I’m happy not to be a cavewoman, for a variety of reasons. But right now, I’m particularly happy not to be a cavewoman or any woman without access to a sympathetic medical community, because
I’ve heard the arguments that PPD, or perinatal mood disorder, is just a modern-day invention by pampered women who just can’t adjust to the workload of new motherhood, but I think it’s a lot more likely that PPD has always been a part of new motherhood for many of us – we just didn’t have the same tools for managing it.
If my baby had been born thousands of years ago, I don’t know that I would have been any better prepared for the overwhelming hormonal shifts that occur post-pregnancy. But maybe I would have been better integrated into a community with other mothers who could share the burden with me. And certainly, the onslaught of media telling me that I should be glowing with the bliss of my new baby (instead of languishing in spit-up-drenched pajamas) would not have existed at all. So maybe I wouldn’t have needed Prozac. Or maybe I would have needed it anyway, but it just wasn’t around for me to take.
As it stands, I feel overwhelmed and anxious most of the time. I had survived the “baby blues” in the first two weeks, and I was actually feeling better. I was starting to run errands and pick up the house and cook dinner. But then my baby was having trouble gaining weight, and I started having trouble with breastfeeding. She was hungry a lot of time and crying more often, and I started getting anxious about taking her places. I was trying to pump in between every feeding to increase my milk supply, so at best I would get 45 minutes between feedings in which I could do anything for myself.
I spiraled into an anxious pit of dread every morning when my husband left for work and I had to force myself out of bed to take care of my baby. I shunned visitors and stopped making plans. Mostly I just felt trapped and isolated, even though I knew that isolation was largely self-imposed. Thank goodness for my husband, who encouraged me to call my OB, and thank goodness for my OB’s clinic, who took my mood problems very seriously, and got me an appointment a mere hour after I called.
I know that PPD is largely the result of massive hormonal changes in my brain. But part of what makes it so difficult is that some of the depression is justified. I really am trapped to some degree. I really am sleep-deprived. But I also have so many things to be happy about, and I have a sweet baby to enjoy, and that’s why I’m glad not to be a cavewoman. I can take medication to help bridge the gap between the real and imagined burdens of new motherhood.
And really, I have the best of both worlds because that community of mothers is out there, at Story Time at the library, at Baby Connection at Parenting Now! and the Parenting Now! classes, with the mothers in my family, and even some newly rekindled friendships with my peers who are also new mothers.
I’m not out of the woods yet. The medications I’m taking are slow to work, and there is a good amount of work that I have to do on my own. I have to go on walks and make plans with friends and eat well and give myself a break about my self-perceived failures at breastfeeding. But that work is getting easier, and I feel a little more free every day.
In the meantime, when new motherhood leaves me feeling more like a cavewoman, I know I have a lot of advantages on my side, and some pretty good cave-mates.
Erin Bowling holds a master’s degree in Folklore, blogs casually and can bake a wicked batch of cookies.