Linkup! How to Tell if You’re Depressed

Hope for the future.2

The last time I wrote about postpartum depression, I shared the fact that my struggle was made worse by guilt: motherhood was what I had always wanted, so why wasn’t I thriving? Another mother wrote in to say that she had the opposite problem: she felt guilty because being a stay-at-home mother was not something she had always wanted, and so she blamed her depression on her unpreparedness. My first thought was “oh, my post must not have helped her very much, because she couldn’t relate.” But instead, she found it helpful, because it showed that the fault was not hers; if both of us could be depressed for opposite reasons, the depression must have some origin besides our failings. So true! Your mind can find a reason to make you feel guilty no matter what. Depression can be connected to objective situations, of course; but in the end, it comes on its own and you can never be completely sure why.

I often find comfort in something my mother used to say: If you’re feeling guilty about not being a good enough mother, that means you are a good mother. A bad mother wouldn’t be worrying about it!

I’ve written several times about depression, therapy, and medication (links at the bottom–Wordpress is quirky today), so today I’d just like to focus on how to tell if you’re depressed or just sad, stressed, or have the “baby blues.” These are a few things I’ve noticed through the last few years as indicators of depression; but before all, check with your husband or someone who knows you well! When you’re in the thick of a pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding, or sleep-deprived state, it can be hard to think straight and realize that you’re not normal. An objective viewpoint is critical.

  • Do you still have a sense of humor? If you’re just having a bad day, you can laugh at things going wrong–maybe not that minute, but at least later on. When you’re depressed, nothing seems funny. Your life is awful and there’s nothing funny about it. Humor doesn’t ease the situation at all.
  • Likewise, when you’re depressed, nothing is cute, not even your kids. Even when they’re acting normally, you’re constantly aggravated and upset by them. You can’t enjoy them at all because you’re sick of them, they’re just things that make your life harder.
  • When you’re having a bad day, you can stop and say to yourself “okay, this day just stinks. Tomorrow will be better. It won’t be like this forever.” When you’re depressed, you don’t have that perspective. You can’t remember things being good before, and you can’t imagine them getting better in the future.
  • When it’s just a bad day, simple pick-me-ups can really help: a change of scenery, a snack, exercise, 5 minutes alone, getting distracted with a project, calling a friend, and so on. When you’re depressed, nothing works. You can do all the right things and still feel lousy. Again, that’s because depression doesn’t necessarily come from external circumstances. Sometimes it just comes. That means that you can’t always chase it away without external help.

My computer is freezing up when I try to insert links, so bear with me:

  • My original maternal depression post, which includes some helpful guidelines for considering therapy, medication, and self-help books:  https://checkoutthatsunset.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/bloghop-good-catholic-moms-and-maternal-depression/
  • My post about making peace with medication, which I was very reluctant to try: https://checkoutthatsunset.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/i-dont-want-to-be-on-a-pill-for-the-rest-of-my-life/
  • My post about some things that helped during rough periods postpartum, mostly suggested by various therapists:  https://checkoutthatsunset.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/7qt-things-that-help/
  • My post about why prayer or spiritual counselling may not be enough to cure mental problems, and how God wants you to take advantage of any help you can get, spiritual, secular, or medical:  https://checkoutthatsunset.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/why-schools-need-real-counselors/

Please click over to Flourish in Hope (http://www.flourishinhope.com/2016/05/30/my-ppd-story/), a wonderful site I’m just discovering, for other moms’ stories, and thank you so much to them and to Katherine at Half Kindled (http://halfkindled.com/) for organizing this! Let’s all keep each other in our prayers.

 

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Making Peace with the Minimum

Barbie, Pregnancy, Doll, Education, Child, Childbirth

Remember the “Best Odds Diet” in What to Expect When You’re Expecting? As I recall from my anxious first-pregnancy reading, the idea was that you could eat junk food or you could eat healthy food, but if you really wanted to do everything you could for your baby, you would eat as healthily as possible. If you had a choice between a piece of whole-wheat bread and a piece of organic, whole-wheat, whole-grain, homemade, all-natural bread, why would you choose something with less nutritional benefit for your baby? Why eat something good when you could be eating something perfect? Didn’t you want to give your baby the best chance at perfection that you could?

I think I threw the book out when it suggested that it was okay to treat yourself once a month or so, but you should really try to make your indulgence something like homemade, fruit-sweetened carrot cake or a bran muffin. Sometimes this mindset is so obviously ridiculous that it’s easy to dismiss. But sometimes, it’s so subtle and logical-sounding that it can really get a hold on you. Do any of these sound familiar?

I just checked her diaper and it’s only a tiny bit wet, so I really don’t want to change it now. But now that I know, it would be wrong to wait–I’d be knowingly letting her tender skin come in contact with pee, and maybe she’ll get a rash! I better change it right now.

Maybe he has this inexplicable diarrhea because he drank water from that mud puddle! I could have stopped him but I didn’t. I figured “usually I stop him, but one time won’t be a big deal.” But what if this happens to be the one time that really mattered?

I’m sure I buckled her into her carseat correctly. But what if I didn’t, and she dies in a crash? I should go double-check, or triple-check. That would be the best thing for my baby. After all, I want to give her the best odds at survival.

Maybe you’re a normal person, and this doesn’t sound familiar. Or maybe you’re someone prone to worry, scruples, or obsession, and this is your life. But here’s a third option–maybe you’re normally pretty balanced, but right now you’re pregnant, or postpartum, or breastfeeding, and you’re not thinking logically. This is no way to live your life. It only ends in despair and self-loathing.

I recently saw a meme that rejected the mantra “fed is best.” Fed with formula is minimum, it argued, but breast is still best. Why would you want to give your baby the minimum when you could give her the maximum? Now, how you feed your baby is a lot more important that the little things I mentioned above, and breastfeeding is certainly best in itself; but even so, things get bent out of proportion when you elevate the feeding decision above everything else. If you look at it simply as a choice between what’s okay (formula) and what’s best (breastmilk), the choice is obvious. But that keeps you from weighing other considerations, like whether your mental health is up to the challenge, or whether your physical health is up to the loss of sleep. It’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to make a choice that’s optimal for every single aspect! Life just doesn’t work like that. Don’t let your mind bully you into thinking you have to make the best possible choice, every time. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

7QT–Why Formula Feeding Was the Best Choice for Me

Calf, Hand Rear, Bottle, Milk, Teat, Baby, Orphan

Happy Friday! Here are seven reasons I chose to formula-feed my third baby after breastfeeding the first two, and why it turned out to be a real life-saver. This obviously isn’t the right choice for everyone, and I have extreme admiration for people who stick with breastfeeding when the going gets tough. I do hope that this might be helpful for women who are on the fence or feeling bad about their decision to bottle-feed.

  1. More sleep. This wasn’t a luxury for me–it was a necessity. My baby really did sleep longer on formula, and I was able to let my husband give the baby a bottle in the middle of the night or while I was napping or cooking supper.
  2. Painless and easy! Again, many women are happy to make the sacrifice to breastfeed their children even when it’s difficult, but when life is already difficult enough for other reasons, there’s nothing wrong with making it easier on yourself. I had horrible pain and trouble breastfeeding my first. The second was better but still uncomfortable.
  3. Breastfeeding totally kills my libido, so bottle-feeding was a big boost for my marriage.
  4. Lots of women pick breastfeeding, in part, because it provides them with a few years of infertility to space their children. For me, though, that wasn’t worth it; sure, I’d probably be infertile for two years, but I couldn’t be sure, and meanwhile my fertility signs were so confusing that there was a ridiculous amount of abstinence and anxiety. Bottle-feeding made my cycle come back quickly, but then it was regular, so NFP was a lot easier.
  5. Bottle-feeding also made it easier to get out of the house and leave the baby with a babysitter, or just to get the baby out of my arms for a couple of minutes and with her Daddy or big brother or a comfy bouncy seat instead. At that particular time in my life, this was a Godsend.
  6. Bottle-feeding was not as hard as people made it sound. (I do know that I was lucky in this regard, because my baby didn’t need any special allergenic formulas or fancy bottles.) I thought I’d have to worry about the exact amount I mixed, and the exact time I fed the baby, and all sorts of expiration dates and holding times. In reality, it was as simple as breastfeeding. I took the advice of my midwife and never heated up the bottles, so the baby never expected them to be warm.
  7. As I write this, I realize that a lot of these sound like excuses. I can imagine myself, four years ago, saying “sure bottle-feeding is easier, and less painful, and gives you more sleep and freedom, but isn’t your baby’s health worth making sacrifices for?” That’s true, of course; but what I didn’t realize was that these principles are not absolute. My baby would be plenty healthy on formula, and there were times in my life when the extra benefits of breastfeeding were NOT worth the sacrifices. When you’re already weepy and depressed, bottle-feeding to get all the sleep you can is good for you and your family. By my third baby, I was confident and realistic enough to tune out the guilt and pressure and happily feed my baby the way that worked best for me. Here’s a nice little photo series that shows moms bonding with their babies over a bottle.  Head over to Kelly’s for the rest of the Seven Quick Takes!

Bloghop! Good Catholic Moms and Maternal Depression

Hope for the Future 2 (1)

“This is what I’ve always wanted!  So why am I unhappy?”

This was my dominant thought when I was postpartum with my first child.  My husband and I both came from large families, and we had joyfully planned for a life like our parents’: lots of kids, starting right away, and a stay-at-home mom.  I felt shocked, angry, guilty, and disillusioned when my first year at home with my baby was horrible.

To begin with, I was bored.  I didn’t really know what to do with a newborn besides nurse him, and I didn’t know how to keep busy while I was holding him, and I felt guilty whenever I put him down.  And I do mean every time.  He would be sitting there happily, staring at the pictures on the wall, and I would look at him and think, “I’m a bad mother.”  Looking back, these were two tell-tale signs of depression: irrational guilt, and uncontrollable negative thoughts flooding my mind.  And always in the background there was the meta-guilt of my inability to enjoy motherhood the way I had pictured.

Two years later, my dread of another postpartum like that one outweighed my fear of pills, and I agreed to try antidepressants a few days after I gave birth to my second baby.  I clearly remember my ten-day checkup at the midwives’, when they asked me about my depression and I realized that I hadn’t cried AT ALL since giving birth.  Even for someone not prone to depression, that’s practically a miracle!  (I’m not trying to recommend antidepressants as a cure-all for everyone, but I do hope that anyone in this situation will consider them as a real option.)  The second step, in my case, was therapy.  The greatest gift my therapist gave me was to help sort out an identity for myself, separate from that of a wife or mother.  This allowed me to invest some energy into finding fulfillment outside of the sphere of motherhood, which is crucial.  If you’re at all prone to depression, anxiety, guilt, self-comparison, or low self-esteem (that covers just about everyone, right?), investing your self-worth entirely into some ideal of motherhood is guaranteed to invite depression.

Not everyone’s experience will be like mine, and therapy and antidepressants may not be the right course for everyone; but the important thing is to realize that something external must be done about your depression.  You can not pray or will your depression away, because its origin is not in your failings.  Maternal depression can feel like it’s your fault, because motherhood seems like something that should come naturally and easily; but this is a fallen world, and what’s natural is not always easy.  Even if motherhood is what you’ve always wanted, there is nothing wrong with needing help.

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Thank you so much to Katherine at Half Kindled for hosting this much-needed conversation!  I’m really thrilled to be a part of this.  Please read what my fellow bloggers have contributed at A Knotted Life, Call Her Happy, Half Kindled, This Felicitous Life, and Mama Needs Coffee.

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A few resources I have found helpful:

  • therapy: ask your midwife or OB/GYN for a recommendation.  They may be able to give you the name of a therapist who’s been recommended by other patients in their practice.
  • self-help books: I really appreciated Gregory Popcak’s book, God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!, which is an extremely helpful and practical mix of tried-and-true psychotherapy techniques and spiritual advice and encouragement.  (I have a few reviews of Popcak’s books in the works.)  I haven’t read Aaron Kheriaty’s Catholic Guide to Depression yet, but it’s been recommended to me by so many trusted friends that I feel comfortable passing it on to you.  I hope to tackle it soon and review it for you.  I find this blurb extremely encouraging: “…the confessional can’t cure neuroses, nor can the couch forgive sins.  Healing comes only when we integrate the legitimate discoveries of modern psychology and pharmacology with spiritual direction and the sacraments….”
  • NaPro technology.  I know many people who have been helped by NaPro, which specializes in helping women overcome infertility, postpartum depression, and other reproductive problems through natural and morally permissible means, specifically through the Creighton method of natural family planning.  I know a few people whose postpartum depression was linked to low progesterone, and NaPro doctors were able to prescribe progesterone supplements that changed their lives. Here is a website for locating NaPro doctors in your area.
  • For those of you who are nervous about antidepressants during pregnancy or breastfeeding, I found these studies from Mass. General Hospital, which were given to me by my midwife, extremely comforting.

“When Did I Get Like This?”

When I was pregnant, too exhausted to read anything of substance, and desperately in need of comic relief, I searched around on my husband’s kindle and grabbed the first mommy humor book I found: When Did I Get Like This?, by Amy Wilson.  It wasn’t the self-deprecating, witty stand-up routine I was expecting: instead it was the vulnerable, candid memoir of a modern professional New Yorker, learning everything about motherhood the hard way.  This poor lady got sucked into all the popular pregnancy and motherhood myths, and had to figure everything out by herself.  Take her experience with her first pregnancy:

Today, everything from pacifiers to preschools seems to be marketed to mothers in one overarching way: this product, the ads say in one way or another, is chosen by mothers who want what is best for their children.  Well, who doesn’t want that?….But…should you ignore this new and helpful parenting suggestion, you are in effect saying that no, you do not want what is best for your children….With every step we mothers take these days, we are aware that there is only one right and true path that we should follow, a ‘better’ way to feed our baby, a ‘best birth’….

Her guilt-wracked pregnancy, complete with detailed birth plan and the infamous “Best-Odds” diet from What to Expect When You’re Expecting, ended with a revelation: doctors are not the enemy.  Her doctor, on hearing her desire to avoid fetal monitoring and stay mobile, had a gentle suggestion: “‘You may find, though, as many of my patients do, that once you are admitted to the hospital, you will be happy to lie down.'”  She comments, wonderingly: “Dr. Merman did not seem dismissive when he said this, neither rigid nor patriarchal.  He seemed, merely, kind.”  Sure enough, lying down with an epidural 11 hours into labor feels awfully good.  But when the baby is finally born, she confesses:

[Before the birth] I thought…I would become another victim of a needlessly meddling medical establishment.  But in the end,…I had an episiotomy, which the books warned me would happen to any mother who didn’t stand up for herself,….I had also had an epidural, which the books warned were foisted on all laboring mothers…[T]here was a tiny part of me thinking not of how I had made it through a twenty-hour labor to deliver a perfect baby boy, but of how I had fallen short.  I was a quitter….But lying there holding my son, I could also see that it was screwed up to regard my caregivers’ attempts to alleviate the pain and inertia of…a first labor, as the machinations of the enemy.  They had only been trying to make me feel more comfortable, trying to deliver my baby to me as soon as possible, as safely as possible.  And they had.  That could not have been wrong.

In the hands of a perfectionist like me, the birth plan was the snake in the garden, dangling the apple of an idea that there could be a ‘better’ or a ‘best’ birth, one that could in any way exceed the happy ending of a healthy baby, safe in its mother’s arms, both of them whole.

There’s a lot of other great bits in this book–I plan to write a bit more of a review later–but for now I’m going to leave it here.  I think this is such an important insight.  Sure, you have to look out for yourself, and there are ignorant or mean doctors out there; but what a horrible burden to put on a new mother, to convince her that she is the only one capable of making sure everything goes perfectly, and she had better live in suspicion and guilt for 9 months to make sure she doesn’t mess it up.

Is “Natural” Always Better?

There’s a great scene in the British show Doc Martin where the doctor finds out that some of his patients have been visiting an amateur natural medicine practitioner on the sly.  One of them is nearly killed by an herbal remedy which the natural doctor recommended to him without doing any research into his medical history, which would have shown that this particular herb is contraindicated for people with his condition.  When one of the villagers protests that he doesn’t see what could be wrong with taking something natural, Doc Martin snaps, “poison ivy’s natural, too!  You wouldn’t take that, would you?”

I’m not here to dismiss natural remedies, but I want to talk a little bit about the danger of assuming that natural necessarily means better.  When it comes to women’s health, especially, I am so tired of hearing that your body knows what it is supposed to do.  Yes, most of the time, it does.  But sometimes it screws up.  This isn’t necessarily because nature is bad, or God created us with flaws; it’s because our nature isn’t what it used to be.

Most of the time, pregnancy and childbirth go smoothly, because a woman’s body was made for that. But sometimes, your body doesn’t know how to take care of the baby, or when it’s time for him to come out.  If you sit around for 43 weeks waiting for that baby to come out naturally, he may not make it out alive.  Time for an intervention.

Most of the time, breastfeeding goes smoothly.  They tell you, “if it hurts, something is wrong.  It shouldn’t hurt.”  But sometimes, you’re doing everything right, and it just hurts anyway.  Time for…well, there’s not much you can do, but time to stop thinking it’s your fault for not doing it the way nature intended!

Sometimes, depression can be cured with changes in diet, exercise, and mental routine.  Sometimes, all you need to do is take care of your body, and it will function normally.  But sometimes, if you don’t interfere with your body, it will kill you.

Now, our bodies are still wonderful things.  It makes sense to look for natural remedies first, and to try to be in tune with the way our bodies were intended to work.  But to act as if the “natural” course is always the right course is to ignore the fact that our nature is no longer what God intended it to be.  It’s fallen.  The woman in the NFP forum, who thought that antidepressants were just as bad as artificial birth control, was mixing up “natural” with “moral.”  For her, birth control was not evil because it does violence to God’s original design for our sexuality; it was evil because it was artificial.  In reality, though, the Church doesn’t reject any artificial or technological remedies unless they interfere with the integrity of the person.  As one of my sisters pointed out, if the Church were against artificial medical remedies, she would not approve of any fertility treatments, either.

To be continued when I manage to sort out my thoughts a little more, hopefully without getting a little heretical!  I’m still trying to figure this out.  Thanks for listening!

In Case You Care…

Here are my own birth stories!  I don’t know, I like birth stories.  Feel free to skip, or to leave your own stories in the comments!

1.  Water broke early, induction wouldn’t take, labor kicked in at the last minute.  In transition, I told my husband that the priest would just have to give me a dispensation for birth control, because I was not doing this again for a LONG time.  Then I told him that I wanted some pain medication after all, and he said “well, maybe you should just wait a while and see.”  Then the midwife told me it was too late anyway, because it was time to push.  Boy, was I mad.  We hadn’t found out the sex of the baby, and I kept asking, until my poor dazed husband (it was 4 in the morning) said, “I think it’s a boy.”  After it all, my midwife said, “well, Rosie, you did it your way” (meaning without pain meds).  I snapped, “I don’t care!”  Suddenly I realized that it really didn’t matter–I had a baby!

Mickey's baptism--she thanks God for the gift of her child

2. Had her about 45 minutes after we got to the hospital.  I had just gotten into the nice warm jacuzzi when my water broke and I had to get out and push, darn it.  Came out in three pushes.  Good girl.  Even though she came out so easily, I felt guilty because I hadn’t pushed as hard as I possibly could.  Gotta feel guilty about something, right?

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3.  Went in on Halloween night because I thought I was in labor, spent a couple of hours galloping around the hallways, looking ridiculous, got sent home.  A week later, my water broke, at full term this time.  By the time I checked in, I was shaking uncontrollably with panic, and labor had barely begun.  Epidural!  Why didn’t I do this before!  Slept through my Pitocin-induced contractions, woke up, and it was time to have the baby.  10 minutes and she was out, even though her shoulder got stuck on the way because she was 2 pounds bigger than my other babies.  Made up for the horrible pregnancy by coming out fast and almost immediately sleeping through the night.

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