Certified Perinatal Mental Health Professional Asks: How Can I Help?
Louise's mission is to help individuals overcome perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and change their lives in ways they never imagined. As a registered nurse by background, helping others has always been Louise's mission. Her Bachelor of Science in Nursing has allowed her to have a rewarding career for over 12 years as a registered nurse in the community setting, but her desire to make a difference doesn't stop in the patient's home. Louise is also an active volunteer with Postpartum Support International, providing mentorship to other parents experiencing perinatal mood disorders.
As a certified Perinatal Mental Health Professional, Registered Nurse, certified Prenatal Interpersonal Therapy Provider, certified Advanced Emotional Freedom Technique Practitioner, and certified Usui & Kundalini Reiki Master, Louise is changing the world for the better, one parent at a time.
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As both a new mom and a single parent, I didn't know that I had something more than the 'baby blues' after I gave birth to my daughter. I was exhausted both mentally and physically beyond words due to a traumatic labor and birth. I would cry each morning, feeling a sense of hopeless from being up all night with the baby, unsure of how I would make it through the next day. I would also cry when the sun went down, for no reason at all. I felt panicked on the inside, like my heart was constantly racing and I couldn’t catch my breath. Even hearing the lullaby song from the mobile crib playing over and over seemed to trigger me into overwhelming sadness and grief, for reasons unknown. I felt so sad and overwhelmed because even though others were helping the baby, no one was helping me. Here I was physically recovering from a 42-hour labor and vacuum delivery resulting in a 3rd degree tear; severely sleep deprived since baby was born; barely eating since every waking moment was caring for the baby 24/7; breastfeeding issues; and the daily guilt and failure I felt of household tasks such as laundry and dishes pile up.
I wasn't prepared for the mom guilt I had about everything. From not being able to give my dog (who was my first baby) the attention that she deserved, not being able to successfully breastfeed, feeling like I'm not a good enough mother, and blaming myself for not having my act together. I also suffered from intrusive thoughts - more commonly known as scary or disturbing thoughts about harm being done to my daughter. I knew my thoughts were irrational and I was so afraid of them. They would come and go for no reason at all. I thought I was going crazy. I didn't know where these thoughts were coming from, nor why I was having them. Here I was a new parent, knowing I should be overjoyed and happy, and yet I felt the opposite. I didn’t know where to turn or who to talk to. Instead of reaching out and asking for help, I suffered silently. Rather than sleeping when the baby sleeps, which all mothers from our past generation seem to tell you, I thought I could do it all. We can work, manage our household, and our raise children all at once, right? Besides, aren’t we superwomen? Well, what was wrong with me that I couldn’t cope? I must be weak. I don’t deserve my child. I am not a good enough mother. She deserves better. These thoughts ruminated over and over in my mind, which looking back was a telltale sign that I needed help. Everyone loved the baby, but who loved me? Who thought of me? I needed to be taken care of too, and yet my silent cries for help seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Eventually I got so used to not feeling like myself that I somehow convinced myself that this was just the 'new me'. Gone was my laughter, humor, and smile. I was now anxious, uptight, and I couldn't seem to relax even if I knew my baby's needs were met. I lost the joy in life that I once had. I was constantly feeling overwhelmed, letting my 'mom guilt' guide my thoughts each day. It didn't matter what my mom guilt was about either - whether it was not being able to breastfeed my child even after consulting with multiple lactation consultants, trying every intervention from skin-to-skin contact, pumping, expressing, repairing her tongue tie, or taking supplements - I just didn't producing enough breastmilk. I also had mom guilt about not being able to walk my dog anymore; she is very active and we would normally walk at least 30 minutes twice per day. That was our exercise routine and it was vital for both of us. Suddenly here I was alone with a newborn in the cold dark winter months, neglecting my dog while trying to figure out my transition into motherhood. I didn't expect it to be like this. I shamed myself daily for not being able to accomplish all of the tasks that needed to be done. Any role expectations I had previously set for myself failed miserably. Here I was a strong, independent woman who had a great career, home and family life. So why do I now feel so awful? What is wrong with me? I should l have it all together. I'm supposed to be able to handle this. Why can't I just let these feelings go?
I didn't have the knowledge or courage to speak up, reach out, and ask for help, and I paid for it bigtime. By the time I realized I was going through a personal crisis and hit my 'rock bottom', a year had passed postpartum. I finally went to my doctor’s office, shamefully admitting that I was having a hard time transitioning to motherhood. I wasn’t the happy mother that I felt I was supposed to be. I was on edge all the time and I knew that I wasn’t myself.
My missed opportunity for proper screening was at my 6-week follow up appointment at the OB GYN’s office where the obstetrician was reassessing my 3rd degree tear, then suddenly asked me "So are you depressed?". Looking back, that was such a pivotal moment for me, and yet I was caught off guard by the question so much that I didn’t even know how to respond. I remember quickly replying "no" followed by the awkward sound of his keyboard typing away. Now that I am a perinatal mental health professional, I cringe at the thought that many parents may be falling through the cracks when they so desperately need support, all because their healthcare provider failed to properly assess them for a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. Even with my background as a healthcare professional, I didn’t know at the time how to speak up and ask for help when I needed it the most.
It took me over a year to seek and find the proper care that I needed in order to manage, treat and fully recover from my perinatal depression and anxiety with OCD components in the form of intrusive thoughts. Like they say, hindsight is 20/20 and I can wholeheartedly say that early intervention, screening, and proper treatment is key for anyone who may be at risk of a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. The sooner you or someone you know asks for help, the better. So please speak up and ask "how can I help?" because you might be surprised how one little question can have such a great impact on another's life.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with your mental health, please reach out. I am here to help.