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Is Anger a Symptom of Postpartum Depression?

QUESTION: I feel happy most of the time, but I become angry at my husband over very trivial things. He is loving, but I make him feel as if nothing he does is good enough. I NEVER get angry at my baby; for her I have an abundance of patience. Do I have postpartum depression?

Perhaps your "blow-ups" have more to do with adjustment to motherhood rather than "depression" per se. Because you are under pressure to be eternally patient with your baby, you may have "let off steam" with your husband because this is more acceptable than expressing it to your child. It would be more likely to fall under "postpartum depression" if you were directing it at your child. However, because you are not, I prefer to label it "postpartum adjustment syndrome." While the term "depression" may fit the definition of feelings that are suppressed, "adjustment" reflects the normalcy of a wide range of feelings that come up for women during this period of enormous physical and emotional change. Society fails to support women at this time because normal feelings do not get addressed unless they are labeled "depression!"

Your body has endured many changes, hormonally and otherwise. New motherhood means that you have less time to take care of yourself or your husband. And it is natural for you to focus your energies primarily on your baby in the beginning as you get to know her and what she needs from you. But as you master the complexity of this profound change in your life, you will be able to again turn your energy to the marriage.

Begin by evaluating whether you have been able to recover your sense of self from the pregnancy. How do you feel about your relationship to your body since your daughter was born? How did the childbirth go for you? Have you recovered from the psychological and physiological impact of the previous year? It is essential to take care of yourself as a mother. Often, continued agitation with others masks unresolved loss that has not found expression. And because you may feel so blessed with your child, the downside of motherhood may not be acknowledged.

Speak with your husband about your joy and losses in becoming a mother. Ask him to share both the happiness of new fatherhood and the ways it has changed his life that he misses. Grieving together and being aware of the downside of these changes in no way reflects on your love and happiness for your baby, or the "rightness" of your decision to become parents. You may also benefit from joining a new-mother's group and developing friendships with other women going though similar life changes.

Once you have found some time for yourself, you may also discover that you have more patience for your husband. Consider scheduling some quality time alone together. Refocus your attention on your relationship. Your couples' bond forms the garden in which your child grows. She will experience the increased harmony in the home that results from the realignment of her parents' relationship, as well as her mother's self-care!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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