Today I showered, ate lunch, and was able to take a walk all before two o’clock. To my child-free counterparts this might not seem like a big deal, but for me, with a newborn, this is monumental. I’m actually sacrificing my nap time to write this blog.
When I was pregnant people would offer me all sorts of advice- solicited and unsolicited. I got advice on what to eat, where to buy maternity clothes, insights to birth stories, and horror stories about child births gone wrong. Men, women, young or old it didn’t matter, everyone I met or passed by on the street had something to offer me about their experience or their cousin’s mother’s step-aunt’s experience. I read books and browsed the internet and felt fully prepared to have a child by the end of nine months. What no one tells you or offers advice about is what to do after you have the baby. Once you leave the hospital you are on your own, and once family leaves and your husband heads back to work you are TRULY alone.
This is when you might feel depression start to creep in.
No one likes to talk about the baby blues or postpartum depression. As if, for some reason, it’s shameful. It’s most likely that every woman will suffer some sort of baby blues. Symptoms include: mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, crying, decreased concentration and trouble sleeping. I know I experienced all these symptoms, sometimes simultaneously. For me, my baby blues started once I headed home from the hospital. I had a house full of people, so I felt overwhelmed. I remember walking out on to my deck with my new baby so she could get some sun for her jaundice and feeling physically ill when I looked over the railing of the deck. I panicked thinking that I might somehow accidentally drop her over the edge. Knowing that I was now responsible for the care and well being of another human made me somehow feel inadequate. No one told me how hard breast feeding would be. When you see pictures of women who have new babies they are smiling and laughing and kissing their infants. No one posts pictures of themselves at 2AM, sleep deprived with a screaming baby, milk leaking from their boobs as they are try to change a diaper and get baby to latch. The reality is that while I had friends and family offering their support to me, no one could help with the hardest part, breast feeding. It was frustrating; it was hard, my boobs hurt and sometimes the last thing I wanted to do was to feed my child. I just wanted to sleep or pee by myself or put the baby down for a minute. When they cry you think they are going to cry forever. It breaks your soul.
I can see how the baby blues, which typically lasts from a few days to a week or two, can turn into postpartum depression. Symptoms for postpartum depression include: loss of appetite, insomnia, intense irritability and anger, overwhelming fatigue, lack of joy in life, feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy, severe mood swings, difficulty bonding with your baby, withdrawal from family or friends, or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. I think a lot of factors can lead you down this path, and there is no way to predict who it will affect. I know for me the days it snowed were the hardest. Not being able to leave the house made me feel isolated and trapped. The days feel extra long when you have a newborn. I cannot imagine having to go through a whole winter being indoors, day in and out.
I had the ideal birth experience, but if I hadn’t there would have been a grieving process for that as well. If you are depressed postpartum ask yourself if your birth experience could be the cause. A lot of women have trauma during birth, experiencing anything from an unwanted c-section to an unsupportive birth partner, midwife or OBGYN. Do not be afraid to let yourself feel grief because what happened in reality is different than what you envisioned for yourself.
Week two is when I hit a wall and started to slide down a black hole of depression. It was the first week I was alone every day with my daughter, and it snowed several days in a row. Most of my friends were heading down to a yoga retreat in Costa Rica – a trip I would have been on had I not just given birth. After confessing my sadness to my husband he suggested I take some time for myself and go to a yoga class at my studio. While my midwife wanted me to wait six weeks until working out, my postpartum bleeding had subsided and I felt good enough to start exercising again. What a difference this made in my mental health. My yoga practice isn’t just about getting in shape or looking good, my studio Qi is my happy place. While I initially felt guilty leaving the house, I knew that it would give my husband a chance to bond with the baby. Whether your happy place is the library, a running group, the yoga studio or the mall I encourage any woman to get out and about sans baby as soon as you feel ready. Whatever makes you feel like your most authentic self is what you need do for yourself so you can heal, emotionally and physically. I was only gone from the house an hour but in that hour I missed my baby, and it made me feel happy to come home to her again, with a new perspective.
In addition to combating the baby blues by working out and eating healthy I have also been taking placenta pills. I know my mother would cringe to read this (“Natalie, please don’t talk about eating the placenta,” is what she specifically told me awhile back.) but it’s something that has helped me and might help other women.
Before Charlotte was born I researched placenta encapsulation and felt it was the right choice for me. I am someone who is prone to depression, and I wanted to do everything I could to ensure I was in the best mental and physical state postpartum to care for my baby. I can’t remember how I first heard about placenta encapsulation but my midwives didn’t seem surprised when I asked them about saving the placenta.
If you are lucky, like I was, the midwife will show you your placenta after the baby is born. It is a most impressive organ- it looks like a tree with all its veins and large round shape (it’s often called the tree of life), and exists solely for the purpose of keeping baby alive. It grows with your baby and implants on the wall of the uterus. The umbilical cord is attached from the placenta to the baby, and this is what feeds and nourishes your child; it’s where she gets her oxygen. Babies can be born in the water since they get their oxygen from the placenta via the umbilical cord and continue to receive oxygen until the cord is cut. After the cord is cut the midwife or OBGYN presses on your uterus from the outside and the placenta detaches and is birthed. As long as you sign a waiver, bring your own container, and your placenta is whole, it is yours to keep. Otherwise hospital will throw it away.
My doula took my placenta to the placenta lady that I had found via the internet. Most people who do placenta encapsulation are also doulas and may incorporate this into their services. Many will also come pick it up from your house or hospital and deliver it to you once it has been encapsulated. They will want it within the first 48 hours for safety and health reasons and also because you are likely to feel your worst emotionally on day four or five. The process is fairly simple – after being refrigerated first it is washed well and any clots and blood are removed. In accordance with traditional Chinese medicine it is then steamed (with or without herbs) and finally dehydrated and ground down into powder form and placed into vegetarian capsules. You can expect to receive around 100-200 capsules. My placenta lady also dried the remaining attached umbilical cord and made it into a circle for me to keep. The umbilical cord is symbolic because it attached Charlotte to me and like that circle; this new bond we have has no beginning or end.
So what are the benefits? It is believed that consuming the placenta can help balance your hormones, replenish depleted iron levels, assist the uterus to return to pre-pregnancy state, reduce post-natal bleeding, increase milk production (this has been proven in a study), and it can make for a happier post-natal period increasing your energy levels. Not a lot of research has been done on placentophagy but it makes sense that at a time in your life when your hormones are under a major upheaval and you have lost a great deal of blood, that the placenta can address these needs and help you avoid iron deficiency as well as its side effects of depression.
Before you judge – ask yourself this, have you ever eaten a hot dog? Do you drink milk, which is from a cows’ utters? Do you eat eggs, which are essentially a chicken’s period? If you think about the things you consume on a daily basis, eating a placenta (which by the way animals do in the wild, and let it be noted cows do NOT drink their own milk, so marinate on that one) in capsule form is not that crazy. For me, I would rather consume something that my body grew, which I know to be safe, than be prescribed drugs manufactured in a lab to treat depression or iron deficiency.
I can only speak about my experience. Before taking the pills I felt more anxious and overwhelmed than I did afterwards. Anyone who has seen me in public lately has commented on how much energy I have and how happy I seem. I owe it not only to the placenta pills but to a combination of getting back into my workout routine, eating healthy, and having a great support system.
While I was fully prepared for my labor and delivery having a baby full time is something that has been a huge adjustment for me. While trying to heal my body, I also had the task of providing for another beautiful human life and the weight of that responsibility is enormous. Taking care of yourself and recognizing the signs and symptoms of the baby blues can mean the difference in having a rough couple of weeks or a volatile few months. If you do develop postpartum depression don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help! Taking care of number one- you!- will make for a much happier baby in the long and short run. There is no turning back once your baby is born, so you might as well pave the road ahead as smoothly as possible.
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About the Author: Natalie Magee writes a regular column for Happiness Series about what motherhood and beyond - from prenatal to postpartum. Her intention with her column, "Baby & Beyond - What No One Else Will Tell You" is to give practical advice and tips to the busy mom and mom-to-be. She also shares her experiences good, bad and ugly as a woman, wife, mom, flight attendant and fitness instructor. Natalie is also a regular fitness contributor on Happiness Series. She will continue to create great, effective workouts for anyone - including the busy moms out there - who wants to get fit and stay in shape.