Today I am honored to feature the voice of Christie Sears Thompson on my blog! Christie is a prominent Child, Couples, and Family Therapist with Trade Winds Therapy & Relationship Coaching in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. She is also a mom, wife, and recovering perfectionist. Christie specializes in helping new and young families find balance and harmony in their lives and relationships.
I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger on Christie’s blog last month — check out my post about how to maintain a strong relationship with your partner during the first year of your baby’s life and some real-life snapshots from the trenches of my own experience with this 🙂
Christie is one of the therapists I partner with and turn to when discussing pregnancy, postpartum and new parenthood topics and today she is discussing a very important topic that many of us have some connection with…
Is It the Baby Blues or Am I Feeling Something Deeper? A Look Into Postpartum Mood Disorders
by Christie Sears Thompson
Some people will tell you that the first year of marriage is the hardest on your relationship. I would argue that it’s the first year (at least) of your child’s life that brings much more conflict and struggle into a marriage. Of course, there are wonderful things about bringing a baby into the world. But it also has many challenges.
Introducing a child into your family is one of the most stressful transitions a couple will experience. Not only are you sleep deprived, being peed and pooped on, screamed at, and physically exhausted, but if you add in serious conditions like postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety (PPA), it can be an almost unbearable time of life.
You may have postpartum depression if you have had a baby within the last 12 months and are experiencing some of these symptoms:
- You feel overwhelmed. Not like “hey, this new mom thing is hard.” More like “I can’t do this and I’m never going to be able to do this.” You feel like you just can’t handle being a mother. In fact, you may be wondering whether you should have become a mother in the first place.
- You feel guilty because you believe you should be handling new motherhood better than this. You feel like your baby deserves better. You worry whether your baby can tell that you feel so bad, or that you are crying so much, or that you don’t feel the happiness or connection that you thought you would. You may wonder whether your baby would be better off without you.
- You don’t feel bonded to your baby. You’re not having that mythical mommy bliss that you see on TV or read about in magazines. Not everyone with postpartum depression feels this way, but many do.
- You can’t understand why this is happening. You are very confused and scared.
- You feel irritated or angry. You have no patience. Everything annoys you. You feel resentment toward your baby, or your partner, or your friends who don’t have babies. You feel out-of-control rage.
- You feel nothing. Emptiness and numbness. You are just going through the motions.
What About Postpartum Anxiety?
You may have postpartum anxiety or postpartum OCD if you have had a baby within the last 12 months and are experiencing some of these symptoms:
- Your thoughts are racing. You can’t quiet your mind. You can’t settle down. You can’t relax.
- You feel like you have to be doing something at all times. Cleaning bottles. Cleaning baby clothes. Cleaning the house. Doing work. Entertaining the baby. Checking on the baby.
- You are worried. Really worried. All. The. Time. Am I doing this right? Will my husband come home from his trip? Will the baby wake up? Is the baby eating enough? Is there something wrong with my baby that I’m missing? No matter what anyone says to reassure you, it doesn’t help.
- You may be having disturbing thoughts. Thoughts that you’ve never had before. Scary thoughts that make you wonder whether you aren’t the person you thought you were. They fly into your head unwanted and you know they aren’t right, that this isn’t the real you, but they terrify you and they won’t go away. These thoughts may start with the words “What if …”
- You are afraid to be alone with your baby because of scary thoughts or worries. You are also afraid of things in your house that could potentially cause harm, like kitchen knives or stairs, and you avoid them like the plague.
- You may feel the need to check things constantly. Did I lock the door? Did I lock the car? Did I turn off the oven? Is the baby breathing?
- You may be having physical symptoms like stomach cramps or headaches, shakiness or nausea. You might even have panic attacks.
It Takes a Village
Even without the challenge of PPD or PPA, many couples have decreased satisfaction and increased conflict in their relationship after the birth of their baby. Research by Drs. John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute proves that nearly 66% of all new parents report they are unhappy post-baby. Sadly, many couples power through it without support and may even end up dissolving their relationship. There is additional research stating that couples wait an average of seven years to get the help they need through counseling. By then, the conflict has become so hurtful and ingrained in their pattern of communication that it is too late for a large portion of these families to recover.
Add a mental illness complication to this equation and the terrain becomes more precarious. PPD and PPA are sometimes referred to as “baby blues”, but when the symptoms do not lessen after a few weeks, it may be time to reevaluate how to care for a parent who is struggling. PPD and PPA can affect either parent, not just the parent who gave birth. Symptoms may not even be present immediately. It’s important to keep an eye on both partners’ moods, communication patterns, reactions, and behaviors in the first 12-18 months post-baby.
Remember that help is always available as well. Contact family or friends for support, a babysitter who can give the parents a break, a professional counselor who is trained to help guide parents through this tough life transition, or a trusted physician who can medically evaluate and possibly prescribe medications.
Above all: there is no shame in reaching out. It truly takes a village not only to raise a child, but a family. There is danger in putting 100% of the focus on the child. Parental self-care and relationship-care are crucial in child rearing to develop and nurture a healthy family.
Christie Sears Thompson, MA, MFTC is a Child, Couples, and Family Therapist with Trade Winds Therapy & Relationship Coaching in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. She is also a mom, wife, and recovering perfectionist. Christie specializes in helping new and young families find balance and harmony in their lives and relationships. She can be reached at www.tradewindstherapy.com or you can follow her blog here: www.tradewindstherapy.com/blog