The Thin Line That Borders Grief And Postpartum Depression
A mother is grieving for her lost baby minutes, hours or months after he’s born very heartbreakingly for us. For the mother, though, the pain of her loss can be devastating. After all, her body went through all the changes needed – physical and hormonal – to accommodate the baby only to lose that bundle of joy she anticipated for so much to death.
With this said, only a thin line stands between grief over a baby’s loss and postpartum depression. The former can morph into the latter. How will we be able to know when to let a bereaved mother grieve over what she lost and when to draw the line and call for help?
Melissa and her partner had been trying to have a baby for quite some time. Two years and one ectopic pregnancy operation later, Melissa got pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy. However, they lost their little bundle of joy to SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – read more about in Baby Center] three months later. To say Melissa was distraught was putting it mildly.
“I just want to curl up and die with him, too,” she cried.
Melissa’s case isn’t solitary. Statistically speaking, approximately 8.2 million children under the age of five die globally per year. Out of this number, about a million die within the 24 hours of their lives. But while many mothers deal with grief and struggle with depression at the same time, support groups that cater to them aren’t many. Example, a support group for PPD [Postpartum Depression] has moms who deal with extreme postnatal blues but not one who deals with the death of a baby as well.
“After a month of barely surviving, my family got worried and convinced me to attend a PPD group. But I stopped going after the first two meetings because unlike me, the moms there, they may be depressed, but they still have their babies. And the group’s just a painful reminder of what I lost,” Melissa said.
On Grief And PPD: What The Family And The Mother Needs To Know
Grieving doesn’t necessarily lead to postpartum depression. One psychologist emphasized that while the signs of PPD and grief may overlap, the latter doesn’t inevitably end up with the latter.
“Some moms grieve for their babies, but they were able to pick themselves up after a time,” she clarified. “The family shouldn’t worry about the natural process of grief – denial, anger. They may even go through a point of depression for some time before they accept that their baby’s gone and they have to move on.”
Some mothers get over their loss quickly while some wallow in despair for some time before they can pick the pieces of themselves up.
“It is often a profound experience that isn’t truly seen by society, as it is largely considered a taboo subject,” licensed psychologist and associate professor Rayna Markin, PhD, shares. “I had one patient say she felt like a walking beehive—everything stung. Another said she felt like she’d lost a layer of skin and was walking around exposed.”
But when do we draw the line?
One doctor who talked about grieving and depression in her book said that grieving over the loss of a baby typically runs from six months to a year. Within this time frame, the mother’s sleeping and eating patterns may change, emotional outbursts are very typical; she will be preoccupied with her loss she wouldn’t have time to think of anything else, and, will feel angry and empty. Some women may grieve longer than that, while others do so for only a short while.
“But when the family notices that the grieving reaction to the loss is very intense or lasts longer than a year, this is a sign of unresolved grief, an indication that depression has gripped the mourning mother,” she added.
Things You Can Do For The Grieving and Depressed Mother
Show love and support – the mother doesn’t need to hear your what-ifs and other similar talks. Clinical psychologist Christine G. Hibbert, PsyD, emphasizes that “families who feel together heal together.” According to her, it is better to “let them talk, cry, tell their story over and over to you. Say, ‘I’m so sorry,’ and ‘I’m here for you.’”
Look for some people who’ve been through the same experience – part of a grieving mother’s healing is being able to talk about what happened to her to people who understand because they’ve been in the same situation before. Find her a support group that caters to her current emotional need to help her move on. “Not everyone gravitates to individual psychotherapy,” says Pamela Geller, PhD, Drexel University professor of psychology and director of the student counseling center. “When women go to good websites they can get information when they want it, even if that’s at two in the morning.”
Talk to a professional – Talking to a doctor doesn’t mean you’re loved one is sick. Talking to them can be refreshing as they know what’s going on with the bereaved mother and how you, as a family, will be able to help her best. Getting counseling for the parents is also essential to help them get through their ordeal and connect with each other once more.
For Melissa, counseling helped a lot. “It shed light on how different both I and my husband handled the loss. I resented him on why he appeared to take our baby’s loss so easily but seeing a counselor helped me see that my husband is also grieving, it’s just different from mine.”