PND Week – The stigma of a mother with depression

There’s nothing quite like parenting that divides conversation.  It can even test the strongest of friendships when different parenting styles are employed. You have the Gina Ford Mums, the Career Mums, the Stay-at-home Mums, the Stay-at-home Dads, Co-parenting, Attachment Parenting and that’s before you disappear to the next level of infant feeding. Formula feeders, breastfeeders, mixed feeders, donor milkers and donor milkees.  Everyone will have an opinion on it and the internet is the perfect place for anonymous vitriolic opinion or unsolicited advice, as well as amazing forums and brilliant support groups.

So this got me thinking, is there such a hierarchy amongst PND sufferers? Surely, it is just a band of mothers supporting one another through their darkest, most challenging periods of their life?  Well, it appears not.  This excerpt was taken from an article written in 2011.  Not only does it touch on the stigma of depression but also highlights that the condition can afflict antenatally as well as, more commonly known, postnatally…

I’m sympathetic to all depressed mothers’ plights, not simply because of how it affected me in my childhood development, but because I too, have struggled with a mood disorder that surfaced during pregnancy.

Somewhere in between discovering I was “in the family way” and the time I shared the news with my own family, I had a bad day. I was cranky, moody, difficult. Then came another bad day. I cried for no reason; I let the answering machine pick up calls from well-wishers – calls I never felt like returning. I stopped going out with friends, only leaving the house when it was totally necessary and then not at all. One bad week turned into two, then three. I didn’t feel like watching TV or reading or cooking or even taking a shower. I slept. Yes, sleeping was my new hobby. “Get all the sleep you can now,” people said to me, “because when the baby comes you won’t get any!” I told myself I was just tired because it was my first trimester. But I was lying.

Even though I was conscious that the human body makes certain biological and hormonal accommodations for pregnancy that can seriously tweak brain chemistry – and knowing what my mother went through – I was reluctant to admit to myself, or to my husband, that I was trapped in the rising waters of depression and anxiety, unable to pull myself to shore. I needed help.

But how to seek help when you’re supposed to be a rosy-cheeked Earth mother basking in the joy and magic of your “with child-ness”? Who do you call when you’re stuck in a bottomless sadness, torturing yourself with the million-dollar question: “Does this make me a bad mother?”

In this modern world of immediate connectivity and infinite information, many sufferers of maternal depression will reach out online in search of scientific answers or a sisterhood of support. Of course, many of the ante-partum depression “facts” you will find have not been vetted, tested or proven, which sadly doesn’t keep them from appearing and reappearing on various “medical” sites, creating more misconceptions and narrow-minded fears about mental health, further boosting your fears that you’re a social pariah.

And as for the supportive sisterhood? I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but one certainly shouldn’t expect to roll right from their Google search to the entry of the Red Tent. You laugh but, before I got pregnant, in my incredibly fertile imagination, I had woven a lovely fantasy of Motherhood. I imagined that news of my fertility would reach the high priestesses and I would be led to the Tent. One of the elders, gorgeous and wise, wrists stacked with bangles, would fold back the entryway flap and offer me a cup of homeopathic herbal tea as she guided me into the mystical teepee of maternal wonder to share the secrets of those who birthed before me. But you know what I found when I Googled “pregnancy, depression, treatment with antidepressants”? An angry posse of she-witches, winding up to stone any depressed, drug-addled, baby-poisoning, interloper who wandered into the Province of All-Knowing Supermomdom.

After my depressing trip around the World Wide Web, I came clean with my husband and my doctor. Together we decided that the one-two punch of talk therapy and Prozac would be the best way to knock my depression out. And it was the right call. Within weeks it was like I had been pulled out of the dark and the future seemed bright once again.

Even though I was hopeful and feeling better, I was reticent to share the secret of my chemical savior. I feared the judgment, even from friends, that would follow my admission. After all, I know several mothers who won’t let their kids eat sugar or wheat. Some even pump and dump after a gargle of Listerine, just in case! And here I was deliberately introducing Prozac into the placenta. And, as I had learned online, everyone has an opinion about expecting mothers taking antidepressants and how “selfish” it is to willingly endanger their children.

Those who judge so harshly and force the conversation to be about “mother’s health vs. baby’s health” have never been depressed, I’d wager. They lack the understanding that depressed mothers who go untreated can endanger their unborn children in entirely different ways: not getting to regular appointments, neglecting self-care, eating poorly, sometimes even drinking or smoking during pregnancy, in some cases suicide.

And therefore the myth of guaranteed maternal magic is detrimental. When a newly pregnant woman finds herself in the crosshairs of her desire to be the brimming icon of beauty and fertility seen on magazine covers and the reality of the consuming, terrifying, pounding storm of antenatal depression, she must believe that that she can safely reach out for assistance without fear of rejection or admonishment.

Today I am good – better than good. I am the mother of a happy, hilarious, intelligent, extroverted three-year-old. When I remember the darkness, the struggle, I pull my son onto my lap and breathe in his delicious smell. I make monkey noises that send him into peals of laughter, and soon I am laughing too.

Depression and I may be destined to meet again, but now I know my enemy and if I must return to battle, I am ready and I am well-armed.

You can read the full article, where the writer also describes her own mother’s battle with prenatal depression in the 70’s when it was practically unheard of. Brilliantly written and I hope wherever she is, she’s doing ok.

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