Baby Blues: Three Invisible Risks of Giving Birth
Giving birth to a child is one of the most magical experiences of life, right? While many mothers do experience feelings of euphoria following the birth of a child, it’s not uncommon for some to have trouble recovering from the delivery or adjusting to their new life with son or daughter in tow. If a loved one is expecting, make sure you show up to support them by keeping in mind these three invisible risks new moms should watch out for following birth.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Giving birth is a life or death situation for both the mother and child. The majority of mothers are able to avoid major complications during delivery, but not all are so lucky. What begins as a difficult labor for some can become a truly traumatic experience if the mother perceives her life or the life of her unborn child to be both legitimately at risk and/or out of her control. The stress associated with bringing a child into this world under duress can be pushed to the side in the immediate aftermath of delivery, but the lingering effects can take root in the days and weeks that follow. It’s not possible to go back to “normal” following a birth, but a traumatic delivery should not be allowed to stop a new mom from building her new normal.
- Painkiller abuse. Childbirth is just the first of many new experiences a first-time mother will encounter. The first few months of a child’s life can be especially challenging for new parents who must suddenly orient their entire world around a tiny person who cannot speak, all while getting less than average sleep and often while in physical recovery from pregnancy and childbirth. In this context, it makes sense that some new moms prescribed opioid-based pain medications following delivery may turn to the drug as a quicker and easier way to cope with her new body, family and life. Even with no prior history of addiction, the psychological vulnerability created by childbirth leaves new mothers especially vulnerable to substance abuse and dependence.
- Shame. There is a social script associated with childbirth in the United States that assures new mothers they will never be happier than when holding their newborn in their arms. The pinnacle of being a woman, we are told, is to give birth to a child and raise it with joy. But what about those who depart from this script? There are a million reasons why a new mother may not feel overjoyed by childbirth: medical bills may be a burden; the pregnancy may have been unplanned; a woman’s relationship with the child’s father may be stressed; not to mention many other psychological and contextual reasons. No matter the circumstance, women having difficulty recovering from childbirth should not be forced to struggle in silence, ashamed of their perceived deviance from the norm. If you or someone you know had a difficult delivery or afterbirth, talk about it. You never know who will hear and think, “Me too!”
By being aware that some new moms who develop PTSD may begin abusing prescription medications or could feel silenced by shame for feeling anything but fantastic, you are making yourself a valuable resource to your expecting friend or loved one. It’s the little things we do for one another like calling to check in that can mean the most and make the difference between a quick or long recovery from childbirth. You don’t have to be a new parent to support one.