Chrissy Teigen has been open about her battle with postpartum depression
Having a baby brings up all kinds of new experiences, and while many of them are welcomed and are all a part of the crazy, wonderful rollercoaster that is new parenthood, some, like post-partum depression are not.
In 2019, about 23 per cent of Canadian mothers reported feelings of either post-partum depression or an anxiety disorder. (This also doesn’t include women who experience pre-natal depression or anxiety, like one woman, Joelle, recounted here.) While many women who experience post-partum depression or anxiety or the horribly termed and completely trivializing “baby blues” do often find recovery without seeking outside help. Hormones are crazy things and do often level off. Though, for many women, it takes seeking out help and often medication to help get through the dark period that can unexpectedly come from what we’re told is going to be one of the brightest spots in our lives.
However, post-partum depression, or PPD, doesn’t look the same for everyone. For many, it can look like wanting to harm your baby or yourself, but like other forms of depression and anxiety, that isn’t always the case, and it’s this distinction that may help you understand your own feelings and whether it’s time to reach out for some help. For me, it manifested in a real lack of joy in everything I used to love doing and losing my motivation to try pretty much anything new. All of my go-tos for self-care all of a sudden felt boring and made me frustrated. When I was home alone with my daughter (who is pretty chill as far as infants go) and couldn’t get out of the house for whatever reason, I felt really, really down and couldn’t yank myself out of that funk. It wasn’t until I started seeing a therapist again that I was able to identify that I was experiencing some sort of PPD and we were able to work through it. It took going off of my birth control pill (which I had suspected was heightening all of my feelings and making my down days worse), setting some boundaries with those around me and giving myself a ton of grace (plus trying to get out of the house as much as possible) to start to feel like myself again. Like everything, it’s an ongoing process.
We spoke with these women who shared their experiences with the baby blues and post-partum depression and anxiety. A reminder: It takes a village and it’s okay to ask for help. Post-partum healing in every sense can take a while and you’re never, ever alone.
“I always thought postpartum depression was sadness or wanting to hurt your baby. No one told me that it could take the form of anger. The rage I’ve felt since having my baby is indescribable and looking back, it makes me sad I didn’t ask for help.”
“Being prone to anxiety and depression, I was aware that I was at risk for postpartum depression but I really wasn’t prepared for how it manifested after the birth of my first daughter. Sure, I was super sensitive and cried at sad commercials but how my postpartum really surfaced was in anger, sometimes total rage. I wasn’t sleeping well because of nightmares or disturbing thoughts of my baby coming into harm’s way. I would dream that our car would drive off a bridge and I had to save her from drowning and waking up wouldn’t make it stop. I would spend sleepless nights obsessing about these and other terrifying situations and think of ways to save her. It was like I couldn’t stop thinking of how to keep her alive among all of the dangerous things out in the world.
The weight of being a new sleep-deprived Mom to a baby with colic and losing my independence felt so heavy on me and the only thing that would come out was anger and rage. I finally knew that I needed help one night when I was home alone, and my baby wouldn’t stop crying and go to sleep. Nothing I did to console her seemed to work and I was at my wits end. She was lying in bed swaddled and spit her pacifier out for, what seemed like, the millionth time to scream and I lost it. I picked up her pacifier, threw it across the room and yelled out “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME.” I broke down and wept at the foot of her crib and it took a long time for me to get up again. How could I yell at my baby girl? Where was my empathy during a time when she was telling me she needed me? Who was this horrible person that I had become? Luckily, I was able to get the help that I needed quickly with a state funded psychologist who specialised in treating mothers experiencing difficulties after having a baby.
Through therapy and temporary medication, I was able to be a better mother to my daughter and cut myself some slack. I learned techniques of how to deal with the anger and sadness that I was feeling, and although I was nervous to fall into the deep hole once again after my second daughter was born, I didn’t thanks to the support and coping techniques that were given to me. I also credit Rupaul’s Drag Race for giving me life while breastfeeding.”
“I wouldn’t call mine full-on PPD, but I definitely had serious case of baby blues. During the first few months of motherhood, I would get so annoyed and hypersensitive with my friends who weren’t moms, who would innocently comment things like “Oh, you don’t have a routine yet?” or “Oh, you haven’t been outside today? Why? It’s summer” or “It’s 3pm and you haven’t eaten lunch yet?” Things of that nature would drive me nuts (Frankly, they still do, but not as bad as they did in month one and two).”
“Post-partum depression was not feeling that instant bond with my daughter and taking days to find it. I cried that I don’t have this instant love that you see in movies and videos or hear about. I had a c-section and recovering from it, she was not latching on properly and she was a colicky baby. It was not a fun first time at the rodeo.”
“One of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant was make an appointment with my family doctor to discuss my existing medications. After almost a decade of trial and error of experimenting with different medications to treat my mood disorders, I had success with a combination of antidepressants and stimulants. My doctor instructed to stop taking the stimulant and lowered the dosage of my antidepressant. I was considered “high risk” for PPD because of my existing mood disorders (Major Depression and General Anxiety Disorder), so I was given a referral for pregnancy and postpartum care at Women’s Health College (WHC) in Toronto.
I was okay during my pregnancy; probably the best I’ve felt since I was a teenager. I stopped making appointments with the psychotherapist I was seeing and dropped out of the wellness courses I was enrolled in at WHC. I stopped taking my antidepressants altogether too.
My son was born in late August and my husband took three weeks off of work while we both adjusted to parenthood. Everything was great because I had help every day and lots of visitors; we were both exhausted but I was happy.
Things started to shift when my husband returned to work. I was suddenly alone with my son for 12+ hours a day. We had moved to the suburbs in 2018 after years of living in the city together—the majority of my friends are still [in the city], so I didn’t have anyone to talk to or make plans with and I can’t get anywhere without my car. The loneliness sank in very quickly and the intrusive thoughts came along with it.
Breastfeeding (or rather, not being able to breastfeed) was also a huge contributing factor to depression creeping back in. From day one, I was barely producing. As time went on my supply never improved, regardless of how hard I tried. After two months of endless tears and frustration, we chose to switch to formula exclusively. I felt like a failure.
Around this time, suicidal ideation became very common for me. My depression manifests itself through anger and so I had a short fuse with everyone, including my son. He would cry and I would scream in response, instantly regret it and then beat myself up over it, because what kind of mother yells at their infant child? Every time this happened all I could think was that my family would be better off without me. Once I started to visualize hurting myself, I knew I needed professional help again.
In the past month I have reached out to WHC to start my monthly psychotherapy sessions again. Even though money is tight, we’re budgeting so that I can afford monthly sessions with my own psychotherapist (WHC only offers government-funded sessions once a month for a year postpartum). I have also made an appointment with my doctor to go back on the proper medications. I joined a mom group in the city so that I’m able to get out of my house (and the suburbs) at least once a week and I’m actively trying to find more drop-in classes locally. It’s a long road to getting better but I feel I’m taking the right steps.”
“My experience was very short-lived, but when it does happen to you, you feel kind of helpless. You’re so overwhelmed [at the beginning] and you don’t know what the heck you’re doing and, on top of it, you don’t know your body anymore. Because my son came three weeks early, we were so unprepared. Instead of going straight to my parents’ after the hospital, we had to stop at home and pack our things, because we didn’t have anything with us, so the anxiety of [having to organize everything] was killing me. I felt prepared up until that point. I think it was a mix of anxiety and depression. I’m the kind of person that wants everything to be as organized as possible and it didn’t really pan out that way. By the time we got to my parents’ place [after my son was born], it was really late and we were exhausted. Because my son came three weeks early, my husband had to go into work to settle a few things, so I was left with a two-day-old baby. My mom was sleeping and my son had started crying and I didn’t even really know how to change a diaper—I knew theoretically but I hadn’t physically done one because my husband did all the diaper changes in the hospital while I rested. I was worried about so many things, so I broke down [crying] and that’s when my mom woke up and came to help, but I probably cried six times that day.
I think the reason why it didn’t escalate for me is that I had flagged to my husband really early on that it may happen to me because I have a history of anxiety in general. For me, I think it was really the lack of sleep that triggered it for me. I had a [family friend] who is a Chinese doula come to help and talk to me and she was the most helpful out of all of the classes I had done. She showed me how to properly change a diaper and just gave me all of these tips that gave me the confidence to overcome it. You really don’t know what you’re doing. I think being at my mom’s and my mom getting me extra support, my husband understanding that this could happen and our strong communication contributed to it not escalating. Even though I was at my mom’s, I felt so alone, which was weird. I can’t even imagine if I wasn’t with her and I was home alone. In hindsight, it was probably the best decision for me [to be there with her]—I know not everyone has that luxury for that kind of help, so we were very lucky in that sense.”
(Story by Contributing Editor, Ashley Kowalewski-Pizzi)