“The awesome responsibility of caring for a newborn naturally warrants a heightened sense of vigilance. Sometimes this necessary state of watchfulness can be confusing. At every turn, a new mother believes a crisis is looming. Afraid of slipping and dropping the baby, she holds him extra tightly while she goes down the stairs. Afraid of a disaster in the night, she keeps herself awake to hear the silent sounds of breathing. If she falls asleep from sheer fatigue, she dreams of causing the baby harm through her own negligence.”
Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel, Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts
Congratulations, you’re a new mom! Whether this is your first child or your fifth, your brand-new baby is a whole new adventure. Sometimes that adventure can be unexpectedly difficult – and that’s an issue that we really need to talk more about.
Did you know that approximately 80% of new moms will experience baby blues? Baby blues is a phenomenon that is actually considered a normal part of the postpartum experience, appearing up to a week postpartum and lasting approximately 2-3 weeks. Yet, despite the likelihood that 8 out of 10 moms in your neighborhood experienced this, we still rarely “go there” when talking to expectant and new moms about the realities of the postpartum experience. In addition to this, did you know that an estimated 85% of women experience a significant amount of emotional distress during and after pregnancy? Or that approximately 90% of all new parents (partners included) experience intrusive or scary thoughts about the welfare of their baby? The struggle is real, y’all.
Outside of those realities, it is estimated that 20% of new moms will experience something we refer to as Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, or PMADs (you’ve probably heard of the most “famous” one, postpartum depression). Did you know PMADs are actually the most common pregnancy complications according to many sources?!?! PMADs can arrive up to a year postpartum (and some argue even longer, especially when considering breastfeeding and other factors that impact hormones) and can have a prolonged stay.
So, what are some factors that impact whether a new mom will develop a PMAD? Many different factors come into play, including genes, hormones, nutrition, sleep, personal history of mood and anxiety disorders, history of pregnancies and pregnancy related complications (and yes, you can experience a PMAD around a subsequent pregnancy even if you didn’t around the first few pregnancies), thought processes, core beliefs, distress tolerance levels, emotion regulation skills, personality traits, interpersonal history, cultural expectations, social expectations, socioeconomic considerations, stressors – and, according to The Seleni Institute, perfectionists and introverts are especially vulnerable.
We have to talk about this more. If 9 out of 10 parents in a given area experience some sort of intrusive thought related to being a new parent, why on earth do we continue to pretend that everything is perfect? The title of a recent book released by Karen Kleiman and Molly McIntyre expresses exactly what I hope everyone begins to assert to one another – Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts. The thoughts only torture us when they are kept secret, pushed down by shame and locked away by a fear of judgment.
So, what are some things you can do if you have been suffering in silence?
- Reach out to a professional. This may be your OBGYN, a fabulous nurse or PA, or a therapist trained to work with PMADs, but the important thing is to reach out and let them know that you need some support.
- Reach out to someone for practical help. Make a list right now of 3 people you trust – these can be neighbors, friends, co-workers, members of your house of worship, or Linda who attended the same spin class for years and keeps texting you to see what you need. Now, look over that list to make sure you feel really good about it – and now reach out to one of them to ask for something (pick up your Walmart grocery order, hold the baby for 15 minutes while you shower, take the dog out to pee because it’s raining) even if the “I don’t want to ask for help” part of your brain is screaming.
- Say something kind to yourself. Did you? Ok, do it again. And again. The brain is essentially Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive according to Rick Hanson, Ph.D., which means that we have to work really hard to shift our thinking patterns when caught up in stressful situations. And, let’s be honest, this may be one of the most prolonged stressful situations you have experienced so far.
Therapy for PMADs works to support health of the whole mother, who is comprised of the mental self, physical self, emotional self, expectations, and dreams about the future. Your journey to recovery can start today. You can feel like yourself again and you are doing the right thing by asking for help. And mama, you rock!
Statistics are from The Seleni Institute and National Institutes of Health.