Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious condition that many moms experience, and yet most who go through it still choose to keep silent and carry the burden all on their own. A lot of it stems from the stigma that the condition is not real. In fact, people around these moms can get so dismissive, telling them they are either overreacting or being maarte.
Karen Kleiman, a licensed clinical social worker and founder and director of The Postpartum Stress Center in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, recently released a series of comics, in partnership with illustrator Molly McIntyre, as part of the #SpeakSecret campaign, which focuses on “shattering the myth that all new mothers feel wonderful about being mothers.” The comics illustrate “the words that postpartum women are not speaking,” says Kleiman
In an interview with Huffington Post, Kleiman says she hopes the campaign will encourage PPD sufferers to “put their own words to their scary, negative thoughts and post them as a brave and honest expression of their unsettling experience.”
Here are some situations that most women with PPD find themselves in.
1. Moms with PPD feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. The guilt stems from the scary thoughts the women experience, and it leads to high anxiety. So they choose to shut down or close off their feelings. After all, what kind of a mom who has feelings like they don't want to be a mother anymore? They feel as if they’ve committed a huge sin against their children. They also fear judgment from others. “Some women worry that if they disclose how they feel, they will be deemed an unfit mother or worst of all, their baby will be taken away from them!” Kleiman says.
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2. They are overpowered by dark thoughts. Moms with PPD are often good at pretending that they’re okay, but on the inside, they are crippled by their thoughts. There’s a fear that she is losing her mind, and it might lead to thoughts of harm coming to the baby, or worse, she might even think of harming her own baby.
3.They find it hard to speak up because they are worried about what other people will think. Many of us see mothers as superwomen who are skilled at multitasking, but not all women are built that way. The result is these expectations are making moms choose to keep silent even when they need help.
4. Moms don’t know how much anxiety is “acceptable.” Kleiman also says that there is a need for greater awareness around postpartum anxiety. “In general, anxiety is a natural response to triggers or changes that worry or threaten us,” she says. “If a woman is vulnerable to anxiety —biologically, genetically, psychologically — she will be more at risk to experience scary thoughts.”
While it’s perfectly normal to feel anxiety during postpartum, many of those who have PPD don’t recognize when their anxiety levels are tipping the scales. “A general rule of thumb is that if the anxiety interferes with her ability to get through the day, that’s too much anxiety,” Kleiman says. And when it’s already affecting her day-to-day function, it’s time to seek help. “Women need to feel safe to discuss how they are feeling, and we find that when they do so, their anxiety and guilt associated with these thoughts actually decreases, enabling them to feel better,” she adds.
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5. Their #1 enemy is self-doubt. Part of the challenges of parenting is there will always be other people who think they are better at raising your child than you. And when they start pinpointing your flaws, self-doubt starts to creep in. This is dangerous for people with PPD because they become too critical of their decisions, and they are consumed with feelings of inadequacy. When this happens, Kleiman reminds moms to be kind to themselves. “Find a safe person to talk about how you are feeling.”
6. Moms battling PPD often feel confused and their decision-making becomes unstable. These are feelings that become a breeding ground for scary thoughts. That’s why it’s important to have a “safe space” for moms to let their feelings out, whether it’s confiding with a friend, a health care provider, or even just voicing their thoughts anonymously.
The #SpeakTheSecret campaign encourages mothers to go to their website and share their scary thoughts, and the center compiles the submissions on one page. As for us, we've often receive messages from women who are experiencing PPD on our Facebook Messenger. Most of the time, they only want to vent their feelings, and more often than not, they plead to be anonymous. These kinds of “safe places” are important for all women who suffer from PPD, because they can talk about their negative emotions freely without the fear of being judged, which can help in alleviating their anxieties.
Remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness — it’s a sign of courage and is the first step to becoming better.
Don't be afraid to reach out if you are feeling anxious, helpless, or despondent. If you need someone to talk to, try the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM). Call 426-4289 to 92 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.