A SUMMARY OF BOOKS ON POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
As part of my healing process from Postpartum Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the birth of my son, I read many, many books on this topic.
I read some of these books when I was deep in my own depression, and I read others when I was almost out of the depression. At that point, I was thinking of writing my own book... and wanted to see what I had missed during my first reading session.
There are many PPD books out there, and I must share with you that I found nuggets of wisdom and help in every book that I read. They were all similar, yet very different.
Different books will appeal to different readers...
When I was most depressed, I wanted to read stories written by other moms. I wanted to hear about their yuck, their anger, and their grief. I wanted to know I wasn't alone, and that I wasn't crazy. Most of all, I wanted to know that I would come out of it... for at that point, it felt like I would never, ever surface from my PPD hell.
When I was almost healed, I wanted to read more about the logistics and details of PPD... I wanted to uncover - in a sane, coherent fashion - what I had just gone through in such a dazed stupor. I wanted to see if there was any stone left unturned... and what I would do differently next time.
The books that I've summarized here contain both types of reading experiences. I've included my own synopsis of the books... but please keep in mind that these are my own personal responses... not my professional responses.
BOOKS WRITTEN BY MOMS:
This book is a collection of stories from moms who have had PPD. The stories are arranged in order by topic, by symptom (i.e. sleep deprivation, fear and anxiety, suicidal thoughts, breastfeeding issues, ill babies, multiples, high expectations, adjusting after fast-paced careers, anger towards husband). I liked that the book was divided this way, because it allowed me to jump to the sections that applied to me… and then go back and re-read other less obvious sections.
The stories were short, which was great for a sleep deprived mom. I liked how the moms shared their snippets, but then also provided a post-PPD perspective – what they know now, and the wisdom that comes from having surfaced on the other side of PPD.
What I didn’t like was the fact that the stories felt so general – I would have rather read more specifics and longer stories. I also really liked hearing the ways that moms treated themselves – they ran the gamut from drugs to hospitalization to letting nature take its course. “Make done lists instead of to-do lists” so you realize how much you’ve done.
Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood (Hardcover)
This book was a firsthand portrayal of one new mom’s experience with PPD. I didn’t like this book very much. It spent too much time talking about Knoxville, her grandmother’s depression, etc. when I just wanted her to talk about her PPD experience. It was written more like a fictional novel, where the PPD story surfaced occasionally. I couldn’t really relate to it because she hospitalized herself, and she’d had such a big history of depression… it was just more serious than I’ve ever experienced, so I found myself distancing myself from the character.
She hospitalized herself and couldn’t take care of her baby at all for 2 weeks… this book left me very sad for the experiences of people with true, difficult depression. The hospital scenes made me weep for her, but I so respect her courage for actually getting the help she needs. I could relate, however, with her descriptions of the first few days at home with the baby… and in the hospital after birth. I wish she’d written more about that.
This book was very educational for me, because it talked about the difference between maternal depression and PPD. It claims that PPD is just part of a larger cycle, that is often been occurring for decades in generations of women. That PPD is important not only because it can have long-term repercussions on the family… but because depression is a cyclical illness, and one episode of PPD can leave a woman more vulnerable to repeat depression. I think this is so important for moms to know, in preparation for a sequel pregnancy… or heck, just for going through life’s stresses.
She talks a lot about how the stigma for depression is huge, but the stigma for PPD is “especially fierce.” She writes a lot about the basics of depression… how maternal depression was first studied and discovered by a novice researcher.
She writes about the three characteristics of depression (which I can totally relate to):
2. Blaming self
3. Thinking it will never get better
She provides a helpful list of coping remedies (provided by moms) at the back of the book, which I liked. Very practical, very logistical.
** The book also included a chapter on how depression makes you a better mother, which is always good to read. Yahoo – I’m not to be blamed for everything!!!!
The depression cycle she described rings true for me: first it starts with giving up running, then continues with you cocooning on the couch with carbohydrates, divorcing yourself from the pain enough to deliver a lecture or get something done, so you look productive and normal to the outside world… but it turns back up when that circumstance or event goes away. The problem with this approach is that no one knows you’re in trouble… because you’re pretending and hiding it too well.
She writes about: “Numbness, the draining away of pleasures, cold mental turmoil, constant interior drone of caustic self-criticism, intense self-loathing.”
As sad as it is for me to write this, that’s what my world felt like for 22 months. No wonder I was tired. I remember some new friends asking me a few weeks ago, “What does it feel like? What are you thinking?” I answered, “How much I hate myself.” They were shocked… they said, “That’s so sad. Because that’s completely opposite how others view you, and what we think of you.” I said, “In my head, I know this. But it still doesn’t stop me from hating myself.” And that was 22 months after my son was born.
This book, however, made me feel totally depressed. It actually sparked a PPD relapse in me, where I drank wine, got totally sad for the day, sat on the couch and watched reality TV, didn’t want to make dinner, and started looking for reasons to be scared about the reality of my financial situation. I also ignored Evan that day… so I didn’t finish the book.
This book talks about the things that may contribute to PPD, including infant temperament, difficult birth, troubled marriage, major life event during pregnancy
Interesting points from the book:
p. 91 – of 332 women surveyed, only 23% said that they think their family and friends consider their depression as serious a medical problem as high blood pressure or diabetes or other chronic medical conditions.
p. 83 – “depression plain wears you out… to flat-out exhaustion”
p. 63 – “The mother has to be pretty bad before someone picks PPD up. It’s not something we’re trained to ask about.” – quote from a MD
p. 56 – “Every time I talked to David it added to his burden and cast a pall on his happiness. After a while, his feeling of helplessness began to morph into anger – not at me, but the situation.”
p. 56 - “Breastfeeding represented the one last thing I had not screwed up, and I was damned if I was going to fail.”
p. 52 – She writes about why it’s hard for moms to recognize PPD in themselves – “She found she had been suffering from 27 or the 30 symptoms. How can anyone be that sick and not know it? For first-time mothers in particular, PPD comes at a time when life has been transformed and everything is in flux, so it’s tempting to conclude that disorientation is normal. PPD can begin very differently from the way a woman has experienced depression up to then – with anxiety and insomnia, for instance, instead of emotional numbness and feeling physically and mentally “slowed down. Symptoms can vary from one episode to the next.” 10% of women who experience PPD still show signs of it after one year. 52% in the survey waited at least six months to seek medical help, and most of them waited a year.”
p. 47 “Of the 210 women surveyed, 55% said their OB was of no help. 20% said somewhat helpful. 25% said very helpful.
* Sleepless Days: One Woman's Journey Through Postpartum Depression (Paperback)
I read this book when I first started searching for help for my PPD – when my son was 7 months old. I remember crying through it, because Brooke accurately described how I felt about my horrendous C-section experience… and how the feelings of disinterest and detachment towards your child can be so strange and unexpected.
She writes in a very plan, simple, yet on-the-mark way that any mom could relate to. While Brooke’s recovery was different than my own – she started using medication right away, she started feeling better fairly quickly, and she was able to hire a full-time baby nurse to take care of her (how many of us non-celebrity moms can afford to do THAT?).
What I loved was her description about the disconnect between her former, confident, successful, self-sufficient self… and the new, weepy, unmotivated, “yucky-feeling” mom she'd become. It’s helpful to read that other successful, smart women succumb to PPD… through no fault of their own. I also found it helpful to read how tough it was for Brooke to ask for help… and to read how her family and friends responded.
Life After Birth by Kate Figes (with Jean Zimmerman)
I highly recommend this book for all new moms. While it doesn’t focus solely on PPD, I loved the way this book provides a great overview of the turmoil that motherhood creates. Written in an honest, nonjudgmental tone, it really emphasizes what society glosses over – that motherhood is a HUGE deal.
This book explores the consequences of childbirth and becoming a mother. Talks about physical health, conflict of emotions that come up for working moms, exhaustion, relations with husband, sex, friends, family life.
I was left wishing she’d spent more time talking in the first person about her story (or sharing more of other stories) rather than simply talking about motherhood from a detached, third person perspective. It felt a bit less personal than it was meant to be, I think.
Interesting quotes that rang true for me:
P. 40, from Tim Lott in The Scent of Dried Roses. “Depression is about anger, it is about anxiety, it is about the character and heredity. But it is also about something that is in its way quite unique. It is the illness of identity, it is the illness o those who do not know where they fit, who lose faith in the myths they have so painstakingly created for themselves.”
P. 43 from Dorothy Rowe, in Depression. “Friends and family can comfort us when we are in physical pain, but when we are depressed, no one can reach us, and we persecute rather than comfort ourselves.”
This book delves into the cultural and logistical impacts of motherhood (i.e. if we have more interests and passions before becoming a mother, we have more to lose). “Women are encouraged to get back to ‘normal’ too soon, when ‘normal’ involves a whole new set of rules.” P. 46 There are no rituals to help a new mom adjust to her new role and ever-changing life.
Includes lots of quotes and short stories from other moms to drive the points home. Emphasis on the fact that society – and us as moms – don’t allow the space and gentleness for the huge shift that has occurred, and flow into the new reality.
"The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman
Interesting portrayal of PPD (and a bit of psychosis, too) from a woman in 1899. Shows that PPD is not a new health condition, and that it was dismissed back in former centuries, too.
OTHER BOOKS (BY MOMS) I WAS PLANNING ON READING, BUT NEVER GOT TO
A Deeper Shade of Blue: A Woman's Guide to Recognizing and Treating Depression in Her Childbearing Years by Ruta Nonacs
The Lifter of My Head: How God Sustained Me During Postpartum Depression (Paperback)
** Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out With the Diapers (Paperback)
Surviving Post-Natal Depression: At Home, No One Hears You Scream
BOOKS WRITTEN BY PRACTITIONERS:
Rebounding from Childbirth by Lynn Madsen
A friend gave me this book about 8 months after my son was born, and I remember saying, "THIS IS THE BOOK I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR!"
Madsen focuses on how traumatic births can cause PTSD and PPD in new moms. She shares the story of a few different birth scenarios (including her own) and goes through how the birth created depression. She does an amazing job of explaining what PTSD is... and how it comes out in moms' thoughts and feelings and actions.
This book was amazing, and I recommend it to any new mom whose birth experience left her feeling sad, angry, or violated.
The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood Second Edition
I LOVED this book. It told it like it is, straight out. This book starts by looking at the factors that play against us when we’re mothers. She also provides suggestions at the end of each chapter for how to deal with these factors. The book starts by looking at stress… stress caused by having too much to do, with too little time, keeping up with the Joneses, not having quality time with our families (even on vacation), always been turned on and connected via technology.
The book then goes on to look at depression… what causes it (it is both of mind and body). It looks at serotonin and cortisol’s role. It looks at why it’s so important for a mom to get help (for her body’s sake, as well as her child’s sake). This book was written in a kind, nonjudgmental, factual, educational manner… like a good friend… but it gives motherhood the respect that it deserves.
This book gives a very high level overview of treatment options:
The book then looks at Burnout – when you can’t give anymore, when you disconnect from work and relationships, when you lose energy and enthusiasm, when you’re exhausted b/c of stress. She notes that those who are most caring and committed and involved are most likely to become burnt out. I love that she lists the things that mothers usually take care of (meal planning, decorating, activity coordination, etc.) and encourages us to decide which we want to tackle, and which to leave behind. Helps you see how unrealistic our expectations are as mothers trying to do it all.
She gives a history of women’s work inside and outside the home in America over the last 175 years, and how we are faced with ever-changing expectations. She talks about how to create the right kind of work situation for yourself, as well as how to reduce the amount of work you take on at home. She gives an overview of why mothers are so tired, and delves into other challenging areas of motherhood, such as mothering after an abusive past, mothering a spirited or demanding child, and losing a child. At the end, she creates a list of ways to create order and gentleness where there was chaos and unrealistic expectations.
Interesting facts from this book:
p. 2 – “The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Women and Depression identifies being a mother of young children as an independent risk factor for depression – all by itself. What’s wrong with that picture?”
p. 27 – Mentions nutrition which many books ignore, particularly using carbs (45 grams without protein and little fat for at least an hour) to boost serotonin – recommends The Serotonin Solution by Judith Wurtman which has a chapter for stressed moms. (Christi’s note: however, we need to make sure to mention that the KIND of carbs are so important – a Pop Tart will not work here. The wrong kind of carbs will make a depressed mom feel worse).
Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding And Treating Prenatal And Postpartum Depression by Shoshana S., Ph.D. Bennett – contains stories from different moms
Shoshanna Bennett experienced PPD herself, so I could identify with her intro. I liked how short this book was – it didn’t intimidate me at all! It’s a short book which provides an easy summary of PPD information, and can be digested in one sitting.
Because it’s split into different types of audience, you easily know which section applies to you: women with PPD, partners of women with PPD, siblings, family, and friends, and health practitioners.
It also covers the background of many pregnancy and postpartum-related psychiatric illnesses (including PTSD, psychosis, baby blues, OCD, depression, etc.). The book highlights the symptoms and risk factors of each illness, and includes brief stories and treatment options from moms who’ve experienced each disorder.
The book offers simple, yet effective suggestions for ways moms can help themselves – exercise, eating, finding support, sleep - yet I found this info to be a bit too general for my taste. I wanted more details – perhaps this is because I’m a health counselor.
I liked the extra short chapter for partners and family/friends, which included helpful “Say” and “Don’t Say” lists. The book also goes through treatments for pregnancy and postpartum psychiatric disorders.
The chapter for health practitioners is extremely well done. It covers warning signs for pregnant women and new moms. It also includes a list of questions health practitioners can use to identify whether a mom is suffering from PPD. At the end, it briefly covers medications and protocols... and lists out websites, books, and other resources that might be helpful.
I remember reading this book when I was deep in the throes of PPD, and it just didn’t provide enough for me. At that point, I wanted to read about moms’ feelings… I wanted a step-by-step plan. I felt like this book skimmed the surface, but I still needed another book to understand how other moms felt… and what I needed to do to feel better. This book would have been a great one to have my husband read, though. All in all, I think it’s a great book for a care provider or a family member… or a mom who doesn’t want lots of stories or detail.
Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety by Linda Sabastian
This book provides an easy-to-read description of the challenges around creating awareness and treatment for postpartum mood disorders (women don’t have lots of experience caring for babies before they become parents, extended families live far away, we lose interest in the mom after birth, health care professionals don’t get much training in postpartum psychiatric problems, and education focuses on physical – not emotional - problems after birth).
It individually goes through baby blues / anxiety disorders like adjustment disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, and panic disorder / PPD. It offers helpful suggestions for each disorder, and it includes little snippets of testimonials from moms who’ve experienced each disorder so it’s easy to identify yourself.
I liked the short chapter on navigating the mental health system – it broke the options for counseling and therapy down into an easy-to-digest format. However, it didn’t offer many other treatment options beyond medication and therapy. Group programs, exercise and diet got a quick (by “quick,” I mean one paragraph) mention. This is a good overall book for women who want to use medication or therapy as their main form of treatment.
Interesting: talks about Dr. Deborah Sichel’s 6 categories of women with PP problems:
1. Pure group – early, severe onset of symptoms after delivery (this is likely to happen after each delivery)
2. Previous history of dysthymia – at risk during pregnancy and after delivery
3. Suffer primarily anxiety, not depression – worsens after delivery
4. Depressed during pregnancy (usually first trimester) - worsens during pregnancy
5. Mood disorder like manic-depressive or bipolar – suffer severe symptoms, sometimes psychotic
6. Postpartum blues – 25% of these develop more serious form of depression later in life
p. 46 I loved her description of PPD – the words and phrases hit home for me: “Hopelessness, sadness, dejection, being in a gray fog with no bright spots. Numb sensation. Problems focusing and expending the effort to concentrate.”
Postpartum Depression For Dummies (For Dummies (Psychology & Self Help)) by Shoshana Bennett
This book was very, very comprehensive (and long!)… which was its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. I remember reading this book, and it was so overwhelming that it started making me feel depressed again. So, I stopped reading it (and this was the last book I read).
This book had many different treatment options – including holistic ones that aren’t covered in other books.
This book may have been a helpful place to start way back when… but I would probably have needed someone else to help me go through it, because it simply included too much info. A new mom would never have the time or energy to go through this book.
There seemed to be helpful chapters for partners and family members who want to support the mom. I think this book is helpful for a care provider, who can then highlight one or two appropriate sections for the mom.
BOOKS (BY PRACTITIONERS) THAT I NEVER GOT TO:
The Postpartum Husband: Practical Solutions for living with Postpartum Depression by Karen R. Kleiman
Conquering Postpartum Depression (Paperback)