Postnatal depression: Why do I feel like this?
“I remember I was holding him in my arms in the recliner and I started crying, I thought “please SHUT UP!” I didn’t say it and I even remember wanting to shake him. This feeling scared me so much, I promptly got up put him in his crib went and laid down and cried and cried for even thinking what I thought. I questioned, I love my son, what is wrong with me!”
“I did the bare minimum during the day, just enough that my kids were sort of clean and fed, but that's it. Nothing was enjoyable, and if I could have, I would have stayed in bed. I didn't go out to see anyone, I didn't exercise, I don't remember what I ate, probably whatever was in my way. I have described the feeling as lukewarm gruel. Like someone sapped the colour out of everything in my life. Things that I would normally take pleasure in became like plain cardboard.”
The images of serene and perfectly fulfilled motherhood in the media contrast with the despair felt by the estimated 6-28% of new mothers suffering from postnatal depression. The quotes above describe very different experiences of this condition, one angry and guilty, the other flat and dejected. Both of them convey the extent to which sufferers feel overwhelmed, out of control and helpless in the face of such feelings.
Symptoms of postnatal depression vary, but commonly include feelings of inadequacy, anger, self-loathing, helplessness or hopelessness. Other indicators are oversensitivity, anxiety, shame and despair, self-neglect, disorders of sleep, libido and appetite and suicidal ideas. Postnatal depression occurs across all social and economic groups in the Western world and has even been found in adoptive mothers; therefore, whilst hormones and social factors may play a part, the cause seems to be primarily internal.
One way of looking at postnatal depression in therapy is to think about the internal conflicts it creates. You may really need help but feel that you can’t or shouldn’t ask for it. In addition, you may feel a conflict between the anger you may feel towards your baby if s/he cries incessantly and the love that you feel for him or her. Finally, you may have all sorts of thoughts and feelings about how you yourself were mothered and whether this is something you want to recreate or avoid for your own baby.
Whilst having a baby can be a source of great joy, it may also involve losses and changes in terms of your identity, work status, relationship to partner or other children and so forth. The actual experience of being a parent to your baby may be very different from what you imagined when you were pregnant and it may feel difficult to reconcile the two. Lack of sleep, money worries and lack of practical and emotional support can exacerbate these feelings.
If you feel that you have been experiencing postnatal depression, there’s no need to struggle on alone. Counselling provides a safe, neutral space where you can work through difficult, painful or conflicted feelings without fear of judgement. It can also provide a “thinking space”, a chance to feel listened to and less alone. Much as birth itself is both painful and creative, so is the work of mothering, and having a place to explore this in therapy can be the key to freeing you from the prison of postnatal depression.
Other sources of help:
The Association for Post-natal Illness at: http://www.apni.org
The NHS at: http://www.nhs.co.uk/conditions/postnataldepression
Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support at: http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk
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About Sophie Thorne
Sophie Thorne is a Psychodynamic Counsellor, working in private practice, and at a clinic offering affordable therapies. She is a Registered Accredited Member of BACP, experienced in working with individual clients with a wide variety of presenting issues.