Speaking Out About Postpartum Mood Disorders: From The New Beginnings Archives

By Rita Brhel, Nebraska

Editor’s Note: Over the years, many “classic” New Beginnings articles were available through both the La Leche League USA and La Leche League International websites. As these websites have been updated, the availability of the New Beginnings archives has changed, and many articles that were once found online may no longer be there. We plan to bring back some of these parenting gems from earlier years. For this “classic” posting from Issue 5/6 of 2010, we’ve updated portions of the original article in which Rita Brhel shares her experience with postpartum depression, as well as information about postpartum mood disorders.

If you would like to see a “blast from the past” published on the New Beginnings blog that you no longer have access to it, drop us a note at [email protected]. While our physical archives are not complete, we do have access to a large library of back issues and may be able to dig up a particular story for you.

Rita with her children

It’s not unusual to be caught off-guard by your emotions after the arrival of the baby that you’ve been waiting months, even years, to join your family. It’s completely normal to feel a letdown after the big day. After all, becoming a parent is a life-changing experience in every way. It’s important to understand how to recognize the “baby blues” and what can help until they go away…usually in a couple weeks.

If not – if the symptoms are lasting much longer, are just plain overwhelming, or are accompanied by feelings of hurting the baby or yourself – see your doctor immediately. These intensely sad or angry feelings could be postpartum depression, or the more serious postpartum psychosis. These symptoms are very serious and can even be classified as medical emergencies. But they are very treatable; it doesn’t take long until you’re feeling back to yourself again and are able to enjoy the bonding time with your new baby that both of you deserve.

I know this firsthand.

With my first child, I experienced the very common “baby blues.” My main symptom was bursting into tears at odd times and for no apparent reason that I could tell. I wasn’t prepared, no one had ever told me about the blues, but the medical team at the hospital recognized the signs right away and helped me through them. The blues only lasted a couple weeks, and one day, I woke up feeling normal again.

With my second child, I was prepared for the “baby blues,” but what I experienced was far worse…except that I didn’t know what I was feeling. It also started during my ninth month of pregnancy. I was sad and angry, yelling at my husband constantly and feeling overwhelmed by the demands from my children and from the housework. At times, I felt like I couldn’t take care of my baby. I never had thoughts of hurting myself, but I would leave my baby to cry and hours later wake up to her still crying and feel so frustrated that I had to leave her with my husband because I was afraid of my next reaction. I also experienced severe paranoia, mostly in relation to something hurting my children. I fretted over the new furnace, certain it was leaking carbon monoxide. I called the repairman five times one day and bought three carbon monoxide detectors for my baby’s room. I obsessed about rabid bats, believing that there was one scratching at the corner of the window trying to get in to bite me and the baby. I heard tree limbs rubbing on the roof and believed it was a cougar ready to pounce if I walked outside. I would stay up all night, worrying that if I went to sleep and the house started on fire or someone broke in, that I wouldn’t be able to wake up in time to save my children.

I didn’t know what was wrong with me or, rather, that anything was wrong at all. I thought I was normal.

Two months postpartum, my marriage on the rocks, I sought help after experiencing a strange sensation one day – joy – and knowing for the first time that what I usually felt was definitely not right. I visited the website of Postpartum Support International and was connected with a free phone call to a local counselor who specializes in postpartum depression. It was after connecting with this local counselor that I soon found out that I was suffering from postpartum psychosis.

It didn’t take long for the treatment to work, but it could’ve been devastating to the relationships in my family if I hadn’t gone for help. It took another two years before I was diagnosed with and treated for bipolar disorder which, in my case, was a contributing factor to the postpartum psychosis. During the two years before my diagnosis, I also found parenting support through a local La Leche League Group as well as other parenting resources. This support helped to prevent or lessen any lasting impressions from the postpartum mood disorder on my family.

Postpartum mood disorders are real, and it is something that all parents – new and experienced – should know about. Not enough people tell their stories. I didn’t know I had a postpartum mood disorder, because I had never encountered anyone who let me know that there was something wrong. No one, not even medical professionals, could give me a specific example of thoughts and behaviors that would signal a problem. The only information I had coming home from the hospital was a bullet-point on the discharge sheet that directed me to report any unusual emotions to my doctor. But what defined “unusual”?

Postpartum mood disorders happen because of a hormone imbalance and can be aggravated by the pressures of adjusting to a major life change. Before having my second child, I was dealing with a recent move and the leftover medical issues from my oldest child’s premature birth. It is not something that happens because you are unfit or because you’re weak. If you have feelings of sorrow or anger after your child’s birth that seem to permeate your life and that you don’t feel you have control over, seek medical help.


Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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