Surviving PPD

On August 1, 2015, the second happiest moment of my life occurred: the birth of my second child and beloved son Gabriel. I recall it vividly—the quiet, dimly-lit hospital room, the soothing presence of my doula, my amazing midwives as well as my husband all forming the best support team I could hope for. After three and a half hours of pushing, the little guy came. We didn’t even know for sure whether it was a girl or boy until my husband cut the umbilical cord. They lay him on my chest and he was curled in a fetal position, face turned away from me, so that all I could see was the tiny ears, which, at birth, were slightly square-shaped. He just lay there quietly for a long while, and it was very peaceful. The small 7.9lbs weight of him against me felt perfectly right. I was exhausted, but very happy, and a few hours later, we brought him home to meet his big sister, then two-and-a-half-year-old Jasmine. We put the car seat on the floor and she knelt down in front of it. “Is this the baby?” she asked sweetly. And the two were inseparable from that moment on.

I was delighted but in a daze. Gabriel had been born the day before his due date via spontaneous labour, which came as a shock to me since I’d been induced the last time and Jasmine was technically eight days “late.” I’d still had so much work and preparations left to finish before he arrived, but he wasn’t content to wait. I remember the day before I went into labour taking Jasmine to the zoo, which was terribly exhausting since I had to walk and push the stroller everywhere. Even though I wasn’t expecting to give birth for another week or two, I had a feeling this was my last chance to do something special for just her, my last opportunity to be her mother alone, before the baby came and forever changed our lives. It was a perfect summer day, and a poignant event for me. I took her on the carousel, even though it caused me vertigo, because it meant so much to her. In those final days before Gabriel’s arrival, I found myself feeling anxious; Jasmine had been my only baby up until that point. She alone had been my sole focus. What was to become of our relationship now that another child would soon be greedily nursing at the breast, keeping the house awake all night, and so desperately needing my attention?

The first six weeks went by in a blur. There were good days and bad days. My husband wasn’t able to get more than the day of the baby’s birth off for over three weeks; then I had him home for one week. Our relatives are all over the country, my best friend had her baby just a few days after me, and everyone else was just…busy. Beyond the few brief follow-up visits by my midwife and doula, I was basically alone most of the day with my two little ones for weeks on end. And it was very, very hard. I found myself more exhausted than I’d ever felt in my life, and couldn’t even keep up with the dishes and laundry, let alone the rest of the house. Ever harder was the fact that because I hadn’t been employed in a “regular” job for some years, and was only working from home as a freelance writer and editor, I didn’t receive any maternity pay, as I had the first time with Jasmine. We were not in a great financial state at that point and my husband was working six and sometimes seven days a week, so I found myself attempting to return to my editing work when Gabriel was only three days old. It was extremely hard to function.

Although I passed all the post-partum screening tests for depression, I was not alright. In Canada, the PPD screening tests consist of a few questions, which basically range from, “Do you have thoughts of harming yourself?” to “Do you have thoughts of harming your child?” If you answer no to these questions, you’re cleared and they say you don’t have post-partum depression. However, what many mothers don’t realize is that you don’t need to experience the darker thoughts of suicide/infanticide in order to be going through PPD; there are hosts of other symptoms, from severe exhaustion, lack of motivation, to uncontrollable rage wherein one finds one’s self yelling and losing their patience in a way they wouldn’t normally, which come with PPD.

Post-partum depression also carries a stigma. Mothers who experience it will often deny it to themselves out of embarrassment or even fear that people will believe there is something wrong with them. And, since there is such a lack of support and acceptance of the problem, unless one has someone who notices the symptoms and pushes one towards a doctor or the doctor happens to see past the smiling, happy-mother mask so many of us plaster over our faces during check-ups, PPD tends to go untreated.

For myself, I either didn’t realize I was experiencing it or I unconsciously refused to admit it to anyone. Many of the first months of my beautiful boy’s life went by as though shrouded in mist. If I hadn’t taken so many pictures, I don’t know if I’d remember it as clearly as I do my daughter’s first year. The difference between raising your newborn without PPD and raising your newborn with PPD is dramatic. There were those around me who have since told me they were aware that I might have a mild form of PPD, but they neither felt comfortable bringing it up nor did they know what to do about it. They simply hoped it would go away. Even now, most of my friends (good people) go out of their way to avoid or change the subject when I bring it up. It is very sad that we have such shame associated with what is, ultimately, a perfectly natural post-partum hormonal imbalance which affects 1 in 7 mothers.

I don’t remember the exact moment it occurred to me that the reason I was having so much trouble adjusting to two children was due to PPD; it just sort of happened. I do know I had been praying for strength and guidance, and to better myself. I was appalled with the way I handled day-to-day life, and the lack of patience I often felt. I wasn’t pleased when I found myself raising my voice at my bewildered two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. So, I turned to God for help; I really didn’t know where else to go.

My physician had been away on sabbatical for much of the first year of Gabriel’s life and by the time she returned, I was already starting to come out of the fog. As a result, I did not require medication though she told me that had I been diagnosed several months prior, I would likely have needed something. I exclusively breastfed my son and co-slept with him, and while one friend said that likely contributed to my PPD, I disagree; it helped me to maintain a strong bond with my baby, which might not have happened otherwise given the nature of post-partum depression and how it affects the mind.

Ultimately, faith is the only thing which kept me going every day. I cannot say I followed my usual practices routinely, or that I even said prayers in words so much; it was mostly prayers of the heart. But God needs no words and He heard me. It ended quite abruptly too: one day, I simply got out of bed, and felt like the weight of the world was now gone from my shoulders. Although, like any mother, I still have days when I seriously contemplate tearing my hair out of my head (two under five can be challenging, especially when they’re both fairly high-spirited), overall, the fog has abated and stayed away. I only pray it will continue to do so, and that, should I ever have another baby, I won’t have to go through it a second time. If I do, however, at least this time I know what to watch out for and can be better prepared.

I believe everything happens for a reason, and thus I am certain I went through this (since I am a writer) so that I would be able to draw more attention to PPD and hopefully help lift some of the stigma. I would like to think that somewhere along the line, other mothers experiencing it might read my story and seek out the help they need, rather than going it alone. Prayer is the first step; after that, it is important to speak to one’s physician, or at least a nurse. They can connect you with counseling and women’s groups who can truly help. Sometimes medication is required, and sometimes it isn’t. But whatever you need, reach out. No mother should ever go through this alone. And again, I cannot stress it enough: pray. Because God will get you through the mist and back into the sun. You need only ask.

R.A. Goodyear