The Problem with Mental Health Care: How Our System is Failing Mothers (and Everyone Else for that Matter)

As many of you know, I’m an open book. I’ll openly talk about my uterus, breastfeeding and  discuss the mistakes I’ve made over the course of my life. It’s why I started this blog. To share as a way to help myself heal, remind myself to laugh, and to hopefully inspire others do the same along the way. While I usually don’t leave anything off limits, I’ve never found the courage to openly discuss…the real me.

Every once and awhile I feel inspired to disclose my secret when I read a story by one of the many people who live, feel and experience life the way I do, yet I can never put my thoughts into words quite as eloquently. Because let’s be honest, anxiety and mental illness is hardly ever eloquent. Whether this comes out as beautifully written as a Shakespeare play or as confusing as a grade one journal entry, it’s time to create something with these words.

While I’m sure  through initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk Day and campaigns from the Canadian Mental Health Association you’ve become aware that mental health patients have few resources in our country, you may not be aware that our system is completely failing them.  Each and every day people seek help and fall tragically through the cracks. While you read this, here are some important stats to keep in mind:

  • 1.2 million Canadian children live with mental illness
  • In any given year, 1 in 5 adults in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness, but only 1 in 3 will receive treatment
  • 1 in 13 women report experiencing depression during the postpartum period

Mental health has long been recognized as a fundamental aspect of one’s health, however under our current health regime the majority of mental health services do not meet the eligibility requirement of “medically necessary.” Unless received in a hospital, psychological services must be paid for out-of-pocket or covered by private third-party insurance. This means that weekly visits to psychiatrics or counsellors come at one’s own expense. With the burden of paying for one’s mental health left to the individual, it is not surprising that so many Canadians put mental health concerns on the backburner.

We can’t do this anymore. We need to take a stand. 

So, here I am taking my stand and calling bullshit on the whole system.

Three weeks ago I was faced with a daze and emptiness I haven’t experienced in a very long time. Be it the collective emotions that came with my new role as a working mom, prolonged sleep deprivation and pregnancy hormones or hell, just the stress of living and thriving in our social media dominant, mess of a world, something caused me to die a little inside.

In a moment of desperation, I put my life on pause – an opportunity moms rarely have. I called in sick to work, brought my son to daycare and went home for a date with Netflix, a cup of coffee and my couch. Instead, when I walked in my house I wrapped myself in a blanket and I cried. I cried and cried, then sobbed, and then I hit rock bottom.

You should know, this is not a good time for me to lose it. I have a loving and supportive husband, a beautiful and healthy son, a silly and quirky dog (yes, I love you too, Louie) and a little bean inside my belly – all of them need me. Now is not the time for my mind, body and soul to scream “I’ve had enough.” But you can’t argue with truth.

As much as I want to wallow in self pity, life doesn’t pause and let you heal. Bills need to be paid and babies need to be snuggled. In an attempt to nip this overwhelming sense of… well….feeling overwhelmed, I did something I never do and asked for help.

I Googled “support for moms in Halton Region”, and results flooded my screen. There were mommy support groups, a crisis hotline, even a warm line at a local hospital that provides 24 hour support to moms in the first year of their child’s life. All incredible resources, right? I thought so too. Then I started dialing.

Between tears, I dialed numbers, trying to find a program to help me cope with all the unorganized thoughts and emotions flying through my mind.

I’ll save you my feedback on the 7 publicly funded organizations I reached out to – in short, they have a lot of work to do.

While initially it seemed like there was a world of help and support for an overwhelmed, new-ish mom like me, there really isn’t. At some point along the way, each and every resource let me down. They listened to me through tears, told me self-care was critical, and failed to provide any resources they promised to.

And here’s the sad part, I’m not alone. People used to say that it takes a village to raise a child. Today, some of us are lucky to have support from our extended family but this village you hear of costs approximately $2000+ a month in daycare costs, maids, nannys, therapy, takeout and bottles of wine (when mommy has just had enough).

Our society today provides moms with little to no support. We literally grow and birth a baby, get a high five and are sent on our way. No one prepares us for the worry (is my baby eating enough? are they happy? is their poop supposed to be that colour? why are they crying? why aren’t they crying? what is that spot on their leg? THEY HAVE THE MEASLES!). No one prepares us for the weeks, months, sometimes years of being up around the clock. No one prepares us for breastfeeding failure, drifting from our friends and partner, or coping with zero – and I mean ZERO time for ourselves. No one prepares us for the work + life + baby balance.  No one prepares us. We’re expected to shower, smile, eat, stay fit, work, clean, maintain romance, maintain friendships, maintain our eyebrows, raise a tiny army, run an envy worthy Instagram page AND stay sane through it all? Nope. Not happening. Maybe I’m doing something totally wrong. Maybe I expect too much of myself – but this whole system isn’t working for me.

There needs to be more resources.

There needs to be more support.

And we can’t continue to treat mental illness like a separate entity to our health.  It’s not.

Our mind is our being, it’s apart of who we are and it’s a big part of how we love, laugh, function and remain healthy day to day. Our country can’t continue to turn a blind eye to the millions of children, adults and mothers who silently struggle every day, trying their very best not to lose it.

With all that being said, here’s my call to action: if you feel the way I feel, I encourage you to speak about it. More importantly, I encourage you to tell all levels of government about it. Demand they make changes to our system and stop failing our people. In the meantime, I encourage you to be kind to others, to kind to yourself and to bring back the village.

Honestly, I Don’t Care How You Feed Your Baby, But I Want You To Know This…

Last week The Honest Company approached me and asked if I wanted join them in a conversation about one of the most intimate and important experiences in a family’s life: feeding their newborn baby. Without hesitation, I said yes. Honest presents judgement free stories on its blog covering moms from every walk of life. Today I share my story and a letter to parents in hopes to end the judgement and stigma that comes with the personal choices families make to feed their baby.

Before I dive into my raw and real  experience, I’d like to say I’m not here to argue breast isn’t best. Instead, I’m here to shed some light on why breast wasn’t exactly best for my family under our circumstances. I would never encourage or discourage a mother from breastfeeding, pumping, or formula feeding. I’m 100% in favor of supporting moms by advising them to do what they feel is best for their baby and family. It’s my hope in sharing my story that a mommy in need, a mommy who feels like a failure when it comes to feeding her infant, will know she’s not alone.

Dear Mommies,

Congratulations on your beautiful ray of light. You’ve just started one of the most incredible chapters in your life. With all new roles, this one comes with a period of learning. Actually, there’s a good chance you’ll never stop learning – and you’ll grow stronger because of it.

I was where you are only nine short months ago. I was living (and continue to live) a life that no amount of reading, watching videos or joining Facebook groups could have prepared me for.

I’m a mom who had a baby that was unable to latch – and there was nothing that could have prepared me for it. Most of my reading and most of my encounters with medical professionals, peers and family prepared me for breastfeeding my baby. No one ever mentioned failure. Of course, there was the option to choose other methods, though these methods were hardly addressed or explained to me.

As a new mom,  I was afraid of wronging my son and I was afraid of not giving him the best. Through pressure from myself and the fear of being judged, I sacrificed my sanity and well-being to make breastfeeding work.

I could talk to you about the visits I had with lactation consultants, months I spent attached to a breast pump, suck training, syringe feeding, jaundice, formula and nipple shields.  I could also talk to you about the the guilt, anxiety, frustration and heartache that came with the decisions I had to make to keep my son fed and nourished. However, I’m here to talk to you as a mom on the flip side of all of that. I’m the mom that has done it all – and every step of the way I felt some type of pressure, stress or guilt.

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay if one, some or all of these options work for you and your family. Sometimes, as much as we prepare,  life has a different plan and pushes us in a different direction than we initially imagined.

Whatever direction life has pushed you in when it comes to feeding your child, whether it’s what you expected or what you’ve had to resort to, as long as you are nourishing your child, keeping them fed and loving them endlessly, you as a parent are doing your job.

The best you can give your child is accepting your circumstances and making it work. Show them you can overcome adversity, adjust to change and go with the flow.

If there’s one thing I learned from crying on the bathroom floor at three in the morning from emotional and physical exhaustion, it’s that my choices were driven by love, not logic.

In all your parenting triumphs and struggles, there is someone else out there who gets it – and as one of them, I want to say I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you for doing your absolute best.

In closing, I want to introduce you to my nine month old son, Jack.

See his smile? It’s not a result or being fed formula or breast milk, bottle or boob, his smile is a result of love. For for first week of his life he was fed breast milk by a syringe. For the first three months of his life, he was fed through a bottle filled with breast milk I pumped around the clock. From months three through four, he exclusively breast fed after finally latching completely out of the blue. From months four through six, he was fed both formula and breast milk as I struggled to maintain my supply. And lastly from months six and onward, he’s been formula fed (along with purees of his favourite Italian dishes) after my supply complexity dried up.

My biggest goal as a parent is to raise Jack to always be compassionate, kind and gentle. How he was fed as an infant will have never come up on first dates, university applications or job interviews. It has no indication of the type of person he is or will grow up to be.

Together, lets stop making moms feel isolated, hopeless and judged as they navigate uncharted water and raise their families. Lets answer questions rather than offer advice, lets offer support rather than sympathy, and lets be the generation of moms who end the mom war.

We’re all in this together, we may just be doing it a little differently.

Wishing you sleep + happiness,
Annie

To the Moms Learning to Love Their “Mom-Bod”

There’s a ton of pressure for Moms to “lose the baby weight” as soon as their tiny human’s exit their body. As they stand at the grocery checkout, exhausted, potentially with a baby on their boob, their bombarded with photos of celebs who shed pounds about as quickly as I shed postpartum hair.

I began planning my Kim Kardashian body reveal as soon as I became pregnant. I’d lose all my weight and proudly dance around with a baby on my hip, serving my husband home cooked meals in stilettos.

Hindsight is 20/20.  I often dance my baby to sleep but my feet may never fit in my stilettos again.

Realistically I knew life with a new baby would be hard – but until you’re thrown into the beautifully-wonderful yet especially overwhelming role of mom, you have no idea just how drastically your life and body will change.

Last summer I rocked a Victoria Secret two piece, with flowing blonde hair, and an effortless thigh gap.

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Exactly one year later (lacking the confidence to wear a swimsuit), I rocked an additional 53 pounds, a baby bump and size DD boobs.

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This summer my body gave me the gift of a beautiful baby boy, and with it came stretch marks, sagging skin and a little something I like to call my kangaroo pouch. My body does not resemble the body of Christmas-past. Yet I admit, the body of Christmas-past, one I envy myself for now, is not a body I loved when it was mine, nor a body that was healthy. It was a body I believed was filled with flaws, ones I picked apart and fussed over. Ones I tried to improve on and cover up with make-up and clothing. Ones that were indeed not flaws at all, but all a part of what made my body beautiful. I never felt curvy enough, slim enough, fit enough or pretty enough.

It’s incredible how we allow ourselves to be affected by Body Image. How we can look at ourselves in the mirror and pick a part our flaws rather than celebrate our beauty. It’s amazing how we compare ourselves to others, wishing for their features, while they are wishing for ours.

As a new mom I’ve grown a strong appreciation for what the female body can do. It has inspired me to start the journey towards loving myself, tiger stripes, kangaroo pouch and all. It is why I’m not sharing how much weight I’ve lost since the birth of my son but sharing my plans of being healthy, setting a good example for my child, and loving this new body that is mine.

As women and as mothers, we often compare ourselves to the women and mothers around us. We often find fault within ourselves, we often feel guilt and more often than not, we neglect the temple that gave us our children.

My post-baby body plan isn’t about resembling my pre-baby self, there will be no grand Kim Kardashian weight loss reveal.  It’s about fueling my body with nutrients, walking with my son in the park, finding a routine that makes me healthy and happy. It’s not about the number on the scale but about looking in the mirror and loving the strong, often tired, woman looking back at me.

The internet terms my new body the “mom-bod”, a term I’m not particularly fond of as it categorizes mothers into one body type, yet each of us are so wonderfully different. Today, although still somewhat insecure, I rock the curves, I rock the pouch and I rock the determination to be the healthiest version of myself. Join me, won’t you?

Confessions of an Exclusive Pumper

Our experience in the Labour and Delivery ward of our hospital was outstanding. Our nurses were kind, compassionate and caring. They were my biggest cheerleaders next to Dave and when it was time to say good-bye at the end of their shifts, I felt as though I was saying good-bye to friends. I recovered from birth in the Post-Partum ward, where the nurses were friendly but not nearly as kind, helpful but not nearly as patient.

We were discharged from hospital 24 hours after Jack’s birth. For those 24 hours in hospital the nurses did what they could to help Jack latch. This included forcing his head to my breast repeatedly, even when he showed signs of frustration. When we arrived home, we quickly learned their helpful methods were incorrect and a big no-no to establishing a healthy latch. This resulted in a frustrating start to a breast-to-baby bond with my son.

Jack struggled to latch in hospital and continued to struggle when we arrived home. Our discharge nurse told me Jack “wasn’t going to breastfeed” and sent us home with formula. As a first time mom, I felt completely defeated.

For the next two days Dave, my mum and a hospital lactation consultant attempted to  help Jack latch onto my breast. Just as he did in the hospital, Jack would flip up his bottom lip and suck on his tongue rather than his meal source. The hospital lactation consultant advised us not to intervene with a breast shield, a pump or a bottle. We were encourage to syringe feed our son while practicing “suck training.”

When Jack was three days old we had our first appointment with our family doctor. It was then we would find that our baby’s inability to latch was having larger consequences than we anticipated. We discovered Jack was discharged from hospital on the high end of normal for Jaundice. Sending him home with the inability to latch resulted in breastfeeding Jaundice. Jack was not receiving enough to eat through the syringe method and was nearly readmitted to hospital that day for treatment.

Our family doctor immediately connected us with a private lactation consultant. Within an hour of leaving the doctor’s office Jack was breastfeeding with the aid of a breast shield and topping up with the use of a bottle. Over the next 24 hours he would gain 3 oz. Within two days his Jaundice symptoms began to ease up and within three days he returned his birth weight. We accomplished this by exclusively pumping.

A few people have asked me whether or not I’m breastfeeding my son. We’ve all heard breast is best, after all. The question, which is a sensitive one, especially when a mum’s experience isn’t what she expected, is one I’m addressing today because I believe no mum should be judged for the way she chooses or is obligated to feed her child. Weighing out all of our options (cost, nutrition, benefits to baby and mom) we decided to exclusively pump and feed our son breast milk via a bottle.

The decision to exclusively pump first made me feel defeated. My son and my body weren’t bonding easily like I anticipated and I felt as through I wasn’t providing my son with the best source of nourishment possible. As we’ve transitioned into this new parenting plan, I feel empowered because despite being unable to breastfeed, I’m still able provide my son with breast milk (really, this was my number one priority and goal). Bottle feeding also allows my husband the opportunity to bond with our son and give this Momma an extra hour of shut-eye during some of the late night feeds.

Our decision to exclusively pump is a decision that requires commitment. Although I’ve only been at it for little over a week, here are some highlights from what I’ve learned:

  • To establish a good supply you will want to pump every 2 to 3 hours for 15 to 20 minutes (for the first three months).
  • Your body produces the most amount of milk between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Try to pump between those hours if you can!
  • Stay hydrated! You will require lots and lots of H20 to keep your supply up.
  • Continue to practice skin-to-skin contact. It will help you gain some of those hormonal benefits for yourself and baby without actually breastfeeding. If you feel ambitious, you can also try latching your baby to your breast during this time. Jack and I give it an honest effort a few times a day. When he becomes frustrated, we stop.
  • Invest in a good pump. I love the Madela Freestyle.Madela It is a lightweight, rechargeable double pump.  Some insurance companies will cover the cost of your pump, so be sure to check with them!
  • Massage your tatas while pumping. The last thing you want is to develop a blocked duck. Massaging will help you with your let-down and milk production.
  • Invest in good bottles. Bottle fed babies are more likely to suffer from gas and colic. We are using a slow-flow nipple head provided to us by the hospital on our medela bottles. The slow-flow nipple head controls the flow of milk into the baby and helps establish a good suck. Your baby is more likely to transition onto your breast while using a slow-flow or natural-flow nipple head because it mimics the flow of breastfeeding more accurately.
  • Remember the 6, 6, 6 rule. Your breast milk will last:
    • 6 hours at room temperature
    • 6 days in the fridge
    • 6 months in the freezer

As a new parent, you have many important decisions to make. One is to choose whether to breastfeed or formula feed your baby – make the decision that works bets for your family in consultation with a health care professional. Coming to the right decisions can take time and can be frustrating. Whatever decision you make, stand proud by it and don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re doing anything less than your best – you’re one strong Momma!

Exclusively pumping is something that will be a big part of my life, so you can expect to hear more about this topic on my blog!

Breast to Work

Empowering Woman: Tineke

It took me quite a while to get breastfeeding well established and to really start enjoying it. In the first months it was quite difficult (understatement..), not only painful (don´t get me started on cracked nipples or mastitis) but also the pressure of an underweight baby who needed to eat very often (and took his sweet time meaning you were basically only having 1 hour breaks in between feeding sessions) and not knowing how much milk you actually have and whether he was eating enough. By now I can say I loved breastfeeding but it took quite some tears and screams to get there.

So when my 16 weeks of maternity leave were over I definitely wanted to continue breastfeeding for a little longer. I guess my situation was quiet luxurious in the sense that I work 4 days a week of which 2 from home. So the 2 days from home were easy to cover: until midday when my partner was taking care of Lucas at home I would plan my breaks from work around feeding Bottletimes and in the afternoon when he was with his grandparents I had to extract milk once and then the evening session was live with mommy again. However, the days that I did go into the office were much more complicated. I have a very long commute to my office (2,5hours) so I would leave the house a little before 7am and come back only after 8pm. In the beginning I still did a morning feeding around 6am but once Lucas got a better sleep rhythm he wouldn´t wake up before 7 / 7.30am anymore meaning that I was not home for any of his feedings. Then my challenge was where and when to extract in the office or even on my way to the office.

When you have a baby, sleep is not a commodity anymore so there were some trade-offs involved. This basically meant that I could choose between getting up 20 minutes earlier to extract milk or leaving my first pumping session for the commute… Yep, sleep is scarce so I chose the second option. So I would extract milk in the train under a huge scarf hoping and praying that the passenger sitting next to me would keep sleeping (advantage of the early morning train!) or working and at least not notice that something was moving under that scarf.

Then the next challenge came with the fact that in my office there was no nursing place. Our “office” is basically a little village with over 10k employees divided over different buildings and we have loads of convenient services in the village (gym, childcare, pharmacy, doctor, dentist, optic, travel agency, supermarket, Starbucks, hairdresser, and the list goes on) but no nursing room to Pumpbe found. So that left me with the option of the toilet (which was very cold because of no heating system, and let´s not get into the background noise) or booking a meeting room. The inconvenient part of meeting rooms is that most have windows so there were only a few I could work with. I would try to book these meeting rooms that had no windows or at least windows at strategic locations so I could set-up my “extraction station” with a barrier on the table from my bag, laptop and my notebook standing up open so that if somebody would come in, not too much would be visible. After a few months with the combination of toilet and meeting rooms, I finally found out that the reception had a closed printing room behind them and although it had no chairs I did use that option for the last weeks of breastfeeding. On the commute back home at night I would repeat the scarf trick.

All of this involved quite some logistics, not only the choice of scarf but also to bring your small cooler bag, make sure you put it in the fridge as soon as you arrive, don´t forget it in the fridge when you leave, getting the milk from the toilet / meeting room to the cooler bag in the fridge without everybody noticing what you´re doing and most importantly, keeping that cooler bag stable in your backpack on the commute back home. I did come home one night noticing a lot of little white spots on my black boots, yep, one of the bottles with extracted milk had opened and spread through my backpack…. The worst part was that my immediate thought was not “uh oh my laptop” but “noooo, after all the effort 250ml down the drain…”.

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Another challenge is when to pump. When I had relatively ok days with some meetings here and there I would just block my calendar every 3 hours for 30min but when you have full-day workshops or team meetings it gets a bit more complicated because obviously the breaks there are never on convenient times for your pumping schedule. So I would sneak out a few times a day with my grey Medela bag. (Also in Spain you never know when a break will actually happen, because hey who needs an agenda or if there is one why stick to it, so of course I would often go out in the middle of a discussion and 2 minutes after I came back they would break..)

After 4 months of this, when I had some business trips coming up and when Lucas had started eating solid food and therefore only has 2 milk feedings left I decided it was enough, but it definitely has been an interesting experience! The downside of stopping with breastfeeding is that it gets a bit depressing to look at your “new” breasts in the mirror (You would almost understand why in Spain they tend to keep breastfeeding for years!). Also I am already a bit nervous for Lucas´ next monthly check-up and the speech that I am going to get from the breastfeeding-taliban-nurse, but that´s a whole other story!

Photo credit Medela: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/dharder9475/23919221670/”>dharder9475</a&gt; via <a href=”https://visualhunt.com”>VisualHunt</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>CC BY-NC</a>

 Photo credit extracting in office: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/cafemama/118317846/”>cafemama</a&gt; via <a href=”https://visualhunt.com”>VisualHunt</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

About Tineke

Tineke I am Tineke, a Dutchie living in Spain, happily not-married to César and mommy of Lucas. Before becoming a mom I always thought I was busy, however since we have Lucas the term “busy” got a whole new definition! Trying to juggle two demanding jobs, a busy social life while squeezing in some sports, keeping the house somewhat liveable, pursuing both of our entrepreneurial ambitions ánd having sufficient family time makes me wonder how I ever thought we were busy. And all of that in a country which is not my home country and therefore causes quite some cultural clashes in this whole motherhood thingy.

 Want to read more about my adventures as a working mommy abroad?

Workingmommyabroad.wordpress.com

Instagram: @workingmommyabroad

Twitter: @tinekefr