Sunday, September 24, 2017

Check Your Mental Health Attitude

Last week, I wrote and shared an in depth blog post about my experience with postpartum psychosis for the first time. I feel like I really pulled the band aid off by publishing No Room for Hondo. For the first time since traveling that difficult road, I finally feel like I can own the experience without the shame and stigma that held me back for so many years.

And though it's possibly a few years late, the story is still relevant. I believe women should talk about maternal mental health. I think we should do it honestly and without the vague cliches that plague conversations with new moms. I think we should do this to bring awareness to the pitfalls of new motherhood without judgement or fear-mongering. It's helpful to know the warning signs for postpartum mental illnesses and accept the possibility that you might have to ask for specific help after birth.

Of course, not everyone agrees. After sharing the post on Google+'s psychology page, I received the following comment (typos courtesy of the Google+ user):

"It's a natural phenomenon triggered due endocrine activity, stress, fatigue and anxiety to raise the newborn, it's demands etc it includes evertion towards sex, and males on whole, it doesn't require any medication, but needs good family relationship and bonding ,even birds and other mammals pass through it."

First and foremost, this women clearly didn't read my post. Her comment seems to be based on the description I posted with the blog link: "I read an article recently about postpartum depression that concluded expectant mothers need to be thinking about a 'postpartum plan' in addition to the very well publicized 'birth plan.' I'm not sure if such a plan would have helped my personal experience with postpartum psychosis, but I think anything that puts maternal mental health in the spotlight is a good thing."

I responded, "That's quite a dangerous and I dare say antiquated opinion. I really can't think of anything worse you could say to a new mom than 'don't worry, birds and animals pull through this just fine.'"

Which prompted her to cut to the heart of the matter with this humdinger of an opinion: "I am not against to the post partum mania or depression , what I mean to convey is ,as more and more you are informed about these symptoms more you become sensitive , and many a women Impose it on them selves , as if it is a compulsory state.During the under devolped stages of science ,these kind of mental phenomenon were unknown Even now in certain forest and hilly terrains, pregnant women give birth when they are in feilds or returning from work. For these underprivileged women work and earnind money to feed themselves is the main priority, they don't have time to think about the mood swings or counseling."

Poised to respond to her again, I realized I have too much to say on the subject to be contained in a Google+ comment war. So here is my take on the multiple myths perpetrated in the comments above:

***NOTE: I have no mental health training or expertise. These are my opinions and should not be taken as medical advice.***

Myth #1: Postpartum Depression is a natural condition that women will "pull through" on their own.

Maybe. This might be a difference in nomenclature alone as the very common and benign sounding "baby blues" do pass on their own in a week or two after birth. Clinical postpartum depression is a long lasting and often more severe mood disturbance. Even if medication is not deemed necessary, a new mom should have an honest conversation with her physician or even the baby's pediatrician about sleep patterns, mood, thoughts of suicide, feelings of ambivalence toward the baby or any symptoms listed here.

Myth #2: Postpartum mental health disorders do not require medication.

My commentating friend recommends "good family relationships" and "bonding." Yes! Those are both good things. Also, people with the best family relationships and the closest bonds (here I think she means with the infant) still experience mental illness. A doctor will help you determine if medication is necessary in your specific circumstance.

Myth #3: Talking about Postpartum Mental Health Disorders will make everyone think they're having a Postpartum Mental Health Disorder.

And here's the one that keeps us in the dark. I never talked about my personal experience for a few reasons. Among them was the feeling that I'd scare anyone in the vicinity of childbearing age into abstinence. Because if I did the story any justice, how could a reasonable person risk having a child?

This is really a self-centered point of view when you think about it. It's like saying, "everyone will want to be like me with the delusions and the mania!" Or "gee, if I tell people I couldn't get out of bed and had no desire to take care of my baby, they'll want to do that too!"

That's not a thing.

This is not Fight Club.

The amount of women that have shared their stories with me since I published my book is astonishing. (Astonishing because a high percentage of readers have had similar experiences, not that a whole lot of people have read the book.) It feels like we've all literally been walking around with the same secret. Some of us needed medication, some needed counseling, some "pull through," but instead of being honest we perpetuate this super woman myth.

Breastfeed exclusively!

Use cloth diapers!

Get back in pre-pregnancy jeans!

Go right back to work!

The list of expectations is long and doesn't include mental health. And when you look back on your baby's first year, you don't want to see the moments of misery. I get that. But we shouldn't make women that find themselves needing help for postpartum mental health disorders feel like they've failed or that they're the first woman that couldn't do it all. That's just not true.

Myth #4: Women in third world countries squat down in the field and have a baby. Then they go right back to work. "They don't have time to think about the mood swings or counseling."

Well, the only way this bears any relevance is if you're going to become a migrant field worker during pregnancy and your baby's infancy. It also seems like a gross generalization that isn't even true. Research certainly doesn't support the idea that postpartum depression doesn't exist in other cultures.

So why do people say this? Perhaps there's some truth in it. Our American culture just might contribute to anxiety and depression. The thing is, we live here in it. We don't live in a third world country. It's become apparent over my years on this planet that knowing other people have worse problems doesn't make mine better. It's not some kind of grand trouble competition where only the ultimate winner with the very worst life gets to feel bad about it. We all have our things. We need to give our things proper consideration.

And have some empathy for other people's stuff. That will help too.