The Bunk About Bonding
Postpartum Depression and Adjustment Disorders
The United States has the highest rate of postpartum depression of any industrialized country. While hormones play a major part, postpartum depression is an equal opportunity troublemaker, as one set of gay parents recently told me.
My neighbor John and his partner, Jason, became parents by adopting a child born to a surrogate. They saw the surrogate mom through a first pregnancy that ended in miscarriage, and a second she carried to full-term, to bring home gorgeous Anna with the dark brown curls. Yet, the first weeks with Anna in which they rarely slept, went out, or did anything but figure out how to get Anna to sleep plunged John into a clear-cut case of postpartum melancholy.
John describes his long, fretful nights "I paced the hallway at night, thinking to myself, 'Oprah will have me on her show. I will be the first person ever to have paid $80,000 for a baby, and gone through all the difficulties of adopting as a gay couple with a surrogate, only to have given my baby up for adoption in the first month.'"
If you think new moms are isolated, try being a new gay dad, John says. "None of my friends could relate at all to what Jason and I were going through with Anna. We were at totally different points in our lives."
Indeed, the enormous life adjustments that babies bring can contribute to earthquakes within. Increasingly, psychiatrists report, new moms and dads are being diagnosed with "adjustment disorders" disruptions in mental and emotional health that occur when these budding parents try to absorb this jolting life change. And if you're struggling to find your equilibrium in this new life and your biology is also out of whack, your ability to meet all the needs of your newborn can be dramatically impaired.
Six days into motherhood, after an uncomplicated C-section, Teresa, a school psychologist in Houston, developed difficulties breathing and a quickened heart rate. At first her doctor suspected a pulmonary embolism, which occurs in rare instances after birth, but it turned out postpartum panic attacks were the culprit.
Yet, a subsequent Zoloft prescription from her primary care doctor to tide her over till she could see a psychiatrist contributed to a "downward tail spin." Two weeks into the treatment, Teresa says, "I couldn't function. I had insomnia. I was terribly anxious and mildly depressed. I was hiding in corners of a room, thinking I wanted to drive off a bridge."
Fortunately, Teresa could hand Taylor off to her mother, who moved in and lived with Teresa's family for two and a half months. The expert on postpartum anxiety and depression with whom she met changed the medications and gave her small doses of narcotics that enabled her to sleep. "I could literally feel the stabilization of my body," Teresa says. "I learned that my body could not withstand the incredible hormonal drop that comes with childbirth. In my case, the problem was 99 percent biochemical. Nowhere in the dozens of books I had read was there a description of the magnitude of these side effects."
Eschewing breast-feeding, which she had planned to do, Teresa started taking birth control pills again, which restored her estrogen, a hormone often tied to happiness in women. Teresa actually welcomed her first period, saying, "I felt I was finally in my own body again."
Counseling was also helpful. "I was immediately reassured by my psychiatrist that I was experiencing a time-limited illness, and that my baby would get the love and care she needed from my mother in the meantime."
From What No One Tells the Mom by Marg Stark. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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