Bundle of Joy?
Who came up with the term "bundle of joy?" What joy is this bundle showing when they come out? They're screaming at the top of their lungs! Even if the term means that the bundle brings US joy, that term in itself can bring on such guilt and anxiety, especially if we aren't always feeling joy. I can't help but wonder how many of us really give birth and are immediately on cloud 9 from that day forward, especially at first. Isn't that a trick question? Is anyone really? And isn't that idea in itself ridden with guilt? We carry around this baby for 10 months, finally give birth and expect to feel constant bliss except, we don't. Of course, we feel that initial feeling of absolute happiness and feeling complete, when we first lay eyes on the new love of our lives, but then what? I can't tell you how many friends told me "just wait three months, it will get better" and I thought to myself "why did no one talk about these dreaded first three months until now that I'm already deep in it?!" When I say dreaded, I don't mean I would trade it for anything in the entire world, but you get the idea. Post baby blues are legit. Whether it be because our baby is so fragile and so adverse to adjusting to the world initially (like mine) that we feel like we're losing our minds, our hormones are taking over, we can't breastfeed easily, our baby won't sleep, won't latch, or we're worried about SIDS. The list goes on and even those that miraculously give birth to the most easy, perfect baby are also inevitably dealing with hormonal emotions. I gave birth to Tess around the same time that my friend Elyse gave birth to her adorable daughter Piper, and we thought that this post-baby emotional roller coaster we both felt was important to shed light on....
Some words from Elyse:
When I was pregnant, I spent a lot of time asking friends who'd given birth everything (and I mean everything) about labor, delivery, and life with a baby. I found that hearing so many different stories made me feel more comfortable with the uncertainty around such a big experience and huge transition. Now that I'm a mom, I often find myself on the other side of these conversations. I'm asked to share the nitty-gritty of my childbirth experience and observations about bringing a newborn home with friends and acquaintances all the time, but only rarely am I asked questions about postpartum mental health. I can't help but think that the avoidance of this topic aligns with our culture's lack of awareness and stigmatization of common mental health issues.
May is National Maternal Depression Awareness Month, and Jennie and I both feel it's important to discuss women’s mental health post-baby in an effort to decrease the stigma associated with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) that affect some mothers after giving birth.
Between 60-80% of women experience what is often referred to as the “baby blues” or feeling stressed, sad, anxious, lonely, tired or weepy following birth. This can sometimes be the result of fluctuating hormones and disrupted sleep patterns. It's common to feel emotional when your entire life has just changed drastically, but if your symptoms last longer than two weeks, you may be experiencing PMADs. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), approximately 1 in 7 women will experience a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder (PPD). Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth. If you're experiencing emotional difficulties following pregnancy, it is important to know that you are not to blame for your symptoms, you're not alone, and there is excellent treatment available. You can always reach out to your OB/GYN or a mental health professional for guidance.
I often work with women who have developed PPD symptoms related to breastfeeding. Though many women find that breastfeeding is a positive experience for many reasons, including the increased production of prolactin and oxytocin (two hormones triggered by breastfeeding), not all women respond positively to oxytocin, and some find that breastfeeding is wrought with increased tearfulness, sadness, irritability, or anxiety. Weaning from breastfeeding can also trigger PPD symptoms, as decreased milk production will cause prolactin and oxytocin production to drop suddenly, leaving women more susceptible to changes in mood. It is recommended that moms wean slowly to prevent engorgement, clogged ducts, mastitis, and an abrupt shift in hormone levels, but even so, some women will experience symptoms regardless.
Becoming a mom is stressful. With such a huge life transition fraught with new demands, increased responsibility, sleepless nights, and hormonal highs and lows cast against our often lifelong expectations of what motherhood would look like, it is not surprising that many women develop PMADs. Listen to your body; if your symptoms persist and you find that they are impairing your functioning, reach out to your OB/GYN or a mental health professional. Be patient with yourself and try to show yourself the same compassion you would your little one.
Elyse Kupperman Chaifetz Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist with offices located in Flatiron and the UES. Dr. Kupperman offers cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for adults and adolescents coping with a variety of symptoms and life stressors. As a trained health psychologist, Dr. Kupperman specializes in women's mental health including infertility as well as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Dr. Kupperman's treatment approach is symptom focused, goal oriented, and based on techniques that have proven to be effective.