Archives > May 2017

Postpartum Grief: Postpartum Depression (Part Three of Six)

In this third article of our six-part series on Postpartum Grief, our focus is on “Postpartum Depression.”

While many new mothers are afflicted by some degree of the “Baby Blues”, a smaller percentage will experience more severe and long-lasting symptoms following the birth of their child. This condition is called Postpartum Depression (PPD).

The Signs and Symptoms of PPD

According to The Baby Center, Postpartum Depression is characterized by five or more of the following symptoms for at least a two-week period:

  • Extreme sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Crying all the time
  • Loss of interest or lack of enjoyment in usual activities and hobbies
  • Trouble falling asleep at night, or trouble staying awake during the day
  • Loss of appetite or eating too much, or unintentional weight loss or weight gain
  • Overwhelming feelings of worthlessness or overpowering guilt
  • Restlessness or sluggishness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling that life isn’t worth living

Other possible signs may include:

  • Being irritable or angry
  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Worrying excessively about your baby
  • Having thoughts of harming your baby
  • Being uninterested in your baby, or unable to care for him/her
  • Feeling so exhausted that you’re unable to get out of bed for hours

These symptoms generally appear within one or two weeks following the birth of the child; however, they may appear during pregnancy or even several months after the child is born.

Although the exact cause of PDD is unknown, there are several factors that are considered to play a role in the development in this condition including, a stressful or difficult pregnancy, a difficult delivery, health issues impacting the new baby, baby colic, a lack of social support, and a previous history of depression.

PPD is not an indication of poor parenting or a sign of weakness.  Having a baby is a significant life transition that brings forth several challenges for new mothers, who have not had the experience of taking care of a newborn baby before.

PPD in Men

Men can also suffer from PPD. Unfortunately, less attention is often given to fathers following the birth of their child, even though the transition of having a new baby may be just as overwhelming for them. As such, many fathers suffer silently with PPD, without a formal diagnosis or treatment.

Postpartum.org identifies the following symptoms as an indication that a father may be suffering from PPD:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Focusing more on work or other distractions
  • Consistently low energy and fatigue
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Changes in sleep, weight, and appetite
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Headaches and stomachaches
  • Feeling easily stressed or frustrated
  • Violent or aggressive behavior
  • Impulsive and risky behavior
  • Anger and irritability

Several factors have been found to contribute to the development of PPD in men including, lack of sleep, financial stress, marital issues, difficulties with parents or in-laws, feeling excluded from the relationship between the mother and baby, and a history of depression.

PPD is far less common than the “Baby Blues” in both women and men, but the consequences can be much more severe. Without a proper diagnosis and treatment, the symptoms may lead to more extensive medical, emotional, and psychological problems. According to The Mayo Clinic, “prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms – and enjoy your baby.”

The Impact of Having a Baby

Being a psychologist, I was aware that having a baby would be a significant life transition. I knew intellectually that it would bring forth many new challenges for myself, my husband, and my marriage. However, no amount of knowledge or planning truly prepared us for the emotional, physical, psychological, and relational changes that occurred within the first few months after giving birth to our son. Often, it is not until after the child is born when parents truly appreciate how overwhelming this transition can be.

Unfortunately, popular media fails to provide an accurate perspective of what it means to have a new baby. There is a tremendous amount of focus on the joy, happiness, and fulfillment that a baby brings, which is undoubtedly true, but very little attention is focused on the stress and challenges that may be involved.

The reality is, that every major change we experience in life has the potential to be accompanied by grief.  The addition of a new child is an enormous transition that affects all areas of one’s life and certainly constitutes as a grieving experience.

Addressing the Impact

We encourage new parents to take action to manage their symptoms following the birth of their child. For some, this may mean seeking the professional support of a licensed therapist and medical doctor.

Ideally, the time to take action is well in advance; even prior to the birth of your child. Taking proactive steps can help to minimize symptoms of PPD, strengthen relationships, and enhance your experience of parenting your new baby.

One way in which to be proactive, is to take the action steps of the Grief Recovery Method Program. Many of the contributing factors that lead to the development of PPD are already present prior to the transition into parenthood. The probability of developing PPD can be greatly reduced or even eliminated if these factors are addressed prior to the birth of your child.

If you have become aware of the symptoms of PPD within yourself or your significant other, we encourage you take action now. Seek the support of a professional to obtain or rule-out a diagnosis of PPD and take the actions laid out in “The Grief Recovery Handbook”. Many of the symptoms of PPD are similar to those experienced by anyone dealing with grief.

Additionally, if you would like to seek the support of a Grief Recovery Specialist in your area, you will find a listing of specialists at the end of this article. Many of them are licensed therapists who can support you in addressing and managing your symptoms. The longer you wait to seek support, the more overwhelming your symptoms may become.

Postpartum grief and postpartum depression are very real issues that need to be taken seriously. Our hope in writing this article, is that you have a greater understanding of what PPD is and feel better equipped to address early signs within yourself. We encourage you seek support if you are unsure whether or not you are suffering from PPD. With correct information and the right support, your transition into parenthood can be a truly wonderful experience.

This article was written by Steve Moeller, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and Trainer at The Grief Recovery Institute, and Ashley Mielke, Owner & Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre.

Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Postpartum Grief: The Baby Blues (Part Two of Six)

This second article in our six-part series on “Postpartum Grief” is focused on “The Baby Blues.”

The months leading up to the birth of a child are often filled with plans, hopes, dreams, and expectations. Many new parents fantasize about who this little person will be, even before they meet. They may even begin to imagine the wonderful experiences they will share with their child throughout their lifetime. This is often a happy and exciting time for new parents. Few, if any of us, anticipate that we will experience a rollercoaster of difficult emotions following the birth of our child. Some feelings may include sadness, fear, anxiety, and even regret. Most new parents have heard of the “Baby Blues”, but they don’t imagine it would happen to them.

What are the Baby Blues?

The Mayo Clinic lists among its symptoms:

• Mood Swings

• Anxiety

• Sadness

• Irritability

• Feeling Overwhelmed

• Frequent Crying

• Reduced Concentration

• Appetite Problems and,

• Trouble Sleeping

The American Pregnancy Association (APA) states that as many as 80% of new mothers experience these symptoms within four or five days of the birth of their child. The duration of these symptoms is unique to each person, but generally lasts a few days, up to two weeks in some cases. For most, these issues occur sporadically throughout the day. The exact cause of the Baby Blues is unknown, but it’s thought to be triggered by the significant hormonal changes that happen within the mother after giving birth.

My son Leyton was born on December 15, 2016, six days after my 30th birthday. Nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced the first few weeks after his birth. As a Registered Psychologist and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, I was well aware of the Baby Blues and the conflicting feelings that may arise after having a baby, but I certainly didn’t think it would happen to me. I consider myself to be very self-aware, attuned to my emotions, adaptable to change, and I have an incredible husband and supportive family. I felt generally prepared for my son to be born. One might say I had my “ducks in a row” for this next transition. I thought having a baby would be a “break” from my fast-paced lifestyle as a wife, business owner, university instructor, and certification trainer. Boy was I wrong. It was the farthest thing from a break!

Twenty-four hours after my son was born, we were discharged from the hospital and sent home. Upon arriving home that first evening, I began to feel an overwhelming fear and vulnerability that I wouldn’t know how to take care of my son or know what he needed when he cried; and he cried a lot. There was no manual or set of guidelines to follow and that terrified me. All of the intellectual knowledge I had read about was completely useless. I was given the responsibility of taking care of a helpless and dependent little human, with absolutely no experience.

The sense of loss of control, loss of independence, and loss of freedom I felt, was like nothing I had experienced before. No longer did my husband and I dictate when we ate, slept, showered, cleaned, relaxed, or made plans. All I wanted to do was wash my hair, drink hot coffee, and take a nap! I had fleeting thoughts that we had made a mistake and that I had ruined my life. I loved my life before Leyton was born, and I worried that I would never feel happiness or joy again. These thoughts really terrified me and I am grateful I had the emotional safety in my marriage to talk honestly with my husband.

The first six days were the hardest for me. I cried often, and sometimes for no reason at all. I felt exhausted, sad, numb, anxious, vulnerable, and afraid that my husband was going to abandon our family. This was a massive transition for the both of us and I feared it would be too much for him to handle. On the contrary, my husband felt a deep love and compassion for me and an incredible responsibility to our new family. The last thing he would do is up and leave us! I knew my thoughts were irrational but I couldn’t help the way I was feeling.

After the first six days, things began to significantly improve. As the days and weeks passed, I felt more and more like myself, I adapted well to my new role as a mother, and I experienced a profound love, joy, adoration, and appreciation for my son I have never felt before in my life. My husband and I have developed a deeper love for each other, and we couldn’t imagine our lives without our son. Leyton is almost four months old now, and it feels like an eternity since I gave birth. The transition has been both challenging and rewarding, and it is the loving and non-judgmental support I have received from my husband, family, and friends that has carried me through it all.

The Baby Blues do not discriminate based on age, race, culture, socioeconomic status, education, occupation, or marital status. Although I felt fully prepared for my transition into motherhood, there was nothing I could have done differently to avoid the normal and natural thoughts and feelings I had following my son’s birth. My hope is that in sharing my story, other new mothers will feel validated in their experience and not alone on their journey. I am grateful for my experience today because it allows me to truly empathize and relate to other new mothers who may go through a similar experience.

You may be surprised to read this, that these very symptoms that many new parents experience after having a baby, are the same symptoms experienced by grieving people following emotional loss of any kind. You may never thought of having a baby as a grieving experience.

While the vast majority of information related to the Baby Blues focuses on the mother, the father can experience many of these same symptoms as well. Since these men have not undergone the same hormonal changes, or the physical stress of giving birth, the feelings they may be experiencing are often overlooked. Fathers are often told that they need be “be strong” for the new mother and the baby, and therefore are more likely to suppress and bury these feelings, just as most people tend to suppress any negative feelings related to grief. Any feelings they experience, other than love and joy, are often minimized by others.

Your family, friends, and even people in the medical community may give a variety of logical reasons why you might be experiencing negative feelings after the birth of a child. The problem is that emotions are not logical. No matter how often people tell you that “you should be happy, because…” it really does not make you feel better. Those statements just tend to encourage you to bury your feelings, rather than share them.

Since this symptomology parallels that of grief, there are actions that you can take to help move you successfully through this process. You can take action to say goodbye to your old life, prior to the birth of your child, which will free you to fully embrace this new life, new relationship and new responsibility. This will free you of any regrets you might secretly hold about giving up old freedoms, rather than stuffing those feelings deep inside where they may persist.

The Grief Recovery Method, as detailed in “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” is all about dealing with changes in your life. Even positive changes can bring moments of sadness, since they are changes from familiar behavior patterns. This is a step-by-step process to move forward and be better able to experience the joys of both the past and the future. By putting these principals to work for you, you can help yourself move forward and even strengthen your relationship.

The advantage of taking this action, to deal with any sadness or anxiety that you might be experiencing after the birth, is that it will also give you the tools to move beyond any other past losses you might have experienced during your life.

Remember, grief isn’t just about deaths that may have touched you on an emotional level. It’s related to any relationship that was not what you had hoped it might have been. How often have you heard people say that they didn’t wish to repeat any mistakes their parents had made? Now think about how often you have seen them repeat those mistakes? Taking Grief Recovery action can actually help you to avoid falling into this trap! It will give you the necessary tools to make changes in how you approach new situations so that you can be that even better parent that you truly want to become.

Postpartum Grief and the Baby Blues are a very real thing, and fortunately there are positive emotional actions you can take to move through both this experience and any other grief issues that have impacted your life.

This article was written by Ashley Mielke, Owner & Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre and Steve Moeller, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and Trainer at The Grief Recovery Institute.

Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Postpartum Grief: An Introduction (Part One of Six)

Postpartum and grief are likely two words you never expected to see together. It’s possible that some of you might find it surprising to see Postpartum Grief as a title for an article. After all, the birth of a child is expected to be a wonderful event that brings joy and excitement to a family. We often think of it as something that has been anticipated for months and has involved a great deal of planning in terms of what must be done to create a safe and comfortable home environment for this new child.

Please do not stop reading!

All the many changes that occur with the birth of a child are exactly why there may be elements of grief that surface. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to any change we experience in life. Few things in life bring on larger changes than having a child. Suddenly, every decision that’s made involves considering how it will impact your child. You can’t even make a simple trip to the store without gathering all the things that are necessary to take a newborn anywhere. Where before you might have gone out for a “night on the town” at a moment’s notice, now this must be well planned in advance to ensure that child care has been arranged. Everything in your daily life is impacted, which can lead to that emotion called grief.

Some may feel uncomfortable admitting this, but any parent knows it’s true! This isn’t to say that this type of grief is the same grief that you might feel with the death of a friend or family member.  Grief comes in lots of packages.  As with any change in life, the impact will vary greatly from person to person.  For some it is just “a bump in the road,” while for others it can be overwhelming.

The next series of five articles will deal with many of the reasons why people may experience postpartum grief. The subjects we will cover are:

  1. “Baby Blues”
  2. Postpartum Depression
  3. Dealing with the birth alone
  4. Situations where that new baby must be placed for adoption
  5. Situations where new parents do not have the emotional support of their parents

You will notice that we are not going to cover the grief that is experienced by parents whose newborns have died, either prior to birth or shortly thereafter. The purpose of this series is to address those elements of grief that are sometimes experienced but rarely discussed. Our intention is to address the very real emotions that parents might feel, but may be too embarrassed to talk about with others.

Our goal is to provide education and a safe environment where people can take action to deal with the emotional changes that negatively impact their ability to experience life to the fullest.

In reality, most of us never learned anything of value, during our formative years, on how to deal with any of the emotional pain of grief we experience during our lifetime. More often than not, from our earliest loss events, we learn things such as:

  • Don’t Feel Bad
  • Replace The Loss
  • Grieve Alone
  • Grief Takes Time
  • Be Strong
  • Keep Busy

We refer to these suggestions as “myths” since they do little to address the pain in your heart. More than anything, they encourage the griever to bury their feelings inside rather than expressing them to others. These “myths” are born from trying to offer intellectual solutions to emotional reactions after a loss.

While “replace the loss” is not necessarily applicable to postpartum situations, each of the others are often voiced to new parents in one way or another. They are discouraged from feeling anything but joy over the birth of their child. Parents quickly learn that if they are feeling overwhelmed, it’s an emotion that is best not expressed to others. They are told that they “just need time” to adjust to their new position as parents. Likewise, they are told to be strong and keep busy to adapt to this new responsibility.

It’s not uncommon that one of the parents is burdened with feelings of sadness while the other is not. This can create conflict in a relationship that is already dealing with the changes that a new baby brings to any parents. The purpose of this series of articles is to address those feelings and offer new parents tools to better deal with whatever less than joyful feelings they, or their partner, might be experiencing.

Looking at postpartum from a different standpoint

We should also say that the term “postpartum” is normally defined as relating only to the mother following childbirth. For the sake of these articles, we will also address feelings that fathers may experience as well. The father is a sometimes-forgotten figure in conversations about the changes that new parents experience.

Even if having children is something that you’ve never experienced yourself, we strongly encourage you to read the entire series. It may offer you the tools you need to help family or friends that are so impacted.

This article was written by Steve Moeller, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and Trainer at The Grief Recovery Institute, and Ashley Mielke, Owner & Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre.

Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs.