Our lives are transformed by having a baby. The biggest aspect of our life that’s changed is our ability to cope. This means that any small problems that existed before pregnancy become bigger during pregnancy and even bigger still when baby arrives. Our marriages and partnerships are supposed to be our main source of support, but often they become the largest source of stress.
Over the years I’ve talked to so many women who enter motherhood only to discover their partner doesn’t understand them, or their partner has a very different parenting style than they do. These could be small issues, but often we don’t know how to talk to each other about them and they become ongoing battles.
The following article is based on my experiences and what I have observed over the years talking to many women who’ve experienced varying degrees of depression. This is not meant to diagnose or treat, it does not replace the advice of a medical professional.
If we pair marital strife with social isolation, previous depression, previous trauma or abuse, then we find prenatal and post natal depression becomes a lot more likely.
Some people are lucky and have great health care providers that recognize the different forms depression related to pregnancy takes. They also recognize that medication is only a small part of the treatment plan. But we often end up with doctors that prescribe medications as either the first, or (in my opinion) worse, they use medications as the only form of treatment.
New families need support. They need the kind of support that can hep them see beyond the problems, they need the kind of support that can show them when they’re turning an inconvenient situation into a horrible situation. These parents need support to help them understand the difference between hearing each other and actually listening. Medication doesn’t teach that. But it can help the person suffering from depression to shift their perspective enough to learn new coping skills.
Many women have friends who agree with them, “Yeah, that sucks!” or who don’t understand what they’re going through, “It’s not that big of a deal, why are you so upset about this?” Friends and family may say things like, “This will pass.” or “Yeah, I went through the same thing.” Which on the surface sounds great, expect this is not support. Adequate support helps a person process the emotions they’re experiencing, bring meaning to events, cope with the situation, and move on. But often we find new moms in groups of other new moms where the conversations become very circular – the hard emotions become harder and they aren’t learning to cope.
The other problem that arises is many of these women begin to talk about their partners, and what their partners do wrong – which could be helpful if it was a short session about an isolated incident, the problem arises when everyone agrees that the partner is wrong and doesn’t help the mom see the good in the partner – the gap between parents widens and the new mom feels more and more alone.
The groups that are meant to offer support inadvertently end up supporting poor coping rather than positive coping. Some groups are better than others, in my experience it comes down to the facilitator. Groups that don’t have a facilitator, or where the facilitator is also a new mom, are the ones less likely to offer positive support.
Complaining to friends about your partner can be cathartic – but only if there is a way to move forward from the situation or if the relationship is generally strong with solid communication. Otherwise it’s best to find a counsellor to help you and your partner work on your relationship so you can both feel supported by the other person.
Empathy and Compassion
Over the years, the women I’ve talk to who’ve had the most difficulty adjusting to life with a new baby, whether it’s first or fourth doesn’t matter, are the ones who do not receive regular empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share ether feelings of someone else. Partners have a particularly difficult time understanding what the new mom is going through, after all, in most cases, they do not have any similar experiences to compare. But there are ways we can listen that show compassion and a willingness to be empathetic. By saying, “That sounds so hard, can you tell me more?” it opens the door for communication and lets the new mom know she is important.
Empathy and compassion is so important in all relationships, but it is so much more important during times of stress. Having a baby is definitely a time of stress. The changes a woman’s body goes through during pregnancy is stressful, the thoughts and emotions she goes through is stressful, the shift in her relationships with family and friends is stressful, and the fact that her partner doesn’t understand any of that is stressful. Once baby is born, all of that stress intensifies.
If prior to pregnancy the couple had good communication filled with empathy and compassion, then they are more likely to weather the pregnancy and baby storm, but if their communication was ineffective or they did not practice empathetic or compassionate communication, then they’re more likely to have difficulties and more likely to see depression pop up.
Developing and nurturing positive coping techniques goes a long way to preventing, treating, and recovering from depression related to pregnancy. Finding a trusted mental health care provider is so important. But these coping techniques can be beneficial for everyone.
- Sleep – be sure to get enough sleep
- Eat well
- Deep/Slow breathing
- Get outside
- Say ‘No’ to extra commitments
- Find something to Laugh about
- Make a gratitude list
- Lower your expectations
- Talk to someone you trust
This is not an exhaustive list, but a starting place. Some may work for you, or they may not. Understanding yourself and your own needs is vital.
With adequate coping it’s possible to work through difficult situations. It’s okay to be upset about the way life is going, the problem really arises when you aren’t able to move beyond a situation and instead become stuck or fixated on it. Many women feel sad that one chapter of their life is over, or that being a new mother isn’t what they expected, it’s okay to feel sad and mourn the could have beens. Healthy coping helps us move from that sadness and mourning to a place of acceptance and even happiness about the way life is going.
If you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from pregnancy related depression I urge you to talk to your/their doctor so they can receive help.