In one of the most riveting accounts of postpartum depression, HerScoop is proud to share our latest Inspirational Mom, Bri Oliver, a 33-year-old Canadian mother-of-four sons: Noah, 10, Cooper, 9, Miller, 4, and Hudson, 3.
While in the depths of her PPD, Bri bravely admits she made every excuse to avoid her then-newborn son Cooper, and even tearfully says, “I didn’t love him in the beginning.” From her struggle to bond with her baby in that “lonely place,” to her thoughts of self-harm, to the moment she hit rock bottom, Bri shares her journey through postpartum depression and how she discovered her life’s passion of photography.
In a candid interview, Bri gives a raw and honest account of how she fought the darkness with the love and support of her husband Ryan, her friends and family, medication and counseling, and the birth of luv u photography.
“When it comes to mental health, people think they just have to be stronger,” Bri shares, adding that she wants to reach out to those “suffering in silence.” She adds: “I am willing to put myself out there, and know that Cooper will see this story one day, in the hopes that I can help women out there also struggling with postpartum depression.”
Looking through the lens of postpartum depression: one woman’s brave journey through PPD toward her passion in life.
Bri: “After I had my first son, Noah, I had the most amazing year of my life. I loved being a mom, I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I also wouldn’t say it was hard. It was like all my dreams came true and it was like I was living in a fairy tale.
When Noah was only 7-months-old, I got pregnant with my second son, Cooper. I was super excited and I couldn’t wait for him to arrive. We had a bit of a scare with him – I went into preterm labor 3-months early, but they were able to stop it.
And then, believe it or not, he arrived late. My labor was quick, like my first one, and I had him at about 7 a.m. on a Sunday. And just to put it into perspective for you, Ryan and I were grocery shopping on the following day at 8 a.m. with two babies.
For me, I really thought that having two children would be no different than having one child. I didn’t stop, I didn’t rest, I didn’t heal — I just went full-on into life. I had some problems with breastfeeding and with mastitis, which I think almost started my depression. I didn’t experienced it with Noah — and anyone who’s been through mastitis knows how painful it is, and how difficult it is to get sleep. So not only did I have my newborn to deal with – who was a fussy baby – I also had my 17-month-old to care for.
I found myself, on a regular basis, distancing myself from Cooper.
Every time I would come home, I would see the baby and walk away. And I would go straight to Noah. For whatever reason, the only thing that really comforted me in that really lonely place was Noah. I would lay in bed with him or cuddle him, and it was because I was longing for that feeling I had after giving birth to him. We had connected so easily and I wanted that feeling back
I had read about PPD during my first pregnancy, and I had asked my family to watch for it. I asked them to force me to the doctor if they recognized any of the signs with me. And because everything went so well with Noah, I just assumed that everything would be the same with Cooper. So PPD was totally off my radar and I didn’t think it would happen to me because it didn’t happen to me after my first child.
But there was no doubt that I found myself totally disconnected from Cooper. I don’t want to say that I didn’t love him….OK, maybe I didn’t love him in the beginning [tears].
I was so torn, and I felt like I didn’t even like him. I never wanted to hurt him, I wanted to hurt myself because I felt so guilty for feeling like I didn’t want him, didn’t love him. And then, I would get so mad at myself because he didn’t ask to be born, he didn’t ask not to be loved, he didn’t ask for any of that. So I started having feelings of wanting to hurt myself.
When I did start thinking about possibly hurting him, I was always in control enough to put him in his crib and walk away. And normally when I walked away from Cooper, I would walk straight to Noah and that would hurt me because I didn’t like the fact that I was putting one child ahead of the other.
Cooper never did anything to deserve the lack of love, and that killed me.
Nobody really said anything to me and I didn’t really think twice about it. I would just wake up every day and move through the motions and try not to really think about anything.
And then one night, when my husband wasn’t home, I put Noah to bed as usual and Cooper was crying and I couldn’t calm him down. It was one of those long days, so I put him in his crib to cry and I walked away.
I went outside and sat there for an hour and a half and just cried. When I did that, I had a pot on my stove with cinnamon sticks in it to make the house smell good. When I came back inside, my house was completely engulfed in smoke because I had burnt the pot down to nothing. At that moment, I had hit rock bottom. I was so scared that I had hurt my kids because I couldn’t control my emotions.
I called one my best friends and she said, ‘Bri, I think it’s time to go and talk to the doctor.’ And I’m so thankful for her every day, because I think if it weren’t for her saying something, I really don’t know if I would’ve reached out for help. And I don’t think I would have recognized that I had some ‘true’ issues.
I went to the doctor and I filled out the depression checklist. After she read it, my doctor didn’t really say much or ask me about my feelings. She just prescribed me antidepressants. At that point, I was desperate and I just wanted to love my child so I went on the pills.
I then started going to counseling and I discovered that I had postpartum depression and that there were a lot of other women going through what I was going through.
But to this day, I was disappointed in my doctor for that fact that she didn’t give me any information. I filled out the depression survey and then she put me on drugs. She didn’t tell me there is a postpartum support group in my community, she didn’t tell me PPD is normal, she didn’t tell me that many other women go through it as well.
It was like, ‘Hush-hush, here take these pills and you’ll be fine.’ And if I hadn’t gone into counseling, I don’t think I would have been fine. And I don’t know how long it would have gone on.
I didn’t feel my first connection to Cooper until he was 6-months-old. I don’t know what happened on that day, but I remember finally having a feeling of joy and love for him. And for once I didn’t feel guilty — it was the guilt that killed me, I think. To this day, I feel guilt about those first 6 months of his life, and I will until the day I die. Now, I try to ‘make up’ for that time with him. And I have such an amazing bond with him now — no different than my older son. You would never know that had happened.
My experience with postpartum depression was hard for me, but it was also very hard on my marriage.
My husband didn’t understand and I couldn’t articulate it. Now we’re in a better place and he definitely does understand. But we had always talked about having lots of kids, and after having PPD I said, ‘No more kids, I’m not doing this again.’ I went from wanting to be a stay-at-home mom more than anything in the world, to absolutely refusing to be a stay-at-home mom. I was definitely heading back to work.
And through the internet and rumors, all I heard and read about postpartum depression was that after having every child it gets worse. So I didn’t think it was safe for the children, or myself, to have anymore children.
I stayed on my antidepressants for 2 1/2 years, and even while on them, I was really disappointed in myself for ever having felt that way about Cooper. I think I punished myself a bit everyday for it. And I was forced to really take a look at myself.
I grew up dreaming of becoming a good wife and a good mother, it might sound lame, but that was my dream. And then after I had postpartum depression, I just felt like I wasn’t a good wife or a good mother.
I had to find something that made me happy and filled that void. After many conversations about this, one day my husband said to me,
‘The only time I see you smile anymore is when you have your camera in your hand.’
After having my first son, I got my first SLR and I loved it. So he said to me, ‘Why don’t you do something with photography for a living?’ And I replied, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s just a hobby,’ And he replied, ‘But lots of people are asking you to take pictures of their kids, so this is probably an indication that you have the right eye for photography.’ I kept downplaying it and saying I couldn’t do it. He kept pushing it and pushing it.
And whenever he noticed I was down, he would literally grab the camera and put it in my hand. He would say that I turned into a different person when I was taking pictures.
I started to notice that whenever I didn’t feel connected to myself, to my life, I would grab a photo album and I would remind myself that even though there are hard days and bad moments, I could always go back to my photo albums and look at the amazing life we have together.
There came a point when I said to myself, ‘This is what I want to do for a living.’ I thought that if I could give the gift of pictures to any mom or any family to look back on, that would be amazing.
I think that whether you go through postpartum depression or not, a mom is going to have her bad days. And she is going to have her moments where she doesn’t think she can do it anymore, or she doesn’t think she’s doing it well enough. But you forget about all little moments in life, that are really the most important.
For me, I’m so happy to have photographs of my kids to remind me on my bad days that my kids are happy, and I’m doing a good job with them. And I wanted to give that gift to other parents.
So at the age of 23, I went back to college to study photography and I fell in love with it. And I’ve had two more children since!
Because of photography and my newfound passion in life, I really felt like I could handle more pregnancies and children. I was living a joyful life with my kids and photography, so I really wanted to go ahead with my original plans for a big family.
After I had my third son, Miller, I had no postpartum depression whatsoever. That pregnancy and the newborn stage went so well that we decided to have a fourth child.
I will admit that during my fourth pregnancy, I hit rock bottom again. I wasn’t doing well, and I was freaking out. I think it’s because there was a similar age gap with my younger sons. I had gotten pregnant when Miller was just 7-months-old, just like the first two boys, and I was having flashbacks to what happened with Cooper.
I instantly started feeling guilty again about what happened with Cooper and I was so paranoid that it was going to happen again. I went on antidepressants during my pregnancy — I had to do what I had to do. I wasn’t sure I could get through the pregnancy without hurting myself.
My fourth son, Hudson, had some complications at birth which kickstarted my postpartum depression almost instantly because I blamed myself for going on antidepressants during the pregnancy. But it was completely unrelated and due to a very quick labor. After a couple of days he was fine, but it was too late for me because it brought everything up again. So I struggled with PPD again, but because I had gone through it with Cooper I went straight to my doctor.
Now that Hudson is 3-years-old, I deal with it still to an extent every day. I am on antidepressants and they help me get through. I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I am so thankful for my family and friends, because honestly, I did not find the help in the health care field. There is a huge need, yet a lack of help for women with postpartum depression.
As a newborn photographer, I talk to so many women who feel disconnected from their health care professionals. And many times, I’m that person who tells them to reach out for some help. But some people are really embarrassed and ashamed to talk about it.
I’ve also noticed that some women will go to their doctor, and the doctor will wave it off and say it’s the baby blues. I will always recommend women to get a second opinion. And a lot of times, the doctors don’t ask the right questions, or don’t listen closely enough, and as a result far too many women are suffering in silence.
I would have to say that the No. 1 thing that helped me with postpartum depression was admitting that I had postpartum depression, and talking about it openly.
Some people think that it should be kept private, but the more I talk about it the better I feel. When you put that stigma, or that embarrassment, or that guilt on it, it will eat you alive.
I still have my days when I feel like an idiot for being on antidepressants. But as my husband always says, there is something out of balance in my body and the pills help. I may or may not need to be on them forever. If I had cancer and the doctor told me to take pills to make me feel better, I would do it without blinking an eye.
But for some reason when it comes to mental health, people think they just have to be stronger. But you can only be so strong and sometimes you just need that help. I encourage women to reach out for help from their doctors and find support groups in their community. And I hope we can stop shaming postpartum depression and let women know that there is help if needed.
I think that everything happens for a reason and I think that it was a journey I was supposed to go on to better myself. I really wonder, if I never had postpartum depression, would I have found photography which is such a huge part of my life now. I think this is what was meant to be.
My best analogy is: you know when you go to see a movie you’re really excited about and it turns out to be not that great?
I almost think that my expectations of marriage and kids were too high. And I really didn’t think that postpartum depression would ever happen to me since I was so blissful after my first baby.
And, not to mention, you only hear of the extreme cases on the news where women murder their children. If you ask me, that’s not even postpartum depression, that’s on a completely different level. After having four kids, I truly believe that the hardest transition is from 1 to 2 kids. Once you’ve mastered 2 kids, you can go forward.
I think it’s important that your partner, your family, and your friends have got your back. When I was struggling with Cooper, I didn’t tell my husband. I just hid it all inside, and eventually it just ate away at me.
And now I have an amazing doctor, and through talking to me and exploring my situation, we’ve discovered that I no longer have postpartum depression but an anxiety disorder. I know now that it’s the unknown that scares the crap out of me — but I also know that the unknown scares the crap out of a lot of people. I’m learning to take things day-by-day, and stop to enjoy the little things in life: a great photograph, a belly laugh, or even a fart from one of my kids [laughs]. I just look for the best in life and I am trying my best.
I have to wonder if I had more support for myself in the postpartum period – not how to breastfeed, swaddle, soothe the baby, etc. – and more information on PPD, I wonder if I would have ever gone through it all. So I feel so passionately about raising awareness about postpartum depression.
I have learned about taking some time for myself — whether it’s an hour a day to read a book, or shoot some photos, or go have a girls’ night out. I’ve learned to take that time for myself.
And I have to say that my biggest fear about doing this story is that Cooper will find out one day that I didn’t love him for the first 6 months of his life.
I know that somewhere deep down that I always did love him. But I will always be so grateful for that experience — if it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I’d have the life that I have now.
I can honestly say that I love all four of my children equally. But I am willing to put myself out there, and know that Cooper will see this story one day, in the hopes that I can help women out there also struggling with postpartum depression. When he is old enough, I will definitely explain it to him and I hope that he will forgive me for not connecting with him right away.”