01/24/2012 12:12 EST | Updated 03/25/2012 05:12 EDT

Postpartum Depression: Let Them Catch You Before You Fall

I'm OK! HAPPY! I'm higher than god. In fact, I am god. A human came out of my body. How would I ever feel bad? The problems began a month or so into being a mom. It wasn't anything specific -- it never is -- but I was starting to get that antsy feeling that I was doing this whole thing badly.

Let them catch you. And if they catch you and let you go, write down their names and numbers, and keep them close... If you feel yourself starting to fall again, scream for the nets. You might need the nets later. Don't rip through the nets. They are there to catch you and stop you from breaking your neck.

But enough with metaphors. I'm talking about mental health issues. Here's what I'm talking about specifically: post-postpartum. Or anxiety. Depression. Or call it what you want. Not doing well.

I first saw a psychiatrist (at Mount Sinai) when I was pregnant because of huge trauma during my pregnancy. That visit was a disaster. Dr. D, a dead ringer for Mary of Downton Abbey, brought in one of her overeager, drooly students with thick glasses, who asked me questions from a sheet of paper, her thick glasses sliding down her nose whenever she'd start to sweat from excitement (I give good answers). I sat patiently through "the class," but I couldn't wait to get the hell out of there. The doctor watched on, silently, unnervingly. Then she spent the last five minutes sing-songing about how hard it must've been and how well I'm doing and what do I want to do next? "I don't know, you tell me." She smiled and said I could come see her again. "Nah, nevermind," I said, and left. To this day, I don't know what the point of all of that was. I hope that student passed her interviewing techniques class.

Because I am extra special, I had to see a social worker at the hospital after giving birth. Besides a rough pregnancy, I have history of depression, so they were keeping a close eye on me. The social worker lady came in just as I was floating on cloud 99, absolutely blissed-out from having a beautiful baby boy, and she asked me if I was feeling okay. Was I feeling sad? Anxious? Coping? Anything she could help me with?

What are you talking about, woman? I'm OK! HAPPY! I'm higher than god. In fact, I am god. A Goddess. A human came out of my body and now the same human being is able live off of my body. How is that not godly? How would I ever feel bad?

The social worker said, "That's --" and then I blocked her out and floated back up to sit on my cloud 99.

Two weeks later, a public nurse came over to our house to help with breastfeeding and check up on my mood. I had descended from cloud 99, but was still floating comfortably. We hugged, promised to keep in touch, OK bye!

The problems began a month or so into being a mom. It wasn't anything specific -- it never is -- but I was starting to get that antsy feeling that I was doing this whole thing badly, that my partner wasn't helpful enough, that I wanted to cry but couldn't (thanks, Prozac!), that there were no grandparents around to help us, that I was stuck home with the baby all the goddamned time, that I was sad but was too numb to feel it (thanks, Prozac!), that, that, that, this and that. I was honest with my doctor and she directed me to see a psychiatrist through the Women's Health Network.

I saw this psychiatrist twice. She was very attractive. Older, in her late 60s perhaps, but so well taken care off that she seemed like one of those ageless beauties. A sculpture of a woman. Botox for sure, maybe a facelift? She wore well-tailored pants. Small-heeled shoes. The red soles flicked at me a few times, warning me not to bring in any grimy stuff, like the fact that I was such a mess, eating like a pig, for example, and thinking about drinking, too.

She had some interesting books on her shelves. Lots of Canadian authors. Alice Munro. And non-Canadian books, like The Joy Luck Club, which I read and which made me wonder if the psychiatrist was suffering from some mother-daughter issues herself. There were framed photos of women who resembled her. Daughters perhaps. What did they argue about? Staying thin? "Mother those Louboutins are too much for someone your age."

The psychiatrist wanted to know about my partner and how I felt he wasn't being helpful enough. "He's not helpful enough," she suggested.


She smiled. Her hair was absolutely ash-blonde perfect.

"He's not helpful enough!"

"He's not?"

"That usually happens with fathers. They feel isolated, even competitive with the baby."

"They are?"

"They can be."

And so on.

Huh. But it made me think. I was seeing a psychiatrist with a feminist bent at a women's hospital. I'm not stupid. I can see an agenda even when it's wearing daisy-stomping Louboutins. But it still planted a funky seed in me, those conversations. I went back to see The Joy Luck Club again and then on the third visit we sort of concluded that I needed to tell my partner to proverbially pull his weight and that was that. I was not getting depressed.

(I need to note here that my partner is a great dad. In the beginning, everyone was just trying to figure out how the hell to adjust to this baby situation, so it was natural we were trying to work out our schedules and lives that were suddenly upside down because of a 20-inch long vomiter.)

After The Joy Luck Club, I saw the Soother: a soft-spoken man, a social worker I found through my GP again. At that time I was doing quite badly, but, as before, I focused on everything but what was wrong. There was a painting in his office, all pastels, of a ship in full sail. He wore fantastically patterned socks. I pictured him naked and on top of me, both out of boredom and because it would've been so absurd. I thought about the beer store that was nearby. The printer jammed. The Soother gently wrote in his notebook from that point on. We parted and met again and then one more time and it felt like the most useless Om of useless Oms.

I'm sure by now you can tell, I'm not the funnest client to have around if you're trying to help me as a mental health professional. I suspect this is because I wanted to be one myself (undergrad in psych) and because now I'm a writer and I keep thinking of most of my life as "research." This is the kind of attitude that lands me in trouble almost every time, this removal from reality.

I am now again trying to get in touch with a professional who can help me through some issues (such as anxiety). Except that now it's hard, given my spotty track record and the fact that unlike a new mom, a not-so-new mom doesn't have as much support and it's just harder. Had I been honest about struggling and kept in touch more diligently (which, paradoxically, often seems impossible when you're in your deep, dark hole...), I might have been able to find someone sooner. Right now, the waiting lists are longer. And I'm eroding a bit, too; the fight gets weaker with every phone call I make to put myself on one of those lists. And then I feel kind of stupid, thinking I should have really taken advantage of all those characters in the past who were trying to help me. Even if I didn't feel so bad at the time, I should have insisted on some very casual monitoring (check-ins every few weeks or so). I'm sure that could've been arranged.

I didn't do that. And now I am very, very sorry.

So, if you're a new mom (or are pregnant) and you have the ability to imagine the future and there's something in your life that indicates it may get a little darker around the edges, do yourself a favour and get in touch with your doctor and talk about your problems now and get a therapist to guide you through those possible bad times in your future. You've got nothing to lose. And you can lose everything if you don't do that -- trust me, I'm picking up a lot of pieces now and barely keeping them together as I try to get healthy.

Originally published at