Let’s Talk. We all know I usually keep it light and fun here at Rachel Brencur Photography, but sometimes I need to dive into something that isn’t so fun to talk about. Sometimes I am compelled by situations and events around me to step outside that comfortable little cave I have made for myself and do something.
It wasn’t until I became a mom that I realized that parenting is the hardest thing that I have ever done. It’s not the diaper changes or 3am feedings or dealing with the terrible two tantrums (My youngest throws the most epic tantrums you have ever seen). It is trying to be a parent in THIS society.
In the age of technology with the likes of Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram we have the benefit of being able to keep in touch with friends and family, and even complete strangers without ever having to leave the house. We can give updates about our lives and receive updates on others. Information is available at our fingertips, literally.
You would think with all this information and openness we have created amongst our lives, our children, our experiences… That talking about post partum mental health wouldn’t be taboo anymore.
Some of you perhaps just closed the webpage and won’t read beyond this. Others are likely wondering, “Where is she going with this?”, and are starting to get uncomfortable with where this may be headed. And some of you are likely nodding your head, as if to say “Yes!”, praying that this is going where you are hoping it’s going.
Everyone has heard of post partum depression (PPD). Everyone has heard of the “baby blues”. But did you know that post partum mental health (PPMH) stretches even further than that? Some Moms have post partum post traumatic stress disorder (PPPTSD). Or post partum anxiety (PPA). Or post partum psychosis (PPS), and so much more.
Did you know 85% of new parents will have some kind of post partum mood disturbance? Yes, parents. Plural. Even new Dads or Partners can have post partum depression/anxiety/etc… and 85% makes a majority of parents. 10-15% of new parents are formally diagnosed with PPD. This is something that is not uncommon. It is not chosen. I don’t know of one mom who has said “I hope after I have my baby I develop PPD.”. So my question is, “Why is it still such a taboo and uncomfortable subject for most people?”. Furthermore, because it’s such a difficult subject, how many parents have PPD or another post baby mental health issue but are too proud, embarrassed, or ashamed to seek out the medical help they need?
Parents to a new baby (whether your first or last), whether they just have baby blues, or a more serious mental condition are already mentally stressed. Your life has been flipped upside down, and now you have this tiny human demanding everything of you. Demanding your sleep, your food, your sanity… and instead of creating a society that is open, accepting, and comforting that would be able to support those with post partum mental health illnesses, we just further the feelings of helplessness. Shame. Embarrassment. Guilt. Insecurities. Alonelessness, and more. We have the power through social media to make a photo of a blue/black or gold/silver dress go viral in a matter of hours, but we can’t promote an accepting society of mental health? Something is wrong here!
While researching for this blog, I noticed 2 things. First, it was quite difficult to find information on post partum mental health. Secondly, It is clear that there hasn’t been a lot of research put into it. A lot of the information is old. It’s very sparse without a lot of details that basically falls back on “go talk to your doctor”. To complicate things, the information given is stark and factual. It is not kind, sympathetic, or encouraging; it’s not letting those who are seeking information because they may be living with PPD feel that they are not alone. It is common, and there are things that can be done to help them. Most didn’t mention support groups, or anything of that nature to help parents who may not have PPD, but may be struggling mentally to handle the new challenges they face. And for those parents who are struggling and scared to see a medical professional, sometimes those support groups can offer the support and encouragement to make that step to seek medical help. I even searched Facebook and had a very difficult time finding one.
I am very open about my post partum days. I am not a perfect parent. And I don’t pretend to be. I post my daily accomplishments… but also my daily fails. Because I don’t want to promote that I am “that perfect parent”. I want others to know when they are having a tough time that they are not alone. There are others that struggle. It is not all Pinterest and unicorns and sparkly stars all day. I want to show that when you are on that final thread of patience that is stopping you from banging your head into the wall repeatedly and your toddler comes up to you wearing no pants with dirty hands and you get to play the “chocolate or poop” game, that it is okay to cave and give your head one good whack into the wall (literally)! Or, if you are sitting up in your nursery with your newborn baby rocking them back and forth and both of you are sobbing because at 3 in the morning you can’t figure out what your new baby needs and you feel like a failure like I did, that it’s okay, and someone else has been through it and made it to the other side alive… and relatively sane.
It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to ask for help, to seek medical help. It’s okay to TALK ABOUT IT. The only way we are going to change this stigma around mental health, or post partum mental health is to talk about it. To make it the new normal. To make it mainstream. Don’t be afraid to share your story or talk about it, because it may make someone else uncomfortable. Don’t think that any mental illness makes you less of a person. Weak. A failure. Disappointing. Ashamed. It doesn’t. It’s seeing a friend I’ve grown to care and love for, struggle with post partum mental health for a year, who said to me when I asked how she was, “It’s finally getting better”, to make me realize the culture we have created. I had no idea that she was still struggling. I could have helped. I would have been willing to help. But we’ve created a culture where we aren’t to admit our flaws. And we distinguish PPD as a flaw in society.
A few weeks ago I was scared. When I posted the model call and I sent out the information to those 50+ moms who were interested about what I wanted to do, I was terrified. It’s a hard subject. It’s an uncomfortable subject for most. I was afraid no-one would be interested. I was afraid I would lose clients over it. I was afraid for a number of other reasons, but to my surprise, I had almost 50 people email me back begging to be a part of this project. 50. five oh. I was hoping for 3-5 moms I may have to track down over a few weeks. Now, I had 50 to choose from. I read EVERY story. And most of them made me cry (This is your warning to grab the kleenex). The heartbreak some moms had. The experiences they have gone through, and the things that have been said are heartbreaking. Yet they all had one thing in common. They needed to talk about it. They all felt the stigma, and they wanted their stories heard. They wanted to make sure that other moms that have or will in the future experience similar feelings or illnesses can feel confident to get help. That they can know they are not alone and it’s okay to talk about it and get that support. I am going to share some of their stories with you all in hopes that you will read them. You will sympathize with them. You will help empower not just them, but all parents. And know that if you see a new parent, or any parent that seems to be struggling, it’s okay to let them talk. Because most times, just talking about it with a listening ear can be so incredibly healing. We, as a society, are taking that coping and healing technique away from these parents that so badly need it. And it’s time for that to change.
“I have had my struggles through the past year of being a new mom from breastfeeding to learning how to have a baby and a romantic relationship with my husband. From trying to be the perfect housewife to mother and comparing everything I was doing to all the mothers around me. The latest and hardest struggle is sleep training, and the saddest part is I hate even writing it because my first thought is don’t talk about it, and I wonder how many other women struggle everyday with that same thought.”
Sarah’s most recent struggle has been with sleep training. She made the difficult choice and there have been nights where she cried along with him. It’s affected her freedom to go out past bedtimes, and has incurred judgement from others who tell her “It just breaks my heart hearing him cry I just want to pick him up” so she’s spent time second guessing herself. Asking herself if she’s doing the right thing. Thinking everyone is judging her and thinking she’s a bad mom.
“My daughters birth was very traumatic for me. I didn’t feel that instant bond or even cry tears of joy like everyone tells you will happen. It could have been the combination of medications in my system, or it could be the fact that I didn’t get to hold her until almost an hour after she was born. I felt so guilty for that.
I was terrified. I had no clue what to do for a baby. I didn’t sleep for more than a few minutes at a time because if she made a noise I was up. If she was quiet I was up. And I remember feeling like a trapped prisoner in my own bedroom trying to figure out how to feed my baby because of the house full of company for 3 weeks. Luckily Brooklyn was a good baby once breastfeeding was established. She was content, slept well, and once we were sorted out breastfeeding she became a champ.
My son on the other hand, his birth was 4 hours total and completely natural. An epitome of an easy birth story. I cried, I felt the bond… Something that makes me feel guilty that I didn’t with Brooklyn instantly. Then came the pediatrician, she checked Noah out – and because of a few small details, suspected he may have had down syndrome. The morning came and the testing began. That’s when it all hit me like a tonne of bricks, I cried and cried and when Ryan was around I tried to be strong. I cried because I was so scared for my perfect baby boy, and because I wasn’t sure I could be the kind of mom who could handle such a situation. I cried for Brooklyn and the impact it would have on her. I cried for my job (which I love) and our new home and hopes and dreams that we may have to give up if the results came back positive – and I felt guilty that I felt those things and I cried about that. Then our nurse came in on the morning of our discharge with the pediatrician and we finally got some answers, although he did have some kidney abnormalities and a small hole in his heart (which is common and most likely won’t need any intervention) he was a perfectly healthy baby boy and we had no worries about any of the trisomys. I was so relieved. Noah is the exact opposite of Brooklyn as a baby. He is my fussy little man, he’s colicky and cries a good majority of most days but when he’s not crying he’s so smiley. Most days are easy for me this round, maybe it was the early scare in the hospital that make me put it all in perspective? Or maybe it’s the thought looming over me that he may be the last baby I get to carry.
“Over the last 8 months, my husband has continuously suggested, almost weekly that I have post partum. It is something that I’ve talked to my doctor about alot and we both feel that I don’t, that it’s just I am a very emotional person and that my experiences with Audrey whether good or bad draw out extreme emotion. But the weekly questioning of my husband has been something that has hurt my feelings, has made me feel like my emotions are out of control, like I’m crazy at times, which can cause a strain on our marriage because it creates tension and resentment. I love Audrey, I love being her mom, I love her smiles, her giggles, watching her grow and learn but through it all I’ve sat on the floor of my bathroom crying because I can’t settle her. I cry because I’m scared of the what if’s her life may bring. I cry because she is growing too fast, or I’m putting clothes away that don’t fit anymore, or I’m scared of being a bad mom, or I feel like I’m failing when I’m so tired and all I can think is someone please help. I cry because the daily household chores can be too much to keep up with, because I don’t fit in my clothes and I don’t know who’s body I’m looking at anymore – and I cry because I know how great my mom was at it all and I don’t feel like I’ll ever live up to her example.
With so much emotion and overwhelming feelings already when the time came to handle Audreys cranial issues I had a complete breakdown. Over the last couple months we had to adjust to Audrey wearing a helmet for cranial readjustment. I battled then with a whole other set of emotions- how could we handle having to force our sweet child to wear a head brace, how would she ever sleep, how would I ever sleep, how do you manage criticsm and stares of strangers when you go out to do your daily tasks, and why was I so worried about what others thought but my major struggle with it was blaming myself for it.
My delivery was difficult the doctor had to use forceps to get her out. These are the main contributing factors that caused her to have to go through treatment in the first place. I felt like I failed my child. I was heart broken, I cried alot, I felt alone and I felt ashamed of myself that I couldn’t deliver her in a way that could have saved her from having to go through this. It took alot of strength in me to push that feeling away and know that we were doing the right thing for her, she has been a super trooper through it all and she gave me strength that I didn’t know I even had.”
“I often get so many comments from moms about how I’m super woman and how do I find time to go on so many adventures and do so many crafts with my toddler with a newborn. It actually started to really erk me and I felt myself having to give explanations. It’s just when I’m exhausted beyond belief and at my lowest moments; when my kids and myself are in a mess of tears I don’t feel like taking a photo for Instagram, which then creates a disillusion of a perfect life set in a little square on social media which is so far from reality and only makes other moms feel like they don’t match up.
listening hard for Cal’s breathing over the monitor; because another thing I worry about is losing my son to tragedy or illness.
I have this burning fear that I cannot protect him from everyone and everything and it eats me up inside. I can’t sleep at night; my mom brain won’t turn off.
At the end of the day – I had to make a decision. The decision that I thought I had already made months ago, but now had to re-evaluate based on the opinions of the professionals that I had chosen to put my trust in. I truly believe my midwives were looking out for the best interest of both me and of most importantly my baby. After meeting with my midwives, the OB, and talking with my husband… I picked up the phone and said words I thought I would never say: “ I am calling to book a c section for tomorrow.” I don’t know what was harder… giving up on my dream of what a birth is supposed to be like? Or knowing that it wasn’t about me anymore – it was about my children.
It was chaos – I was trying to recover from surgery, with a colicy baby who wouldn’t sleep at all, an 18 month old who was just learning to walk, that I couldn’t pick up for 2 weeks. I always needed a babysitter when he was home and all I wanted was to be alone. I was tired, I was weak, I was trying to fall in love with a baby who took me away from my first, and all he did was cry! We were in survival mode. But it passed, it always does. You do get to breathe again…
With motherhood, you will always feel guilt and always feel like you could have done better… but you can be happy. You get happy when you accept the fact that things are not going to go as planned. Throw what you planned out the window and roll with it. Once you do that you will be able to enjoy the experience.”
“My son was born in May 2014 and I still live with Post Partum PTSD. I have to work constantly to be in control of my own life and be the best mother I can for my kids. Every single day I fight with this. Nearly two years later and there are still days that I will sit by myself and cry. I have triggers that I have learned to manage on my own, but not without professional help. His first three months I was dealing with the trauma from his birth, exclusively pumping because he refused to latch (Likely due to his birth trauma and then our nearly 20 hours in different hospitals) and my own issues from his birth. Jonathan’s birth trauma wasn’t from poor medical care. His labour was induced due to extremely high blood pressure and I was required to get an epidural to help with my blood pressure, I wanted a natural birth. After my 36 hour labour and 3 1/2 hours pushing he was born, blue. Not breathing and no heart beat. He was transferred to the McMaster NICU while I stayed at west lincoln. The first 6 months I was on autopilot and missed out on quite a bit and I still have a lot of guilt from this. Around 6 months I hit what I would consider rock bottom. It was the darkest time of my life. I realized that what I was dealing with and experiencing wasn’t normal and it wasn’t ok. This is when the people closest to me also realized I wasn’t ok.
Fast forward to December 2015 and I welcomed my beautiful daughter into the world. Peacefully, at home, where I was most comfortable and not afraid of what was happening. After my sons birth I knew I couldn’t be in a hospital again. Every time I thought about her being born I would cry. I knew I had to break this cycle for myself, somehow. I’ve heard of so many people who had experienced some sort of trauma and then had a healing birth following. I was hoping for a magic solution. I was asked at my 6 week discharge appointment if her birth was healing for me. It wasn’t. Her birth has restored my belief in my body. I believe my body is strong and I believe that it is capable. But it didn’t heal me from the trauma, I don’t think anything ever can. But I needed to be able to believe in my body again.
While our journey has been anything but ideal, it’s our story. Both of my children are worth every second of what we’ve endured. I can’t say I wouldn’t go back and change it if I could, because honestly, I would (what parent wouldn’t wish they could have given their child a better start at life?) But it’s made me a stronger mother. It’s shown me the power of a mothers love. You do what you need to do to get through it, and you do get through it. ”
“I knew conceiving wouldn’t happen right away, but I had no idea it would take 18 months. During that 18 months we experienced what they call a missed miscarriage. Going through the miscarriage was something that changed me forever. It was torture finally getting pregnant then my body rejecting it 11 weeks later. It broke my heart and left me with a hole. We were both grieving but decided to keep trying as soon as we could.
We chose not to find out the gender, which was the greatest surprise! Labour and delivery was not what I had planned which started with sky high blood pressure, being induced, labour not progressing, contractions completely stopping, then a higher dose to start things again, then a really long labour with no progression again. I never dialated past 4 cm, after 18 hours and thanks to a great doctor, a c-section it was and a painful scary, traumatic one at that. I barely remember those first moments and my first look at our sweet sweet baby boy because of all the medication in my body! Hubby got skin on skin first which breaks my heart just a little bit, those were suppose to be my first moments. Motherhood is crazy, motherhood is emotional, motherhood is fun, motherhood is something I knew I always wanted and I finally have it.
“My journey out of my eating disorder was fueled by my drive to become a mother, not even knowing if I could conceive after over a decade of malnourishment and 2 heart attacks. It carried me through recovery after 12 years of illness, 2 rounds of intensive treatment. It carried me through weight gain and into a place where I could conceive. I used to carry baby socks in my wallet, my car, my desk; everywhere to remind me I wanted to be a mom. Pregnancy was hard; I developed gestational diabetes which had me give up my dream for a home birth (which was important to me for personal reasons), I wrestled against the medical system and fought for my right to try coping without insulin (which I did successfully, many doctors fought me but the midwives supported me and I did it completely diet controlled). The diabetes also forced me to face my old eating disorder demons.
My birth was rough, I had 2 weeks of prodromal labor and when my water finally broke there was meconium in the water. I had a pain med free birth, but when my little man arrived his shoulders got stuck (which I could feel and still have dreams about). He was whisked away and had a tube shoved down his throat to pull out the meconium. They had barely even told us he was a boy before he was having trouble breathing. After what seemed like forever his breathing was easier but still wheezy, his first apgar score was 3. His sugars were perfect and I have yet to be tested for diabetes again because I’m terrified it hasn’t gone away.
After my little man was born I had a tonne of help, everyone was keeping an eye out for PPD as I have a history of depression and anxiety. They were always there helping out and dropping off food (we didn’t have to dip into my premade meals until 5 weeks after the baby was born). They were offering to help out and taking the baby so I could sleep. Now that my little man is 12 weeks old is when I need the help (and food) but it’s either not there or I feel guilty asking for it.
My son was born at 7lbs 14oz, an exceptionally normal weight given my gestational diabetes. When we left the hospital the following day he weighed 7lbs 10oz and everyone was so proud of how little he’d lost. I remember the third day after my baby was born the midwife standing in my bedroom after examining my son and exclaiming “he’s just perfect!”. He was 7lbs 13oz, I felt proud and accomplished, I had a son and he was perfect, I was doing well providing for him and helping him thrive. On the fifth day the midwives came back to the house to check on us but things were not “perfect ” anymore. We had an exceptionally long night of walking, feeding and crying. When the midwife walked into my bedroom with her giant bag I was so relieved to see her. I lay in my underwear on my bed holding my baby almost in tears. All I could say was “I’m so tired…”, I could barely see her through my exhausted swollen eyes. She checked my son over and he weighed only 7lbs. Turns out my milk had not come in and we thought he was feeding but he was starving, I still feel guilty that within a week of his life the girl who had recovered from anorexia was starving her baby. I didn’t know he was starving, how could I have known? The midwife asked me to pump some milk for my son so we knew how much he was eating, the pump didn’t work so I started hand expressing, she brought me a bowl from my cupboard but I decided to start with a baby bottle we had. It was torture, squeezing out about 5 drops of milk; remembering the bowl I felt very inadequate. I was devastated and for weeks I would burst into tears when talking about feeding my son. We immediately went into high gear, formula feeding my little boy so that he could be healthy again. And so began my breastfeeding journey.
At first we were supplementing formula through a tube at the breast, my husband or I would hold a bottle with a small tube at the top and insert it into my son’s mouth as he was nursing. It took all 4 hands to feed him for the first few weeks, we wanted to give medications and supplements a chance to help my milk come in. The first 2 days we had to feed him every hour, but the feeding process took an hour so we got maybe 15 minutes of sleep each hour. During those 2 days we had scares with dehydration, lack of bowel movements, potential IV fluids and actual red chalk like dust coming out in my son’s pee. The midwives were at our house 4 times in those 2 days and texting and calling us in between to check on us. My son gained his weight back incredibly quickly and was back on track in just a week. After another couple weeks we moved to bottle feeding once the potential of nipple confusion had passed.
Since then my supply has slowly increased but you will find me at 430am pumping in the basement, I take prescription drugs 3 times a day and supplements 3 times a day. I make and eat lactation cookies, drink lactation teas, nurse as often as possible and pump when I can, and drive myself crazy trying to breastfeed my son; something that is supposed to be so easy and natural. All this while caring for my son. I was up to 50% nursing and 50% formula but he is currently going through his 3 month growth spurt and eating double what he normally does so I’m left feeling very inadequate in my ability to provide nourishment for my son. I am lucky enough to have a friend who has started donating some of her mother’s milk to me and my son so I know he is already getting the benefits of it, I can not tell you how often her generosity in this manner brings me to tears.
Currently I’m suffering with some postpartum anxiety; racing thoughts that I can’t stop, worrying constantly about his eating, his digestion (all formulas give him awful constipation that nothing including probiotics helps with), and my supply. I am plagued by thoughts of what preschool he will go to, what chemicals are entering his body, what he is learning and not learning from us. I find it hard to leave the house and the thought of having plans makes me panic. Even calling my therapist and psychiatrist so that we could talk about my anxiety causes me anxiety at the thought of having to leave the house to see them. I often find myself in tears begging my screaming and crying son to please stop when I can’t possibly feed him, change him, rock him or bounce him any more. Today I put him in my husbands hands and wept “I can’t!” over and over. Normally I would deal with the stress by going to a yoga class but good luck with that when you have a newborn. I either have no one to watch him, feel guilty leaving him with someone or am too exhausted and overwhelmed to leave the house and a home practice is impossible when you’re baby only sleeps for 30 minutes at a time and won’t let you put him down.”
When I was 11 weeks pregnant, my boyfriend didn’t come home one night and the next morning told me he wasn’t coming back. This was the day before my first ultrasound. I’ve never experienced heart ache before so with the pregnancy hormones and the fears I already had about everything, it all really hit me hard. I struggled throughout my entire pregnancy while doing my best to maintain a positive appearance to those around me. Only a few people knew how truly broken and devastated I was. I was happy I was going to be a mother but so terrified of having to do it on my own. I struggled with seeing my friends who were pregnant in happy relationships and wishing I had that. I struggled with the assumption of people who didn’t know me asking about my “husband” or “partner”. Often times I would just pretend I was in a relationship and go along with the conversation because I was so embarrassed to say I was single.
After Jayden was born I was surrounded by supportive family and friends (especially my mother and my father) but I still felt extremely overwhelmed and I wasn’t over the heartbreak. I felt robbed of a lot of experiences as a first time mom. I really wanted someone with me everyday experiencing it with me. I’ve definitely had moments where I thought that this wasn’t supposed to be this way and I’ve even made the mistake of saying I wish it wasn’t this way. I regret saying those things but in the moment, when I was overwhelmed I said them. I wouldn’t change anything now. I love Jayden so much. It’s not easy but no one said it would be. I accepted the fact that I am a single mom and I am proud of what I have accomplished. I don’t like the term single mom because I think it has a negative stereotype associated with it which I don’t fit into. I’m not in a relationship but that doesn’t have any effect on the type of mother I am. I strive to be the best mother to Jayden and I am proud of the mother I am. I have to be both his mother and his father which is a lot on my shoulders but it’s so worth it. With every stage, there is an adjustment and a struggle.I’m glad you’re doing this project. I think the feed your baby project helped me a lot to accept my situation and reading the other stories helped me feel more connected and not so alone in my own struggles. This message is so important so all mothers know that it’s ok to not always be happy and enthusiastic about being a mother and it is ok to admit that it’s really really hard.”
Parenthood is hard. There are ups, and there are downs. We brag about our ups, and it’s time that we start talking about our downs. So everyone knows that it’s okay to be “imperfect”. To let society know that mental health concerns shouldn’t be locked in a closet and kept a secret and personal. By keeping mental health locked in a closet, it automatically makes it “shameful”. And no-one wants to be ashamed. So they hide. They hide from the help they need. I want everyone to be confident to stand up. To say “I need help”, and get the help they need. To be able to enjoy parenthood. Life goes by so fast. Those first years go by so fast. Why wouldn’t we want to make sure everyone can enjoy and squeeze as many happy memories out of that time as possible?
I’m going to finish this up by saying that I am NOT a mental health professional. I also believe that if you have even an inkling that you may have a post partum mental illness, or any mental illness, please talk to your family doctor or a mental health professional and be proud that you care enough about yourself and your family to get the help you need.
Lets #talkaboutit #talkaboutppd. Please Share your story. Please talk about it with your friends. You are welcome and encouraged to share this blog. I can’t change societies views by myself. And honestly, I doubt this blog will do a thing to change anything. However, the best way we can try to change society and this stigma surrounding Post Partum Mental Health, or any mental health stigma, is to talk about it. To make it the new normal. To let people know they are not alone and there are resources out there that can help. So, here it is.
Port Colborne, Wainfleet and Area: 905-734-1212
Fort Erie and Area: 905-382-0689
Grimsby, West Lincoln: 905-563-6674
Health Care Connect will refer Ontarians without a family health care provider to a family doctor or a nurse practitioner in their community who is accepting new patients.