Healing from Post-Partum Depression


It is late morning in October 2013. I'm lying in a darkened bedroom in a house that is not my own, in Whitehorse, Yukon. My breasts are engorged and while my newborn boy nurses on one side, the opposite breast leaks, dampening my shirt. My eyes leak tears. My mom comes into the room, holding back tears herself.  She kisses me, tells me she loves me, and then she is gone, off to catch her flight back to Ontario. I wail into the empty house while my baby sleeps at my breast.

I am standing at the kitchen counter in our cabin, the baby wrapped tight on my chest while my first born watches Nemo for the second time that day. My fingers fly over the keyboard as I vent to my sister online. I'm crying again; it seems like I haven't really stopped since my mom left a few weeks ago. My husband has escaped into town to work, and my closest neighbour is several kilometers away; they keep mostly to themselves. I keep mostly to myself, with only babies and dogs and whiskey jacks for company.

I am stumbling in the dark of post-partum depression and I can't admit it to anyone.  I try to be strong. I never ask for help.  I yell at my two year old with his baby brother in my arms and then we all cry together.

It goes on like this for more than a year, into a third pregnancy. I'll believe I've turned a corner and then something drags me back down again.

We move back to Ontario. We move in boxes sent through the mail, in suitcases on the plane. We move in uncertainty and desperation. We hope things will be better.

It is late morning at the end of May 2015.  I'm lying in a bedroom full of light, in my own home.  My baby girl nurses, my breasts leak.  My mom comes into the room, smiling.  She kisses the baby's soft dark hair and then she packs up a change of clothes for the boys, taking them to her house for the day, a 5 minute drive away.  When she brings them home that evening, she cooks us all dinner and helps get my boys into bed.

I'm sitting on the squishy blue couch across from my therapist. The baby is asleep at my breast. Through tears I tell her I'm having a shitty day, that I want to run away.  We talk it out while the pile of crumpled tissues grows at my side. On this day I'm sad, but I'm getting stronger. I'm learning to be gentle with myself, with my kids.  I'm learning to ask for help and to accept it when it's offered.

I take my three children to the park.  I wave hello to my neighbours, chat with other mothers at the park while the boys play.  It feels simple, and easy.  I smile at the sun and am thankful.

When we hear about a "healing birth", we imagine a previous birth marred by some kind of trauma, followed by a birth that empowers, smooths over, satisfies.  We don't usually think of it in the context of what comes after the birth. But for me, this third post-partum period in my life has been incredibly healing.  Finally, I am experiencing what it's like to take care of myself and to be supported and cared for from all sides. I am able to drink in these newborn days without overwhelming sadness, grief and anger haunting my every moment. They are there, spectres lurking in the shadows of my mind, but I hold them at bay.

Freedom from the Next Thing


Not too long ago, I wrote an overdue e-mail to a friend in Dawson. I told her about Charlotte's birth, and about our new home here in Ontario, and then I wrote this:

I find myself fantasizing about Dawson pre-kids...I miss that freedom. I miss sitting by the river smoking pot and then wandering down Front St and bumping into a friend and going for tea and then hey let's go for a hike and then beers in the Tavern and stumbling home at dawn.

We lead very different lives, she and I. She is childless by choice, and has given her life to traveling all over the world from the time seasonal work in Dawson shuts down in October until it starts up again in May.  She has a life full of that freedom that I wrote about there.  She's a bit like a wandering albatross, while some days I feel like a budgee with clipped wings, unable even to fly around the house.

But she wrote me back about how she misses those days of Dawson freedom, too.  She admitted that they were younger days, not something she was up for any longer.  And she wrote about other longings: the things she didn't have in her life, or the things she did have that held her back.

It made me realize that no matter what our situation, so many of us at times wish for something completely different. It's a simple truth, but it holds. There are days when what we've got looks tarnished, over-worn.  It's just too damn hard, and the days gone by or the days we've never lived shine and glow and beckon us.  And those other realities might be nice to live, for a day or a week or even a whole year or two. But eventually, they'll tarnish, too. And we might long for what we gave up.

This has been a recurring theme in my life, and I've written about it before: always wishing for what I don't have, always thinking that the next move, the next identity, the next "thing" will make me happy. What I've been missing all these years is that these things will never grant me the deep sense of acceptance that I'm seeking. Increasingly I am becoming aware that life just is, that I am, and that the things around me change, they ebb and flow but that I am the constant. It's an inner peace that I'm seeking, rather than the perfect set of external conditions.

Having small children, being a homemaker,  is lonely. So, too, is being single and childless and traveling the world. Freedom looks different for each of us, in each changing moment. More and more I believe that for me, the freedom of my 20's--joints on the river bank and beers in the Tavern--isn't the freedom I seek.  The freedom of my 30's is a freedom from "the next thing"; it means being okay with whatever life sends my way, knowing that it will pass and change again.

I Am Enough


As I sit on the toilet, the ring around the tub glares at me and I think: I should give it a quick scrub right now.

I am not quite three weeks post-partum. And the baby is starting to fuss.  And it's 2 o'clock in the morning.

When the sun is up I watch P tidy up behind me in the kitchen, fold the laundry, put the groceries away in the fridge. I watch him with the words "I'm sorry" ready to leap from my lips a thousand times; with a feeling of guilt churning in my stomach.  I imagine he is irritated, resentful, tired. I bumble along in his wake, trying to step in and do it all one handed, the baby balanced with the other hand against my shoulder.

"Sit down, sweetie," he tells me.  "You just had a baby. Relax."  I apologize, again, but I can't sit down.

Later, I stand at the bottom of the stairs, Charlotte in my arms, while Colm stands at the top of the stairs, looking down at me, forlorn.  He lifts his arms up: "Carry you?" he calls down to me, over and over.

"No, baby," I say, tears in my eyes.  "Mama can't carry you down now. You can do it. Mama can hold your hand."

"No!" he cries. My heart is already broken; I imagine I've broken his now, too, that he feels abandoned. I've pushed him to fledge before his feathers are grown.

In one day I take the baby to Costco, then, with my sister, walk to the park and chase the kids around.  It's been two weeks, I figure.  It's time for life to get back to normal.  That night, sore and exhausted, I cook dinner, too.  The next day, my feet crotch hips back ache.

An adequate amount of sleep is something I chase: it is impossible, like a dog trying to catch its own clipped tail, but I wake up early and refuse to nap. Instead I get up with the boys and dole out bowls of cereal and almond milk; I read the news; I write; I stare out at the garden overgrown with weeds and fret that I'm not out there on my knees in the dirt. What must the neighbours think of me?

I feel like I'm doing nothing, being lazy and burdensome, when really what I'm doing is recovering from 10 months of sharing my body in what is essentially a parasitic relationship. At the end of those 10 months, I pushed a 9 pound baby out of my vagina. And now I feed her from my breasts. Quietly, pretending like it's no big deal, I'm sustaining another person's life. Why can't that be enough? Why do I undervalue this work? It is enough for my kids; why can't it be enough for me?

It is so hard for me to sit, and feed the baby and let my body heal without enormous amounts of guilt and anxiety weighing on me.  I have to try, though.

So I turn my back on the dirt-ringed tub, and hurry back to bed, curling around my baby, gently shushing her with my breast. We drift off to sleep together, and that is enough.

A Home Water-Birth Story


Sometime after midnight on May 26th, I woke not with the usual heartburn, but with mild contractions.  In the days leading up to labour, I always wonder if I'll remember and recognize the feeling of a birth's beginnings. I worry I won't notice it or correctly identify it.  But of course, it is unmistakeable.

Finally! I thought as I stumbled to the bathroom for a drink of water.  The night was warm and muggy, the fans gently whirring in the hallway.  I let P sleep: experience told me we should all just sleep, so I got back into bed, snuggling Colm to me, intensely aware that it would be the last time we'd lie in this bed in this exact way.  I slept.

In the early morning, the contractions hadn't changed much.  We all got up and I told P and the boys I thought we'd be meeting the new baby sometime later today.  The day began as usual: with oatmeal and green tea, and cereal for the boys.  I texted my mom to tell her today would be the day, and cancelled the 41 week appointment I was supposed to have with the midwife that afternoon. Then, I tried to relax and let my body do the work while I spent my last morning as a mother of two.

Becoming a mother for a second or third time is so different from the first time.  Of course it is.  The excitement and anticipation are there but there is also an undercurrent of guilt, of worry that I won't be able to divide myself to attend to them all; that I'm robbing the previous baby of his rightful babyhood, pushing him into the next stage of developement too soon.

I tried to relish that morning with the boys, tried to be loving and connected and present for them. We read books and I did the voices and I didn't yell. I put Colm down for a nap and snuggled him so hard while I napped, too.  And then, shortly before 1, I couldn't be patient any more.

The contractions were taking more and more of my concentration.  As the boys ran from one end of the house to the other, bouncing off the walls in between, I frantically texted my mom.

Can you come over now?

While we waited for her I got the boys ready to go to the park.  I paced and I fretted over when to call the midwife.  As soon as they were out the door, I headed upstairs to make up the bed in the birth room. Finally, I decided to page the midwife.

I couldn't tolerate the kids any longer, I told her.

She laughed and said she was on her way.

I told P he should start filling up the birth tub. I paced some more, the contractions getting a little stronger.

When Julie, the midwife, arrived, I was dilated to 5 cm.  My previous labours have been fast, but still I worried that I'd paged her too soon. In spite of my constant worry, the combo of the kids being out of the house, the midwife being there and the tub being filled acted as a powerful augment to my labour: suddenly the contractions gripped my belly, doubled me over as I tried to climb into the pool. Julie called the second midwife as I began to vocalize through my contractions.

The warm water was wonderful, relaxing, and I thought I'd have more time but it was as though my body knew I was eager to be done with pregnancy and onto the next phase. A few more strong contractions and I was sounding grunty. My vocalizations got louder, the pressure in my bottom was intense. The contractions were coming hard and fast, I was pushing and how the hell can I be pushing already? I thought. The second midwife arrived; I reached down to feel the baby's head bulging against my perineum. Almost there, I thought, screeched, groaned between clenched teeth. As the baby's head crowned I felt myself on the verge of losing control of myself.  The pain was more intense than in either of my other labours.  I just wanted this to be over! I pushed hard with that thought in mind and the head was out.

It is such an otherwordly experience to feel a head emerge from your body. I could give birth 10 times and still be awestuck each time.  And then, there is a blissful pause, a strange between-worlds few moments in which I felt the baby's body rotate. I could barely wait for the next contraction before I began to push hard, long, beyond the contraction to birth her body.  Your body.  You're here now, in my arms, in this hot, stuffy room in the afternoon of May 26th. Not crying yet, eyes still closed. The midwife towels your face, flicks the soles of your feet. You oblige, and take a breath and let it out with a soft cry that gets louder. Your colour is lovely, your hair thick and dark.

A girl, your daddy says, and I don't believe him until I look for myself.

Your brothers come bounding upstairs, they kiss your head and tell me I was too loud. Your grandma beams down at you, at us, and herds the boys downstairs. After all my earlier nostalgia, I don't mind seeming them go. This time is for me and  you.

Soon P cuts the cord and you are free of me, I am free of you, carefully getting out of the tub and settling into the bed to deliver the placenta.  I look at you.  We are quiet in the bustle around us, and you whisper your name to me: Charlotte.

The rest doesn't matter, the afterbirth, the afterpains, all passing irritations.  You're here, in my arms, on my chest, sleeping already.

Welcome to the world, Charlotte Maeridh.

Newborn Nights


On the afternoon of May 26th, a Tuesday, I gave birth to a little girl we call Charlotte.  Her arrival was fast and without complication, and I'll write more about it another time.  Right now, though, let's talk about the nights.

There is a bustle, a gently authoritative busy-ness following the birth of a baby. The midwives tend to me, to the baby.  There are first pees to be had, and careful first showers.  There is cleanup to be done, and first kisses from big brothers.  The midwives leave, and we eat dinner, me in bed with the baby, the others gathered around the dinner table.  The sun begins to set, grandparents leave, and then: there we are. A family made new, alone. Because there is nothing else to be done, we muddle through a modified bedtime routine.

Aedan falls asleep easily enough in his own room, in his own bed, while Colm, Charlotte and I settle down for the night in the big family bed.  The littlest ones are fast asleep.  P is on guard to bring me water and pain killers and to take the baby when I have to pee. I should sleep.  I know I should sleep, but instead I shift uncomfortably, rearrange the pillows behind me a thousand times, try in the rosy glow of lamplight to teach a new, floppy human how to breastfeed. I doze a little, but mostly I watch the window for first light.  It will be better in the day, and it is.

On Wednesday night, as the sun sets, I begin to feel anxious.  While everyone sleeps around me, I lay on my side, vigilant, curled around Charlotte's tiny body, watching her chest rise and fall.  I drift off and then wake with a start, momentarily terrified that she's stopped breathing or that I've somehow suffocated her.  She is my third baby, and we've co-slept with all of them.  I know how to do this, but still these fears choke me.  She's ok, I tell myself.  You're ok, they're ok.  This will pass.  The boys begin to stir as the sun rises, and I breath a sigh of relief.

On Thursday night, I struggle to get Charlotte latched properly, but it hurts. I cringe each time she draws my nipple against her hard palate, my toes curling.  I'm exhausted and sore and P wakes to find me curled at the foot of the bed, sobbing. He rubs my back while I try to calm down.  While everyone sleeps around me, I sit up uncomfortably in bed and Google tongue-tie and lip-tie.  I worry over why my milk hasn't come in yet.  I wonder about lactation consultants and formula supplements and jaundice. I worry that I haven't pooped yet. Each time she wakes to nurse, I eat a piece of milk chocolate and refresh my Facebook feed on my phone, trying to distract myself from the pain.

I hear the robins begin to sing, it must be close to 4 am, and the relief begins to creep in.  Aedan has stumbled into our bed, and I look over at the bodies of my three sleeping boys, a tangle of bare-skinned limbs and bedsheets and soft snores and sighs.  I fall asleep then, and wake with the morning light filling the room, a balm on my cracked nipples and aching soul.

Why is it that everything seems so much better in the light of day? I finally poop. Charlotte gets a clean bill of health from the midwife, we work on her latch, I remember the tube of Lansinoh in the medicine cabinet, I realize my milk has come in, just without the usual fanfare.  I sleep, finally.  I remind myself that the nights may be hard, but they always come to an end.

We are so incredibly vulnerable in the dark of night.  We are tired; everything looks different, sounds different. What is manageable in the day looms monstrous at night. Some nights feel completely hopeless to me, I feel like I am alone in the world, in my little pool of lamplight.  But the birds always begin to sing just before dawn: they know, and they remind me.  There is hope; the dark passes, soon I can put out my little lamp in favour of the day.

The night will pass, this season will pass, these sore nipples will pass. It will be okay.