I Was Hoping for a Fairy Tale, But What I Got Was Stinky Poo1
Reprinted from the "Having a Baby" issue of Visions Journal, 2012, 7 (3), pp. 21-22
According to a 2006 report by the BC Reproductive Mental Health Program at BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre, “one in five women in BC will experience significant depression related to her pregnancy and childbirth.”2 I was one of them.
In hindsight, I know now that I had perinatal anxiety starting mid-way during my pregnancy. I was in such denial, thinking I was in control. I was too ashamed to admit that I wasn’t enjoying pregnancy. Truthfully, I was overridden with worry and anxiety as a result of several medical complications occurring during my pregnancy. I lived in fear that I would lose my baby.
I was also freaked out about being a new mom. My own childhood was less than perfect: I grew up with a narcissistic and abusive single mother, was put into foster care as a teenager, and struggled with undiagnosed depression until my late teens.
And, with my life-long history of major depression, doctors advised me that I was at high risk for postpartum depression.
Once my son Ethan was born, I couldn’t deny my misery and pain. I woke up the first morning after arriving home from the hospital with Ethan and broke out crying hysterically. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt so alone. I was now responsible for this little being and I felt paralyzed.
I believed I couldn’t be a good enough mom, let alone achieve my dream of being a perfect one. Prior to giving birth, I had imagined bonding and playing with my baby. My vision of perfect motherly ways included making my baby’s food from scratch, with only organic veggies and fruits. I had what I now call the “Supermom Syndrome.”
In reality, my husband and those around me expected me to intrinsically know everything about caring for a newborn and to be content to be alone with him all day. But I couldn’t enjoy bonding with my baby. I couldn’t face being alone with Ethan for fear of the daily panic attacks. And I had no mother figure I could ask for help and guidance, and no support system. I was completely on my own.
The sadness and pain were so debilitating that I couldn’t function. Many days, I was unable to get out of bed, take a shower, eat or take care of myself. The guilt of not being able to take care of my baby ate away at me. I was losing the will to live and felt suicidal.
I had reoccurring intrusive thoughts, which included falling down the stairs while holding Ethan and crashing my car into a building while driving with him. Knowing clearly that I would never act on them, I still kept these “scary out-of-control thoughts” hidden. I was afraid that someone would think I was an unfit mother—or, worse, report me to the Ministry of Child and Family Development, who would take my baby away. To this day I still get a lump in my throat when I talk about it.
Ethan was a colicky, anxious baby, unable to sleep during the day or the night for long periods. He cried so frequently that I heard “phantom crying” while lying in a constant hyper-alert state at night. I tried many infant sleep training techniques without success. For Ethan to rest or self-soothe, he needed to be held in my arms. For months I sat and slept in the rocking chair, holding my son for hours at a time.
My marriage also took a drastic turn for the worse shortly after Ethan’s birth. I was disappointed and devastated, and felt even more alone. My world was shattering around me.
I went to my maternity doctor seeking help within days after Ethan’s birth. I was already on antidepressants, had been during and since pregnancy. Meaning well, my maternity doctor stressed the importance of asking for help and building a support system for child care. I had limited resources in both areas, but was able to rally some support by investing in paid help. I gave myself permission to hire a nanny for the much-needed breaks from 24/7 baby care. Yet this didn’t eradicate my illness.
Pacific Post Partum Support Society (PPPSS)
The Pacific Post Partum Support Society (PPPSS) has been supporting women and their families experiencing preinatal/postpartum distress, depression and anxiety for over 40 years. Their mission is to end the isolation and distress experienced by many women and their families with the profound life change that accompanies the birth or adoption of a child. PPPSS is a non-profit, charitable organization that offers a range of free and low-cost services, including a toll-free BC telephone support line, weekly women's support groups, community outreach, workshops/trainings, and publications/resource materials, and partner information sessions. To find out more, visit www.postpartum.org
Where I found support
The turning point came when I discovered a local women’s support group led by Pacific Post Partum Support Society (PPPSS). I found the group online by googling “BC women support group postpartum depression.”
I was a mess, like spilt milk on the floor, when I went to my first group. It was so hard to get out of the house and go. I remember being terrified to talk, so I stayed quiet for a long time. But I soon realized I wasn’t the only mom feeling this way. The other women in the group appeared intelligent and sane. Most importantly, they felt safe to share their raw, real, disturbing emotions and thoughts. What came out of my mouth the first time I shared was a blur of words and lots of tears, because I felt so ashamed, worthless and scared. I had been a successful career woman pre-birth, and now I believed I was a failure as a mother.
I continued to go to the support group because it was the one thing I could commit to without failing. I found relief, gentle kindess and non-judgement among this safe haven of women who completely emphathized with, and understood, my misery and despair.
On average, recovery may take weeks or months for most moms. Recovery from postpartum depression and anxiety for me took years.
The support group was instrumental in my recovery and healing. When I was ready, I settled on an approach that integrated mind, body and spirit. It was a combination of meditation, challenging my negative thoughts through cognitive-behavioural therapy, psychoanalysis, mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, medication, Buddhist practice of patient acceptance, and naturopathic treatments.
Recovered, different and making a difference
After full recovery, I was forever changed for the better. I learned that I was stronger than I thought or believed I was. I can be my authentic self now, not what others want me to be or what I thought I should be to make my family happy. I don’t need to be someone else’s vision of the perfect mom or the perfect wife. I give myself permission to put my needs and self-care first so I can then take care of those I love.
Today, I can enjoy the ups and downs of being a newly single mother to a spirited five-year-old boy. Ethan knows that he can talk about any dark thoughts or feelings, as well as joyous ones, and that I will always be there to listen and won’t judge him.
I get great satisfaction from volunteering as a board director for PPPSS and working in fundraising at the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division. These endeavours allow me to transform a horrific period in my life into something profound. I live out my passion to end the stigma of mental illness by sharing my personal story about a taboo topic. Mothers, remember you are not alone. There’s no reason to feel shame. And recovery is possible.
About the authorLinda is a mother and mental health advocate. She is a Resource Development & Events Coordinator at the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division and on the board of the Pacific Post Partum Support Society. Linda helped launch Eat, Shop, Love for Moms to raise funds and awareness for postpartum support services
Dr. Williams, Chris. Enjoy Your Baby
BC Reproductive Mental Health Program: BC Women's Hosptial and Health Centre (July, 2006). Addressing Perinatal Depression: A Framework for BC's HEalth Authorities.