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  • Writer's pictureNadine Belzile

Let's Talk Mental Health

Updated: May 12


Mental Health Week is taking place May 6-12, 2024. The theme this year is “healing with compassion” because as the hashtag says,  #CompassionConnects us all and to ourselves. Mental health problems are invisible and those who suffer from them are often stigmatized. So it is important to talk about it to bring down those prejudices. I therefore take this opportunity to share my story with you.


When I was finishing my university Bachelor’s degree, my grandfather passed away suddenly. I was very much affected by his death and, without knowing it at the time, I started getting dragged down into depression. When I started my Master’s degree, I had no motivation. I didn’t understand what was happening to me since I didn’t feel “depressed”. For me, being depressed meant that you always felt like crying, which was not my case. So when my doctor was asking me if I was feeling depressed, I answered “no”.


After my studies, I moved to an apartment alone. That’s when I crumbled. My parents had to deal with the moving company because I was sitting in a chair, completely unable to make any decision. And when my mother took me to see my doctor, I had a meltdown in her office. I was suffering from a burnout and that’s when I received my first antidepressants.



About ten years after, I was still on antidepressants when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I panicked! Did I have to cease medication during pregnancy? Are antidepressants dangerous for babies? My doctor checked and found that the antidepressants I was taking were compatible with pregnancy and breastfeeding. So I continued to take them and we even increased my dosage to compensate for my increased blood volume during pregnancy.


But after 7 months, I was so exhausted that I could barely stand. My work colleagues found me so pale they were afraid I would pass out in the hallways. So I consulted the doctor that was following my pregnancy. Her first reaction was to tell me that the baby was fine. I look at her and told her i wasn’t worried about the baby; I was consulting for MYSELF because I wasn’t doing well. And I was put on medical leave for exhaustion.


My son was born healthy two months later. Because of my history with depression, my husband and I took measures after delivery to try and prevent a postpartum depression. Therefore, he was the one doing the night shift during the first few weeks so I could get plenty of rest. I was lucky and didn’t suffer from postpartum depression.


Three years later, I was pregnant with my second child and we went forward with that pregnancy with the same plan as before. But it didn’t go as planned. From the beginning, I was so tired that I wished the pregnancy would end soon. And at 8 months, I know I was suffering from a burnout. But how could I have a burnout when I was still on antidepressants? At 36 weeks, I even asked my doctor to induce me. I was exhausted, at the end of my rope and my belly was hurting. I couldn’t take it anymore! Of course, she refused. At 37 weeks and 6 days, I went to the hospital because I couldn’t feel the baby move. That’s when the verdict dropped: there was no heartbeat. My daughter had died. I gave birth to her the next day.



The world had stopped turning. I was a shadow of myself, incapable of functioning during the day, unable to sleep at night and always crying. My husband had to take care of our son by himself. Five months later, I was hospitalized for major and severe depression and post-traumatic stress. And the psychiatrist they assigned me lacked empathy, which just added to my agony. But I was lucky enough to have a good psychologist who helped me during my journey and a perinatal bereavement support group in my community.


When I went back to work, I found myself facing a colleague who harbored serious prejudice towards me, telling me I should choose between my work and another pregnancy, as though the two were incompatible. Learning that I suffered from post-traumatic stress and that I was taking kickboxing classes, she registered a complaint against me, saying she was concerned for her safety. She believed I was going to beat her up, although we had worked together for years without any conflict.


Two years later, after that difficult return to work, I was able to get pregnant again. This new pregnancy was very stressful and it was very difficult for me get attached to the baby before it was born. I was followed in a clinic for at-risk pregnancies, but the clinic didn’t offer psychological support. I didn’t take long for me to feel exhausted, and they diagnosed me with anemia, which explained that. My doctor told me that I would be induced before 38 weeks to prevent this baby from dying. But when my contractions began, they started losing the baby’s heartbeat on the monitors. I was brought to the operating block for an emergency c-section. Thankfully, my little boy was born healthy. But that experience reactivated my post-traumatic stress and sent me spiraling into postpartum depression after 4 months.


I tried going back to work after my parental leave, but I was having panic attacks every day even though I was on medication, so my doctor put me on medical leave after a year. And I never went back to the office. I have since taken my retirement for medical reasons and I spend the energy I have on my family and on raising awareness amongst Canadian women about the risks of stillbirth and means to take to reduce those risks. I have become an advocate, asking the Canadian government for a national action plan to reduce stillbirths.



Through my journey, I have has to learn self-compassion. Because I still blame myself for the death of my daughter, for the fact that I was not as present for my first son while I was battling depression and post-traumatic stress, and for the attachment problems I had in the first months of life of my second son. Self-compassion allows us to forgive ourselves, to accept our limitations as a person. We are only human after all and we are doing the best we can in life, including in our role as mothers.


May 1st was World Maternal Mental Health Day. Pregnant women and new mothers are often faced with mental health problems that are not limited to postpartum depression. These women deserve to be adequately diagnosed and treated at every step of their fertility and perinatal journey. That’s why I support the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative in asking the Government of Canada for a national perinatal mental health strategy.


Learn more about perinatal mental health by visiting their website at https://cpmhc.ca/


Learn more about the symptoms of postpartum mental health conditions and when to seek help at Your Guide to Postpartum Health and Caring for Your Baby - Canada.ca


If you are going through a perinatal loss, you can find a list of resources at https://bebebouge.ca/ressources?lang=en#deuil


Nadine

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