by Wendy Gaughan
My name is Wendy Gaughan. I am an occupational therapist, a mom to two children, and I had postpartum depression and anxiety with both of my children. When I became pregnant, my husband and I did the baby classes, we made the registry and we talked about our own expectations for what labor and delivery as well as what those first few months would be like. I decided not to have a set birth plan. My main priority was keeping the baby, and myself, safe.
Once the day arrived, I was in labor for 30 hours and ultimately gave birth via an emergency c-section. Although I knew that a c-section birth was a possibility, I had not imagined the amount of guilt I would feel, truthfully for years after, because of this type of birth. Recovery in the hospital was in line with what can be expected after labor and a surgery. Although, it was not something discussed in any of the classes we attended. In the classes recovery was focused on what would happen after a vaginal birth. So, I was sort of in the dark in terms of expectations of recovery from a c-section.
During the days in the hospital we had visitors, snuggled our new baby and tried to sleep when we could. Then we brought my son home after 3 days in the hospital and started to try to figure out what we were doing. All of this time I was moving slow, it was a really hard recovery but again, no one really mentioned anything about what a recovery from a c-section should be, so I just assumed this is how it was supposed to be.
At the first pediatrician appointment one of the office assistants asked me about the birth, and I gave her an abridged version but did mention that I had labored and ended with an emergency c-section. She was the first person to acknowledge that I had been through a lot. Her exact words were “Wow, that is so hard for you. You have to recover essentially from a typical birth and a c-section”. It felt like someone saw me for the first time since my son was born.
As the days went on I slowly started a descent that I was not aware I was on. Thoughts began to creep in, slowly at first and then to the point where these thoughts were all I could hear day in and day out. A voice saying “Having a baby was a bad idea.” “Maybe I was only good with other people’s children.” “This baby would be better off without me.” “I should just take the car one night and disappear.” “My husband was great with our baby, they didn’t need me, I was just getting in the way.” Along with these incessant thoughts came tears, anger and anxiety. It was unpredictable which was going to show up, but no matter what, it was not a happy occurrence.
I had visitors come and was able to put on a different show then what was really happening. People would say “don’t you just love him so much”, or “couldn’t you just stare at him all day”. In the moment I would smile and agree, but the truth was I didn’t feel like I loved my baby and I certainly didn’t want to sit around and stare at him. When I had to hold him I didn’t want to, but when I wasn’t right with him, I was nervous about all the things that could go wrong.
As the days went on my son began to develop colic. I was trying to nurse, and the three of us (myself, my husband and son) were up all hours of the night. Sleep did not come easily to any of us. That saying we hear, passed off as advice, during pregnancy, “sleep when the baby sleeps!”, flew out the window. What do you do if your baby doesn’t sleep? What if he only sleeps for an hour at a time? When can I eat, shower, do laundry etc? It felt like everything was crumbling around me. I continued to become more sleep deprived while the thoughts in my head got louder. I was spiraling so far down it was hard to see where I started.
Thankfully my husband saw, he came with me to my follow up OB appointment at 6 weeks. He was the one who told my Dr. that I wasn’t doing well. He knew if I was asked by the Dr. I would say everything was great and put on my show. In addition, not only did my husband bring this up to the Dr., the Dr. heard him and took what he was saying very seriously. I was put on medication, given a list of resources (which truthfully I couldn’t bring myself to use) and was scheduled for more follow up appointments than is typical.
I am extremely lucky to have a husband and doctors who recognized what was going on and took it very seriously. The only thing I wish I could have changed were the resources available. Telling me to go to a therapist or a support group felt like a big ask when I was so far down. How could I leave and figure out when and how my son was going to eat? Did I have to pump? Bring him with me? I couldn’t bring him with me; all he did was cry! That part of the puzzle felt so overwhelming. It felt like I couldn’t do these things, I couldn’t reach out to people who could help because the thought of getting to a physical location was too overwhelming. Even if I did go to a therapist or a support group there was an overarching fear that once I expressed the thoughts I was having, my son would be taken away from me, or I would be taken away from him. I believed my thoughts were just too bad for someone to allow me contact with him.
Thankfully the medication helped and I was able to begin the slow journey out of my spiral. From this depression and anxiety brought a new mission to my life. As I started to come out of the spiral I had been on, I realized that in those deep, dark, low moments, I really wanted an occupational therapist (OT)! At the heart of an OT’s job is the fundamental idea of meaningful occupations. Occupations can be basic self-care, caring for others, leisure activities, and sleep. An idea came to me, an OT could help during this transition to motherhood in all of the areas of occupation. This has become my new direction of life. Seeking out OTs who are already in this area and creating change. It has inspired me to work to create a practice which can help women, whether they are suffering with postpartum or not, to be able to transition into motherhood surrounded with support. Creating a way in which support can be available in their own home, either through home visits or connecting over a video chat. My hope is to hold space for other women to share those thoughts and fears that I was so scared to share. Out of my darkness came light, and I hope to spread that light onto others.
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