Out Of The Shadows: My Maternal Mental Health Journey
Mother’s Day is in a few days – it’s not only a good time to express gratitude to mother’s of all generations but also to recognize the often silent struggles of the mothers you are surrounded by.
Last week was Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. Every day last week a slew of posts showed up in my news feed…the sharing of stories and challenges in the hopes of bringing awareness to those unaffected and connection with those impacted.
I sat on the sidelines last week, a spectator consuming other people’s struggles end encouragement without sharing my own. Then, last night while awake at 3 am feeding my 6 month old, I felt compelled to join the movement.
Did you know that mood disorders like depression and anxiety impact 1 in 5 pregnant and postpartum women?
1 in 5!
Guaranteed you know multiple people that have been affected by this (it may even be you), however many of us are good at putting on a face and pretending like everything is ok. I was part of this statistic… here is my story:
After my first daughter (Zoey) was born, I remember shedding a few tears in the days after her birth for no apparent reason… a few moments of the normal “baby blues”. After a short stint in the NICU for jaundice, those feelings quickly went away and I relished positively in the challenges and joys of motherhood.
Eloise was born this past November, almost 3 years later. Her entrance into the world was similar to Zoeys in that it was also at home and completely natural, however it happened much quicker than I could have ever imagined. I wrote about her birth story here, but essentially I was in active labour for one hour before she was born – my midwives and doula only arrived to our house 10 -15 minutes after her arrival.
At the time I was pretty “chill” considering how it all happened. I felt proud of myself for having another completely physiological birth with no interference. However, I was so looking forward to having these amazing women there that I had developed such an important bond with over the last 9 months. My vision for this birth was quite different than what happened in reality. I think deep down this was affecting me more than I wanted to admit.
By our 3rd night with Eloise I knew something was not right with her latch and I immediately started experiencing excruciating pain whenever she would breastfeed…. and it got worse and worse with every feeding session.
When our midwife came for our home visit (this was amazing, by the way!) and weighed her she had lost quite a bit of weight. After a couple more days of trying out tubes and syringes and shields without any luck I felt defeated.
It was recommended that I pump and top her up after every feed (and wake her up every 2 hours… even though she was sleeping 4 or 5 straight at nighttime) to get her some calories, get her weight up and hopefully give her enough energy to develop a stronger latch. Over the next week and a half I spent every day anxiously awaiting their arrival to weigh her. It took her 2 full weeks to get back to her birth weight. It was definitely a rough start for us!
Graham went back to work 6 days after the birth. Shortly after that we learned that one of our team members at the office was leaving on a few hours notice to go and adopt a baby of her own (awesome news for her!).
Of course all the stress and lack of sleep got to him and he worked up a pretty bad cough and chest cold while this was all happening. He went only between the office and his parents house for the next week to prevent any transfer to our newborn baby. Having him be so close yet so far was so hard. Thank goodness my mom flew in that week and stayed with us… although I was having such a difficult time that it was hard to enjoy.
We finally got the hang of our breastfeeding relationship but as they say, all babies are different and this was so true for us! Zoey was consistently content but Eloise had a definite witching hour(s) from 6 ish to 10 ish every night for the first 2 months. The time that used to be “me” time or “us” time was crowded out by a fussy crying baby and trying everything imaginable to get her to fall asleep.
Through all of this was an almost 3 year old girl whose life had been turned upside down. Zoey was SO patient, and she loved her new sister, but of course like any child who is introduced to a new sibling, there was a transition. I felt like I couldn’t parent both of them at the same time. Like I didn’t have enough in me to handle them. Then I felt guilty for always wanting to hand Zoey off to someone else to take care of her. But when your husband gets home from work after 7 pm and you have a newborn and a toddler, how are you supposed to do bedtime? I felt like it was impossible by myself but then felt bad at the same time for not being able to do it… like I should have been able to figure it out myself.
I found the time of year that this was all happening added more weight and heaviness. Winter started in November. My excitement for the Christmas season was not up to par and we we all came down with a cold right before Christmas Eve. January was the longest coldest and darkest month I can remember ever having. Cooped up inside, trying to avoid public children’s areas to avoid any unnecessary exposure to others’ runny noses and coughs, it literally felt like an eternity, followed closely in second place by February, which only lagged behind because it was a few days shorter and a little closer to spring.
I think this was the hardest part though: I have always considered myself to be a mentally strong person. I had never experienced any measurable anxiety or depression before and generally handled stress very well. I have always been a positive, glass-half-full, see the opportunity-in-every-challenge kind of person. I think this is why it was so shocking for me to be feeling this way, as well as shocking for those who knew me best and were watching me go through it, especially Graham. This brought on a kind of pressure I can’t even explain – a pressure to meet what I thought was the expectations of others – to just “get over it” or “snap out of it”. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feelings of overwhelm, of not feeling capable, of wishing it to be easier, of always feeling like I needed help. Crying was my new normal.
What I Did
I am so grateful for the knowledge I had accumulated over the years about health. I am also grateful for a supportive husband who coached me through this rough time. We took a good hard look at my life and my values and figured out what was missing. I really opened up to him so he could understand my feelings and where I was coming from. He also brought things up that I didn’t even see myself. Eventually, after doing everything at the same time, for a period of time, I saw the light.
I was barely getting my spine checked!
The immediate post partum period is one of the hardest challenges my body has gone through (way more than when I took part in CrossFit competitions). So, I got on a more regular chiropractic check up schedule – minimum 2x/week and we checked Eloise more often as well to make sure her spine, cranium and jaw were working at their best. My healing, both physically and emotionally skyrocketed when I started doing this.
I wasn’t moving my body enough!
I went to yoga with Jenny Rolls and subscribed to her Mama Yoga Break online program again. I made it out to a few Stroller Strong classes with Sarah Pearce. I made sure to get in my BirthFit Conscious Core and PostNatal workouts in.
I was eating too much sugar!
I made my nutrition a priority and reduced sugar intake significantly. I focused on consuming tonnes of warm, cooked veggies and healthy meats and fats. I made sure I was taking my prenatal vitamin, Vitamin D (6000 IU), and probiotic. Follow Lily Nichols and Grounded Health for awesome evidence based information and inspiration when it comes to pregnancy and postnatal nutrition.
I was spending way too much time on social media!
I started spending less time scrolling through my facebook news feed aimlessly whenever I was breastfeeding or alone with the baby. I talk about this on our latest episode of the Be More Human Podcast – Why Is Being A Mom In 2019 So Hard?
I wasn’t getting out and socializing (I’m an extrovert)!
I made it out to some social events and made some coffee dates with friends to fill up my bucket. Enchanted Woods Play Cafe <3
What I wished I Did
Looking back, I don’t think I fully acknowledged what I was going through until I was on the other end of it. Had I been more honest with myself and where I was at I would have:
Hired a postpartum doula more than 2X! My friend and doula Jayne came twice to help me after the birth. Her presence (and help) were amazing. Why I didn’t ask her to come back more often I don’t know! There are so many amazing doulas in this city, please please take advantage of them for your birth and 4th trimester:
Fredericton Birth Doula and Photography Services
The Community Doula Collective
Kat Roberts Coaching
Something else I wished I had done is talk to someone. No matter where you’re at, please reach out. Here are two local Fredericton contacts I would recommend:
WomanCare Psychological Services
Leslie Ann Costello PhD, L. Psych
Jaimee Folkins, MEd, CCC, Licensed Counselling Therapist
What I want new mothers to know is you are not alone! Reach out! If there is anything I can do to help, please feel free to find me on IG @chiroformoms or email me directly at email@example.com
If there are any new moms in your life, do what you can to support them.