Natalia Hals doesn’t remember much about her daughter’s first year. Even though Raygen, now 19, was a good baby, Hals remembers feeling like she was drowning. All she could manage was work and sleep.
“I felt this dark haze over me, and I couldn’t get out of it no matter what I did,” she says. “I withdrew from my friends, I stopped doing the things I loved and poured all my energy into work.”
Hals, a real estate agent at the time, would later learn that she had been dealing with postpartum depression, or PMAD: perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. These disorders (they can vary in symptoms) affect more than 20 percent of new moms and dads, but treating and diagnosing still proves to be difficult.
Hals, who is now the mother of three, is using her hardships to help others. A doula and childbirth educator, she’s helping new parents adjust to the change a baby brings.
“My daughter and I are so close now, but I feel like I missed that first year with her,” she says. “I was just trying to survive. I tell parents I work with, ‘Don’t do that. Get help as soon as you think something’s off.’ ”
Lauren Robbins set out to help those in pain, just like Hals. In 2015, she founded Wild Tree Psychotherapy, a counseling center focused on holistic wellness, with two locations and nine providers.
Six of those providers specialize in PMADs, and many are moms themselves. Robbins reveals that even though feeling anxious or depressed during the first year of baby’s life is normal, very few women (and men) actually feel comfortable talking about it.
“We have mom guilt. We get to this place of comparing our lives to other moms,” Robbins, a mom to three kids herself, says. “Facebook and other social media sites don’t help. Our perceptions are all wrong. We see the perfections of others but not their suffering or hardships.”
Robbins says that studies show a combination of psychotherapy and medication can help and sometimes eliminate PMADs. She also shared some helpful tools for handling the often-scary symptoms:
Small acts of self-care throughout the day can help immensely as moms and dads adjust to baby.
Build support groups
Join parenting groups and connect with others who are going through a similar experience.
Normalize the situation
Remember, these feelings and experiences are normal, and that this time won’t last forever.
Words to the wise
“I encourage clients to say, ‘I’m feeling anxious or scared ... and I’m okay,' " Robbins says.
Ease back into work
If possible, work out a schedule that works for your family, like four 10-hour days. New moms should advocate for themselves regarding breastfeeding and pumping.