Posted by Kate Weldon LeBlanc, Administrative Director of the Center for Early Relationship Support
I recently celebrated my one year anniversary of working for the Center for Early Relationship Support (CERS) of JF&CS, one day after my daughter's birthday. Last year I was too preoccupied with "new job jitters" and her birthday party to reflect on the intersection of these two dates. But this year, I am struck by how fitting it is, since her birth and my connection to CERS are inextricably linked, and my first introduction to JF&CS was personal rather than professional.
To say that my husband and I were excited to be parents is a huge understatement. I had a healthy pregnancy and delivery, and was even happy during labor, if you can believe that. And those first few weeks at home were tiring and challenging as they are for most parents with a newborn, but nothing out of the ordinary. We were getting to know and enjoying our little girl. But then about three weeks after her birth, I began to feel increasingly overwhelmed and anxious about caring for my baby, to the point that I felt incapable of doing even the simplest tasks with her. My usual expressive personality was replaced with just flat emotion. And then I couldn't sleep – for nearly a week. I would just lay there with my mind spiraling around about all different things and could not make it stop. I had never experienced insomnia like this and it was like torture - to be awake while my baby was sleeping and to be exhausted but incapable of resting.
I did not recognize these symptoms as postpartum depression and anxiety because I didn't know much about it, and from what I did know, I didn't expect it to "happen to me." Because I was overjoyed to become a mom. Because I had never been diagnosed or treated for depression before. Because I had lots of support from family and friends. But I realize now that nothing guarantees that someone will, or will not, suffer from postpartum depression, and that no two mothers will experience it in the same way.
Fortunately, my husband, my mother, and my daughter's pediatrician all DID recognize that this was not normal and helped me get care. Though I responded well to treatment, I continued to suffer. But thankfully, a friend of our family knew about the CERS Early Connections (EC) program, which provides therapy, in home or office, for new mothers struggling with their postpartum adjustment, and their babies, together. EC sounded ideal for me, and it was. Despite my anxiety about parenting, I loved the idea of having my daughter with me during the sessions, unlike when I saw my psychiatrist, and frankly, of having home visits because I was not very comfortable leaving the house. I remember distinctly that during one visit my EC clinician said, "You are so patient and nurturing with your daughter" and I said, "I am?" I almost cried because for the first time, I believed it. I recognize now that EC was the final piece of the puzzle that I needed for my healing – an impartial, nurturing professional who would come support and bear witness to our mother-baby relationship.
As much as I wish that I never had postpartum depression and am sad that we can't "redo" that precious time, I also feel profoundly grateful that I had excellent care, recovered quickly, and have been doing well since. It was this appreciation that inspired me to work for CERS. Though I do not work in direct service, I am passionate about our mission and know firsthand what a difference our programs make in the lives of new parents.
Kate Weldon LeBlanc is the Administrative Director of the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support, and of her family.