"When you have a baby everyone asks about the baby. How is he doing? Is he a good baby? Not very many people ask how you are doing. If they do ask they they don't expect you to say anything negative..."
These are the words of Janessa Reimer, mental health and postpartum Warrior. Janessa found that after having her beautiful little boy, Arden, her mental health started declining. A colicky baby, lack of sleep, difficulty breastfeeding and numerous other struggles precipitated Janessa falling into a dark place. In her story below, Janessa speaks candidly about her struggle in being a new mom and demonstrates how she is rising above her self-doubt and feelings of shame to create a community (both on-line and in-person) where new moms who are also struggling can go to be vulnerable, and feel supported, without fear of judgement. (To find out more about Jessica's on-line and in-person postpartum group, please direct message "My Postpartum Journey" on Facebook.)
Hi there, my name is Janessa Reimer.
I’m not originally from Alberta. I grew up in southern Manitoba on a dairy farm. When I was about 14, my parents took my siblings and I to Jasper to ski for the first time. That’s where I fell in love with the mountains.
My husband, Dustin, and I moved to Claresholm over 4 years ago. It was the best decision ever. We wanted to be closer to the mountains that I had fallen in love with. We started hiking most weekends in the summer. We roped our friends into hiking and backcountry camping. Before we knew it we started mountain biking and just doing all things in the mountains. It’s become a lifestyle for us.
I love being challenged physically and mentally. We have done a lot of challenging hikes and mountain bike riding and each time I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. It is important for me to push past my fears and insecurities because I believe it makes me a stronger person. My mom once told me something that I really needed to hear, 'You have been through some rough times but you have persevered. You are stronger than you know.'
I believe we are all stronger than we know.
I know that even more now after I went through something I had no idea that I would need such strength and perseverance to get through. Something no one prepares you for. Something no one wants to talk about. Something that I needed to be stronger than ever for.
My sister in-law had just had a baby and as I was holding my new nephew, I had one thought
'I should wait a little longer to get pregnant, babies terrify me.'
I'm going to be real with you, when I found out I was pregnant, of course I was happy but I was also completely terrified and not sure if we had made the right decision.
I had a difficult pregnancy. Morning sickness and hormonal migraines followed me throughout the nine months. It was discovered that my baby was having heart rate drops which resulted in last minute ultrasounds to make sure he was healthy.
Dustin and I took prenatal classes and they do a good job preparing you for labour and birth but no one prepared me for postpartum. No one told me what might happen after the baby was born. I've thought about it many times, about how I'd rather give birth again then to go through the postpartum period.
I remember people laughing and saying 'Get ready to never sleep again.' But I honestly had no idea just how bad that would be. It would have been so much better if those people had sat down with me, a new mom to be, and had a serious talk about what the lack of sleep will do to your mind, your body and how much it truly affects you. I know what not sleeping is like. I had insomnia for a few years but that paled in comparison to the newborn stage with Arden. The lack of sleep is one thing but combining that with having to take care of a baby that relies on you for everything? Noone tells you about this.
On our first night home I had a complete meltdown. I just couldn't get the hang of breastfeeding. I was so stressed out about it my one thought was 'Well this is it, Arden is 100% going to die because I can't feed him.' I felt guilty and horrible. ``why is this so hard? People make it look so easy. I’m so grateful for Dustin, because he went out and bought formula, figured out how to prepare it and fed Arden.
Breastfeeding didn't work out for me. I tried for a month but I just was not enjoying it. I wasn’t producing enough milk, so I started pumping along and supplemented with formula. I pumped for 3 months but it was so time consuming. By now my mental health was really declining and the health the nurse recommended that I start to slowly take out pumping sessions. It was the best decision for me to go full formula feedings for Arden. Arden isn’t reliant on just me, Dustin helps with the feedings and if I want to go away for a day, I can.
One of the things that really bothers me about our current healthcare system is how they make you feel like there’s only one option for feeding your baby and that’s to breastfeed. No matter what. There’s a lot of shame for going to formula feedings or even just bottle feeding in general even if it’s breast milk. I’m fortunate that my health care team has been supportive of me in my decisions and have encouraged me to make the best decisions for myself and Arden.
I'm not sure I have the words to describe my first week home being a new mom. There were times I wondered what had we done? It took me a long time to connect with Arden. I wished for my old life back. I’m an avid hiker and I love anything to do with being in the mountains and I was missing that.
I started to feel resentful. I became very resentful of Dustin. He didn't have to give up anything for 9 months while growing a baby. He didn't have to go through the pain of giving birth or deal the postpartum hormones and depression. I was mad that he got to go to work while I had to stay home and take care of Arden all day long without any breaks. I started to become resentful of Arden. He always needed me. I just couldn’t get a break. Dustin obviously helped me get through it all, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him.
I want you to know I adore my boy Arden. I love him with every fibre of my being. I don't regret him. Every day I see more and more of his personality and I just fall more in love with him every day. But those early days were hard and it’s not something that we talk about.
I remember one day vividly. I needed to get out of the house so I went to visit my friend who lives an hour away. Arden was so fussy and he just wouldn't stop crying. I stayed maybe 10 minutes at my friends. I was just overwhelmed and emotional I left to go home. On my way, I called Dustin. I didn’t know what to do. I took Arden to the hospital but they told me he was perfectly healthy, just a bit colicky. I drove away with Arden still crying in the back seat and I had a full blown panic attack. I couldn't breath. I felt dizzy. I called Dustin and he talked me through it, I drove back to town with him coaching me the whole way. I dropped Arden off of his workplace and I went home. That evening I couldn't touch or hold Arden. I wanted nothing to do with him. It was a terrifying feeling of not wanting anything to do with my baby. I thought there was something wrong with me. Maybe I wasn't made to be a mom. I remember that things got pretty dark I felt like I didn't want to live anymore and that maybe everyone would be better off without me. Even reliving that moment now is so heartbreaking. But I sought out care. I needed to talk about it. I was so grateful that I had the best nurses looking after me, I saw a counsellor, I made sure I went on short hikes and hung out with friends. But even with all that I just could not get out of my funk. So, I went on antidepressants. At first I felt like I was a failure for needing medication. But then I started feeling better...happier.
I mourned my old life. When you have a baby everyone asks about the baby. How is he doing? Is he a good baby? Not very many people ask how you are doing. If they do ask they they don't expect you to say anything negative and they don't want to hear anything negative either. I began to feel like no one truly cared about me. I felt so very alone. And I was feeling guilty about everything. It can appear that moms are being selfish when they long for the life they had before their babies. The things they did. The time spent with their partners without the addition of this little person that requires so much without a lot in return at the time. I didn’t want to just suck it up and give up all the things that Dustin and I did together before Arden. I wanted Arden to join our lives. So that’s what I decided needed to happen. I haven’t stopped doing the things that I love. Yes we have to do things differently but so at least we’re getting out and enjoying life. Just because I’ve become a mom that doesn't mean that it’s my whole life now. I’m my own person with my own dreams and goals.
If I had to give a soon to be mom advice I would give her the following. Be prepared because everyone has an opinion.....EVERYONE. Take everything with a grain of salt. You do you. For example, I don't want to have another child. I know me and I know I won’t be able to mentally handle being pregnant and going through postpartum again. My doctor has been so supportive of me. She’s told me she'd rather see me mentally stable with one child than mentally unstable with two. But people will not approve of my decision, as if it’s any of their business. But I understand that this is one of those things that everyone has an opinion on. The best thing for Arden is to have a mentally strong, happy and healthy mom.
It would be helpful if more people were supportive and understanding of new moms. I’m got so tired of everyone's judgements. New moms? You are not alone. I won’t judge you nor will I mom-shame you. There should be programs out there for new moms experiencing struggles postpartum to get together and to support one another. A nurse coming to your home after is nice but it’s not enough. I’m really lucky that I had my friend Denise, she was there for me every single day. She’d been where I was and so she could understand. She listened to me, gave some great advice and truly cared about Arden and I. All new moms should have someone like that in their lives. Just someone to talk to and be real and honest with.
I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for my husband Dustin. He’s my rock, my best friend and my biggest advocate. He’s a hands on dad. He gets up for night feedings even though he has to be at work the next day. He’s been so supportive and understanding. There are no words to fully describe how much I love him for everything he has done for Arden and I. All the people in my life who have been there for me and Arden....you know who you are and I love you all.
Please. Let’s stop being ashamed for struggling in this fourth trimester. Lets create an open and honest environment free of judgements for all new moms.
Thanks for listening to my journey. I hope you take what you need and leave what you don’t.