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More Than Blue

Obstacles to Seeking Help

Guilt can be overpowering for depressed mothers because they haven't attained the mythic ideal of the woman made instantly happy by giving birth. This guilt can exacerbate the depression, leading a mother to hide her true feelings not only from close friends but also from doctors.

In a perfect world, every doctor would recognize depression the minute it walked in the door. But physicians are usually so busy looking for tangible ills that they fail to address an intangible one that stares them in the face. This was Brown's experience when she visited the pediatrician right after her son Eli (now 11) was born: "The doctor and my husband were asking me all these questions, and I couldn't cope. I remember wishing that I could just 'return' the baby. I handed Eli to the doctor and said, 'Here, take him. I can't do it.' He looked at me like 'What's wrong with you?'" But even then he didn't suggest that Brown might require medical attention.

Another myth that may prevent some women from seeking help is that depression is simply a character weakness -- that with a little gumption, anyone who is feeling down should be able to "get her act together." Failing to see that a lack of will is an effect, not a cause, of the problem, a sufferer may berate herself: "If I weren't so lazy, I'd snap out of it."

And a depressed mother may be in no position to rationally assess her mental health. For instance, a mom whose depression makes her unable to meet the demands of an infant may see her unhappiness as a well-deserved consequence of joyless mothering, not the other way around.

Lacking objectivity, depressed people may see themselves as unworthy of the very support they need and feel that they'll fail in any course of treatment. Or they may not even know they're depressed to begin with: "Depression can be so isolating that a mother may be unable to see the destructive effects it has on her and on her loved ones," says Eidmann-Hicks.

Duffy experienced this for herself: "When I had my first baby, I was constantly terrified that I'd hurt her," she recalls. "If I took her out, would I leave her behind in a store? If I bathed her, would she freeze? I would look at Mimi and think, 'How could I have been so selfish as to bring you into the world? How can I make life worth living for you when it's hardly worth living for me?'"

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