I always knew that I would be a mother some day. When I was in elementary school I was constantly pretending that I was “the mom.” I loved taking care of my dolls as if they were my own babies. As I grew, I began to babysit all of the neighbourhood kids, which evolved into nanny jobs, and a job as a birthday party coordinator. I went to university and became a teacher- kindergarten was my passion. Everyone said, “You are going to be the best mother one day!” My plan was to get married by 26 and have my first child before 30. As a planner (and a bit of a control freak) I made all of my dreams come true.
My first pregnancy was as expected and the birth was surprisingly easy. With a month’s worth of meals in the freezer, the nursery all set up, and the house all cleaned, I felt more than prepared for this little one to enter our lives. However, I was not prepared for what came next.
My baby did not want to be put down. He wanted comfort and wanted to be held all of the time. I was able to nurse quite easily and he wanted to nurse a lot.
The first couple of days were tiring but it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth day that the flood of emotions came. I felt so desperate and overwhelmed. My baby’s crying seemed never ending and I felt like I was the only one who could soothe him. I felt trapped and alone even though I had the support of my husband and my mom. I worried about what I ate because I didn’t want my baby to become gassy and even more fussy. I over analyzed everything and I felt like I had no control.
I didn’t know how long these feelings would last and I feared that they would never end. I contemplated leaving. I knew that I would be caught if I went over the border and I knew that I would never make it on an airplane, so Alberta was my plan. Looking back, it seems silly but at the time it felt like my only way out and the only solution to a terrible situation. I knew that my husband would be a great dad to my baby and I knew that I wasn’t coping so I thought that this would be best for everyone. However, I also felt like breastfeeding my baby was the only option, so I was stuck.
After a few weeks of feeling like this and my emotions becoming stronger and stronger, my mom and husband forced me to see my doctor. My doctor sent me to BC Women’s postpartum clinic to see a psychiatrist and that is when I started to get help. My psychiatrist explained that in my case my anxiety and depression was most likely chemical. She explained that I would need to go on medication to balance out the hormones in my body so that I could function again. This didn’t feel right to me. I felt like I needed to breastfeed and I worried about what the pills would do to my baby. I held off taking the pills for a few days, but finally gave in to the pressure from my family. It was a slow process- I didn’t feel better right away.
I was so fortunate to have help around me in those first few weeks after starting the medication as I was exhausted and often needed to sleep. Slowly my body became more accustomed to the pills and my mind began to clear.
When my baby was about three or four months old I felt more like myself. I still had bad days, but I was able to face them and I began to enjoy my baby. I no longer called him “the baby” anymore, and I started calling him by his name.
By his first birthday I was dreading going back to work part time. We had built such a bond and the thought of leaving him saddened me.
Fast-forward two years, and after being off my medication for over a year, I get pregnant again. It was a planned pregnancy and we were both excited. Again, it was a typical pregnancy, but I went back to BC Women’s for a consultation when I was pregnant as a precautionary. She said that there was a 50% chance that I would get postpartum again. I felt like those odds weren’t too bad. I had the option of starting the medication before the birth as a preventative measure but the risk to the baby was too great for me.
The birth was incredibly fast. First contraction was at 1am and the baby was born at 4:30am. His APGAR score was 10- the doctor said that it was the most beautiful birth she had ever seen.
The first night in the hospital was great. He laid down in his bassinet without crying and he didn’t need to be held all of the time. It was a breath of fresh air and I was optimistic that it would be ok this time around. The first three days were wonderful. I was tired and adjusting to life with two little ones but I was happy and I felt in control.
I will never forget the moment that all of my happiness quickly disappeared. I was walking down the hall in my home holding my newborn, he started to cry, and then I fell to my knees. All of a sudden, I felt completely overwhelmed with emotions. I worried that he wouldn’t stop crying, I felt guilty that I wasn’t spending as much time with my oldest son, and I worried that I would never feel like myself again.
This time everyone around me, including myself, knew that this was postpartum depression taking over again. This time my treatment started much earlier but the feelings and emotions were so much stronger. I wanted to be with my oldest son all of the time and I didn’t want anything to do with the new baby. I wanted to take my oldest son away and leave the baby with my husband. I tried to be strong for my kids and never show them my struggle but I felt guilty that my emotions were affecting them.
I contemplated leaving everyone, thinking that they would be better off without me. I even thought about harming myself. I knew that these options had severe consequences, so once again I just felt stuck. I went back to BC Women’s to see my psychiatrist. I will never forget what she said to me: “If you take your oldest son away do you think that would be fair to leave him without a father?” Ahhh- I was trapped again. I knew that I couldn’t do that to my oldest and I knew that I needed to be there for my family but it would take all of my courage to stay.
It was a rough few months as the medication started to work, but eventually, I returned to my old self.
Four years later I choose to continue with the medication as my anxiety still lingers. It isn’t nearly as bad and is quite manageable with some self care. Being a perfectionist and a planner with two small boys is a challenge sometimes, but I do my best.
I feel proud that I overcame postpartum depression. I feel proud that I stayed with my family and I didn’t leave. I feel grateful for all of the support from my family and the medical community. I feel happy that I have two healthy boys who are thriving and whom I have a loving relationship with. Mostly, I feel lucky. I know that some women aren’t as fortunate as me. Some women don’t have the resources or support, which is truly tragic. I am here to tell you that you can overcome postpartum mental health issues.
It isn’t easy and there isn’t a quick fix but it is worth all of the effort. You can have a happy family and you can feel like yourself again. It will take time and there will be bad days but if you reach out to someone and tell them your struggle you will be on the right path to recovery.
We need to share our stories. As women, we need to be supportive to each other. We need to listen, to be understanding, to withhold judgement, and to raise each other up. We are all in this together.