Transitioning into parenthood through both pregnancy and birth is labor intensive and can lead to depression. Perinatal depression can develop during or after pregnancy and affects one in eight women, making it one of the most common problems dealt with during and after pregnancy.
There is no single cause for this medical condition, but research suggests it is usually triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. For example, a woman who experienced depression or has a family history of depression, or bi-polar disorder, is at higher risk of experiencing perinatal depression.
Likewise, women dealing with familial or relationship problems or are struggling financially are more susceptible to depression.
According to a national survey conducted at the beginning of the pandemic through the second surge, and consisting of 163 women who delivered in high-volume, epidemic-located medical centers, 44.2% of women experienced prevalent depressive symptoms. Additionally, 42.9% experienced post-traumatic stress symptoms.
The delicate balance between motherhood, work and sanity is affected by the constant change in hormones, and without immediate attention and proper treatment, disrupts and drastically impacts the health of the mother, her child and the family.
Ana Cramer is a mother of two and shared her experience with postpartum depression. After her first pregnancy, she remembered retreating inwardly, sometimes days at a time, and becoming someone else. She experienced episodes of extreme mood changes directed toward her husband: one day he was chewing too loudly, the next he was rocking the baby the wrong way or made the bottle incorrectly.
“In some ways, I knew it was silly to get mad at him for rocking the baby the wrong way, and I couldn’t even say it out loud. I couldn’t start an argument about it because I knew it was ridiculous,” Cramer said as she recounted that time.
When COVID-19 reached Laramie in March, Cramer was pregnant again and going into her third trimester. Her daycare closed two days before she had her daughter and the stress amplified.
“We were planning on [our son] being at daycare while we were on maternity/paternity leave,” Cramer said, adding she felt guilty after her daughter was born.
She struggled with giving her son the attention he needed at home while trying to establish a bond with her newborn daughter.
The limited access to activities outside of the house contributed to the exhaustion Cramer was already dealing with.
Because she had experienced depression after her first pregnancy, Cramer anticipated it for her second, but it didn’t stop the mood swings and days of self-repression.
“It felt like I was trudging through, swapping between coffee and wine, never sleeping, trying to breastfeed, trying to remember to eat enough, hardly ever taking showers…not really caring if I had clean clothes,” she said.
Treating the blues
Treatment for perinatal depression is central for the protection and health of mom and baby. Often, treatment includes therapy and/or medication but it starts with consulting a health care provider.
“I strongly recommend therapy to anyone who is postpartum, especially those who may be experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety,” Cramer said, having undergone therapeutic treatment herself.
“I don’t have any advice for how to get through COVID,” she said, “[but] don’t hide.”
The National Child and Maternal Health Education Program (NCMHEP) supply many practical strategies to cope with perinatal depression, the first being connect with other moms.
Cramer attests to this, and said connecting with other moms in Laramie let her know she wasn’t alone. Even now, as she continues juggling motherhood and work, she conveyed the importance of knowing all moms go through some version of post-depression, according to those interviewed.
NCMHEP also recommends making time for you. Carly Fries, a litigation associate at Mountain West Farm Bureau, said the added stress of COVID-19 and the birth of her second child this past year contributed to mild depressive symptoms.
Her husband works for a large-scale landscaping company and is often on the road, sometimes a week or more at a time. As a primary caregiver and working mom, Fries has to remind herself to step back and take “me time” so she can be more available for children in a healthy way.
“Taking the kids to school and having a personal day isn’t selfish and does in fact make me a better mom,” Fries said.
Fries explained how sensitive her 2-year-old is to her emotions; when she is burnt out and having a hard day, it reflects in his mood. But if she is calm, that reflects too.
Taking time for you looks different for every mom and it could be something as simple as taking an uninterrupted bath. The NCMHEP suggests getting a regular babysitter each week so mothers can visit friends, run errands or go for a coffee. This is also helpful if you and your partner are struggling to find ‘adult’ time or need a regular date night.
Lastly, the NCMHEP states, “do what you can and leave the rest.” iterating the importance of being realistic and asking for help during the first year post delivery.
So, don’t worry about being the ‘perfect’ mom — rest when the baby rests, states the NCMHEP site — and breathe.
Where to seek assistance
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Postpartum Support International: 503-894-9453, English; 971-420-0294, Spanish.
LaramieCares Foundation: call or text 307-977-7777