I spend my life with pregnant women and new moms. I teach prenatal and postnatal yoga, and I work as a postpartum doula. I got into that field probably because of my own experiences, as a lot of us do. My first birth wasn’t what anybody would call traumatic, but it doesn’t mean it was a dream either. My daughter, who’s now 7, was born in the hospital. I wanted a midwife, but I didn’t get one, like so many of us here in Montreal. So I just went in there mad, so mad, and it was sort of a self-filling prophecy. I thought I knew everything about everything – which I didn’t of course. I ended up having an epidural. It was fine, but I felt pressured into having one. I also had a lot of breastfeeding issues. Tongue tie and everything. It was a tremendous amount of stress. The moment she latched, she drew blood. Seven years ago, people didn’t necessarily know about lactation consultants, and I was lucky to find one through my husband, who was teaching jazz at McGill and happened to have one in his class! Her name is Deborah Van Wyck and she really, really helped a lot. After that, our daughter went on to breastfeed for way more years than anybody wants to know about. I also used the nipple shield given by the CLSC. I know a lot of people don't like it, but it saved breastfeeding for me. Once this was on track, things became easy and very light. I was a journalist at that time, and I slowly went back to work, and I always had her with me. My husband is a freelance musician, and we shuffled her back and forth between our two schedules. In retrospect, everything felt gentle and really, really light.
I got pregnant with our son when we were planning our wedding. I don’t remember the pregnancy being difficult and it just kind of flew by, as I was focused on my two-year-old who was running around. His birth was fast and furious. I had him at home, and it was very healing. I felt supported by my midwives and doulas. I think "birth plan" is an oxymoron, but it’s a big deal when you feel you didn’t have informed consent throughout a process like I did the first time. You walk away from a birth with very little intervention feeling very different than if you had a C-section, but with decision-making power. My son also had tongue-tie, but unlike his sister, he had zero sucking power. I was still nursing her, and this is probably a big part of my second postpartum story. I nursed her throughout the pregnancy. It was sometimes uncomfortable because I’d lost most of my milk, but we made it through. The milk came back, and I believe this is what saved us: she built the supply for him. She was 26 months, and it wasn’t always easy – she ended up hating him for three months and being very jealous – but she was still very much a baby. There is no perfect time to have a second one, but for me, I don’t think there was enough time between the two. I do parenting very hands-on, and I often wonder if had I had children later, I would have been gentler on myself, with the wisdom of knowing how important it is to give yourself a break. I just did everything as hard as I possibly could have: I used cloth diapers only, and when her daycare closed a couple of months before he was born, I just thought "Cool, I’ll keep them both home." It was full on. I was basically nursing two people 24 hours a day, and I never slept. At some point, I did clue in. I had a postpartum doula for a little bit, and when I became one myself, I knew how valuable my time was. When our daughter was born, my mom came from Ottawa, and my husband’s parents were still in Montreal. They moved away in-between, and there was a huge difference in grand-parents participation with our son. It had an impact. We had a lot of friends and amazing babysitters, but it wasn't the same thing.
After the first couple of weeks, I still had concerns about his latch, and we had his tongue revised in Ottawa. It was an unnecessary stress and, as it turned out procedure. As I said, I wouldn’t give myself a break and allow things like mixed-feeding with formula. I couldn’t stop trying to be that perfect, ideal, crunchy version of a mom. It was too extreme, very black and white. With time, I think my yoga practice and training as a teacher allowed me no to be so rigid with those ideas. At the end of the day, a woman’s mental health is THE most important thing… even if that means your baby has a pacifier or takes bottles. So, we muddled through, but I didn’t sleep. At the end of the day, I ended up with postpartum depression. I don’t know if it really was depression, but the diagnosis came because I walked into a private clinic when I was at the end of my rope. I had punched holes in the wall. For me, my lack of sleep and self-care manifested as rage, paranoia, and anxiety. I remember our daughter had this rash and I thought she was going to die. This was one of the breaking points of going on medication. It was summer, and my mom had come from British-Colombia to help. The therapist I was seeing at the time went on vacation, and I went to the Rockland Medical Clinic, spent hundreds of dollars, and walked-out with Cipralex. I have a friend who gave me this image of a room that is so cluttered and filled with crap that you don’t even know what pile to start with. Medication allows you to clear that up. I never thought I’d do that. I was very anti-medication, but I did it. I stayed on the lowest dose for a minimal time, and I don’t regret that for a second. I’m not recommending it for everybody, but in my case, the only thing I regret is not having done it sooner. In the early weeks of my postpartum period, my midwife had suggested I walk into a free clinic to see someone, but there was just too much pride. If you’re not willing to accept help, there’s not much they can do. So, I went on it, and things just started to get back together.
I ended up taking a child yoga teacher training, and that’s what pulled me out of it. I had this thing to focus on that was bigger than me and my problems. My whole family came with me to Ottawa while I took it. The kids were old enough so that I wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding anymore. That training was the thing that allowed a significant transformation in my life. Again, I think the medication needed to happen, but there was no real evaluation. I just said, "This is what I feel," I cried, and I left with a prescription. Another system failure I suppose. I sometimes look back and wonder if, as a postpartum doula, I have dropped the ball like that. I hope not, but you don’t always know how much that one extra phone call could have helped. In the end, I genuinely think that all this happened so that I can be there for other people. I don’t think there was a massive amount of trauma-induced in my family; I feel we came out the other end okay. My husband is always 1000% supportive and is very present as a dad. He doesn’t want more kids, and I don’t doubt that a part of that is because of what I went through and the thought of watching me go through it again. Who knows… sleep deprivation is a real thing! I come across a lot of moms who are in that boat. We are raised to happily go through life, very much in control, and then you’re thrown into this situation where you can’t control every little thing. To let go and allow yourself to be supported and to find ways to ground yourself, it’s not easy. With the postpartum period, the idea of impermanence is very relevant: everything is continuously changing, and it’s the only thing you can be sure of. I talked to a woman the other day who asked when the postpartum period ended, and we both agreed that it was... never. As soon as you become a parent, that impermanence, it’s forever. It’s a huge lesson.