Like many illnesses, postpartum depression expresses itself differently in each mom. There are signs we are told to look out for which the majority of mothers may have, sure. Ultimately, though, there’s enough variation in the symptoms that it can be confusing for both the mothers experiencing it andthose in a support role. To someone who doesn’t have training or a background in depression, the assumption may be that PPD is just an extended period of the baby blues.
Those of us who have experienced postpartum depression know better.
Jessica Porten is a mother from California who, according to her viral Facebook post, had been trying to see her OB for several months. When she was finally able to get an appointment at four months postpartum, she reported what she believed to be PPD symptoms to her nurse practitioner, who then called the cops. What followed was a nightmare of an ordeal that would’ve been terrible for anyone to go through, never mind a mother suffering from PPD. Once the police arrived, they escorted her, with her baby, to the nearest ER where she waited for 10 hours to be seen. When she was finally seen, it was by a social worker, not a medical doctor, and she was discharged without medication or a follow up appointment booked.
The key in this story is that Porten’s PPD symptoms manifested as rage and violent intrusive thoughts. Those are disturbing symptoms to hear about, but they are absolutely terrifying to experience. With that said, Porten made it clear that she felt completely in control and did not have any intention to carry out any of those thoughts.
Anyone who has studied postpartum depression should be aware of the widespread occurrence of these types of intrusive thoughts. In my own postpartum experience, the psychiatrists and social workers I saw would regularly ask if I was experiencing them, and how they manifested. I also experienced a lot of rage, and eventually it became too much to bear. It wasn’t until I was five months postpartum when I finally began taking medication that the rage began to subside. For me, however, the rage was never directed toward my baby. All of my intrusive thoughts that involved harm coming to my baby were as a result of accidental, unintentional harm
Life With A Baby’s founder, Claire Ziobin, had similar experiences with her intrusive thoughts.
“…when my daughter was about 4 months, I fell on the stairs the night before. I immediately started thinking about what if Katelyn was in my hands, what if I had fallen on her, what if… this irrational fear that my daughter who I love and cherish could be have gotten hurt played out in my mind in many ways. It led to irrational thoughts where I could picture myself falling down the stairs with her in my arms. This resulted in me spending a whole day on the main floor of our house until my husband got home because I did not want to be alone – in case I really did fall with her in my hand.”
For me, it was my fear of dropping the baby as I put him in his car seat, when it was already in the car. I would often ask my husband to do it for me, because I was so certain I would drop the baby. The gruesome images that played out in my head are ones that I never want to share, to this day.
Life With A Baby was created with the purpose of supporting new mothers during a time when a lot of their normal support network may not understand the complexities of postpartum mood disorders. In Porten’s case, she encountered a nurse practitioner who clearly didn’t understand the difference between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis; for other women, it may be a case of their support networks not understanding how serious postpartum mood disorders can be.
In the case of Janet (name changed for anonymity), a LWAB member, her own husband didn’t take her postpartum depression seriously:
“He said nothing is wrong with me and that I should just GET OVER IT. I decided that he would be my person for everything else but my depression. I had other supports in family and friends.”
Thankfully, Janet is now seeing a prenatal psychiatrist as she moves through her second pregnancy. A functioning support system can make all the difference to a mother who is suffering.
Porten’s experience might not feel like something that could happen in Canada, but the reality is it could. As of right now, maternal mental health screening is not a recommendation in Canada, which means there’s no guarantee your primary healthcare provider is looking for signs and symptoms of a postpartum mood disorder. Until that changes, expecting and new moms will need to take on the burden of advocating for themselves and looking for resources that will act as a support.
If you’ve been struggling and are afraid to approach your healthcare provider, either because you’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously or you’re afraid you’ll be taken too seriously, there are options. Here are links to a list of resources for each province:
Newfoundland and Labrador