Knowing my family's history and experience with mental illness, postpartum depression scares me a lot. Like many of the topics over the course of Life is Sweet month, it is something that we don't talk about openly in our society. The statistics of women who struggle with sadness following their baby's birth is as high as 80 percent, but between 10-40 percent are affected by clinical postpartum depression. I'm thankful to Janet for sharing her story so openly for this series.
I had just had a baby on Nov. 8, 1995. The snow was falling as I looked out the window of Royal University hospital in Saskatoon. The snow stayed on the ground that long winter. It was to be the coldest winter in 80 years.
I brought home my sweet little girl. She was colicky. Breastfeeding was a nightmare. This was the beginning of what was supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life. A time came when I started to cry because my baby needed to be fed. I knew I had to quit. It was a crushing blow. How could I be such a failure as a mother? Why did I have to feed formula to my baby? Why did my baby cry so much?
I didn’t like other people holding my baby. I was hyper vigilant. I was wary and watchful. I hated the smell of other people on her clothes. I berated myself when I wasn’t the perfect mother. I had already failed her by not being able to breastfeed. I raged at myself. I was exhausted all the time.
I remember a time during that long winter that I felt like I had been abandoned in complete darkness.
The public health nurse came to visit a few times and gave me information on the “baby blues”. Baby blues only lasted a few days. I was still feeling horrible months later. I eventually went to see my doctor and he prescribed Prozac. I was no longer super sad. I wasn’t feeling anything at all really.
I went back to work when my daughter was about 1 year old. Returning to work really helped. Then about six months later we moved back to my hometown of Toronto and I got off medication. Eventually the sadness faded altogether. Eventually.
When I became pregnant with my second child four years later I decided I better do things a bit differently. I wanted a midwife and a home birth. I wanted to experience this next birth without the sterile medical environment. The homebirth was speedy and empowering. The baby slept. Breastfeeding still was exceedingly difficult and I felt huge disappointment when I couldn’t go on. My life got flat again. I was feeling anxious. I don’t remember some of this part….
I do remember seeing a psychiatrist and telling him to give me drugs. The current news item was of a Toronto physician who jumped in front of a subway train with her baby. I wasn’t that bad but I couldn’t take the risk. Things continued to improve little by little.
I got offered a job when my baby girl was 6 months old. This was a dream job, an incredible opportunity and only part time. Again, going back to work helped.
I have been in talk therapy off and on for nearly 20 years. I eventually found a couple of very helpful therapists. I had a few that were not helpful at all. Drug therapy was necessary for a year or two after each child. I regret that I wasn’t able to have as many sweet moments with my babies as other mothers had. I still have guilt about what they might have missed because of those years I struggled.
Janet loves her job as a teacher. She is married and together they have two amazing daughters, 12 and 17 years old. She loves yoga, sewing, singing in her church choir and taking modern dance class.