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Postpartum Depression: My Story of Hope & Healing (Part 1)

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

A few years ago, I went through a painful period of suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). Today, I am sharing what it was like for me, because I know there is someone out there experiencing a similar situation. My hope is to provide hope.

After a few years of trying to conceive, and struggling with infertility, my spouse and I finally welcomed our first baby boy into our family. (See my previous post, addressing my infertility journey). When I was four months postpartum, I got pregnant. We were absolutely thrilled, however, the birth of my second child marked the beginning of my journey with severe postpartum depression.


My Why


I got into psychology and became a therapist 10 years ago, that is when I received my masters degree as well. I had specialized in couple’s therapy and disordered eating/body image, until the day I started experiencing infertility (and eventually postpartum depression) myself. My personal experience has really driven me to specialize in this field, and without it, I would probably have stayed in my previous area of focus.


Postpartum depression hit me hard and fast with my second child. My youngest came as a huge surprise and a blessing. I was already sleep deprived and was still in the adjustment period of becoming a mother. To then suddenly find out I was pregnant, again, only 4 months after giving birth to my first baby and after years of struggling to conceive, was a major shock to say the least.


I was so exhausted from being in the first trimester, and having a 4 month old. When my youngest was born, having a newborn and a one-year-old was so chaotic. The demands were so great on me and my whole family - I felt like I was catapulted into a whole new world.


Having two young babies was not what I was expecting or planning for. I was hoping for a smoother transition, allowing my body to recover and adjust to the new role of motherhood. Things do not always go to plan, and that’s something I've learned personally and try to remind my clients of as well.


After the birth of my second child and newly entering motherhood, it became clear quite early for me that I was experiencing postpartum depression.


The First Signs of Postpartum


In the first few weeks of course it was the baby blues, but as my feelings worsened and continued, I knew it was time to seek external support.


I had struggled with depression as well as high anxiety in the past, so the signs were familiar to me. At the time, the symptoms and feelings were so bad that it was quite obvious to me (although I kept the whole struggle very private).

Below I will outline my symptoms, feelings, and the intrusive thinking that filled my body during my struggle with postpartum.


Symptoms & Intrusive Thoughts


  • I wasn't feeling like myself

  • Felt like a failure

  • I was overwhelmed & stressed taking care of 2 babies.

  • I started seeing a psychiatrist, and tried a number of antidepressants. They didn't work, or they did but came with too many side effects (extreme night sweats was one of them which disrupted my sleep enormously).

  • I would cry all the time, but I didn't know why.

  • I started having Suicidal Ideations (SI), and started to visualize how it would be for my sons and spouse to be without me. I never acted on my thoughts, they were always very disturbing to me, and very unwanted. That’s what triggered me to look for support so quickly.

  • I dreaded everyday: being alone with 2 babies, groundhog day (feeling like I was re-living the same difficult day over and over again), the demands on me, the constant touches.

  • I'm highly sensitive, so the sounds of my babies screaming and crying, the touches, the constant stimulation…it was so overwhelming!

  • At one point, I started feeling resentful, at my spouse, at myself for having chosen this life, and the worst: I sometimes felt resentful at my children. It was horrible. I felt like I was ‘supposed’ to feel joyous, grateful, happy and yet, I was completely miserable.


For more information and other common symptoms to watch out for, read this post.


Thoughts that were pervasive:

  • “You are so lucky to be having this baby, many people can’t!”

  • “This is supposed to be the happiest time in my life!”

  • “I have everything I have ever wanted! Why am I not happy?”

  • “SNAP OUT OF IT!”

Depression whispers to you that your emotions are not valid, that you’re worthless, and that your suffering doesn’t matter to others. It makes you angry. It makes you feel powerless and unsure about how to get back to the person you were before.


My spouse and my therapist were my first lines of support at the time. I was already connected to someone so it was easier for me to open up to her, and share my struggles.


I quickly realized this was beyond my capacity to just treat it on my own, which came with a lot of shame.


Shame & Guilt


I felt a lot of shame and guilt being in the mental health field and not being able to solve my own problems. I felt like nobody should know that I'm going through this. I was helping clients to get better and here I was, behind the scenes, depressed. I felt like I was living a lie, and feeling almost like a hypocrite.


My struggles with depression made me personally question my career path - ‘maybe I shouldn't be a therapist’, ‘maybe I shouldn't have become a mom’. Intrusive thoughts and questioning myself was a major pain-point.


During my struggle, I put on a front, especially to those closest to me. I didn't want my family to know the true extent of what I was going through. I didn't want my friends to know all of the struggles I was having. I definitely put on a happy face, disguising the true emotions and feelings I was dealing with on a daily basis for many, many months.


After experiencing infertility with my first child, and then being blessed (unexpectedly) with a second so quickly after my first was born, I felt additional pressure to be happy all of the time. After all, I was given exactly what I asked for, for so long – wasn't I? I should be grateful. I didn't want the world to think I wasn't. I think this is why I tried so hard to seem okay.


I spent thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to become a mother. This created additional pressure when I was experiencing postpartum, because of my struggles in the past with infertility. There is definitely extra pressure to be grateful and enjoy motherhood when you've struggled with conception.


The Treatment


I had what was called a treatment-resistant depression.


I tried so many antidepressants, dealt with a variety of side effects, and ultimately they didn't work. I tried naturopathic medicine, I tried supplements, I tried exercising, it was very discouraging. This went on for a very long time, it was not a matter of months for me to heal, it was a matter of years with a combination of treatments.


I had nearly given up hope, and thought I had exhausted all of my options until the day my psychiatrist suggested Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).


Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is a very big commitment, and only suggested once other treatment plans have been tried with no success. TMS is non-invasive and involves going to a psychiatrist’s clinic for 30 to 40 consecutive days (excluding weekends), where a machine is placed over your head at the location where the brain is responsible for regulating our emotions. The machine sends magnetic waves for the brain to activate regions of the brain that have decreased activity in people with depression.


For me, this was a turning point. I regained hope when we started looking at a different approach to solve the problem, and when I saw a glimpse of improvement. My healing was slow, and I'm still on the journey to full recovery. I am very cautious with this process, because that is not a place I ever want to go back to, to experience again. I accept that I still need to do the work, and I accept that this will be a process.


If I could speak to past Valerie now, I would tell her this:


Something that I've held onto during my struggles with postpartum, and even now, is the idea that this too will pass. This is not permanent. Things will get better.


I remember repeating this in my head, even with my suicidal ideation, my struggles, and negative feelings. I held on to the idea that this was a temporary emotion, and feeling and that my story was far from over.


I would also tell my old self: It's okay to take care of yourself. It's okay to make time for yourself and give yourself those moments. The moments that feel “selfish”: engaging in pleasurable activities, going shopping, being with friends, saying ‘no’.


Some unhelpful comments I heard during my postpartum Journey:


“Treasure this time, because it's never going to come back.”


I know this is a common piece of advice, and I know it was not said to me maliciously. Having people try to get me to think positively about my present moment, when I was so deeply depressed, at a place in life where I just wanted to move forward, was very hard to hear. I wanted this chapter to be over with, I wanted to fast forward to when my kids were 4 or 5. I know the intentions were good, but the baby phase for me was not a time I wanted to stay in, it was a time I wanted to get through.


The most helpful advice I received:


My sister gave me the most helpful advice during this time and that was, “this is temporary”.


My sister had dealt with her own obstacles over the years, so this advice coming from her was all the more meaningful, and something I thought might truly help me.


How my personal experience has helped me with my current clients:


This is not to say that someone who has not experienced postpartum infertility or mental health struggles first-hand could not do a great job with their clients or in the therapy field; however, I do think that having first-hand knowledge is valuable and an asset.


I remember what it's like to feel hopeless, to question if you're a good mother. When my clients voice these concerns, I'm more empathetic and curious about their experiences, and how they may differ from my own.


Final thoughts


In sharing my story, I hope it will help others. I also hope it will break the stigma around mental health, and around asking for help (this can truly save your life). Finally, I hope it will help in normalizing: anyone can be affected by mental health issues. If you are struggling right now, please reach out for help.



Thanks for reading.


Be Well,

Val


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