Article by Kelley Allen
I remember vividly a point during the worst of my Postpartum Depression and Anxiety with my first baby when I wanted to run out into the middle of the street yelling “Can somebody – anybody – please help me?!” I felt I was losing myself and couldn’t stay above the water, which was terrifying in and of itself, but adding in a young baby who depended on me for her each and every need made my chest feel so heavy I couldn’t breathe. I got online every chance I could to find counsellors, psychiatrists, family doctors, groups, really ANY ONE that might be able to help me. I left countless voice-mail messages reaching out for help. I knew I needed help but I had no idea where to go for that help. I felt completely and utterly helpless.
I am now pregnant with my second child and in an effort to prevent that feeling again, I recently I connected with Reproductive Mental Health at BC Women’s Hospital. Once I found out I was pregnant I asked my doctor to send a referral for me. The waitlist is LONG – my referral was sent late last summer and my appointment was just in January. I am not sure as to whether or not a referral can be any quicker. Perhaps mine was so long because I was so early in my pregnancy, but luckily I have been feeling quite good so far. As a lot of maternal depression and/or anxiety can start during pregnancy, it would be good to get more information from your doctor about how early you can be seen if you choose to get a referral to the RMH program. As far as I know, you do not have to give birth at BC Women’s Hospital in order to be referred to the program, but again double check that with your doctor.
I know going into this second birth and postpartum phase that I need to have this support in place, however I didn’t realize how much they had to offer until I went to the appointment. The first meeting was essentially talking with a psychiatrist who did an evaluation. Based on my answers, she gave me her advice on how to proceed with medication and support up to and following the birth. She was very thorough and extremely well informed about the medication that I have chosen to stay on during pregnancy, and was able to give me quite a bit of information about potential risks and side effects following birth. What I really appreciated was that she gave me the information, all of it – even the scary parts–while also remaining supportive. She explained the risks and percentages, while somehow not making it seem overwhelming. She also talked a lot about what supports I can line up now for the postpartum period and had many suggestions of things to look into and arrange prior to birth, which I found extremely helpful.
I think it is important to note that while I made the decision to stay on medication during pregnancy, I did not get the feeling that it was something that the clinic requires or even encourages by any means. There were a lot of aspects of treatment and self-care that were discussed that didn’t involve medication.
I will now be connected to Reproductive Mental Health for the remainder of my pregnancy (one month) and then for one year postpartum. The support provided can look many different ways; with phone calls to check-in assuming things are going well, to attending in-person meetings with the psychiatrist bi-weekly (or as her schedule allows). There is always an on-call psychiatrist as well, and participants are given the number should they be in crisis.
One of the things I didn’t realize was included are the groups and workshops available free of charge to RMH participants. I was given a sample booklet of topics, which included: Helping Baby Sleep, PPD/A Therapy Group, Cognitive Therapy, Self Esteem, Partnering and Self-Care, Bonding, Mommy Guilt, and Mindful Dads. These workshops are offered throughout the year, so if I am not able to make it to the next one scheduled, I know it will come around again later in the year. Also, a huge bonus is that some of them you can take your baby to, depending on his/her age. This is so wonderful for new moms who don’t have access to childcare.
There is something so very comforting about going into this birth and postpartum period knowing that I have this support. Even if I don’t end up needing to use it, the service is there, which makes me feel so much better. I hopefully won’t feel the need to run out into the street screaming for somebody, anybody to help me.
This time around I feel much better prepared. I have a better idea of what to look for, when to reach out for help, and what supports are available if I need them. I think that this particular support can be very useful for a lot of women experiencing PPD/A.
For more information on the clinic, here is their RMH Website
A note from the editor, Andrea Paterson:
I’m also part way through my second pregnancy after suffering severe PPD/A after the birth of my son. Reproductive Mental Health programs are available at many hospitals besides BC Women’s. I’m enrolled in the RMH program at Richmond hospital and have been having a very positive experience. I’ve had to wait four months to see a psychiatrist, but I have had access to a sociologist in the meantime who sees me monthly for a check in. She has been an amazing resource and has pointed me in the direction of a cognitive behavioural therapy course for pregnant women with anxiety and depression. All of these resources are free to anyone with a BC health care card. Be sure to check if your home hospital has a Reproductive Mental Health program. Even if the wait lists are long there may be resources you can access while you wait. The earlier you reach out, the better!