Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Baby Blues or Full-Blown Depression?

A few weeks ago, I was scanning through posts at Parent Hacks and found a review of The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling with Depression by Tracey Thompson. I got a copy of the book from the library and devoured it in a a few sittings. I struggled with feelings of depression after my first daugther was born in 2003, but I never sought professional help. I would read lists of symptoms that were supposed to detect whether you just have "baby blues" or "postpartum depression". I could never decide if what I was feeling was "worse" than what I was "supposed" to feel. But in retrospect whatever diagnosis might have been appropriate for my feelings, I should have seen a counselor.

Unlike so many of the OBs described in the book, my midwives, did ask questions about how I was feeling and try to detect if I needed help. But I told them I was fine, because I was convinced that I just needed to tough it out. When I read the narratives in the book by women who had suffered from depression, both postpartum and as a mother of older kids, many of their feelings resonated with what I had experienced and occasionally experience now. But these symptoms were not things I would normally have associated with depression - intense anxiety and feeling of rage where you want to throw things, pound your fists, pull out your hair, etc.

The thing that I credit with pulling me out of the worst of my new mom depression was connecting with an amazing group of women who also had newborns. We met at a Mommy and Me group which we quickly altered from a planned series of formal discussions and presentations to a time to gripe and bitch and get advice from each other. Three and a half years later there are eight of us who still get together for playdates or drink nights or the now famously controversial drinking playdate.

I am due with my second baby in April, and I cannot say how thankful I am for these friends, one of whom is due with her second child the same day as me. I know they will be literally sanity-saving help again. But this time, I've also asked my midwives for names of counselors so I can establish a relationship with a professional before I have the baby and thus have yet another type of support in place in case I need it.

I highly recommend The Ghost in the House to any mom who has experienced depression at any stage in her journey. The book is an interesting mix of narratives from the author and woman she interviewed and scientific information about depression and the options for treatment. Most important of all, it encourages women to get help despite the cultural stigma around mental illness and the pressure for moms to pretend to be happy no matter how miserable they are.

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