Military moms susceptible to post-partum depression

By Anita Doberman: CNJ columnist

I recently received a touching letter from a woman struggling with post-partum depression. She mentioned that some days she can’t wait for night to come so that she can close her eyes again and not feel.

This young military wife, who just had her first son while her husband is in Iraq for a year, tells me that she feels guilty not being happy or overjoyed by her son, who of course she loves, and that she doesn’t feel comfortable seeking help. This reluctance is common for mothers everywhere.

According to The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, up to 80 percent of post-partum women don’t seek the help they need if they feel depressed or sad.

Many new mothers mistakenly think that it’s simply a matter of trying harder, as opposed to realizing that post-partum depression and mood disorders associated with the birth of a new baby have a strong physiological component.

Be aware: You are undergoing hormonal warfare — within 24 hours after the actual birth, a new moms’ progesterone and estrogen drop to lower levels than before conception, and the body’s preparation for the production of milk intensifies these changes. This causes sudden mood changes, emotional responses, feelings of extreme fatigue and sadness.

If a woman experiences these emotions in the first two weeks after delivery, it’s often casually called the baby blues and it usually resolves on its own. The new mother, while tired, returns to feeling balanced and capable of taking care of her new baby.

If these feelings persist or get worse, then the new mom is dealing with post-partum depression.

The term is often used for a range of post-partum disorders, which also include obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and even post-partum psychosis and bipolar spectrum disorder. All these symptoms can accompany depression or manifest on their own immediately after birth, a few months afterwards, after a termination of pregnancy or miscarriage, and when a woman discontinues breastfeeding.

If this happens, it’s necessary to get help to overcome these difficulties. This is especially true for military women and for women who deal with a lot of uncertainties in their lives or who don’t have support around them.

According to a report titled “Associations of Post Partum Depression with Spousal Military Deployment and Isolation,” while post-partum depression affects 10 percent of women in the general population, it affects 26 percent of military spouses when their husbands are deployed.

New mothers need to realize that post-partum depression and mood disorders are caused by strong hormonal and physiological changes and that this challenging time has nothing to do with our ability to be good mothers. Military mothers must be especially aware of their susceptibility.

All we need is a little help to be able to fully enjoy the satisfactions and challenges of motherhood. So hang in there my friend, there is light at the end of the tunnel.