PPPSS News & Events

What I Wish I Had Done Differently

Article by Erika Mitchell

When my first son was born I spent months planning for his arrival; I obsessed over choosing the right health care provider, I debated hospital birth vs. home birth, I made sure I had all the required baby gear, I took supplements, ate well and exercised. I fantasized about what I would have, what my child’s temperament would be, what they would aspire to when they grew up…in short I spent huge amounts of time focused on my child’s future and very, very little time thinking about my immediate future.

Specifically, I resisted thinking about my mental health – I’m a little bit superstitious and I didn’t want to bring on depression by worrying about getting depression. Also, I had experienced anxiety and depression before and I figured I knew what to expect and that I would be able to sort it out on my own.

In hindsight, I wish I had done some more research on postpartum depression and anxiety prior to my son’s birth and found some resources that I felt comfortable with in case I needed them. I was very lucky in having the support of my husband and mother but I had no one else to reach out to and those long nights were very, very dark and lonely.

What I wish most of all is that I had practiced reaching out for help before I found myself lost in the most vulnerable and lonely place I have ever been. I wish I had learned that being strong and independent sometimes means letting another person offer you a helping hand. I wish I had said ‘thank you, I really could use your help’ more often rather than ‘thank you, but I’m fine’. Maybe if I had practiced and learned those things I would have reached out for help sooner and started recovering faster. Maybe the first year of my son’s life would be filled with happy, joyful memories instead of memories of sadness and crying and barely coping and wishing I was anywhere else but at home with a crying baby. Or maybe the only thing that would’ve changed is how I viewed myself. Maybe I would have reached out for support and discovered I wasn’t alone; that being tired and dirty and frustrated as a new Mom was completely normal. That I didn’t need to feel guilty or horrible for the thoughts I was having because so many other women have them too.

So if I had a chance to travel back in time I would go to my younger self and tell her to practice asking for help. I would ask her to see the strength in reaching out for support and to acknowledge the bravery and courage required to do it. I would tell her that there is no prize for standing alone and that one day she was going to need a community to help her navigate her role as a mother.

Breastfeeding, Weaning, and PPD/A

Article by Kelley Allen

Postpartum depression and anxiety was something that I went into pregnancy very aware of. I worried about a family history of depression, sensitivity to hormone fluctuations, and moving to a different country three months after the birth of my daughter. Despite my worries I felt prepared as my husband and I met with a specialist before I got pregnant and made the decision to stay on a low dose of a safe antidepressant throughout pregnancy. I knew what supports were available and how to access them, if needed.

Once my daughter was born, I felt the hormonal fluctuations, stress, and exhaustion of motherhood, but was able to manage. After three months passed I relaxed a bit about PPD/A. After six months passed I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

My PPD/A didn’t hit me until my daughter was nine months old, and seemed to coincide with weaning her from nursing. It felt like I changed overnight. And for me the hard part wasn’t the depression, but the anxiety. I had never experienced it before. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I literally wanted to crawl out of my skin. My thoughts raced around in circles inside my head. I couldn’t catch my breath and I couldn’t stop crying. My heart raced and I couldn’t sit still. I felt so overwhelmed all of a sudden.  From the reading I have done since, it seems that the two hormones involved in breastfeeding (oxytocin and prolactin) dropped drastically, causing my body to experience a temporary hormone imbalance, which left me reeling. The scariest part of the whole thing was suddenly feeling like I was unable to be a mother to my child. I felt I had no control, over anything, and I had the urge to run. I believed that if I left, my husband and daughter would be much better off.

The idea that I was suffering from  PPD/A didn’t even cross my mind. From what I had been told PPD/A presents within the first few months after birth. Doctors and public health nurses screened for it during check-ups and it seemed that once I made it to three months with no symptoms, I was in the clear. I truly had no idea what was wrong. Even a basic Google search didn’t yield much of anything in terms of others experiencing the same thing. I felt truly alone. The doctors I saw in my panicked attempt to find an answer hadn’t heard of anyone experiencing something like this either. I finally came across this post. It illustrated perfectly what I was going through. Although, for me it wasn’t that I woke up one day and just felt better. It was a very long few months of attending support groups, taking medication, and calling Pacific Post Partum Support Society for someone to talk to. I remember sending the above link to my friends and family, almost with relief that I had found someone who had experienced what I was going through, and someone who could put it into words so well. I knew I wasn’t going crazy and I also had hope that it would end.

Friends and family said they had seen some signs of PPD/A in the months leading up to weaning my daughter, which makes me wonder if breastfeeding protected me from PPD/A directly following her birth. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was the hardest time of my life, the hardest thing I have been through. And going through it while also being responsible for a baby felt heavy. And unfair.

Although it doesn’t seem to be very common, I do think it is an important thing to talk about and be aware of. For mothers who are weaning their babies, and those of you who support these mothers, being aware that PPD/A can hit any time in the first year (and even beyond the first year) after birth is essential. If you have a similar experience, know that you are not alone. Reach out for support, it is essential.

Another good post about experiencing depression after weaning can be found here.

A Postscript from the Editor:

There is research to support Kelley’s experience as well. This article from the BBC suggests that breastfeeding can indeed be protective against PPD/A. The flip side is that women who want to breastfeed and are unable to for a variety of reasons have double the chance of getting PPD/A.

This article from the Massachusetts General Hospital Centre for Women’s Mental Health states that research on the issue is complicated and there haven’t been enough studies to provide strong evidence of a link between breastfeeding cessation and occurence of PPD/A though anecdotal evidence certainly suggests a link. This article further corroborates the fact that a woman’s plans surrounding breastfeeding are the biggest factor in predicting episodes of PPD/A. If a woman encounters major problems in relation to breastfeeding her risk for PPD/A goes up significantly. The article also points out that the seemingly protective nature of breastfeeding might be more related to other support structures since women who manage to breastfeed for a longer duration tend to also be in a better economic position and have a access to a variety of support structures.
Clearly it’s a complicated issue and Kelley’s experience is not isolated. My own PPD/A also intensified after weaning and while I can’t say why that is with any certainty, hormonal shifts seem like a likely culprit. Hopefully further research will help to clarify the connection between weaning and PPD/A.

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: A Global Perspective

I have a few resources to share with you today on the theme of global perspectives on postpartum depression and anxiety. There is a lot of focus on PPD/A as it manifests in North America, especially in the USA. A lot of literature points to the lack of resources, community, and care for new moms and the lack of paid maternity leave in the United States jumps to mind immediately as a major factor in exacerbating PPD/A. But what does PPD/A look like in other parts of the world? Is it equally prevalent? Or is the Western lifestyle, with its rampant social isolation, particularly conducive to PPD/A?

These are big questions and I don’t have complete answers, but I want to share three articles that address this question head on. The first is from Postpartum Progress where author Katherine Stone dispels the myth that PPD/A is non-existent in a variety of non-Western cultures. Her data suggest that PPD/A is a universal complication of pregnancy and parenthood with rates ranging from 10-40% of pregnant and postpartum women, with women living in poverty at an increased risk.

But while the experience may be universal the treatment certainly isn’t. In this article  Nupur Dhingra Paiva shares her story of being a new mother in India where she saw a general denial of PPD/A as a legitimate illness, even from doctors. Clearly this intense stigma will affect the number of women willing to get help and treatment.

It’s also true that we may have much to learn in North America from other cultures that perform postpartum rituals that are protective against PPD/A. This study  released by the World Health Organization suggests that cultures that practice a period of increased care for mothers for at least 30 days after a birth show lower levels of PPD/A, or at least lower severity. Rituals might include preparing special foods, allowing the mother complete rest for at least a month and generally allowing the mother to remove herself from her regular duties.

The bottom line is that PPD/A is experienced globally and sufferers are certainly not alone. Cross-cultural collaborations might go a long way towards developing new methods of treatment and promoting protective measures.

A Love Letter for Mother’s Day

My Son and I. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2015

My Son and I. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2015

 

By Andrea Paterson

Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday. Meant to celebrate mothers it can sometimes injure through omission. Motherhood comes in so many guises–the transgendered mother, the mother who adopted a child, the single mother, the mother who endured years of fertility treatment, the mother who doesn’t look like a mother on the outside because she lost her child to miscarriage, the teen mother, the mother who gave birth at an “advanced maternal age.” Mother’s Day has a tendency to celebrate the ideal mother, the Good Mother, the mother that we are pressured to be by advertisers and social media. Mother’s Day comes with a host of expectations, norms, and ideals that can be challenging to face, especially when you’re suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety and you may not feel like the mother you assumed you would be. The gifts, the flowers, the brunch at a fancy restaurant–all of these things can be lovely, but sometimes they only serve to highlight the disparity between how things are supposed to be and how things feel for you. Mother’s Day can be downright triggering. In addition to being celebrated for their nurturing role, mothers are expected to sing the praises of motherhood on Mother’s Day; they’re supposed to be radiant and grateful and tell the world that motherhood is the greatest gift of all. In the midst of PPD/A this sort of celebratory attitude doesn’t always feel possible. It can even be painful.

So let me suggest that we dispense with what Mother’s Day is supposed to be and start thinking about what we would like it to be for ourselves. It’s quite possible that flowers just aren’t going to cut it. Brunch may not bring joy to the new mom who has been struggling to leave the house. A card, no matter how well meaning, may not feel like a comfort or an acknowledgement of the toil that has gone into transforming into a mother. Let’s open up the realm of what can count as celebration and what might feed each mother best. It’s going to be different for everyone. Maybe for you the greatest gift would be a break. We’re expected to spend Mother’s Day basking in the glow of our angelic children, but perhaps a day off to have tea alone, go to a concert, or visit with friends would serve you better. Don’t be afraid to state what you need plainly. What would make you feel celebrated? What would you consider a gift?

Know that it’s okay if Mother’s Day dredges up big, conflicted emotions. It’s a holiday that reminds us of our sacrifices, our pain, our struggles and, yes, our joy too, and our triumphs. If you’ve been working through PPD/A it can be an opportunity to celebrate how far you’ve come in your motherhood journey and it may be that acknowledging the deep challenge of your growth into Mom is part of the ritual of celebration. Mourning can be a part of the celebration. Tears can be a part of the celebration. It would be lovely if, collectively, women could let go of the socially prescribed Mother’s Day expectations and begin to craft celebrations that reflect their own experience and their own needs.

As a gift this Mother’s Day I offer you the Love Letter Project. The website solicits and posts Love Letters written by people who are reflecting on the greatest challenges of their lives and offering words of support to others going through their own dark nights. Today the Love Letter Project is featuring letters about the intense challenges of new motherhood. Perhaps you’ll find a voice that speaks to you there today. All posts related to the challenges of motherhood are being tagged #ToNewMomsWithLove on social media feeds.

I also wanted to write my own brief love letter–a letter to my slightly younger self, the self that was mired in the darkest places of PPD/A. I wanted to think about what I might say to that woman who is at the beginning of her motherhood journey and sinking in the quicksand of transformation. This is the letter I wish I could have written to myself, to offer the empathy and understanding that paves the road back to wellness.

Dear New Mother,

I know that you are suffering. I see that the joy and vibrancy that once emanated effortlessly from your soul has been muffled. Your days feel dim, monotonous, scary. You wake in the night to the cries of your newborn baby only to find that you imagined the sound, that it was part of a perpetual dark dream of being constantly needed, constantly on call. I see that you are exhausted. I know that you are experiencing a weariness that goes beyond the physical and seeps right into the brittle bones of your newborn Mother Self. In the blackest midnight hours you wonder what it would be like to simply close your eyes and never open them again. You don’t want to die exactly, it’s just that it would be so nice to sleep for years and wake up to a brighter reality. I know that you think you are failing. You worry that your depression will affect your child, harm him somehow. You try to overcompensate for this perceived deficiency by driving yourself to fit some version of motherhood that is beyond reach. You clean your house obsessively and in moments of frenzy bake brownies to show that you have it all together. You need to prove that you’re a good mom, a good wife, a good homemaker. But the brownies only act to sugar coat the desperation that underlies them. I know what it’s like to fall to the floor sobbing once the cookies are cooling on the counter.

And what I want to tell you is that your pain is real, it’s legitimate, and you will survive it. I won’t tell you that it goes away completely. It doesn’t. PPD/A might always linger as a piece of your motherhood, but it becomes a smaller and smaller piece as time goes by. The joy starts coming in through the cracks that depression opened up in your body. Your child will grow and one day he will look at you and say “Mommy, you’re my best friend.” And on that day you will experience love so profound that the whole universe will condense into that moment. Some days you will still feel like a failure, and some days you will still cry. The rawness of mothering remains present but you will begin to define a new normal and you will gain tools and community to help you get through the bad times and celebrate the good. You will gain a new sense of self and finely honed powers of empathy. Empathy, in fact, will become your greatest strength. It will help you connect to others who have suffered, and together with your new tribe you will venture out into the world feeling supported.

Right now there is only an agony that colours every moment of your day, but it won’t always be like this. The pain will give way to other things and you will be refashioned into something completely different, something you will begin to love. You won’t forget those early days. They won’t become a blur or a haze. They will become an essential part of who you are now and you will find acceptance in that reality. You will learn to face postpartum depression and stare it down. And while I wish that your introduction to motherhood had been different, easier, prettier, the journey is what it is and you will come through. I don’t believe that we are only given what we can handle in life. Sometimes we are saddled with far more than is bearable but even so you will come through and there is something to celebrate in that.

Love, Andrea

To all the mothers in all the diversity of motherhood, I wish you a Mother’s Day that feeds you, recognizes you, and allows you to celebrate the resilience you are developing. I wish you a Mother’s Day that gives you a chance to celebrate your own victories, no matter how small, and turn a loving gaze onto your own Mother Self. You’re doing a great job, and you are enough.

The Good Mother Project

Article by Eran Sudds

Eran Colour-18

My son was 3 months and 14 days old. I know this because I was counting the days. On any given day, I knew exactly how old he was, what Wonder Week he was in the middle of, how many days were left until his next predicted milestone and,  in this case, how many hours were left until his daddy came home from his latest business trip.

On this particular day I was exhausted. Again. Because my husband was away, I had taken my infant son to Victoria with me to stay with my mother and have some extra help. The night before we had both slept terribly; he had been up over ten times in the night. I hadn’t slept for longer than 45 minutes at a time. I was overwhelmed, frazzled, bone-weary and completely worn out.

I had no idea how I had ended up here.

But here I was – my son, screaming with exhaustion in the passenger lounge on the ferry trip home strapped into his Ergo carrier and me, desperately bouncing him up and down, up and down and trying not to burst into tears myself.

I’m pretty sure I hadn’t showered  or even brushed my hair or teeth. The tears of exhaustion were lingering just beneath the surface.

A middle-aged woman sitting in the lounge kept trying to catch my eye. I did everything I could to avoid eye contact with her. I didn’t want anymore advice.  I didn’t need to hear what I should be doing, or shouldn’t be doing. I knew I was split seconds away from crumpling in frustration and humiliation, and I had no idea how I was going to hold it together through more words of well-meant, but unwanted, advice.

She talked to me anyways, “How old is your baby?”

“Almost 4 months”  My carefully guarded tears started brimming over.

What she said next caught me off-guard.

She said, “You’re doing a great job.”

And I promptly burst into tears. The floodgates opened, and there I was, standing amidst a sea of strangers, bawling my eyes out.

This woman knew nothing about me. She didn’t know how exhausted I was, or how alone I felt. Or how I was so completely overwhelmed with being a mother to this little person.

But she knew exactly what I needed to hear.

This woman saved me that day. And while I wasn’t about to do anything drastic, after I spoke with her I certainly felt like someone understood, like someone was there supporting me when I was feeling alone and at rock bottom. She listened to my story and made me feel like I was doing okay.

As mothers we need to look out for each other.  We are not perfect.  We are emotional and beautiful and vulnerable and aching for connection.

We need to feel like it’s ok to share our stories, to be at rock bottom, to ask for help, to feel completely clueless about our children and what the “right” decision is.

A few months after this woman spoke to me on the ferry, I found myself on the Pacific Post Partum Support Society website yet again. This time I was brave enough to pick up the phone and make the call to their support line and thus started my own uphill climb to wellness.

I think about that woman all the time. Here words were so simple – “you’re doing a great job.” We don’t say that to each other enough. We don’t acknowledge the tough jobs we have as moms. We need to recognize one another, celebrate one another, lift each other up when we’re having crappy days.

That’s why I created the Good Mother Project. Initially, it began as a Mother’s Day photo session promotion (I’m a photographer), with all proceeds from the session fees being donated to Pacific Post Partum Support Society. But as word spread, and moms heard about it, more stories started to emerge. More women and more mothers wanted to share their stories.  Each woman had the same sentiment: she wanted to share her story so that others in the same boat would not feel so alone.

What started out as simple photo sessions celebrating moms, has now turned into a full website with a blog of stories from mothers all over North America. Their stories have been shared hundreds of times, all over the world, and the site has only been up for a couple weeks.  It’s unbelievable, overwhelming, heart-warming and awe-inspiring all in one.

As mothers, we are so connected by the experience of motherhood. We understand each other, we know the hardships, the heartache, the joy.
We’re in this together. And we’re all doing a great job.

If you want more information about Eran’s photography project or want to get involved please visit The Good Mother Project:

www.goodmotherproject.com