How I beat the baby blues
Latisha Lister-Burgess thought she would be thrilled after her son, Quinton, was born, but she was not. He demanded food every 45 minutes and cried a lot, for no apparent reason.
For the first three months she struggled to feel a connection. One night, completely spent, she cursed at him — and then was swamped with guilt.
“He seemed mostly a chore,” the 36-year-old said. “I felt like my job was just to keep both of us alive and that was exhausting.”
Quinton was two months old before she figured out what was wrong. She had post-partum depression, a mood disorder characterised by sadness, low energy, anxiety, crying episodes, irritability and changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
“Until then, I just thought it was me,” said Ms Lister-Burgess, a counsellor with the Employee Assistance Programme. “This is just how I was.”
She shared her experience at a Pecha Kucha event last month because it is something she thinks people do not talk about enough.
She feels her troubles started because she had a difficult pregnancy, a risk factor for PPD.
Doctors put her on bed rest at 36 weeks because she had high blood pressure, an early sign of pre-eclampsia. It was so high that in February 2016, a week before her due date, her obstetrician sent her to the hospital to be induced.
Despite four attempts over a 24-hour period, her cervix would not dilate. Reluctantly, she and her husband, Charles Burgess, agreed to an emergency Caesarean section.
Quinton was born weighing 8lbs but quickly lost weight. Once home, he struggled to put it back on.
Two years later, he remains tiny and is in the eighth percentile for weight.
“That’s his norm,” Ms Lister-Burgess said. “But back then I didn’t know that. I felt like a failure.”
She and her husband stayed with her mother for a month after Quinton was born. A short time after they returned home, she called her mother in tears: “I can’t do this; it’s too hard.”
“She said, ‘It’s OK if you give him formula’,” Ms Lister-Burgess said. “That was the first time that sunk in. I said, ‘I can?’
“I remember feeling like I could breathe. We never did finish that can of formula but knowing that I could shifted everything. I didn’t feel that he was tied to me and I was tied to him. I didn’t feel like it was all on me.
“It was the pressure that was starting to drive me nuts and dry up my milk. Once we introduced formula, my milk production was fine. I think it was stress.”
It also helped that she had a cousin who also had PPD. The shared experience led to “a lot of frank and open conversations”.
“Finding a therapist after I went back to work was also really helpful,” she said.
“As a counsellor, there was a part of me that knew what was happening, but there was a part of me that was still going through it.”
The difficult part was coming to terms with the fact that her experience as a mother was not anything like she had seen in movies.
“I really didn’t start enjoying my baby until he was three months old,” she said. “Then they start smiling and interacting. I thought, ‘Oh, you’re real’.”
She now counsels mothers going through PPD.
“The irony is that once I started talking about it, it was amazing how many others reached out to me,” she said. “So many mothers are struggling in silence because we feel that it is just us, and no one else’s experience. That is dangerous. There is such a shame attached to it. You don’t know where to get help.”
Today, Quinton is a happy two-year-old. The couple also have a five-month-old, Antoine James.
“My second pregnancy was much better healthwise,” Ms Lister-Burgess said. “After I had my first son I got pregnant again and miscarried. At that point I said, I have to do better. Quinton was 14 months old and I was still above my pre-pregnancy weight. I did the 100-Day Challenge and lost 30lbs. I am very thankful for that.
“I got pregnant on the back end of that. It was such a different pregnancy. I was doing prenatal yoga and personal training. I was running up until five or six months of pregnancy. That kept my body strong. Mentally, I knew what I was getting into.”
She still had high blood pressure problems and ended up having another Caesarean section, but this one was planned.
“My body received it so much better,” she said.
Her advice to other women going through PPD is get help. EAP offers free counselling to women’s whose employers are members.
“Find a good quality therapist,” Ms Lister-Burgess said. “You can also join Mama’s support group for PPD, Beyond Blue.”
Look for Beyond Blue Mama on Facebook or visit mamabermuda.com/beyond-blue/