Several years ago, I suffered from a debilitating battle with depression. After months of torment and solitude, I began to go to counseling. My husband was the one who really convinced me to go and during my very first session, I began to feel better. Weeks went by and eventually months and then years. That experience was "behind me" and I became pregnant. Everything was going really well and I had an exceptional birth experience. My daughter was the first grandchild on my side and the first granddaughter on my husband's l. We were well looked after. In Canada, I am able to take about a year of paid leave, so I had lots of time to bond. Although our breastfeeding relationship was extremely difficult and cost nearly $1000 to improve, we persevered. I bonded with my daughter and began bonding with my mom more than ever, since she visited almost daily. A few months went by and we moved from our apartment into a small home a few blocks away. We anticipated this move because our apartment building didn't allow for children and our friends were leaving for one year, so it was a serendipitous arrangement since we needed that time to look for our first house. I knew that major changes like moving house could trigger postpartum mental issues so I prepared myself for such an event, but it didn't seem to affect me! I had worn my daughter for a couple walks by this time but after we moved, I bought a woven wrap and started babywearing daily. Despite a few large changes in our lives, I felt very grounded. I enjoyed motherhood and felt that it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
Months after the move, when I as around 5 or 6 months postpartum, something began to shift. I was feeling out of sorts. I began to isolate myself more and I began experiencing panic attacks. I stopped wanting to see most of my old friends and found that the only times I felt calm were while breastfeeding and usually while babywearing. Housework, cooking, and venturing outside became increasingly difficult. During this time, my mom continued to visit on her lunch hours since her office was less than 10 minutes away. I relished in her visits because she was the only person I trusted enough to leave my daughter with and not feel extremely anxious. I could shower and she would often bring lunch so usually I would feel a bit more in control of myself after she left. My mom has never been one to discuss feelings in-depth, so I never worried that she would make me face my growing fears.
I stopped wanting to see my old friends because I worried they would ask me questions that I didn't want to answer or notice the change in me and begin to worry themselves. So I began to make new friends, friends that would have no idea what I was like before; confident, loud, opinionated, social and playful. Knowing that I could be whoever I wanted to be, allowed me to actually open up and be myself again, if only for a short time. When I was with them, I wasn't tortured by my anxiety because I could momentarily lock it away. It didn't matter if it came back even worse that night because I was elated for it to be gone for even 5 minutes, let alone an hour or more. I still didn't like to leave my safe zone often - and especially not for longer than a couple of hours - but I was lucky that I had social opportunities closeby. In particular, my issues with breastfeeding drove me to monthly La Leche League meetings (which is an international organisation designed to support breastfeeding) and those were held literally, about 4 houses down from the house we were renting. I was never nervous about breastfeeding around these women so if my anxiety started to climb, I could easily sit down with my daughter and calm myself down.
As the weeks went on, I couldn't deny the signs. I knew panic attacks weren't normal and I recognised the signs of depression from my previous experience. To help myself, I began attending an exercise class 2-4 days a week and made an appointment with a postnatal therapist. Again, I was lucky. We had the money for me to go to the gym, which offered classes that allowed you to bring your baby and the therapist was covered by our national health insurance. Except I had to cancel my second appointment because I just couldn't leave the house that day. And then somehow the number I had, no longer worked for that therapist and my anxiety worsened because I began to feel abandoned by my medical support. Who was left for me? I didn't want to talk to my husband, my family doctor was of no help, I couldn't track the therapist down without having a panic attack in the process, and my La Leche League meetings only happened once a month! So I turned to Facebook and the babywearing community in particular. My daughter was often being worn while I was panicking, and feeling her and hugging her helped me a lot, for many reasons - not the least of which because she reminded me that someone loved me and needed me.
As some of us know, babywearing can be a bit of a rabbit hole. I would spend hours reading through Facebook, hoping to distract myself from my anxiety and stave off another attack. I would scour the different groups reading threads, learning about babywearing. At this point, I didn't understand how anyone would need more than a handful of carriers and promised my husband that I would never own more than 4. I wondered if I could ever own that many because I struggled to understand how I would find use for them all... Needless to say, I quickly accumulated 4 but luckily, kept my promise to go no further. I am not advocating an unhealthy level of attachment to your electronic devices but my night-owl behaviour and addiction to Facebook began bringing me friends; some were pen pals whom I have yet to meet, but others were local moms whom I now see regularly. We bonded over our children, our battles with depression, babywearing, and other parenting choices. This, combined with regular exercise, began my healing process. I had found my tribes to get me through. I had my daily Facebook tribe, my frequent workout tribe and my monthly breastfeeding tribe. Slowly, I stopped feeling so anxious. My depression remains to this day but I feel that the light is more frequent than the dark now and I'm okay with having a light shade of grey frequently clouding my experience if it means the dark stays away... For now at least.
I began organising babywearing get togethers in my city because I could only convince myself to actually attend an event if I felt I needed to go, which meant I had to organise it. Those hangouts motivated me to train and become a babywearing educator. I had made myself a 6 month business plan but I was doing better than I expected so I decided it was time to do more planning. As I sat down to write out my business goals for 2015, I wanted to do some charity or good will but it needed to be genuinely motivated so that I would feel passionate about it. High on my list was postpartum mood disorders, although I didn't know what to do. Then the stars began to align. I searched for postpartum depression awareness days and discovered that January was Postpartum Depression Awareness month in several Canadian provinces, including my own. Add to that me stumbling across a thread on the Pavo Customer Appreciation chatter group started by a recent friendly acquaintance asking about postpartum depression support. The wheels began turning in my head and suddenly things really clicked. I wanted to host an awareness week for postpartum mood disorders and focus it on the babywearing community, and especially on how babywearing can be a tool in the battle against postpartum mood disorders. I wanted information to be accessible to all parents but hopefully encourage healthy bonding at the same time, which babywearing can do very well.
I am not the model for recovery. I am not the picture of health. I am a mother who is suffering; who feels awkward when the subject is broached; who winces when she thinks about the cycle repeating itself if and when a second child is brought in to our family. This campaign is for me, so that I can hold my head up a little higher. It's for the mom who worries that if she asks for help that she'll be separated from her children. It's for the dad who doesn't understand why he's not feeling connected to his baby. It's for the parents who finally adopted their child after years of paperwork and tearful dreams only to feel paralysed by the thought of leaving their house. And this is for the children of those parents so that they might understand that no one is immune to these battles but that they are not the cause, they are the reason we fight.