PPPSS News & Events

We’re In This Together: Karen

This wasn’t how I thought it would be…

When I was fifteen years old, I woke up one morning with intense upper back pain.  Within half an hour, I’d lost feeling from the chest down. Thus began a whirlwind race to the hospital and a chaotic time of what felt like thousands of tests and procedures.  After many weeks, I was eventually diagnosed with a rare spinal cord injury caused by abnormal blood vessels close to my spinal cord called an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). Immediate surgery was required followed by 6 months of inpatient physical rehabilitation to learn how to live my life while sitting down.

Fast forward 15 years.  By age 30 I was happy, outgoing and determined.  I had lived in various cities from coast to coast, had travelled to far off places and had found a meaningful career as a social worker in a busy Emergency Department.  In 2004 I met and fell in love with a video game programmer from Alberta and by 2006 we were both ready to put down roots and think about starting a family together.

My friends could easily hop on a computer and find a wealth of information about fertility, pregnancy and what to expect when you’re expecting.  However, when I typed “Spinal Cord Injury” and “pregnancy” into Google Search I got minimal results and none that were considered helpful. I realized quickly that if this was the journey we wanted to take together, I was going to have to forge my own path.

We began with a visit to the Sexual Health Program at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver.  This was followed by a referral for a pre-conception consultation with the Maternal Fetal Medicine clinic at BC Women’s Hospital, a program that specializes in providing care to women experiencing a complex or “high risk” pregnancy.   We were excited to be told that it was certainly possible to get pregnant and with the right care and support we could have a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Fast forward two years.  After months and months of trying to conceive, I finally peed on a stick and the line appeared.  We were finally pregnant! The MFM team had been right. There were complications along the way but with expert care and skilled support, at 37.5 weeks gestation we welcomed our healthy baby boy into our world.

I desperately wanted to do everything right.  I wanted to prove the world wrong and show everyone that women with physical disabilities could be amazing moms.  I made sure they didn’t whisk my son away immediately after birth and held him skin to skin for as long as they would let me.  I placed him at my breast and was so pleased when he latched right away. I happily stared into these curious eyes and marvelled at his little fingers and toes.  I naively thought at this point that we had crossed the finish line and all would be rosy thereafter.

I was wrong.  We brought our little guy home and despite his strong latch and enthusiastic sucking, he didn’t seem to get any milk.  My nipples quickly became bruised, cracked and bleeding. I didn’t have sensation in my breasts so was frustrated every time the public health nurse asked, “Do your breasts feel full?” or “So, how does that latch feel? “  My frustration quickly grew into anxiety and fear. We have all heard the words repeatedly; breast is best. Here I was failing at a key aspect of motherhood.

So I continued to breastfeed and I pumped, drank the teas, hand expressed, read the books and the blogs. I did anything and everything to try to succeed at breastfeeding.  But, despite all my efforts, my sweet boy became increasingly fussy and eventually inconsolable. And to be honest, so did I. No matter how often I placed him at my breast, it wasn’t working.  He was losing weight. I felt like a failure. I became sleep deprived to the extreme. I was hesitant to go out in public as I didn’t want people to judge me when bottle feeding. I already felt judged as a mother who uses a wheelchair.  I was so scared to reach out for help. After all, I had wanted this baby. I had fought so hard and pushed down so many barriers to get to this point. How could I possibly admit that I wasn’t doing well? How could I tell anyone that I was sad, and scared and overwhelmed?  I couldn’t.

My husband worried about me but had no idea where to turn for help or guidance.  Our families lived far away and were unable to see the day-to-day struggles I was juggling.  I have a wide network of friends, many of whom are skilled counsellors or nurses, but I somehow managed to become very isolated during this time.  I loved my baby boy immensely but I wasn’t enjoying motherhood. This wasn’t how I thought it would be.

It was only when my son began to eat solids and move about in the world that I started to come out of the fog of postpartum depression and anxiety.  I saw that although he had been formula fed he was happy, healthy and learning new things every day. And once he hit age two, and his peers were also drinking out of sippy cups, there was no way for strangers to ever know that my boy had not been breastfed or that his mama had been so sad and scared during those early months.

I wish I could travel back in time to those early days of motherhood and tell myself that it is totally okay to feel brave, and scared, and strong, and broken all at the same time.   I’d tell myself to take the risk and be vulnerable and honest even with only one close friend or a peer support telephone volunteer to be able to find someone who could help hold the pieces together until I could mend the cracks in my confidence and reconstruct my idea of what being a good mama means.

I wish I had known then what I know now.   Being a good mother means so much more than breastfeeding.  It is love. It is joy. It is connectedness. To all the mamas reading this I want you to know you don’t have to do this alone. It is okay to ask for help; at any age or stage.   Someone will hear you. Someone will believe you. Someone will support you no matter what. <3

 

Karen Hodge

 

We will be posting stories on our blog. http://postpartum.org/news-events/

We’re In This Together is a photography series, coordinated in partnership with the Pacific Post Partum Support Society and the Good Mother Project, that offers messages of encouragement, hope, support and love to new parents.

 

For more information on how you can share your message, please visit: http://goodmotherproject.com/were-in-this-together

We’re In This Together: Clare and Jane

During the two years after my daughter was born, as I spiraled deeper and deeper into depression and anxiety I refused to seek help.

I was terrified, lonely and felt I didn’t deserve it.

I had everything I wanted- a fantastic, supportive husband and a beautiful “easy” baby who I’d longed for.

All that was wrong was that Lara didn’t sleep. So of course I felt terrible! I refused to sleep-train. And I refused to believe that there was anything more than just sleep-deprivation going on.

But beneath the day to day struggle with tiredness, frustration and loneliness I was experiencing terrible intrusive thinking- thoughts of harming my baby and thoughts of self-harm. Coupled with a rage that was deep and continual I was sure that if I spoek up and told anyone they would take my baby away. Some days, that seemed like a good idea.

After Lara started sleeping (at age 2!) I started feeling better. I attended a volunteer orientation at PPPSS where I heard about intrusive thinking for the first time. I remember sobbing, realising that what I’d experienced was part of anxiety, and that I wasn’t a monster.

I’ve been here at PPPSS since, first as a volunteer and now as a group facilitator and telephone counsellor. I love this work. It is healing and inspiring and an utter privilege.

Thank you to all the mums who call in, and come to group and allow me to support them on their journeys.

Clare

 

 

When I saw the Facebook post from the Pacific Postpartum Support Society looking for volunteers who wanted to be photographed for this project, my first thought was “oh, that’s cool, but I can’t do it.” I’ve struggled with mental illness on and off my whole life and I’ve always been pretty open about it, but I was afraid to admit I had postpartum depression on a public forum. Like a lot of people, I probably make motherhood look simple and easy on my Facebook page and I was embarrassed to admit the reality was more complex. Most of all I didn’t want anyone to think I don’t enjoy being a mom, because I absolutely do.

I changed my mind about participating in this project because of Florence Leung, a new mom who tragically took her own life when my daughter was only a few weeks old. I’d read about Florence’s death when it happened, but I didn’t really connect to her story until my daughter was about five months old and I found out that like me, Florence struggled with guilt over not being able to breastfeed exclusively.

I had to start supplementing my daughter with formula when she was a few days old because I had low milk supply that didn’t increase despite a great deal of effort on my part. I was already suffering from depression – not sleeping, crying constantly, becoming irate over tiny issues – when I hired a lactation consultant who’d been recommended to me by a number of different women. This consultant lectured me at length about the dangers of formula. She told me things like, “why would you give your baby cow’s milk, she’s not a calf?” and “even African women who are starving to death in famines can exclusively breastfeed. Their babies only get sick when they start taking formula.”

On her advice, I tried to wean my daughter off formula, but after a only a few hours I knew I had to stop. My daughter was desperately hungry, and every instinct I had as a mother was telling me that I needed to give her a bottle. I felt like an absolute failure. If a woman who’s starving to death can give her baby something I can’t, what business do I have being a mother? I wondered. My daughter was so perfect and I felt like I’d already let her down.

Months later, when I heard about Florence’s story, I realized that I needed to get help. Breastfeeding wasn’t the only thing that contributed to my depression, but it was my breaking point, and learning about Florence was a turning point for me.
So I decided to get over my embarrassment and participate in this project in memory of Florence, because her story was a gift to me, and I hope my story will help other women.

Getting help for PPD has absolutely changed my life for the better. I’ve dealt with issues I’ve avoided for years and years. I’m more in touch with my emotions and I’m better able to express my needs and feelings in a constructive way. I know that I’m a better mother because of this experience.

I want other moms to know that it’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to ask for help. You’re living through a difficult time and taking care of a tiny human who requires the vast majority of your time and energy. You should be proud of yourself. I’ve discovered that being a mother isn’t about making everything perfect. It’s about accepting myself and my daughter and finding joy in every day moments, even when things turn out totally different than you expected.

 

Jane Campbell

 

We’re In This Together is a photography series, coordinated in partnership with the Pacific Post Partum Support Society and the Good Mother Project, that offers messages of encouragement, hope, support and love to new parents.

For more information on how you can share your message, please visit: http://goodmotherproject.com/were-in-this-together

 

 

2018 Angel Donor’s Dinner

On May 9, 2018 we held our 5th annual Angel Donor Dinner. We were overwhelmed with the number of donors attending and supporting us! It was an incredibly moving evening. Special thanks to our speakers Dr. Chen and Dr. Fairbrother, and Leah and Aaron Burns for sharing their experiences with honesty, vulnerability and courage. We are so grateful to all of you.

Thank you to our awesome and dedicated Angel Donor Committee and especially our Angel Dinner Founder Catherine Chow, our MC’s and hosts BG and Mike Burdick for providing the financial support for an incredibly delicious dinner at the Shaughnessy Golf Club, to Aimee Agilles-Clare, our event director, and to Kirsty Hill of www.umbrellasquared.com for her amazing graphic design of our program and banners. Another special thanks to Stand Up for Mental Health for their performance!

We are so proud to be part of this organization as we continue to build this community of support for new mothers and fathers dealing with perinatal issues. Looking forward to next year!!

You are all Angels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come Sing a Song for The Mothers

Holidays can be hard. The big ones and the smaller ones. They’re hard because we’re expected to celebrate and be joyful and sometimes that joy is hard to access. Sometimes the thing we’re supposed to celebrate isn’t accessible to us.

I find that it helps me to reframe holidays as a time for ceremony rather than a time for celebration. Ceremony may include celebration or it may not, but making the shift allows for opportunities for deep engagement without the crushing weight of expectation.

Mother’s day can be especially hard for women who are in the midst of postpartum difficulties. It’s near to impossible to celebrate motherhood when the transition to motherhood is causing so much despair, struggle, and feelings of inadequacy. And that doesn’t even consider the other painful confrontations we might have on Mother’s Day if our own mothers are absent in one way or another, if we have wanted children and weren’t able to have them, or if we have lost a child.

But ceremony doesn’t depend on having or being an ideal mother. It only depends on a willingness to explore themes of motherhood with an open mind.

It seems to me that celebrating mothers is a very small aspect of what we might do on mother’s day. It’s also an opportunity to mourn and remember, acknowledge suffering and work towards healing. While my own mother’s day will involve cards and breakfast made by my six year old and a trip to the garden center it will also involve some time to reflect on the baby I lost to miscarriage and the intense sorrow that comes from living across the country from my own mother. There is space for the grief.

Six years after the birth of my first child I am also a very different mother. I am no longer at the mercy of postpartum depression and it’s a good exercise on Mother’s Day to reflect on how much I’ve changed. Now a mother of two my life frequently revolves around my children, but I have learned the hard way that self care is not optional.

Today I hope you can create a mother’s day that speaks to your own journey in some way. I hope you can find a way to honour the place you are in and hold space for whatever joy, grief, challenge, or growth needs attention. When social media becomes swamped with pictures of grinning moms surrounded by happy looking children receiving their flowers or eating their brunches, know that this is only a small part of the story and it is not necessary to celebrate in that way to have a meaningful Mother’s Day.

I will leave you with this: Two Mothers, because I feel that this song really gets at the ways that motherhood doesn’t always conform to our expectations.

We’re In This Together: Chrissy and Dora

When I started writing my story for ‘We’re in This Together’, I began with the early days. I wrote about the trauma and confusion of those dark times; my sadness about not being the kind of mom I wanted to be; my heartbreaking inability to breastfeed; the unrelenting feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy; how I felt I’d never be ”normal” again.

However, reliving those difficult memories brought me to a realization: I’m not that fearful new mom anymore. My eldest is now 12 and my youngest 9 (how time flies!)and I thought, “Why not instead speak of the joys and triumphs of motherhood – in spite of, and yes, even because of PPD/A?”

This is the part in my PPD/A journey where I give back. I’m the older, experienced momma now. It’s my turn to give reassurance and comfort, and to share my hard-won gifts of experience and passage of time. I hope my story serves as the light at the end of the tunnel for you. You WILL emerge from this dark fog and feel the sun on your face again. Take my hand, and we’ll go through it together…

I experienced PPD/A with the birth of each of my two sons. In those dark moments when I was scared and lost, I wondered what life would be like on the other side – life after PPD/A. Would I ever feel happy again? Would I finally enjoy being a mom like I’d always thought I would? I wish I’d known then what I know now – that the answer is an unequivocal YES.

I want you to know and believe right now that you WILL be whole again (maybe even more whole than you ever thought you could be.) You’ll learn to trust your “rational” voice and let go of the persistent, negative ones. The fear and worries won’t totally go away, but they’ll slowly shrink to the normal size they should be. (Just enough to motivate you to be the best mom you can be, but not so much that it debilitates you.)

You’ll start to feel fleeting moments of peace and pure contentment as you emerge from the darkness. Those moments will become minutes, hours, days, and before you know it, years. You’ll not only survive this, but you’ll thrive, as will your children along with you.

Your little ones will become less and less a source of fear and worry and more and more a source of joy. You’ll begin to say to yourself, “Yes, I’ve got this. I AM an amazing mom.” You’ll get there – I promise. Just keep fighting.

As you continue on this journey, this biggest battle of your life, you may notice a strange and oddly uplifting thing about PPD/A. You’ll start to see how much you’ve grown because of your experience with it. You’ll become a better mom and a better you.

I had to look within and truly, finally heal so many of my past hurts. PPD/A forced me to see how I was inflicting pain on myself with old irrational beliefs and unhealthy expectations. I had no choice but to work through my issues of perfectionism and low self worth. The way past the pain wasn’t around it, but through it. This is what PPD/A taught me.

I’ll never say I’m glad I had PPD/A. It’s something I’d never wish on anyone. It took away so much from me when my boys were babies. It was a cruel and unfair punishment. Why did I have to go through that? Why me? There are no good answers. PPD/A IS cruel and unfair. No mom should ever have to suffer with it.

However, I AM glad that I used it as motivation to fight to heal myself and make myself whole. I’m so much stronger and happier because of my journey. I believe that you can get here too.

Don’t let the darkness win. Take it one moment at a time. Stop dwelling on the days ahead or the days that have passed. Focus on the moment you’re in right now. Just get through this moment, then the next, then the next. You CAN do this.

Lean on the support from PPPSS. Talk to moms who make you feel good, and give yourself space from the ones who make you feel like less. See the beauty and joys in your small child. Deal with the challenges, then move on (don’t get hung up on them). Ask your partner, family and friends for help – they’ll be glad you did. They love and want to support you. Let them.

You’ll want to give up over and over… and over again. Be kind to yourself and remember that this journey is a series of two steps forward, one step back. (Sometimes even three or four steps back!) This is normal. Keep fighting, and remind yourself often of the progress you’ve made (and have loved ones do the same for you.)

You will make it through, and you will be a better you. I know you will. I believe in you, and I can’t wait to read your story of triumph one day.

Love,
Chrissy

 

 

Dora would like to dedicate her story to the memory of Florence Leung.

She writes:

Dear Florence,

I tearfully followed your story and wished so hard that you would be found safe. I wanted to find you myself and give you a great big hug, tell you that you weren’t alone, and reassure you that it would all be okay one day. So many of us did. With your passing, I feel like I lost a sister. It is utterly tragic that we lost you, but it will not be for nothing. Your story will do so much good for so many moms. I will always remember you and keep you in my thoughts and heart.

 

*****

This is Dora’s Story:

I love this photo of me and my sister. We are both PPD/A survivors  so this photo is a wonderful memento of our journey, and a reminder that we made it. My sister’s fight with PPD/A came before mine. So when it was my turn, she became my greatest source of strength. Read her story and you’ll get a sense of what an incredible inspiration she was to me.

I decided to be part of “We’re In This Together” because I want to give comfort to all moms who are going through PPD/A. I especially want to reach out to moms who aren’t getting the support they need because of the stigma of having a mental illness. People from Asian cultures like mine can have an especially harsh and negative attitude towards mental illness. This has to change. No mom suffering with PPD/A should be stigmatized, especially not by the people in her own family.

I am so grateful that my husband, parents and siblings all “got it” when I was suffering through PPD/A. They were completely supportive and understanding, through thick and thin. Disappointingly, others in my extended family didn’t get it. I often felt like the elephant in the room and even endured outright shaming. Their reactions were so hurtful and made me feel so isolated. I sought comfort from my immediate family; and, through their love, I grew resilient. I refuse to feel stigmatized or ashamed any longer.

Never let anyone minimize or dismiss your pain or what you’re going through. Never let anyone make you feel ashamed to ask for help. If your family and friends aren’t giving you the understanding and love that you need, get in touch with PPPSS. You will find someone who will understand, listen and care.

When I was in the depths of PPD/A, it felt like life would never be good, happy or worthwhile ever again. Now that I’ve come through it, I can tell you with certainty that the good days do come back, and life will continue to get sweeter, the more healing you do. Hang in there – it will get better.