Dawn Levine is a member of WCH Foundation’s neWCHapter group and a patient of Women’s College Hospital’s Reproductive Life Stages Program. Together with her family, Dawn will be participating in the upcoming SHOPPERS LOVE. YOU. Run for Women on June 10 to help raise funds for the work that had such a profound impact on her own life and mental health following pregnancy.
I experienced post-partum depression after my first child was born, but I didn’t seek appropriate help for it then. That was a dark time.
The statistics show that women experience depression twice as often as men, yet are three times more likely to experience barriers to accessing mental health care.
Sometimes those barriers can be ourselves.
Maybe it was fear, or shame, or unwillingness to acknowledge what my mind and body were trying to tell me, but I didn’t know I had PPD. What I did know was that I felt angry, sad, anxious, scared, and lonely. Worst of all, I felt like a bad mom.
I used many different coping mechanisms to get me through that dark time, but exercise was always my sustaining force. My only “good mom” moments came each day when I power-walked our stroller through the neighbourhood, or did mom-baby fitness classes. “Mom guilt” would try and colour my thoughts with reprimand of taking that me-time, but I didn’t give in to that message, thankfully.
When I got pregnant with our second child less than two years later, I was terrified of those feelings coming back. My husband encouraged me to speak to my incredible doctor at Women’s College Hospital’s Family Practice Health Centre. My family doctor connected me with the Reproductive Life Stages program at WCH, and it was there that I met Dr. Simone Vigod, a leading psychiatrist and researcher specializing in the area of post-partum mental health.
One of the most important moments of meeting Dr. Vigod was having her acknowledge and validate everything I had been feeling. Hearing her tell me that I had experienced post-partum depression opened a door of healing for me which I didn’t know existed. She helped me develop a host of options to deal with whatever might come my way after birth. She helped our family learn the red flags, and gave me the confidence to feel ready for my second child to be born. I acknowledged that I had experienced PPD, and was prepared to be real with the future. No more self-made barriers.
When my second child was finally born, I still had some rough days and weeks, but I was ready. I had a host of options this time, and I wasn’t forgetting the lessons I had already learned. Getting my sweat on, daily, with an intense yoga practice, or even power walking the double stroller with my daughters, always gave me a dose of happy.
Today, I’ve taken the sweat-daily mantra to heart: I will be a certified yoga teacher in a few months. I want to share, with other new moms, the moments of joy that fitness and mindfulness have brought me. I want to encourage mothers to love themselves enough to listen to what their minds and bodies are telling them; to smash any self-made barriers.
I feel fortunate: I have a network of support in friends and family, education, resources, good physical health, and a sense of humour. But I learned that PPD doesn’t discriminate based on any of those things. It was Dr. Vigod who helped bring me forward, who acknowledged my circumstances for what they were, and who made me feel ready to face future PPD challenges.
To all the new moms: Have a low bar for being concerned when you aren’t feeling “yourself.” Ask your doctor, but first know you’re your own body and mind. Then speak your truth. It was avoidance of truth that held me back from seeking the support I needed. Don’t make barriers for yourself. Cast off the perception-management in your life. Choose truth. That’s where the healing begins.
Oh, and get your sweat on, daily, without guilt! You are worth fighting for. Your kids would agree, too.
For more information about WCH’s mental health programs, please click here. If you are interested in becoming a patient, please speak to your doctor to learn more and get a referral.