Stigma is a real and debilitating problem affecting new mothers. I had Postpartum Anxiety & Depression with my first baby more than 8 years ago and then had a second child without experiencing any depressive symptoms. Since then, I’ve created a charitable organization that supports other new parents through education and support. BUT the stigma is always there in the back of my mind. Every time that I share my story, or discuss the challenges I know that PPD is linked with my name and if I wonder will this affect my career prospects? What will people think of me?
It’s true that, thanks to the media and others who are ignorant about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), people believe mothers with PPD think of harming their babies or will harm their babies or children. I’m baffled that we continue to talk about PPD ONLY after a tragedy occurs, and I know this only helps to reinforce the idea that moms with PPD hurt their kids.
Because of a recent tragedy, I’ve had many moms contact me with severe anxiety, worried that they could “harm their child” because they have PPD. They’ve seen media articles saying that this behavior is normal, or common with PPD. I’m seeing firsthand how when we speak about this only after a tragedy we increase the stigma and create fear.
I think it’s important to provide credible, evidence based, supportive information about PMADs and clearly establish the difference between depression and psychosis. I understand the need to ”normalize” parenting challenges and postpartum depression – I get it, I’ve been there. Even so, I think this a very important topic and we NEED professionals who research or work directly with parents or who suffer from PPD to join the conversation. The fact is: postpartum psychosis is rare and serious condition and should be treated as such, while PPD is more common and need not be feared.
Katherine Stone, the founder of Postpartum Progress says: “It’s easy to feel, when you hear of a tragedy, that you are capable of terrible things. The truth is that the vast, VAST majority of mothers with perinatal mood or anxiety disorders never do anything to harm their children. Not ever. The fact that you have PPD or postpartum anxiety does not make you a dangerous person, just a person with an illness." It is also true, though, that mothers with postpartum psychosis or postpartum depression that has become so severe that it has psychotic features have the potential of harming their child. Notice I didn’t say they will harm because most do not and would not. They simply have the potential to harm, usually due to delusions and hallucinations that make a mom believe she needs to do something dangerous to protect her children or others, NOT because she is a bad or evil person. This is why if you’re having delusions or hallucinations or other symptoms of psychosis you need to call a doctor right away, for your own health and safety. If you’d like to see our list of symptoms, check here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/the-symptoms-of-postpartum-psychosis-in-plain-mama-english.
All moms who suspect they have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder should reach out for professional help, not because they’re dangerous but because they deserve to feel like a healthy mom who is able to function as she would like. Additionally, your children need you to be as healthy as possible. Getting help is a gift to your family. You deserve to be well.
Meantime, know that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are very common and all the women who have them are regular, everyday, good people, just like you and me. It’s just an illness and is temporary and treatable with professional help.”
I also reached out to Hiltrud Dawson, a health promotion consultant with the Best Start Maternal Newborn Resource Centre in Canada who provided the following:
“Some parents experience irrational thoughts and may see repetitive pictures of harm in their minds eye, even without any other symptoms of a postpartum mood disorder. Apparently this happens to about 40% of new parents (dads included) mostly during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first few weeks or months postpartum.
The theoretical thinking behind this is that parents need to adapt their protective system to protecting themselves only to now being responsible for a little life as well. A lot of things can happen and these thought flash into their minds. Sometimes it is linked to common tasks or circumstances (what if I dropped my baby in the bath, what if I dropped my baby when I am carrying her/him downstairs?) Sometimes the thoughts get more irrational, for example while cutting vegetables for supper, they may see a knife hurting the baby.
Often the more they struggle against these thoughts, the more often they appear seemingly unprovoked and out of nowhere. How do we know it is a “normal” parenting response? I don’t think we can ever be completely complacent. A good assessment by a skilled professional would be very helpful here.
In the meantime, getting someone to talk about these thoughts and images is very powerful. It does a couple of things.
1) It makes the parent realize that the thought, picture is irrational and they often confirm that they would never act on this.
2) It makes the parent realize that this happens to others as well. It has been shown that after parents talk about these thoughts and images there experience of them will lessen.
If you have scary and unwanted thoughts and images or other symptoms of PPMD, talk to your healthcare provider. Get a good assessment by a skilled professional and reach out for support from knowledgeable professionals and mothers who have been there. ”
If you are living in Canada visit www.lifewithnewbaby.ca for me information on the signs, symptoms and where to get help.
Raising a baby is a wonderful experience, but it is can also be a challenge… If you are a new parent (mom or dad) and want to connect with peers to learn more about parenting, connect with others, and have fun with your little one(s) join us at www.lifewithababy.com. Our unique approach will help you overcome some of the challenges you face as a new mom so that you can enjoy your new baby and maintain a happy, healthy family dynamic.
About the Authors:
Claire Kerr-Zlobin is the Executive Director of Healthy Start, Healthy Future and Founder of the Life With A Baby program. Life With A Baby is a three-tiered peer support system for parents. It offers local, community-based social events to build relationships, online support, and multi-lingual parenting programs. Claire founded Life With A Baby after her own struggles with social isolation and depression. Life With A Baby serves over 5000 members across the province of Ontario. Claire is involved in innovative initiatives and partnerships focused on peer support, parenting, newcomer supports, parent engagement, and financial literacy. She is passionate about supporting parents, developing collaborations, reducing social isolation, and building healthy and strong parent-child relationships.
Hiltrud Dawson has extensive experience in the maternal newborn field as a nurse, midwife, and lactation consultant. She had been a health promotion consultant with the Best Start Resource Centre/Health Nexus for over seven years. Hiltrud provides training and consultations to health and social service providers on perinatal mood disorders and has been the project lead in the development of a number of resources for both parents and service providers such as the “Life with a New Baby” video, brochure and website. Hiltrud is also an active member of several associations and networks.