It's February 2009. My son C is eight months old and I'm not doing very well. He doesn't sleep well ("Screamfest 2009" I think we dubbed it) and I'm so tired I seem to have totally lost my ability to cope. I decide to see a counsellor, so give my handy Employee and Family Assistance Program a call. I tell them I'm a new(ish) mom struggling with some issues and want to talk to someone about it. They refer me to a counsellor, who calls to find out more about what I'm looking for. I tell her my story - fussy baby, not sleeping, feeling overwhelmed, and so on. All the usual mom stuff, I figured, expecting her to invite me in to talk about some coping strategies. But that's not what she says.
"It sounds like you're suffering from postpartum depression," is what she says instead.
"No," I say. Emphatically. "It's not that. I'm really not interested in calling it that. I just need to SLEEP."
I go to see her anyway, and in my first session I talk about the things I'm struggling with. And I cry. A lot.
"I really think you're dealing with PPD," she says again. "You probably need to see your doctor."
But I'm not interested in that label, so I don't listen.
By refusing that label, I thwarted myself before even stepping foot in her office.
This counsellor did have me figured out: Professionally successful and used to feeling competent and in control; a tendency to be hard on myself; dealing with my own unrealistic expectations. And what she knew, but what I couldn't see, was that I did, in fact, have postpartum depression and was totally unwilling to admit it or talk to someone who might be able to help.
I saw that counsellor for a few sessions and spent every last one sobbing. After each hour I had a handful of little wet, balled up Kleenexes, a blotchy face and the knowledge that I was going home to a kid who, if he was asleep at all, was going to wake up throughout the night and scream his adorable little face off.
The sessions with her helped a little, I suppose, but it was more exhausting than anything else and I certainly didn't need any help being tired. The last time I saw her I told her I'd call to schedule my next appointment, but I never did. She did call me a couple of times to check in and encourage me to come back to see her. I know she was concerned and genuinely trying to help, but I told her I was okay and waited for the problem to go away.
It didn't, of course. By December 2010 - almost two years later - I had seen five doctors and three counsellors. I had finally accepted the postpartum depression diagnosis when my son was 18 months old, at which point I'd been suffering for more than a year, but by then I no longer met the criteria (pregnant or with a child under one year old) to get in to see the psychiatrist who specialized in PPD in my city.
There was one counsellor I could see; she, too, specialized in PPD, but I wasn't eligible for the free program, which meant I'd have to pay out of pocket for it. Therapy, of course, is not cheap.
It's a Monday, early in December of 2010. C woke at 4:30 and refused to go back to sleep. After an especially rough patch of sleep in the last few weeks this puts me over the edge. I barely get myself out the door to go to work, and when I get there I realize I've left my travel mug in my car. It contains only tea, but it was hot and caffeinated and I badly need that bit of comfort. I go into my office, shut the door, bury my face in my hands and cry.
On this day, when lack of sleep has tipped me into a full-on scary PPD place again and forgotten tea has prompted a breakdown, I make the call I've been putting off. I phone the counsellor who specializes in PPD and agree to fork over the money to see her.
I tell her why I'm there and still, after all this time, can't do it without bawling. I need someone who specializes in this to tell me if I'm nuts or not, I say. If this is normal. If it can be dealt with.
She listens quietly, patiently. When I'm done she pauses, as if waiting for more, and then says she'll tell me what she thinks.
"I think you're dealing with postpartum depression," she says.
I cry again, but with relief this time. Finally, someone tells me what's wrong with me.
And finally, I listen.