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.
Carleigh Weldon of Windsor, Ontario, was nicknamed, ‘the baby whisperer’ growing up.
“I always knew I wanted to be a mom,” Carleigh told us. “I have a huge extended family and lots of cousins. I knew motherhood was going to be a challenge and even though I had heard that it would be one of the hardest things in life, I also felt it would be one of the most rewarding.”
Carleigh met her husband Scott in a Pilates teacher training course in 2010 and the two were married in 2014. They have two children, a boy and a girl.
In 2005, Carleigh was involved in a tragic bus accident while traveling with her hockey team in New York. Sadly, her coach, his 13-year-old son, her friend’s mom and the truck driver were killed.
“My teammates and I all survived but suffered from multiple injuries,” said Carleigh. “I had a head injury and sprained my wrist but I was one of the lucky ones.”
Carleigh suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following the accident. Due to her history of mental illness, Carleigh was screened for perinatal mental illness during each pregnancy.
“Both pregnancies were great,” recalls Carleigh. “The week after my son was born was pure bliss. My husband and I said it was one of the best moments of our life.”
Unfortunately, Carleigh began to struggle with breastfeeding which she believes triggered postpartum depression.
“I had painful vasospasm, a severe, sudden constriction and narrowing of a blood vessel in the nipple that is extremely painful,” said Carleigh. “My nipples would go completely white because there was no blood flow even though my son’s latch looked good.”
When it was time for her six week checkup with her obstetrician, he asked Carleigh if she had any questions.
“I mentioned that I was sad, perhaps more than I should have been,” says Carleigh. “He didn’t seem concerned and just mentioned medication if I ‘needed a little something to help’. My checkup was about a minute long and I remember thinking, ‘I waited six weeks for that!?’ I felt alone as I was no longer considered his patient after the birth of my son. I went and got help on my own and talked to the same psychologist that helped me after the bus accident. I’ve been depressed before so I know the signs, I just have never taken medication for it. Not that there is anything wrong with taking medication, I just thought it was odd that that was my OB’s first and only suggestion.”
After their daughter was born, Carleigh and Scott were told their baby may have Epidermolysis bullosa, a rare condition where her skin could fall off. Carleigh began panicking. She was given the number of a social worker to call who deals with postpartum depression but the number was wrong.
“The hospital should be ashamed that they gave that out,” said Carleigh.
After Carleigh and Scott visited a dermatologist, they were told that their daughter was indeed suffering from a rare disorder, but not the one mentioned to them in the hospital. Their daughter was actually suffering from Focal Dermal Hypoplasia or Goltz Syndrome causing the hair, teeth, nails, and glands to develop and function abnormally.
Carleigh’s mental health began to deteriorate.
“We had specialist after specialist appointment,” said Carleigh. “I felt like I was living a nightmare. I don’t think I slept for three weeks straight and I became obsessed with researching her disorder. I was manic and would repeat the same thing over and over again. I thought this was my fault, that I had to give her up for adoption. I became very paranoid. I had suicidal thoughts and I was hallucinating, I would wake up in cold sweats. I couldn’t even remember how to do simple everyday things like laundry. People had to tell me what to do, when to eat and when to get dressed. I cried every day and I was so confused because people were congratulating me but consoling me at the same time. I never wanted to be left alone.”
Carleigh knew she needed help but she struggled to get it.
“It’s almost like our healthcare system warns you about postpartum depression but if you actually have it, they don’t know what to do with you,” said Carleigh. “And let me tell you, no one knew what to do with me.”
Trying to navigate the health care system was especially very frustrating and time consuming so Carleigh had to take matters into her own hands. Her friends, family and coworkers came over to help in shifts so she was never left alone. But Carleigh needed medical help. She went to the emergency room a total of three times to try and find it.
“The psychiatrist I was finally referred to, was not a good fit,” recalls Carleigh. “I agreed to start taking an antidepressant and to follow up with him in a week. Things didn’t improve and during my appointment, he asked if I would love my son any less if something bad happened to him. That’s definitely not what I needed. I needed someone to acknowledge that something bad happened to my daughter and how I was feeling was okay. He increased my medication but the way the pharmacist worded it, I was taking too much, too soon. My medication wasn’t being monitored closely enough or being monitored by anyone really.”
Carleigh’s brother and sister-in-law began desperately asking around for a good psychologist for Carleigh to try. One of their coworkers heard about Carleigh’s story so she told her husband who is a psychiatrist at another local hospital. He couldn’t stop thinking about Carleigh and he wanted to help.
“He was the one to finally diagnose me with postpartum depression/borderline psychosis,” said Carleigh. “My family tried everything they could to keep me at home with my babies but eventually I admitted myself to the hospital. I was angry and I just felt so hopeless. I really couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Carleigh was hospitalized for five weeks. She was in the psychiatric ward for one full week which she says was awful.
“I remember it was a Thursday evening and beginning of a long weekend. I only had one therapy session because doctors don’t work on weekends or holidays. So I was there more for my medication to be monitored,” says Carleigh. “I was then able to move to a long term care facility where my psychiatrist worked. After a week or so there, I was able to come and go as I pleased. I just had to sleep there in order to have my daily therapy sessions. This was more suitable for my needs and my boss made up a weekly schedule for me so everyday I was doing some sort of self care activity. This really helped to bring me back to myself and that’s how my healing journey began.”
It took three months for Carleigh to begin feeling better.
“I remember I cried the hardest I had since my daughter was born and I finally grieved the loss of what I thought our life was going to be,” said Carleigh. “The pressure released from my head and I could finally think clearly. My daughter also started to thrive at three months of age. She went from drinking a bottle in 1.5 hours to four minutes.”
Carleigh would like our elected officials to know that parents need more help than what the system currently provides.
“Women deserve to be treated better,” said Carleigh. “There is definitely more awareness about postpartum depression but when a woman actually has a maternal mental illness, I feel like nobody knows what to do with them. If a woman needs to be hospitalized for a maternal mental illness, I don’t see how separating her from her new baby is beneficial in any way. We need programs in place, we need structure, we need a plan and we need to help the family as a whole.”
Carleigh also feels like there is still a lot of stigma when it comes to postpartum depression.
“I felt like I had to justify why I was feeling the way that I was,” said Carleigh. “I have been told by other moms that they wouldn’t even know where to begin to ask for help. It shouldn’t be that difficult. It would have also been nice if my high-risk obstetrician called and asked how I was doing after I missed my six-week checkup. I want to share my story so this doesn’t happen to someone else ever again.”
If you would like to tell your story and contribute to the #thisismystory CPMHC campaign, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.