A brief introduction – my name is Amie Scharfe. I’m the owner and one of the founders of National Capital Doulas. I’ve been a birth doula for the last decade and a postpartum doula for half that time. I have three children who are now 13, 11, and 4. I’m a mother, wife, friend, business woman, and this is my story of being a doula with postpartum depression.
Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, so pull up a chair and let’s chat. Postnatal mental health is something we talk about often here at National Capital Doulas. We spend time on the topic when we teach childbirth education, we talk to every birth and postpartum family we work with, we share it often on our social media, and we have curated resources for our doula clients specifically speaking to mental health and parenting. We do this because we want these conversations to continue, we want people to know they aren’t alone. We also want people to understand that what postpartum depression looks like for your friend may not be what it looks like for you.
We’ve come a long way and we’re continuing to move forward. There is now ample recognition that not all postnatal mental health issues are postpartum depression. We now know that postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD are stand alone conditions that aren’t necessarily treated in the same way. We have avenues of healing – talk therapy, peer support groups, medication, holistic options, and a host of resources available to people inside and outside of clinical settings. We also know that postnatal mental health impacts the entire family. We know partners are at higher risk themselves if their partner is diagnosed. We know issues can present any time in the first year after welcoming a child. We know so much, but yet there is still so much silence. People suffer, mothers are committing suicide – stigma is powerful.
Why are we so passionate about this? Why do we push so hard to break through the stigma that causes silence? We do it because we’ve been there – both with client families and personally. We also talk about it because things are worsening with the added pressures and isolation from the pandemic. To that end I’m taking a deep breath and will share with you something few people know.
I have postpartum depression. I was diagnosed towards the end of my third child’s first year of life. I knew! I knew a few months in that I wasn’t okay. I had no history of mental health issues. I had two children before and had no history during or after their pregnancies and births. This time I wasn’t okay. How did I know?
I first recognized that something wasn’t quite right when he was about 5 weeks old. For those who don’t know me I have three children – my older sons were 8 and 9 when my youngest was born. I remember sitting on the couch nursing my baby and feeling this sense of dread descend on me. It was 2:30 and my older children return home from school by 3:15. That feeling shocked me – I love my children more than anything, but everyone being home overwhelmed me. The sheer shift in volume in the home was too much. Quickly on the heels of the overwhelm came the surging feeling of rage. The strength of that rage took my breath away. I was able to choke it down, but it was like a telegram letting me know this time I wasn’t okay. Still, I hid it. Why? Why would someone who works with birthing and postnatal people hide it? Why would a doula hide having postpartum depression? Why would a woman hide she was struggling?
Good question – it was exactly because of those things. I feared what people would think – would they think less of me, would they think I couldn’t handle things, would they feel they couldn’t count on me. Would I feel those ways about myself? Would I feel like some kind of fraud? After all, how can I support a family when I was struggling. I was a doula, I was supposed to help families, yet here I was trying to navigate postpartum depression. So I buried it, until I couldn’t anymore. I buried it until I was feeling so many things I’ve never felt before. I’ve always been the “together” person, the “strong” one. I’ve always been steady and even, until I wasn’t. I wasn’t sleeping. I was eating my feelings. I was overwhelmed often, and angry a lot of the time. I felt weak. My partner and I were fighting. I was impacting everyone around me.
I got help and for me that help came in the form of talk therapy. It’s a long road and there are days when I feel like myself again and days when I wonder where I went. The overwhelm still comes – I think it may be here to stay. The difference being I recognize it now and know what will follow so I’m better able to help myself. I no longer see myself as weak – I’ve grown and know that isn’t true. I’ve also learned to love this new version of me, as much as I sometimes wonder who she is and don’t quite recognize her. I’m still learning what she needs and that it’s different from before. I’ve also learned that my struggles didn’t change my competence as a doula. Being a doula with postpartum depression means I’m not afraid to talk about it with my families and I can provide them with valuable resources for help.
If you take anything away from this let it be that if you do feel like you’re not yourself it isn’t a failing. You’re not less, you’re not wrong, you’re not weak in any way. We don’t know all the whys behind some people developing issues and others not, or why you may be fine following one baby but not the next, or why those that present with no or few risk factors are impacted and those who are higher risk are not, but we know it’s not anyone’s fault. There’s also help out there. Don’t be like me and try to hide it. You deserve to feel better and there are ways to get back there. Talk to someone about it. Through that talking you’ll reach someone else, someone that needs to hear it’s not their fault and they’re not alone. They’ll get help and that makes all the difference.
As I look back on this blog that I first wrote almost 2 years ago I now know this will be a lifetime thing for me. I was feeling more like me, seeing more of the me each day than not, then COVID hit. It was a setback – a big one. COVID has rocked mental health like nothing before it. People are struggling, access to resources are harder and harder come by, therapists are burning out, many not taking new patients. Many folks can’t get appointments with their doctors. More than ever before we need to keep the conversations about mental health happening. We’re so isolated in so many ways – this can’t be one of them. You never know who is listening, so keep talking!