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This one is about: When Normal Grief Becomes Clinical Depression

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by Joanne Green

The baby is born, and the happiest moment of your life becomes a nightmare. The perfect baby you had planned is flawed, and you know very little about how or why this kind of thing could have  happened, or what to expect now that it has.

The baby that you had envisioned and loved for nine long months has failed to appear. Another child lies instead in the bassinette, and the other child is yours.  Slowly you begin to realize that the original, imagined baby never existed and the baby you have was never anticipated.

Something dear to you was lost. Your anticipated baby was real in your heart, and that baby is now lost to you. It is normal and healthy to grieve the passing of that child from your life.

The natural end of grief is resolution. When resolution is not reached within a reasonable amount of time you cross the line from normal grief to clinical depression. But how do you know the difference?

Grief is a process. It is dynamic. It may be painful at times and seemingly bottomless, but in normal grief, you continue to move through a kind of emotional maze toward a more functional life.

Grief becomes depression when it becomes static. If you get "stuck" in your grief and begin to stagnate, you have crossed the line from normal grief to true depression. Clinical depression is an endless, bottomless, hopeless, dark and helpless pit. The depth to which your experience your feelings of hopelessness and self incriminations is the only change you will notice.  In grief a person goes from anger to guilt to denial, and back again until resolution becomes a part of the equation. Depression spirals downward, levels off, and spirals again.

Grief has an expected duration. In grief, one can expect to be fairly dysfunctional for a short period of time. After a reasonable time - no more than a month or so - you can expect to be functional most of the time, with periods of melancholy. Some times are more difficult than others. But you find yourself capable of making plans, having fun, laughing, and talking about something besides the crisis most of the time. Moments of alone-ness may still find you reflecting on the "What if's" in life, but you are generally functional, and usually happy. After no more than a year a person experiencing normal grief should be fully functional once again. Healthy grief recognizes that life does go on and eventually seeks to move forward.

Clinical depression may last far too long to allow you to be functional. Clinical depression does not progress. It wallows. A depressed person obsesses about the crisis. A grieving person will confide in others and grow from the ability to share. A depressed person thinks of nothing else, talks of nothing else and yet is not helped by the sharing of it. A grieving person may keep a journal to help work through the issues of grief. A depressed person will write volume after endless volume to chronicle dark, brooding accounts of what happened to them and why they,
of all people, are to be most pitied.

It is normal for a grieving person to feel some degree of guilt concerning their child's birth condition. Soon, however, the grieving person moves on from there, either realizing that her guilt is groundless, or that her feelings of guilt will not help her child. However, a depressed person will allow her feelings of guilt to render her totally ineffective as a parent. No matter who tells her that she was probably not the cause of the birth defect, she will not accept it.

Grief is normal. Depression is not only abnormal, depression is dangerous. Time will heal the wound of grief, but true depression needs the assistance of professional counseling or medication.

Depression is dangerous for many reasons. The most important reason is that depression can be fatal. The leading cause of suicide is clinical depression. Untreated, depression can lead to the most permanent of bad choices. But even in those cases in which the worst case scenario is not played out, depression is still a dangerous condition.

Depression can be dangerous to the child. A depressed parent is typically an ineffective, sometimes emotionally distant parent. Even with the presence of a birth defect, the child in the bassinette is still a child, with all the normal needs of every other child.  He cannot wait until Mommy gets herself together. He must be held and fed and touched and whispered to and sung to and played with and cherished, just like every other baby in the world. He needs a mother in his life, not a martyr, and a depressed parent feels like nothing so much as she feels like a martyr. Every day she pounds the emotional nails through her palms again and climbs back up onto the self-imposed cross. She feels unworthy of anything else.

Finally, grief tends to focus on the child most of the time. Depression focuses of the self. A grieving parent will feel bad about all the the child will go through. The depressed parent will be devastated by what has happened to HER.

There is no reason -  not the death of a loved one, not the loss of worldly possessions, not one's own acquired disability, not the birth of a disfigured child - that would create a condition in which clinical depression should be the normal and healthy response. Grief - yes, depression - no. Therefore, depression is a condition that, when recognized, should be a cause for concern.

Most parents of cleft-born children will recognize some degree of grief in their parenting experience. However, for that minority that recognizes themselves as numbering among the clinically depressed, there is help for you. That help is available in the form of counseling -  and it works.

If you feel that you are ineffective as a parent because you simply cannot move beyond your grief, then you are possibly depressed. Depression need not be a permanent condition. Call your own physician, or your child's surgeon or pediatrician, and share this article with them TODAY. Tell your medical professional that you recognize the signs of clinical depression in yourself and you want help. Ask for a referral to a reputable psychologist that is experienced in grief counseling. Most cleft palate teams have a psychologist among them. Consider talking with that person.

Normal grief is a dark tunnel that leads naturally and eventually to the light at the end. Depression is a confusing maze of catacombs. Without help a person can wander in the dark forever. But there is a way out. With professional help, you can experience the sunshine again. You can find happiness in this life again, and you can justify your right to experience it. You deserve it, and so does your child.

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