Postpartum: Let’s Talk About Perinatal Depression and Anxiety

According to the Bauer Report, 20% of women will suffer from perinatal depression or anxiety. One in five, that’s a lot! Yet, we still talk very little about it in the public arena, in our families and in our circles of friends.

Although we are generally more familiar with the word postpartum (referring to the period after giving birth), the illness can also begin during pregnancy, which is why I use the word “perinatal” instead.

Mother and father taking care of their baby
Dr. Vi Nguyen, Psychiatrist and mom

My name is Vi, but at the Montreal General Hospital and the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) where I work, many know me as Dr. Nguyen.

I am a psychiatrist within the Mental Health Mission of the MUHC and I have specialized for the past ten years in diagnosing and supporting women with perinatal depression and anxiety.

I understand these illnesses more than many people, I know all the signs and symptoms and I know the healthy lifestyle habits to maintain to avoid them as much as possible. None of this stopped me from suffering from depression myself in the period surrounding the birth of my son two years ago.

Because I believe that it is important to talk about these things in order to break the taboos and to provide tools for new parents and their support system, I would like to share my story with you. It is unique to me, but at the same time, I know that it is similar to that of many other women.


We think we’re safe from the condition, we see it from an outside, analytical perspective. And then one day, it happens to us.

My Perinatal Depression

Depression can take many forms. In my case, the first signs of depression appeared quite early on, in the first trimester of my pregnancy. A friend of mine who is a nurse pointed out that I didn’t look normal.

When she used the word “depression”, I wiped it away. No, I’m a psychiatrist, I would know! Looking back, she wasn’t wrong. Throughout my pregnancy, I had lost the desire to do activities, to see people, and for an active, social person like me, this was very abnormal. 

After the birth of my son, this weariness reached another level. I just didn’t want to go back to work anymore. In a field like mine, where work is a huge part of one’s schedule and identity, this was perceived in a strange way. My colleagues also talked to me about postpartum depression. They were also right.

I would still like to say that part of my reaction was normal. The illness, but also my new reality as a mom, forced me to take a step back and evaluate my priorities and my “game plan”.

Let’s talk about the game plan! Like many mothers of my generation, I had planned everything in advance. I had read all the books and manuals, I had even done psychotherapy during my pregnancy. I had decided that I would need three nannies on different shifts, that I would have as busy a social life as before and that I would be back to work quite early.

I was ready! But the reality is that you are never really ready… and in the end when my son showed up, all I wanted was to be with him.

And there’s a part of that that’s normal! But there’s also the rest, which is something to watch out for:

For my part, I realized that I really needed help when it came the time to do the sleep training. To be honest, I couldn’t have done it without pharmacological help. Yes, even I needed medication to help me get through it.

I was co-sleeping and it was very stressful, and then when my son started crying, it hurt me in a visceral, excessive way I was unable to let him cry. I was tired, exhausted. In the end, it took us a month to overcome this ordeal. For a month, no one in our little family slept! But we finally made it.

I would say it was about nine months after giving birth that my depressive symptoms got worse, probably due to all the new stresses that came along during that time: the pressure of having to let my place of work know when I was planning on coming back, finding a daycare, changing the sleep routine. That’s really when I reached my limit.

It’s normal for emotions to be more intense at this point in our lives. I also believe that a certain amount of emotionality can be an asset in many aspects of our lives, but beware, when our emotions are so intense that they prevent us from functioning, there is a problem.

Fortunately, I went to counseling and was able to get the help I needed.