According to an article published on CNN, three New York mothers have recently performed unfathomable acts of murder: letting their babies fall to their deaths after throwing them out of the window.
These acts are inhumane and unforgivable; yet it is important to know that these women were suffering from postpartum depression. Of course, I am not condoning their behaviour, but these incidents show how important it is that we address this mental disorder. Postpartum depression is rarely spoken about openly, resulting in difficulty identifying symptoms and getting help.
One in five women will suffer from this mental disease, and in extreme cases, they will go on to suffer from psychosis (0.2% of women) after giving birth. It is completely normal to feel sad after childbirth, after all, it can be a stressful, and for some anticlimactic, experience. The baby blues, as this phase is known, takes many people by surprise; you feel like you should be celebrating the arrival of your child and yet all you want to do is hide under the sheets and cry. After the first couple of weeks, all these symptoms usually disappear. However, in some cases you don’t feel better and consequently you begin to suffer from postpartum depression.
Identifying postpartum depression
Just like with other mental illnesses, postpartum depression isn’t a “one size fits all” problem. Symptoms may vary in type and intensity; however, it is safe to assume that there are some general symptoms that most new mothers can identify. It is also important to recognise whether the symptoms are temporary as a result of a bad day, or real signs pointing to the disease. Remember, we all have sad days when you want to cry and give up on everything, but if it’s a recurring matter, you should find professional help.
Here are some symptoms to help you identify postpartum depression:
- Lack of interest towards your baby
- Neglecting your baby
- Loss of pleasure
- Decreased energy and motivation
- Crying or wanting to cry
- Concern for wanting to hurt your baby
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
It’s important to realise that postpartum depression is caused by hormones, stress and physical changes and are not reflective of your character. Seeing your body change, the pain of birth, the influx of hormones throughout the pregnancy and after birth, as well as the stress of wondering whether you will be able to properly care for your child can all take a toll on your mental health. Be ready for when this happens, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, find help. Postpartum depression is easily treatable with the help and support of a professional.
Add the expat curveball
As we’ve mentioned many times before, expats are at a high risk of mental health breakdowns due to the stress of living abroad, being away from friends and family, language barriers, and many other factors. Adding this curveball to the already overwhelming experience of giving birth can put you at greater risk of postpartum depression.
When deciding to give birth abroad, make sure you are prepared for everything, and if possible, have a familiar face with you for the first few weeks, other than your partner, of course. Having someone you trust around to bring that sense of home can help soothe the baby blues. Try finding a hospital where they have staff that speak your native language, or brush up on the language in time for your due date. The language barrier is the last thing you want to be worrying about in the lead up to the birth.
Additionally, make sure you have a mum’s support group in your area (preferably with other expat mothers) for additional support after birth. These groups are a great place to share tips and advice with other first-time mothers. While they cannot tell you how to raise your child, having other people going through the same experience as you can be a huge relief, especially when it comes to finding doctors, buying baby products, and other things outside your home country.
Lastly, don’t forget to speak out about your baby blues or postpartum depression. The more you reach out, the more help you will receive. Even if you are not experiencing all the symptoms, or are just feeling overwhelmed, it’s better to ask for help.
As a new mother, you deserve to be enjoying your first year with your baby, but if you’re not, you mustn’t blame yourself. You have the power to turn the situation around; don’t let the blues get the better of you.
[Image: Vera Kratochvil]