Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Society for Relief

This week I have been worried about a friend of mine who I'm pretty sure has Postpartum Depression. It's not severe--meaning, I don't think she has thoughts of wanting to hurt herself or the kids, but she is in a dark place.

Her baby is almost 9 months old and she has only just realized that she might have PPD and said it out loud to a few people. Part of the problem with depression, though, is that you don't have your regular motivation and seeking help can be daunting.

I can't think of another time where relief is more necessary. Most of the time when I head to Relief Society, I don't think about its purpose. The name is actually quite unique. Most churches call their similar organizations the Women's Auxiliary. Auxiliary means: reserve or supplementary. One of the less common definitions is: giving support, helpful. But there is no doubt about what an organization called the Relief Society is supposed to do.

"From the beginning—150 years ago—Relief Society has offered women ways to strengthen their own lives and ways to help them strengthen the lives of others. The others might be our own family, our neighbor, or the stranger who has come to our awareness. The ways sometimes come by assignment and often come from personal initiative. The needs are everywhere, and the key to our ability to meet them is Christ’s admonition that we love one another as he has loved us." - Aileen H. Clyde, “The Mission of Relief Society,” Ensign, May 1992, 92

We can't help our sisters, however, if we don't know what they need. Just because a woman keeps showing up to church after she has a baby does not mean that all is right in her world. We need to know the signs of PPD so that we can help spot them in others and in ourselves.

I have been impressed with the Ensign in the last few years for addressing some important issues that often get overlooked in regular church learning. For instance, in August of last year, they had an article on Postpartum Depression. I think it is worth a read for everyone, not just people who think they may have PPD. It has a spiritual perspective and emphasizes the need for support. In it is a list of symptoms, and suggestions on what family and friends can do to help someone with PPD. It does not give specific recommendations on care, except to say that professional help may be necessary. If you haven't noticed, this is a pattern in the church. They never tell you exactly what to do, they let people make choices by inspiration, according to their individual situation.

Since there is no one cause of Postpartum Depression, there is no one perfect solution for everyone, but I have done a little research to find out some of the causes and how different people cope and how different care providers help. When doing my research, I found many great resources from a fellow saint many of you have heard of. Marie Osmond wrote a book called Behind the Smile: My Journey Out of Postpartum Depression. The first half of the book is a bit of a memoir, and the second half is written by Dr. Judith Moore, an MD and osteopath, and it has tons of great resources. Here is an assimilation of some of my research.

Hormone therapy - After giving birth, all the hormones that were running amuck in a woman's body basically go kablowie. Sometimes one or two of the feel-good hormones gets dangerously low, which may be a partial cause for the depression. Stress hormones add insult to injury, and it is not uncommon for pregnancy to mess with your thyroid, too, which can be a cause of PPD. You can unlock the secret to all of these mysteries with some simple blood work and possibly a jar of pee and some saliva. Depending on what your labs say, there are many different forms of treatment, including vitamins and herbal remedies, homeopathic remedies, natural hormones, artificial hormones, thyroid medication, and others.

Social support- poor social support is a risk factor for PPD. It is compounded if a woman has a strained or no relationship with her mother. It is in this category that the Relief Society is best equipped to help. Luckily, I had a friend who was well aware of my motherless state and knew it would be hard for me. She happened to be in charge of the widows family home evening group and one day brought up my situation to all the old ladies and every one of them decided that they were going to volunteer to be my baby's grandma. So in addition to her grandma in heaven, she had 7 grandmas in the ward. One of them who was very healthy and active even came over and spent the night about 10 times in the first few months after she was born. She got up with her and fed so that I could get some sleep when I desperately needed it.

Sleep - I'm suffering from insomnia right now, and let me tell you, exhaustion has a lot of the same symptoms as depression. I have been known to take a sleep aid or two, but I prefer Calm Forte, a natural remedy made my Hylands. If it is the baby keeping you up, get someone to give you a break. You can pump so your breasts don't get engorged and then your relief can give the baby a bottle.

Trauma Release- A history of a childhood abuse including emotional, physical and sexual are also risk factors for PPD (and any kind of depression). If you have been abused, childbirth (which can sometimes be traumatic) can trigger memories and depression. Working through these things can be painful, and you'll definitely need help from a therapist. Hypnosis can also help, and there are books that can help you heal yourself.

Good nutrition and exercise will cure a lot of problems, not just PPD. Of course, if you are sleep deprived or really depressed it is hard to drag yourself to the gym, but if you can, the endorphins may be just enough to get you through the day feeling good. And good exercise has tons of other benefits, including better sleep, better digestion, better sex (when you're interested), increased strength and ability to cope with stress.

Therapy and psychiatry- Sometimes just talking to someone is enough to lift a person out of despair. It may also help to have someone else to help you identify problems and come up with a plan to address them. Medication can also help. If your serotonin levels are too low, sometimes medication is the only way to get them back up to a normal level. Medication has side effects, though, that vary depending on the medication and the person. If you are nursing, there are some medications that are virtually untraceable in breast milk, however, no long term or in-depth studies have been done on the effects to moms and infants. I'll be the first to tell you, though, that if you feel right about it, there is no shame in medication. It's better than living as a zombie and not being able to care for your baby.
There are many other causes and treatments for PPD. I haven't listed them all here, but I hope to convey that every situation is unique and that is why, as with anything important you should counsel with the Lord on what is right for your and your family. I hope we call all pay more attention to new (and second and 3rd and 4th time) mothers, ask about their moods (even months afterwards), and if you feel something isn't right with your sister, call in some relief.

Remember, there is always hope. In my darkest hours, I have always found comfort in D&C 121. I like to read these words from God as if he is speaking them directly to me:

"My [daughter], peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands." (D&C 121: 7-9)
I used to focus on the "small moment" part, but lately I have been thinking about warm hearts and friendly hands.

I would love to hear from anyone who has any experience with PPD (yourself or a friend).

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