Thriving after Postpartum: Sara Beckel’s Story
After the birth of her second daughter, Sara Beckel struggled with postpartum depression (PPD). Despite being a Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association trained Doula, she found it difficult to find help and was determined to make sure other mothers never felt alone. Sara drew on her personal experience, passion for change and love of her children to help every soon-to-be mom and launched the Family First Maternal Wellness Centre. With one-in-five mothers experiencing PPD, Sara is passionate about raising awareness about PPD/Anxiety and maternal mental health so that all mothers can experience the joy of motherhood to the fullest.
We spoke with Sara to learn more about her experience and what drives her to help countless other mothers and their families.
After the birth of your second child, what led you to believe something wasn’t right?
It wasn’t long after the birth that I realized things were starting to fall apart. Here I was, with twice the work (two kids), and half the help because everyone went back to their normal lives. Not only did I have a toddler to care for but I also had a newborn who wouldn’t stop crying.
Breastfeeding issues were the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had successfully nursed my first daughter, so to have a new baby who was struggling immediately sent my anxiety through the roof. Every single feed felt like a direct reflection of my inability to mother, to nurture, and to do what I was supposed to be doing. I felt so touched out, which made the physical closeness of breastfeeding almost unbearable. The constant worry about whether she was getting enough nutrients soon turned into me feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed. It often resulted in complete meltdowns or terrifying fits of inexplicable rage.
There were times I thought that no rational person acts like this, and yet I had zero control over what was happening. Instead, I tried to tough it out and “get my act together.” In my heart of hearts, I knew something wasn’t right, but I was very much in denial. I didn’t fully understand the illness in the way I do now. I thought it was something I could fix on my own.
What helped you the most when you started to struggle with PPD?
Once I finally came to realize that this was bigger than me, and that I needed help, the simple act of reaching out for support was very powerful. I’ll never forget the day I made that first phone call – being able to talk to someone who understood postpartum mood disorders was such a relief. I felt like I was able to finally unload this heavy burden I’d been carrying around all by myself and accept the help I needed, which was really hard for me because I’ve always been the helper. I’ve always been the one supporting others. I was “the strong” one and for the first time in my life, I needed someone to help me. To give up that control and be vulnerable enough to accept support was huge.
As I moved forward with building a plan for recovery for myself, I learned that carving out “me-time” was key. And believe me that’s easier said than done with both a toddler and new baby in tow. I also found that getting creative was very helpful. Playing with paint or crafting the simplest thing just gave me a positive outlet to focus my energy on. It was something that was mine since as a new mother boundaries tend to go out the window. Music was also really helpful and is healing in so many ways. On really bad days where I was bouncing from an ocean of tears one minute to a fit of rage the next, sometimes just cranking up a good song and dancing like nobody was watching was one of the ways I could unwind. It’s something that immediately changed the way I was feeling, so having a playlist on hand was part of my tool kit.
How did you gain the strength to start Family First Maternal Wellness Centre?
My strength came from a few places. My experience with postpartum depression completely changed my life. As a doula, I thought I knew what postpartum depression was, but it wasn’t until I went through it myself that I truly grasped the depth of the illness.
Firstly, I’m a firm believer that when you know better you do better. Once I realized that there were so many mothers affected by PPD, and so few resources, I knew this was a problem that could be solved. I’m a pretty practical thinker, so I tend to look for solutions instead of staying focused on the problem.
Secondly, both my daughters and the rest of my family suffered because of this illness – and just knowing I could do something about it was really motivating for me. If I didn’t do something about it then who would? I just couldn’t sit back and drop the ball for moms and babies coming up next. I think we’re all here to contribute in our own unique way and this just happens to be mine.
And lastly, finding a shared community online helped me tremendously. I was finally able to connect with moms who could clearly relate with my experience. I’m so fortunate to have the most supportive community of women from across North America who are in the trenches, trying to build bridges to support others in their area. With technology at our fingertips, I’ve been able to network with so many amazing women and really learn more about the illness and best practices in treatment and support. Together, Stronger!
Seeing your loved one struggling can be difficult, especially when all you want to do is help. What advice would you give to the partner or family member of a mother who is struggling?
The advice that I would give is to address the issue head on, in a really supportive and gentle way. The person experiencing the mood disorder may not realize they are struggling, so it’s typically family members or a partner that notices the symptoms first.
Learn more about the illness so you can better understand what she’s going through. No one signs up for PPD. It’s an illness, not a personality trait or a choice.
Be proactive. Offer to make a phone call to the doctor and reassure her that it’s not a reflection of her as a mother. Remind her that this is temporary and treatable and you are here to help. Take on as many childcare duties as you can. Help with household chores so she can rest.
Sit and listen. Let her share with you what she’s feeling without the need to fix it. Encourage and reassure her that she’s a great mom. Focus on what she’s doing right. Treatment looks different for everyone and she will be the one who knows what works for her. It’s about helping to sort through the options and be a supportive resource in her life.
And lastly, make sure to take care of yourself too. Find someone to talk to about what you’re going through. Again, this is an illness that affects everyone involved.
Why do you think mothers struggle to ask for help? What resources are available to those who are seeking help?
Mothers struggle to ask for help because it leaves us feeling like a complete failure. The stigma is so strong for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. The thought of telling someone what’s really going on is terrifying, especially when someone is experiencing intrusive thoughts, which are quite common. These thoughts are best described as quick flashes of scary situations that pop into your head, and make you feel afraid to be alone with the baby. Many women fear that their child will be taken from them if they tell someone about what’s happening. That’s why it’s really important we find ways to educate new mothers, and perinatal care providers, so they can recognize the symptoms and connect women with the most appropriate treatments. We have to change the way women experience the postpartum period by building up resources and creating clear pathways for treatment.
Resources vary from province to province but it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor and see what’s available in your area. Local Doula groups are always a great community resource. Postpartum Progress played a huge role in my recovery process. The blog and the free tools available, including the Signs and Symptom along with the Get Help checklist, are invaluable. Pacific Postpartum Support Society out of BC is one of the longest standing PPD support organizations in North America. The work they are doing for families is so important and we are lucky to have them here in Canada.
What is the main message you would like to send to other struggling mothers out there?
If you’re a new mom and are struggling with a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder, you are not alone and there is help. You deserve to feel healthy and to enjoy this time with your new baby. Bad days are going to happen with motherhood, but these illnesses can rob you of the joy that is part of the journey. Please remember that they don’t have to. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you will feel better. Although everything is overwhelming and you may be thinking you made a huge mistake in having a baby, you are a good mom and this isn’t your fault.
Tell a friend, call your doctor, and ask for help. As I always tell my clients, help isn’t something you “need”, it’s something you deserve. The best way to take care of your baby is to take care of yourself.