A lot of people first hear about postpartum depression via the news. It’s usually presented as something big and scary, and maybe even linked to tragic events within families.
The reality is a lot different. Postpartum depression is considered a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD). Perinatal mood disorders are groupings of symptoms that occur during and after pregnancy. They are common, and they can affect any or all of the partners involved in pregnancy and parenting, regardless of gender, not just the partner who gave birth.
Surprising to many, perinatal depression is not as common as perinatal anxiety, though for a lot of new parents, they go hand-in-hand. Other perinatal mood disorders include pregnancy or postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder, bi-polar mood disorders, and postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is very uncommon, and requires immediate care. (It is postpartum psychosis that is tied to those noted fatal outcomes; not postpartum depression and anxiety, though many people and news sources get that wrong.)
There are a lot of good resources to learn about perinatal mood disorders. I have a Certificate in Maternal Mental Health from Postpartum Support International, and have spent several years working with new parents who are experiencing perinatal mood disorders and birth trauma. Through that work I have noticed two symptoms that seem to confuse and worry people the most often.
The first is scary or intrusive thoughts. For example, “What if I drop the baby.” “What if I leave the baby outside in the cold.” “What if I threw the baby against the wall.” “What if I drop the knife and cut the baby.” Scary thoughts are repetitive and unwanted thoughts and images that can come on at any time. They may be passive, as in you are worrying about the possibility, or they may imply intention, where you imagine yourself actively engaged in the scary behavior. Scary thoughts are just that…thoughts. They do not mean that you will act on them. But they are called scary thoughts because they are SCARY! They are common for most new parents, though few know to expect them or feel prepared to handle them. If scary thoughts are happening frequently, are distressing, and feel hard to shake-off, they are more likely to be a symptom of a perinatal mood disorder.
The other common symptom I see often that worries people is feeling as if it is difficult to bond with your baby. Spoiler alert: it is normal for many new parents not to feel instantly in-love with their child, though few people actually talk about that openly! It is a relationship, and relationships develop over time. If it is feeling persistently difficult to attach to your baby, and it has you feeling hopeless, helpless, and sad, it could be a sign to seek out some extra support.
Geek parents have many strengths, and can face different types of challenges when transitioning to parenthood. Some geeks like to research and learn all they can before diving into a new adventure, and pregnancy and parenting is no different. In those cases, you have probably learned about the possibility of perinatal mood disorders, but may still be surprised to experience them yourself, or by just how challenging it really feels.
Other geeks can feel isolated. Maybe you have your tight-knit group of friends, or maybe it’s just you and your partner against the world. With a new tiny human in the mix, it can really test your limits and strain relationships. Having a support network, so that you don’t feel like you have to do everything alone is an important protective factor in easing and preventing perinatal mood disorders.
If you are struggling to adjust to parenthood, or think you or your partner are experiencing a perinatal mood disorder, reach out to schedule today.