Getting Help For Postpartum Depression – It’s Not Always Easy
I was reading through some old posts and ended up lingering on The Dark Side of Motherhood (A Personal PPD Story. The period of postpartum depression was such a profound and dark time of my life. In fact, it was so dark, that I don’t even recall most of it correctly. My mind created a story around that period, and that story does not fully match reality. It lingered much longer than I care to admit (nearly 2 years post partum), and let itself be known the second time around as well.
And I know that any mother affected by postpartum depression does not come out completely unscathed even if she gets help.
New research has been coming out surrounding postpartum depression. Some researchers are starting to recognize that anger is often present in postpartum depression and anxiety. And it’s about time.
If you read my post, you will know that anger was one of my main postpartum depression symptoms. My peak anger coincided with the most severe points of my depression. Unfortunately, doctors are not yet trained to ask about anger and usually use sadness as the only barometer for postpartum depression. I’m not even talking about the fact that no one assesses for postpartum anxiety. It isn’t even recognized as an official diagnosis. Yet, just as many mothers suffer from anxiety, as they do from depression.
Another very important finding that came out of a Danish study is that the first instance of PPD in a woman with no prior depression history, makes the woman 27 to 46 times more likely to experience depression in subsequent pregnancies. Knowing all this makes it so much more urgent for healthcare providers to properly diagnose postpartum mood disorders. But alas, the medical field is yet to catch up.
So what can you do to ensure that you get proper treatment and don’t slip through the diagnostic cracks?
Know the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
These are symptoms you and your loved ones should be on the lookout for in your post partum period:
- Anger or rage
- Profound sadness
- Inability to cope with life’s stressors
- Not bonding with baby
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Suicidal thoughts and ideations (seek treatment immediately or call 911 if these are present)
- Excessive fatigue
- Change in eating patterns
- Frequent crying
- Not finding joy or pleasure in any activities
It’s important to note that these symptoms need to be present consistently for at least 2 weeks to be considered depression. And despite the fact that the official diagnosis says that these symptoms can only be considered PPD if they arise in the first 4 month post birth, I say, a full year is fair game.
Advocate for Yourself
Remember when you were pregnant and preparing for labor, you may have taken some birthing classes and found out how you will need to create a birthing plan and advocate for yourself in labor? Now did anyone ever tell you that you will have to advocate for yourself even more postpartum in order to receive the help you need? Probably not. But it’s the truth.
Post birth, your baby will have numerous appointments and check ups starting the moment you leave the hospital. You on the other hand, will see your doc for a quick 6 weeks postpartum check and be sent on your way. During that visit, your doc will most likely give you the Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale to fill out and will assess your possibility of having postpartum depression based on the answers you provided.
Here’s the catch though, the questions on the EPDS are super straight forward and you can answer them however you like based on how much help you want to receive. So if you’re deathly scared of having a diagnosis because you fear your children may be taken away, you may answer in a way that would suggest no depression, regardless of how you feel. But if you’re a mother who wants to perhaps prolong maternity and receive disability, you may answer differently. Or you simply may be so deep into your depression that you don’t realize that you really are not finding pleasure in anything, so you may answer as if everything is fine. You simply don’t remember yourself as happy and think you’ve always been this depressed.
That’s what I did. I did not realize just how much I was suffering and not enjoying anything. And so I answered as if I had no depressive symptoms, and no one caught on. And don’t count on your pediatrician catching or really helping you if you are showing depression symptoms. I vaguely recall filling out the same questions at each appointment but don’t recall anyone ever looking or paying much attention to my answers.
So unfortunately, mama, unless you advocate for yourself, no one will notice.
Learn to speak to doctors so they’re forced to listen
This goes hand in hand with advocating for yourself. It may mean that you have to be polite but forceful in demanding treatment. You may have to repeat many times that you feel off and demand tests and referrals to specialists. You may have to get very specific with your symptoms and explain that this is not normal for you.
I remember talking to my physician about being exhausted postpartum. She was a new mom like me, so I thought that she could relate. She responded with, “You’re a mom. That’s normal”. And we never spoke of it again. Looking back on it though, I realize that my severe exhaustion was very much a postpartum depression symptom and not simply a by-product of being a mom.
So what I should have said to get some attention was “My baby has been sleeping upwards of 8 hours for the past 3 months. I’ve been getting 6 plus hours of sleep every night and I still can’t function and keep my eyes open”. I think if I phrased it that way, she would have paid more attention. So if you want a doctor to address your issue, you have to make it very concrete and detailed. Make it difficult for them to just excuse it with a simple, “You’re a mom now. It’s par for the course”.
Utilize Your Support Network
Sometimes when your doctor simply does not want to hear you, enlist your partner or trusted family member for help. Have them be part of your appointment and make sure that your doctor hears you and takes your concern seriously. If more than one person is telling the doctor the same thing, they may be more inclined to actually do something about your concern. Having someone else tell the doctor they noticed that you are not acting like yourself brings more validity to your words and makes it harder to ignore you.
And if your doctor is still not listening, ask your support person to help you find another provider. They have a bit more time and energy than you do at the moment, so they can put in the leg work and give you some final results for approval. You should not have to continue to suffer due to medical neglect.
I sincerely hope that you don’t suffer from postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. But if you are struggling, know that help is out there. You can use my Resource Library to find a therapist in your area or to read more about postpartum depression.
If you just need to talk, I’m here. Drop me a line in the comments of this post or go over to Facebook and find my Parent on Board page.