Post Pregnancy Mood Disorders — What Beyoncé and Serena’s Childbirth Stories Tell Us

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Beyonce and Serena are two affluent powerhouses who have made a huge impact on the entire world in more ways than one. Outside of being moguls and the precise definition of strong black women the story of their recent births connects them even more.

When we think of childbirth we think tears of joy, laughter and of a budding new life. Often forgetful that for many women the birthing experience is a traumatic one.

Monday, in a historic September Vogue issue, Beyoncé opened up about nearly dying while giving birth to her twins Rumi and Sir. She described being swollen from toxemia and being on bed rest for weeks. The health of both her and her unborn children were endangered prompting an emergency C-section. She reflects on the experience by recollecting the strength of her husband, noting that she had been in “survival mode” and that post surgery her “core felt different”.

In a January Vogue issue tennis legend Serena Williams describes a very similar story about her daughter Olympia’s birth. In this same issue she also opens up about the range of emotions she feels even in the year after the birth of her first child. “I’ve broken down I don’t know how many times. Or I’ll get angry about the crying, then sad about being angry, and then guilty, like, why do I feel so sad when I have a beautiful baby? The emotions are insane.” She says “Sometimes I get really down and feel like, man, I can’t do this.”

Of all developed nations the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate. And to no surprise this rate is highest in African American women. Each year over 86,000 women suffer from some sort of birth trauma and an astonishing one in 7 women in the U.S. suffers from a perinatal mood disorder.

There are several mood disorders that can develop as a result of a traumatic childbirth. PTSD specifically can be triggered by giving birth after experiencing sexual abuse in which the process reminds the mother of the abuse experienced. It can also be triggered when giving birth to a child who was a result of rape and also due to a near death experience similar to Beyoncé and Serena’s.

The most common perinatal mood disorders are as follows.

  • Perinatal Depression: experience feelings of anger, sadness, irritability, guilt, lack of interest in the baby, changes in eating and sleeping habits, trouble concentrating, thoughts of hopelessness and sometimes even thoughts of harming the baby or herself.
  • Perinatal Anxiety: extreme worries and fears, often over the health and safety of the baby. Some women have panic attacks and might feel shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, a feeling of losing control, and numbness and tingling.
  • Pregnancy or Postpartum OCD: repetitive, upsetting and unwanted thoughts or mental images (obsessions), and sometimes they need to do certain things over and over (compulsions) to reduce the anxiety caused by those thoughts.
  • PTSD: often caused by a traumatic or frightening childbirth or past trauma, and symptoms may include flashbacks of the trauma with feelings of anxiety and the need to avoid things related to that event.

Despite the range of emotions a new mother can feel, there are things that can be done to ease the stress.

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy also known as CBT is a form of psychotherapy where patients are challenged to change their behavior and reshape negative thinking patterns. This form of therapy helps patients use positive thinking over negative, explores coping skills and allows patients to check in periodically and identify root problems.
  2. There are also things that moms can do on their own as well such as meditation, relaxation, mindfulness and deep breathing.
  3. It is also very important to do your research. There are many resources out there to educate women on the effects and complications of having a C-section, especially women who have given birth via C-section and are expecting again. Ask your provider tons of questions, no such thing as too many.
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Be mindful when asking a woman about her birth experience because it isn’t always peaches and cream. In a recent Instagram post Serena discusses talking to her mother, sister and friends about her experiences, which helps her feel more at ease about them. Beyonce says “I have a connection to any parent who has been through such an experience.” Simply listening to and sharing experiences with mommies can make a world of a difference.

“Whether stay-at-home or working, finding that balance with kids is a true art. You are the true heroes. I’m here to say: if you are having a rough day or week — it’s ok — I am, too!!! There’s always tomm!” — Serena Williams

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