Ariane Audet

Sarah, Montréal QC (Canada)

Ariane Audet
Sarah, Montréal QC (Canada)

Everybody told me that you don’t necessarily fall in love with your baby when he comes. I was ready not to judge myself, but it wasn’t the case anyway: I was in love my with son the first time he looked at me, when they put him on me. It wasn’t an "Oh I’d die for you" kind of feeling, but more like an intense desire to take care of him. The more I think about it now, if I had the choice between giving birth and, let’s say, breastfeeding, I’d take giving birth anytime. When I came back home, I had a huge drop of hormones that made me really sick and really busted my bubble. I was throwing up in a trash can and having diarrhea, all while sitting on a toilet and nursing him. This image will stick with me forever. I hated breastfeeding. You also have to know that my dad is a pedophile. He never abused me, but I was incredibly scared to have my child on my breast. To think that my son could give me ‘pleasure’ was appalling to me, and from the moment I gave birth to him until I stopped breastfeeding, I had this contradictory relationship with it. On one hand, I couldn’t wait to nurse him – the idea that my body was producing food for my child was magical. But if I’d close my eyes while he was feeding I would feel… disgusted. He had this gentle mouth. I almost wished it would have hurt. A month after his birth, I had food poisoning so my partner gave him formula and previously pumped milk in a bottle, because I was too dehydrated. When I got better and tried to nurse him, he didn’t want to latch anymore. I somehow really wanted to make it work, but in the end, my gut feeling was that we had to stop: I didn’t want to nurse and he didn’t want the breast. Neither of us enjoyed it. I started pumping exclusively but despite what they say, my production dropped. It was very hard to accept. There’s still a lot of judgment out there – from the medical staff and the government. You sometimes wonder if it’s for your own good or if it’s propaganda. When you quit breastfeeding because your kid doesn’t want your breast anymore, they really make you feel like it’s your fault.

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A couple of months after his birth I started to become more irritable. I figured it was probably because I was tired and still a little bit sick, and because my partner had gone back to work after his five-week paternity leave. I associated this new loneliness to ‘You can’t be sick anymore. You have a kid to take care of.’ I was up all night with him, because we figured my partner had to get up in the morning because of work, but I was also doing the day-shift because the baby needed care during the day. Then I would cook dinner – because I was home – and would clean the whole house and do all the laundry for the same reason. I thought this was what maternity ‘leave’ meant. In reality, the "leave" is a big fat lie: it’s another full-time job, 24/7 this time, without any training and no mentor. So, the inevitable happened: one afternoon, I lost it. My son had been fussy and woke up as soon as I put him in his crib. He started to cry and I remember shoving his pacifier in his mouth and telling him "Dude, you got to figure it out now, cause I’m out. I don’t give a fuck anymore." I went into the living room and couldn’t really believe what just had happened. I’m like the most patient human on earth. Everything became red that day. But I thought it was my responsibility to get it together and to make it work. I thought that this was motherhood. But things kept getting worse. One day soon after, I was taking a shower while my partner was taking a nap. The baby started crying and he didn’t hear him. I ended up all wet in our bedroom with our baby in my arms, yelling like I’ve never yelled before. I gave the baby to my partner and started getting dressed, still damped, crying and telling him "I’m leaving. I don’t know where I’ll go, who I’m going to be, but I’m leaving. This is too hard." My partner was a bit shocked, but calmly suggested I go take a walk instead. I did, but when I came back, I felt even worse. I took a nap thinking it would go away, but it didn’t. That evening, I had my first suicidal thought.

Sarah3_Faces_of_Postpartum

I couldn’t stop crying. Once after I had a miscarriage, my therapist had told me, "You’re never alone, Sarah. When you feel helpless, go get help." So, I texted her and she was able to see me that evening. I also called my primary care doctor who called back herself and saw me the following morning. I really felt supported. During both those meetings, it quickly became clear that I wasn’t dangerous for my son, but for myself. I remember scanning every room of my apartment and thinking about which object I could use to hurt myself. I had very precise plans that came very… naturally. Today I realize that this is what doctors mean when they ask you ‘do you have a plan.’ People don’t kill themselves because they want to die and just sit down at the table to think about it. They kill themselves because they’re tired of being in pain and are trying to find a way out. My doctor, who’s amazing, took what I told her very seriously and prescribed me an antidepressant. I was reluctant at first, but she made it very clear that I had no choice. She said we would start slowly, that it didn’t have to be forever, that I would heal. Yeah, she opened the door to healing and it made all the difference in the world. She also sent me to see a psychiatrist at the Douglas Mental Health Institute to be assessed. I had to wait four days before my appointment and I don’t think I would still be here without my partner. He made me eat and held me while I cried and cried in his arms. I was convinced that "living with your depression" meant having enough strength to hide it from everyone. I thought I was cursed to live like this forever. One afternoon, during a very bad episode, I saw myself hanging from the ceiling of our bedroom. It became clear that I couldn’t stay home anymore.

Sarah4_Faces_of_Postpartum

The day of my appointment, I told my partner "I think I’ll pack a suitcase and ask them to keep me." I didn’t even know if they had beds or if it was an option, but I was too dangerous for myself. The psychiatrist there was wonderful. He took the time to listen to me and congratulated me for checking myself in. They did indeed have a bed for me and promised me I would be well taken care of. I spent one week at the hospital, surrounded by people who were psychotic, homeless or schizophrenic. It was scary and I felt guilty. After all, I had everything and yet, here I was. At the same time, there was this exhaustion… I remember, the second day, I "froze" in front of my meal. I was catatonic. There was this wonderful nurse, Christina, who really took care of me. She gave me medicine and reassured me it was ok to take it. And I slept. I slept so much. My partner would come and visit me every day, often taking the bus across the city so I could spend some time with my son… and eventually, I came back home. The medication still hadn’t kicked in, but at least I had learned about panic attacks and anxiolytics. I realized that I’d probably dealt with anxiety all my life. Despite being this ‘no pills’ person the reality was that I needed medicine. There was no shame in that. We also got tons of support: my neighbor started a Facebook group to help us and a woman agreed to babysit and help around the house for a ridiculous salary. As for my partner, well… he’s everything. He works with individuals on the autism spectrum at a non-profit where he teaches them film production, editing, and animation, so he has a lot of tricks when I start to feel overwhelmed. He gave me his tablet and suggested I start drawing again (I have a background in graphic design.) I didn’t think much of it at first, but I shared a couple of my drawings on social media and the response has been beautiful. Now, I’m always drawing. It’s a way to name the things that hurt. And as my psychiatrist said, "Talk about it: to your friends, family, neighbors, strangers… talk about it. It’s as much part of the treatment as your medication or therapy." And he was right. Life feels much less heavy when you share your pain with others.