Posts Tagged ‘ postpartum depression ’

What No One’s Saying About Postpartum Depression

Monday, February 10th, 2014

This guest post is written by Joy Peskin, the author of a wonderful essay about postpartum depression we ran last fall. We asked Joy to write about recent legislation aimed to help women experiencing maternal depression. She is pictured at right, with her son, Nathaniel; at the end you’ll also see a powerful slideshow of photos documenting her bout with PPD.

An essay I wrote about my experience with postpartum depression, entitled Just Show Up: A Love Story, was published in the September 2013 issue of Parents magazine. I wrote the piece in the hopes that it would reach a new mother who felt like I did when my son was born three and a half years ago: broken. I wanted that mother to know that she was not alone, that help was available, and–most of all–that she would be okay. The response I received after my story ran was both gratifying and thought-provoking. It was gratifying to hear from women who had dealt with PPD in the past and from those who were currently struggling with it. Some women wrote to say that they saw themselves in my story, and that it brought them comfort. The response was thought-provoking because several of the people who wrote, both to me personally and to Parents magazine, called me “brave” for sharing my experience.

Brave. The word stopped me. I’ve been puzzling over it for months. I know people meant this positively, and I’m grateful for the compliment. But I’m also troubled. I suppose the term “brave” implies that I had something to fear in writing about what I went through, and that suggests that there is a stigma associated with PPD. I didn’t ask for PPD. No woman does. I’m not happy that I had it, but I’m not embarrassed any more than I would be if I had overcome a physical, as opposed to a mental, illness.

One goal of Bill number S3137C, which was sponsored by New York State Senator Liz Krueger and New York Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, was to “provide public education to promote awareness of and destigmatize maternal depression.” To me, that was the most important part of this bill, which was passed by both branches of the New York legislature unanimously in June 2013, and which was supported by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the New York State American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Postpartum Resource Center of New York created a petition to urge New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the bill into law. More than 6,000 people signed the petition, myself included. But in late December, Governor Cuomo vetoed the maternal depression legislation. Sonia Murdock, executive director of the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, said, “Governor Cuomo did not step up and do the right thing for New Yorkers. But Governor Cuomo is not just the answer. We are all the answer. To be part of the solution in de-stigmatizing PPD (or the broader term, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders), a good way to start would be by telling your own story. If you have experienced this illness, of supported a loved one, you have a story to tell. By sharing, we help others to become aware and educated, not feel so along, and to have hope.”

As long as one is considered brave for writing about her PPD, there is a stigma associated with the disease. If women are too ashamed to admit they have a problem, they will not get the help they need. We don’t have to wait for lawmakers. We can start right now by telling our own stories. By saying, “This happened to me, and I got through it, and you will, too. You deserve help, and help is available.”

When I was going through PPD, I didn’t think I deserved anything. I would brush my hair straight back into an unflattering bun because I recall thinking, You don’t deserve a pretty hairstyle. I would sit in my sweltering apartment because I thought, You don’t deserve air-conditioning. Part of ultimately asking for help, and accepting it, was realizing that I didn’t need to punish myself for the bad thoughts I was having. The PPD wasn’t my fault, but it was my responsibility to advocate for myself. I wanted to be rescued. But no one could save me if no one knew I was suffering. To get help, I was going to have to ask for it.

Sonia Murdock played a key role in my recovery. A good friend gave me the phone number for the PDRC and I carried it in my wallet for weeks before I worked up the nerve to leave a message. When I did, Sonia personally returned my call. She talked to me at length. She told me I would be okay, and I believed her. She referred me to a therapist who had herself overcome PPD, and who gave me—on my first visit—her own copy of Brooke Shields’ Down Came the Rain.

I’m disappointed that Bill number S3137C didn’t ultimately become a law, but I believe that, in the end, legislation can only do so much. It’s up to us, the people whose lives have been impacted by PPD, to speak up about our experiences and to destigmatize the diagnosis so those who think they might be suffering from it will ask for help. It’s unfortunate to have PPD but it should not be a source of shame.

After my article appeared in Parents, a coworker told me it had helped her friend–a new mother–realize she had a problem. Like me, this woman just thought she was a horrible person, in capable of loving her newborn, as opposed to someone dealing with a treatable mental illness. Another friend told me she had experienced PPD after adopting, but she didn’t know what it was because she had never heard the diagnosis applied to adoptive parents. PPD exists in various forms. It’s not the same for everyone. The more we share about our experiences, the more we open up about them in private and in public, the more we can help educate other women and families. No one deserves to suffer.

While you are in the midst of it, misery can feel both endless and pointless. But when you come out the other end, you will see that if someone else can be helped by what you went through, your experience had meaning.

For help within New York State, please visit the Postpartum Resource Center of New York. For help in other states, please visit Postpartum Support International.

Joy Peskin is the editorial director of Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers. She has run writing workshops for aspiring authors, homeless youth, and incarcerated women and teens.

What Postpartum Depression Looks Like
What Postpartum Depression Looks Like
What Postpartum Depression Looks Like

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Bad Baby, Good Baby… Just a Baby

Monday, December 30th, 2013

Good Baby Bad Baby“Is she a good baby?”

We’ve got our third baby in the house, and the question still startles me, although people ask it frequently. I know what people mean by the question. They are intending to ask: Does she cry a lot? Does she sleep OK? Is she nursing or feeding healthily?

Still, although I am not generally offended by the many, many inappropriate comments and loaded questions a new parent receives from friends and strangers alike, this one bothers me to no end. The implication that we can label a newborn child, just weeks old, “good” or “bad” begins a lifetime of judgment, of categorizing everyone and everything as “right” or “wrong.” And the judgments that we make early on—first impressions—can live on, no matter how unintentionally.

And I still have not mastered the art of letting the question roll off me.

I am often tempted to answer sarcastically: “Well, she missed curfew the other night, and I found her smoking under the high-school bleachers.”

Or mock ignorantly, with a shade of indignation (read: honesty), “What do you mean? How can a baby be good or bad?”

More often, I go for the saccharine: “Of course! All babies are good and sweet. Just look at this face!” (Seriously, look at that face… that’s her, for real, at the top right of this post.)

Or I give into the madness and answer the question that the person intended to ask: “She’s doing fine, though we’re exhausted, of course.”

I don’t mean to imply that a “bad” baby will be branded for life—today’s bad baby is tomorrow’s bad teen-ager—but the implication is that a baby shouldn’t be crying a lot, shouldn’t be “difficult,” and should be feeding, pooping, and sleeping on some pre-determined schedule. When my baby cries for long periods, I am rattled, upset, sometimes worried, often frustrated, but I recognize that that is her way of speaking, of letting me know her needs, even if I cannot always understand her. Adjusting to this world, even understanding day from night, is not an easy thing, and no baby can be blamed, even implicitly, for taking a while to figure it out.

I’d love it if we could shift the focus, from baby to mom and dad. Rather than asking whether baby is “good,” I am sure any new mom or dad would appreciate a sincere question about how she or he is doing with the inevitable stresses and exhaustion of their new life. And rather than passing judgment—your baby is bad!—let’s offer a helping hand.

We’ve gotten our share of “Is she a good baby?” questions, but we are also blessed with a community of family and friends who’ve made meals for us, loaned us gear, visited us and invited us over to their place, taken the older kids for playdates, and much more. We’re keenly aware that not everyone has this network of support, and many new parents feel alone and overwhelmed.

So, let’s resolve to listen—really listen—to how the new parents in our lives are doing, beyond their platitudes about exhaustion and the cute-as-can-be Facebook photos. And rather than passing judgment on them or their baby, let’s offer the help that can make a difference. And in some cases, for those new parents who need more than just a meal and a visit, such as those suffering from post-partum depression, this listening can be the only way to know they need help that only professionals can offer.

How to Establish a Routine With Your Baby
How to Establish a Routine With Your Baby
How to Establish a Routine With Your Baby

Plus: Track your baby’s milestones.

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