The arrival of her daughter Rachel also gave birth to a year of unexpected sadness and deep despair for Limor Lieberman.
“I had waited for a baby my whole life and never thought I would feel so bad after,” she says.
Lieberman suffered from post-partum depression, a condition that affects 10 to 20 percent of all new mothers. She says she was too embarrassed to tell anyone — not her family, not her doctor.
“People just assume this is the happiest time of your life and you've been waiting for this your whole life and this is supposed to be very wonderful and you're very lucky,” she says. “And you are, but you can't control some of these feelings.”
Post-partum depression is thought to be hormone-related, but no one really knows. Symptoms are not unlike regular depressions — loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping or staying awake and absence of interest in day-to-day routine and sometimes the baby.
A new study shows many new mothers hide post-partum depression for fear of being seen as an unfit parent.
“They don't want to tell other mothers that they're embarrassed,” says Dr. Catherine Birndorf, a psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical Center. They don't want to tell family members who are so excited. People will come up to them and say, ÎHow's your baby?’ and they don't want to burst into tears.”
The study, published in this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics, tried to see whether pediatricians could be a good source for identifying the disorder. Forty-four women from different backgrounds and ethnicities were divided into focus groups and asked questions about their experiences. Researchers found that most had a hard time confessing their difficulties, even to the one doctor they saw the most.
“They felt in large part that they would be judged,” said Dr. Birndorf. “They felt embarrassed. They felt that the pediatrician would think they were bad mothers.”
It's not just the mother who feels uncomfortable talking about depression. In many cases, the pediatrician feels uncomfortable or unqualified to talk about these issues with the mother.
“Sometimes it's obvious that the mother is having difficulties coping,” said Dr. Greg Yapalater, a pediatrician. “Sometimes it's much more subtle, because they've developed defense mechanisms over the years.”
Dr. Yapalater says pediatricians are not just for babies. He says more questions should be asked.
“I'll always ask when I walk into the room, ÎHow you? How are you feeling? How is it being a mother? How's parenting going?’” he says. “And usually if you open the door with those kinds of questions, they're going to feel confident and trust you and will reveal if there are any issues.”
Opponents of that approach say pediatricians are unreliable when it comes to matters of the mind; they say more studies should be done to verify these findings.
As for Lieberman, she is back to her own self and planning a new addition to her family. This time, she says, it will truly be a bundle of joy.
- Itay Hod
For more information on post-partum depression, go to www.postpartumny.org