Jessica Gale Friesen considers herself a strong woman.
She is not quite 40 yet, but is already the third-generation owner and CEO of Gales Gas Bars. She is also a registered nurse, having worked in acute and long-term care, and a person accustomed to feeling in control of her life, of “having everything covered.”
She is now also a published author, with the release of This Will Not Break Me, the story of her very private journey through a time when there were aspects of her life she couldn’t control.
Fourteen years ago, she and her husband, high school sweetheart Ed Friesen had their first child.
When she was in labour with her son, she was given demerol, which had a negative effect on her and her baby. He had to spend some time in the neonatal intensive care unit, a “scary, isolating and difficult time” for her.
She felt guilty, that it was her fault for taking the drug, and as the days went on, when she also had trouble breast-feeding, she began to view herself as inadequate as a mother.
With her background in nursing, “I thought I was more than prepared, perfectly capable of having a baby. But things didn’t go as planned.”
Once home with her newborn, she found she could barely get herself dressed in the mornings. Some mornings she couldn’t. She felt all she could manage was giving her son the basic necessities, feeding him and changing his diapers. The days of having a meticulously clean and tidy home were behind her. Usually a social person, she didn’t want to leave the house, or see family or friends.
This was before the blossoming of social media, before you could connect with friends and find any information you needed from others going through something similar, and she had lost touch with her high school friends. “The friends I did have, didn’t have children,” she says, the programs that existed didn’t deal with what she was feeling, and she hadn’t had a lot of experience being around babies, or taking care of them.
She knew she was withdrawing from people, even family, because, she says, she was sure they would see what a terrible mother she was.
When she did try to talk to others about how she felt, or asked for advice, they would tell her she was fine, all new moms feel the same way, she’d figure it out, it would get better, easier. But it didn’t. “Nobody was helping me figure it out.”
She felt a lot of pressure about breast-feeding, which made things worse, not better, and believes “there is still a lot of pressure to do things a certain way.”
Friesen says over the years she has thought a lot about that time in her life, and decided to write her feelings down, in a book that might help others.
“All new moms struggle,” she says, “but I didn’t realize at the time how badly I was struggling. I didn’t realize my feelings then were extreme.”
She eventually found Baby Talk, a group for young mothers who met weekly, and shared their challenges.
It is a program put on by the Ontario Early Years Centre — visit niagararegion.ca/living/childcare/early-years/ for more information.
“Nobody said ‘you’ll figure it out.’ Instead, everybody said, ‘this is what I tried.’ That was when things started to change for me.”
It happened in a way that was “very organic,” she says, and helped her once again feel in control of her life.
“I was finally able to wrap my head around what I needed, and to look back and realize how extreme my situation was. I had come from working as a nurse in a hospital taking care of 10 patients at a time, with a multidisciplinary team, to not being able to look after one baby, and not realizing it shouldn’t be that way,” says Friesen.
When she looked back on that period in her life, and it became obvious she was suffering from postpartum depression, and she could see it for what it was, she decided to share that very personal journey with others.
“Postpartum depression is not something you can easily describe. It affects everyone in a different way, but when I looked at the signs, I realized I had all of them,” she says.
“I thought a lot about it over the years, and started to write about it, putting all the dots together. It was really cathartic, and I thought that if I can put this on paper, it might help others like me. It (postpartum depression) is still not always recognized, and a lot of women don’t want to talk about it. The last thing you want is for people to think you can’t take care of your baby. When my mind was going to extremes, I was having nightmares about people taking my son from me.”
There has to be somebody to start that conversation, and there are not a lot of people willing to be that person, she adds.
“It is no longer acceptable to assume new parents will ‘figure it out,’ when people are suffering and, sometimes, dying, because they can’t see a way out.”
Friesen is a busy woman, now a business professional as well as a mom of two teens, Eddie, 14, and Camryn, 12. She and Ed are bringing up the next generation in St. Davids, where she and her two siblings were raised and went to school. But she is about to become even busier, with the virtual launch of This Will Not Break Me, Wednesday, June 30, at 5 p.m. Published by Ownera Media, the book will be available for purchase through retail channels, including Amazon, and at www.jessicagalefriesen.com.
Friesen will be featured in a Lunch and Learn event being presented by United Way Niagara on July 21, to discuss her book. A portion of the proceeds for the Lunch and Learn are going directly to United Way Niagara.
To purchase tickets, contact United Way, or visit her website.