A “Statute of Limitations” on Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders?

About 6 months after Thing 2 was born, I sat in my OB/GYN’s office and listened to him tell me that I was no longer really “postpartum” and would need to find another doctor to prescribe my antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds.

Now, before I go further, I must say that I absolutely love my OB/GYN.  He delivered both my children and helped me through the decision process before my hysterectomy.  Even with this experience, I wouldn’t trade the amazing medical services he provided.  In fact, when my gallbladder failed me during my pregnancy with Thing 2 and all tests came back normal, he was the only doctor who said, “Hey, sometimes a doctor just has to listen to the patient and look at symptoms, not just test results.”  

This is a large part of the reason I was so floored when he told me I needed to look elsewhere for treatment and support of my depression and anxiety as I was “no longer postpartum”. At a time when I was feeling extraordinarily vulnerable and helpless, I felt as if one of the few shaky legs I had to stand on for support had been kicked out from under me. I was still in that “you’ve given birth fairly recently” timeframe, so regular doctors sent me to my OB/GYN, but here was my OB/GYN telling me to find a regular doctor.  I think this is indicative of a huge problem with the way our society, as “enlightened” as it is, handles Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders (PMADs)–or really just mood disorders in general.  

The postpartum period is most often defined as the period beginning immediately after birth and extending for about 6 weeks after.  Interestingly, perinatal mood disorders (like postpartum depression and anxiety) can show up any time during pregnancy or in the 12 months after.  That’s a heck of a lot longer than 6 weeks, and it’s certainly longer than what I’ve found to be the standard “acceptable” time frame for suffering.  

In the past two years, I have connected with so many other mothers with stories like mine.  A common thread?  The statement, “Don’t feel bad.  I’m [insert number here] years postpartum, and I still struggle!”  This seems to be the rule, rather than the exception, so I have to wonder why the “rules” haven’t been updated, or at least made more inclusive. Does it really matter how many months ago I had my baby?  I was pretty well in control of myself, then I had a baby, and now I’m not.  I’m married to an engineer, so I get the scientific need to classify things.  But really, in times like this, I think the most important classification to be made is not WHEN you started needing help, but rather WHETHER you need help. 

The last thing any of us needs in this battle is to feel alone, so I encourage you, no matter how old your youngest child is, to know you have a place in the ranks of the Warrior Moms of Postpartum Progress–the women who band together to lift each other up and climb together out of the dark valleys of PMADs. And when we’re standing at the top of those mountains (whether it’s the “I’m finally back” mountain or the “I took a shower today” mountain), you’d better believe we’re there to cheer one another on. There is no real statute of limitations on the suffering of a mother, nor should there be on the availability of support.  

If you know someone who has survived or is currently struggling with PMADs, don’t be afraid to reach out!  In fact, on June 20th, nationwide (and even some international locations!), mothers and friends, families, and supporters will be participating in the Third Annual Climb Out of the Darkness to raise awareness and funds for supporting struggling mothers everywhere.  You can find a climb near you (or start your own!), here.  

Whether you’re taking the trail one step at a time or one day at a time, and whether you are still pregnant, had your baby a few weeks ago, or find yourself wondering where the last 5 years have gone since your baby was born–know that you define your own normal, and you CAN climb back.

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