Friday, December 2, 2011

{Ottawa Doula}: In Postpartum, What's Normal?

I wish I'd never done this.

I want to turn back the clock - go back to a time when I wasn't pregnant.

I don't think I love my baby.

I secretly hope my baby dies so that I don't have to take care of them.

If I were to die, I would rather my baby died with me.

Do these thoughts sound "normal" to you? I think a lot of people reading this would say no.

A woman harbouring these secret thoughts can feel terrified - she realizes that some of them are irrational, but that others are somewhat true (eg. I don't think I love my baby). And so she buttons up, and instead of talking about thoughts that are actually normal she instead feels like an outsider in a community of happy new mommies.

We hear a lot about postpartum depression (PPD) these days. Postpartum psychosis (PPS), a rare manifestation of PPD, is sensationalized in news stories, making it seem as though this kind of situation can happen to anyone.

And so we binarize postpartum emotions into three camps: normal baby blues, PPD and PPS. Baby blues happen to most people, and are a result of massive hormonal changes in the days following birth. PPD is characterized by a continuation of the baby blues, long past the accepted "normal" (usually 2-3 weeks postpartum). And PPS is an extreme form of PPD, where a woman loses touch with reality and may actually plan (and carry out) ways of harming herself and her baby.

But when has a woman crossed the line? Or are they blurred anyway, given that nothing in our emotional lives can be put into boxes?

I'll tell you this - many women with normal baby blues are harbouring secret thoughts that have never been expressed to a single person; not even to a partner. It's taboo to talk about death and desperation in our society - even well trained counsellors can botch a session with a client who expresses the desire to kill herself, either by overreacting (oh my god, you should have told me this earlier - I may have to report you, you know) or by dismissing the client's thoughts (that's ridiculous, you can't kill yourself. You have a baby to look after. You need to snap out of this.)

We want new mothers to be happy - to be like the sweet Pamper's commercials on TV. Lots of smiles, one-on-one time and cuddles with baby, and lots of cooing and ahhhing.

The reality is, postpartum life can be messy (I stress can be, because some women have a wonderful postpartum time). Your bed is sweat stained from postpartum sweats; milk is leaking out everywhere and soaking your sheets; your eyes feel like sandpaper from lack of sleep; and your baby is not cute and cuddly, but instead screams 5 hours a day.

It's no wonder some species eat their young...

I know, I know, I'll probably get a lot of feedback from people, telling me that I shouldn't be trivializing these types of thoughts - that any feeling of harming oneself and one's baby needs to be taken seriously.

And I completely agree. I hope I don't come across as trivializing a complex problem. Certainly, it's worth a trip to a trusted doctor, or several sessions with a counsellor. Especially when thoughts and emotions carry on past the "normal" timeframe we're alloted to be sad {insert sarcasm}.

My goal is not to trivialize, but to normalize. To say to new moms, living in a society where we have almost zero support in the postpartum period, that it's ok. It's ok to feel crazy.

What's not OK is when your thoughts and emotions take over - becoming real, rational plans for action. A way out. It's not OK to still be crying daily one month postpartum. It's not OK to have zero interest in your baby after spending many weeks with your child. The good news is that there's a lot of help out there - websites and forums abound, and Ottawa has an amazing MOMS (which I believe stands for Moms Offering Moms Support) group where you can go to talk about these unspeakable things.

But what if we changed our definition of normal, so that women could say the unspeakable without judgement? So that they didn't have to join a secret society of other moms just to say what they really think?

If I could really fantasize here, a world in which women were treated like royalty after the birth of their baby would be ideal. Then maybe these "crazy" thoughts wouldn't even enter our heads...

If you're about to enter the world of parenthood, consider these helpful tips for dealing with intense emotions after birth:

1) Have only sympathetic and helpful people stay with you in the postpartum weeks; people that share your views on newborn care. An abrasive in-law, who can't understand why you're hoping to breastfeed (for example), may not be the best choice.

2) Hire a Postpartum Doula - these are doulas who are specially trained to care for women in the postpartum period. It is definitely worth every penny. For Ottawa folks, check this doula and this doula out.

3) We hear a lot about "babymoons" - staying snug at home with your baby and partner. This is great for women adjusting well to postpartum life, but when you're experiencing baby blues, sometimes a sense of normality is what you need. Go for short walks, rent your favourite DVDs, and invite friends to come over for short visits. Don't isolate yourself!

4) Ask for help - the hardest one of all. It takes a village to raise a child, and you alone are not a village. Let people know you're struggling, and ask how they might help - dropping by a homemade meal? Sending you a care package with chocolate and epsom salts? Texting you positive affirmations every day? It can be anything!


  1. great post! I wrote one recently ( saying that mental illness (including ppd) should show us her stretch marks. Hope that posts like these will help alleviate the stigma around it. Its normal!

  2. Hi Angele - I know, even though we're talking about it more now, it still seems to be stimatized...thanks for the link!!

  3. I had a serious case of baby blues in the first two weeks. I was very hormonal and cried at the drop of a hat. Hubby was very supportive, but I wish I would have accepted more help since he had to go back to work almost right away. I was stubborn and wanted to do everything on my own. Next time around I'll be more willing to open my door :)


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