By Paveena Kumar
I Love Children recently concluded a lunchtime webinar with Dr Theresa Lee, Senior Consultant with the Department of Psychological Medicine at KKH. The department provides a holistic and comprehensive range of services to meet the emotional needs of women and children. The webinar’s aim was to advise and give tips on how to cope with stress before, during, and after pregnancy.
Some of us experience stress while trying to conceive, during pregnancy, and even after welcoming our newborn. And did you know, many of us experience stress without realising it?
I didn’t realise I was experiencing stress till I attended the webinar with Dr Lee. My husband and I have been trying for almost 3 years. I used to ignore the numerous questions asked about having a baby as we can’t stop people from talking. But all these questions have taken a toll on me. What’s worse is that it makes me feel lousy that I haven’t been able to conceive. This feeling certainly isn’t healthy for anyone. ~ Paveena
Trying to conceive
While couples are trying to conceive, it is difficult to deal with questions like “Don’t you want a baby?”, “Why are you not pregnant yet?” and the list of questions is endless. So how can we deal with this emotionally?
Dr Lee shared, “As these insensitive questions are unavoidable, it’s important for couples to be aligned with one another and with the family as well. Speak to someone who can understand or simply be honest with your loved ones that it hurts when they ask such questions. We can’t control what people say and always remember that they don’t define you.”
“During one of my miscarriages, someone said to me, “This baby is not meant to be, why are you so upset? You can always try again.” The person may have meant well, but at that moment, I was dealing with guilt and trying to figure out if I did something wrong. ~ Rosemary
There is no doubt that some of us feel a sense of personal guilt, when there is a case of a miscarriage or when the pregnancy test kit shows a negative result. The question is, how do we deal with this guilt?
Dr Lee advised “Having a miscarriage is grief. It’s a loss of someone very special. There will be many emotions such as disbelief, sadness, anger, and guilt. But couples need to work through this together and talk to their family. Some couples need closure and they should do the necessary, be it a religious rite or whatever it takes for the couples to have the closure they need. Always remember that the person just wants a listening ear. If the low moods go on for weeks/months, then it’s best to seek professional help as it might be depression.”
Pregnancy should be celebrated. But I believe many of us have these questions at the back of our minds “Will my age affect the development of the baby?”, “Will pregnancy or motherhood affect my career?”, “Do we have to give up our couple time?”, “Will I be a good enough parent?”
Is there any way to calm the minds of parents-to-be?
“In real life, pregnancy is hard work. Accept that pregnancy is a time of change and transition. There will be both physical and emotional changes. Parents-to-be need to have realistic expectations and adjust accordingly. Pregnancy is a milestone for couples. Being together and having each other’s support is most important.” advised Dr Lee.
I experienced tremendous stress when I had my firstborn and was very snappy with everyone around me, this when on for a while with no improvement. It took a very close friend to come up to me and point out the signs of depression, it was then that I realise what I was doing to myself. ~ Rosemary
How common is postnatal depression? Is it possible for husbands to get depressed too?
Dr Lee shared, “A local study in 2005 showed that the prevalence was 6.8%. Common maternal mental illnesses are as high as 1 in 10 women. It’s possible for husbands to get depressed too and it’s best to talk it out. To differentiate, postnatal blues are transient, lasting days to a week but if the low mood continues for weeks, it’s likely depression and you should seek help immediately.”
Is there a difference between postnatal blues and postnatal depression? How do we identify the signs?
Dr Lee shared the main difference is to identify how long these low moods last. If it goes on every day for more than 2 weeks, then it’s highly likely to be depression. During depression, mothers may also suffer from insomnia, loss of interest, negative thoughts, and sometimes, depression is accompanied by anxiety as well.
Is there a place to seek help?
Dr Lee pointed out that help is readily available in hospitals, clinics, and family centres. “In Punggol, there’s a new pilot project called the Temasek Foundation Integrated Maternal and Child Wellness Hub, a collaboration between KKH, SingHealth Polyclinics, and Temasek Foundation. In KKH, patients come back 6 to 8 weeks after delivery, and they will go through a screening as well.”
What kind of treatments/ medications are used to treat mood disorders?
As shared by Dr Lee, these treatments are usually more holistic and not just medication. Psychotherapy is an example. And depending on the severity of depression, then the patient will be advised accordingly if social intervention is needed or medication.
Here are some questions from the participants of the webinar answered by Dr Lee.
1. How can I relax while trying to get pregnant?
This is not an easy process but there are higher chances of conceiving when one is relaxed. Choose what works well for you, be it exercise or relaxation techniques. Whatever you do, do it mindfully.
2. Are the medications to treat depression safe for those trying to conceive?
No medication is 100% safe. Doctors will always assess the benefits versus the risks before prescribing.
3. Are Counselling sessions chargeable? How long is each session? Are they Medisave claimable?
The session usually lasts 40 minutes to 1 hour and are generally affordable. Help is also available for couples who require financial assistance.
4. Someone who suffered a miscarriage is avoiding people. What should she do?
She needs to acknowledge and understand that it is not her fault and if it continues for a prolonged period, she should seek help. More of therapy than medicine.
5. How can I find the right support group to go through the stress/depression?
Choosing the right support group depends on yourself. Choose according to what you like and what suits you.
6. We are going through IVF and the jabs are affecting my wife’s moods, how can I help her?
Hormones and these jabs may cause your moods to dip. Physical and emotional changes are inevitable. But it’s important to take care of yourself and acknowledge that you’re feeling different. It’s also helpful for husbands to understand and be there. Take time to do soothing things and always remember that it’s okay not to be okay.
7. We want to have baby number two but due to medical conditions, we may not be able to conceive again. How do we comfort ourselves?
Both of you will have to support each other. Firstly, acknowledge the loss of not being able to have another child. Do not blame each other or yourself. Focus on what you have, namely, each other and your child. Enjoy the time spent with your child.
8. My husband and I are trying to conceive, I am currently completing my higher studies, how should I cope with the stress of pregnancy and completing my studies concurrently?
Stress can affect fertility. If you are currently feeling stressed with completing your higher studies, then you may want to talk to your husband and relook at your priorities. It may be better to plan the pregnancy after you have completed your studies. However, if you do conceive unexpectedly while in the midst of your studies, then you would need to learn to manage your time, get some help, and also manage your expectations.
I Love Children would like to thank Dr Lee, for the insightful sharing and tips. If you have any questions, please reach out to us at ilovechildren.sg.
If you are trying to conceive and would like to join a fertility support group, consider I Love Children’s Fertility Support Group Singapore on Facebook for the much-needed peer support.
Always remember that it is common to experience stress while trying to conceive, during pregnancy, as well as after pregnancy. Do know that you are not alone, and help is always available.