It’s important to talk about postpartum mood disorder

Editorial & Opinion, Wednesday, January 23, 2008, p. A8

Postpartum mood disorder is so much more than just “the blues.” Admitting you need help postpartum does not make you a bad mother.

When I read the article on postpartum mood disorder (ppd) on Saturday, I did so with pride, joy and sorrow mixed with hope. I took pride in “my” newspaper running the well-written, thoughtful, important article. I was also filled with pride and joy because I am lucky enough to count Jodi among my circle of friends.

My sorrow came from knowing that so many women have suffered alone, thinking that they are strange, incapable, or a bad mother. My hope comes from the possibility that resources will be found to help, and that more people will speak out.

I too suffered from ppd, undiagnosed, but undeniable; mildly with my first baby, and more so with the second.

The first time around, I had an obsessive compulsive need to write down everything that the baby did, which started with a directive from the hospital to track every dirty diaper and feeding in a chart. When you leave the hospital, you continue the chart for a week, to show your pediatrician.

After starting to track this information, which I was told was important to monitor the baby’s development, I couldn’t stop. If I didn’t write it down, I would have someone else write it down for me. If I didn’t have my journal handy, I would write it down on any scrap of paper and later transcribe it into my journal. No one questioned what I was doing or why. My journal chronicles dirty diapers and feedings, sleep patterns, all the baby’s “firsts” and the introduction of solid foods – for a year.

I also had an issue with leaving the house. I couldn’t leave the house unless I felt I had every eventuality covered. There is no diaper bag on the market large enough to carry all of the supplies I thought I needed, so I often wouldn’t bother leaving the house.

Had it not been for Michelle down the street from me in Ottawa, I’m not sure that I ever would have left the house with the baby. Michelle wanted a walking partner, and I was lucky enough to be the one. She would show up every day at 9:25 a.m. for our six kilometre round-trip walk to the mall. She taught me about the importance of routine, but more importantly, she saved me from myself, forcing me out of my safe cocoon.

It had never occurred to me that my repetitive behaviour and difficulty leaving the house were ppd, since everything I’d read back then focused on “baby blues” and depression.

With my second child the symptoms were different. I was plagued by the strong desire to be away from my children, ideally, to sleep. This of course was not an option with two children now in my care – and I didn’t want to admit it to my husband or friends. I was moody, irritable, and often unable to make basic decisions. I was convinced that my mother-in-law thought that I was a bad mother, even though she had never said or done anything to make me think that way. I was unable to sit still, even when visitors came to see me and the baby.

My difficulties leaving the house also developed further, and I was often unable to cross the threshold of the front door, even though my daughter would want to play outside.

Strangely enough, if someone came to the house, I could easily step out onto the front stoop with the baby in my arms, and loved being outside, but I wasn’t easily able to do it on my own. I can’t explain why.

As serendipity would have it, I moved into a house two doors up from Jodi a month before having my second child. Jodi became my “Michelle” in the Sault. She brought me reading material on ppd, we’d go for walks, and would talk very openly about our state of being.

I finally recognized some of the symptoms I’d been facing: chronic exhaustion, poor concentration and memory, feeling alone, oversensitivity to what others say (or may be thinking), need to always be doing something, mood swings, difficulty leaving the house, among others.

Trying desperately to let go of the myth of the “supermom”, I focused on what made me feel better: sleep, exercise, talking with friends, reducing my expectations, not thinking too far ahead, getting a cleaning lady, and finding part-time childcare to get breaks from the baby and family.

Though I avoided the support group Jodi had recommended, her non-judgmental, supportive manner, and our private conversations were a blessing to me.

By speaking out in the article, so plainly and unapologetically this past week, I admire Jodi more than ever, and am proud to call the newest leader in our community my friend.

Nadine Robinson is a local writer and the mother of two beautiful children. Her column appears every other Wednesday. Contact her at the.ink.writer@gmail.com

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