Men and Postnatal Depression

A considerable amount of work and research has been done on how men also can suffer from Postnatal Depression.

Like the reasons for women, it is multifactorial. Caring and supporting a partner through labour and birth can be extremely difficult for men who don’t like to see their partners suffering and in pain. They often feel helpless and try to ‘fix it’. But labour and birth are not like that. Men have their own release of male hormones in response to this. Adrenaline, testosterone to name a couple.

After the birth, there is exhaustion for them too, coupled with broken nights, worry about work, the future, guilt at watching their partners struggle with breast feeding, plus healing from the birth, all contributing to a lowering of mood in the days and weeks that follow.
The treatment for this is of course, first recognising the depression and for help with this there is a self-assessment tool on the NHS website, NHS choices. www.nhs.uk.
The National Childbirth Trust also have a lot of useful information on their website too. www.nct.org.uk
Talking Therapies is another great way of getting back on track as well as having a discussion with a General Practitioner (GP) who may prescribe a short course of anti-depressants if necessary.
The main thing is owning the sad feelings and not feeling guilty that you too (men) could be suffering from postnatal depression.

Beyond Birth Counselling offers services for partners as well.

Motherhood

The first mother mentioned in the Bible is, of course, Eve.

Genesis 3:20 says,

“The man called his wife’s name *Eve, because she was the mother of all living.”

Most of us know the rest of the story. Eve ate the apple from the forbidden tree, before giving it to her husband.

God was angry and cursed both of them saying that there would always be enmity between them. Childbirth and labour would be painful for the woman, the earth would not yield good crops and that all men and women would die.

I often reflect on the women that I have cared for over the years, both as a midwife and now as a counsellor offering therapy for depression and anxiety during the childbirth process. One thing that is very obvious to me, is that women undergo an enormous change to become mothers and this involves physical as well as emotional and psychological changes.

So, what is motherhood?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as:
“The State of being a mother”

Perhaps a fuller definition would be to describe…
A Mother is a very much revered status that can bring much joy, fulfilment and laughter.

A Mother can also bring a great deal of pain, sadness, frustration and exhaustion.

A Mother’s role is multi-factoral and she is perceived as the nurturer, the teacher, the nurse, a source of comfort and a friend.

A Mother should be supportive, patient and consistent. Along with all these qualities, a Mother should love her child unconditionally.

Obviously, a Mother’s job is no easy task. There’s more…

There are no days off.

A Mother must be able to remain calm under any circumstances. Especially with smaller children. Patience is a trait that every mother must have.

A  Mother has many other perceived roles to fulfil.

Cleaner, bread winner, laundry specialist, chef, lover, friend, daughter, sister and so on.

No wonder it is a hard job and why so many women feel sad following a birth.

Not only do they have to adapt to a new and demanding role, they often have to lose some of their old lives and selves. In short, it is possible to lose sight of who they once were.

The other phenonomen that I have observed not only in myself but other women and mothers I have cared for, is how raw their feelings can be following birth and how much emotional pain can be felt for other people. I want to quote Annie Lennox who sums Motherhood up beautifully and succinctly.

annie lennox

“Motherhood was the great equaliser for me; I started to identify with everybody….as a mother, you have that impulse to wish that no child should ever be hurt, or abused, or go hungry, or not have opportunities in life”.

Perhaps this is also the kind of pain that ‘God’ refers to in Genesis in the bible, who knows.

I think that it is OK to feel different after giving birth and it’s OK to feel sad for a while.

It’s only when that sadness goes on and on and there is no joy, that maybe counselling and therapy or just talking to someone is necessary.

J.D. Salinger in the book Catcher in the Rye suggests that “Mothers are all slightly insane”. I agree that some women and mothers are possibly aat risk of losing their minds, but at the same time are finding them.

I end with the words of Margaret Sanger who said…

“No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”

*”Eve” means life or living

Postnatal Depression

I was watching an interesting programme on BBC 2 last night, ‘The Baby has landed’. It was a documentary following six very different couples, during the later stages of pregnancy, the birth and then the time following the birth which as commonly known as the postnatal period.

It was striking to note how the different couples on the programme were coping and adapting to having a new baby and a new addition to a family.

My heart went out to all of them but the one couple that struck me the most was the couple having their first baby after a long labour resulting in a caesarean section for the birth. As is the norm now, they were home after a couple of days and settling back into life with a loving extended family.

Initially, as is fairly common, all was well. As time went on however, the baby became unsettled. Mum and dad became increasingly tired with broken nights sleep and then a downward spiral into the mum feeling that she was failing because she could not settle the baby. The grandmother was supportive and the partner was trying to be but he too was beginning to feel that he was doing it wrong and all this against a backdrop of advice, from well- meaning relatives.

The mum was doing all the right things, but it was easy to see that she was becoming too hard on herself and forgetting that not only had she been through labour, but had, had a major operation for the birth. I think women underestimate just how difficult those early weeks can be.

The Mother now had another life to care for as well as herself.

The baby is growing even after day 1 and will be demanding more food but also, babies cry for all kinds of other reasons such as loneliness and need reassurance. They have been so used to being in the womb for 9 months and now they are having to adapt to a new environment.
That is why skin to skin contact is so important. It actually physically affects the baby’s heart rate and breathing. It calms and soothes the baby and they are a perfect temperature close to your body. You don’t have to be breast feeding to do this and Dads can do it too.

Another couple had just had their fifth baby handled it well. Mum and Dad were back running guides and scouts after a week after the birth. It made me feel tired just watching the activity within the household. I was also a bit sad because every woman is different post birth and yet they measure their progress alongside, other women who make it look so easy. The women who make it look easy tend to be in the minority, but the woman with her fifth baby said that she liked to keep busy to stop her wanting to have another baby! This could be a trick played by the levels of Oxytocinon (necessary for bonding) in the body. The levels are so high for some women after giving birth, that they can make you believe that having another baby would be a good idea.

Also, it is this cocktail of hormones or lack of them, in particular Progesterone and emotions post birth that can contribute to some women developing post-natal depression.

Postnatal depression (PND) is the most common perinatal mental health disorder women experience in the first year after having a baby. Between 10% and 20% of women have depression and anxiety in pregnancy and after birth. PND is an illness and will get better in time. The reasons for this are multifactorial and the symptoms are many and varied.

There are lots of excellent websites that explain PND and perinatal health disorders. One being the NCT.org.uk/ and the NHS website who have a self- assessment depression screening tool that you can complete if you are not sure that this is what you are suffering from.

New mothers need to care for themselves as well as their baby and it is common sense to delegate as many of the household chores as is possible and use a good 2 weeks to rest and recuperate.

In the old days (not so long ago) the 2 weeks following the birth was known as the ‘lying in period’. Women were kept in bed and only allowed to look after the baby and themselves. This of course, contributed to a higher risk of developing a thrombosis (blood clot) or chest infection because the clotting factors in the blood become thicker and it takes a while for the blood to return to pre-pregnancy state.

Nowadays, postnatal exercises are encouraged including gentle walking and if there are any other risk factors for a blood clot, then medication and anti-embolic stockings (like flight socks) are advised.