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Beyond Baby Blues

By Alice

I am a social worker, health care professional and consultant. I am a mother. I am a partner. I am a friend. I am many things to many people and I have always liked to think I am a competent, skilled, funny, hardworking, loving, caring and self-confident woman. All that changed three years ago. This is my story.

I worked for many years as a social worker within a hospital. My area of expertise focuses specifically on women and children, with a specialty in violence against women.

Given my background, I know, and thought I understood, the many challenges women face. For years I couselled women on many issues, including becoming a new parent. But it wasn’t until I got pregnant that I truly appreciated these particular stuggles.

My pregnancy had many physically and emotionally stressful moments that I coped with. However, I was not prepared for what came after the birth of my son.

I was thrilled I delivered a healthy, full-term baby. After I left the hospital I had wonderful support from my midwife team, partner, family and friends. I thought the rest would be easy.

During my first few weeks at home, I was sleep-deprived and I struggled, like many women, with breastfeeding. The pain and frustration of trying to feed my baby outweighed even the lack of sleep.

I was determined to stick with it, but at three months, still in pain, I switched to bottle-feeding. I thought the pain and frustration involved with breastfeeding, plus a lack of sleep, were the main reasons I was crying all the time and feeling out of control.

I was not prepared for postpartum depression. When my midwife suggested that I was suffering from it, I was shocked. That was not possible. As a social worker in Women’s Health I KNEW the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and I KNEW that I was too much in control to be affected by such a problem.

Months went by and I was still feeling out of control. I did not seem myself. It was really hard to put my finger on it. I did not feel suicidal nor did I have thoughts of harming my baby or myself in any way. I just felt like I couldn’t keep up with all the demands.

I experienced a heightened sense of anxiety and worry, which seemed beyond the natural level of new-parent anxiety. I started to isolate myself from friends because it just seemed to take too much energy. My son was still not sleeping through the night so I never seemed to get enough sleep.

Although I knew I should have napped when he slept, I felt I couldn’t because there was too much laundry, housework or something else to do. (This was not true because my partner and I share chores and he, in fact, did most of them during this time.) I just couldn’t seem to keep up. I thought other people appeared to take more pleasure in and notice of my son’s development than me.

Don’t get me wrong. I interacted, played and cared for my son and when no one was around I relished our quiet moments together, but I felt like I wasn’t doing enough or enjoying myself. I couldn’t help but compare myself to a stereotypical image of 'a good mother' — the way I felt I should be coping. I knew that other women were able to cope. In fact, I was thinking and feeling all the things that I had heard women tell me in counselling.

How could this be happening to me? When no one was around I began to research postpartum depression. Some of the information seemed to apply but I kept using the extreme cases to rule out symptoms. I somehow thought that if I were depressed, that would mean I was less competent as a professional and a mother. So I didn’t tell anyone. I learned to cope with my anxiety and feelings of helplessness on my own.

As my son has grown and has become more independent I have gotten more sleep and have had time to reflect on the past three years. I think I did have postpartum depression. I am now starting to feel normal again — whatever that is — and I feel like my 'old self'.

It is still difficult for me to admit that I had postpartum depression because somehow in admitting this I think I am admitting that I am less than other women. I know this is not true. I know that I am a competent, hardworking, funny, loving and caring woman who, because of her experiences with postpartum depression, is a little less self-confident than before, but maybe a little wiser in exchange.




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