I had severe and prolonged postpartum depression with my first child, moderate PPD with the second, and none at all with the third. While I’m by no means an expert, I wanted to sketch out some things that I thought might be helpful to those experiencing PPD and those who are in a position to help them (husbands, visiting teachers, ward leaders, etc.).
Before I get to that, though, I want to take up this question: Is PPD more likely among LDS women? I have no statistics here (and I would question their reliability because I refused to acknowledge my own PPD for a few years). But my hunch is that the following factors might exacerbate PPD among LDS women:
(1) Many LDS women have their first child(ren) away from their close circle of family and friends due to their husbands’ school or job requirements.
(2) LDS theology’s glorification of motherhood can make anyone struggling with it feel like they are doing something wrong. (more on this later) Additionally, LDS women who feel that ‘mother’ should be their primary identity marker may have more trouble than their non-LDS sisters.
(3) Similarly, feeling that one would be ‘wrong’ to use daycare can lead an LDS woman to feel trapped.
Of course, there are many ways that Church membership might mitigate PPD (everything from caring visiting teachers to attending the Temple to the ward park day). At any rate, for what it is worth, here is my advice for those experiencing PPD:
(1) You need the support of other mothers of young children. You must create a network. If your ward has a parkday, go, even if your baby is only a few weeks old (no one will laugh at you). If your ward doesn’t have one (but has critical mass of young mothers) start one. Or, invite another woman with a similarly-aged child to your home for a visit. If you don’t know anyone, ask your pediatrician or walk up to random strangers with babies in the grocery store. I’m serious. There is nothing more important than having momfriends and you need to do whatever it takes to find them. You need them to talk to, you need them for perspective, you need them for practical problem solving (how do I get the baby to stop pulling books off of the shelves?). You also need to start developing a group of mothers with whom you can trade children so that you can have some time to yourself.
(2) Which bring me to: you must have time away from your child(ren). This is nonnegotiable. Your husband is the obvious candidate here. A dangerous myth is that his job is the one he does for pay and your ‘job’ is the children. This only works out fairly if your husband works 91 hours per week. If he works less than that, sit down and figure out how many hours he is at home and awake. At least half of those hours should be spent with the child(ren) while you do something else. You should also (especially if your husband works long hours) develop a network of moms with whom you are comfortable swapping kids. I have no idea why people don’t do this more often; the kids love it and it is a real blessing for mom.
(3) Which leads me to: you must have an interest outside of your children. This is also nonnegotiable. It doesn’t really matter what it is: I’ve gone through a scrapbooking phase, a going-to-the-gym phase, a writing-a-book phase, and, I suppose you could say, a blogging phase. But you need something that is yours, that you enjoy, and preferably something that gives you something interesting to think about during the drudgery times. (A plug for gym membership: usually modest in price, usually with babysitting included, usually with physical benefits that may help PPD. Also, that 24/7 babysitting can feel like an important ‘out’ if you feel trapped.)
(4) Perhaps this isn’t an issue for everyone, but I really struggled at first with the lack of contour to my days. All of a sudden, time was not delineated, but weekday, weekend, sabbath, 2am, didn’t matter: there might be someone screaming. If this is an issue for you, contour your days, at least in part: make Monday grocery day, Tuesday park day, Wednesday library day, Thursday visiting teaching day, etc. Doesn’t matter how you work it out, just get out of that house each day, preferably at or near the same time. At the very least, go for a walk at the same time each day.
(5) Again, this might just be me, but I had to learn to stop thinking of the things that I wanted/needed to do as having an outside order and learn to live on the rhythms of my baby instead of fighting it. To give you an example, I used to insist on getting all of my housework done before doing any leisure reading. Result: cleaning while the baby napped, unable to read while the baby was awake (obviously). Now, I have two mental lists of things that need to be done each day: a list of things for while the baby is awake and another for when he is asleep. I’m also better at being efficient (i.e., wearing the baby in the snugli while cleaning house so my time really is free when he naps).
(6) I never took medication for PPD but you might want to consider it.
(7) I think that theology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to PPD. On the one hand, if you do not have a testimony of the fact that the work that you are doing as a mother has eternal significance, you need to work on that. On the other hand, if you already know that, but motherhood is causing you anguish, dwelling on it may just make you feel guilty. Probably better to focus your mental energies on finding comfort in Christ.
(8) Maintaining your spiritually while taking small children to Church can be very difficult. Be sure that you are reading your scriptures regularly and praying regularly. I can testify that God answers prayers that are offered up in the very act of nursing or changing diapers. Do what it takes to get to the Temple. These might be Sunday School answers, but the reason they are Sunday School answers is because they work.
(9) If you have the attitude than any sort of mental health issues (including PPD) are somehow shameful, you might need to think through that. Let me tell you how PPD was presented to me during each of my three hospital stays (note that #2 and #3 were the same hospital):
#1–nurse shoves large ream of papers covering everything from PPD to umbilical cord care on cart and says, “you need to read that.” Later, another nurse, noticing that I am crying, says, “You wouldn’t be having such a hard time recovering if you hadn’t gained so much weight while you were pregnant.” (I swear I am not making that up. It seems funny now, wasn’t then.)
#2–nurse sits down comfortably as if she has all the time in the world and says “Now honey, you have any problems with PPD, you tell us and we’ll fix it right up. You don’t have to put up with that!” (as if PPD were some man giving me the runaround who I should dump) (I actually liked this approach.)
#3–nurse, a little awkward, says “I’m required by law to talk to you about this, so . . .”
This is a shorthand example of how others’ attitudes can shape your own.
(10) A note to husbands and others who might be in a position to help: I have two pieces of advice for you (1) do what you can to give mother time away from the baby and (2) do whatever you can to minimize instead of adding tofeelings of guilt. You might find it hard to believe that someone home all day couldn’t find time to make the bed. If you have ever been home all day with small child(ren), you know that getting the bed made can sometimes fall somewhere between writing a dissertation and converting the pope on the scale of difficulty.
Well, this is a long post on a topic that probably is of no interest to many of our readers. That’s OK. I wrote it because I hope that someday someone who needs this will find it. If that’s you, please feel free to email me.