There’s a lot more to being a woman than being a mother, but there’s a hell of a lot more to being a mother than most people suspect.
– Roseanne Barr
To be able to give birth to another life is conceivably one of the most wonderful emotions a woman experiences in her lifetime. Having a baby would definitely put you on a new course in life. The entire process of giving birth; right from conception stage to delivering a baby is physically and psychologically organised in a transforming order to enhance maternal modification and infant care. Delivering a life not only entails major changes and efforts physically, but it also triggers emotional and mental changes. While some changes are visible and evident right from day one, a few evolve and unravel over a period of time ranging from a few days to years.
One may not know when the best days of life turn into darkest days of life, if not treated on time.
Levels of hormones (estrogen and progesterone) decrease in a woman’s body right after childbirth, which leads to a chemical change in her body and mind. In addition to this, new mothers are unable to get proper sleep and the rest required to recover from the strenuous period of labour. Continuous sleep deprivation can lead to discomfort and this transformation activates mood swings and keeps her exhausted which contributes to symptoms of postpartum depression or PPD.
- Many suffering women think they are the only ones. But that’s not the fact.
- Experts say 1 in 5 new mothers experience postpartum depression or anxiety.
- Postpartum mood disorders don’t always show up immediately after the birth.
- Any new mom is vulnerable to PPD, but there are certain risk factors that can predispose some women to postpartum depression.
- 10 to 20 per cent of new mothers will experience a more severe form of depression that can interfere with daily life.
- There cannot be a single reason for postpartum depression. A combination of physical, emotional and lifestyle factors play a role.
Despite the fact that life with a newborn can be exciting and gratifying, it is also tiring and traumatic at times. Depression can be postpartum or prenatal. A woman can suffer from depression during her pregnancy, if she has had a baby recently, suffered a miscarriage, adopted a child or even stopped breastfeeding recently. The reasons are many and diverse, none can zero in on a specific reason.
Regardless of her previous pregnancies or postpartum experiences, a woman could suffer from PPD every time she goes through the reproductive process. Some women may experience this regardless of age status, and the number of children she has borne. Sometimes a woman could go through PPD if the pregnancy was unplanned, if the child is unwanted or sometimes if the woman is dejected because of her economic status or is deprived of support from near and dear ones.
In some cases, in spite of all the support and a good background, a woman might be unable to cope with the changes her body and mind are going through and may get stressed and weary; this would be termed as ‘baby blues’, but when the intensity of the mental and physical trauma amplifies and goes beyond any explanation, then it is the alarming tone of postpartum depression.
Why is PPD Under-diagnosed?
Postpartum depression has been ignored, casually taken, hidden and hushed for many years. Why? Lack of communication and understanding, or the fear of people categorising you as a self-interested, sloppy, irresponsible mother is a primary cause. How do you find a way to explain to someone the feeling of total desolation when people expect this to be the most ecstatic time of your life? Such questions reflect the mould of a society which has resided in ignorance of one of the most significant illnesses and hence under diagnosed.
Many women who suffer from PPD are apprehensive about an open discussion of their feelings which results in dismissal or stigmatisation; many women experience symptoms but resist seeking help.
A woman during her depression does not understand the emotional turmoil within her, which is a cause for her constant worry. She often does not share this worry with anyone because of the preconceived notion of motherhood, a synonym for blissfulness and perfection. The feeling of being inadequate as a mother would take over her and the symptoms start getting overlooked or brushed away as a part of the maternity process.
Symptoms of PPD
While some women exhibit moderate symptoms, few show severe symptoms which in some cases have cost their lives and livelihood. A little professional help is advisable while the indications are on the rise. Look out for the following:
- Behavioural: Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason, irritable, or restless
- Mood: Feeling sad and hopeless, overwhelmed or empty.
- Physical: Exhaustion or loss of appetite, oversleeping, or unable to sleep even when the baby is asleep, weight gain or weight loss.
- Psychological: Depression or fear or lack of concentration
- Cognitive: Having dilemma over connecting on an emotional level with the baby.
Causes of PPD
Though postpartum depression doesn’t come with a reasonable list of explanations, researchers have put together a few points which could be the causes of PPD
- Hormonal changes: The abrupt shrink in the oestrogen and progesterone levels is probably one of the reasons.
- Re-formulating personal identity: Along with being a mother comes huge responsibility and therefore letting go of other roles in life such as `Career – woman’, `Ambitious-woman’ etc, for sometime in life which eventually may turn out to be for years together. This also affects a woman.
- Expectations: Parenting is not an easy task and the society has often undervalued this role. Expectation from the society of being a perfect mother builds a lot of pressure over a new mother and this new responsibility is taken for granted by the social order.
- Exhaustion: Firstly it takes a lot of energy to deliver a child and from the next moment she is expected to take charge of everything related to the baby. Constant energy drain leads to exhaustion which leads to depression.
The Way Out
Postpartum depression can be prevented only when you identify the symptoms and are willing to recognise the consequences and are ready to deal with it openly. It is friends and family who would be able to recognise the symptoms first in a new mother. Encouraging her to talk about it either with you or a professional would be the least that one could do. Offering emotional support and assisting her with some chores like taking care of the baby for some time in a day and allowing her some ‘me-time’ would be advisable. Enrolling into antenatal classes is also recommended because such classes provide you with strategies and therapies to overcome the natural stress and fears related to delivery and post delivery period.
While some may get help in a friend or spouse or someone close to them by unloading the emotional stress, some women require professional help and this has to be encouraged without any hesitation. A prolonged feeling of depression might get worse if left untreated. Sometimes it can cost a life and even worse, may cost the lives of people associated to a PPD victim.
Not everything can be known to everybody and everyone possibly cannot be 100 per cent prepared for new changes, but it is always good to know what to anticipate, so you are better equipped to handle them.