Postpartum depression can strike anyone. Instead of feeling joy at the birth of your new child, many parents suffering report they feel nothing. One PLNer gives us an honest look at how she was able to come back from the void.
Despite having suffered from depression for most of her life, Kim Booth was unable to recognize her own postpartum depression even when she found herself driving down the highway with a screaming infant fantasizing about crashing into a pole.
“I know now that it not as uncommon as people think, but those thoughts were far more frequent than they should have been,” she says.
Her mental state was in part the result of four weeks of sleeping in one-hour increments and an infant that cried inconsolably. Kim was a first-time parent, overwhelmed and without the support she needed to address her mental health.
Strange and Withdrawn
Kim first experienced depression as a young child. Her parents didn’t pick up on her mental illness and wrote it off as having a strange and withdrawn child.
“I had no idea what it was. I just knew that I wasn’t ever happy and I thought about suicide a lot even as a young kid.”
It took a cancer diagnosis for Kim to get her depression diagnosed.
“It was a life or death situation and all I wanted was the death,” she says.
Her cancer treatment included a mental health screening which led her to a psychiatrist. At 22 she was given a prescription for antidepressants which was followed-up with her family doctor. When she became pregnant with her first child, she was not flagged as a risk for postpartum depression.
“The thing with depression is that it can change hour to hour or minute to minute,” says Kim. “So if they ask you how you are feeling at a time when you are in a good place you don’t even think about it.”
For Kim, she felt her postpartum depression almost instantly after birth. Her lack of sleep, worries as a new mother, and guilt all contributed to her mental state. She was later diagnosed as having anxiety, which is actually a symptom of depression. She says that despite her experience with depression, her postpartum mental state was quite different.
“You lose any joy you have of the newborn baby stage. Most people are over the moon and you are disconnected,” she says.
“You are going through the motions of keeping the baby healthy, comfortable and attended to but you don’t feel anything. There is a disconnect and you feel overwhelmed and pretty hopeless.”
At the urging of her family, Kim started seeing a psychologist, which she has now been seeing for the last six years. She said it has been important for her to talk to a professional as well as take anti-depressants.
“No pill can do everything, all the time. It can clear your head so you can think things through and be less emotional but if you really want to be better and have fewer episodes of depression you need to continue with therapy as needed”
Kim was apprehensive about giving birth to her second child, so she made sure she had a team of support in place including psychologists, psychiatrists, and public nurses. She had a healthy baby boy and no postpartum.
“I had this team in my back pocket and so I felt armed for my second pregnancy. “
A few years later Kim was surprised to learn she was pregnant again. Her third pregnancy was more of a struggle.
“Because she was such a surprise I felt extremely detached from the pregnancy, even resentful of the pregnancy,” she says.
“I came to terms with it much later when I could physically see her moving in her belly.”
Recognize the signs
It’s important to recognize the signs of postpartum depression.
“I think it is perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed and to feel inadequate as a new mother, but when you feel nothing, for lack of a better word, towards your child other than keeping them healthy, or very few moments of joy, it is out of the ordinary,” says Kim.
Kim chose to speak out to help end the stigma of mental health, especially for mothers.
“There are so many people who want you to just think positive thoughts, or wake up that day and say I am not going to be depressed today,” she says. “It is an illness that creeps in and pours over you. You might be able to keep it away for little bits at a time but it always creeps back. Depression is an illness that is everlasting. Postpartum may not be, but depression is.”
Are you struggling with your mental health? Talk to your healthcare provider and check out the resources on The Canadian Mental Health Website.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.