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“You think you’re a bad person” – Share Sunshine Life

 

After experiencing pre-eclampsia, Naomi, who asked that her last name not be revealed, gave birth to her son five weeks early in an emergency cesarean section. The newborn spent 10 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, where he received around-the-clock care from a team of nurses. During that time, the California mom’s focus was on her son’s health, not her own, so it wasn’t until she and her husband were finally able to bring their baby home that she began to feel her symptoms. It was determined to be postpartum depression.

“In the hospital, the nurses were there, [so] I didn’t feel burdened because the nurses were helping me,” she told Yahoo Life. “It was more like, ‘Oh, I want my baby to be healthy.’ But the moment we got home a few days later, there was a lot to deal with.”

Naomi, a content creator who posts about her home life with her husband Kameron and their now 5-month-old son, was particularly caught off guard by the lack of sleep and the physical and emotional toll she experienced while breastfeeding. She struggled to adjust to the relentless routine of 24/7 baby care, where taking a 20-minute walk out of the house or even sitting down to a quiet, hot meal felt “impossible.

“[When you’re pregnant], you say, ‘It’s beautiful, it’s good, I can’t wait to have my baby,’” the TikToker says of her expectations of motherhood. “Then all of a sudden, everything changes and it hits so hard. You think you’re dreaming. I thought, am I dreaming? Will I wake up and my life will be normal? It’s like, you love your baby, but that’s another thing – a completely different experience. I remember standing in the kitchen crying. I told my sister, ‘I think my world is over.’”

Naomi began to realize from that point on that she was experiencing postpartum depression, something she “didn’t even think about” or even realize during her pregnancy until her husband suggested she was experiencing symptoms. She recalls filling out a form about her mental health during her postpartum checkup, but her doctor never raised the issue. Eventually, it was opening up to loved ones and sharing her story on social media – where she connected with moms going through the same thing – that allowed her to put a name to her feelings and get help.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that in the United States, about one in eight women with recent live births exhibit symptoms of postpartum depression, which is defined as a more persistent, severe depression than the so-called “baby blues” that mothers may experience for several days after delivery. However, many women, like Naomi, are caught off guard by postpartum depression, and she says “no one prepared me for it. High-profile moms from Voice alumni Jordan Pruitt to Chrissy Teigen have spoken out about their own efforts to name their low moods and anxieties.

With Enter Hollywood 2020, country singer Maren Morris opened up about being diagnosed after the birth of her son Hayes. Morris admits to a “lack of material and dialogue about postpartum depression” and credits her therapist with uncovering the symptoms.

“When you’re in the fog of being a new mom, breastfeeding, pumping and not sleeping, you’re not really connected to your body’s signals, because it’s just everything and you’re in a bubble,” Morris shares.

Even medical professionals can miss these signals. Despite her training as a mental health therapist, Christina Furniture was surprised when she gave birth to her first child six years ago. Although Furnival was familiar with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety – often associated with rapid thinking, feelings of fear and intense worry – as clinical concepts, her own new-mom fog made it difficult for her to distinguish her symptoms from any of the sleep-deprived first-time parenting symptoms that suddenly being asked to keep a delicate infant alive might experience.

“Even as a mental health professional, I didn’t know what I was going through until I started getting over it,” she says. Talking to other parents helped her realize that she was experiencing something more extreme and “out of control” than just the typical growing pains that come with adjusting to life as a newborn.

“I was so tired,” Furnival added. “All I wanted to do was nap. But when I got help to come over and take a nap with my daughter, I would lay in bed and I couldn’t stop my thoughts. I couldn’t fall asleep. When I’m with her, I feel guilty for wanting to rest. Then, once I got rest, I felt guilty about resting. It’s things like that, where you feel like you’re not working, or you have intrusive thoughts, and they’re really worrisome, and they’re unsettling, and you don’t know how to deal with them-they just keep popping up in your head.”

In light of her own experience, Furnival, author Don’t be afraid! How to Face Your Fears and Anxiety, says it’s “understandable” that so many new moms seem to be unaware and unprepared for postpartum depression. She attributes the “no one warned me” reaction to several factors, starting with the fact that they were warned but couldn’t fully grasp the reality of experiencing postpartum depression firsthand. It’s a bit like describing a bout of pain to someone who has never experienced one before.

“We wouldn’t have gotten pregnant and parented intentionally or willingly if we expected it to be earth-shatteringly hard,” she notes. “We expect [parenting] to be life-changing, but not earth-shattering. And I think people will find more information about postpartum depression and anxiety when they do their own Google searches in midnight nursing sessions, once they’re ‘already in it, because that’s when the reality starts, okay, is this normal? Is that not right? In advance, I think you have expectations and you have underlying fears about how things are going to go, but I think there’s just no understanding. I don’t believe you can really understand ahead of time what may or may not happen, or how it may or may not feel before you’re in it, in the same way.

While not having a history of anxiety, depression or other mental health problems theoretically puts a person at a lower risk of developing postpartum mood disorders, Furnival notes that it may also make them less likely to notice any warnings because they think, “That’s not me.” Such people may also be less familiar with the symptoms to look out for.

Having experienced postpartum depression and anxiety twice – with mild symptoms after welcoming a son four years ago – Furnival took it upon herself to share her experience with pregnant friends so they could better understand the signs to look out for . But she acknowledges that other moms may be more reluctant to talk openly about their experiences, which in turn makes it seem like these conditions are taboo subjects.

“I think a lot of people don’t want to share the grieving part of their motherhood with others because they feel guilty for even having gone through it,” she suggests. “It makes them feel really bad because they’re missing out on moments in their early years when they might have been really happy as a parent. [Or] they don’t want to disappoint these pregnant parents and say, ‘This could be really bad.’ That’s not a nice thing to say.”

A new mother who is experiencing grief and fatigue may also hide her feelings for fear of being judged. Naomi recalls receiving comments like, “You should be grateful – you have a beautiful baby, you have a great husband, you shouldn’t feel this way” when she tries to express herself.

“You’re afraid to talk about how you feel,” she says. “No one says, “You think you’re a bad person, you’re not normal, how can you feel this way?”

How to ask for help
It was talking to the right people – her husband and supportive peers in her social media circle – that paved the way for Naomi to get help. As Furnival has seen with herself and her clients, getting that help also requires having an honest conversation with yourself. Check in and ask: Do you feel uncomfortable? Is something not feeling right to you?

“Oh, well, I’m not depressed because I don’t cry all the time, or I’m not depressed because I don’t have hurtful thoughts, or I’m actually not even sad so I can “not be depressed because there are so many layers and levels,” she notes. “There are other symptoms: it could be brain fog, it could be irritability, restlessness. But what I hear most clients say is, ‘I just feel like something’s wrong. I don’t like myself. I feel like something’s wrong. I love my babies. I’m enjoying them. They’re so cute, but something’s not right. That was a big red flag for me to just keep making appointments with a therapist.”

Furniture, who recommends Postpartum.com for its mental health provider directory, hopes that a more open dialogue about the postpartum experience will lead to more resources and less stigma – and not just for birth parents. Actress Jamie Chung, who welcomed twins through a surrogate, spoke about her struggle with postpartum depression, while Furnival noted that fathers, adoptive parents and other nonbirth parents report symptoms of depression and anxiety. Ideally, she said, a medical professional like OB-GYN would proactively “assess” someone’s mental health throughout pregnancy and beyond. She notes that if someone experiences perinatal depression or anxiety during pregnancy, they are more likely to suffer after delivery.

“Unfortunately, I think there’s this image that pregnancy is beautiful and you’re going to glow and then you have a baby and yes, you’re going to have your mom’s hair in a bun, but you’re still going to look really good and you’re going to bounce back and you’re going to be like taking selfies with your baby and look like you’ve got it all,” the therapist said. “And I think that image needs to shift. The reality is that not everyone likes being pregnant. Pregnancy is really tough for a lot of people, and medical providers need to check in throughout.”

What should these health care providers be asking? “Do you have ideas for inclusion? Do you even know what those are and what they’re like? Do you have thoughts of regretting your pregnancy? What about your partnership?” Furnival suggests. “Meeting mental health needs during pregnancy will prevent many people from having mental health needs long after delivery. That doesn’t mean they’ll stop it altogether, but these people will be more aware. They’re already being monitored by their professionals. This will change the world.

It’s also helpful to have loved ones around to “keep their eyes open” for any signs of trouble or just a supportive empathy board.

“[With] the whole system – friends, family support, medical team – if we start changing things now, we can make a big difference,” Furnivall said.

 

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