Although I only have two children I had three post-partum periods – five post-pregnancy periods if you count miscarriages. As you can tell from these stats I struggled to have kids. The emotional upheaval that accompanied my miscarriages and the stillbrith was overt. Because I experienced loss the medical folks involved in my care were direct about providing resources for emotional and physical support. But
with my first healthy delivery of a live child – my son Jackson – my experience of the post-partum period was obviously different. I was excited, motivated and ALIVE. The lack of sleep that other parents complained about was a nuisance that I shrugged off. I had a new baby and a new business, Pulling Down the Moon, where we were helping women find this blissful state of motherhood. I took media interviews from the delivery room, taught fertility yoga at night and worked at PDtM all day with Jack tucked away under my desk. Depression? Heck! I was energized by this post-partum thing!
But sooner or later the laws of physics catch up. I think the law goes "for every action in the universe there is an equal and opposite reaction." Or, perhaps more accurately, "what goes up must come down."
In my case the descent began with a tiny sliver of wood that lodged itself in my bare foot while I was teaching yoga. Although I removed the sliver, within a week the sole of my foot was excruciatingly tender. A week after that I limped around so pathetically that my business partner Tami Quinn asked me if I was okay. I wasn't. The entire ball of my left foot had turned a vile shade of yellow-green. I could barely walk without tears coming to my eyes. Before teaching yoga I'd pop advil and wrap my foot in bandages.
On Tami's insistence I visited my doctor, initiated a course of antibiotics that didn't work and finally ended up with minor foot surgery. And what was the result? Well my foot got better. But something else happened during that time too - I stopped running around (literally)! I stayed home from work and stopped teaching while my foot healed. And during the three-week period I actually sat still I realized the tremendous, momentous changes that were sweeping through my life. Jackson was almost four months old when I realized I was mentally exhausted, physically run-down and – yes – depressed.
I actually think this may be a common phenomenon. Many of my friends have had similar experiences of major illness and physical breakdown during the post-partum period. My friend Annie (not her real name) was hospitalized twice with severe mastitis that had become septic. Another friend experienced tingling and numbness in her limbs and spent a terrifying couple of weeks undergoing testing for multiple sclerosis. I could add other stories but the theme is the same – the bliss of new motherhood abruptly punctured by a physical crash.
Could these sorts of symptoms be related to the post-partum period?
According to Crissy Anderson, Clinical Fellow at The Family Institute of Northwestern University, the answer is yes.
"While we most often hear about postpartum depression," says Anderson, "it actually falls under a larger umbrella of postpartum mood disorders. Anxiety, Panic Disorder, OCD and Psychosis (most rare, about one in every one thousand women), while less common than postpartum depression, are all mood disorders that new moms can experience. Some new moms experience a period of mania, where energy and abilities seem limitless...this will be temporary, though, and is most often followed by a period of depression."
Whether or not a new mom develops a diagnosable mood disorder, the majority will experience the "Baby Blues". These are typically in response to hormonal changes, starting a few days after birth and lasting for several days up to a couple of weeks; symptoms include mood fluctuation, crying, anxiety, insomnia, difficulty concentrating and fatigue."
Dr. Jeremy Bloomfield agrees that the stress of the post-partum period can manifest in many different ways.
"The mind/body connection is real. When we have stresses and conflicts that we unconsciously avoid in order to minimize anxiety, we still find creative ways to express ourselves. Often people express themselves through their bodies via physical symptoms and ailments. And make no mistake, these expressions and illnesses are real."
Bloomfield explains that our natural focus is on the beauty and wonder of having children and the "normal stresses" of new parents. But sleep-deprivation and new schedules are only part of the story. Parenting also activates conflicts associated with societal and cultural messages, family expectations, changing bodies, and deeply held beliefs about "how life should be."
"Parenting can even stir up conflicts that have lain dormant or were resolved in some provisional way. In Beth's case it took a splinter to pay attention to the big picture."
As I sat crying on my sofa with my foot up I finally admitted that I had to take some time for myself. I called in help, made an appointment with a therapist, got serious again about yoga and scheduled some acupuncture sessions to help restore my jing (life essence). Within a few weeks major depression was averted and life-balance was restored. I often wonder how the first four months of Jackson's life would have unfolded if I made these changes earlier. Would I have slowed down, enjoyed more, taken time to cocoon?
If you find that you are relating to this story, I encourage you to join our new program M-Power: A 10 Week Mind Body Program for New Moms. It’s easy to take excellent care of yourself when you’re pregnant – but once baby is born, self-care falls to the side as all eyes are on the newest arrival. Nearly 85% of new moms experience “baby blues,” which can be compounded by sleep loss, relationship stresses and hormonal fluctuations. M-Power is a unique program that combines group processing, practices like acupuncture and yoga and expert psychological support to make the first months of motherhood an “M-powering” experience.
This 10 week program will explore topics including the transition to motherhood, changing relationships, knowing your baby’s cues, as well as a mindfulness component that will help you be more present in these precious days. Interwoven with these discussions will be sessions in group acupuncture, postpartum exercise, yoga/relaxation and nutrition for mood and energy. M-Power will help you take care of YOU while you meet other new moms and form a strong social support system.
Learn more about this program here.