With the first round of our Postpartum Mood Disorder Moms group coming to a close, we’ve learned about Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and given a name to the intense feelings and thoughts often battled as a part of it. We’ve learned to identify those negative automatic thoughts that fuel depression, and have been working hard to replace them with thoughts that are more realistic and gentle. We’ve talked about how to carve out time for self-care and worked to build a support network.
But what now?
What does Postpartum Depression and Anxiety look like a few weeks from now? A year from now? With the next baby? And how can the skills you’ve worked so hard to learn continue to serve you and provide healing in the future?
The Prognosis: Hope
As a whole, the prognosis of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety is positive. The key to improvement is identification of symptoms and then putting supports in place as early as possible. While it is tempting to wait and see if symptoms resolve on their own, the best prognosis is associated with early intervention. With treatment, symptoms typically begin to lessen within a few months and may even have fully resolved within the first year. Certain therapies and treatments will be more effective for one mother than another, so self-monitoring and consistently evaluating the effectiveness of treatment is an important step to the quickest recovery. Although research has shown that once a woman experiences Postpartum Depression and Anxiety there is a higher chance of experiencing it again in the future, it is often easier for a mother to identify her symptoms earlier and therefore begin putting supports in place earlier than after her first birth. While every woman’s journey to healing is unique, Postpartum Depression does not have to be a mother’s identify. Healing is both possible and realistic.
While the timeless cliche promises that practice makes perfect, the reality is that we’re human and negative thoughts and feelings come with the territory. So while practice may not make your thoughts and feelings perfect, practice does make things easier.
Imagine a field, with wild grass growing up to your waist. Traversing that field for the first time will be slow, tedious and exhausting work. The second, third and even fourth time may be equally as difficult. But eventually, a path will begin to form. When you’ve crossed that field enough, the grass will become flat and effortless to cross.
This is exactly what happens in our brains as we combat the negative thoughts that have held us in depression. These new, healthier ways of thinking initially feel unnatural and require concerted attention and effort to recognize and fight, but they are forming new neurological pathways in our brains that become the norm over time. With enough practice, thinking more positively can become second nature. Find ways to practice that are realistic for your life, whether it’s posting reminders of the replacements to your most negative thoughts around your house, getting accountability from a partner or friend, or mastering this skill in therapy. Whatever it is, allow your brain to practice becoming comfortable in these new and healthier pathways.
Build Your Team
Healing from any sort of anxiety and depression is most effective in community. Isolation provides a perfect breeding ground for unhealthy and untrue lies to flourish and go unchecked, but with accountability and perspective from others, those lies can be combated.
For some, the reassurance and skills learned in the support group will be enough to move forward, but for others, additional supports will be added to the team. Medical professionals such as OB/GYNs, Midwives and Psychiatrists can monitor symptoms, provide additional resources and manage medication if that is deemed beneficial. Therapists can provide traditional talk therapy to continue helping to identify, challenge and replace negative thoughts. Friends, church leaders and partners can provide a listening ear and support. Also keep in mind that a support team is unique to each person and may also evolve over time as needs and life circumstances change.
Become an Advocate
Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of facing Postpartum Depression and Anxiety is the fear of isolation or stigmatization. Having a trusted friend or another mom who has been in that dark place may be the support many women need to stop being held in depression.
Do you know another mom expressing the same difficulties you’ve felt since becoming a mother? Are you feeling called to share your experience with a friend or group of women you know? Sharing your experience or pointing other moms to resources for postpartum struggles may be the only lifeline they receive. If you feel compelled, take the next step to become an advocate for these moms who have not yet found their voice.
I look forward to discussing additional ways to carry what you’ve learned from our postpartum group or from your own postpartum journey into your everyday lives at the next group at Breath of Life on September 10th.