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Prenatal and postnatal depression: how to cope with it and how to help someone who’s going through it

Today I want to talk to you about a subject that I think is still not spoken about enough. That subject is depression during pregnancy and after giving birth, also called prenatal and postnatal depression. Even if you haven’t heard of it, it happens way more frequently than what we think. In fact, I don’t know any mother who hasn’t gone through some kind of depression before or after giving birth.

I truly think everyone can benefit from learning more about prenatal and postpartum depression because we all come across pregnant women or new mothers but we rarely think about how we could support them apart from buying them clothes that their kid will never wear or bringing them food. The first step in order to help is to know what the symptoms are, even though they vary from woman to woman, they usually include:

1. Deep feelings of sadness that don’t fade away with time

2. Loss of interest for daily activities or past hobbies

3. Lack of energy and the feeling of being tired constantly

4. Trouble sleeping at night

5. Struggle to bond with the baby or take care of her

6. Loss or unusual increase of appetite

7. Anxiety and dark thoughts, for example of hurting yourself or your baby

8. Feelings of guilt, hopelessness and self blame

It’s important to differentiate postnatal depression from baby blues which is considered to be normal after giving birth and only last a short amount of time. Whereas depression needs special attention because it will last longer and will be harder to cope with. Sometimes a mother will be experiencing those symptoms and won’t realize she’s going through depression, that’s why its also good to educate ourselves about it. It could be you, your sister, your neighbour that’s struggling with PPD… So be on the look out.

It doesn’t matter whether your pregnancy was desired, expected or a complete surprise. Even if you’ve been trying to get pregnant for years, you can still have prenatal and postnatal depression.

So why is it that we don’t talk about it even if it is so common? In my opinion, there is still this idea that a woman’s ultimate achievement in life is to give birth. So much so that sometimes, only a few weeks after you get married, aunties you barely know already ask you if you’re pregnant and urge you to make that your priority. We are expected to be ecstatic when we get the news that we’re going to have a baby. So experiencing feelings of sadness when it happens and showing it publically is not really socially accepted. Where I come from, in Morocco, those symptoms can even be associated with being a victim of black magic. That’s how much misunderstanding there is around this topic.

Another reason why I really wanted to talk about this on the blog is because I went through prenatal depression and a veeeeeeery long postnatal depression myself and when I opened up about it on Instagram, I realized there are so many of you, strong mamas out there, struggling in silence.

Alhamdulillah, today I can say that I have fully recovered from those dark years so it is my duty to share my story with you who feels lonely and hopeless right now.

I got pregnant when I was 21 years old. I was freshly married but it wasn’t planned. In fact, it felt like it was the end of the world for me or at least the end of the life I had dreamed of. I was already struggling with my role as a newlywed in a foreign country, far from family and friends. So let’s just say I didn’t really welcome with joy the idea of having a child at such a young age and in a marriage that wasn’t stable.

During pregnancy, I became someone different. The lively and happy person I was started staying in bed all day, watching movies for hours or just staring at the ceiling and crying. I was drowning in negative thoughts about how my life was ruined. I would even make imaginary plans to run away to Zanzibar. Life was growing in me but I felt dead inside. I never told anyone this but, at that point, I didn’t want to live anymore.

When I tried talking about how I felt, I would feel even more misunderstood. “Be patient and pray” was often the advice given. My heart wasn’t in it. My spirituality became weaker and weaker as time passed because I was angry at Allah for this test He gave me. I saw it as a punishment for my past mistakes.

After I gave birth, things got even harder, physically and mentally. I had lost 10 kilos somehow. I weighted 36 kilos. I didn’t recognize my body, I didn’t recognize myself, period. And I was angry at everyone for not realizing how much I was hurting. I needed help that no one seemed able to give me.

Eventually, I stopped waiting for someone to save me and I decided to book an appointment with the GP. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. My heart was pounding, I felt stressed and embarrassed at the idea of telling a stranger how miserable I was when this was supposed to be the happiest time of my life. I just wanted to go back home and cry but I couldn’t keep on going like this so I built up the courage and showed up. The doctor I met that day wasn’t the warmest person on earth. I don’t know if my anxiety gave me a negative filter but I sensed judgment in her look and her voice after I told her what I was experiencing. She asked questions as if I wasn’t a human being with feelings.

– Do you want to hurt your child?

– No.

– Do you want to hurt yourself?

– No.

– Okay, call this number, they might help.

I left and cried. I don’t know what I was expecting I think I just wanted to hear that I was going to be okay. That it wasn’t my fault if I felt that way and that I wasn’t crazy or weird for hating my new life as a mom.

In the end, that number lead me to a call centre that asked me more questions about how I felt. When they established that I wasn’t a danger for myself and my baby, they recommended me to join a group of mothers who were going through the same thing. That process took 4 months, it wasn’t a bad idea but it just want enough. I needed more support than that.

I loved my baby more than anything but I kept thinking “I can’t do this, I just can’t”. This lasted four years. Four long years of self-doubt, of building resentment for people around me, of trying to breath in what felt like a tumultuous ocean.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t hell non stop. There were ups and downs but during the ups I felt like I was just pretending better than during the downs. Like a bad actor, I would put up a smile when really I was still questioning everything that had happened to me since I got married. I was stuck in the past.

I tried many things to find happiness again, including antidepressants, but today I want to share what really worked for me and I hope it will help you if you recognized yourself in my story or if you know someone who is going through something similar.

The first steps to get better are not actions, there are things to let go of:

– The guilt for feeling that way: you are not responsible, depression is a medical illness, you didn’t provoke it nor did you deserve it. Remove all beliefs that tell you otherwise.

– Negative thoughts like “I’m not a good mother, I’m a terrible wife, I suck at this, I’ll never be happy” and so on so forth. Those thoughts are your number one enemy. Learn to let go of them by acknowledging that they don’t reflect the truth and be kinder to yourself. You are a great mother as long as your baby and yourself are alive, you are loved and you’re doing your best, which is more than enough. The sadness and despair will not last forever, you can be happy. This should be your new mantra.

– The expectations you have of others to rescue you and understand you. It’s not that they don’t care about you, it’s just that they’re clueless about what you’re going through. So try to express yourself as much as possible about how you feel but if your need for help is not met by someone, don’t go buying milk in the hardware store. Meaning: go get help where you are sure you will find it! That could be a therapist, a counsellor, a coach, a friend that has given birth before, online forums, groups of new mothers… Once you’ve found the right persons to truly support you, be consistent with it. Don’t go to two therapy sessions and then give up just because it’s uncomfortable to open up about what hurts. Yes, it is painful but that pain will lead to a better you whereas sitting by yourself and complaining wont get you anywhere.

Once you’ve done that work of letting go, make yourself the promise to put in the effort to get better for your own good, right now and right here. Don’t wait for a shift to happen to you like magic, create the shift by setting a strong intention to heal everyday and to become a fulfilled woman and mother.

The third step involves getting to know yourself again. You’ve been through a lot physically and emotionally to give birth to your little one. Your body has changed, your priorities too. It’s normal to feel like you’ve lost yourself in the process of becoming a mother. Now is the time to rediscover who you are and what excites you. So pick up a journal and write daily about how you feel, what you enjoy, new things that you’d love to do… Try to be as positive as possible and to focus on you without limiting yourself. Dream big and look at what you can start doing right now to lighten up the fire in you. Have you always wanted to learn how to draw? Join an art class or get an online course. Do you want to learn a new language? Get Duolingo and practice daily while baby is breastfeeding or playing. It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that you allow yourself to be a woman again by giving importance to your creative side.

For me it was through sewing and weaving and till this day I still enjoy those crafts. I even became a weaving instructor and made a living off of it at some point. It changed my life and helped me eradicate the feeling that I sucked at everything I did. So go on, ask yourself interesting questions and create actions that will spark joy in you again.

The next step can seem like a given but it’s the most important one in my opinion: you have to take care of yourself. If you’re like I was after my delivery, you’re barely sleeping, you forget to feed yourself on a daily basis and showering and putting on clothes has become an optional activity.

I know you don’t have much control over how much you sleep at night because your baby dictates that for now but you’ve heard the advice “Sleep when baby sleeps”. That means the second your little monster starts snorring, you have to let go of your phone, forget about cleaning the whole house, calling your mum to complain about your hubby and just SLEEP. It’s the first thing you need to get some sanity back.

When it comes to food, you have to make sure you eat your three meals a day. It might take some organization if you decide to meal prep for example or some money, if you hire someone to cook for you or buy ready to eat meals but it is necessary especially if you’re breastfeeding, you need those calories! So make a plan and don’t hesitate to ask your loved ones for help on that one.

The other thing that is really important during that tough phase is to make sure you get some me time. Real quality relaxing time for yourself. And if you want to kill a bird with two stones, make it time during which you exercise. Working out daily for at least 30 minutes is proven to reduce depression, improve sleep, increase energy level and make you feel happier. It doesn’t have to be intense, you can just join a yoga class or do it online for free with YouTube if money is tight. Just get moving somehow.

It’s also time to assess your social life. Chances are it’s pretty dead because you’re exhausted most of the time. I get it, but try to connect with people who understand how you feel and who got better at least once a week so you remind yourself that you’re going to get through this and you’ll be happy too eventually! Ask them for tips and open up about your feelings if you’re comfortable doing so because keeping it all in is not healthy. Alhamdulillah, we live in a an era that allows us to find people with common interests and struggles so easily so use that in your favour to build a circle that will support you in your healing journey. Stay away from energy suckers that drain you, you don’t need those, especially during a vulnerable time.

Those tips might seem too simple to make a difference, but like I said before, it doesn’t have to be complicated to be life changing. This is part of what got me out of my depression and I know it won’t work with everyone but if you’re going through it right now, it can give you an idea of where to start if you’re desperate for help. Change comes from within, shift your perspective and your inner dialogue first, remember that.

Now, if your wife is currently going through prenatal or postnatal depression, here are some tips on how to be supportive:

– Listen without judgement: sounds easy but it isn’t otherwise I wouldn’t have a job as a Life Coach. Too often we don’t truly listen to people, we rush to answer to bring a solution or an opinion when all they need is a shoulder to cry on and a hug. Learn to do that until you really understand what is going on and then offer solutions.

– Avoid saying things like “it’s nothing, it will pass, you’re exaggerating… “. You do not get to minimize someone else’s feelings. Please be aware that by saying things like that you are killing the trust that your wife has in you. Instead, show compassion and tell her that you might not understand fully but you will do your best to help.

– Even if you don’t believe in therapy, counselling, coaching… Don’t deny your partner the right to seek help outside. This is how being supportive looks like sometimes: putting your beliefs on the side for the well being of the other person.

– Don’t remove yourself from the equation and think that it is not your problem. It’s normal to feel powerless but you can educate yourself to be the best ally for her. Postnatal depression will 100% affect your marriage and even destroy it if you don’t act so shift your perspective from “what am I supposed to do about it?” to “how can we work together to help you heal?”.

I know we often forget husbands’ emotions in all of that so I want to end this article by honouring you too if you are a partner currently supporting your wife while dealing with your own doubts and responsibilities as new father. It’s not easy for you either, we know it even if we don’t say it.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help, for the well being of your family, recognize that it’s okay if you can’t do it all.

I hope this article was helpful for you, especially if you’re a new mother struggling with depression, know that you are not alone and you will get better inchaAllah.

I’m always available to talk so don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll support you as much as I can.

Be kind to yourself, always.

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