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RBC | It’s supposed to be one of the most precious seasons of a woman’s life: the days and months following the birth of a baby. But for one out of every seven to nine new moms, that postpartum period is rudely interrupted by crushing, unexplainable sadness and anxiety textured with rage, numbness, intrusive thoughts, “brain fog,” and physical symptoms along with guilt, fear and feelings of failure.
Postpartum depression—also known as postnatal depression or pregnancy-related depression— strikes mothers of every age and socioeconomic group. It can occur after any birth. Sometimes symptoms start during the pregnancy itself. The ailment is characterized by insomnia, severe mood swings, intense irritability, difficulty bonding with the baby, loss of appetite and thoughts of suicide. It’s considered the second leading cause of death in postpartum women.
Postpartum depression is more than just a case of “the baby blues” which generally appears a few days after childbirth and resolves with a few weeks. Symptoms are usually mild. Postpartum depression can appear anytime up to a year after giving birth and can last for months. Unrecognized and untreated (about 50 percent of the cases are) it can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. In a worst case scenario, postpartum depression spirals into postpartum psychosis, putting mother and infant at risk. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among postpartum women.
Rangely’s Brittany Campos was made aware of the threat of postpartum depression during her first pregnancy.
“My doctor was worried about me because of my past history with bipolar and she kept an eye on me,” Campos said via email. She was 27 at the time.
It wasn’t until her second pregnancy, less than a year after the birth of her son, that postpartum depression symptoms began to manifest.
“I began to suffer from some intrusive thoughts during my pregnancy and it got worse after I had my daughter. She was an extremely fussy baby. The lack of sleep, emotions, hormones and a myriad of other issues combined sent me into a deep depression with other things such as rage and anxiety mixed in,” Campos said.
Four months after her daughter’s birth her pediatrician sent her to a counselor, but the anxiety continued to spiral.
“I wouldn’t leave the house. The thought of leaving had me almost in hysterics,” she said. That was contrary to her normally outgoing personality.
“I was a mess. I wanted to leave my family. I felt worthless and unwanted. I thought I was a terrible mother and wife. I couldn’t leave the house at times to spend time with friends because I was so terrified about what I would do or what my daughter would do. I got sick to my stomach frequently because of the anxiety I had. I walked away from my family one night because I just couldn’t be who they needed. I began getting suicidal thoughts and ideas along with my anxiety and everything else,” Campos wrote.
Her then-obstetrician told her she was “too far” past birth to have postpartum depression, a statement she says is incorrect, as some women don’t have symptoms until six months or up to a year after birth.
“My husband kept pushing me to find the help I needed,” Campos said. Eventually, a telecounseling option through Mindsprings and medication provided the help she needed.
“I am by no means perfect but I am on the mend. I am feeling whole again. I am thankful every day to God for keeping His hand on my family. He is the reason my husband stood by my side through it all and He kept my kids safe.”
Campos has become a vocal advocate for women experiencing postpartum mental health issues.
“I wish someone had told me what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. It wasn’t just the baby blues,” she said. “My doctors weren’t really asking the right questions.”
Postpartum depression is absolutely treatable with a combination of therapy and/or medications.
Campos said increasing awareness, talking openly about how she is feeling, and having a care team has been “so helpful.”
Family members of new moms should be aware of personality changes, loss of interest in activities, trouble bonding with or caring for the baby or other children in the home, and other indications that something is not right.
Postpartum Support International (www.postpartum.net) provides a variety of resources for mothers and fathers, including a link to the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale—a 10-question screening tool that helps recognize who might be suffering from postpartum depression. More resources are available at www.postpartumprogress.com.
“I am now 19 months into my recovery and I am pushing hard for my community. I want to break the stigma. Women need to know that it is OK to get help,” Campos said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please see the guest column titled “Let the Sunshine In” on Page 4A for another local woman’s experience with postpartum depression.