After having her second child a little less than two years ago, Nicole Chamberlain of Berlin, Maryland, began feeling strange. Everyone said it was “just hormonal.” At first, she thought it was, too.
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Mild depression was nothing new to Chamberlain, 35, who had been on medication for it before. But this was something quite different.
“I cried a majority of the time. I felt overwhelmed. Then I became fearful. That’s when I knew it wasn’t just hormones,” Chamberlin told LifeZette. “I became afraid of my child, afraid of holding him, afraid to go out in public with him, afraid to leave the house. I became secluded.”
Ultimately she learned that it was postpartum depression — just one type of postpartum mood disorder. Other types include postpartum anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychosis.
After nearly three months of suffering with her ailment — and barely eating, barely taking care of her children — Chamberlain became suicidal. She was hospitalized for a week, then took part in therapy and an outpatient program for eight weeks.
“With the combination of support, help, therapy, and medication, I started to get back to myself again,” she said. “It wasn’t until my son’s first birthday that I really felt like I had completely gotten back to the person I once was.”
Chamberlain said that today, back at home, things are “better than ever” — she has even launched her own business. But she understands why women don’t want to talk openly about PPD.
“When you don’t have the confidence to be the mother you want to be, you think something’s wrong with you.”
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“It’s embarrassing,” she said. “When you don’t have the confidence to be the mother you want to be, you think something’s wrong with you. You start comparing yourself to all the other moms who feel like they ‘got’ this whole motherhood thing. Then you start to think you’re the only woman out there who’s feeling this way, so you start to close yourself off.”
A recent study in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry recommends that mothers of newborns have screenings at multiple times — and across different health care locations — up to a year after delivery. The same study said 14.5 percent of women will have a depressive period during or after pregnancy. Half the cases go untreated, the study reported.
Celeste Johnson (not her real last name) didn’t experience PPD until about six months after having her son. The Reno, Nevada, resident knew PPD was becoming an issue for her when she grew afraid to be alone with her own child.
[lz_bulleted_list title=”Baby Blues?” source=”Harvard Longwood Campus“]It is possible to experience more than one PPMD concurrently.|PPMDs are completely treatable with professional help.[/lz_bulleted_list]
“I feared something might happen. I felt lonely and abandoned during the days home alone with my baby. And on nights when my husband traveled for work, I was terrified and had trouble sleeping,” she said. “I spent so much time scared, anxious, and contemplating the ‘what if’s,’ it began to consume me.”
She added, “When I first began feeling initial signs of depression, I did not associate them with postpartum depression. It took a family member to connect the two for me, and I’m forever grateful.”
Soon after, she met with her obstetrician and started seeing a therapist. She talked to friends and family, who were supportive. Johnson hopes other moms who have symptoms will seek help right away.
She said she wanted others to think motherhood came naturally to her — but her PPD forced her to admit she was human and that being a mother is hard work.
“The sooner you seek help, the better you will feel. Don’t wait and see if it will fix itself when you can work on feeling better immediately,” Johnson said. “Once I did open up about my struggles, I felt so much encouragement and support. I’m glad I didn’t hide from it. The support from friends and family had a tremendous impact on recovery.”
Help and Hope
Dr. Shoshana Bennett became a perinatal psychologist after her own struggles with PPD. The California-based mother of two experienced insomnia, severe anxiety with panic attacks, obsessive thoughts about her baby being kidnapped or killed, short-temperedness, despondency, and hopelessness. Her children were born in the 1980s, when there was less awareness or help for PPD — and she was never formally diagnosed or treated. This is why it lasted so long, she says.
“The sooner you seek help, the better you’ll feel. Don’t wait to see if it will fix itself,” said one mom.
“The scary obsessive thoughts and the horrible feeling that I was a terrible mother consumed me every second,” Bennett said. “I went through the physical motions of caring for my babies the best I could, but there was zero joy.”
In 1988, she started running support groups for other mothers — something that helped her heal.
“Now there’s great help. You don’t need to suffer like my family and I did years ago,” she said. She recommends that women contact a practitioner who specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
“The strongest, most responsible and loving step you can take is to get proper guidance from someone who will provide an individualized wellness strategy for you,” Bennett added. “With this help, you’ll recover to 100 percent.”