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By Aviva Cohen, LCSW
Jill called my office and left a message that she had to be seen immediately. She needed help and it was an emergency. I met Jill the very next day. When I went to pick her up in the waiting room, she looked like any other girl I would have grown up with. She was wearing a cute outfit, had her hair up, and was clutching a very nice bag. I couldn’t understand why she even needed to come in and see me at all. I walked her back to my office and she collapsed on the couch into a ball and began sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. You see, Jill had her son six weeks prior and now she was convinced that she was going crazy.
Jill was the primary breadwinner in her family. She had a huge job in finance and could do absolutely anything! She ran her team with an iron fist, and worked on multi-million dollar deals for a living, but could not handle this screaming infant in her arms who never seemed to stop crying. Jill had stopped eating, she was not sleeping, could not focus on anything, and had episodes of shaking and crying that could last for hours. She could not catch her breath long enough to even tell me what was happening with her in that moment. That morning, Jill had fainted. Her husband did not trust her to drive so had driven her to my office. As far as Jill was concerned, the person I saw before me was not anyone she recognized, and not someone she could stand being for a moment longer. She told me she would not harm herself or her baby, but she wanted to run away and never come back!
Jill ended up shaking violently and having trouble breathing. I called her husband and we walked her over to the hospital where she was admitted for seven days. Jill had Postpartum Depression (PPD), or as we see in our office, Postpartum Anxiety.
Jill’s case was very severe, but it is important to know that cases like this happen every day. One thing you should know is that if you have had any type of anxiety or depression in your life prior to having a baby — whether you were treated for it or not — you are more vulnerable to this condition that affected Jill after the baby was born. Jill described herself as a “type A” personality. Everything had to be done in a certain way all the time. Poor Jill was the perfect victim for this condition to attach to.
Having a baby for the first time is life changing. It is not like the scene in the Gerber commercials. Moms don’t have a full face of make up on, fit right back into their jeans, and look at their baby adoringly all day. Babies scream, they fuss, they get dirty, and they don’t listen when they first come out. A mom is sleep deprived, frustrated, annoyed, and feeling incompetent in this new role. ALL NORMAL! The issue is when mom doesn’t recognize herself or her behavior anymore. Within the first two weeks crying all the time and feeling overwhelmed is NORMAL! Any time after two weeks we need to examine the behavior more closely. Every mom would benefit from one session with a therapist after she gives birth. This is a hard new role, and it takes time to adjust to it.
PPD, to me, is one of the best conditions to have because if treated quickly and in the right manner with therapy and medication, the mom recovers quickly. Most moms I see with this condition come to see me 4-6 times, and then only reach out to me to send me pictures of their baby, and update me on how great they feel. Becoming a mom is the hardest transition a person can ever have. Be kind to yourself, and remind yourself it has only been weeks since you gave birth, and it will take you way more than that to get to know your baby and become comfortable in your new role.
Aviva Cohen received her master’s degree in social work from Loyola University. Her specific area of focus is perinatal loss, fertility, Postpartum Depression, and work/life balance issues. Through her own personal struggles, Aviva has a depth of perspective in the area of pregnancy and loss that many do not. Aviva co-founded The Blossom Method in 2013 as a center for moms to connect and share their struggles and private pain.
The Blossom Method is a therapy practice in the heart of Chicago offering support, encouragement and hope to women and couples facing challenges as they start or grow their families. We provide a unique combination of therapeutic and counseling services, as well as education seminars, events, and one-on-one or group support.