I had the privilege of attending a training course as part of my steps to become a volunteer to help women struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety. As we learned all about how we can better serve women who are struggling, we exchanged a lot of stories, some of which were deeply personal.As I sat, listening to these women talk, I began to wonder about the statistics that we hear quoted for postpartum depression.
I’ve heard anywhere from 7% to 10% of women suffer some form of postpartum depression. Obviously my experiences are going to cause me to interact with more women who have experienced postpartum depression, but good lord that statistic still feels low. When you factor in the number of women that I’ve heard say, “Oh yeah, I think I had that”, you’re left with this feeling of how have women done this for thousands of years?
In fact, whenever you talk about the high number of women experiencing a perinatal mood disorder, a lot of times people are confused. It seems like all of a sudden, everyone is getting postpartum depression. One reaction to the openness that we are now starting to see with postpartum depression is that it’s not real. If all these women are ‘suddenly’ getting postpartum depression when women have been giving birth for a millennia then maybe these women are exaggerating it. Or maybe we’re over-diagnosing it. Or something that we’re eating or drinking is causing an increase in frequency.
But maybe the reality is none of those things.
In October, my husband, son and I moved in with my in-laws for four weeks. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go – my son is kind of a tiny hurricane, who bounces around, leaving nothing but destruction and debris in his path. He can be a bit much at times. But collectively we ended up having a blast.
People went to their own corners in the evenings, but in the mornings and before my son went to bed, instead of there being two sets of hands to help, there were four. We cooked together, hung out, spent some time apart but overall enjoyed every minute of it. My son got to spend a ton of quality time with my in-laws. The anxiety that I sometimes still feel about getting him to bed in the evening was gone, as I had plenty of helpers.
I felt cared for and comfortable. I didn’t feel bad if my son’s care fell on my husband, because there were two other people to help out. I wasn’t exhausted by Friday – because I had my village.
Parenting a baby can be so overwhelming. In today’s isolated culture, we as parents feel that we have to take on everything and do all. But it wasn’t so long ago that families all lived close together and all pitched in (in fact, I’ve been fortunate enough to have two sets of grandparents that are close and incredibly helpful!). It wasn’t a failure of the mom or dad’s part, it was simply pragmatism. Moreover, it really gave children a chance to develop deep bonds to their extended family members which is such a wonderful thing.
Often I hear or read these stories of these women who feel tremendous pressure to do it all: to clean their houses, bake for their children, raise their children and cart them all around. When they have to reach out for help (sometimes asking for help involves asking their partner!) they feel a tremendous sense of failure. That, or they feel guilty or as if they can’t do the bare minimum.
On top of all that, we have a false sense of community from the online culture as well. I’d first like to clarify that there are a great amount of good things that our online culture provides, especially to mothers who are struggling with perinatal mood disorders. Online cultures help people feel normal when they reach out with their concerns and struggles. Often we think that we are the only ones going through this. But these online families don’t pick the kids up when we’re sick. They don’t watch the baby when we desperately need a night out. Online communities provide a sense of family and friendship, without the physical support needed to help a struggling parent out. Cleaving to the online community can potentially lull a parent into a false sense of community and then subsequently be left in the cold reality, when it really counts – when the parent really needs their village.
With extra burdens like these in our fast-paced culture, is it any wonder why the postpartum depression numbers are potentially growing?