Mental Health Week Case Study: A Story of Postpartum Depression
What happens when you conceive after trying for many months or years, followed by 40 weeks of prenatal care where all your testing is in normal range? When the nursery is painted and the onesies folded neatly in the drawer? Your birth plan is complete, with all typos corrected, T’s crossed and I’s dotted. Your expectations for birth and the postpartum have been clearly mapped in your mind, since you’ve dreamed about this for many years: holding your new baby, feeling the hidden door of intense love open up inside you, your intuition guiding you through the many new tasks, such as diapers, dressing a squirmy newborn, and, of course, nursing.
Everyone tells you how challenging it will be, so you educate yourself, reading on techniques, latest research, and conventional wisdom. Some fatigue is normal after childbirth, especially with the sudden lack of sleep, but what happens when this feeling persists and worsens? What happens when the hidden door stays hidden, and you are not flooded, as you had hoped, with those feelings of love, attachment and joy, but instead feel detachment, anxiety, anger, sadness, and loss?
That’s when you know you are suffering from postpartum depression. Feelings of inadequacy, failure, and sadness which occur after childbirth are part of a condition unique to women in this time of life.
Last month a new patient came to me suffering from postpartum depression. Unlike many women, who suffer in silence for months before seeking help, Janice knew what was happening almost immediately. Her son’s birth had been traumatic, requiring sudden, lightning-speed medical intervention that saved his life, but left Janice feeling anxious and frightened. Her situation is unique, as she was experiencing post traumatic stress as a result of her terrifying birth process. She couldn’t sleep, lost her appetite, and when she looked at her son, she saw a stranger. Far from the joy and attachment she’d expected, she struggled and moved through the motions of caring for her newborn.
Getting mobilized right away, she started on supplements to build up her energy and improve sleep; saw a counsellor; joined a support group; went through trauma therapy; kept in touch with her doctor and eventually began taking pharmaceutical medications. She went back to work part time to help break-up the tasks into more manageable time segments. After nine months, however, she was still anxious and detached and starting to worry about the long term effects on her son, as well as her family. For example, she had always pictured a family with more than one child. Would she be able to have another child, given what was happening to her? It was at this juncture that Janice came in for some treatments.
In our first session, I treated Janice with a combination of acupuncture and craniosacral therapy. She lay reclined on the table for a total of 75 minutes with acupuncture needles in. During that time, I used gentle hands-on body work to slowly release restrictions in the fascia and help guide her body into a state of parasympathetic stimulation, also known as the “rest and digest” state. After I was finished, she rested with the needles in for about 20 minutes before getting up. The rest of that day, she felt relaxed, light, and happy. This relief lasted until the next morning when the anxiety came back full force. After the second treatment, she experienced the same relief, but it lasted the entire week. Her sleep improved, her appetite came back, and she was bonding with her son in a new way. The anxiety was gone. For the first time, she started to feel hopeful, like perhaps this terrible time would pass, and she could start considering the possibility of expanding her family.
Janice’s story really inspires me to apply my efforts to treat postpartum women. It is quite possibly the most difficult and vulnerable time in a woman’s life, and one of the most important. It’s in the postpartum that women are given the opportunity to be the lifeforce for another, and no one can do that alone.
Here’s an Article by Vancouver based clinical counseller Jennifer Hollinshead, where she interviewed me about the topic of PTSD. If you have any questions about how trauma counselling can help, contact Jennifer at Peak Resilience.
If you have experienced postpartum depression or anxiety, come in for a session. If you have any questions about your specific situation, book in for a 15 phone consultation. It may be the relief you’re looking for.