Far Worse than Labor: The Struggle To Mom
3 am. I sat on the edge of the bed cradling my 4-month-old baby — my third boy — and imagined my escape. Could I just run away from all of my responsibilities as a mother and wife? No. I had to nurse the baby, had to keep my older kids alive ( they were 2 and 4 years old at the time), had to keep some semblance of order in the home, and for goodness’ sake, had to make sure I was keeping a smile on my face through it all. But I couldn’t smile. I would sigh my way through each day, fueled by Cream of Earl Grey tea and Costco protein bars, hoping that the stars would align and my two youngest would nap at the same time — this never happened.
My poor children faced an increasingly short-tempered mother, as sleep deprivation wore out my emotional and physical health.
Everyday ( or was it every hour? ), I asked God to bring my husband home early so he could take the baby. It’s hard to describe the relief I felt at the sound of his truck rolling into the driveway. And even though he was tired from his full-time job, he would consistently spell me off.
I went to the doctor thinking I might have had a problem with my thyroid, which I had concluded was why I was so tired all the time. He had me take a short test, 10 questions from the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.
As it turned out, I had moderate anxiety and severe postpartum depression (PPD).
The results seem obvious to me now when I look back at the symptoms and how they were affecting me and the rest of my family, but when I was in the midst of the suffering, I had no idea. Hindsight is 20/20.
This revelation brought a mix of surprise and relief. Surprised at the diagnosis (Really? Me?), and relieved that I now had a label to my experience and a shred of hope that things could get better. But let me back up a bit here…
In my teenage years I played many sports — soccer, volleyball, badminton, and snowboarding — eventually playing soccer at a Div.1 University in Tennessee, and both soccer and volleyball at Canadian colleges. After my college years, I started a full-time desk job at the age of 23 and got married at 24. By then, my days of regularly playing sports seemed like a thing of the past. Even more so when baby #1 came along. I had new responsibilities and passions, living on the North Shore of Vancouver and caring for my new little family.
But all was not well with me, even then. I felt like I was barely surviving.
I never had anything diagnosed with my first or second child (I thought my experience was “normal”), but I am now convinced that PPD plagued me at that time in my life as well.
I read a study somewhere that women who have played sports at a high level have higher rates of depression once they become moms. I would assume this would also include any woman who has received high levels of achievement in any form. Many celebrities, too, have come out and talked about their experiences with PPD, including Alanis Morissette and Gwyneth Paltrow. It is estimated that 8-12% of moms experience PPD, but those numbers could be much higher since it is often unnoticed by women themselves, and therefore unchecked and undiagnosed.
In my situation, I had gone from sprinting after a ball 6 days a week to, within just a few short years, sitting on a glider chair 6 hours a day breastfeeding my baby. Aside from taking walks in the park with my kids, I did zero exercise. But being stuck in depression and anxiety causes a vicious cycle: I didn’t want to exercise because I had no energy or drive, and I was depressed because I wasn’t exercising (of course, hormones have a lot to do with it).
Thankfully, I was thrown a few lifelines that got me through…
To Be Continued...
- Bethany Schmaling