The following is an article by the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative as part of their #thisismystory campaign shedding a light on the need for improved perinatal mental health care in Canada.
Nicole Devlin, of Calgary, Alberta, knew she wanted to be a mom when she met her husband, Kelly.
“I could envision us having children together and it made me feel even more confident and excited at the possibility,” Devlin told us. “After we got married, we knew it was time to start planning a family. We enjoyed our honeymoon and a couple of other trips as husband and wife and then we got down to business.”
But the journey to becoming pregnant wasn’t an easy one.
“I had those friends where you just looked at them and they got pregnant,” said Devlin. “It took us almost eight months to conceive our son. I know that doesn’t seem very long, but when you’re trying, it feels like an eternity, especially when others around you keep getting pregnant.”
Devlin was excited at the thought of being a mom.
“I thought it was going to be beautiful, blissful and full of rainbows,” said Devlin. “That I was going to love this little human so much and that being a mom was going to be the most amazing thing ever. It was going to be the best day of my life when I gave birth.”
Though she had heard of postpartum depression, Devlin said she didn’t know much about it.
“Sure, they brushed upon the subject in our prenatal classes but just as quickly as it was presented, the subject quickly left my head,” said Devlin. “I was never concerned about postpartum depression or any of the perinatal mood disorders at all. My family had some mental health issues but again, I hardly knew anything about it nor did I ever think that would happen to me.”
Devlin loved being pregnant and the pregnancy itself went well.
“I was happy, ate very healthy, loved my bump and loved pregnancy all around,” said Devlin. “I did not suffer any anxiety or depression while pregnant.”
Labour was a different story. It wasn’t anything like Devlin expected it would be. After testing positive for Strep B, she had to go to the hospital when her water broke at 38 weeks.
“Off to the hospital I went to get IV antibiotics,” said Devlin. “This was at three am. I was feeling nothing in terms of contractions. Next came the induction, something I never wanted but the risk for infection was increasing the longer my labour was delayed. The contractions started quite quickly after that and escalated. I told myself I did not want drugs as this was part of my birth plan. I at least wanted to hold onto that since my plan was already going out the window.”
Finally, after the most painful contractions and finding out she was only five centimetres dilated, Devlin decided to get an epidural.
“But before the epidural set in, the nurse left to get the doctor. Something wasn’t right,” said Devlin. “The baby’s heart rate was going up and down. The doctor returned and began turning me and pushing the baby to try to turn him. It wasn’t helping.”
While still feeling her contractions, Devlin was told she would need to have an emergency c-section. Within minutes, there was a team of six in the hospital room and a short time later, Devlin’s son, Brady, was born.
“It was over quickly and there was my baby boy,” said Devlin. “I don’t even remember that moment. It was like an out of body experience and here I thought I would have the emotional tears and my baby in my arms. Looking back, I think at the very moment I had my son, I had postpartum depression. Physically, I felt sore, awful, not expecting to have major surgery and have to stay in the hospital for three nights with my newborn. Mentally, I just felt no connection, no overwhelming love for this little human. Yes, I answered to people that he was amazing, beautiful, and that I loved him so much but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t give it much thought though. I thought I was just so exhausted from 15 hours of labour followed by surgery.”
Devlin and Brady
At home, Devlin continued to feel apathetic towards Brady and breastfeeding wasn’t coming easily. At two months postpartum, anxiety set in.
“It would start when my husband left for work and got worse to the point where I couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning due to the heavy feeling of anxiety,” said Devlin. “I couldn’t eat and when I did, I would just get sick. It got so bad that I would wake up in the morning in a full state of anxiety and instantly get sick.”
After speaking with her family doctor, Devlin was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety, depression and OCD and put on medication.
“I had never felt more alone, disconnected, anxious, depressed and just downright awful in my whole entire life,” said Devlin. “I literally thought I was going crazy, that I was crazy. I felt like an unfit mother that I couldn’t even get up in the morning to take care of my baby because I was in a state of fear for no reason. I couldn’t describe how awful this felt. I felt lost. I felt my husband was a better parent, that it was so easy for him, and what a burden it was to have a wife who had gone crazy making him have to care for me and the baby.”
One night, Devlin went to the emergency room at South Health Campus was admitted to the mental health unit. They ran some tests, she talked to some nurses, and her husband was sent to pick her up.
“I remember crying to them I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to be around my baby, but they sent me home,” said Devlin. “I went and saw my family doctor again. She said she couldn’t help me anymore when I told her about how I was feeling and how I didn’t want to be around my baby. So my husband and I went home, I had a shower and I started thinking – what kind of mother am I? Do my husband and my son really need this? My husband is taking such good care of our son, why do I need to be here? Some scary stuff… so I went downstairs and told my husband I can’t be here, I am too anxious and worried I am going back to the emergency room.”
Devlin was once again admitted to the mental health ward but this time, was made to stay.
“They took my phone and everything but my hospital gown,” said Devlin. “I was terrified. I was allowed to call my husband and my mom. The nurses were not sympathetic at all. There were people in the hallway walking around screaming. My husband came to get me.”
Devlin was put on a six-week waitlist to see a psychologist. She couldn’t wait that long and began to see someone privately. When her name came up on the waitlist, the psychologist she was sent to looked to be going, in his twenties.
“I looked at him and said no disrespect but there is no way you have any idea how I feel nor can you help me,” said Devlin. “I went back to my doctor’s office and asked for a new doctor.”
Turns out, Devlin’s new doctor finally helped her begin to feel better. She listened to her and prescribed a different medication which worked much better.
“Life changing is all I have to say. Was I cured? No. Was I 100 per cent better? No. but I could get out of bed, I could eat, and I could take care of my son.”
Once Devlin reacted positively to her new medication, she was able to benefit from therapy. She also joined a support group at the Families Matter Society.
“The postpartum depression support group was amazing,” said Devlin. “They offered a safe space for women childcare to boot while you navigated through your perinatal mental illness.”
Though she finally received help, Devlin is still suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety three years later.
“I did go off my medication when my son was 11 months old and I was feeling great to be honest,” said Devlin. “But then as the challenges of motherhood weighed more on me as well as the return to work, I felt myself going down that dark hole again of anxiety and depression so I called my doctor right away and we decided I didn’t give my brain or self enough time to heal so back on my medication I went.”
Devlin said she was in such a hurry to be “normal again” she didn’t see that she was still struggling.
“I am still on medication today, and I am actually learning to help myself more and more through therapy, journaling and through working on my physical health,” said Devlin. “I am even fully trained to help support moms and families going through their own postpartum journeys which is itself so healing to know I can take my lived experience and help someone else.”
Devlin’s advice to parents is to educate themselves on perinatal mental illness, even if you don’t think you are at risk for it.
“Don’t be ashamed and don’t feel you’re a bad parent,” said Devlin. “I know this is easier said than done but I wish someone had said this to me because I could have ended my suffering a lot faster if I had accepted this could did happen. Remember that you are NOT alone. You are NOT a bad mom. You are NOT going crazy. Ask for HELP, talk to a friend, a doctor, and your spouse. And if you have survived postpartum depression, you are a warrior and amazing. Pass your wisdom along and help a mom who is suffering.”
As for a message to our elected leaders, Devlin would like to tell them that we need more programs, facilities, education, and resources for perinatal health.
“Make going to get help a lot more accessible and an easier process,” said Devlin. “Don’t make a mom go through the emergency room to end up in a psychiatric ward. Have a ward in the hospital for moms that are having breakdowns from perinatal mental illness a quiet, calm space to get the help they need. Educate moms leaving the hospital more. Give them the resources and information. The only resources and information I was given at the hospital was breastfeeding being shoved down my throat and some pamphlets on where to go if it wasn’t going right. Have the nurse that visits you at home screen mom and give her tools to identify any perinatal mood disorders. There is so much focus on the newborn and the moms are being forgotten. We too are being born as new moms and we need support and help too. WE NEED A NATIONAL PERINATAL MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY. Too many moms are suffering with some even losing their lives over this. We are all in this together. We can change the system!”
If you would like to tell your story and contribute to the #thisismystory CPMHC campaign, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.