Postpartum Depression: Overcoming the Shame, Grief, and Anxiety of Mothering in the Dark
Many women experience some degree of depression after giving birth, but when the symptoms don’t lessen after a couple of weeks it may signify a more serious mental illness: postpartum depression. Too many new mothers are embarrassed and ashamed when struggling after giving birth. But it is important to realize that depression is not a maternal failing and that it is a mental health condition that’s treatable. Struggling mothers benefit from professional treatment, support from loved ones, and learning how to develop secure attachment with their babies in order to overcome the shame and guilt of postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is more common than many people realize, but we still don’t talk about it enough. This leaves struggling mothers in the dark, feeling alone, ashamed, and guilty.
This is a real mental illness and has nothing to do with how much a mother loves her child. Anyone can suffer from it.
Greater awareness will help relieve the stigma, but individual women can also take steps to get out of the darkness and to overcome the terrible feelings of grief, anxiety, and shame.
Becca’s Story of Postpartum Depression
“It was two years ago, but it still feels like just yesterday that I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. Over the last two years I came to terms with that diagnosis, got treatment, and finally feel normal again.
There were so many expectations of motherhood as a blissful, perfect stage of life. All around me I saw signs that becoming a mother for the first time would be magical: advertisements, social media posts, even my own friends who seemed to make it easy. I also put pressure on myself to be nothing other than happy when my baby was born.
The reality was different. Giving birth was exhausting. I was in labor for over 24 hours, and afterwards I couldn’t think of doing anything but sleeping. I felt like the nurse was pushing my baby on me and there was something wrong with me because I wanted to sleep, not try to breastfeed. We left the hospital just a day later and I was still tired and in pain.
For a couple of days it seemed like this might just be normal. I had been through a lot, after all. My husband just told me to rest and that he would take care of everything else so I could take care of the baby. But almost immediately I felt so guilty because I didn’t want to. I just wanted her, my baby, to go away.
For months I struggled to bond with her and even to take care of her. I wasn’t going back to work and being at home with my baby felt so isolated. It was supposed to be everything I wanted, but instead I felt alone, scared, and resentful.
The shame and guilt of this was overwhelming at times. I felt anxiety every time I thought that I simply lacked the nurturing instinct and that I wasn’t meant to be a mother. I was too ashamed to bring it up, even to my husband. But thankfully he made me talk about it. We talked to my doctor together, who suggested I had more than normal baby blues—that I had postpartum depression.
The best thing that happened next was treatment. I had to recognize that I had a real mental illness, that this wasn’t my fault or a failure, and that only treatment would help me get better. And it did. I also joined a support group online to talk to other mothers with depression; I let my own mother come over more often to help; and I learned and practiced attachment strategies with my daughter so that we could develop a healthy bond. Now, I feel so much better and have a normal relationship with my toddler. I also talk about my experiences, which helps me but also helps other women realize that they are not alone and have no reason to be ashamed.”
Getting Treatment for Postpartum Depression
The single best thing any woman can do to emerge from the shame and guilt of postpartum depression is get professional treatment. When left untreated, you may face even more serious consequences than simply feeling anxious and guilty. Without treatment, postpartum depression can last for years, negatively impact the mental and physical health of mom and baby, and interfere with the development of secure attachment and a healthy mother-child relationship.
For many women, residential treatment may seem extreme. But this is a great way to get the help you really need to overcome depression. It’s important to realize that getting the help you need is not selfish. You have to be healthy and well in order to take care of your baby.
In residential treatment you will experience expert care in a safe, supportive environment. Postpartum depression is treated with a combination of therapy and medication. A residential facility can offer the variety of staff and treatment types to match your individual needs. In addition to medical care and standard therapy, you can try alternative therapies, holistic care, group therapy and support, and a serene, calm setting in which to heal.
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Coping With Ongoing Negative Feelings From Postpartum Depression
Professional treatment is the first step in healing from depression, but it is only the start of your journey. Once you come home, you will use the tools and strategies from treatment to learn to cope with lingering doubts, shame, anxiety, and other difficult feelings. Here are some of the things you can do to continue on your healing process and to manage those negative emotions:
- Learn about being a mother. An important and damaging misconception is that women should naturally know how to be mothers and take care of babies. It can be difficult to admit that you feel lost and unsure, let alone ashamed or guilty. Studies have found that working with childbirth and mothering educators helps women feel more confident and be aware of symptoms of depression. Talking about and learning about motherhood helps to lift the veil of silence and stigma about depression.
- Take care of yourself. Treatment should teach you that mothers are not selfish for taking care of themselves, but it is a hard lesson to learn. Continue managing your own health by making sure you get enough sleep and exercise, that you eat well, and that you take time off from caring for your baby and allow others to help.
- Talk about it. Nothing promotes isolation more than keeping things to yourself. Let your partner or other trusted loved ones know how you’re doing. Talk to them about your struggles and make it clear what kind of help you need from them. Simply voicing your difficult feelings will remove a weight from your shoulders and lighten your mood.
- Develop an attachment with your baby. The major source of guilt during this time results from the struggle to connect with your baby. Healthy attachment between baby and caregivers is essential for their well-being, but it doesn’t always come naturally. There are exercises you can do to promote attachment, though. Make time for cuddling; make eye contact; talk to and laugh with your baby; play together; read to your baby; and respond to your baby’s distress with gentle touch and comfort as well as basic needs like food and sleep.
- Work on your relationship with your partner. If you are not a single parent, it’s important to maintain a healthy relationship with your partner. Work together in productive ways to care for your baby and to support each other. Avoid blaming and taking frustrations out on each other. Instead, communicate openly about your needs. Take time out to just be with each other.
If you are struggling with depression after having a baby, you are not alone. So many women go through this, and too many attempt to do it alone. Like any other mental illnesses, this requires treatment. Not only will treatment help you recover from depression, but it will provide ways to overcome the guilt and shame that is natural at this time. Open up to loved ones, work with professionals, take care of yourself, and stop assigning yourself blame. Depression does not make you a failure as a mother, and there is hope for a better outcome if you’re willing to take the right steps.
Postpartum Depression Treatment at Helix Treatment Centers
Helix Treatment Center’s innovative gender-specific mental health treatment program is designed to help women gain the life skills and strength needed to manage their symptoms and learn to better cope with the lingering effects of postpartum depression and other mental health disorders in a supportive environment that caters to their psychological, physiological, and emotional needs. We offer a tranquil space to restore emotional and behavioral health and stability in a safe, comfortable environment at our six-bed residence nestled in the beautiful Mt. Helix region of San Diego.
Contact us today to learn more about our program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.