June 12, 2016
I would like to share my story with other mothers in order to prevent postpartum depression. I am so thankful that there is growing awareness on this issue and that we don’t have to be afraid to tell our stories. If I can help even one person, that’s all that matters. This is my story.
My name is Danis. I had my first son, Phoenix, when I was 26 years old. It was a bright and happy time in my life. I had just graduated with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Native American Studies from the University of Lethbridge. I had met the love of my life, Ian, and he was also about to finish his Bachelor of Management degree in First Nations Governance.
We shared a great group of friends in the University community and a great support system. We weren’t rich as we were both students, but we were healthy, happy, and full of excitement about our life together.
When I was about 6 months pregnant, I developed insomnia. I was concerned but everyone told me that it was just my body preparing for all the sleepless nights ahead. Everyone told me, “It will pass.”
On December 5, 2009, the joy of our life, our son, Phoenix, was born. He weighed 8 pounds 2 oz., was completely healthy and carried to full term. What an amazing gift. We brought him home on a snowy blustery day and our lives began as parents.
We were both completely in love with our baby. The only concern I had was the ongoing insomnia. Nursing was going wonderfully, no problems with Phoenix, but the sleeplessness started getting worse. I would be awake for 30 hours, sleep for 3 or 4, and then the cycle would repeat. I was fighting to function for my family.
When Phoenix was 2 months old, Ian’s mother offered to come stay with us until Ian finished his degree. The plan was that she would help us move to Ian’s hometown of Saskatoon. My mother in law ended up being a tremendous support to us and I loved seeing how close my son was to his grandmother as I was also close to mine. When Phoenix was 6 months old we made our move. Ian found work with his degree and I stayed home with Phoenix.
I was completely depressed and felt so alone.
Being in a new city, having no friends of my own and dealing with insomnia proved to be too much for me. I was completely depressed and felt so alone. I remember days and days passing by where everything felt dark.
Why can’t I sleep? I would ask myself.
I constantly felt frightened and at times even paranoid.
I loved my baby with the most infinite love and yet I constantly felt guilty as if I wasn’t a good parent.
I hated Saskatoon and longed to be back with my family in BC.
It was then I realized I needed help. I called the local Postpartum Depression Support Group and they arranged for a taxi to pick us up once a week and drive us home. That group became my lifeline. I met other women like me who were struggling with depression and who wanted to become strong for their children.
I attended the group for 7 months until Phoenix was 13 months old. That group gave me a place to share what I was going through. I remember going there when I had barely slept for two days. All I felt was supported and no judgment. I started making friends with the other moms and arranging times to hang out on weekends. There was a little faint light at the end of the tunnel.
No matter what happens. I am going to be ok.
I remember when the insomnia ended. I was lying in bed wide-awake. I stopped fighting. This empowering realization came to me. “No matter what happens. I am going to be ok. No matter what. Even if I don’t sleep tonight. Even if I don’t sleep tomorrow. No matter what happens with my life. I am going to be alright.” I know it sounds too good to be true, but I actually slept after that.
Then, the real progress began. Ian and I started getting relationship and individual counseling. I began medication for anxiety. I have always loved helping others, and I began working as an education assistant with children who have special needs. Phoenix started at a daycare center where he thrived, and finally he began Kindergarten.
I didn’t think I would ever have another baby. I couldn’t bear thinking of going through postpartum depression again. When Phoenix turned 5, I realized that I did, in fact, want one more child. I started imagining the kind of mother I wanted to be for a newborn- healthy, happy, confident and peaceful.
Another baby on the way.
When we found out we were expecting, we were thrilled and cautious. I decided to go off of the antidepressant for my pregnancy and did not experience negative side effects. Most of the pregnancy was joyful and productive. At around 6-½ months gestation, I began to feel a shortness of breath in the evenings. It became overwhelming and I would wake up unable to catch a full breath.
Then, my feet began to swell. I looked puffy and I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I had seen my doctor at 6 months pregnant and everything was fine so I didn’t think anything was wrong. I thought I had a bad case of edema. A new school year had begun, and I was working full days without too much stress. I was just frustrated by how big I was getting.
On September 2nd, exactly two months from my due date, I decided that these symptoms were too strange and it was time to get checked by a doctor. My mother in law came over to watch Phoenix.
Ian and I drove to the hospital. They told us to go to straight upstairs to the postpartum ward and they hooked me up to a fetal monitor. They discovered a very scary fact. The baby’s heartbeat was barely audible and my blood pressure was off the charts high.
We have to get the baby out right now!
Suddenly, a hospital employee came into the room and barely acknowledged me. Another lady came in and said, “Unhook the bed.” The doctor returned to the room and said “Danis, we have to get the baby out right now.”
There was nothing calm about this experience. It truly was an emergency C-section. Professionals looked scared. I was frightened beyond belief. I thought I was going to go home and take care of my 5 year old. Now I was going to have the baby?
They rushed me into a room. I was shaking. The anesthesiologist got my permission to operate and bring my baby out into the world. A kind and thoughtful nurse kept rubbing my hair and telling me I would be all right. I wish I could find that woman and thank her. She kept me from losing it. Ian was not allowed to be with us. I was told he could come in after. Then, everything was black and they delivered my sweet baby boy.
Our second son, Bodhi, was born at 31 weeks gestation at only 2 pounds. I couldn’t believe that I carried a baby that tiny. I was completely in shock. Preeclampsia was the diagnosis. Both of us nearly died. The doctor told me that if I had waited even one more day to get checked, my precious baby would have passed away and I may have had a stroke.
The recovery from the C-section was horrible. The physical pain was unbearable. I didn’t see my baby until almost 48 hours after his birth because I was in too much pain to leave my room.
When we saw him, I felt so much love and simultaneously, an uncertainty for his future. He was the tiniest baby I had ever seen. Our baby was in the hospital for 88 days. He went through surgery to repair an inguinal hernia, he overcame feeding difficulties, jaundice, and our family was at the hospital constantly.
November 23rd was the happiest day ever. He was finally allowed to come home. I remember the moment I removed his last wire that hooked him up to the machines. Such a great moment.
Today, Bodhi is 9 months old. Bodhi is perfectly healthy, and he is the happiest person I have ever met. I am so grateful beyond words. We all are. Every day I’m so grateful that we are both here!
Steps I took to prevent postpartum depression from happening a second time.
When I was in the hospital, one of the nurses who was unaware of my history of postpartum depression told me that I was at risk to go through it because of the premature birth. I chose not to tell her my fears. Instead, I immediately took steps to prevent myself from slipping.
There were many challenges we endured as a family. These are some of the steps I took to prevent postpartum depression from happening a second time.
- I called a counsellor a.s.a.p. to help me through the process of Bodhi’s hospital stay. This was invaluable, as a woman can experience PTSD symptoms from traumatic birth experiences. I needed to talk to a professional to process that and the painful feelings of being away from my baby.
- I went back on antidepressants. I didn’t want to, but I knew that I wanted to do everything possible to be healthy for my children.
- I connected with friends. The last thing I wanted to do was be social, but I had one of my best friends come to stay with me and she was a great encouragement. I also visited with friends on afternoons when I needed a break from being at the hospital. I have a great group of mom friends who get together at least once a week now and it’s amazing how much happiness this brings.
- Finally, here is the key to my recovery. I started looking at my health as a mother, a woman and individual through concepts I had learned in my education of the medicine wheel. We are physical, mental, emotional and spiritual beings. Every day I take care of each of the parts of my life and do things to stay whole and balanced. Daily exercise and healthy nutrition is not optional for me. I stay vigilant in taking care of myself. It’s not selfish, it’s a gift to our children to take care of ourselves.
So, that’s my story. Today, I’m enjoying my life and my family. Postpartum depression does not have to happen. I think we as a society, need to get serious about postnatal and antenatal health. It starts with talking about it and having the hard conversations. We can all help one another!
– Danis Clare
**Thank you to our guest poster, Danis Clare, for sharing so openly and honestly about her journey.
Cindy and Jana
Cindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.