That’s not often what you hear. Professionals especially can be quite vocal about attachment parenting exacerbating a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), or even being an instigator. And there are cases where it seems that attachment parenting is connected with a PMAD. But it’s not that simple that anyone should be claiming causation or that someone at risk of developing a PMAD should not choose an attachment-based parenting approach.
PMADs are complex disorders. It is well known that they are caused by the sudden hormone changes following childbirth and miscarriage. In some cases, a disorder may begin during pregnancy. Research has shown the risk for developing a PMAD to be associated with a woman’s history of depression, lack of support, and a high level of stress such as recently moving, marital conflict or divorce, job loss, and other major life changes.
I developed postpartum anxiety after my first baby’s preterm birth. I was absolutely terrified of caring for my daughter, so much so that my husband was eventually fired from his job because I kept calling him to come home to help me care for the baby.
This had nothing to do with attachment parenting. It had everything to do with me trying to keep up with cultural advice of “cry it out” and “don’t hold the baby” and “get the baby on a schedule” and other childrearing ideas that clashed with my bonding instincts.
I struggled through those early months and did eventually find a local parenting support group that introduced me to the concept of attachment parenting. And it was dramatic—the change in my anxiety disorder. The feelings of overwhelm and ineptness melted away as did the fear that I was somehow damaging my child by wanting to bond with her, and my confidence began to slowly increase.
And then we moved out of the area for my husband’s new job, and I became pregnant with my second baby pretty much at the same time. We moved five hours away, clear across the state, away from my parenting support group, away from our friends, away from our lives as we knew it. My husband, who had been a tag-team parent with me—I had worked from home, and he had worked a part-time evening job and was a stay-at-home dad the rest of the time with me—went to work more than full-time with a one-way hour-long commute. And within a few months, my pregnancy was labeled high risk and I was assigned an obstetrician who was very pro-Cesarean.
My crippling anxiety returned, and if you notice all the major life changes taking place, you’ll see that it had nothing to do with attachment parenting.
Calling my second childbirth traumatic is an understatement. It ended up as a Cesarean decided for me, despite my protests, because the doctor thought I couldn’t physically fit my six-pound daughter through my birth canal. (For perspective, I gave birth to an eight-pound baby four years later via a vaginal birth.) A botched anesthesia administration left me feeling most of the surgery, and as I struggled to bear with the pain, which I was told was normal, I began to bleed out when I jerked to the side and tore my uterus. I woke up a few hours later and remember looking at this baby in my room, wondering whose child this was and where was her mother. She began to cry, and I instinctively put her to my breast to nurse and instantly realized this baby was mine.
That had everything to do with attachment parenting, and that instant bond with my baby validated following my instincts.
I had help for the first six weeks. I was very ill. I was so anemic at first that I would fall asleep in the middle of lunch and wake up an hour later to finish it. I was pushing myself to do more, too quickly. After my helper left, however, I tried to keep up with the house and quickly became overwhelmed. I was still very tired from the anemia, and because of my husband’s newly diagnosed bipolar disorder, I was faced with caring for me and my entire family all by myself. So, instead of getting help like I should have done, I stopped doing the attachment parenting for a bit and tried my best to appear like nothing was amiss.
Soon, in addition to feeling tired and overwhelmed, I felt intense anger. I basically ignored my older daughter, unless I was disciplining her and then it was yelling and spanking and putting her in her room where she would cry herself to sleep and claw at the door. My husband was the target of a lot of rage, too. And my newborn daughter spent a lot of time crying in her crib. My house was still a mess, and I felt like an utter failure.
And then the depression turned into something else. I began to have flashbacks back to the Cesarean hundreds of times a day. And then I became paranoid about things hurting my family, oddly because I was still angry at them most of the time. Would I have time to get my children out if the house started on fire? What if there was a carbon monoxide leak (which led to calling the natural gas company three times in one day and buying four carbon monoxide detectors for our 600-square-foot, single-level home)? I heard the tree branch scratch the window, and thought it was a rabid bat trying to get in. At some point, I was sure there was a mountain lion on the roof of our home and it was going to get my husband when he left for work in the morning. I was sure the neighbors thought I was a bad mother and that someone was going to break into my house at night to take my baby away.
After a couple weeks of this, my mom commented to me that I seemed to be angry a lot, which got me thinking. See, when you’re in the depths of postpartum depression, you don’t think what you’re doing is abnormal. Most women will say that they think they are the normal ones and everyone else is the problem. And I thought that, too.
And as I was thinking about being angry, I began to self-reflect. What was making me angry was not being able to keep up on the housekeeping. So, I let it go. I refocused on my connection with my family and returned to attachment parenting. And while I eventually did have to get formal treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder from the childbirth trauma, I was already long on my way to recovery from the postpartum depression as soon as I gave myself permission to parent the way I wanted to and to run my life the way I wanted to.
Attachment parenting saved me.
Would attachment parenting save everyone with a PMAD? These disorders are complex. Attachment parenting may be blamed, but the real reason is in a mother’s reaction to stressful life events, and that goes back to her own attachment style, temperament, coping skills, and other contributing factors, especially lack of support. Looking back, my PMADs were caused by a combination of contributors, including but not limited to lack of support, childbirth trauma, childbirth recovery complicated by health problems, and my difficulty in coping with this transition into motherhood.
Attachment parenting saved me, because it gave me permission to focus on my baby and myself, to make family connection more important than having a clean house and mowed lawn, to take time to recover physically and emotionally from two childbirth experiences out of my control, to accept help from others, to work on my own insecure attachment issues (research shows that insecurely attached women are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression than those with secure attachments), to simply let go of those unrealistic expectations and to focus on what’s really important when you’re a parent—your relationship with your children.
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Last reviewed: 6 Sep 2013