Recently I co-facilitated Post Natal Adjustment Groups, with a former midwife, in order to address the issue of Post Natal Depression. At least 20% of women experience post natal depression, which should not to be confused with the ‘baby blues’ that can appear in the first week after birth and typically last a few days. Factors increasing the likelihood of experiencing PND include isolation from support, a traumatic labour, a family history of PND, and/or a personal history of depression. Some women in the group cited other contributary factors such as finding it hard to reconcile the difference between their birth plan and the reality of their labour where they felt out of control, others were very disappointed to find that they were unable to breast feed.
We looked at themes such as the ‘shoulds’ we have taken on from our own expectations of ourselves as mothers, and our interpretation of our environment/media/family/partner’s expectation of mothers. High achieving women who become mothers are often particularly inclined to put pressure on themselves to be ‘superwoman’, i.e. expecting to maintain more of their previous activities than is now practical with a small baby,e.g. keeping the house tidy, hosting dinner parties etc. Other areas covered were self esteem and sense of identity, relationship difficulties and stress management.
Many women find it difficult to voice their struggles. When they are asked “Are you delighted?” its hard to respond with “no, I’m sleep deprived, I don’t get a second to myself and sometimes I feel like I’m going to lose the plot”. So the feelings get buried and harder to deal with. Often there is delight in the new bundle of joy but this doesn’t negate the reality of the difficulties. It takes courage to say “I’m finding this really hard, I need some support”. Most of us are aware that caring for a baby is hard work, but the difficult emotional burden is often overlooked.
Many women in the group programme felt they could only speak about positive things in their coffee group. The most beneficial aspect of the group programme was for the participants to have a safe, supportive place to say when things were difficult, to realise there was nothing ‘wrong’ with them, that they were not alone in how they were feeling.