My first year as a mother of two, was the hardest year of my life. It was the year that I didn’t recognize myself. The year that I felt like a shell of the person I “used to be”. The year that I suffered from postpartum depression.
Like many mothers, I didn’t recognize my mental illness until a full year of suffering. I was too busy keeping my infant and toddler fed, happy, and healthy. I had accepted that feeling frustrated, angry, and sad, was my new normal.
“This must be what life with two kids feels like for every mother.” I thought.
Boy, was I wrong.
The High of Birth
When I was 36 weeks pregnant with our second baby, I remember sitting in my midwife’s office as she listed the symptoms of postpartum depression: anger, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, insomnia, crying, irritability...the list went on...
“I know you’re a psychotherapist, so you already know all about this, but it’s my job to mention it.” she said with a wink.
We had laughed about it. I hadn’t had any mental health issues with our first baby, so I was certain that I had nothing to worry about.
Our second daughter was born on a beautiful snowy winter morning, in the presence of three midwives, our doula, my husband, and her sleeping sister down the hall. I had the home birth that I had wanted and felt empowered in those early weeks. Our first daughter, had been born in hospital with medical interventions, and having a home birth felt like a right of passage for me as a mother.
The feel-good hormones were pumping.
I felt like a lioness with her cubs.
I was high on love and mothering.
The Slow Emotional Decline
To be honest, I can’t tell you when it started.
It was a series of small moments, that layered one on top of the other.
For example, I quickly learned that walking through the snow, with my infant bundled and strapped to me in a carrier, while encouraging my 2-year old to “keep going”, so that we could get to daycare twice a week, was a recipe for disaster. As much as I wanted our family to get outside in the fresh air and move our bodies, the expectation for a 2-year old to walk 15 minutes in the snow, was ludicrous.
And so, begrudgingly, I drove. I’m someone who needs to move my body to feel in-tune with myself, so this decision meant giving-up my precious built-in self-care time. It was the first of many choices that I would make for the welfare of my kids, at the expense of my own wellbeing.
Twice a week, I would wake the baby from her nap (the worst), strap her into the bucket seat and drive five minutes to daycare. Then, I would lug that heavy, awkward car seat into the tiniest waiting room imaginable, where ten other parents were also picking up their high-energy toddlers.
The parents looked at each other with panic in their eyes, “How the heck are we gonna get these kids calmed down and dressed into ten layers of winter gear AND get outta here?”.
I set the baby down, prayed that she wouldn’t cry, and negotiated with my toddler to stop stealing her friend’s mitts, climbing on the benches, and just get dressed already.
Did I mention that I was sweating from still being fully dressed in my own winter gear? Sheesh.
It sounds funny now, but it was exhausting at the time. I was low on sleep, patience, and energy. It was my own version of hell. Sad, but true.
In the Spring, I remember locking eyes with another mom after daycare pick-up. Her face was saying everything that I was feeling. She had a baby, too, as well as a toddler. We were in the weeds. “I feel like the shell of the fun person I used to be.” she said. We wept and held each other.
Emaciated & Angry
As the spring turned to summer, I found myself being easily agitated. No, I wasn’t agitated. I was angry. I didn’t have patience for anyone, especially my two year old and her tantrums. The irony was that while she was learning how to regulate her emotions, I had lost the ability to regulate my own.
Physically, my already small frame, had become emaciated. A lover of nourishing food, no matter how much I ate, I couldn’t seem to find my healthy weight. Nursing a baby, and caring for a toddler, was literally, taking everything out of me.
Being a performer, my body was open for public commentary. People would congratulate me on “losing the baby weight”, with daily comments on how great I looked. I was depleted and exhausted. At the time, I thought that breastfeeding had increased my already-high metabolism. Later, I learned that weight-loss is a symptom of PPD.
Numbing My Feelings
By the fall, every afternoon I would pour myself a glass of wine. This was the most glaringly obvious sign that I wasn’t okay. I was never someone who would reach for alcohol on a daily basis...maybe once a week with a meal, or on a special occasion. But now, I needed that glass of wine to keep from imploding. It calmed the one single nerve that I had remaining until my husband came home from work.
The wine was numbing the anger and grief that I was feeling. I kept thinking, “Where is the fun person that I used to be?” It felt like a part of myself was missing. I had no sense of who I was beyond the encompassing role of “mother”.
My New Normal: Sadness, Resentment, & Anger
I was in a fog that fluctuated between sadness, resentment and anger.
Sadness - for the mother that I had envisioned I would be...the unrealistic expectation that I wasn’t meeting. I felt like a failure. With our first child, I was able to maintain a certain level of control and perfectionist tendencies. When our second arrived, that all went out the window. It hit me hard.
Resentment - towards my husband. It pains me to admit it, even now. My husband has always been supportive and hands-on in every way. But, I saw him as being lucky to go to work and be around adults all day. I envied him riding his bike across town and being stimulated intellectually by co-workers, while I was stuck at home with a baby strapped to my body while managing the emotional needs of a toddler. Where was my adult time? Hanging out with other moms at drop-in centres kept me trapped in the bubble that I longed to escape.
Anger - that was my go-to emotion. I am admitting this with shame because it breaks my heart. I yelled at my toddler. I was unkind to the people that I love the most. It was like I was drowning and screaming for air every day.
The Breaking Point
The day that our baby turned one, I broke down. It was the realization that I had been unhappy for a year. I missed myself. I remember putting the kids to bed, then weeping as my husband held me.
This was not the person that I wanted to be.
There was a brief moment where I thought it would be easier to end my life than it would be to continue feeling these awful feelings. Suicidal thoughts had never entered my mind before. This was way out of character.
It scared me. It scared my husband.
Asking For Help
Once I experienced suicidal thoughts, I knew that I couldn’t do it alone.
I reached out to my community. I needed support with the day-to-day duties that had swallowed me into this dark abyss.
When I asked for help, my people listened & took action quickly. My parents made dinners and cleaned up the kitchen. My friends kept me company. My brother took our toddler to the park. We paid to have the house cleaned monthly.
Slowly, little by little, I started to feel better. Glimpses of my fun-self started to emerge. I started doing activities on my own, without the kids. My own self-care was scheduled into our family schedule. It was a non-negotiable.
With the support of my village, I was able to make time to heal. Time that was solely for me. Where I could tune-in to myself and my own needs as an individual.
Sometimes it was a walk around the block. Sometimes it was a Saturday morning silks class. Sometimes it was talking to my therapist.
Having the help of my community, gave me permission to take care of myself. It reminded me that self-care was a gift to myself and to my family.
To my friends & family, I am forever grateful.
We Are The Village
Every year around my daughter’s birthday, I’m reminded of that dark time when I suffered alone with postpartum depression. That I’m a psychotherapist, and that mental illness can happen to even the most educated, enlightened, and healthy people.
When I look back, I feel sad for that mother - she needed help and didn’t know it. My wish is that by sharing my experience, it will help another mother normalize what she’s feeling.
If you, or any mother that you know, has the symptoms listed below, please share this article with them. Let them know that they’re not alone, and that asking for help is the key to overcoming this debilitating mental illness.
We are in this together.
We are the village.
Take good care of each other,
People may experience the following symptoms with postpartum depression:
Mood: anger, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, or panic attack
Behavioural: crying, irritability, or restlessness
Psychological: depression, fear, or repeatedly going over thoughts
Whole body: fatigue or loss of appetite
Cognitive: lack of concentration or unwanted thoughts
Weight: weight gain or weight loss
Also common: insomnia
Have you experienced postpartum depression or any other mental health challenges? Has anyone close to you suffered? What does support look like for you & your family?
Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day. Together, we can keep the mental health conversation going today, and every day.