Gen Putter, mum of a 6-year-old and the colour-filled fabulous human being I am glad to know personally. She is a postpartum doula, coach, content creator and founder of The New Normal on Instagram. Gen addresses relevant motherhood experiences in her content and holds space for these conversations. As she pours her heart out to spread awareness and create a knowledge space, she lives through it too. Here she shares with us her lived experiences of post-partum depression and the effect it had on her life.
Gen’s journey to motherhood – Lived Experience of Post-Partum Depression.
I fell pregnant at 34 with my son and had never given too much thought to the perinatal journey. Aside from knowing that I wanted to be a mum and have a healthy experience, I did not know much else. I say this because being diagnosed with PCOS in my late teens had me on the pill for most of my adult life. My husband and I married when I was 33, and I stopped taking the pill. The decision was taken to allow my body to adjust to its own rhythm, free of medication. This is important to mention for me because it was when I physically started preparing myself.
This preparation thought was for the motherhood journey. Although looking back, this prep was solely focused on my physiology and getting my cycle into alignment for conception. There was still little to no idea of the mental and physiological prep extent I would have had to consider for myself.
Pregnancy came easily to me even though I had been told I’d struggle because of PCOS. My pregnancy was very textbook accurate. There were no complications or health issues. At the start of my third trimester, however, my husband and I had some family issues. He started a new business, and we had just moved into our newly renovated home. His company began experiencing some turbulence. This caused us undue stress and financial pressure – we had a bond on our newly remodelled place to honour. At this point, I started to experience intense anxiety about the journey we were to embark on.
The build-up: Postpartum depression lived experience.
Around this time, my long-time gynaecologist, whom I adored, informed us of her family holiday the week of my due date. The plan included a vaginal birth and a hired birth doula. I was unbelievably upset that this was happening. She assured me that her sub/colleague was well equipped to fulfil my wishes and bring my son safely earthside.
To shorten the story, my son arrived a week early. The birth was a beautiful experience, and the team was incredible. The experience that led up to the delivery was a perpetual cycle of my body not doing what it was meant to. I didn’t dilate past three centimetres and laboured for thirteen hours. After which, I experienced a cascade of interventions which I only much later realised were most likely not one hundred percent necessary. They gave me Pitocin and an epidural, and eventually, my baby’s heart rate became chaotic. Thankfully he was born a healthy 3.3kgs via emergency C-section, and there were no complications.
I remember that first night in the hospital, just the two of us. He slept on my bare chest so peacefully; I slept so peacefully. We slept like this every night for the next two months, and it was bliss.
Things changed at around the three-month mark. A month later, I was in the throes of a perinatal mental health crisis.
Mental Health experiences before Postpartum Depression and motherhood.
I suffered mental health challenges but was never officially diagnosed. My first mental health disordered experience was in high school. It happened quite suddenly; I remember the day like yesterday. Group dynamics amongst friends is where it began. Something my sensitive teenage self didn’t know how to make sense of or handle. For the last year of high school, I suffered unbelievable anxiety around friendships. That brought about my first therapy visits. Going forward to varsity…
I had a massive undoing after my older sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It spiralled me into another iteration of anxiety. This also came with disordered eating and regimented control around food and exercise, aka orthorexia. I again started going to therapy. It was a really long journey to love myself and my body. When I fell pregnant, this came full circle. I loved being pregnant!
The unexpected experiences of mental illness.
I’d always been aware of mental illness but never thought I would experience it. Honestly, I have always had inclinations toward sadness and have always been emotionally sensitive. I never grew up with any immediate family members who experienced mental illness, at least overtly. Ancestrally and in my extended family, some members battled through it. My maternal grandfather, who I never knew, suffered from chronic depression. My uncle was taken by suicide when I was in my teens. And it really rocked my family. My gran (his mom), who I adored, suffered a stroke shortly after from the shock. And then passed away within 2 weeks of that. She was my closest grandparent. Whilst growing up, my best friend was institutionalised for a few weeks in high school. They were heavily medicated after that, which was also a big shock to me.
The first lived experience of postpartum depression.
When I was pregnant and went to our antenatal classes, we spoke about PPD for about ten minutes. It was once in six two-hour sessions. That was it. The way it was presented was that it was a rare condition that only affected 1 in 10. We now know these stats are way off. Never did I think I would become part of that one in ten. I had had such a smooth conception and pregnancy journey. For the most part- back then, no communication that prenatal anxiety, any other anxiety or depressive episodes experienced previously could predispose one to PPD/PPA.
As a preventative measure, I decided to do placenta encapsulation. Thinking I would never get PPD, there was still a need for vigilance. Maybe deep down, I might have been pre-empting something. Because this method was and still is considered quite ‘out there and an alternative to conventionality. No one I knew had done it, but I wanted to do what I could.
The sinking feeling when postpartum depression rears its head.
I really did well on those pills! My energy levels were high, and I felt confident and relaxed. Breastfeeding was going well. Even the nightly wake-ups weren’t too bad. Being quite into it, I was managing well. Then those pills ran out, and within a week or two (about 3 months pp), things started to really shift. Anxiety at the littlest things began. I found myself unbelievably tearful and full of dread a lot of the time. A feeling of what have I done sunk in me. Questions like: Why does this feel so uncomfortable? Is this feeling going to persist for the rest of my life?
At 4 months postpartum, I hit burnout. And went through a week-long period where nothing could help me shake the feeling of absolute dread. Panic attacks ensued because I wasn’t able to fall asleep. Sleep evaded me even though my son slept well. After three nights of no sleep, my husband gathered me up from the floor on Friday morning and said we needed to book an appointment with a psychiatrist. Ashamed because my lack of sleep wasn’t attached to my son, who was not often waking through the night. We were blessed with a child that slept well. I was just an absolute anxious wound-up mess. I had no legitimate reason as to why I was battling so much, so I thought, ‘what is wrong with me?’
Assistance and support with Postpartum Depression.
I saw a GP that day who prescribed Urbanol. And I got an appointment with a psychiatrist the following Monday at the Kenilworth Clinic.
In the appointment, I told her every detail. What I had been going through and my history related to anxiety. She was lovely and reassured me that this was so common and textbook PPA and PPD. Although technically different conditions, PPA and PPD often work together. A big reason why many mothers don’t get help is how PPD has dominated the PP health discourse. Many moms don’t feel depressed but are actually experiencing PPA, which can often express itself as other illnesses. Like OCD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Rage, amongst others. For me, it was both.
The relief once support and clarity are received for the lived experiences of postpartum depression.
Getting a diagnosis and being told how common and normal this is, was like the breath of life I needed. I could breathe again, knowing there wasn’t something wrong with me. Understanding that this experience was normal helped. Although it lacked awareness because women, birthing people, and new parents feel too ashamed to talk about it. I started on SSRI medication immediately and started going for CBT. I was also given more Urbanol, which I was cautioned about because I was breastfeeding. Eventually, the doctor put me on a low mood stabiliser dosage. This had a sedative effect, as she was concerned about me potentially developing a reliance on Urbanol. As someone who only ever took Panado for anything. This was massive to come to terms with.
How PPD affected my well-being, relationship with my baby and family.
It fundamentally changed my life and my identity. After weaning off the SSRIs, I was on for about 18 months. The New Normal Instagram page was born. Here I wished to share what I had been through and was going through. I had no clear vision or plan for it at the time. There was this deep understanding that being authentic may give someone hope and validation. After a while, I started to envision where it was all going. I wanted to create a community with others to talk about this.
I started by organising events with professionals in the maternal health space, then embarked on my pp doula training. My need to support and help others characterises my PP journey. The most amazing thing started to happen. Through doing this, I began experiencing a lot of healing. All that brutal unravelling and rebuilding of myself was for a purpose: to serve others. The power in that for my healing journey has been profound.
Effects on interfamily relationships – Postpartum Depression.
Regarding my relationship with my beautiful son, I have no idea how it affected him. Maybe in 20 years, when he is in therapy, he may share. I know that even though I was going through the most, I showed up even more for him. I showed up through every breastfeeding, wake-up, cough, homemade meal and cuddle. The immense guilt and shame propelled me to be even more hands-on. Which, to some extent, I guess was part of the issue.
That definitely didn’t help my state of mind. I could’ve loosened up my desperate need to show up fully, ask for help more, and take care of myself more. In terms of my family, my husband was my absolute rock and still is. His picking me up off the floor that day is an etched vision of how I’ve felt held and supported by him over the years.
The experience within my extended family – Post-Partum Depression.
My extended family have been very supportive even though they haven’t fully understood my experience. My mom never experienced maternal mental health issues as a pathologised condition and, for a long time, battled to understand the depths of it through my experience. Still, she always accepted my journey and showed up in the way that she knew how.
My eldest sister only realised she had experienced PPD after I went through it 15 years later! In a way, my journey gave her language to express and go through the motions of her experience. This is interesting because she was going through menopause when I went through the PPD/PPA. My other sister, like my mom, also didn’t fully understand the experience. She has always been a very ambitious, headstrong, fiery person. And even as a single mum, she had a totally different experience from me that wasn’t defined by a maternal mental health condition. But she showed up and loved me so hard during that dark time. My dad and brother also couldn’t understand it, but they loved and supported me throughout. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for more from either of my parents. Their generation had no language or narrative about this stuff.
What would you have done, knowing what you know now about the lived experiences of post-partum depression?
I would’ve sought out postpartum prep courses. We focused so much on antenatal prep for birth but zero on pp. This is why I do what I do on The New Normal, to make birthing people and families realise that it’s all part of the continuum.
- I would’ve worked with someone to help me develop a pp plan that included my family members and support structures.
- I would’ve been more vocal about what my family could do to support me, to tell them what I needed, and to ask them to fill different roles.
- I will clue myself up on proper postpartum health and nutrition, get the freezer stacked with cooked meals and organise a meal train.
- I would’ve spent more time at home, wearing slippers! And getting people to visit me, bring me meals and not caring if the house was a mess.
- I would’ve gone to an integrative doctor for a total blood count.
- I was definitely deficient in specific nutrients, and minerals like Iron and Vitamins B and D. Seeing a doctor would have given me insight into better support for my immune system.
- I would’ve loved to have joined a pp support group.
Still, there was nothing like that at the time aside from things like Music 4 Minis or Clamber Club, which were all baby-focused.
My message for others regarding Postpartum Depression
PP mental health disorders (and mental health problems in general) are symptoms of the current status quo of the world. Parents, particularly primary caregivers and mothers, were never been expected to do as much. Or been expected to show up as hard, with as little support as we have now.
These disorders are not individualised problems but societal ones. From patriarchal conditioning about the perfect mother to motherhood as the be all and end all of one’s existence. This goes through systemic problems like unpaid maternity leave, the public health care system and its treatment of birthing mothers and GBV. These factors are contributing to the rise of maternal mental health problems. You just have to look at how high the numbers are. PMADS affects between 1 and 3 and 1 in 5 birthing people (PPD is just one of them). Depending on the country they live in and their access to support and health care professionals. And, of course, on an individual level, many have experienced mental health problems before becoming mothers.
Other things to consider.
There are genetic predispositions, trauma, and all of the things that have shaped someone’s lived experience. But it’s the macro factors, societal expectations, cultural norms, media, advertising, policy, and popular culture, where things need to shift to change. For both maternal and parental mental health fundamentally. I love the analogy of a tree or plant. When it’s not thriving and growing well, we first look at its environment. The conditions it needs to thrive- are sunlight, soil, and water. We don’t automatically think there’s something wrong with the plant. No, it’s the context where the problem lies.
More about Postpartum Depression
Read the previous blog on two other lived experiences of postpartum depression here. You will also find some helpful tips and information regarding getting help.
I will be sharing more stories in the next blog. I hope you will take comfort in knowing you are not alone as you gain insight into these brave mothers’ journeys. Mental illnesses are as real as physical ones.
Your questions, thoughts and shares are more than welcome in the comments section. Feel free to share and reach out to me if you wish to have your story told.
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Lots of love,