Seeing the happy chaos of Jennifer Green's home, strewn with colourful toys and the 32-year-old mom giggling with her three little boys, it's hard to imagine the pain she has suffered. Flash back just a couple of years, and Jennifer was spending her days crying uncontrollably.
Jennifer's second son was born in 2013, and spent a couple of weeks in two neonatal intensive care units. She also had a toddler at home, a hectic situation for any mother.
"I was a mess, even when my second boy came home from the NICU and was doing well. I was alternating between long bouts of tears and just zoning out. I was going through the motions of caring for my children, but my husband would say, 'Are you even there? You're blank'," says Jennifer. "I knew that something was very wrong."
Jennifer called her obstetrician who referred her to Sunnybrook's Women's Mood and Anxiety Clinic. That's where she met one of the psychiatrists, Dr. Cara Brown, who diagnosed Jennifer with postpartum depression.
"I explained to Dr. Brown that everything was always Armageddon, even little hiccups during my day meant the end of the world. It was no way to live. Dr. Brown reassured me, 'This is common, it's a chemical imbalance in your brain, it's nothing you can just stop on your own, but it's treatable'. Before that, I felt like no one got me."
Working with Dr. Brown, Jennifer was also diagnosed with generalized anxiety, which Jennifer says with a laugh was "not a happy cocktail." She started on a course of antidepressants that were compatible with breastfeeding, and within a week noticed a difference. The self-professed couch potato bought a jogging stroller and in a few months was running for an hour straight.
"It's not just medication, it's the coping strategies that I learned with help from Dr. Brown that have also been incredibly useful," adds Jennifer. "I'm on a low dose of medication now and feel really, really good."
Jennifer is dismayed by the stigma attached to mental health conditions, and urges other mothers experiencing postpartum depression to let go of any shame they may be feeling. Reflecting back, she believes she also experienced postpartum depression after the birth of her first son, but resisted getting help.
In 2015, she had her third child, another boy, and continued to see Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown urges women who feel they may be experiencing anxiety or depression in pregnancy or after having their baby, to seek help and also speak with their health care team before making any changes to their medications.
"If you're feeling like something is not quite right, there's no need to feel shame or embarrassment, just get help. Getting help is being a good mom to your kids. You want to be happy and able to connect with them to be the best mom you can be."
To be seen by the Women's Mood and Anxiety Clinic: Reproductive Transitions in Toronto, please have your family physician, obstetrician or midwife fax a referral to 416-480-7842. Please note that the clinic specializes in mood and anxiety disorders that women can experience across the lifespan -- especially during pregnancy and postpartum.
Outside of Toronto, visit Canadian Mental Health Association for a list of local mental health resources & providers.
Get more mental health information from Sunnybrook's experts at health.sunnybrook.ca
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