Rachel Lalonde has started First 40 Days, a resource for new mothers that will help them deal with postpartum depression. Photo by Agnieszka Krawczynski

Tragedy sparks mom to help postpartum depression victims

By  Agnieszka Krawczynski, Canadian Catholic News
  • January 20, 2017

VANCOUVER – Rachel Lalonde understands the pain experienced by Florence Leung, a new mom who went missing and died last fall.

Although Lalonde didn’t know Leung, she felt a connection with the woman because, like Leung, she experienced postpartum depression at the same time.

“Her son is the same age as my son,” said Lalonde, a member of Holy Family Parish in Coquitlam, B.C. “We were going through similar things, at the same time, with a new baby.”

Leung, 32, was found dead Nov. 15, two and a half months after giving birth to her first child. Leung, a registered nurse, had left her home in New Westminster, B.C., for the last time on Oct. 25. Her disappearance prompted widespread media attention and an extensive search by police, who said she may have been suffering from postpartum depression and had been on medication. Her body was found in the waters off Bowen Island near Vancouver and police said foul play was not suspected.

Leung’s tragic story prompted Lalonde to launch an initiative to help women in similar circumstances.

“If she’d had the support that she needed, she would still be here,” Lalonde said. “I wanted to do something positive and preventative, and bring some hope.”

So Lalonde launched First 40 Days, a resource for new mothers. The project includes free self-care baskets filled with personal-care products, a journal, handwritten encouraging notes and information on postpartum depression.

“After having a baby, it’s a very vulnerable time,” she said. “It’s not just ‘business as usual’ right after having a baby. There are a lot of myths, expectations and pressures — that you should be bouncing back.”

Lalonde said that just as airplane passengers are instructed to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others, new mothers need to look after themselves.

“Women often put themselves at the bottom when they have babies. They prioritize themselves last or not at all. I wanted to change that with this project.”

The B.C.-based Pacific Post Partum Support Society estimates one out of every six women experience depression or anxiety after giving birth or adopting a child.

“There’s such a stigma surrounding mental health and maternal mental health. It’s not talked about, but it’s actually so common,” said Lalonde, who struggled for 18 months after the birth of her first child before realizing she was dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety.

“I went through a period of denial. I didn’t have an understanding of what depression was and that it can involve a whole range of symptoms and vary from woman to woman.”

Now the mother of two sons, she wants to help other women get better connected to resources that will help them care for themselves and find support in the community.

“I want these packages to be a way to build community, help a woman to feel less alone, and encourage her,” Lalonde said.

“If I’d had more awareness of these issues after having a baby, I would have been able to receive professional help sooner.”

She hopes to turn First 40 Days into a non-profit organization. In the first few weeks, her online Gofundme page had raised $1,250, which she intends to spend on care packages and to launch a website.

“It can be a difficult time after having a baby,” she said.

“My goal is to remind mothers that there is a natural and necessary period of recuperation after giving birth.”

(B.C. Catholic)

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