We hear a lot about postpartum mental illnesses, but the truth is, mental illness can arise during pregnancy as well.
Prenatal depression. Antenatal depression. Pregnancy depression. Whatever you call it, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates 14-23% of women will struggle with depression during pregnancy. Vanessa was one of them, and I’m happy to share her story today to raise more awareness of it.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Vanessa Rapisarda, and I’m from Manitoba, Canada. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba but currently live in Brandon, Manitoba, with my husband of nearly 10 years, Richard, our three kids (aged 7, 5 & 2), and our two giant dogs. Over the past 5 years we’ve moved three times (not counting the various rentals and hotels we stayed at in the interim) due to my husband’s job as a bank manager. I have switched jobs along the way, finding work where it (and daycare) was available. Writing was always a passion of mine and remained a hobby until January of 2017 when I officially decided to start my own blog and become a stay at home mom. The past year has been tough for us trying to adjust to a single income but I have never been happier doing something that I love.
2) What was your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with prenatal depression when I was 10 weeks pregnant with my second child. And then I was diagnosed with postpartum depression 5 months after her birth.
3) When did you realize something was wrong or that you needed help?
While I suffered from prenatal depression during the pregnancy, I blamed it on the fact that the pregnancy was unplanned and I was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum which left me very sick and bedridden for most of my pregnancy. I assumed that once the pregnancy was over, things would get better.
My first child was a pretty easy going kid who slept through the night and rarely cried but my second was very colicky, so again, I tried to justify my feelings by saying that I was just tired and sleep deprived. I thought if I slept more, things would get better.
But when they didn’t get better – I knew something was wrong. I had wanted a baby girl so badly, and I finally had her, but I just couldn’t stand her. I hated being alone with her and I cringed every time I had to feed her or hold her. That’s when I knew something just wasn’t right.
4) Were you screened for a PMAD? When?
Yes, in fact, I chose to deliver by midwife with my second instead of a hospital like my first, and I found the midwives to be extremely attentive postpartum. They came to my house daily for the first few weeks and stayed for hours helping me out. They regularly talked to me about my feelings and screened me once a week for the first three weeks. Each time I told them I felt great…ecstatic…overjoyed! And it was all true. Because the postpartum depression didn’t actually hit me until weeks later…
Immediately after the birth of my daughter, I was on a high. I had the baby girl I had always dreamed of and then my only sister got married when the baby was only 6 weeks old. There was so much happening that I was happily distracted from the drastic changes going on in my body and my life. And after all the excitement was over – I sunk into a dark place.
When I did follow up with the midwives at my 6 week checkup (and last appointment with them) I was beginning to suspect that something wasn’t right but I didn’t tell them. I had gone on and on about how happy I was that I was afraid they might think I had lied to them if I changed my story now. I was embarrassed and ashamed for and it was SO hard for me to admit that I was struggling.
5) What did your treatment plan look like?
I suffered for months with symptoms of postpartum depression before finally telling my family doctor at a routine checkup. He suggested anti-depressants but I would have to stop breastfeeding. My colicky daughter absolutely refused to take any kind of bottle or pacifier and I knew that attempting to stop breastfeeding would only make things worse for all of us.
He gave me a list of books to read and recommended a therapist. I chose not to go to therapy since I tried it for the prenatal depression and didn’t find it helpful.
Shortly after that, we made our first big move – 9 hours away from our hometown and all our friends and family. I thought maybe some alone time would help but it only made things worse to lose our support system. When my daughter turned one, I enrolled her in daycare and found a job. The time apart helped us both but I always felt guilty about it.
6) Did you face any challenges on your road to recovery? What were they?
For the first couple years, I didn’t have a proper treatment plan so I don’t think I ever really “healed.” I think I just stayed distracted enough. I tried not to think about it too much, I tried not to feel too much. I was just going through the motions, trying to make it to the next day. It makes me sad now because when I try to remember what my daughter was like as a toddler, I barely have any memories of her.
When she was 2 1/2, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and advised that it was unlikely I’d have any more children. It broke my heart at the thought that my last pregnancy was so filled with bad memories and I desperately wanted a do-over. When I went in for a diagnostic laparoscopy, the doctors discovered, to everyone’s surprise, that I was 6 weeks pregnant!
I was determined to do it right this time and even though I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum again, I did not let it get the best of me. I researched everything I could about postpartum depression to prepare myself. When my third child was born, I was the happiest I had ever been, and I felt like my family was finally complete. The postpartum depression did not return, but if it did, I was prepared to battle it and not let it win.
Every once in a while I suffer from a relapse, with pain being one of my biggest triggers.
7) Did you come across any perinatal depression resources that helped you? What were they?
The first blog I ever came across that shared raw postpartum depression posts was Mummyitsok.com. It’s a UK based site that hosts several guest posts from real survivors. Some of the stories inspired me to tell my own story.
The documentary “When the Bough Breaks” (available on Netflix) was also a real eye-opener for me. It made me realize that postpartum depression
really is a potentially deadly and long-term issue.
8) What is one thing you try to do each week as self-care?
My self-care consists of alone time. I’m not a morning person so getting up early before the kids is never an option for me. But thankfully they all go to bed by 8 pm and I take some me-time. My husbands works out and I curl up in bed and watch Netflix or soak in a bath or write – whatever I’m in the mood for. I take my hour or two and unwind from the day.
9) What advice would you give a parent struggling with a perinatal mental illness?
That despite how hard it is to speak up about what you’re feeling, it’s important to do so. Mothers are way too hard on themselves. They always put the needs of others first and never want to be a burden. But keeping it inside and denying what’s really going on is only going to escalate things. If you’re not confident speaking to your spouse or family or your doctor – then find someone – ANYONE – that you do feel comfortable speaking to.
If you’re interested in sharing your journey through perinatal mental illness, please read this post.
Please leave any supportive comments or questions for Vanessa below.
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