New Brunswick

Pandemic moms speak out about postpartum anxiety and depression

Two Saint John women who had babies during the pandemic are speaking out about their experiences with postpartum anxiety and depression. They're urging health-care providers to do more followup screening after childbirth.

Saint John women suspect many others are suffering needlessly in isolation

Sorcha Dooley says says she was referred to a therapist within two weeks after she asked for help. (Submitted by Sorcha Dooley)

Two Saint John women who had babies during the pandemic are speaking out about their experiences with postpartum anxiety and depression.

Sorcha Dooley and Emma Young are urging other new moms to reach out for help and urging health-care providers to do more followup screening after childbirth.

Dooley described the birth of her son as "very traumatic."

His heart rate dropped after she had an epidural and a vacuum had to be used to deliver him.

"He wasn't breathing for a long time and he didn't make any noise," Dooley said. "We thought we'd lost him, actually, for a while. I think it was like 10 minutes. It was pretty horrible." 

Sad and isolated

She recalled crying at a doctor's appointment six days after her son was born. 

Dooley's doctor was comforting, she said, telling her it was quite a normal way to feel. Her body was experiencing a big hormone level drop. 

She was offered medication but declined. She was afraid to take anything.

"I was just sort of thinking to myself, I can do this on my own," said Dooley. "I can muster through."

But she felt very isolated. 

Her parents couldn't come visit from Ireland as they'd planned. Her partner went back to work after three weeks. She was worrying about whether her baby was gaining enough weight and meeting developmental milestones. But she was afraid to have anyone in the house because of COVID and public health nurses couldn't visit either.

Thought it was normal for new mom

Dooley said she was "in denial" about her mental state for months.

"Some days were better than others."

"I had myself convinced that this was just new mom life."

"I knew that something was wrong, but I wouldn't have put it on postpartum depression because I didn't feel like I was sad all the time. I didn't have a problem connecting with my baby. It was just I had something going on and I couldn't pinpoint it."

In July, a public health nurse called and asked how the birth had gone and she "broke down and cried."

"I realized that even months after, I was still really suffering with trauma."

Emma Young says she was ill-prepared to deal with the postpartum issues she's faced. Twelve months after the birth of her daughter, she's still struggling in different ways. (Submitted by Emma Young)

Young had a similar experience during childbirth.

"It felt like a lifetime waiting to hear that first sound," she said. "I think that experience stuck with me — feeling nervous about her well-being."

She also had trouble breastfeeding.

But like Dooley, Young also felt she should be able to handle things on her own.

Kept things to herself

And even though she has personal experience in the mental health field, and a master of education degree in counselling psychology, she had trouble opening up about her own problems.

"It took a long time for me to get there for sure," Young said.

Being socially isolated because of the pandemic contributed to that.

"It makes it easy to kind of shy away from questions about how you're doing."

It's easier to avoid talking by text than it is when someone is sitting next to you, she said.

"That person may have been able to see how much I was really struggling."

Mothers connect

By June, Young started to think "maybe this is something more than just the baby blues."

She signed up for an online workshop on postpartum depression through a university in Ontario.

"It was so helpful to connect with other moms who were experiencing the same thing I was or something similar."

The psychiatrist who led the workshop put her in touch with a perinatal mental health specialist in Ontario that she's still working with.

Sorecha Dooley and Emma Young describe their experience on maternity leave in a time of isolation. To want to let others know they're not alone if dealing with issues of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. 15:53

Like Young, Dooley also found it was very helpful when she was finally honest about what she was thinking and feeling.

She took the uncharacteristic step of posting about her personal life on social media and was surprised how many women responded to it with support and their own similar experiences.

Dooley said she considers herself lucky because a public health nurse called to check on her.

Some of the other moms she heard from didn't get that kind of attention.

Following up on mental health

Young noted that her physician never completed any kind of formal questionnaire with her to ask about potential signs of postpartum depression or anxiety.

"I don't know if that's a regular practice," she said. "I think it should be."

"That would be a really quick way to check in … to see if you're on the cusp of a clinical postpartum issue."

Dooley agreed more followup care for mothers is really important, specifically about the state of their mental health.

"It should be at the forefront of postpartum care," she said. "After the baby, it's about the baby and how the baby is."

Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an email to CBC that Public Health assesses all mothers in New Brunswick after the birth of a child, and this includes questions related to their mental health.

He also said some families qualify for the home visiting program. Public Health nurses conducting the home visits ask about the mother's mental health and refer for further services if necessary, he said.

Macfarlane said mothers can also contact a regional Community Addiction and Mental Health Clinic.

The CBC asked for similar information from Vitalité Health Network, but it has not responded.

Dooley said postpartum depression and anxiety are common issues that are not talked about enough.

"I feel a lot of women are feeling isolated when they don't need to be," she said.

"There is help there. We just have to talk about it more."

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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