At my last postpartum visit with Michelle, she graciously provided me with a lovely gift; a beautiful photo of her family, and a bath set from my favourite bath and body line, Barefoot Venus. We talked about how far she had come. Her resiliency, her neverending love for her girls and husband, and her progress. "I could write a book about all this!" She mused. "Do it." I encouraged. "Actually, start with a guest article for my blog! Talk about your transition to motherhood. Talk about what you needed. Lets normalize this." So.... here we are.
It takes true grit to face the beast that can be postpartum in the face. Michelle is sharing her experience so beautifully, openly, honestly. I will always be in awe of her strength. Serving Michelle and her family as a doula was a gift. I was a doula who needed a doula. I partnered with Renee Dias-Riley from Your Village London for care for This family. Renee was intrigal in securing extra hours and in home after care support for the family. I will be heart grateful always to Renee for being available when we needed her.
Michelle. Kevin. You are remarkable. Thank you for sharing your story.
Jackie has asked me to write about my experience into motherhood. It has taken me some time to get my thoughts written down because every time I start to write, a new version comes out. My journey into motherhood is far from what I imagined it would be. From complicated pregnancies and preterm deliveries, to challenging babies and postpartum mood disorders. Oh postpartum, how you can be so unkind to me. Not only am I working on figuring out this mothering thing, I’m having to work hard to bring myself back from the beast that is depression, anxiety and OCD. Not an easy task.
Within 24hrs of the birth of my first daughter, my rainbow baby, I knew something was wrong with me. I had no idea at the time what it was and no one else saw the warning signs. I also didn’t care. My daughter was born via urgent c-section due to breech presentation and an extremely fast, progressing labor. She was born 7 weeks early and was in the hospital for a month to grow and learn to eat – I was too busy to focus on myself. Finally,when my girl was 10 weeks old, I recognized that what I was feeling wasn’t normal. Sleeping 4hrs in 4 days and massive weight loss wasn’t normal either. I felt like I was in a deep dark hole being pushed down by the weight of an elephant, on my chest, further and further into darkness. I didn’t know which way was up nor how to get out. I couldn’t put this into words at the time. I would cry all day, every day. I hid in the back of my closet, trying to escape my thoughts and feelings. I wanted to run far away from it all. Surely my baby didn’t need me, my husband didn’t need me and he was fully capable of taking care of her alone. I was worthless, useless and undeserving. How dare I think that I could bring a child into this world and be a good mother!? I went to my doctor and broke down. She prescribed me an antidepressant and recommended I see someone for counselling. It took me another 5 months to seek that counselling. While the medication worked absolute wonders, I had SO much to work through and it took me that much time to get the courage to do so. I worked hard. I participated in physical activity groups, support groups and private counselling. No way was I going to be stuck and continue to miss out on my daughter’s life. I wanted to find myself again and enjoy this new family I had made with my husband. I wanted to rebuild our relationship. And I did just that.Even though I gained so much and recognized my strength as a warrior mama, I still lost a lot. I lost the first 6 months of my daughter’s life. Depression and anxiety robbed me of my time with her and put a black cloud over what “should” have been one of the happiest times of my life. I missed a lot of firsts. I didn’t connect and bond with her for almost a year. I had to heal both physically and mentally before I could that. Thank goodness for taking photos and videos so that I could re-experience that time with a different, healthier state of mind.
A year and a half later, we decided we were ready to grow our family again. This time, I would become mentally prepared. I would prepare for another complicated pregnancy with risk of preterm birth, c-section, not being able to breastfeed, etc – just like my first. I would be monitored closer. We knew the warning signs, we could catch this or even outsmart it. I had a stronger community network this time around also. I had the resources. I wasn’t afraid anymore to speak up about what I went through and what I was currently going through. I also decided to encapsulate my placenta as I had heard it helped postpartum depression. I invited a doula into my journey for the support. We were SO ready to do this. And wouldn’t you know, the damn beast found me again. This time, it came differently, and with a little bit more.
My second daughter was born 4 weeks early. I had been on bedrest since 20 weeks, receiving hormone injections since 16 weeks, hoping to keep her in longer than my first (yay me, I did!). It was very difficult on my whole family. I continued my counselling and group therapy throughout. I knew I needed those outlets and supports. I was admitted and treated for threatened preterm labor at 33 weeks. I pushed on for 3 more weeks until needing to have another urgent c-section for breech presentation after a tough labor. Different this time was that my baby was healthy and happy AND got to come home with me! Over the next 3 weeks however, we took hit after hit. Breastfeeding issues, dehydration, hospital admission, genetic test scare, a c-section wound infection – the list goes on. All of that stress finally got to me. My brain and my heart had had enough. I crashed hard. But pushed even harder for the help I needed. Never have I been so scared for myself. I felt like my brain was 20 feet outside of my body. I couldn’t control what I was saying or how I was acting. My OCD was out of control. I knew I was anxious, couldn’t stop the racing thoughts nor put them into words. All I knew was that I was getting worse and was not safe to be left alone with my children. I never feared that I would harm them or myself, I feared that I would get so far down, so locked into my brain, that I would shut off. Then,my girls would be left helpless and alone for who knows how long. I called my husband, a friend, Jackie and my mom. Had I not had this knowledge nor this community in place, who knows what would have happened.
My husband. An amazingly strong man. I cannot get through this life without him. He is the steady and slow calm to my quick, busy nature. He makes things clear when I am swirling around lost. He knows when he has to just do, and he did just that. He understood that something was wrong and I needed to get help. My friend brought me to the ER where we met a team from the mental health inpatient unit. I was admitted to the hospital for 6 days. I needed a break, I needed to rest. I needed to get back on proper medication. Jackie organized my life at home with my husband while I was admitted. Once home again, my mom took an emergency leave from work to come take care of my girls while I continued to heal mentally and physically. Finally, after 3 weeks, I felt capable to take care of my children again.
So here I am today. My baby is just over 3 months old and my older daughter is 2.5 years old. I am still battling through motherhood (a lifelong journey I have come to realize) as well as this beast of maternal mental health. It is a roller coaster. There are definitely more ups than downs now, but also many straightaways, where things seem to not want to change. It does not happen overnight. Along that roller coaster, I have been grieving the loss of what I thought was suppose to be my “normal” start to motherhood. The loss of contentment. The loss of feeding choices. The loss of having a squishy, term newborn. The loss of the ideal of what I thought I was going to do and be. Preemie parents face so much loss, I could write a whole story on that too! I’m learning to accept what is, versus what I thought it “should” be. I continue group and individual therapy, seeing a psychiatrist, being open to friends and family, being physically active, etc. I am in the process of changing from antidepressants to mood stabilizers. I try and take time for myself and fill my mom cup. I could go on and on about what I am doing to climb out. Mostly though, I am learning to be kind to myself. I am human. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am amazing. I love my family more than I have words for. I am so happy that I am finding my way back to them, they are too important to lose.
It sounds cliché, but it’s the truth, it does take a village. A community of men and women, to fully raise and support a family. My husband and I have many people in our life that saved us when we were struggling through a storm. Jackie is one of my saviours. I wish she could be my life doula. She is an extremely amazing, sweet hearted person and this world is a better place because of her. When I was in the darkest, deepest part of this second-time around journey, she was my sounding board. She pulled together a community to help support our family. I will be forever grateful for having had met her and for her touch in our lives.
My final note. Please ask for help. Please ask your mama friends if they are doing ok. Spread the word. Share my story. Share your story. There is no shame in fighting a mental health illness. Lets increase awareness. Resources in London and area are available. Please also join me for the Climb Out of the Darkness event on August 26 at Pinafore Park in St Thomas, ON. You can find the information on the events page on Facebook.
Michelle, St.Thomas, ON; 2017
Jackie Anger is a London, Ontario doula, a mama to an amazing toddler, a community advocate, and a lover of coffee.