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Post Partum Depression – a wee little talk

on May 6, 2011

A couple of months ago I was asked to do a little talk on my experience with Post Partum Depression… what happened to me, how I felt, how I could have been helped… that kind of thing. I did the talk today at the health centre here in town to a pile more people than I was originally told were going to be there.

I cried. And then? I cried some more.

I think the most rewarding part was when I was finished, a woman came and sat beside me and simply started crying. Then she just said, “Thank you.”

I’ve always thought that God carried me through ppd, just so that I could share the experience with other people. Help people know that they’re not alone.

In hindsight, I wish that I had spoken more to the self-isolation. For me, getting out to the support groups, etc, was almost insurmountable. I also wish that I had spoken more about the lack of information for Ja.

All in all, a good experience, and I’m very glad I did it.

This is my speech in its entirety for those who were asking me about it.

 


My name is Jamie Wolters, I am 34 years old, and I have suffered and survived post partum depression twice now.

My husband and I are both educated people. We attended university together, both have degrees, are well read, and at one time, thought that nothing other than the usual new parent difficulties would come our way.

We have been blessed with three children. Our oldest and first daughter was one of those babies that makes you want to have ten more. While it was a long labour, she was big and healthy. I recovered well, she nursed like a champ. There were never any breastfeeding issues with her, she was a good sleeper. She was easy going, happy, an absolute joy.

While in hindsight, I can say that I definitely had some baby blues, everything went well with Keyzia.

When Keyzia was 8 months old, I got pregnant with our son, Ephraim. My husband was finishing university, and we were a bit unsure over what our next steps were going to be.

It was a difficult pregnancy. I’m sure that chasing a toddler around didn’t help the pubic dystocia, the exhaustion, or the other generally miserable symptoms that go along with early and late pregnancy. Ephraim was a late August baby, and all I really remember about the end of the pregnancy was how hot I was. If my poor husband even considered touching me in any way, he may very well have come to some kind of personal harm.

Looking back, I can say that the depression started while I was pregnant with Ephraim. We all, the doctor included, chalked it up to being hot, tired, big… the emotions that run the gamut for pregnant women were all rolled up into my body.

My water started leaking early with Ephraim, and we went in for an induction. While I don’t remember much of Ephraim’s babyhood, I do remember how terrible that labour was. It was long. It was awful. I felt so completely out of control of what was happening in my body. The anesthesiologist was unavailable for quite a while, although I do recall asking him to marry me once he did give me the much hoped for epidural.

What I remember most about those early days with our son was the guilt. I would look at this perfect little baby, sweet and tiny, so reliant on us, healthy, perfect… and I felt guilty that I didn’t feel like I loved him. I knew I had to take care of him. I knew that I would take care of him, but I felt so detached from the entire situation. Most of all I couldn’t stop crying. I had no reason to be crying, but there I was, sobbing.

And while you sit there, recovering from labour, you look at this beautiful baby that you’ve been given, and he’s all blue eyes and blond hair, and you know that you should be feeling this incredible rush of love, of maternal affection. But you can’t seem to see it or feel it through the thick grey sludge that feels like it is surrounding you.

Thankfully, our doctor knew that something was up when I couldn’t stop crying in the hospital. I saw a social worker who deemed me “sleep deprived,” and said that I should leave Ephraim with the nurses for a night so that I could sleep. I was even given something to help me sleep. And yet, the next morning, while I rallied and put on what I like to affectionately call the “fake face”, when we got home it was that same thick sludge. Like swimming in mud.

After the hard labour, we had an equally difficult time learning how to breastfeed. That was an incredibly humbling experience for me. I mean, I had just had a baby and nursed successfully 17 months before Ephraim was born. I knew what I was doing. To have a baby who couldn’t figure out what had come so easily before, was very hard. While our nursing relationship went on for over a year, it took me about 3 months, I think, to feel really comfortable when nursing him.

I don’t remember much of my son’s babyhood. I remember trying terribly hard to connect with him. He was breastfed, I wore him in a sling. I had a supportive husband and a wide network of supportive friends and family. I wanted to keep him close to me at all times, like I could make up for not having the “right” feelings for my beautiful son. And yet, even when I look at the picture of us together, of that dark dark time in our lives, I don’t even feel like it was really me.

One of the biggest hurdles we faced once we knew we needed help was figuring out how to get it. After the baby was born, we of course went back to our family doctor, who had not seen me for months and months. I can remember sitting in the waiting room while my husband showed off our new baby, so proud, answering all the questions about him, and I just… couldn’t. I couldn’t engage. I couldn’t be part of it. I very much felt like I was an observer to my own life.

My husband says even now that at that time, when he looked at me, he could tell by my eyes that I wasn’t really there. Sure, I was in the room. I was engaged with whatever activity I should have been doing at the time, but my eyes told him that I wasn’t fully there. It was like a blankness that even he couldn’t penetrate.

I was put on medication right away at our first doctor’s visit out of the hospital. It was confusing, however, because the medication wasn’t explained to me properly. I had one that said to take it daily, and another one that said to take as needed. I didn’t understand when I was to take them. Meaning that I delayed taking them until I spoke with psychiatric care at the hospital.

We were lucky enough to be able to see a psychologist, even though the only benefit that I personally received from him was a clear explanation of the medications. I know of other ppd sufferers that benefited greatly from psychologist/psychiatrist therapy.

I think the most insurmountable task when suffering from post partum depression is the absolute necessity of being your own advocate. Your own advocate in a time when you are simply not able to be the best you can be. You know that something is wrong, you know that you can’t bear to live in that dark dark place, and yet you have to somehow be able to pull yourself out of there to be able to get the help you need. I don’t know what I would have done without my husband in this time.

This was especially difficult when the health nurse called to see if she could come and visit us at home. The same phone call that all new parents receive. The same phone call that we had with Keyzia.

In the best of times, I despise talking on the phone. I like to say that it’s my own happy little quirk, and I get along fine with email and texting, thank you very much.

When the health nurse called us, my husband spoke with her and explained that we were really struggling, and that I was hoping that she would come and visit us. The problem was that the health nurse could not take my husband’s word for the problem that was happening, and not only did I have to tell her to come, but he had to hang up and I had to call back. It was a heart wrenching thing for me to have to do, and I’m pretty sure that all I did was sob while on the phone with her.

The best part of her visit, however, was that she hooked me up with a post partum depression support group, which unfortunately no longer exists, held at the Family Resource Centre.

I can say unequivocally that that support group saved my life. I learned there through the wonderful guidance of the counselours that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t a bad mother. I wasn’t some kind of freak because I felt so disconnected from my own family. It was okay. The most important message at that point? Was that it was going to get better. Every single week while my daughter played downstairs, and my son was cared for by the very capable child care providers, we went home with the message that it was going to get better.

That’s the hardest thing with ppd. When you’re in the midst of it, and it has never happened to you before, you think that this is your life now. A life without colour, a life without joy, a life without hope. You start to think that your family would be better off without you to bring them down. When you’re driving downtown, only without your children, the thought crosses your mind that you could just steer in front of that big transport truck, and everyone would just be better off. The message that we received every week, that it would get better, was like that little ray of sunshine that you could hold onto until the next meeting.

I often feel guilty for my husband as well. He had no idea what was going on, where his wife had gone. There was no support group for him. No one would really tell him anything, how to help, what to do. He was lost in the dark through this entire ordeal.

It did get better. I was on medication with Ephraim for close to two years before I felt ready to be slowly weaned off of it. My doctor was very supportive of my calling the shots as to when I felt ready to be med free. Even still, I felt a certain sense of shame that I hadn’t been good enough to make it through on my own. And even though I would call myself a survivor? I am forever changed by the experience.

While our first two children were close in age, we waited a little bit before deciding to have Talya. We had been warned that as a sufferer of ppd, the likelihood that I would get it again was very very high, and that it would probably be worse this time. Both my husband and I felt, though, when we were making the decision to try for another baby, that we could be more prepared this time. We could have those supports set up ahead of time, and I knew then, even going into a new pregnancy, that it would eventually end.

The professionals were all absolutely right. I got ppd, but was blindsided by the fact that I got it pretty much as soon as I was pregnant. I was only three months along when I was prescribed medication this time around, and I stayed on medication until Talya was 2.

I managed to rally when I was about four months pregnant. A little more energy, hormones had leveled out a wee bit. I crashed again in the last month. My husband was able to take parental leave, which was a huge blessing for us, and we also had our church and family rally around. Making meals, doing laundry. Watching the older kids.

For me, it’s mostly the crying. It seems so ridiculous, and people ask all the time what’s wrong, what could be the matter, are you hurting, did someone do something? But that is never the case. I would just sit there with tears streaming down my face, and no real reason for it. I was so very very sad… but not about anything. I was happy to have another child. She was beautiful, again, no trouble nursing, she was a pretty easy baby as long as she was being held. I had a stable home, a good husband, two other wonderful children, and yet all I could do was cry.

It was still a terrible experience, but it was different this time. There was hope in this place. It was slim, but there was hope there. I knew it would get better. I knew that there would be an end. With Ephraim, I felt absolutely no hope at all. I thought I was a failure as a wife and a mother. I thought that if I had just done this differently, or that differently, then I would have been okay. The guilt that goes along with ppd is something that no one can really talk you out of, and it lingers. Even all these years later I still regret so much. There is so much missed time. So much that my husband has to fill me in on.

And really, depression still lingers for me sometimes. My experience has made me not totally trust my feelings. I often have to step back and wonder if I’m overreacting, if I’m not reacting enough. Something that has stuck with me from the support group was when we were told that feelings aren’t right or wrong, and it’s okay to feel whatever you happen to feel at any given moment. It’s really what you do with it that counts.

And on those days where the dark clouds seem to be looming on the horizon? When the greyness seems to be seeping in at the edges of my consciousness, I know that there is an end. That depression is not who I am, it’s not who I was. Yes, it happened to me, but it isn’t what I have to become. There is hope in the world, there is light. And that hope and light is always always given back to me.

Thank you.

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4 responses to “Post Partum Depression – a wee little talk

  1. SYLVIE says:

    Thank you for posting this. I feel like a know you a little bit better now.

  2. Beckie Evans says:

    Jamie…thank you for sharing your story. Just Thursday night I did a session on PPMD in our Parenting Partnership group (their babies are due in the summer)….I left thinking I just depressed them and how could I facilitate this session so it seems relevant to them. I really would love to have a conversation with you about that sometime. Beckie

  3. Gwen Carter says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I remember those times and not knowing how to go about reaching out to you. What you may not realize though is how much of a blessing you still managed to be to others during those times. You were very supportive to my family and brought much happiness and encouragement with you. Maybe you just wore your masks really well? Maybe those gray feelings just took over the inside and you were still “yourself” on the outside? But just so you know, despite your dark feelings, my family was better off having you as part of it. You were and are much loved, Emma was asking about you just last week. Miss you, Gwen.

  4. Cindy says:

    Jamie: I’ve never been to your blog before, but saw it referenced/listed on your Facebook page. I just wanted to say this is an amazing post.

    Cindy

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