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I want to start off by saying that having a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD) is awful. It is not something I would wish on anyone, ever. AND as I reflect on my experience of having antenatal depression/anxiety, I can see the ways that it not only led me to becoming a doula, but also the ways it helped me serve my clients better. In other words, how having a PMAD made me a better Doula.
What Happens When the “Happy” Girl Isn’t Happy
I grew up feeling as though my role in my family was to be the “happy” one. I received a lot of praise for my happy, go-lucky attitude, and my ability to always see the “positive” in things. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being happy, go-lucky or seeing the positive side of things; those are great traits. However, it is not possible to feel that way ALL the time. By only allowing myself to express happiness left me without the skills on how to process or express any emotions outside of it. So when I developed serious antenatal depression at 6 months pregnant, I felt like I was up shits creek without a paddle.
I spent a lifetime not talking about my feelings, pretending everything was okay, never expressing anger or anxiety, I just kept burying it. I was afraid that if I let it out, or stopped being the “happy girl” then my entire life would fall apart. I had to keep my feelings stuffed down.
The Boiling Point: My Journey Through Perinatal Anxiety
At the beginning of my 3rd trimester my anxiety got to a boiling point. I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating, and I was unable to focus on anything but my anxiety. It was awful. I had so much guilt about not being happy while pregnant, and felt like I was just doing something wrong. After weeks and weeks of suffering, my husband said, in the most loving way possible, “Babe, you’ve cried every day for over a month. Maybe we should talk to your midwife.” It wasn’t until then that it really dawned on me how unwell I was.
After a lot of messy bits and months of attending the local Perinatal Mood Disorder Clinic, starting medication and having my baby arrive safely, I began to feel better than I had in my entire life. I couldn’t believe how different my life was once I began to let go of the “happy girl” facade I had been wearing my whole life. I connected more deeply with my husband. I truly let my friends get to know the real me. I started moving through emotions rather than trying to get rid of them or push them away. In the span of 6 months, I genuinely felt like a new person.
*It feels important to mention here that being diagnosed and treated for a PMAD is not always accessible. Seeking and receiving treatment for equity seeking groups, particularly parents who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Colour, can be incredibly difficult, complex, and for many traumatic. I am grateful that supports are in place in my community, AND that I was able to access them safely. I am sharing from my own personal lived experience, and know that my experience navigating the mental health system is not the same as everyone’s.
Following My Passion: Supporting PMAD-Affected Parents
When my oldest was 4 months old I mentioned to a friend that I had been disappointed that my expectations of my midwife hadn’t been met. I thought she would have offered position suggestions, emotional support and options to make me more comfortable, but that didn’t happen. That is when my friend said, “I think what you were looking for was a doula”! As soon as she said it I knew that becoming a doula/birth worker was what I wanted to do with my life. I immediately signed up for bebo mia’s Maternal Support Practitioner Training right then and there and the rest is history.
As I built my business and decided on who I wanted to support, it became more and more clear that I wanted to specialize in working with other parents who were at risk for or already had a perinatal mood disorder. As I reflect on my own experience, I can see the ways that having my own PMAD helped me become a better doula.
Reasons how having a PMAD made me a better Doula
- I had intimate knowledge of what the experience felt like for me. This meant I was able to look for signs, ask questions and assess situations with my clients that I would have done differently if I hadn’t had a PMAD myself.
- I was acutely aware of the resources/treatment options available in my community and was more easily able to refer my clients to get support. I was also able to develop relationships with other professionals working with this population to help encourage collaboration and continuity of care for clients.
- I built PMAD information into my prenatal meetings. This was key in helping people who developed a PMAD during pregnancy (statistically, this is approximately 10% of pregnant people) in identifying that they had a PMAD and helping them to get treatment/support as early as possible. As well as preparing clients on what to look for postpartum, to identify the signs and get support in place sooner.
- I was able to share my experience in a way that helped reduce shame for my clients. If I suspected that a client had a PMAD, I would often give examples of how I felt when I was in the thick of it, without the expectation that they needed to respond. Almost every single time I do this, it opens up the opportunity for an honest dialogue. * IMPORTANT NOTE: I made sure to process/work on my own healing before doing this with clients. It’s important not to emotionally dump on our clients, rather share in a way that opens up discussion.
- I became a fierce advocate for perinatal mood disorders and worked tirelessly in my community to ensure that resources were available to my clients and other community members. Part of this advocacy work included doing radio and TV interviews, writing articles, hosting free workshops and so much more.
- I created an online space where people could get information and resources online from someone in their own community. I tailored my entire website/social media for folks experiencing a PMAD. My offerings like e-books and blogs were all created with the needs of that population in mind.
Those are some of the ways that having a PMAD made me a better doula. And while I can safely say that going through antenatal depression/anxiety was one of the worst times of my life, I know I wouldn’t be the same person I am now, had it not happened. And if sharing my experience helps even one client, or one student, then I’ll take it.
If you, a client, or someone you love are experiencing a PMAD please reach out to your local resources. In addition, here are some resources available virtually.
Dropping The Baby and Other Scary Thoughts: Breaking the Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts in Motherhood
Did you have a Perinatal Mood Disorder? Is it part of what brought you to Birth Work? Feel free to share your experiences/thoughts in the comments. Read about
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