Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Postpartum depression a 'death grip'

Fledgling advocacy group urges mothers to seek help

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Nicole Gamble, a registered nurse and volunteer facilitator of a post partum depression support group at the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, with her 16-month old son Oliver in their West End home. Lisa Gibson, the mother of two children who were found drowned in a bathroom tub earlier this week, is suspected to suffer from post partum depression.

JESSICA BURTNICK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Nicole Gamble, a registered nurse and volunteer facilitator of a post partum depression support group at the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, with her 16-month old son Oliver in their West End home. Lisa Gibson, the mother of two children who were found drowned in a bathroom tub earlier this week, is suspected to suffer from post partum depression. Photo Store

Two young children drowned in the bathtub and their mother has been missing since early Wednesday morning.

It's an unspeakable drama unfolding across Portage Avenue from the founder of Manitoba's first and only support group for mothers suffering from postpartum depression, formed just four months ago.

Nicole Gamble was watching the horrific news break while sitting on the couch of her Crestview home, with 16-month-old son Oliver on her lap.

"I was gut-wrenched, completely gut-wrenched," said Gamble. "I immediately thought, 'Oh, man, this sounds like postpartum psychosis, which is a complete break with reality. These mothers who are experiencing this, they don't have any concept of reality. It's an absolute hell. I know this is hard to take, but they can't be held accountable for their actions. My heart just goes out to the whole family, especially those two children who lost their lives."

Police were still searching for Lisa Gibson Friday in the wake of finding her two children, two-year-old Anna and three-month-old Nicholas, unresponsive in the bathtub of the family's Westwood home. The 32-year-old mother has been missing since the incident happened Wednesday morning.

'These mothers who are experiencing this, they don't have any concept of reality. It's an absolute hell. I know this is hard to take, but they can't be held accountable for their actions'

-- Nicole Gamble, holding 16-month-old son, Oliver

Gamble is a nurse who recently founded a postpartum depression group that holds bi-monthly meetings at the Mood Disorder Association of Manitoba's offices at the Fort Garry Hotel. Gamble's motivation was straightforward: After giving birth to Oliver, she had difficulty sleeping. She felt detached from her baby boy. She was nervous and anxious. Eventually, she began to get "graphic, horrific visions" of harm coming to her son.

That's when Gamble knew she was in trouble.

"Being a nurse, I thought I would be immune to postpartum depression because I knew the warning signs," she said. "But it doesn't matter how prepared you are or how well-educated you are, postpartum depression doesn't discriminate. No one chooses PPD -- it chooses you."

Gamble's journey had just begun, though. It was difficult to get appointments with her family doctor. The waiting lists for therapy were too long for immediate treatment. And there was nothing in the way of a tangible support system locally. "Part of my goal after navigating the system and running into problem after problem... I decided to come up with a support group on my own," Gamble said.

Gamble says the fledgling group is small because of a lack of funding and public awareness. They are now posting information on meeting times and workshops on the MDAM website (www.mooddisordermanitoba.ca).

"They call it suffering in silence for a reason," she said. "It's time we talk about the elephant in the room."

But while the tragedy in Westwood might generate awareness about PPD, Gamble is concerned it might -- at least for some women -- exacerbate the stigma already attached to the illness "as they hold illogical fears they may be the next gruesome case."

"This is just an unfortunate part of the illness and something I personally also feared, even though I knew I would not hurt my child," noted Gamble, who was diagnosed with depression, not the more rare case of psychosis.

"Your judgment and rationale when battling PPD is drastically skewed. This is why it is important to get the correct information out there to the public, so that if they know a mother with children under the age of two years who is struggling, they can help her see that it is OK to get help.

"That she is not alone and that just because she may have PPD, she is not a bad mother."

As many as one-in-five women suffers some form of PPD. Gamble believes that number is "underestimated" because of women who are reluctant to report symptoms.

Gamble said there are must-see websites such as the Postpartum Depression Awareness Project, Postpartum Support International and Katherine Stone's Postpartum Progress blog. ("She's the PPD guru of the blog world," Gamble said.)

What should mothers who might be feeling symptoms of PPD (the extreme form being psychosis) do? Be honest with others and yourself, Gamble said.

"First and foremost they need to be open with their public health nurse, their doctors," she said. "A lot of women are withholding what they're actually feeling, what their symptoms truly are, because they're scared of getting their children taken away."

Or because of guilt or shame.

"There's so much stress and pressure out there for moms these days to meet those (model) expectations," Gamble said. "When they lack even slightly there's a tremendous amount of guilt and shame that comes with that. It's like a death grip that holds on to you as tight as it can. I was one of the fortunate ones.... but as we can see with recent events, not all women come through this."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 27, 2013 A4

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