After giving birth to my son, I quickly found myself in the midst of post-partum depletion, anxiety, and depression. With the help of an amazing support system including family, my naturopath and my own determination to feel better, I was able to push my depletion, anxiety and depression symptoms to the side. Is it gone? Probably not… but I do feel a whole lot better than I did before. Medical practitioners aren’t able to accurately pinpoint the cause of many post-partum mood disorders but they do say that there is a multitude of factors that can contribute including stress, poor diet, birth trauma and previous history of depression and anxiety.
I believe that my post-partum journey began when I was about 35 weeks pregnant and bebé T decided that he was going to flip into the breech position. This week was particularly stressful for me as it was my second-to-last week at work in which I was trying to wrap up everything on my plate and dealing with a multitude of in-the-moment issues that needed to resolved before I left. I was under a tremendous amount of stress in my professional life. At my weekly visit, it was really hard for the midwives to determine where he was at. They termed the situation an “unstable lie” which essentially means that he wouldn’t stop moving. When I woke up in the morning his head was in my rib cage suffocating me and shortly after getting up I would feel his head down towards my side, almost in the transverse position with his feet kicking me in the hip. My midwives recommended an ECV (External cephalic version), but when I asked them to explain what the procedure entailed, the midwife I was seeing on that one occasion told me to “google it”. I was really shocked at this response and her lack of support. This sent me into a month-long ordeal of mistrusting my midwives and feeling completely unsupported and dismissed by them. I did end up googling it and I was terrified of the procedure. I had this strong gut feeling of not wanting anyone to touch my baby in any way and I was dreading the procedure. On the day of I was so stressed out again. We went in for the procedure and when they went to do the ultrasound to see where he was, he was head down! PHEW! But talk about major stress over a 4-week period!
Bebé T came three days early. You can read about my birth story earlier in my blog, but I’ll be quick and say that it was a difficult experience and it was triggering for me to think about it afterward. I would hyperventilate and start to have panic attacks when I thought about everything leading up to the moment he came into this world. After delivery, I was so swollen all over my body that I could barely move for an entire week. I wasn’t eating properly – I had no appetite and we were eating frozen lasagnas that I had made prior to his arrival and take out. I was blasting the A/C because I was hot and it was the middle of summer. Breastfeeding wasn’t working for me, I began dreading every session and my baby started losing weight. He wouldn’t sleep unless he was on top of us and so I was sleeping on the couch on an inclined position for the first five weeks of his life. I began pumping every 1.5 – 2 hours round the clock which led to multiple nights, sometimes in a row, of ZERO sleep between feedings, rocking and pumping. I hated being alone and felt so ashamed of having my mother, husband, and mother-in-law always at the house to help me with the baby and give me the opportunity to nap, eat or shower. I dreaded leaving the house and barely did for the first three months. I began telling myself and others that I would never, ever have another child. I was in a complete downward spiral with constant crying, a deep feeling of sadness and desperation, multiple panic attacks and a tremendous amount of regret, resentment, anger, and guilt.
After a particularly stressful September, I said enough was enough. I made an appointment with my naturopath (which I should have done earlier but stupidly put off because I didn’t have the energy) and shared with her everything that was happening. She agreed that I was experiencing postpartum depression and recommended a number of different supplements including two different types of omega fish oils to protect my brain and help it heal; a calcium supplement; a few mood stabilizers; vitamin D and a general women’s multivitamin. I added on an iron supplement since my postpartum blood work indicated that my iron stores were completely depleted. I began forcing myself to do less around the house and to let the small things go. I began ensuring I was napping with my bebé at least every other day.
I began exploring the idea of a “newborn mother” taught by the postpartum doula and educator Julia Jones through her website Newborn Mother and education series. She focuses on helping childbirth practitioners and mothers understand that when a baby is born a new mother is too, and that mother needs just as much, if not more care, attention, and love. A concept that is fundamentally lost in the western society that I live in.
Most importantly, I concentrated on the foods that I was eating. I began choosing healthier options more of the time, opting for home-cooked meals instead of take-out or frozen dinners. I started concentrating on increasing my protein intake and reducing sugar as much as I could. For myself, and for my bebe who was experiencing reflux at the time, I cut out dairy and caffeine. I found a book on postpartum depletion by Australian doctor Oscar Serrellach called The Postnatal Depletion Cure and it became my bible. It taught me that I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling, that there was something wrong and that there was something I could do about it. I started scouring through my cookbooks to find the easiest and healthies options. I ordered food delivery boxes so I could quickly make healthy meals. I downloaded a cooking app so I didn’t have to spend energy on thinking about good recipes.
Hindsight is 20/20. I know now what I MUST do if I ever have another child:
I will ensure that my midwives understand my expectations of them as well as how I felt I was treated in my first pregnancy. I will not let them dismiss my questions, concerns and my feelings.
I will protect myself and follow a “lying in” plan, based on the ones followed in traditional cultures around the world. This will include:
- A proper and balanced pre and, most importantly, postpartum balanced nutrition plan in place for myself.
- Connecting with my naturopath sooner and ensure that I am getting the proper nutritional supplements including iron, calcium, magnesium and vitamin d.
- Surrounding myself with constant warmth. Think hot soups, baths, teas, blankets, and sweaters.
- Pulling on my support system without shame or guilt.
- Not worrying about small things like laundry, cleaning, cooking. I will have this done for me for the first 40 days or just let it wait.
- I will spend as much time as I can cuddling, kissing and loving my baby so that I can absorb as much oxytocin as possible.
Pregnancy and childbirth are hard, but I have found the postpartum period to be the hardest. I am truly disappointed that our society barely focuses on the difficulties experienced post childbirth and that many new mothers are left on their own to take care of their babies and their own bodies. I would strongly encourage all mothers to view and invest in their postpartum period as much as they did their pregnancy and birth. Plan for your postpartum period ahead of time and determine who your support people are going to be, you will be grateful for them.
In postpartum health,
Mama + Bebé