Story by Kimberly Daniels
A version of this essay originally appeared on Kimberly’s blog
I remember very clearly the day that I knew that I needed to reach out. I had seen a few “red flags” beforehand, recognizing the signs from working as a doula – but I was completely in denial that it was happening to me. It wasn’t until about six months into motherhood that I hit the wall, and it didn’t make any sense. I had everything I had ever wanted: a healthy baby, a supportive husband, and a new home in a beautiful town…and I hated it all. It was too much and too overwhelming to keep it all together.
Not many people realize that there can be intense anger in postpartum depression and anxiety. Knowing that those feelings are not generally in my nature it became clear that I needed help. My daughter needed so much of me; she didn’t sleep well and breastfed constantly. After months of being severely sleep deprived combined with my desire to do every part of motherhood “perfectly”, I was out of gas and I was barely holding on.
We had moved to Squamish in the cold grey dreary season, and I only knew a few of my husband’s friends, none of whom had young babies and so I became quite isolated in my own home. I had extremely high expectations of myself as mother. I had always had perfectionist tendencies and was used to being a highly functioning, independent and successful woman. And then this baby that I wanted so badly arrived and brought me to my knees. I didn’t cry a lot, instead I felt numb and hostile. It’s painful to even write those words in reference to my experience as a mother. “Numb” and “hostile” were not what I was supposed to be feeling. I was so fortunate to have friends in the birth community to talk to and connect with online. Still, it took me a long time to take the first step in asking for help because I was so ashamed. How could I, a birth professional, be “failing” at motherhood?! I felt like a fraud. I know now how distorted that thinking was, but at the time those feelings of shame were all encompassing. There were many factors that contributed to my postpartum depression… I had no family or friends living close by and being on mat-leave caused financial stress. My perfectionist tendencies came up full force and I felt unable to meet my own expectations. I was overwhelmed and extremely sleep deprived.
Just as there were many pieces that contributed to my PPD/A, there were also many pieces to my healing. It started with a dear friend, and just being able to say the words to her “I am suffering, I need help” felt like such a huge relief. That friend listened to me sob and gently encouraged me to reach out to our local resources as well as to call Pacific Post Partum Support Society. This friend also connected me with another woman who had come through her own struggles with PPD/A. Hearing that woman, whom I had never met, saying “you are a good mom for reaching out” and “it will get better” was like being thrown a life-line that stopped me from slowly drowning. My husband was so incredibly supportive throughout; he has, and always will, have my back. He deserves a medal for what he had to deal with.
I remember filling out the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale multiple times and after handing it over there was always a pause followed by an uncomfortable speech about medication. I scored high enough and actually admitted to having intrusive thoughts so there was no denying I needed help. I say speech rather than conversation because I never spoke; I just sat and thought about my preconceived ideas about medication. Did that mean I had to stop breastfeeding? ‘Cause I sure as hell wasn’t about to take away one of the only ways I felt connected to my daughter, she needed it as much as I did. I was worried about becoming addicted and being unable to feel emotions. I didn’t have access to a doctor I trusted so eventually I consulted with my brother-in-law, who is a pharmacist, about medication and my desire to continue breastfeeding. He gave me the information I needed to then be able to have a conversation and ask the right questions once I did find a care provider I trusted. With the assistance of two of our local public health nurses, I was also connected with Squamish Mental Health and Addictions Services where started cognitive behavioral therapy.
The first call to PPPSS left me with an incredible sense of relief. They immediately sent a package of information that helped me and my husband to understand and normalize what we were going through. PPPSS also runs peer support groups and so once a week I bundled up my daughter and drove into North Vancouver for what ended up being the most effective part of my healing – being amongst other women who were at different stages of their own journey and who understood what I was going through. As they told their stories I felt so relieved that I wasn’t the only one. Eventually I was able to share my story with the group. Our group facilitator, Kerry, is a genuinely sensitive and caring woman. I remember her voice being so soothing and I felt safe with her from the very first time we met. She understood the things that many others couldn’t. Being accepted without judgment, flaws and all, by Kerry and the other women in the group gave me hope that things could get better. And it did, it got so much better that a year later we decided to have another baby, a decision that, in the midst of PPD/A, I was certain would never happen.
It took awhile for me to be able to tell my family what was going on. I had spent a lot of energy trying to convince everyone I was enjoying motherhood, though I am sure I just was trying to convince myself. I remember driving back from a peer support group and getting a latte at the drive thru. Bean was sleeping in her car seat and I sat in my car, parked away from other vehicles, staring at my phone for about ten minutes before I dialed the first set of numbers I had ever committed to memory, my parents’ phone number. I could barely speak, my throat was tight and then the tears poured out with my words. I felt helpless and all I wanted was for my own mom to come scoop me up make it all better. I don’t hear my Dad’s emotions very often, but they were both audibly shaken. Not long after that phone call, flights were booked. Bean and I went to visit family; they held me and gave me space to grieve and heal. They replenished parts of me that only they could.
A growing number of families in Squamish live here without extended family. Having loving support around after the arrival of a new baby is, in my mind, essential. Without support we are left on our own to care for a brand new human and ourselves when we were never meant to be doing this alone. We are also a community of highly driven, highly functioning, athletic, goal oriented women. Once baby arrives and we are no longer the woman we were before baby and that can be devastating.
Something else I didn’t realize was how crucial self-care is to recovering from postpartum depression. Motherhood can sometimes feel like it’s all give. Self-care is a way to replenish and re-energize ourselves. Learning to set aside five minutes every day to do something like enjoying a cup of tea while it’s still warm, listening to soothing music or soaking in a warm bath, I was able to return to my daughter with a renewed sense of myself. If we expect to give of ourselves all day as mothers we really need to replenish ourselves.
If you think you are suffering with PPD/A, the sooner you reach out for help, the sooner it will get better. You are not a bad mom. You are not alone, and it will get better.
Kimberly is a DONA certified doula and has been a member of DONA International since 2009 and is a certified Hypnobabies Hypno-Doula. Kimberly is the founder and facilitator of Après Baby, a support group for new and expecting moms in the Squamish area. More information about the group, including meeting times and dates can be found on Kimberly’s website here. Supporting new mothers with breastfeeding is of special interest to Kimberly.