Elaine’s Story, Part 3
Throughout the years, I’ve worked with many amazing women and families. I’ve noticed some trends come and go, and others stay. I’ve become very quick to recognize what is “normal” – which has a very broad definition – and what is beyond a normal emotional and physical recovery. Unfortunately there are many beautiful families who suffer in silence when things are beyond “normal” because they aren’t aware of what to expect and aren’t aware of available services. In order to explain how we help, I’d like to paint a picture; and in order to honor confidentiality, I will combine several client experiences and refer to the client in this example as “Elaine.”
After the birth, Elaine’s husband became increasingly concerned about “life after birth.” We helped him to debrief from the intensity of the experience by asking exploratory questions about his feelings regarding the birth. He shared his feelings as well as his anticipations for the new challenge of caring for a newborn and a toddler at the same time.
Once we pared away all of the lesser concerns, we identified that his greatest anxiety was that if Elaine experienced signs of postpartum depression he might not see them before they became debilitating, and wouldn’t know what to do when he did see them.
Everyone agreed that keeping the discussion open was something that everyone felt good about, and that if signs of depression were present, we would immediately bring a therapist onto the care team.
Knowing the multitude of stressors that can lead to depression, we also put a schedule into place for a doula to assist in the home for 15 hours each week, ensuring that nutritious meals were arranged for the family, encouraging as much rest as possible (but watchful for excessive sleep or other excessive behaviors), caring for baby and their older daughter at times so that Elaine could shower or sleep as needed.
Also, her postpartum doula would very actively encourage Elaine to talk frequently about her feelings, and to get out of the house and into the sunshine as much as possible, knowing that isolation can become a downward spiral into depression. The doula would also help Elaine get to a nearby yoga and fitness class to promote Endorphin activity.
Six weeks after the birth, we noticed that some of the common melancholy feelings normally attributed to “Baby Blues” were not improving for Elaine. She was not sleeping for longer than 90 minutes at a time, even when the children were cared for and the house clean, and we could not get her out of the house for the spinning class that she had previously enjoyed because her anxiety about going into public or taking the children outside was paralyzing.
We spoke candidly with Elaine’s husband and asked if he had noticed any of the other signs of depression listed on an info sheet that we give to our clients. He noted several indicators: she was not eating, she wasn’t talking to baby or her older daughter, things that had previously given her enjoyment were no longer enjoyable to her. He was very concerned.
Elaine, her husband, and I all visited about bringing a Therapist into the discussion and Elaine cried. She expressed feelings of defeat that she had not been able to overcome her depression with some of the other methods (diet, exercise, sunlight, etc.), but mostly relief at the prospect of having help from a professional Therapist. She expressed that the thought of a chemically balancing medication was one that gave her hope.
“Elaine’s” story is not unusual. Roughly 40-50% of the clients I have served for the last 12 years have a similar story. Although diagnosing and treating are outside the scope of doula care, one of my responsibilities has been to become very quick to recognize the symptoms of trauma, secondary trauma, history of abuse, postpartum depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive behaviors, and even psychosis and post traumatic stress disorder; in new mothers and in family members.
When we see these indications, the first thing we do is increase our commitment to the family. We talk, we plan, we help everyone put together an action plan that is right for your family. Too many women and families suffer in silence through depression, or try to “power through” thinking that it’s just a phase. Sometimes it is; but many times it isn’t. If you have concerns about a loved one that may be experiencing postpartum depression, please speak up.
As a woman who has experienced it myself, I can say that I am eternally grateful to a sister who spoke up with me and helped me find the treatment I needed to heal completely. And as a service provider who is passionate about giving women the tools they need to strengthen their homes and families, I commit to speaking up, and standing with anyone who is seeking healing. You owe it to your baby, you owe it to your family and most importantly, you owe it to yourself to be whole and healed.