I’m a first-time mom and have had chronic depression and anxiety for the majority of my life.
I’m no stranger to challenges related to having a mental illness yet somehow, I was unprepared for the complete upending of my psyche that happened after I gave birth. Even though I told myself over and over again that because I’d be on my medication, and because I knew I’d probably have postpartum depression (PPD), I’d be ready for it, PPD still hit me fast and hard,
and at the same time, insidiously and like a dripping faucet.
Arthur was born at full term on my due date but was smaller than average for his gestational age.
Because of that, we had to stay in the hospital for thirty-six hours after his birth as opposed to the midwife-recommended six hours that would have been acceptable if he’d weighed more. I was not ready for an overnight hospital stay, both mentally and emotionally. Within the first few hours of Arthur’s birth, he was taken to be examined by a pediatrician (luckily only for a few
minutes), and a nurse had to draw a vial of blood from his foot while he screamed in distress.
The latter is when the tears started for me and they didn’t stop for about twelve full hours that
day. I couldn’t rest, as I was in a ward room with three other families, I hadn’t showered, and the nurses were concerned that my son wasn’t getting enough breast milk to keep his blood sugar up. I was overwhelmed with a full spectrum of emotion and literally could not stop crying. Finally, a nurse switched me to a private room over concern about my mental health and then I was able to
get some rest. This was the first day of my son’s life, and the emotional roller coaster had already begun.
Over the next few weeks, concern over his weight and the rate of his gains were at the top of my priority list. I worked extremely hard to establish breastfeeding with Arthur, to the detriment of my own health. No one prepared me for the fact that no matter how hard I tried, it might not
work. I was on medication and herbal supplements, I pumped as much as I could, and I fed Arthur at some points every forty-five minutes. Despite all of that work, he was growing too quickly for my body to keep up with demand.
One night when he wouldn’t settle and kept getting frustrated at the breast that he couldn’t get enough, we decided it was finally time to supplement with formula. At that time, I thought it would be a temporary solution until my body could catch up, but we ended up supplementing Arthur with formula for the next 5 months while I was also nursing and pumping for him. Feeding became an all-the- time exhausting event: nurse, prepare a bottle, feed Arthur the bottle, rock Arthur to sleep, and if there was time before he woke up again, try to pump, feed myself, use the washroom – anything I could possibly fit in 20 minutes. I can honestly say that I’ve never worked so hard at anything my entire life as I did trying to breastfeed my son. I gave it beyond everything I possibly had. I slowly drained myself of all energy, human-ness, and what made me “me” before I was a mom.
I didn’t have time to take care of myself or do the things I loved. I constantly felt guilt for not trying harder and for having to give him formula. Then he stopped wanting to nurse, and my mood took a nosedive. Every feeding became a struggle to get him to latch. I didn’t understand why he was rejecting food. I contemplated going to a clinic in Toronto. I thought maybe I could exclusively pump for him. I’d look online for tips to boost milk supply and encourage latching. Every time I looked up new ways to “make this work”, I’d get despondent. I felt like a huge failure. Thankfully, I had my husband, our families, and my friends to encourage me to do whatever worked for me. One conversation with my husband Josh in particular was helpful when he said that what we were doing was working, so why try and change it? I was making things more difficult for myself when I didn’t have it in me to tackle anything more.
Not only was Arthur not eating well, he wouldn’t sleep. I was exhausted probably to the point of madness. I was unable to nap during the day to make up for long nights because he wouldn’t nap for longer than thirty minutes. His night sleep got worse when he was around four months old to the point that he was waking up every hour to be rocked back to sleep. It was physically draining and mentally demanding. The lack of sleep for all of us ended up being a strain on my marriage to the point that if we hadn’t decided to sleep train Arthur, it’s likely that would have been the breaking point.
At my worst, I got so frustrated with Arthur that I wanted to shake him to stop him from crying. I became afraid I would harm my child. I felt bad for not wanting to spend all my time with him, and then felt bad for not being more happy and present for his first days/months. I wanted to be able to savor all these small moments that come during his infancy, and instead I was crying,
worrying, angry, and very sad.
“At least he will know that I loved him when I’m gone” were the words that kept going through my head each time I did something like make my son clothes or write in his journal. I was trying to leave a legacy of how much he meant to me before I ended my own life. Those were/are my darkest moments of PPD, when I think about how Arthur will remember me when I’m gone.
Those are the words I told Jen when I walked into her studio the day we did a quick mom and baby shoot. I wanted a physical reminder of my love for my son, and a photo of the two of us together seemed necessary. When I look at these photos now, I see a beautiful and happy baby and a woman who loves her son more than anything else in the world. Since that day, I have started to feel better. I’ve taken more time to be creative, Arthur and I have gone on more walks, and in general, he is eating and sleeping better. Nothing can change the fact that those were the hardest months of my life, and all the “it’s gets better” comments from those around me didn’t help in the moment. I feel proud of myself for recognizing that something had to change (I stopped breastfeeding) and for taking steps to become a healthier and more balanced person/mom each day.
It’s my first Mother’s Day, and my Mom asked me the other day if I could do anything for Mother’s Day, what would I want to do? I had no idea how to answer that question when she asked me but now I know: I’d like to spend some quiet time alone to do whatever makes me happy. It feels selfish to me, but I have to keep telling myself that self care isn’t selfish – it’s necessary for me to be at my best during all the other times when I’m needed to hold my baby
when he’s upset or make silly faces at him to get a laugh or sing him the same lullaby ten times in a row while he fights a nap. Arthur deserves the best version of me that I can give him. So this Mother’s Day, of course I’d like to spend some time cuddling my sweet boy, but I’d also like to spend some time being a mother to myself and making sure I can continue to work on becoming that version of me.
My PPD right now is manageable, but that’s not to say that tomorrow, or next week, or next month that things might be hard again. Overall, though, the trend seems upward, and I have a beautiful, healthy, extremely happy and silly baby boy that reminds me that all of this is worth it. Being a mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but meeting Arthur and watching him grow
is also the most exciting adventure I’ve ever been on.
To all the mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day! You’ve got this, and even if you don't (you do), it’s ok and healthy to ask for help. No matter your journey, you are doing an amazing job. - Kat