Thursday, December 27, 2007

Preventing Post Partum Depression

After the birth of my first child, I experienced severe post-partum depression for two years.

There were a number of things involved: I know not everyone's experience is the same, but here were some of my contributing factors:

-Emotional upheaval. My boyfriend and I were from a religeous community, and being pregnant before I was married, I felt somewhat ostracized , condemned, and misunderstood. I felt alone, and defensive, and scared that I had disappointed my parents. I think the emotional stress contributed to the depression, because I felt a need to "prove" myself, rather than to celebrate the pregnancy with joy the way I should have.

-Wrong expectations. I had been told by another lady that labour was going to be kind of like hard menstrual cramps. This was really not my experience! I really felt like I'd been shot in the back. It was longer than I'd thought, and I can see now (though I couldn't then) that I was in shock when the labour was over.

-Sickness. I got a terribly rediculous case of mastitis where both breasts were fully infected and I was quite sick. I also hemorhaged for the first month on and off, so I was anemic and weak.

-Diet. Yes, I know I always say that food is not your savior from depression, and this is so, but I really sort of ate my way into it, by being so nutrient deficient. Then when the infections and the bleeding and things began, I had no reserve strength at all. Plus, I'd been hypoglycemic for years, and still eating an extremely high sugar diet. (But that's another story!)

-Sleep deprivation. I couldn't sleep the first night because I was in labour (of course!) and the second I couldn't sleep because I was in the hospital with a tiny baby, and I felt scared. The third night I didn't sleep because by this time Elijah was becoming dehydrated (and was crying all the time!)- my milk hadn't come in.

I think there are really MANY more triggers to the depression that I'd experienced then, and I'm sure you can list many more from your own life, perhaps, but here we have enough to get started on a list of "things I wish I'd known"!

1. I wish I'd had someone I could talk to, I mean really talk to during the pregnancy. I didn't talk to my mom, I had lost several of my friends, and I was so unprepared for a baby. I kept all my feelings of failure, guilt, and insecurity bottled up during that time, and I needed someone. Or, SomeOne.
2. I wish I'd known that I couldn't possibly know what it would be like, but that I would get through it. If you are pregnant, or a young mother, I want to tell you that you will get through it! That first year of Elijah's life (while depressed) seemed like it would never end, and all my joy of that time had been stolen. But I must tell you, that you will not be where you are forever. No matter how you feel, please try to find one thing in each day that was beautiful: that was special. No matter how you feel, your baby is special. If you were not depressed, you would see this more clearly- but depression is like having a pair of greasy eyeglasses on. You can still see, but your vision is skewed. It will not always be!

3. I wish I would have eaten better during the pregnancy, and after, because even though that wouldn't have helped my emotional issues, it at least would have given my brain some relief, and I wouldn't have gotten so sick. I would have been better equipped physically at least. Perhaps that statement is reminding you of your smoking, or drinking: how you'd like to quit while you are pregnant; at least for the baby's sake. Or maybe you are already post-partum, and struggling with depression- and wondering if it would really help to quit smoking, etc.
...I know how hard it is to leave off a habit that your brain is addicted to- but I just want to encourage you that if you can quit, it would help.

Now there are all kinds of things that I would put as footnotes here, because I do believe these things would have helped prevent postpartum depression in me, but I put them as footnotes because these things weren't available to me, as far as I could see then. BUT! Perhaps you are in a different position than I was, and some of these things would work for you:

-Experience with babies and children. I would have been more at ease taking care of my own baby if I'd had any previous experience taking care of someone else's! What you watch is what you learn, and I didn't know anything about babies when I had one.

-Training in keeping a house. I had no idea how to get the laundry done, how to get the dishes done, or how to cook a decent meal! No idea. I don't know how to excuse myself here, I just didn't know, and at that time (12 years ago) you couldn't just type in "christian homemaking" on the internet and read what you needed. Besides, I was too totally wasted to start learning then. It would have helped to have known before.

-Faith in God. I read books like "what to expect when you're expecting" but I think it created in me an expectation to have troubles during my pregnancy, rather than encouraging me that pregnancy could be a positive experience. But I didn't know then to expect anything from God, and so I was at the whim of whatever came down the pipe!

-I must here repeat the above: Faith in God- Knowing Jesus Christ as my Savior. If I'd had any idea that God could be with me in my everyday, troubled life, it would have helped. I had an understanding of God, but I didn't know Him. I guess it's like when Jed and I went to the same church. I knew him, but I didn't know him then the way I do now after 12 years of marriage. I needed to know that God would be my friend, the way Jed has been my friend.
A lot of what I've come to know about God, I have learned from my loving husband!

So, I think I will need to post on this again, cuz I just don't feel done.

See you soon. : )


Veronica Mitchell said...

Depression is so hard. I have found for myself (though I have not had the post-partum kind) that some basic things like regular sunlight, exercise and cutting out sugar sometimes help prevent depression when I feel it starting, But having a family who supports me matters even more.

Liberty said...

I think that's very true, Veronica. It still makes a big difference for me (as to how I feel) if I will take a long walk, or go swimming. My family was a huge support, like you said.
I know there are some people who have read this post who don't have that- maybe they feel like they have no one. But I must tell you that, even though I prayed for healing at the very beginning of my depression, there was still some time that passed before I was healed. It wasn't that God didn't hear me at the beginning, or that He wasn't with me all that time, it's just that it took awhile for Him to orchestrate the circumstances of my life where I would meet the people who did my prayer counselling. It was only by "coincidence" that I met these people, but really God was working on that for those two whole years, to answer my prayer. If you are alone, and don't have a great family support, you still have God, and He hears your cries.