Thursday, July 12, 2007

Revising what's normal for the Babymoon

Those first days with your new baby are supposed to be special. You bask in the glow of new life, touching soft cheeks and having little fingers curl around yours. Time passes and the newborn becomes a bright eyed Gerber baby. She laughs and pats her hands together as you gaze lovingly at her.

Yes, people joke about sleep deprivation. You may hear about the dreaded colic.

But who really tells you the TRUTH about being a new parent?

And when you are yourself a new parent, possibly overwhelmed by the demands of your new child, certainly awed at the magnide of change that has recently and forever occurred in your life, do you want to risk the scorn of all the other normal moms (see paragraph 1) by telling them how you feel?

We need to speak up. I am so pleased to see this woman doing just that.

I actually know the woman in this story. Our children went to preschool together for a while. At another child's birthday party we began discussing her recent birth. She pretty quickly began discussing her OCD and how debilitating it had become until she got treated.

I told her my odd little postpartum experience. Well, actually I think I probably had mild postpartum depression with my first son for about a year. But the psychological situation I experienced after my second son's birth was something I'd never experienced before.

From the time he was about a week old until he was maybe 3 months old, I would hold my son in front of me and look at his sweet face and have this compelling urge to stick my tongue in his mouth, all the way down his throat. I wanted to have, like, a foot long tongue to do this.

Do not run away. That is what postpartum women fear. There can be very odd things in our heads and we don't want to say a word to anyone about them for fear they'll take our babies away and lock us up. We also worry that we are going crazy.

Fortunately (and I dont' know why this atypical of my) I just thought "huh" about my weird little thought and got on with life. I actually even had moments of blissful gazing at my baby, rubbing his peach-fuzzy head while he nursed.

A few years later I was reading Linda Sabastian's excellent book Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I got it to inform myself about the range of experiences my clients might have. It ended up explaining myself to me! In it I read that depression was only one of the types of psychological conditions that can occur or intensify in the postpartum period.

Anxiety is another of the conditions. I was reminded of a friend who became so anxious -- about everything -- after her son was born that she couldn't sleep. Ever. She was put on medication and it helped her dramatically. A doula client of mine began having panic attacks when her child was a few weeks old. "It feels like you're dying," she told me.

Obsessions are another of the conditions. Obsessive thoughts are intrusive, often disturbing thoughts, that recur. For some women they are thoughts about dropping the baby. Other women have obsessive thoughts about hitting the baby. I thought about -- what do even call it? -- endoscoping my baby with my tongue? The common feature with obsessive thoughts is that we do not act on them.

FEAR of acting on them, however, can create anxiety or compulsions. Either you start to worry that you really will hit the baby or you begin to ritualize things to prevent yourself from possibly hitting the baby (e.g. never picking the baby up. Or clasping your hands before you touch the baby. And clasping. And clasping....).

I feel very fortunate that I was able to tell my spouse about my obsessive thought. I'm even more fortunate that he said, "weird," and then let it pass.

It took me years to realize that my tongue thought was most likely just a little postpartum psychological blip. It went away. I have not had other obsessive thoughts since. I tell this story to my doula clients at prenatals to let them know that postpartum depression is only one of the forms psychological disruption can take. I tell them to share their thoughts -- be they depressing, worrying or simply weird -- with their spouse and caregivers.

As with so many other things, silence only makes it worse. I'm so pleased that Kristen is telling her story and working with a support group where others can tell theirs.



Anonymous tb said...

(OFF TOPIC but if anyone who is depressed goes here, it will maybe be cheery.)
I see on your sidebar you like cats in sinks. You will probably LOVE
chock full of kittens.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous chaos said...

I would love for you to comment on this quote I found on

"Most mothers are "dependents" in marriage, not economic equals. They have no unequivocal right to half the family assets, and are not considered joint recipients of the family's income during or after marriage."

I have been wondering how I can protect myself from this since I am now staying home with my daughter...

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect I had sleep-deprivation inducing hallucinations shortly after I took my son home. Because of complications (first with me, then with him), I didn't sleep at all for the entire first week. And then, when we did go home, I was alone. (My husband had moved out a month before the baby was born.)

Months later, I've forgotten the details. What I do remember is thinking I needed some medication, or sleep, or something. I remember being scared enough by the thoughts in my mind that I called my husband a couple of times. I never got the guts up to actually tell him what was going on in my head--just insisted he talk to me because I was exhausted. I was also terrified of telling anyone, because I didn't want to be labeled a bad mother or for someone to take my baby away. I do remember being able to tell that I was having odd thoughts, and I could tell the difference between reality and the fuzzy mess in my head. But, at the time, it really scared me.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Sandy D. said...

I came back to this post, which stuck in my head for a number of reasons!, because I'm reading a really amazing book right now: The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children, and Struggling with Depression, by Tracy Thompson.

She has a section where postpartum OCD is mentioned, and much longer discussion on the importance of OB's recognizing PPD - some shocking statistics on how many are totally unhelpful/indifferent to a serious problem. No word on how midwives and/or doulas are better dealing with it, but I'll bet they are. Anyway, it's a fantastic book for anyone who deals with mothers - especially new mothers.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Nany, maybe even most, women experience some kind of psychological abnormality that is distressing to them and sometimes even dangerous. The question is *why*? Most of what I've seen written about PPD assumes that it's just the way us crazy females are made. And no doubt, it's hormonally induced. But it makes no sense whatsoever that so many women would feel so crazy just when it's most important that they be capable of caring for their newborns. Nobody's talking about environmental triggers. Nobody's talking about the way typical managed birth and our strange postpartum conventions (like having family swarm around immediately, washing the baby, etc.) interferes with normal hormonal release. Why not?

Out of my four births, only one has been completely undisturbed, including during the babymoon period. It's also the only one in which I experienced no postpartum depression or weird, unpleasant feelings. Coincidence?

1:41 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...

Linda, good points. I haven't read about or experienced the post partum period in other cultures to know if similar adjustment issues occur. And what about "primative" cultures where birth is probably as "natural" as it gets for humans...

I find your personal experiences very interesting. My second baby's babymoon was much different and better than that of my first. I know one thing different was my overall level of comfort with being a new mother, with breastfeeding, and with ignoring everything "house" related for weeks on end...

If you are Linda Sebastian, let me thank you again for writing such an accessible, useful book.

1:50 PM  

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