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Delivery from Darkness

Michal Eisikowitz

What happens if your new baby brings you anxiety and depression, instead of joy and delight? How to recognize — and recover from — postpartum reactions.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

“Mommy, I want to make you a birthday party,” Shloimy said, eyes bright. “Hmm,” Leba mumbled, her head ensconced in a novel. “You know why, Mommy? Maybe if I make you a party, then you’ll smile.” An English teacher by profession, Leba Katz was as normal as they come. She was geshikt too: Despite giving birth to her sixth child just months earlier, her family always had fresh suppers, clean laundry, and sparkling floors. Which is why, despite repeated red flags, it never dawned on her that something was wrong. “My son’s remark should have been a bulletin from Shamayim,” Leba reflects. “But depression was for weirdos. I was Leba Katz, the oldest of a well-known heimishe family from Boro Park.” It took another alarming incident for Leba and her husband to realize they needed help. At 11:30 p.m. one night, Leba began walking out the door, wearing only a robe and socks. “Where are you going?” her husband asked incredulously. “I’m leaving,” she declared. “I’m just going… somewhere.” “This is crazy,” he said. “We’re going to a doctor.”   A Clinical Definition Leba was suffering from postpartum depression (PPD), a form of maternal mental illness affecting at least one in eight — and as many as one in five — women across the world. In the past, researchers referred to any post-birth mood disorder as “depression,” but today the medical world talks about postpartum reactions, acknowledging the range of conditions that can result from wildly fluctuating hormones: anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or a combination. Not to be confused with baby blues, a short-lived bout of irritability affecting 90 percent of mothers for the first two weeks after birth, postpartum reactions generally do not go away without medical or therapeutic intervention — or an integration of both.

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