While childbirth is a natural phenomenon and is joyful for many, it is also often a stressful event that is associated with a substantial risk for psychological distress. Unfortunately, a mother’s need for assistance is often not met and some endure psychological problems following childbirth for many years. This was the case with Claire.
37-year-old Claire presented with depression, which she had experienced since the birth of her first child 10 years ago and was compounded by the subsequent births of three children.Diagnosis
Claire said she struggled with the mundaneness of her life. She would wake up at 6:00am, organise her two children for school, and then would be left with the dishes, washing, housework, and looking after her two younger children. More recently, Claire’s depression had worsened. She described having no energy or motivation. Comforted by junk food, she had gained 30 kgs. She reported lack of concentration and was always running late. Claire explained that she was always tired. At times, Claire felt worthless. She often would not shower and believed her children were better off without her.Claire was suffering from postpartum depression. While Claire reported a pervasive feeling of sadness, which began after the birth of her first child, her depression had gradually increased following the birth of other children. Treatment
Treatment of Claire’s depression first began with identifying her underlying beliefs that were contributing towards her depressed mood. The underlying theme that became apparent was that Claire felt as if she had lost her identity. Before having children, Claire was independent, having gained a degree and was employed as an accountant. Since having children, Claire’s self-perception consisted of solely being a mother and she was unable to see other aspects within this perception. In addition, Claire’s life was totally focused on meeting the needs of her family, which was at the expense of meeting her own needs.An important element of Claire’s treatment was to assist Claire to foster a broader sense of self that includes being a mother. Claire began setting behavioural tasks that helped to foster this broader sense of self. Examining and challenging maladaptive thought patterns also assisted Claire in developing a new self-identity and helped to alleviate her depression.There are a number of psychological conditions that can occur during pregnancy and postpartum, one of which is depression. Mood disorders and anxiety disorders are other common conditions experienced in relation to pregnancy and childbirth.
Psychological problems in pregnancy and postpartum can impact negatively not only on a woman’s short and long-term mental health and functioning but also on her ability to function as a mother, her attachment to her infant, and her relationship with her partner, and family functioning as a whole. Women who are experiencing difficulties in pregnancy and postpartum should seek assistance and receive treatment.