The growing awareness of Postpartum Depression is a great thing for new parents (it affects Dads too!) Early diagnosis is important to prevent risks to both parents and babies. A new book by a cognitive behavioral therapist suggests that PPD can be traced to a parent’s internal thinking patterns, perhaps even before symptoms of the depression become visible to others. In her new book, After The Stork: the Couple’s Guide To Preventing and Overcoming Postpartum Depression, Reproductive health psychologist Sara Rosenquist, Ph.D outlines ways of keeping tabs on your psychological state through the radical transition to parenthood. With that in mind, she offers five potentially problematic ways of thinking that may lead to depression in new parenthood. If you notice yourself feeling this way frequently, you may have the opportunity to stop yourself on the road to a postpartum mood disorder.
I’ve interpreted Rosenquist’s 5 ways of thinking below, as I think they apply to pregnancy and new parenthood:
1. Global Thinking: Overly inclusive, black-and-white thinking that overlooks nuance and context
In the chaos of new parenthood, it’s easy to hang your hat on the idea that there’s a right and wrong way to do everything. But there’s another side to that coin—one that can leave you feeling like a failure if you don’t do things “right”. The reality is that there is a huge range of ways of doing things, and your own personal situation should be a factor in your own individual decision. What’s right for your family is right for your family, and it’s not necessarily right for everyone.
2. External Locus of Control: The sense that the source of distress is outside of oneself
To some degree, having a baby is inherently a loss of control. The difference is in how you feel about it. If the idea that you’re now subject to someone else’s needs and behavior all the time gives you a lot of anxiety, you’ll probably want to figure out a way to talk yourself down.
3. Tendency to Internalize Blame: Often feeling responsible for things that are not under your control and, therefore, feeling blameworthy
When things don’t go the way you want them to, do you feel responsible? When you take the blame for someone else’s behavior, you’re internalizing things that aren’t about you. With a nonverbal baby, this might be easier to do than ever. But it’s important to see the baby as his or her own person, not as a piece of clay you’re responsible for programming (or for the failure of programming).
4. Personalized Rejection: A tendency to feel hyper-alert to cues indicating possible rejection and to feel that being rejected must be your fault
Babies don’t have empathy. They want what they want, and they don’t care what you want. And that goes for what they don’t want, too. When what they don’t want is YOU, it can be kind of a bummer. But if you’re taking it personally, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of sadness. The identity shift of new parenthood can make people ripe for oversensitivity in their interactions with adults too, whether it’s a spouse, a parent, or another mom at the park.
5. Discomfort with Uncertainty: Difficulty getting comfortable with the uncertainties of everyday life; having trouble with self-soothing
This is one of the biggies of parenthood. Being a parent means coming to terms with an enormous amount of personal vulnerability. It’s tough to take for most of us, but if you find yourself being overwhelmed by the existential unknowns as they relate to your baby’s safety or future, you’d probably benefit from talking to somebody about it.
Rosenquist’s book gives parents tools for dealing with postpartum depression proactively. But for most parents, seeing a professional is a valuable, if not essential step toward recovery. The cognitive-behavioral ideas in After The Stork seem like they could be an interesting alternative to antidepressant medication for moms who are concerned about the impact of these drugs on nursing infants, or who just don’t want to medicate. Here’s some more info on Rosenquist, and you can buy her book here.
photo: Lori Greig/flickr