Depression and Parenthood - Real Stories Every Parent Should Read
Most parents have heard of postpartum depression, which affects up to 15 percent of mothers.
But did you know that even dads can be diagnosed with postpartum depression? Or that nursing mothers can experience post-weaning depression?
LinnieLou spoke with two moms and one dad about their experiences with depression and how they got help. Keep reading to learn more.
Postpartum Depression and Sleep Deprivation
Lindsey Hennigar, a mom of three girls under 5, is a certified pediatric sleep coach based in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada.
She was diagnosed with postpartum depression after the birth of her first daughter, Bella.
“I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and burning the candle at both ends,” Lindsey said.
Sleep deprivation, struggles with breastfeeding, and her daughter’s colic led to her breaking point.
“I distinctly remember sitting at my kitchen table and just sobbing right along with my very unhappy daughter. My husband had just returned to work after a few weeks off, and I wasn't sure how I was going to survive the morning–much less the day,” she said.
About nine months after her daughter was born, Lindsey sought advice from her family physician who diagnosed her with postpartum depression and gave her a prescription for an antidepressant.
Postpartum depression–depression that occurs after the birth of a baby–includes symptoms of mood swings, anxiety, sadness, crying, irritability, trouble sleeping, and reduced concentration, according to the Mayo Clinic.
After her diagnosis, Lindsey hired a sleep coach, who taught her the basics of infant sleep and gave her the tools and information she needed to sleep train her daughter.
“Getting help for my daughter’s sleep issues and medication for my depression made me feel like a new woman. I became a better mom. I could finally enjoy motherhood like the rest of my friends.”
Lindsey said the relief she felt after her daughter started sleeping better inspired her to get her pediatric sleep consultant certification.
She started her business, The Sleep Ranch, in 2018, and has helped thousands of parents teach their little ones how to get the rest they need.
“I know how important sleep is when it comes to mental health and wellness, so I’ve made it my life’s mission to help parents who are struggling with their kids’ sleep,” she said. “I never want anyone to feel like I did.”
Paternal Postpartum Depression
Scott McBean and his wife, Brittany, were over-the-moon when they adopted their daughter, Norah, two-and-a-half years ago.
But shortly after they brought her home, Scott said he found himself “miserable.”
“There were few, if any, moments of joy when we were ‘supposed’ to be happy, joyous, and free,” he said.
10 percent of men globally experience paternal postpartum depression, according to a 2010 “Journal of the American Medical Association” study.
Scott said he was warned about the sleep deprivation and physical challenges of new parenthood, but he wasn’t prepared “for the fact that when I became a father, I felt like I didn’t want to be a father.”
The McBean's adopted their daughter through a relatively expensive agency because they wanted to ensure their daughter’s birth mother received the best care available.
And in order to afford the costly fees, they did what a lot of adoptive parents do: they fundraised.
But his depressive feelings after they brought Norah home lead to an extreme amount of guilt because he felt like he led their supporters down.
“...When I felt like I didn’t want to be a father in the early days of parenthood, I felt like I was slapping every single one of those people who donated to our cause in the face,” he said.
“Their contributions were ways of saying, ‘We want to support your effort to become parents.’ And then I felt like a failed parent–instantly–because I was struggling so much in the transition.”
Scott is a pastor in Richmond, VA. who works with individuals and families dealing with substance use issues. He’s also getting his master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling.
Due to his background in mental health, he knew he needed to see a doctor, who diagnosed him with paternal postpartum depression.
“As a mental health professional in training, I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “ I knew what was going on. But, regardless, I was embarrassed. And–relative to the bit about feeling like I let my whole community down–I felt ashamed.”
Scott’s doctor told him that sleep deprivation plays a big role in depression.
“I always wanted to help out. I didn’t want to be a husband who treated my wife like infant care was ‘her job,’ so we split the night feedings ... It was not uncommon to operate on two hours of sleep for that year. In short, I attribute [the depression] mostly to sleep [deprivation].”
Scott advises fathers experiencing symptoms of paternal postpartum depression to go to therapy and ask for help from family and friends.
“It’s easy to socially isolate in the early days because you don’t want to take a newborn out and you’re tired,” he said. “But I think any kind of regular human connection is a key part of dealing with it, because the experience has the potential to be so isolating.”
Scott has recovered from his depression and said he now enjoys fatherhood.
“Parenthood is one of life’s true joys. It’s difficult and exhausting as well. It’s many things,” he said. “But I can’t imagine my life without Norah and I wouldn’t want to.”
Ryan Hammer, a mom of three in Central Georgia, didn’t expect to feel depressed after she stopped breastfeeding her first-born at 19 months.
But about 11 days after she stopped nursing her son, she started to feel immense sadness.
“The sadness was overwhelming … I found myself crying at my desk at work for no reason at all. Nothing was ‘wrong’ but I couldn’t stop sobbing.”
She said a colleague noticed something was up and advised her to call her doctor.
“I’m an attorney, and one of the female partners I worked for called me one day. She said she could tell by my voice that something was wrong,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s colleague had experience with depression and anxiety and told her she wouldn’t get off the phone with her until Ryan promised to call her doctor.
When Ryan connected the dots, she realized her sadness might be related to weaning; she did some digging and realized she was experiencing post-weaning depression.
According to Parents.com, post-weaning depression can occur after a woman stops breastfeeding and is the result of hormonal fluctuations as well as the psychological impact of stopping breastfeeding.
When Ryan called her doctor, the nurse wrote her a prescription for an antianxiety-antidepressant and provided her with the names of a few therapists.
After taking the medication, “I was more depressed and sad the first two days,” Ryan said. “Part of me felt completely defeated for not being able to deal with this on my own. A part of me worried about what my family and friends would think. A part of me worried it wouldn’t help.
But Ryan felt better by day three on the medication. “I started to feel like myself again,” she said.
Ryan said understanding that post-weaning depression can happen is important and to seek help if you think you might be depressed.
“Yes, being a mom is hard, but if you are crying all day or just feeling like it’s too much, seek help. Talk to your doctor. There’s nothing wrong with getting help if you’re feeling depressed,” she said.
Postpartum depression affects up to 15 percent of moms and up to 10 percent of fathers.
Symptoms can include
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping
- Reduced concentration
Mothers can also experience post-weaning depression, which is caused by hormonal fluctuations and the psychological effects of stopping nursing.
But there is hope and help. If you’re experiencing chronic symptoms of sadness, irritability, sleeplessness, and anxiety, call your physician.
And for more information about postpartum depression visit Postpartum Support International.
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