The Whys and What’s of Normal
The question of what is “normal”, how should I feel? Why am I not feeling, anything?
Baby blues exist and most of our friends and family that have been through the journey of pregnancy and childbirth will reassure the expectant parents that it is normal and will pass. Lewis et al. (2010) suggests that the common feelings of exhaustion and anxiety while adjusting to an infant’s arrival accompanied with a significant decline in hormone production during the initial postnatal period is considered the baby blues. The vast majority of women experience baby blues (80% according to Fettling, 2002) within days of childbirth.
Mental illness can also be encountered in the postnatal stage. Postnatal or postpartum depression is defined as a form of a major depressive disorder which occurs in women within 3 months to a year following childbirth (McCoy, 2001).
Postnatal depression can have a significant impact on the developing attachment between mother and baby, significantly impact relationships with partners, families and friends and create a world of isolation, fear and increasing detachment from the self for the mother.
Signs and Symptoms
Various symptoms have been associated with the experience of postnatal depression including anxiety, depressive mood, consuming guilt, obsessive thinking, lack of positive emotion, overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for the infant, loss of control, loss of identity, feeling inadequate, lack of connection with baby and significant others. The most significant factor that impacts diagnosis and treatment has been found to be the length of delay in early recognition and inadequate treatment (Leahy-Warren et al., 2012).
The road to recovery
What is most important in the process of recovery from postnatal depression is reconnecting with the self, a self that has been through a significant unpredictable and imperfect journey. Yes, women have been birthing babies for thousands of years but each individual’s experience is unique, personal and impacted to some degree by their own experience of infancy/childhood. The idea of what ‘normal’ is, is personal and not comparable to another individual’s perception of normal.
If you feel that your experience mirrors what you have read, it is possible to begin your own path to recovery. Your GP can help establish if you are presenting with postnatal depression and begin a process of treatment. Counselling and Psychotherapy may be suggested and recommended to help work through the struggles that are experienced with the symptoms of postnatal depression.
Fettling, L. (2002) Postnatal Depression; A practical guide for Australian families. Menbourne, ID Communications.
Leahy-Warren, P., McCarthy, G., and Corcoran, P. (2012) First-time mothers: social support, maternal parental self-efficacy and postnatal Depression. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 21(1) pp. 388-397.
Lewis, C., Daly Byers, A., Deann Malard, S., and Dawson, G. (2010) Challenges in diagnosing and treating Postpartum Blue, Depression and Psychosis. The Alabama Counselling Association Journal, 36 (1) pp.5-15.
McCoy, S.J.B. (2001). Postpartum Depression: An essential overview for the practitioner. Southern Med J 104 (2) 128-132.