13 Jan In Their Own Words: Postpartum Mental Health
By: Amanda Jewson, Sleep Specialist
My second daughter arrived promptly on her due date. My water actually broke at midnight on May 17. I. Was. Floored.
My first daughter, Winnie, was born a solid 14 days late and I did everything (everything including Midwife Supervised Castor Oil–would not revisit that if you paid me!) to get her out. So when Baby 2 arrived, I was kind of disappointed. I thought I had way more time than I did. I bought Beyonce tickets for 7 days past my due date because I didn’t think there was a chance in hell my baby was coming. Also, I needed a goddamned break.
We got pregnant with Norah very quickly. We got pregnant in the month where we said ‘oh let’s just give this a…..PREGNANT’ – that’s what happened. I felt like everything was happening quicker than I could comprehend it.
After getting pregnant, my oldest daughter had started daycare and was infected immediately with everything horrible. We spent a lot of time in emergency rooms and on antibiotics. My pregnant body couldn’t handle all the viruses and I joined my eldest in getting every childhood illness known to man. That winter I was sick with the cold virus every two weeks and I got the stomach flu twice! I went to my doctor’s at 25 weeks exhausted and just cried in her office. There was nothing to be done.
A sign that I was teetering might have been that I started carrying around a small bottle of hand sanitizer everywhere I went. I kept Winnie home from everything and was constantly checking her for a fever. I was constantly checking myself for a fever. I was working daily at an elementary school where there were two cases of ‘slapped cheek’ virus (that can be harmful to women in early pregnancy), and I was a mess to say the least!
So, when my lovely girl arrived on her due date, literally 7 hours from putting the finishing touches on her nursery. I wasn’t excited. I was bummed I couldn’t sleep more. I wasn’t ready at that moment to have her. My birth was miraculous, fast, and supportive. I remember the juxtaposition of this beautiful light, sunny birth, with the darkness and fear I had in my body.
We came home. I obsessed with the following:
- My blood pressure
- Norah getting a fever
- Me getting a fever
- Dying in general
- Um….you get the picture
But here’s the thing. The biggest thing. Because I had experienced anxiety before and had sought out successful help, I felt for a long time that this was something that would just get better with my previously successful practiced strategies. I practiced, and I practiced, and I practiced. And I wasn’t getting better. And this was my biggest barrier – that because I had a history with mental health I thought I would be able to manage this. But I wasn’t managing.
When things weren’t getting better, I did what anyone would do: I got busy. Like, really busy (I’ve written extensively about ‘busy’ here and my experience). I completed additional qualifications courses for teaching in the first stretch of my mat leave. And when that ended, I began to study to become a sleep consultant. Completing my training by the end of my mat leave. I bounced back to work full time and continued with my new business on the side. If I kept busy enough those feelings would go away! Except they didn’t and my physical overwhelm turned into several visits to the doctor for mystery illnesses – significant hair loss amongst them.
After a year of constant worry, hypervigilance, and non-stop obsessions about my health and my children’s heath I called a cease-fire and I booked an appointment with my doctor. I was worried she’d send me for a barrage of tests and slap me with drugs. But she didn’t, and she sent me to a great therapist instead (and asked me to be open to the drugs. Which I was and still am if I ever decide I need them). We did some blood work for the hair loss and when everything looked normal – I did the hard work back to emotional and physical health with a therapist.
The irony of me being a sleep consultant is that when I started my business I was the least rested I’ve ever been. Did I sleep? LIKE A ROCK (I mean when your body is at a 10/10 each day, of course, you sleep) but did I rest? Practice self-care? Stop? No. I couldn’t. The lack of care and rest I allowed myself left me feeling depleted, sick, depressed, and scared. How many of you feel this way?
The truth is that it was a long walk back to sanity that included lots of therapy (every two weeks, sometimes more at first), trauma processing, and active practices of saying no in favour of rest. My previous work in therapy only scratched the surface of the work I needed to do. And to be honest, a whole slew of new issues arise after having a baby. They’re deep. I can’t write about that process as its a bit too personal for me to share, but here’s what I can tell you: I’ve literally changed my entire life. My brain is different. My energy is different. How I love my husband and my children are different. My kid’s behaviour has changed (they feel our energy mamas–trust me here), my marriage has flourished and I can finally say I’m in a really beautiful peaceful place right now (and open to that changing again).
You can climb out.
My journey has informed my work. When my clients come to me at their most tired and sometimes their most broken, I know what that feels like. You can’t fake your way through postpartum anxiety and depression. Don’t wait as long as I did. Don’t be proud because you should be mentally well. It’s a short trip to the doctor or a mental health professional–and an even shorter trip back to sanity when you do it at the right time.
Amanda is a Baby Sleep Specialist and founder of Baby’s Best Sleep in Toronto, ON. She is a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants and has completed extensive and rigorous training in 1 of only 5 pediatric programs recognized by the APSC. Amanda works with families to create gentle solutions that work for mom, baby, and family.