FEATURE — Becoming a mother, especially for the first time, can bring a wide range of emotions, from feeling joyful for the new addition to the family, to anxiety on being able to care for the newborn.
It’s normal for new moms to be overwhelmed with emotions during this life-changing event. However, according to a report from Postpartum Progress Inc., as many as 1 in 5 new moms may experience postpartum depression, a severe mood disorder that occurs shortly after giving birth and lasts longer than the “baby blues.”
Sarah Shuck is one of those mothers. Her story began shortly after the birth of her baby, Emma, a little over a year ago.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel that (love and affection) immediately for Emma,” Shuck said in a written statement for Mind Matters.
“Emma’s first month alive was nothing but crying. She wasn’t gaining weight, I was constantly sick, and I couldn’t handle her screams. Whenever Emma would cry, I would go into a fetal-position and cover my ears. I couldn’t move until she stopped crying, and even then, it took some coaxing.”
Postpartum depression can occur anytime within a year after giving birth. The symptoms may include the following:
- Feeling extreme sadness for two weeks or more.
- Being unable to concentrate or focus.
- Becoming very anxious or fearful.
- Irritability or hostility towards your partner or new baby.
- Feeling worthless or guilty about being “unable” to take care of your child.
If left untreated, postpartum depression can lead to a mother’s harmful thoughts toward herself or her baby.
“I didn’t want to be around her,” Shuck said. “I wanted to run-away (sic) and give both she and Tony, my husband, an opportunity at having a great mother and wife. There were even a few times I considered ending my life, just for them.”
Shuck said that around this time she also started giving her daughter a bottle, something that compounded the difficult emotions.
“I was shamed by so many women telling me that I wasn’t doing what was best for my daughter.”
Luckily, postpartum depression is treatable and there is hope. For Shuck, she went to her doctor, where she was prescribed antidepressants, but she didn’t want that to be her only option.
“It helped for a little while, but … as I began weaning off the medications, I knew that I needed to replace the medicine with something else,” she said. “I decided to pick-up running again! I loved the feeling I would get as my feet pounded the pavement, the sweat running down my forehead. It was therapy for me!”
T. Lasse Bjerga, owner of Spirit Fitness in Cedar City and a counselor at Blue Door Therapy, said he incorporates exercise into therapy sessions with many of his clients as it can be an effective coping mechanism.
“Exercise helps change the brain’s chemistry,” Bjerga told Mind Matters. “It boosts serotonin and endorphin levels in the body, helping the individuals overcome depression and anxiety.”
That effect is what Shuck said she experienced, and eventually it grew into a passion.
“I decided to sign-up (sic) for my first half-marathon and began training,” Shuck said in her written statement. “I joined a gym and was focusing on spending a little bit every day to bettering myself! I worked with a personal trainer who encouraged me to do better every day!”
Although exercise helped Shuck, Bjerga acknowledged that exercise alone may not be enough to overcome mental illness. Luckily, there are many different types of treatment for postpartum depression, so mothers experiencing it should not get discouraged if exercise alone is not working for them. The best thing for them to do is don’t give up, keep asking for help and keep looking for answers.
“Simply taking action can be a powerful influence on changing the emotions and moods,” Bjerga said.
Written by HEIDI BAXLEY, Iron County Prevention Coalition coordinator, and LAUREN MCAFEE, Cedar City Library in the Park grant and development officer.
About the “Mind Matters” Series
As the Mind Matters series continues, we will highlight several Southern Utah mental health providers and organizations, as well as success stories, but if you or someone you know is seeking help or resources now, go to the following websites:
- Intermountain Healthcare St. George psychiatry and counseling.
- Dixie Regional Behavioral Medicine Unit.
- Cedar City mental health provider list.
If you or someone you know needs helps immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911. There is help and hope available.
St. George News “Mind Matters” series aims to illuminate how mental illnesses affect society and how to maintain mental health. Articles are contributed by Cedar City Library in the Park in partnership with the Iron County Prevention Coalition and will highlight available resources people may access in Southern Utah and online.
Read more: All the articles in the Mind Matters series
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