Labor of Love: Life-Changing in More Ways Than One
In mamabare’s Labor of Love series, women share their stories of pregnancy, loss, labor and motherhood – in a variety of forms. We are repeatedly reminded that parenting is truly a labor – no matter how we come about it. Birthed out of love, whether biologically, through loss or pain, by fostering or adoption, our journeys to and through motherhood are so exceptionally unique in their own ways yet entirely universal.
Here, Geneviève shares her experience of becoming a mother for the first time more than 8 years ago. A challenging pregnancy and disappointing labor triggered the onset of a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD). Without any family history of bipolar disorders, Geneviève and her family were caught off guard but rallied to seek support. Becoming a mother changed her life in more ways than one. Welcome, Geneviève! Thank you for sharing your unique journey with us.
Geneviève and her family of four live in Canada, just north of Toronto. Trained as an elementary teacher, this active mama went from teaching in Quebec to consulting in Ontario over the last 20 years of her career.
She is now an author and a certified postpartum doula. She is dedicated to her new YouTube channel, which aims to encourage families through her stories.
This is the story of how becoming a mother inspired Geneviève to shift from a career in education to a fierce and fearless pursuit in mental health advocacy.
What Was Your First Pregnancy Like?
My first pregnancy was not an easy one. I felt extremely nauseous up to the four month mark. I had to start medication to even be able to function normally. I started having contractions around the fifth month, mostly while standing up and walking. My belly would get very hard and felt horribly uncomfortable.
Finally, I was diagnosed with an irritable uterus. To make sure those early contractions wouldn’t end up in premature labor, my midwives told me: no exercise and no intercourse. I enjoy exercising, so it was a bit of a challenge to stop any altogether.
How Did You Envision Labor?
My husband and I had decided to have a home birth with midwives. So I had already made the decision to have an unmedicated birth. I was expecting it to be challenging, dealing naturally with the pain of labor, but I really wanted to experience it.
I was envisioning my labor much like running a marathon: easy at the beginning, gradually getting more and more challenging, excruciating by the end, a rise of energy while pushing, and total happiness once I held my baby in my arms.
What Surprised You Most About Childbirth?
The pain, it got to a point of being unbearable…
After 16 hours of labor at home, we decided to go to the hospital because my cervix had stalled at 6 cm for a very long time. I was getting weak. I then got an epidural, which made everything much easier for me. The pushing stage was incredibly intense. I pushed for 4 hours and even then, a doctor had to use a vacuum to get my son out. I almost had a c-section.
My son weighed 9 pounds, which is enormous considering that I’m a tiny 5’2 woman. The mo difficult part of this situation was to accept the fact that I did not have a home birth as I had envisioned. It felt like a failure to me…
Who Was There for Support?
My midwives were so helpful in supporting me both emotionally and physically. They suggested different positions during labor, stood by me while I was contracting in the bath, and helped me to endure the pain of contractions. One massaged the opening of my vagina during the actual delivery.
My husband massaged my lower back during contractions, held my hand while I pushed, and totally gave me the courage and power to push our son out during those final contractions.
What Was Your Postpartum Experience Like?
First, my midwife’s home visits every two days for the first week were incredibly reassuring. She answered all our questions and checked on our son’s well-being as well as my own recovery. She also spent the necessary time debriefing with me about my traumatic labor experience and telling me I did wonderful, despite the challenges I experienced. My midwife was truly a gift! She ended up referring me to a lactation consultant because our son was not getting back to his birth weight in the usual timeframe. The consultant gave us advice to make my breastfeeding experience better for me and my son.
Second, my mom stayed with us for one week. Two days after delivery, she arrived to take over all the meals, helped with cleaning, and cared fo our son while I napped.
Did You Experience Postpartum Depression?
No, I didn’t live through postpartum depression – but childbirth triggered my postpartum bipolar disorder with psychotic features.
It started a few days post-birth with a manic episode. Despite the huge lack of sleep, I didn’t feel tired at all. I was energetic, super happy, had a very difficult time resting when my baby was napping, and my mind was constantly racing with ideas and projects I wanted to do. After two weeks of this, I suddenly felt extremely tired and started experiencing panic attacks.
Psychotic symptoms also began to appear – such as delusions and tactile hallucinations – sensations and pain in my body that were not real. My husband became increasingly worried and my midwife suggested I visit hospital emergency.
I was hospitalized for a week. A psychiatrist diagnosed me with postpartum bipolar disorder and I began medication immediate. Without a history of bipolar disorder in my family, this was a huge deal for me and my husband.
What Did You Find Most Supportive During That Time?
My mom came back to care for my son during the evenings and nights while I was hospitalized. After she left and I was discharged, my husband was with me at home around the clock. He worked from home then so I knew I could count on him for support.
I started reading a ton online about bipolar disorder and especially about all postpartum mood disorders (PPMD). I found the website Postpartum Progress where I read other moms’ stories about their journeys through PPMD. It was reassuring to realize I wasn’t alone in my struggle.
Once I began feeling better, I joined a mommy group with the help of a friend. We met at least once a week with our babies. I shared my unique story with the other mothers and they were not judgemental at all! This really helped me feel a connection with them!
I also saw a psychiatrist on a regular basis (and I still see him every three months). He is extremely understanding and has helped me build hope in my recovery.
Any Suggestions For Other Mamas Experiencing PPMD?
Don’t feel ashamed. You are not alone. There is hope and with help, you will feel better. Talk openly about your feelings and fears to people you trust.
Speak to your care provider as soon as possible and seek professional help. Postpartum depression is treatable with informed care.
If available in your community, I would suggest joining a support group for moms experiencing postpartum depression.
Your healthcare provider might suggest counselling. If so, finding a therapist who specializes in treating women with PPMD would be ideal.
Hiring a postpartum doula could also be helpful. She can potentially help in a variety of ways at your home (focus on physical recovery, breastfeeding support, light household chores, information and referrals to professionals near you, baby care support, healthy light meal prepping, and/or assistance with older siblings).
Read and get informed about your condition. One book I highly recommend is This Isn’t What I Expected by author Karen Kleiman.
Exercise. Research has proven that exercise can help in reducing symptoms of depression.
How Has Your Experience With A Mood Disorder Impacted Your Life?
It has changed me in the most profound way. I now feel more empathetic and compassionate towards all women experiencing a PPMD and in general towards anyone living with a mental health issue. My experience has made me an advocate for mental health.
A few years ago, I started writing my story about postpartum bipolar disorder and published it on my blog. I just recently finished writing and am in the process of self-publishing a book about my experience. I have become passionate about helping moms navigate the postpartum period and informing the public about all forms of PPMD. I want to help end the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Over two years ago, I decided to become a postpartum doula and completed my certification in May 2018. As such, I support mothers and their families up to a year after bringing baby home. I provide non-medical physical and emotional care as well as evidence-based informational assistance.
My areas of expertise include: postpartum comfort measures, infant feeding, parent-baby bonding, infant soothing, basic newborn care, PPMD awareness, information on community resources, and light household help.
In my case, I will always remain on medication to prevent any relapse of manic or depressive episodes. I am more aware and careful about my mental health. To keep my mood balanced, I discipline myself to exercise regularly, get consistent hours of sleep, and find ways to reduce my stress.
There is always hope.