More Than Just Baby Blues: Dealing With Postpartum Depression And Work

February 1, 2016  |  

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After the birth of her baby daughter PR/branding expert Karen Taylor Bass knew something was wrong. The hardworking entrepreneur and founder of TaylorMade Media discovered she was suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).  “I realized that postpartum was happening right after my daughter was born. Although I was happy, sadness and anxiety was introduced into my life immediately upon discharge from the hospital,” she recalled.

Postpartum depression is real and, according to most stats, 10-15 percent of women suffer from it. Plus, as therapist La Shawn M. Paul explained, “Postpartum depression affects both the personal and professional lives of those who suffer with its symptoms.”

Among the symptoms of PPD are: Depressed mood or severe mood swings; excessive crying; difficulty bonding with your baby; withdrawing from family and friends; overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy; feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy; and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

“Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues at first—but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin later—up to six months after birth,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

Postpartum can make it difficult to work. Just ask Bass who was unable to work for nearly three years. “When you have postpartum depression and don’t treat it, it starts to take over your body, mind, and soul. Not only was I depressed and couldn’t leave the house, I was having acid reflux and panic attacks. I mean full-blown panic attacks where I was rushed to the emergency room and treated immediately. I couldn’t even leave the house the first six months unless it was for a doctor’s appointment with my children or self. I gained 40 pounds, lost confidence, stopped hanging out with friends and was simply not motivated to work.”

While women do have job-protection rights, such as mandatory maternity leave, to help the transition period after birth, those rights are limited. “Women face various career challenges as a result and many are unfamiliar with their rights. Women are covered under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can therefore take off the time and be protected,” explained Paul.

Still, when your leave is over, you are expected back at work. There are some alternative options, though, to help you try to manage dealing with postpartum and your career.  “Some women cannot afford to stay out of work financially and may decide to return to work. If women choose to return to the workplace, she can ask HR for a reasonable accommodation to fulfill her duties during this time. It is important to be honest with HR and keep them in the loop, for they are the ones that will see that you will protect your job. If HR is involved, it is very risky for an employer to fire you in fear of breaking federal laws that protect people with Disabilities in the workforce,” Paul added.

Again there are limits to the protection for women, even under the ADA, which doesn’t cover anyone with a life-altering condition, including depression. Under the ADA your job is protected and “employers are often required to provide employees covered by the ADA with workplace changes that allow them to continue to work. These changes might include a quieter work place, more frequent breaks, or even time off from work,” reported The Huffington Post. However, if you work for a small (under 15 employees) company, you do not have ADA coverage.

And unfortunately, most jobs will not give extra maternity leave time to help sufferers deal with postpartum without medical diagnosis. It’s important to find out the details about the maternity leave your company offers. “Most companies are subject to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This protects a worker’s job if they can’t be at work due to injury or illness. Postpartum depression, when diagnosed by a licensed professional, may allow additional time to be added to maternity leave. The maximum amount of time allowed is 12 weeks in a single calendar year,” noted Tabitha K.. Westbrook, a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate in private practice at the The Journey & The Process.

Dr. Seikhoo Bishnoi added “To protect her job the mother can show the diagnosis made by a certified psychiatrist and in such situation legally the employee can’t be terminated.”

Some women are hesitant to get help because they feel they should be able to handle it all themselves, but it’s important to get past the stigma of PPD. “First and foremost know it isn’t your fault. It happens for some women and it doesn’t mean you are broken or crazy. Taking some time to google symptoms of postpartum depression and educating yourself can help you,” advised Westbrook. “Second, get help. Find a reputable therapist and go see them. Let your spouse/partner know what is happening and ask for support. There is no shame in letting someone know you need help. Childbirth is no easy feat, nor is parenting a newborn. You need help and support and it is not only okay, but courageous to ask for it.”

For Bass, her realization came when she started to look at the bigger picture. “One day while breastfeeding my daughter, I took a really good look at her and wondered if my unhealthy mental state would impact her later with behavioral issues. At that moment, I started to cry, I mean a come-to-Jesus cry.  How could I have been so selfish and f-cked up? I love my baby and fought to have her, is this how I show it? That was the day I took a baby step to heal,” she shared. And it did take baby steps. “I decided to start with the basics–taking a shower, combing my hair, opening the door to check the mail and (eventually) graduating to walking around the block. I started going to therapy. Eventually, I joined a support group for postpartum and joined Mocha Moms, a national organization for women of color.”

Seeking help was a very important part of Bass’ journey to overcome PPD because “Women can work through postpartum depression with the help of their medical provider, therapist, or other interdisciplinary staff member working with the client in the community,” as Paul explained.” It is important for you to agree and carry out the plan of those advising you, whether you’re utilizing medication management, talk therapy, or holistic approaches. It is also important to recruit family members for assistance and help. Lastly, in order to see yourself through postpartum depression one must be open and honest with themselves and their symptoms. It is vital that you contact your doctor if you notice these symptoms or if these symptoms arise after they appeared to be under control.”

After getting help, Bass tried to get back into her work routine, but it wasn’t easy.  “I started journal writing, working out and discovered yoga. Yoga saved me.  I started to feel better after each class and was inspired to stage a comeback to start entertaining freelance opportunities,” recalled Bass, who said her goals shifted due to this experience.

“I strive for a more balanced life, healthy and happy Karen, while using my expertise as a media strategist to help others, especially women over 40 and career transitioners,” she said. ”I work each day now on staying strong mentally and physically.  The acid reflux and panic attacks have been MIA for six years and although I have moments from time to time, God is not done with me. As the PR Expert, this boss chick is no longer the go-to celebrity publicist. She is smarter and values life and balance. Today, I am the ultimate PR Expert, motivational speaker, author and media strategist for small businesses, entrepreneurs, executives and savvy individuals who are 40 and over. Most importantly, I am the woman who has pressed ‘reset’.”

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