In light of this month (January) being Postpartum Mood Disorders Awareness month, I thought I would share my thoughts on the well-being of moms prenatally and during birth… because let’s face it, from the time you find out you’re pregnant, it never seems to be about you anymore. As a birth doula in Edmonton and from teaching childbirth classes in Edmonton, I’ve seen many expectant mothers as their lives start to change, day-by-day, week-by-week. Many of them are told that the real change happens after baby is born and while it is true that most of us have to make many sacrifices once baby is home, the prenatal period as well as the birth of our littles are very important in ensuring this transition is smooth. I was at an event that was put on by the Doula Association of Edmonton recently and got to hear some of our city’s experts in PPMD speak about this topic, and what really resonated well with me that they both touched on (Claire Wilde and Jennifer Summerfeldt, click their names for more info) was hearing how important it is to have a plan BEFORE you go into labour. One reason I think this stood out for me is that I’ve seen women suffer even before the birth of their child and I feel that we don’t put enough energy into helping moms who struggle with prenatal depression and mood disorders as well.
During my time so far as an Edmonton doula, I’ve seen many cases of difficult pregnancies and how this can impact a couple who are embarking on their journey as parents. Things like hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme morning sickness), fertility issues and treatments, hormonal imbalances (which impact mood, which impacts relationships), etc. are more than just things you have to deal with for the sake of having a baby. These are all real problems that should be addressed in order to enter motherhood in a positive, empowered head space. These things are all contributing factors to PPMD and many don’t realize that having a difficult pregnancy can increase your chances of suffering once you baby has arrived.
Another is birth trauma. Now I really need to clarify the meaning of birth trauma, as many don’t really understand what makes a birth a traumatic one. Trauma can happen at any and all births – vaginal, cesareans, assisted deliveries, water births, all of them. Trauma is not defined as a specific event or chain of events that occurred at your birth. It’s caused by the mother’s (and partner’s) lack of self confidence and not being heard and respected by their birth team. I’ll use myself as an example for this one, as along with being a doula in Edmonton I am also a mother of two. My most recent birth story (read it here) may have been what many would consider “traumatic”, but in all actuality, it wasn’t. In fact, it may have been a better experience then a lot of women who have “textbook” labours in the hospital and feel minimal pain. The reason for this? I had an amazing team supporting me throughout pregnancy and labour, and that team provided me emotional support when I thought I couldn’t continue, gave me choices, and supported those choices as they knew they came from an educated stand point. I know many moms who have babies with very little knowledge of the childbirth process, and they came out saying it was traumatic not by the interventions or the kind of birth they had, but because they truly felt that they could not control anything. We all know childbirth has many elements that you can’t control, but there are definitely elements you can and when this right is removed, it’s very common to be left feeling betrayed. This is a common reason why moms and even partners can develop a PPMD.
There are of course many other risk factors for PPMD – things like the use of synthetic oxytocin in labour (read here about inductions) and previous struggles with mental illness all contribute. However, if we start to look at PPMD as a potentially preventable (or at the very least, reducible) illness during the prenatal period, and start to take moms seriously before they’ve had their babies, I feel like the number of severe cases would significantly lessen. This is a call to action for all of you expecting moms – reach out to your local resources and make a plan of attack for your mental health, both now and after baby arrives.
Have you suffered from a postpartum mood disorder? Feel free to share your experience or questions in the comments section.