When Alma Higgason and her husband were expecting their first child, they were “over the moon.” But when Higgason’s daughter arrived, confusing feelings of fear and unhappiness quickly stamped out her elation.
“I quickly realized that motherhood was no walk in the park. I was irritable, stressed, scared. Any emotion—you name it—I probably felt it,” Higgason says. “I was a mess.”
Higgason consulted her doctor, who suggested she make more mom friends. But the Fredericksburg mom continued to worry.
“I felt disconnected, like I wasn’t enough for [my baby] and I had to fix it,” she says.
After doing her own research, she realized that she might have a postpartum mood disorder. She visited another doctor, who confirmed her suspicions.
A common pregnancy complication. Nearly 80 percent of mothers suffer from “baby blues,” which usually resolve after two to three weeks without medical intervention. But according to Postpartum Support of Virginia, one in five new or expectant mothers experience more serious perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD)—the number one complication of pregnancy and childbirth. Symptoms can include anxiety, debilitating depression, panic attacks, disinterest in baby, feelings of hopelessness and much more.
“A lot of people have misconceptions about postpartum depression (PPD). They think it’s a light switch that you can switch on and off,” says mom of three Leah Cabotaje, a PPD survivor and co-leader of the Postpartum Support VA of Fredericksburg. “But that’s not the case. There are many different faces that PPD can take on or look like.”
You’re not a bad mom. Understanding the feelings of isolation and guilt associated with PPD, Cabotaje initiated the postpartum support group with co-leader Mandolin Restivo-Walsh. The group serves women in Fredericksburg and surrounding areas.
I felt disconnected, like I wasn’t enough for [my baby] and I had to fix it.
“I believe it was God-sent when I saw a post on a local Facebook page for this group,” Higgason says, who recently had her second child. “I feel much more prepared this time around with coping skills, support and just having a safe place to vent.”
You’re not alone. Stafford mom of three Rachael Pohlman began experiencing anxiety and mild depression during her second trimester with her third child. New to the community and with a history of postpartum depression, she consulted her midwives at Tiny Toes Midwifery. They encouraged her to begin building community right away before her baby arrived.
Serendipitously, Cabotaje, who is also a doula with Doulas of Fredericksburg, was assigned to Pohlman. She encouraged her to join her PPD group. Although Pohlman was hesitant at first, she trusted Cabotaje—and she hasn’t missed a meeting since.
“The peer-to-peer support makes these meetings so impactful. Not only do they support you in your journey but supporting other women in their journey helps with our own personal healing, “ Pohlman says.
Resources. To learn the signs and symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and to find support near you, visit www.PostpartumVA.org.
Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband have two sons. Christa is the author of Confidently Connected: A Mom’s Guide to a Satisfying Social Life.