Exploring the stories of women who live by a ride-or-die philosophy

[FEATURE] The Problem with Playing Superwoman with Postpartum Depression

By Paulina O’Kieffe | @paulina_okieffe

2014 was one hell of a ride. On February 12th at 11:51 am I welcomed my second miracle into the world, my son Carlos Jr (CJ). It was a moment of great excitement and relief. I had a really difficult pregnancy and worked in a very stressful job up to the day before what would be my second C section. The delivery was quite painful and complicated as well, but it was all worth it for him. After struggling to produce milk for over a month, I was forced to give up breastfeeding and had to switch to formula for my son.

With the complicated pregnancy and delivery, working up until the very last minute, feeling like somewhat of a bad mother for not trying harder to breastfeed my boy and juggling a 2 year daughter who was now home with me, one would naturally assume I was accepting of any help I could get. I mean, my fiancée had a week off from school, my mother took the next 3 weeks off of work, my mother in law was readily available to support and numerous cousins were also on call.

Unfortunately I am a Capricorn; which makes me stubborn and hardheaded, a climber whose ambition will be the death of me. In my head I am a Superwoman who can do it all because I am forever scared of burdening others with my life choices. I am a proud Ride or Die working mother of two who is supporting my fiancée while he pursues his post secondary education full time. I held it down for a year with my daughter and I thought I could do it again without having to inconvenience other peoples’ lives.

Fast forward to the end of August and boom, it hit me so hard that even though I should have seen it coming I was totally unprepared for it: the dreaded postpartum depression.

2014-12-29 22.35.32For me postpartum depression was very real; my world was spinning out of control and I was completely overwhelmed.

For me postpartum depression was very real; my world was spinning out of control and I was completely overwhelmed. I was a wreck, crying uncontrollably, gaining weight from emotional eating, suffering from insomnia and I had horrible mood swings. I felt completely detached from my children especially my son, and provided only the basic care throughout the day. I would use social media to check out of the real world and on numerous occasions my fiancé would find me huddled in a corner just sobbing uncontrollably when he got home from work or school. I attempted to join a support program but that fell through when the energy to get there wasn’t worth the stress. My Instagram and Facebook photos clearly painted a completely different picture and a number of women approached me consistently saying how I inspired them as a working mom. I thanked them and even though I knew I was dying inside their need for inspiration, encouragement and hope pushed me to continue even harder.

After many breakdowns and episodes I finally sought out my family doctor who prescribed me an anti depressant and referred me to a doctor who specializes in post natal mood disorders at St. Josephs Health Care Centre. I also reached out to my fiancé for more help. I forced myself to leave the house. I got fresh air. I changed my diet. I worked in more exercise. I also tried to be easy on myself; I tried to stop feeling pressured to accomplish certain things on my millions of to do lists. I stopped trying to find a new job when my maternity leave ended. I made it a priority to see my therapist. I let go of all negative energy in my life. That was the big one. And it included making peace with my stepdaughter’s mother who I had been in a 4-year feud with.

Slowly I am making progress and getting better. I am happier and I am finding joy in simple things again like going to the movies with my family.2014-12-29 22.36.49 I am more patient and less irritable with my children and stepdaughter. I am slowly becoming more productive in my work, planning for my future and have become less dependent on social media as an escape from reality. I have reconnected with my love for performing and teaching.Most importantly, I am more connected to my son and feelings of regret and guilt are melting away as they are being replaced by great love, joy and pride.

Most importantly, I am more connected to my son and feelings of regret and guilt are melting away as they are being replaced by great love, joy and pride.

This recovery was and continues to be slow but progressive. It is a one-day at a time journey, which never could have happened unless I recognized that I couldn’t be a support system for others if I myself am breaking down. So as we focus on mental health this month I urge those who are new mothers or are about to be new mothers to be gentle with yourself, build your support system up and allow it to do what is was set up to do – help you. Do not let your pride get in the way of your health, especially your mental health, as it will only lead to you to spiral further downwards.

Postpartum depression is a real mental health condition. It is not something to deal with on your own or to hide away as something to be ashamed of. This will only make it worse and lengthen your recovery time. If you are religious, pray or meditate on it, but also know that you may need to reach out to medical professionals as well (which can include naturopaths). You cannot just snap out of it. It is not all in your head, and having it does not make you a bad mother. As women, especially women of color, we have been conditioned to give of ourselves and support others to the point where we forget how to support ourselves. So from one sister to another, here are my top 10 tips for surviving post partum depression.

  1. If all you did was survive today, pat yourself on the back. Many people don’t know how big of an accomplishment it is to just make it through the day when you have postpartum depression.
  2. Make sure you celebrate the little things. Your whole world can feel as though it is falling apart so make sure you big yourself up for every small thing you can such as showering today, or holding your baby for even 5 minutes. The more you reward yourself for each accomplishment the more you will build up your self esteem instead of wallowing in your failures further adding to your depression.
  3. Let go of perfection. This is not the time to be concerned about your house being guest ready. If your house looks like a tornado ran through it don’t beat yourself up. However clutter and messes can be overwhelming so help yourself out by using baskets or drawers that you can throw clothes or toys into to keep them off the floor; use disposable plates and cups for awhile to keep dishes down; cook simple meals or ask people to help you cook; use a wash and fold service if you can afford it; use a cleaning service if you can afford it.
  4. A Little Extra TV won’t kill your child. If you have a second child who is home with you in the day don’t beat yourself up if you sit him/her down in front of the TV a little longer to give yourself a break. There are many options for educational and interactive TV shows (especially with Netflix and other online options). Also the dollar store is a wonderful place to pick up really inexpensive supplies for arts and crafts that your child can do while you supervise from your couch, tea in hand.
  5. Sleep as much as possible. Call one of your support contacts when possible so you can sleep. Insomnia is a dangerous symptom that really affects your ability to function in the day (and produce breast milk). So when possible get someone to watch the baby, or babies, in the day and get a few extra hours of sleep.
  6. Seek out playgroups. If you can make it outside seek out playgroups. They are free and keep older kids pre occupied while you get to experience adult conversations. Some also provide snacks. Check out libraries or Ontario Early Years Centers for amazing free programming. http://www.oeyc.edu.gov.on.ca/locations/index.aspx
  7. Make time for yourself. Taking care of a kid(s) can take a toll. So find some time for yourself by again reaching out to a support system when possible. Get your nails done, take a walk, have lunch with a girlfriend, shower for more than 30 seconds. Whatever you do, make it about you and your self-care.
  8. Seek out therapy. Don’t keep your feelings locked up as they are bound to explode at some point. Seek out therapeutic activities such as finding a counselor or friend to talk to, writing in a journal, listen to music or even practice some yoga or meditation therapy. Anything you can do to release the tension and remove the negative feelings from your body should be done. Sometime I even get in my car and just sit in my driveway and scream out all of my feelings.
  9. Get active. The last thing many people who suffer from postpartum depression want to do is get up and move around, but it is really important to do so. If going to the gym for a 1-hour run seems overwhelming start with putting on some music at home and dancing around in your living room. You will be surprised at how great you can feel jamming to your favorite tune, while endorphins rush through your body.
  10. Ask for HELP when you need it. You cannot do this by yourself no matter what you tell yourself. Ask for help when you need because the sooner you do the faster you will recover.

And for those needing it here is a short list of resources (in Toronto and the GTA) to check out if you are (or think you are) experiencing postpartum depression.

  1. Start with your Family Doctor
  2. The Post Partum Depression Resource Guide has lots of info on programs, clinics support groups and hospitals that specialize in post partum depression and other post partum mood disorders. http://www1.toronto.ca/City%20Of%20Toronto/Toronto%20Public%20Health/Healthy%20Families/Postpartum%20Depression/Files/PDFs/ppd_booklet.pdf

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Paulina O’Kieffe | Core Writer

4 Responses to “[FEATURE] The Problem with Playing Superwoman with Postpartum Depression”

  1. Maryama Ahmed

    I read your piece and it resonated with me greatly. I’ve been dealing with depression on and off during the last few years. And then when I had my first child last year, it was so hard to feel motivated to do anything beyond the basic care like you said. I had such an amazing support system but the dark cloud that I was constantly immersed in made me feel so guilty cause I never had enough energy to do things for the baby. The guilt became so overwhelming; and it did nothing to help me feel better. It took me a long time to finally be in a better space mentally. I love being with my baby and now that I feel happier I have the energy to do all of the extra stuff I always wanted to do with her. Everyday is a struggle but I’m hopeful and happier in my own company. Thank you for your piece. I think it will help a lot of women out there to feel like they’re not alone in this and it reminds us all to be more kind to ourselves.

    Reply
  2. QueenEesh

    Peace. Sis this article is amazing. You are so strong and I love that about you. Totally sharing this. And I as A Libra can relate to the super woman syndrome. Love this.

    Reply
  3. okieffep

    Thank you so much QueenEesh. It is important that work to bring thesw things to light because so many of us suffer unecessarily in the dark. Appreciate you sharing and I salute you for your strength and dedication to those you support in your life.

    Reply
  4. okieffep

    Maryama I totally empathize with everything you wrote and it’s for these reasons this article had to be written. Too many times we feel alone when we shouldn’t. Thank you for sharing this and I hope it helps other women prepare for it by setting themselves up with a support system but also by pushing away the stigma around asking for help.

    Reply

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