Essays, Happiness, Physical Wellness, Sleep

The Great Maternity Leave Essays: Treat Your Mental Health Like a Project!


Why read this article?  I talk about being high risk for post-partum depression (PPD), why the symptoms are not easy to pick up on until you have hindsight, the subtle barriers to getting help, what it’s like taking SSRIs and a multi-pronged approach that worked for me.

I had the most unbelievable, awesome experiences on both of my maternity leaves, but the first three months of my firstborn’s life, was rough. I think going through this fire is what made me so passionate about shaping a great maternity leave, because I came through from the other side.

A High Risk PPD Patient

Going into my first maternity leave, I knew that I was pretty high risk for post partum depression. If you checked off the box of shitty things that could possibly happen, I was probably on that box.

4 hospitalizations with hyperemesis (barfing brains out) till month 8, many ultrasounds for placenta positioning, many blood tests for low counts, I’d had anxiety on and off through my life, my Mum had just died and I was experiencing some PTSD symptoms, my husband was in firefighting academy and had to be 100% focused on that, and it was a surprise pregnancy I wasn’t ready for (I was still debating whether to have kids.)

Taking medication is still a hush hush subject. For the longest time I didn’t tell anyone, but now I am an open book!  So I am happy to discuss it here as my post on “taking care of mental health.”  I do believe you should treat your mental health as a multi-pronged project.  Look at it as a fun thing to tackle. A new challenge.

PPD is as unique as you are.

I had this idea in my head that I’d be crying all the time if I was PPD.  That was a really ignorant view looking back! I wish there was more dialogue about how unique it can be, depending on the person.

I still genuinely debate whether I had PPD or just the grief / PTSD piece – which is strange to my logical brain, because I quite clearly experienced some PPD symptoms in the first 3 months of my firstborn.

I had grinding insomnia.

I just about had a panic attack at night every time my baby made a sound.

I was managing some super intense anxiety:  Walking on icy pathways I couldn’t stop the image in my mind of what ifs.  What if  I accidentally fell and let go of my stroller and it went down the ridge? Once Trevor was walking innocently along the  grass at the edge of the ridge with the stroller and I just could not handle it.

I was crying my eyes out every day.

Why I Didn’t get Help Until Month 3

1.)  In in the moment you don’t realize how you are different. Have you ever heard the story about the frog in water, if you gradually raise the temperature to boiling, the frog won’t even know until it has been boiled.  I think of being “in the crux” of new motherhood as the same thing.   You are so busy and sleep deprived those early days, you just put it down to that.  That is why I am such an advocate of asking your partner to keep you in the loop about whether you are being yourself.  

Even now, from the other side, I can only compare maternity leaves with hindsight.  I did the same awesome things with both leaves, was truly happy,  had a ball, but my first mat leave, the first 3 months involved quite a lot of mental struggles until I took care of mental health and got myself to my family doctor, and found a great psychologist to work with.

2.) PPD is SUCH a silent disease.  Depression is called an invisible disease and that is so true.  This is an extreme example, but what made me so aware of the invisibility is my husband:  He deals with a lot of suicides in his work, both as a firefighter and when he worked in public emergency communications.  The extreme cases of suicide – most of them, nobody had any idea how much that person was struggling inside. There were no leadups, no warnings, no indications of just how much they were struggling.

An important thing to note is that you can have ANY ONE or FEW of the symptoms listed for PPD. Also in varying intensities.  Some of the things that made me sit up and take notice were:

Baby Blues + grief combined were just the most crippling sadness for me, my grief hit right in week 2 after having my baby.  Every day, like clockwork, by 4pm the exhaustion and sadness and overwhelm would hit me, and I would stand in the kitchen and  I’m not much of a crier and there I was, hysterical, looking out the window in the kitchen, with this profound sense of feeling trapped.

Projects for my mental health:

I am really happy to say after that intial 3 month ride with my first born, I was able to figure out my mental health and literally treated it like a project.  Here are the things I did:

Low dose of SSRIs after multiple discussions with my Doctor.  

They not only treat symptoms, but they are also preventative if you are at risk.  My Dr had suggested them while my Mum was terminal but I was still in “business mode” – my emotions were locked down to deal with the realities at hand – so I resisted.  When the emotions finally processed post partum, I decided it was time.  The benefits of SSRIs for me, were profound.  My sleep returned to normal, and it made a huge difference in anxiety.  Being on them and feeling what it was like to feel relatively normal, made me realize what an anxious person I must have been all my life!  It also made a profound difference for me in my back pain, as I have a degenerative spine and herniated disks.  I was not expecting this, but living with a 3/10 pain level every day, as opposed to 7-8/10 is unbelievable.  I wasn’t expecting this but it’s a side benefit.

Prioritize sleep.

Holy smokes I cannot stress this enough.  If you are working on mental health it’s the FIRST thing you should do.  FIGHT for your right to have a full nights sleep after having your baby so you can recover from birth.  Your partner can sacrifice a nights’ sleep when you will be doing it for  months to come. The workout of giving birth – mentally and physically is comparable to nothing else. You are high on adrenaline, and the amazing human looking back at you, but you can’t let that trick you into thinking you don’t need recovery.  And when you do go to sleep, find a chillout song & headphones.  Mama high alert brain will shock you awake for every cute little snuffle and snort those newborns make.

It comes down to the individual partnership but you must find a way in which you can explain and convey the importance of sleep support to mental health.  I knew my mental health was so important that I used a pump so my husband could night feed – a few hours unbroken sleep was the difference between looking at everything positively the next day, versus noticing everything negative the next day.  It was also the difference betweeen sobbing at 3pm, or being ok at 3pm.

I am very lucky in that my husband does night shifts and he knows very well what it is like to go through a night shift.  He needs sleep.  And so he understands that I do too.  He also understands that driving a car is dangerous on that level of sleep deprivation – he goes to accidents where people are tired, and sees the consequences.  So that’s how we had mutual understanding.  Think about what would frame it well for your partner so they can understand.

Use Music

A song that has helped me when I’ve decided I am in desparate need of a mental-health-recovery sleep is Om Namo Bhagavate by Deva Premal. I listen to it all the time on a repeat loop and it’s like a warm hug.  The song itself is 7 minutes which is nice when you’re entering sleepytime.  It’s actually a sanskrit song and the intention behind Om Namo Bhagavate is that you envelope yourself in the energy of the song, rather than the words (which aren’t in English anyways, so that’s easy!)

Meditation and Relaxation with assistance

I took a guided visual meditation workshop run at a local clinic.  My busy brain liked the guided visualization rather than being left on its own to “quieten.”  One that always stuck with me from that workshop, was imagining myself at the bottom of a pond, with goldfish swimming around.  When an unhelpful thought appeared, the instructor guided us to blow out with our mouth a little, as if we were blowing out a bubble, then letting it rise up to the surface and pop  – and to imagine it swirling up to the surface of the pond.

Another beautiful tool is a specific type of yoga which is EASY for any level.  When I feel myself getting stressed / emotional, go to a session of restorative (yin) yoga. I look at this type of yoga, which is done on the floor and is very easy / chill, as my reset button. Bonus points if they do the Yoga Nidra which is called “yoga sleep” – a deep guided meditation or visualization of full body relaxation.

Took the MBTI and it was profound, it made me realize much of my anxiety comes from the sheer number of creative ideas and thinking I do.  Writing has been a game changer for me, as I get the thoughts out.

Find a great psychologist or counsellor

This is so much easier said than done.  It can take pouring your heart out over and over again to different people.  It can take $250 an hour if you don’t have coverage.

Just know you are worth it.  It costs $250 to go on a big grocery shop.

Your mental health and wellbeing are just as important as 6 bags of groceries.  Ok? 🙂 

I hope these ideas are helpful for you. As unique as PPD is, so are the tools that work for you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s