All I Wanted Was to Be Listened To

Asking for help can be an incredibly difficult thing for anyone, especially when it's related to our own mental health and well being. When your asks are not heard or you receive misinformation, it can be extremely difficult to want to repeat the process. Today Catherine talks about her experience in seeking help after the birth of her first child. 

It was when I had my three week old daughter peacefully snuggled against my chest that I realized something was wrong with me. I couldn’t get myself to do anything. Moving was hard, eating was near impossible, but the worst was sleeping. As soon as I would close my eyes, I had a chilling sensation that I would lose everything.

No, not everything; everyone. Everyone I loved. The same way I lost my father when I was seventeen. I had fallen asleep in the car and woke up to a metal wreck on the highway. Even though I had been only a few centimeters away from him, I wasn’t given the chance to say goodbye. The same way I had been blinded into pregnancy bliss in 2010. It was the happiest I had ever been as I awaited our first child. Week after week, building hopes for our future son or daughter, only to find out that the foetus had stopped growing months ago. It was like being smashed with a rock on the head. Wanting to be dead, or, at least, in a coma, so I didn’t have to live through this. The physical and mental agony. And the blood, so much blood.

Needless to say, in February 2011 when I, again, found myself pregnant and heavily bleeding, I numbly drove myself to the ER and asked for a D and C. Again. Quickly counting, I figured I was seven weeks along. No one knew I was pregnant, so there would be no disappointing anyone this time around. No awkward, “I lost the baby” announcement to make. Somehow, I was relieved.

To my surprise, the baby was alive. At least for now. So, I went on bleeding as the baby went on growing. But there was no bonding. No hope, no bliss, no big announcement, no baby shower. It was one big secret between my husband and I, and our close friends and relatives. I just could not deal with another loss. Somehow, pretending I wasn’t pregnant was my best way to cope with it.

Every once in a while I would feel terribly guilty. Why couldn’t I be happy? Why could I not enjoy my pregnancy? Why did miscarriage haunt me every night? At 37 weeks, things went from bad to worse. At 39 weeks, she came – emergency C-section. It was nothing like the water birth I had planned. The worst feeling of all was that I had no happy memories to tell my daughter. I had hated everything about the way she came! And, I hated myself for feeling this way. Yet, I loved her. From the first moment that she was put in my arms, I loved her like I had never loved before.

Over the next few days, after we got home, the hate just grew bigger and bigger. I hated my body so much for killing our first angel baby, for not being able to care for our newly born daughter, for not being able to birth. Also, I hated myself for not being blissfully happy. At four weeks postpartum, I started to run again. It was after the C-section. No enjoyment there, but a way to punish my body seemed like a good idea at the time. Hatred and anger now filled my daily life.

Love, too. Love, because I adored my daughter. Nothing was too good for her. I put all my love and strength into breastfeeding her. It was hard and painful, but that was the only thing my body seemed to be doing right. So, I devoted myself to nursing. By the time my daughter was three weeks, I knew something was wrong with me. I couldn’t be happy, I couldn’t eat and the nightmare of losing my daughter just would not go.

It was just after Christmas, and my daughter was two months old, when I walked into my doctor’s office and I begged for her help. It was on a whim and something very unlike me. I asked for help. I still don’t know why I did it, or how I even found my way there. I just did. I walked in and said, “I need help, I can’t do this anymore.” Everything moved really quickly after that. The next day I say a lovely social worker and was referred to a psychiatrist for the following week. Part of me was relieved. That week, things got a little better, there was hope in sight. I was going to be helped; I was going to be happy. I was finally going to be normal.

On a Tuesday morning, I drove myself to the psychiatrist. He was an older man. I was also introduced to residents that would be sitting in on my appointment. I was so happy to be there. I sat in the chair with no expectations and surrendered myself to their questioning. Not knowing what to expect, I was a little surprised and confused about the first few questions. They were yes or no questions; black or white. I thought to myself, were life this easy, I wouldn’t be here. I couldn’t just express my feelings or emotions on a scale of one to ten, much less a stoic yes or no. I tried to explain myself, but he wasn’t listening.

Ten minutes into the appointment, I started feeling a little frustrated. He asked me, “Do you feel like you want to hurt your daughter?”

I told him the truth, “No.”

“Of course you feel like you might!” He replied, following it by asking, “Are you paranoid when you go out in public?”

I gave him a no, and he responded with, “Really? You look to me like you might be.”

Twenty minutes into the appointment, he told me, “You have postpartum depression.” I just silently nodded. Nobody likes to hear the word “depression,” but I believed him. He was the expert. Yet, a part of me felt uneasy. In the last twenty minutes, although I had only been allowed to say yes or no, he felt compelled to reword my answer with his own thoughts. I didn’t like this. It just did not seem ethical to me, and I knew ethical. Part of my work at the university is to conduct research.

So, he prescribed some medication for me and told me I had to start them today; as soon as possible. That, without this medication, I was “bound to kill my own daughter.” Yes, those were his exact words. I took the prescription and saw the name of the medicine. I gently pointed out that this medication was not breastfeeding-friendly and that I’d rather prefer it if he were to prescribe another brand. That is when my whole world collapsed again. He looked at me straight in the eye and said “Your nine week old does not need to breastfeed anymore. Past six weeks, there are no benefits anyway.” He went on, adding, “You are a bright, educated young lady and should know better!” I was at loss. I started crying. Me! Stop breastfeeding! The only thing my body can do right! Between tears, I asked him how long I would have to take the medication and how many weeks it would take for the dosage to adjust. I will always remember his words. “You are sick!” He said, “There will be no getting off this medication. Do diabetic patients stop their insulin when they feel better? You are smart. You should know that.”

After this, the rest of the appointment remains a blur. I tried my best to hold my tears on the way out. When I sat in my car, I started hysterically crying. I had been torn into a million little pieces. I was shaking in anger and disappointment. I took my phone out and called my husband at work. I told him what the psychiatrist had said. It just didn’t make sense to me. Then, I called my cousin, a social worker. I told her about the appointment. I just couldn’t wrap my head around what had been said to me. Was I this out of the loop? Was I in denial? Was I going to kill my daughter? My body was useless and I was stupid. I was sick. I would have to stop breastfeeding. And, as I sat in the car reflecting, I believed him.

After I got home, I went straight to bed. Not for sleeping or for crying, but, for thinking. I just could not shake off the feeling that something was wrong. If psychiatrist were there to help, why was I feeling worse after seeing him? Why would he insist I stop doing the only thing bringing me joy right now? Also, since when had postpartum depression needed to be controlled with lifelong medication?

The next day, I found out that if I went against the doctor’s order, I could be held responsible for it. Since, apparently, I was in danger of “killing my daughter.”

With my husband’s support, I went back to my social worker and explained to her how my appointment went. I placed a formal request for a second opinion (with a different psychiatrist), declining to start the medication until then. Two days later, I found myself in Toronto, meeting with a psychiatrist specializing in postpartum depression. I walked in holding my daughter in my arms. I stood before him and, taking all of my courage, said, “I don’t know what is wrong with me but, please, if you have to prescribe me medication, pick a breastfeeding-friendly medicine.” I will always remember his look of utter surprise. He was shocked. It took him a moment before he finally replied, saying, “Well, I don’t know you yet, but I can assure you that if indeed you need medication, there are breastfeeding friendly option, so it will not be a problem.”

Taking in his words, I sat down and prepared myself to answer with yes or no, one to ten, white or black. But, that isn’t how it went. Instead, for just over an hour, we had a two-way conversation. I was allowed to express my thoughts, my feelings and my concerns. He listened. I even breastfed my daughter in the middle of the appointment. Towards the end, he asked me “Do you believe you need medication in order to feel better?”

I replied with a maybe, “I don’t know anymore. But I know I will not feel better if breastfeeding is taken away from me.”

“I would never let anyone tell my wife to stop breastfeeding for this reason,” he said.

Our one hour talk felt so good. I told him, “If I could have more talks like this, I think I would feel better.” So, he agreed, I should remain in weekly therapy for the next few weeks and then decide for myself if I needed medication. Just as I was leaving, I said to him “Just for the record, I love my daughter and, not once, did I feel I could hurt her.”

I thanked him after he said, “I don’t doubt you.” He added, “It really does happen. It could happen to anyone. Postpartum depression is a serious matter. However, I do not believe you have postpartum depression. In my eyes, you are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress and that is what you will be exploring in therapy. We are going to learn how to deal with the events that have shaped your life in the last two years. We are going to find ways to cope with them and move on.”

On my way out, I had no tears to fight back. I got to my car and called my husband and told him, “I think I will get better sometime in the near future.”

It was January 2013 when I found I was pregnant again. I panicked. A wave of doubt and fear came over me. I looked at the positive test and cried. I was unable to be happy. Right then and there, I had to make a decision and I had to make it quick. I had to make it for myself, by myself. I looked in the mirror. I was pale. I thought, this is it, this is your chance to make amends with yourself. I called my husband over and showed him the positive test. He was so happy. I wanted to be as happy as he was, and decided I would be. I decided I was going to enjoy being pregnant. Or at least try. I was going to bond with this baby from the start, no matter what happens. I will have a baby shower, I will make a grand announcement and I will welcome him into this world with a smile.

Well, it was hard to do, a constant fight with myself. At times, it felt so forced. After all, isn’t the mere fact that you have to try to be happy, a failure in itself? Every morning I had to remind myself, every night I tried to be thankful. As the end of the pregnancy came into view, and as the feeling of happiness became more natural, I set my sights on a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) delivery. I needed that chance to test my body. I needed to know what it would be like. I needed closure.

I was 36w7d when my water broke. For the first time, in three pregnancies, I felt the excitement of a new life about to come. We made our way to the hospital. Twelve hours later, our son was born. Naturally. On the last push, I just knew I had come full circle since that dreadful morning three years before, when I had started bleeding uncontrollably. It was a very slow and very long process; a process in which I had to completely regain my self-worth. It was also a journey in which I also had to be my own advocate, mentally and physically.

Many times, I found myself wondering how many women go to seek help, only to end up more devastated because of comments the psychiatrist may or may not have made to them. How many of those women had the strength to demand a second opinion? How many women were wrongly diagnosed because of a few yes or no questions? Many times over, I have felt anger about the possibility that I, too, could have been wrongly diagnosed. I did fill in a formal complaint about the way in which I was first diagnosed. However, as far as I know, nothing came of it. I, on the other hand, thrived with therapy and was able to build a support system around me that served me well during my last pregnancy.

It is now January 2014. I have a three month old son and a two year old daughter. I love them both more than I could ever describe in words. I never ended up taking the medication, nor did I kill my children. As I type my story, I am still breastfeeding both my daughter and my son. I am also no longer haunted by nightmares of blood and miscarriage. My only regret was, and still remains, that I never accepted help during and after my miscarriage. When the rock hit me, when my whole world fell apart, I went on. I went on by myself, terrified and sad throughout a whole pregnancy. I look at my daughter and, although I have no happy memories of her birth, I cherish the pain and anxiety I felt for nine months. Looking back, I can tell, amidst all this, I never stopped loving her.

One day, I will proudly tell her that.

Catherine Cua is a PHD student and mommy of two. She enjoys writing and is the owner of the travel/craft/mom blog "the things I find on the way

1 comment:

LauraA said...

Wow, what a brilliant post. Thank you Catherine for sharing your story.