From the April/May edition of EDGEYK:
Our twins were born May 7th, 2015. Aaron and James were happy and healthy boys, despite being three weeks early, which is typical of twins. There were some great moments, at the beginning. The moment our three-year-old daughter, Emma, rushed into the hospital room to meet them for the first time was amazing. But before I had even left the hospital, I was starting to feel a little detached, a little anxious; even, at times, a bit angry. I had no idea what lay ahead in the coming months.
Determined to prove I could be an amazing mother, I tackled everyone, and everything, head on. I put incredible pressure on myself to breastfeed the twins, even though it meant making me uncomfortable, baring both breasts and hiding out in my bedroom to feed them. It was difficult and made for some isolating times. It seemed impossible to take care of two babies and a toddler, plus my own needs. Sometimes they all cried at once for my attention and I became frustrated. If it hadn’t been for my husband being on paternity leave, things might have gotten worse.
This was supposed to be the happiest time of my life. I thought, I’m sure it’ll go away, I don’t need help. I don’t need medication or therapy.
Everyone talks about the magical bond you’ll have with your babies and how great it is, how blessed we are for twins, and I do agree, but it did not feel that way for the first few months. I constantly felt guilty for the time the babies were taking away from our daughter, and I felt even more guilty that I was bonding with one baby more than the other. My husband tended to one son, and I tended to the other, that’s just how it worked out. Meanwhile, our daughter needed us and our hands were full. My temper would flare when she would try to wake the babies just after they had fallen asleep. These are natural feelings, of course, but the anger toward my daughter growing inside of me was scary.
I felt trapped. I wanted to leave the house any chance I could get and work. I am an entrepreneur, a photographer. Photography gives me joy and, for quite some time after the twins were born, I had more joy photographing other people’s kids than my own. When you’re at home, you don’t want to think about work, but when you are an entrepreneur, sometimes that’s all you think about. It’s like having another baby. My work/life balance didn’t exist. I was feeling resentful of my children for taking my time away from my business. When one would cry, I would cringe. And sometimes, I ignored their cries. I missed the life I had before they came into this world.
The day that I had accidentally double booked Emma’s dentist appointment and the boys’ public health visit is when the possibility that I had postpartum depression was brought to light. The twins were two months old. It was during that public health visit that my husband reached out for help and discussed my behavior with the nurse. She contacted my doctor and the doctor called to see me the next day. At the time, it was embarrassing to think I could be suffering from depression, but I went into the appointment with an open mind, because of my husband’s concerns. A few friends had brought up postpartum depression with me just a week earlier as well.
I was preparing to, well… lie. I brought a baby to break the ice, so the doctor could see that I was a happy mom, but it didn’t work. When the doctor started going through the screening questionnaire, asking me if I had the symptoms of postpartum depression, I couldn’t lie anymore. Things were not going fine, I did not feel fine.
A flood of tears started to flow. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I felt hopeless, miserable… it felt like I was in a daze, that I wasn’t really in my body, but somewhere else. She gently suggested that I take anti-depressant medication and handed me a prescription. She also referred me to counseling. We then talked about some of the life stresses I was facing and how I could take steps to make it better. It helped, but I was still in denial. I took the prescription and stuck it in my purse and left.
Grief hit me like a ton of bricks. How could I be diagnosed with postpartum depression? This was supposed to be the happiest time of my life. I thought, I’m sure it’ll go away, I don’t need help. I don’t need medication or therapy.
Postpartum depression, or PPD, affects at least one in ten people. Mothers especially, but men can get it too. It is a mental illness that is unlikely to go away without treatment. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, postpartum depression is caused by many different factors that work together, including family history, biology, personality, life experiences, hormones, isolation, medical complications, and the environment (especially sleep deprivation). It’s normal for any mother to experience mood swings after a baby is born, but PPD is much more than the “baby blues.”
The mental health association’s list of symptoms described me to a T. People with PPD feel sad, worthless, hopeless, guilty, or anxious a lot of the time. They lose interest in things they used to enjoy and may withdraw from others. Depression can make it hard to focus on tasks and remember information. It can be hard to concentrate, learn new things, or make decisions, and it can change the way people eat and sleep. Many people experience physical health problems. On the outside, I tried to make my life look normal, a stream of good moments and happy smiles posted on Facebook and Instagram. But inside it burned, everyday was a challenge to get out of bed. It felt like a million people were talking to me all at once, all in different languages. I became forgetful, no longer caring about birthdays, holidays, friends and appointments. I lost the lustre, the laughter.
Two weeks after my doctor had diagnosed me, my toddler burst into my home office and insisted I play with her. I yelled at her to go away and leave me alone. This was my moment of clarity. I was becoming someone I didn’t know anymore, and it scared the shit out of me.
That’s when I filled the prescription. Now, I still have a long road ahead of me, but I can see cheerleaders on the sidelines helping me out. Raising three small children without family nearby is a major challenge, but luckily Yellowknife has some great people who do their best to step in and help. There are days when my head is clear and I can conquer the world, and there are days when nothing makes sense anymore and I want to give up. Counselling is the next step. I need time to work on myself to be the best mom I can be.
Like me, most people with postpartum depression suffer in silence, are misunderstood, and feel shame and guilt. Once you realize what is happening to your brain, how it’s affecting your family and that it’s not your fault, it makes it easier to accept the diagnosis, talk about it and get treatment.
Acceptance. It took me a while to get here and it’s not easy, but now I’m speaking out so that it’s no longer taboo. If I can make just one person feel less alone, it’s worth it to me to share my story. This is a mental illness and it’s not my fault. I am not weak. I am grateful for my loving husband and friends for having the courage to talk to me about their concerns.