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I’m Not Okay (Post-Partum Depression is a Thing, I guess)

Exhausted, January 2014, Ottawa
Exhausted, January 2014, Ottawa

I’m not okay. And I haven’t been “okay” for a long time.

I’m not writing this today to elicit sympathy, pity or ask for help. I just want to tell the other side of the story—because there is always another side to the story.

This is so fucked up I don’t even know when and how it started exactly.

I was terrified of being pregnant. I liked the idea of having a baby but I felt I was no longer a woman but a walking incubator. I worried all the time. And I had a very hard time dealing with my changing body image.

This is very strange because I have never cared much about my looks. I had never dieted, never had a striking figure either, never aimed for one. But when I learned that most women were expected to gain 25 to 35 pounds during a pregnancy, I froze. I didn’t want to gain weight because it would make me look pregnant. And I felt like a sitting duck—strangers would touch my belly, give—mostly unwanted—advice, admonish me and chastise me if I didn’t behave like a pregnant woman was supposed to. The list of “no-nos” is long for pregnant women, from forbidden foods (sushi, cheese, etc.) to activities.

So I hid my pregnancy as long as I could. My close friends and family knew. The world didn’t and it was just fine.

Around that time, I started to develop a weird relationship with food. I didn’t want to gain weight but I certainly didn’t want to deprive the growing baby of precious nutrition, so I focus on eating only healthy foods—mostly veggies, raw or cooked, and some proteins. I never indulged, never gave in to any cravings. I counted calories religiously to make sure I was getting enough but I stayed away from anything I deemed as “extravagant”—and my definition of “extravagant” was pretty broad, encompassing butter, cookies, bread, etc.

It didn’t help that eating brought a very unpleasant physical sensation. I was carrying Mark very high and he was compressing my digestive system. If I ate a green been, I could almost “feel” it in my body.

I didn’t gain weight. Week after week, the doctor weighted me (I could have told her my exact weight anytime, I was weighing myself multiple times a day anyway) and the needle wouldn’t bulge. Mark was growing but I was shrinking.

I was fully aware I had a problem with food but I didn’t know how to solve it. I chalked it up to the pregnancy, the hormones and all and figured it would go away after the birth. Pregnant women do crazy things all the time—I was eating tons of veggies and exercising, really, it could have been worse.

Mark was a healthy baby. I was relieved—I had done my job, the pregnancy was over, I had my body back to myself and I could focus on being a mother.

Except my problems with food didn’t go away. I didn’t eat my dinner at the hospital because I considered it “junk food”—keep in mind I had just gone through labour, really, I shouldn’t have given a damn.

I tried to start eating normally at home again but I had underestimated how hard it would be with Mark.

Mark was a Velcro baby. I had to carry him everywhere against me, in the sling, or he would cry. At first, I ate when he was sleeping but he wasn’t sleeping much either. I ate while he was in the sling but it was very uncomfortable for both of us. Eventually, we developed a system where Feng would cook and eat while I held him and then it was my turn. It was tiring and time-consuming. After a couple of months, I simply stopped eating. I didn’t have time to do so—keep in mind we were also both working full time from home.

I drank tea and coffee with sweetener to avoid passing out. I ate one meal, at night, and nothing during the day. And I took care of Mark, long endless days where I would spend hours rocking him to sleep, hours with him in the sling and me pacing the living room.

I was too exhausted to take care of myself. It’s around this time that I lost a lot of weight. And I didn’t even notice it until all of my clothes were way too big for me.

I started to use food as a reward and to view my body as the only thing I could control as I felt my life was spiralling out of control. When we had a good day and when I felt I had done my job as a mother, I would eat dinner. If not, I would starve myself.

Add this to the fact I was working all the time, not sleeping much and that caring for a baby counts as exercise in my book, I lost even more weight.

By last summer, I was down to 115 pounds (52 kilos), which isn’t much considering I’m 1.72 m tall (5’6).

My friends started to worry and gently asked if I was okay. I was more or less honest. No, I wasn’t fully okay but yes, I was working on it.

I started looking into counselling. I quickly learned that getting help isn’t cheap. Private counselling was always available but at a rate I couldn’t afford, $100 and upward per session. And counselling programs run by the City of Ottawa or other non-profit organizations were completely booked, with month-long waiting lists.

I went through several phases. I tried to cheer myself up by shopping, as a way to regain some of my life and independence back. I bought new clothes (that would fit), new shoes. I tried to “fix” myself and spent whatever precious free time I had at Chapters, reading every book I could find on how to be a mother, how to balance life and a baby, baby and work, etc. I went through a “running away” phase where I just wanted to be alone and spent hours walking outside aimlessly.

And now I am burned out, physically and mentally. After fifteen months (plus the pregnancy) of never being alone, caring for Mark, trying to keep him happy and entertained, I feel broken.

I feel like I failed.

I don’t know how other women do it. I don’t know how to ask for help and I’m not good at accepting help anyway.

I wanted to be strong. I wanted Mark to be my best friend. I wanted him to be happy. I never wanted to lose patience, cry in front of him, get angry or frustrated. I wanted to do it all—alone, 24/7.

And now I’m so tired I can’t even think straight. I count the hours until the day ends. I’m frustrated because I gave up pretty much everything I liked—writing, drawing, photography, seeing friends—and everything “normal”—eating, relaxing—to take care of Mark, and my needs always come last.

I can’t take the routine anymore, trying to keep Mark busy and entertained for hours in a row.

This is the most difficult sentence to write but… I am happier and more relaxed alone than I am with him. And I feel guilty because isn’t a mother supposed to be better when her kid is around?

Fuck the guilt. I need to get better.

We had plenty of happy moments since Mark was born and I keep the snapshots on the fridge, as a reminder of what we’ve accomplished together.

I’m not okay but I’m going to try to be.

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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