A couple weeks ago I saw a patient* in the office holding her beautiful, healthy two month old daughter. She had planned for this pregnancy for years and dealt with infertility along the way. Now she finally had the child that she had wanted so badly. When I had seen her name on my patient list that morning, a smile appeared on my face, she was such a joyful person.
However, shortly after I shut the exam room door, the tears began to roll down her face. “I’m trying so hard,” she said, “but I feel like a terrible mom who doesn’t do anything right!”
“My husband wants you to check my hormones** while I’m here, he just doesn’t understand why I’m sad and cry all the time.”
“I’m praying and reading the Bible, but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough”
“I would never hurt myself or my baby, but I sometimes dream of just being able to run away.”
After examining and talking to her further, I tell her that she had postpartum depression.
“I know it’s not depression, because there is no reason for me to be depressed, things are fine. I love my child and husband. It’s just that when I look at them, I just feel empty inside.”
That’s pretty much the definition of postpartum depression.
When we set out to write this book, one of the things we heard repeatedly was that women wanted more information on postpartum depression. The more research we did, the more we realized that this can be a struggle for Christian women on many fronts. Accepting this diagnosis can make them feel like a failure as a mother and a Christian. Often their family is not accepting of the diagnosis either, criticizing them for not being ‘spiritual enough.’ Nothing can be further from the truth.
What’s Normal? For the first two weeks postpartum, pretty much anything goes. No matter how many books you read, nothing can quite prepare you for the sleep-deprived roller coaster that is motherhood. Up to 80% of women will experience the ‘baby blues’ in the first 2 to 3 weeks postpartum. Typically this will include feeling tired and emotional, as well as experiencing mood swings and crying spells. However, after two weeks these symptoms should begin to subside.
What happens if you continue to feel teary and overwhelmed? When you feel empty or nothing when you look at your child? These could be signs of postpartum depression. Also if you have any thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or your baby, or just run away and leave; these are signs of significant postpartum depression. I think as Christians it can be hard to admit when we have depression, because we might mistakenly view it as only a spiritual issue, but the truth is postpartum depression is a serious medical condition and needs treatment. It is essential to treat postpartum depression thoroughly, so you can fully bond with your baby.
I find so many women who want to blame their depression on something: their hormones, their husband or their circumstances. These things do contribute, but do not change the fact that they actually do HAVE postpartum depression. We know that there is most likely a hormonal trigger for postpartum depression. Studies have shown that women with a history of postpartum depression, who were later in life given hormonal treatment to mimic pregnancy, would begin to have depressive symptoms again. Despite this study, no hormonal treatment has been found to treat postpartum depression.
Treatment can include therapy, exercise and/or mild anti-depressant medications. I find some moms are very resistant to the idea of medication, but try to put it in perspective: If you had high blood pressure, and diet plus exercise didn’t improve it, would you take your medicine? Hopefully, the answer is yes. While you should pray for healing of the depression and meditate on scriptures to renew your mind, also realize that you may additionally need medication to treat this medical condition. If you are started on medications, it is usually best to take it for at least a year, or the risk of relapse increases.
*Any ‘patient’ examples in this blog are either used with the patient’s permission or are a fictitious conglomerate of multiple patient encounters.
**Men like to blame all women’s problems on ‘their hormones’