I was just about to be discharged from the hospital after giving birth when a woman walked into my room. I hadn’t seen her before, and I was surprised to have someone new come just as I was about to leave. I was even more surprised when she introduced herself and told me why she was there.
The woman was a social worker who was sent because of a postnatal depression scale I was told to fill out, evaluating my mental state over the past week. As it turned out, the answers I had given put me at a higher risk for depression. While I was surprised and even embarrassed to see the social worker, I was grateful for the opportunity I was given to both evaluate my mental state and explain myself — something I had never been given in my eight previous deliveries.
I was given the paperwork two days earlier by my nurse, who did so after asking me a series of health-related questions — one of which asked the direct question of whether I had ever had thoughts of suicide. Now, if you have followed my column, you know this is a sensitive topic to me, having lost my older sister to suicide. I was confident, however, in my answer that no, I had never had thoughts of taking my own life.
Even so, being handed the form after being asked such a direct question caused me to think about my mental state. The form had statements like, “I have felt sad or miserable,” “Things have been getting on top of me,” “I have been so unhappy that I have had difficulty sleeping,” and “I have been so unhappy that I have been crying.” All of these statements, along with several others, were rated on a scale from “most of the time” to “never.”
As I filled out the form, I wanted to give an honest reflection of the past week, and rated myself in the middle of the scale on most of the questions. After all, it had been a rough week. Not only was I anticipating the birth of my ninth baby, but he was late by my calculations. I was huge, and I felt the baby everywhere. I had so much trouble sleeping, which made me overly emotional. Add to that the busyness that comes with having eight children who are involved in several things. I was feeling overwhelmed, and things did get on top of me. I felt the weight of it all both literally and figuratively.
After filling out that depression scale as honestly as I possibly could, I felt a sense of relief because I had rightfully acknowledged the way I had been feeling. I had given a name to all of those emotions that had manifested themselves in the days leading up to the birth of my baby. In that moment, I was able to, in a way, let go of those feelings.
When the social worker walked in, I’ll admit that for a minute I was kicking myself for being so honest. I had no idea that the paper would be evaluated by a mental health professional, and had I known, I would have been less honest. I thought that if I had only filled it out with a clear green light that everything was OK, I would never have been visited. Yet, as I spoke with the social worker, it gave me the chance to verbalize these very raw emotions and the reasons behind them. Being honest allowed me to have an important conversation with a professional where she validated the way I had been feeling and offered help if I needed it.
While I don’t foresee a need to seek professional help, I learned a lot that day about being honest with myself, and the role that honesty plays in my ability to cope with the hard days. I encourage all new moms, whether it’s your first or ninth baby, to take time to evaluate your mental and emotional state as honestly as you can, and don’t be embarrassed if you find yourself visited by a social worker. You may find, like I did, that opening up about your struggles is when you begin to heal.