Life doesn’t always go as planned. I think we can all agree on that. Amanda, very kindly, shares her story. It’s very open and very honest. We’re hoping, her story will inspire you along your own unexpected journey.
Some days, I feel as though I have been robbed. No police officer or undercover agent can return what has been stolen from me. What has been stolen, has been lost forever. Non-returnable, not replaceable, non-refundable.
Everyone always talks about the great things about being a Mom, or a parent in general; all the positive things (mostly). Or, while you’re pregnant, all the unsolicited advice that you don’t want to hear (but maybe should have listened to some of it, but you brushed it off). Most of these things are, however, things such as:
- Get all the sleep now because you will never sleep again
- Enjoy alone time now because you will never get it again, or you will get some but you never know HOW long you will get…maybe 5 minutes, maybe an hour
- Don’t expect to leave the hospital in your pre-pregnancy pants
- Etc., etc., etc.
No one ever talks about the hard stuff though. The mood disorders (beyond the baby blues) that may accompany the months beyond childbirth. I knew I was at a higher risk, of having Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety, as I suffer from a plethora of mental health issues in my day-to-day life. Some that come and go as the tides of the ocean do. These include:
- Major Depressive Disorder (I have a bought with it about every 5 years or so)
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (deal with it day-to-day, but usually mostly under control, unless going through a difficult, and stressful situation)
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Anorexia Nervosa (in recovery- this does come with a ~30% relapse rate)
- And probably some PTSD in there as well…
However, I went off my antidepressants months before getting pregnant, and I was doing so well without them; sure I had a few times I had some attacks which were expected, nowhere near what it used to be before medication and counselling (x2). Therefore, I thought I would be OK and not have to struggle with it after becoming a Mom. But, let’s rewind.
I always said growing up, if there was one thing I was put on this earth to do and be, was a mother. I have always known that. I remember when my Mom was pregnant with my sister I used to put a blanket under my shirts and walk around with a “pregnant” belly, and haul around my twin dolls under each arm. I have always loved children, and knew I always wanted a career working with them. What that career was changed a few times growing up, but the basis never changed. I had a PDA heart murmur that required me to go to SickKids Hospital in Toronto for the first 16 years of my life, and 2 surgeries. Due to my experience with my check-ups and surgeries, I wanted to be a pediatric nurse for most of my young life.
As I got older, I realized not all children would be as lucky as I was, and you unfortunately cannot save them all. I knew I couldn’t handle or cope with the loss of a baby or child, and decided I wanted to be a social worker instead, saving those from homes with parents who were abusive and neglectful. Then, as I grew older, I found out that most of these children ended up in foster care, don’t have wonderful experiences, and may just end up in homes like the ones they were taken from.
Then I decided I wanted to be a daycare teacher. I did 1 year of college to become an ECE, and realized (especially at that time), they were paid peanuts for the amount of work they did. I decided to go to Nipissing University and become a K-6 teacher instead. And that is exactly what I did. I started to fulfill my lifelong goal to work with, and have children.
However, during my experience in Teachers College in North Bay, I was severely anorexic, and the doctors and counsellors were not able to tell me if my disorder attacked my reproductive system to an extent where having children was not possible. The only way we would be able to determine that was if I had difficulty conceiving when that time came. That was just one more thing to weigh on my mind as time went on.
New Year’s Eve 2015: The Beginning of Fulfillment
I said I wasn’t going to find any more boyfriends online. However, my parents left me home on New Year’s Eve and I was bored and lonely, so online I went. Of course I got messages from a few guys, most looking for a good time, and ONLY ONE who wanted to get to know me and never ever mentioned sex. I shut everyone, but him, down. The only problem was that he lived outside my 50km radius. 150km away to be exact. However, we made plans to meet almost half way (he drove further). We met at a Tim Hortons in Orillia, had coffee and went to the movies. We both drove home afterwards in a snow storm. I went home, and to work the next day, and I told everyone I was going to marry that man. End of January we started dating, and on May 1, I moved to Peterborough to be closer to him.
This brings us to 2017/2018
In August 2017, Ian popped the question. It was a dream come true, although I already knew he was my end game from the day I met him, it was just a matter of time. July 2018, we tied the knot. I had never been so happy in my life. He made days come and go by so easily and my mental health had never been, or felt better, in over 15 years, as it did with him. Going off meds before starting a family was a no brainer, and my doctor supported it.
This brings us to 2019
End of March 2019 came along, and we decided it was time to start our family. FINALLY. I had been waiting for this for my whole life. I had been planning, studying, and preparing for this moment for 31 years. Everything I ever did, all the decisions I had made in life, was for THIS MOMENT. For me to be a Mom and I was going to rock it, and boy was I prepared. I was going to be the best Mom and it was going to come easily for me. I was going to love being pregnant because it was what I always wanted.
Turns out, I HATED being pregnant. It was not an easy pregnancy. Sure, I loved the ultrasounds, and cried when I saw my little blob and watching it grow, cried when I heard the heartbeat, loved watching my tummy grow, feeling the baby kick, and finding out we were having a BOY (secretly what I always wanted first).
However, I had a lot of gas pain that felt like I was being stabbed, it was such an awful pain. Near the end I had high blood pressure and had to have multiple tests done the last 2 weeks of my pregnancy. Along with all the normal things most women experience with pregnancy (back aches, morning sickness, sleep troubles, etc.). And I ended up going over my due date by 5 days. Luckily, he decided to start the process on his own on Friday, because if not, I was scheduled for induction on Sunday (the day he was born).
Then, came labour. Yeah, I knew it was going to be bad, everyone told me it was horrible. I had every plan and intention to do it all natural without meds, but was definitely flexible, just in case. Thank goodness I was flexible, because I needed those meds, and lots of them. I went through 2 days of labour. Almost half of it I laboured at home. Everytime the doctor checked me, I seemed to not be making any progress, or if I did, the baby wasn’t. They had the peanut ball between my legs the entire time, and were turning me back and forth hourly to try to get him to drop. He just wasn’t.
Finally, they told me he wasn’t going to come down and I needed to have a c-section and it was a new thing I had to wrap my head around. I was terrified. Ian and I had talked about what that would look like if I had to deliver that way, as he is scared of hospitals in general and he would end up on the floor in an OR. I definitely needed someone in the room that could support me, and he was not going to be that person. So I asked my Mom to come in with me, and she was such a great support.
They had to give me Ativan before going in the OR as I was shaking uncontrollably from anxiety and panic. The medication did NOTHING, I swear. It felt like I was on the table for an eternity, and then, Bennett was delivered into this world at 6:28am, 7lbs 15oz, 19.5 inches of pure joy. I loved him instantly. Everyone told me that I would never know a love greater, but you never actually know how fiercely you can love until that happens. And, he was a spitting image of my father. I am sure my Nana up in heaven made that happen so she knew she was still here with us. I thank her for that, truly. I look nothing like my father, so it was definitely a surprise.
This brings us to 2020
Recovering from a cesarean was much harder than I anticipated. Here it is now over 10 months later and I am still recovering. I honestly am so jealous of anyone who got to deliver vaginally and could go for a walk with their baby a few days later. I was still struggling to stand. The labour and delivery was the beginning of my downward spiral into depression. It didn’t go as planned, was much longer and excruciating than I imagined. Recovery from major surgery while looking after a newborn wasn’t a cakewalk either. Let’s be clear, I didn’t expect it to be a cakewalk even if I delivered vaginally, but I didn’t expect it to be this difficult. And, maybe I am wrong in thinking that things would have been a bit easier if I did deliver vaginally. And maybe if I didn’t labour for 2 days. But, when you see people who delivered naturally go for a walk 3 days after giving birth, and I was still struggling to even sit up 3 days postpartum, it makes it very difficult to not think the way that I do.
The postpartum depression and anxiety hit hard, and full force. I knew that new Mom’s (and parents in general) have worries, but this was anything beyond that. Worried about germs (which COVID has not helped, at all- that’s a whole other topic), illness, breathing, warmth, cold, feeding, sleeping…you name it. But, beyond just worry and anxiety about the baby, there was worry and anxiety about myself. I literally had anxiety about taking ANXIETY MEDICATION!!!
We finally got on a good sleep rhythm at about 1.5 months. He hated sleeping in his bassinet so he often slept in bed with me, which also meant I barely got any sleep because I was so nervous. But at 1.5 months we got him into his crib, in my room. He was waking 2, maybe 3 times a night for a feed but went back to sleep quickly. One night he even did a 6.5 hour stretch. Five nights after that, we hit the 4 month sleep regression at 3 months old, and it went downhill from there. The only way he would sleep was nursing and in bed with me, and that went on and on for 4 months. Ben was waking every 45 minutes to 2 hours at best.
My mood was horrible. I don’t even know what I did every day, day in and day out, it was all a blur. I wanted to be the best Mom for my baby, the one I always thought I would be, and I was failing hard. I knew we had to get sleep, better sleep, for both him (much needed for growth and development) and me. I never wanted to sleep train, but we had tried everything else and it wasn’t working for us. It was literally our last straw, but we had to do it.
Enter Erin Junker from The Happy Sleep Company (she also offers a free 20-minute consultation so you can decide if she is the right fit for you- and for us she was). We had a consultation with her at the beginning of July and set up to start on August 1, when my Mom had a week of holidays and was able to be here to help support Ian and I emotionally. We knew we had to do the hard work of the training alone, as we would be the one’s here to do it all the time.
I tried to soak up the rest of the time I had remaining sleeping with Bennett beside me, as much as I disliked him being on the boob all the time and the 10 wakings on average at night. But, he is so little and is growing so fast and he is going to most likely be my one and only baby.
As it goes, August 1st came real quick and it was time for me to part with sleeping with my baby. We wholeheartedly expected the first week of training to be rough and Ben to scream his head off. But, to all of our surprise, he took to it rather quickly. The first night he cried for 55 minutes and was up a few times about every 3 hours. The second night was 45 minutes, and was up about every 1.5 hours (we thought: “this is is, this is what we were expecting, this is hell). The third night he cried 40 minutes, and then…SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT. I was up about every 2 hours and looked at him thinking, “he’s still asleep?!” I came downstairs at 5am to pump (Ian slept on the couch that night, I cannot remember why), and when I turned on the small lamp to set up my pumping materials, he asked me what time it was and was shocked when I told him Bennett was still asleep and hadn’t woken once.
We had a few more nights where Ben woke up a few times, but we never had to go in overnight, and to this day (knock on wood, please God), we still haven’t had to. We had to wake him almost every morning at 6:30am from sleep (with those 3 nap schedules we have to make sure there’s enough time in the day in order to fit all the naps in), and his naps were amazing! His first two I always woke him after an hour and a half, and that last cat nap lasted anywhere between 30-45 minutes. Close to 9 months in age he started constantly fighting that last nap, so we dropped to two. That first week was great, he slept two 2-hour long naps that I had to wake him from. Then he started cutting a tooth…
From there on, things got a bit rockier (and…still are), on the nap side of things. I figured once that tooth popped through, it would get better, but it didn’t. I would be lucky to get an hour and 15 minutes for naps (both of them) OR LESS. I simply did not understand (and sometimes still don’t) how my perfect little napper who would always do 1.5 hours on a 3 nap day those first two naps, went to never napping that much anymore at ALL. I was lucky that my consultant was able to offer some more support and we now have a bit more of an enforced nap schedule. His sleep rut is probably a mixture of: 1)He is getting older so probably less sleep needs during the day, 2)the 8-10 month sleep regression, and 3) developmental leap (within one weeks time he started babbling, sitting up from laying on his belly, army crawling and full crawling…his poor little brain)! It is still a bit rough, and my anxiety around sleep (thank you PTSD) is still quite strong. But, I am working on it.
My Advice & Take Home from this Novel
If you are struggling with low mood and anxiety, yes, REACH OUT. Talk to fellow Moms in your local or online Mom group. Having strength in numbers and solidarity with people who know what you’re going through is helpful. But, I can promise you that is probably NOT enough. Reach out to your doctor…maybe you will need some meds to help support you through this, and that IS OK! It doesn’t make you weak or any less of a person. Ask your doctor about counselling. Reach out to your local mental health clinic and see if they can offer any assistance. Talk to your public health unit and ask if they have a healthy mommies and healthy babies program…see if there are any online programs you can take part in, or in-person if you feel it is safe enough for you. In the end, if you want to be better, you want to DO better, not just for yourself but you little one(s) and family, you have to FIGHT for it. Because, if you are struggling with depression/anxiety you are always fighting a demon and you cannot give up. But you have to choose to fight! And there are tons of weapons in your arsenal, you just have to find them.
I have been robbed….but I don’t plan on letting anything more be stolen from me!
Anxiety Canada: Register and look under MAPS for adults. Free courses and work to help you through.
The phone app, MindShift CBT: Also run by Anxiety Canada. It has very useful coping and mindfulness exercises when you are feeling anxious.