I met Sharon at a birthday party. The host had thoughtfully seated us together because we were the only moms at the table. She was cheerful and funny and we clicked right away — sharing ‘mom drama’ of course.
We both boasted about our amazing pregnancies but that is where our stories take a turn… I bonded immediately with CJ and my pregnancy high kept me smiling through all the poopy diapers and 3am feedings. Meanwhile, Sharon experienced prenatal depression. A term I never even heard of. Here’s this tough momma’s life changing journey…
W: How did you envision life to be as a new mom?
S: The happiest time of my life. My first pregnancy was so easy, I was actually walking on clouds with a rosy glow. My son, J came out in 40 minutes! I didn’t even know I was in labour until the student-doctor insisted that he saw a tiny head pop out and I had to push pronto!
Growing up, it was never a question of whether I wanted to be a mother. It was a matter of when. Before my son, I never even held a baby! I was raised in a traditional Chinese home. Often there was no rhyme or reason but you just do things… graduating university and getting a job is expected. There is no such thing in Asian culture as taking a gap year to travel or figure stuff out. I got married at 26 and in two months, I was pregnant.
There wasn’t much talk about the challenges of being a mom and definitely topics around mental health were ‘swept under the rug’. So I thought everything would fall into place and I’ll just naturally morph into a super mom right after my delivery.
W: Sounds like you had this pretty picture painted in your head about motherhood but what was it really like?
Life with my first son was actually quite easy. I had time to recover and relax because there were so many extra hands and eager grandparents helping out. When I had my second son, I experienced bouts of ‘baby blues’. I mainly brushed it away thinking it was probably due to stress from the demands of my job. I chalked it up to be one of those cliche phases in life that would pass.
My husband and I flip flopped on having a third. Being an only child, I always dreamed of a big family. Three felt complete. I had an extremely tough pregnancy with C. Every nasty symptom listed in those pregnancy books, I got!
At my first trimester doctor’s appointment, I simply fell apart. She recommended I see a psychiatrist and that’s when I found out I had prenatal depression. I knew about postpartum depression but never even thought you could feel this way before the baby was born.
I cried daily for 4-5 hrs. My husband stood on the sidelines feeling helpless. My boys had no clue because I would put on a mask when they were around. It’s true when they say that depressed people make the best actors. I was clouded with the darkest thoughts. Even prayed for a miscarriage. This may sound ridiculous now but back then, seeing squirrels playing outside made me jealous and cry — because they had the freedom to prance around and enjoy life.
I couldn’t wait for C to come out. If it really was prenatal depression then everything would go back to normal after her birth right? But then they found out she had a heart murmur and I catapulted to postpartum depression that lasted way past my mat leave. I ended up getting a leave of absence from work and experienced migraines for 6 months as I went into intensive therapy and a cocktail of anti-depressants (that I only agreed to take after C was done breastfeeding).
It’s only until this last year that I’m starting to feel like myself again.
W: So prenatal depression can occur at any stage in pregnancy?
S: Yes and it can be a precursor to postpartum depression. About 7-20% of pregnant women are affected by this condition. It’s also known as ‘antenatal depression’. Symptoms vary but mine were emotional numbness, lack of concentration, persistent sadness and dreading the birth of my daughter.
W: That is quite the beast you had to battle. What types of things do you do to keep your sanity today?
S: I made a list of things that brought me joy growing up and started making time for them in my adult life. I have always loved travel and music so for two years in a row, I went on a retreat in Costa Rica. Just me, no husband or kids allowed! I also listen to a lot of 90’s music. And reminisce about the good ol’ days of just being a carefree teenager. And of course, I practice mindful meditation and yoga.
W: Looking back was prenatal/postpartum depression a curse or blessing? What type of mother are you today because of your experience?
S: A blessing. Everyday I look at C and think that if I hadn’t hit rock bottom with her, I wouldn’t have taken my mental health seriously. I would have just accepted that my life was one big pit of numbness.
Working with my psychiatrist through the depression and anxiety, I also unearthed a lot of unresolved anger and resentment I had towards my own parents. As physically helpful as they are to my 3 kids, we never had a good emotional relationship as a family. Getting all that out in the open made me a more empathetic mother, more forgiving, more patient and understanding to my own kids.
I hear their laughter, I love being outdoors playing with them. And I tell myself, this is actually fun! My own therapy is watching my children have the type of love and support I didn’t have growing up.
W: What advice would you give to soon-to-be and new mothers with PPD?
S: Educate your husband! Let them know that their view of what a mother should be or act like may not necessarily be what you are actually going through. Yes, it’s supposed to be ‘the most beautiful moment’ in a woman’s life but you can still cry your heart out and feel no bond with your baby.
I thought what I was feeling was normal baby blues. Don’t disregard that sadness or shove it into a dark corner or think it’ll just go away by itself. Accept that you are not a freak or bad mother but rather ‘it’ has it’s own name: prenatal or postpartum depression. Then don’t just rely on Google (although here is a resource to learn more) but reach out for help sooner than later.
Sharon lives in Toronto and is a busy mom simultaneously rocking her career in finance while juggling life with hubby, two tween boys and one toddler girl.