we are accustomed to ‘managing’ life. Tasks are timetabled, calendared and diarised. Meetings are planned, events are organised, in short, most things run according to our plan.

And then, a baby comes along. They are blissfully unaware of the plan, and have no care for timetables, rigid routines or schedules. In short, we often have the expectation that a baby will fit neatly into our lives – and often that is not the case.

The statistics tell us that approximately 15-20% of women will experience post natal depression, however, it would be interesting to see that figure if we were to remove the ‘diagnosis’ or label and instead find out how many women found the adjustment to motherhood difficult and challenging. The figure is likely to be much higher.

In some cultures the arrival of a baby is celebrated with the focus on the woman’s transition into motherhood, she is celebrated, she is embraced, she is held by the community and supported as she begins this new journey. In the West, generally speaking, the baby’s arrival is celebrated, new clothes are bought, there may even be a baby ‘shower’ (usually before baby arrives), and then the parents are left to ‘get on with it’. After a pretty minimal ‘paternal leave’ period, the mother is left to ‘get on with it’.

In our cerebral times, the emotional preparation for a new baby can be overlooked.  Sure, we’ve researched the best car seat, stroller and high chair, we know which interventions we want to avoid during the birth, the postnatal stay is booked, paternity leave all booked, all sorted… And then, a baby comes along.

Very little of our antenatal classes focus on the emotional preparation that might help with the transition to mothering and in wider society we are surrounded by images of the ‘good’ mother. She appears on the pages of our best loved magazines, perfect skin, hair and make-up, her career flourishing, she gets a full nights sleep (her baby is in a ‘good routine’), her relationship functions well, she lost all that ‘baby weight’ within 4 weeks of having baby, has time for meditation, yoga, regular facials and massages, not to mention the personal trainer…

Has anyone taken the time to find out whether these women are happy? Are they satisfied with their lives? Or are they too questioning what it means to be a mother?  Can you breastfeed and still be sexual? How do you find the patience for baby led feeding when friends are encouraging you to give formula? How can we balance career and family? When will mothering in its own right be valued as one of the most challenging and worthwhile ‘career’ options a woman could choose to devote herself to? Are the images the media portray of maternal bliss just another thing for women to beat themselves up with?

Add to this any feelings of inadequacy around the birth process, if things didn’t go to plan, and is it any wonder that some women find themselves struggling with the transition to motherhood? We are led to believe that we ‘should’ be coping – what does that mean though, that we ‘should’ be able to get through the day without crying? That dinner ‘should’ be on the table? That life ‘should’ have resumed its ‘normal’ rhythm? You have had a baby, life will never be as it was before, normal has shifted for you now.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, we buy into these beliefs, these inferred expectations. We await the joy in motherhood, what about the times we experience misery?  And then there is the shame.  The shame of not coping, of not being able to get through the day without crying, of not having a meal on the table, of not getting out of bed, of not ‘managing life’.

However you label it, this transition to motherhood is a right of passage, an opportunity for women to find out who they are, and what they are made of, to grow themselves emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. We need to embrace and support each other as women, to create community rather than competition. There are various labels for ‘not coping’, we might call it postnatal depression, postnatal distress, post traumatic stress, we might label ourselves as weak, as failures, and how can we truly support each other if there is so much shame in speaking about how life really is?

There is a place for women to come to and be real, to talk about how it is for them, the highs and the lows, with no judgement, no shame, just acceptance. There is a place for women to come and be heard.

This is an invitation to all women who are beginning their journey into motherhood, your little one might be a few weeks old, a few months old, you might be even further along in your journey. You are welcome to come along to one of the groups running in Auckland each week to share your story, to be amongst other women experiencing similar issues.  There is no expectation that you have to share, you can come and just listen if that feels right. We do not diagnose, label or fix, you are free to be as you are, and where you are, on your journey.

Emma Green

March 2011

The Postnatal Distress Support Network run three Postnatal Support Groups:

Mondays 10am – noon. Henderson

Wednesdays 10am – Noon Greenlane
Fridays 10.30am–12.30pm Glenfield

For more information contact Anniina at the Postnatal Distress Support Network Trust
Phone 09 836 6967. Web:  Email: [email protected]