What Color Was Your Postpartum Experience?

DSC_6522 soft compressedby Sharon Gerdes
November 11, 2015

I’ve heard women say, “I had postpartum—bad.” Postpartum, which means “after the birth,” is actually an adjective to describe a variety of conditions that can occur during that period. So when women say they “had postpartum,” they may mean any of the wide range of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) that can occur during pregnancy or in the year following childbirth. The list includes:

  • Depression during pregnancy & postpartum (PPD)
  • Anxiety during pregnancy & postpartum
  • Pregnancy or postpartum obsessive symptoms (OCD)
  • Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar mood disorders
  • Postpartum psychosis (PPP)

Every woman’s situation is unique. You may feel that your particular malady falls into one of those gray areas that include more than one condition on the list. Or perhaps you have more than the blues, but are not sure if you are clinically depressed. It’s still helpful to know, as PSI says, “You are not alone.”

The good news is that you don’t need to have a diagnosis to get help from Postpartum Support International (PSI). There’s lots of great information on the PSI website. Women can find a support group in their area or participate in any of our new online support groups.

Finding a professional trained in maternal mental health and getting a clinical diagnosis can help you recover faster. Your treatment options might include support groups, medication, therapy, and/or natural and alternative treatments.

I had a “postpartum psychosis” thirty-six years ago. Those two fateful words were new to my vocabulary, and the experience was physically and emotionally devastating. I spent two weeks on a mental ward and slowly clawed my way back to sanity. After weaning off my anti-psychotic drugs, I had a relapse, and my psychiatrist then suggested that I had a “mood disorder” and needed to be on lithium for the rest of my life. I felt that my psychosis had been caused by sleep deprivation, rather than an underlying mood disorder, and chose not to go on lithium. Many years later, I learned about postpartum PTSD, and am sure that the stress of my childbirth experience was a contributing factor to my psychosis.

The good news is that regardless of the shade of blue or gray that colored your particular postpartum experience, there is probably a silver lining in your future. PSI tells every mother, “With help, you will be well.” Surviving a PMAD can make you a stronger, more empathetic individual. It might also make you a mental health advocate. Tell us about your experience.

You can learn more about signs and symptoms, and ways to help HERE.

Sharon Gerdes is a Postpartum Psychosis Survivor and Vice President of PSI. Visit her Food And Mood Blog.