Postpartum Insomnia Series – Story 1: MRS. J

I want to thank Mrs. J for sharing her postpartum insomnia story with us.  She reached out to me via my blog a little over 2 months ago and we’ve corresponded via email since then.  Her twins are now just over 3 months old, and she is relieved and happy to report that she is well on her road to recovery and able to appreciate motherhood.  Mrs. J has had 4 other babies before and did not previously experience prenatal depression, postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety (PPA).  Though, looking back, she thinks she might have had mild PPD before, now that she knows what having PPD is really like.  Like me, she was caught blindsided by insomnia, though hers really started before childbirth but was nevertheless what started her on her journey of perinatal illness.

Now, without further ado, here’s Mrs. J’s story.

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When Ivy asked me to share my story on her blog, I jumped at the opportunity. Had I found her blog before things escalated with me, I believe I would not have gotten as bad as I did.  Because of my experience, I want to offer hope to other moms who are suffering with PPD, PPA, and dreaded INSOMNIA that is one of the worst things anyone can ever go through, especially after just having had a baby….or in my case babies. That’s why I am sharing my story.

I gave birth to four healthy children before I found out I was pregnant a fifth time. At my 8-week ultrasound, the ultrasound tech looked at me and announced I was expecting twins. TWINS! Wow, that threw me for a really huge loop. After my initial shock wore off, I started to feel rather excited to take on this new experience.

My pregnancy was long but pretty uneventful up until my 7th month. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which in itself is not too big of a deal.  You can control it with diet, which I was able to do. But I had been diagnosed with cholestasis during my last pregnancy, and it started rearing its ugly head again in this pregnancy. Cholestasis manifests itself with severe itching, usually on the palms of your hands and the bottoms of your feet. I started to have trouble sleeping when they tested me for cholestasis and during the 10-day wait for the test results. I couldn’t shut off my mind to the worry of having a vaginal twin birth (which was my hope!) and worry that I would have to be induced early for the cholestasis diagnosis and the negative impact it could have on the health of my babies.

I started to really have problems falling asleep. My doctor recommended I take Benadryl to help me sleep, and I was able to fall asleep and stay asleep for at least 6 hours the first two nights.  But on the 3rd night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I tried everything from warm baths with Epsom salt to drinking warm milk and avoiding television.  I wouldn’t touch caffeine with a ten foot pole. Everything you could read about “sleep hygiene” I tried. Nothing worked. I would pace the floors and move from my bed to the couch and back to my bed, all while my kids and husband were sleeping restfully. I called my OB office countless times and they wanted me to try Ambien. I was terrified to try Ambien, as I had never had to take a sleep aid before and I’d read horror stories of people doing things that they couldn’t remember doing while on Ambien. On the first night, I made my husband stay awake to make sure I didn’t start sleep walking and drive off into the night. I can now look back and laugh at this. I took the Ambien at 9:30 that night and was up by 4:00 in the morning. The second night I took it, I slept for maybe 4 hours. The third night I only got an hour of sleep. I was exhausted. I couldn’t nap during the day. I couldn’t sleep during the night besides a few hours here and there. I was calling and calling my OB office for help, but they couldn’t understand my desperation. My friends and relatives couldn’t understand either, but then again, how can you really understand such desperation until you’ve actually been there.  None of them have been through this before.

My OB suggested I go on Zoloft but I was having anxiety about taking an antidepressant while pregnant and I told her I wanted to try Prozac as I was on that before and it had helped with my General Anxiety Disorder. You see, I’m no stranger to anxiety and panic attacks but this was a whole different ball game. I never had trouble falling asleep like this in the past. It’s ironic that I am someone who’s always preached about how important sleep is to mental health….and yet I can’t sleep!  I have always needed a full night’s rest to feel good.  Why was this happening to me?!

Somehow, I managed to muddle through the last 3 weeks of pregnancy.  I was supposed to be induced at 36 weeks because my liver test results for cholestasis showed elevated levels. But 2 nights before I was to be induced, my water broke. Since I wasn’t 36 weeks yet, the hospital policy required me to be transferred to a bigger hospital.  The doctor on call there told my OB that he was going to perform a C-section. I was pretty devastated, as I wanted a vaginal birth and both my babies were head down on the ultrasound. Turns out, I progressed way too quickly and couldn’t be transferred.  Three hours after my water broke, I delivered two healthy little preemie boys. They didn’t need NICU time, thankfully.  But once I got back to my room, I started to hemorrhage.  I was terrified. My husband was in the nursery with my twins and not by my side when I started gushing blood. My OB was called in and was able to scrape all the clots out (ouch!).  To say I was exhausted at this point is an understatement. I probably looked like death. I certainly felt like I was on the brink of death.

Even after weeks of not sleeping, being up for 30 something hours straight, giving birth and then hemorrhaging, I only managed to sleep 4 hours the first night after giving birth.  I thought my body would shut down for hours from sheer exhaustion, but it didn’t. On the second night in the hospital, I asked for Ambien and I was able to sleep for about 6 hours.

After two nights in the hospital everyone was healthy, so they sent us home. The first night home, I didn’t sleep at all. Not ONE minute. I was delirious. I was still taking Prozac at that point.  I called the OB and asked if I could be prescribed something besides Prozac and Ambien. She told me I needed to call my family doctor because she can’t prescribe anything other than the general sleep aid and antidepressant. I called my family doctor and got in the next day. He prescribed Xanax to take at night. So, here I thought this would solve my problems. It worked the first and second night, but by the third night (again!) I woke up after an hour of sleep and couldn’t fall back asleep. I didn’t understand how this medication would only help for a couple days but then it wouldn’t work anymore.  I’ve never experienced anything like this before.  Not knowing why I wasn’t sleeping even though I was exhausted added to my anxiety.

I thank God every day for giving me such a patient husband. He took care of the twins, and we sent our 4 other kids to stay with family. I started feeling desperate again, so I called my family doctor to see what he could do for me. His only suggestion was to double my Prozac dose.  The increased dosage didn’t help.  Now that I look back, I realize I wasn’t being as honest as I should have been. I should have told him that I didn’t think I could make it through another day.  On the ride home from that appointment, at every intersection I wanted a car to plow into us and just end it all. My husband and twins were in the vehicle and that didn’t matter to me. I had lost all will to live. I tried thinking of my kids and how much they needed a mother, but I still did not want to live anymore. I felt so hopeless and desperate.  It was on that ride home that I texted a friend to tell her that I think I needed to check myself into a psych ward. She texted back saying that if that’s what I felt I needed, it was the right thing to do. It was what I needed to hear, but it was the hardest decision I’d ever had to make in my life.

At that point, I didn’t know what I needed, I didn’t know who could help me, and I thought no one in the world has been where I was.  I just knew that I felt scared, alone and hopeless.

Once in the hospital, the first night was hell.  I was still on Xanax. I didn’t sleep at all. I wanted to die that night. And then to be in this strange place, with people yelling out all night long…..I’d never imagined I would ever need to be in a psych ward before. I wanted to disappear.  I didn’t want to exist anymore. I feared I would soon be hallucinating and hearing things. I reminded myself I was in a safe place. It was where I needed to be.

In the hospital you are exposed to all different kinds of mental health suffering. It was really frightening, eye opening and even fascinating. I had so much ignorance regarding mental health before that. In that psych ward I saw people with depression and anxiety like me, people having psychotic episodes, people addicted to drugs, old people with dementia, and war veterans with PTSD. It was so interesting to learn from the nurses, doctors, and other patients and see how much help people needed and can get for their mental health problems.

After 6 nights of trial and error I went home.  I was on the antidepressant Zoloft, the antipsychotic drug Seroquel as a sleep aid, and Vistaril on an as-needed basis for anxiety. I was terrified to go home and be in the same place where I had such horrible memories the month before. We sent the twins to stay with family. The only ones home with us were our two oldest children, as they had to go to school. I wore ear plugs, turned on the fans for white noise, and slept alone. I managed to sleep 5 hours….still not a full 6 or 7 hours like I would normally sleep, but it was so much better than before. I still felt like my life was never going to be “normal” again.

I remember hearing the train go by not far from our house.  I recalled the story of a mom suffering from PPD who threw herself in front of a train and killed herself. I felt I was going to do that.  My mind and body were so tired and I was in such a bad place that I could understand why she would carry out such an act of desperation.

After visits with a therapist, a new family doctor, and supportive friends and family, I slowly but surely started feeling better.  I started to have good minutes that would turn to good hours and finally turn to good days. Slowly but surely, I was able to sleep longer and longer stretches without waking.  If I did wake, I could fall back asleep.

I truly, truly, truly did NOT have any hope at all until I found Ivy’s blog and began reading her experience and the experiences of other moms in the same situation in the comment threads. It was such a blessing to read all of that and realize that there IS hope. THERE IS HOPE. I read about people who said that they felt hopeless and thought they would never return to their old selves again.  I FELT THE SAME WAY!  When you are in the midst of fighting dark hellish days, it is so hard to believe that life will ever return to a state of normalcy. But IT WILL. If you’re reading this and are experiencing dark days, please know that IT WILL GET BETTER. DO NOT LOSE HOPE and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

My husband stayed home for 6 weeks to help me with the twins (once they came home) and the other two kids.  He also helped with the twins’ night feedings. But after he went back to work, I experienced a major setback. My comfort, my support, my rock was leaving and it felt terrifying. After he went back to work, my doctor upped my Zoloft dose and thankfully my mom stayed over the first week and helped with the twins at night.  A few family members helped with nights after my mom went home. It wasn’t until my twins were 13 weeks old that I felt confident enough to not only try taking on the night feedings with the twins but to also starting weaning off my sleep medication. Thankfully, as I write this, I am no longer dependent on my sleep medication! I am only on the Zoloft and I plan to stay on it for as long as necessary to make sure my brain chemical levels stabilize.

Just as Ivy’s husband feared at one point that she would never get better, my husband feared I would never recover. It was very tough for our husbands to watch us suffer and not be able to fix any of it. It was hard for our family members to watch us suffer and not know how to help us feel better.  If you are like me and have loved ones who do not understand the extent of our suffering, do not get frustrated with them. They can’t understand because they haven’t been through this kind of hell before.  They don’t understand that you are not being dramatic, and that you can’t just calm down, close your eyes and fall asleep.

I know you can’t help how you are feeling and you can’t control your anxiety levels or will yourself to sleep. In fact, the more you try to control it, the worse you feel. Just know that it will get better and you need to give your body time to adjust to your medication.  You WILL get better.  It just takes time, and I know that when you’re suffering, it feels like time is deliberately tormenting you by crawling so slowly.  Hang in there and try to avoid looking too far ahead.  Take one day at a time.  Once you get the right help, the days will go by quicker and easier.

I look back at these last few months and can now say I am thankful in many ways for going through what I went through. I have gained so much insight and have a whole new outlook on life and on mental health. I’ve learned that PPD and PPA are not due to some character flaw.  It’s not my fault I went through it.  I’m a survivor and you will be one too!

I am now enjoying motherhood and feeling so incredibly thankful for my two little twin boys.  They are such a joy and blessing!  I can now relax with my few cups of coffee during the day and not fear that darn caffeine will keep me up at night.

Hallelujah!

 

What I Know Now About Introversion I Wish I’d Known Earlier

I have this post to thank for bringing me out of the woodwork to blog for the first time in about a month: “Life as an Introverted Child Star.”  What caught my attention was a Quiet Revolution meme that popped up in my Facebook feed this morning with the following words that totally hit home:

Modern American culture assumes extroversion is the default setting for human interaction. It looks at us as an undifferentiated mass of life forms, longing for the next new moment in the spotlight, the next boisterous barbeque, or the next holiday party crammed to the rafters. Some of us are indeed like that. But many of us, probably from within days of conception, are hardwired to warm up slowly, need fewer people, and be easily overwhelmed.

My days at work in the city are so non-stop and stressed that all I want to do with my time not at work is to veg.  Sleep in (which I haven’t had a chance to do in weeks and usually try to do at least every Sunday morning), sit there in the morning with my coffee, listen to the cardinals and robins sing in the back yard, browse my Facebook timeline, and do nothing all day except for the occasional errand.  This is the kind of day I’ve had for the past 3 days.  But while I need this once in a while to keep my sanity in check, balance my insane workweek with the occasional peace and quiet offered by my small but cozy home in the burbs, and basically reboot, I long for company.

Having people over has been a challenge and what I’ve blogged about previously.  Coordinating get-togethers takes time to sync up schedules with another family/ies and cleaning the house (if we host here, which has always been such an effort because I don’t have the time to maintain the house during the work week with the schedule my husband and I have).  Plus my daughter, from the time she was about 2, has always had such an issue warming up to her friends that half the play date would go by before she was finally comfortable enough to interact with her friends.  When she was an infant, she developed colic, and now I think back to those days, wondering if she was colicky due to being over-stimulated.  Introverts are highly sensitive individuals who have the tendency to feel overstimulated and are easily drained, which is why they prefer quiet and solitude.  She also had a biting issue, which as I had mentioned previously was a learned reaction (she was bitten by another child) and now that I think back, she was probably overstimulated from all the kids around her and biting was a way for her to communicate to her daycare providers that she needed attention.  She also suffers from low blood sugar, which manifests itself in the form of a sudden dip in mood, which usually calls for tears and the following demeanor:

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For the past 10 years of my daughter’s life I wondered why she was the way she was.  It wasn’t just shyness.   She hit her milestones just fine.  She smiled, rolled over, sat up, spoke her first words, stood up and walked while holding onto something just fine. It’s just when it came to walking that she waited until she was 15 months old to do by herself.  She was overly cautious, wanting to be absolutely certain she could do it before she attempted to walk on her own.  I suppose her tendency to be cautious, combined with her shyness, made her slow to warm up when it came to any kind of a gathering–whether it be among relatives during holidays, school or a play date.  By the time she warmed up in any social situation, it was almost time to go home.  Other children her age lacked the patience and understanding to wait for her to warm up, so they’d move on. She used to express her dislike for large groups by crying and clinging to me.  Nowadays, she still acts as if she wants to shrink away and disappear during gatherings.  Being an only child no doubt contributes to her desire to either be by herself or at home rather than in a busy, crowded place.  She has found it challenging to make friends in school and would prefer to be by herself rather than participate in group activities she doesn’t care for. She would rather spend time finishing an assignment she didn’t finish during class (she’s a slow worker but over time I’ve come to realize that may be a ploy to excuse herself from recess) than go to recess where she tends to be alone.  It’s too bad they are just now putting in place a Buddy Bench for kids next year to start to take advantage of, as my daughter is moving on to a different school next fall.

Her grandparents and other relatives used to wonder why she was this shy….perhaps it was our fault for not arranging more play dates?  We should encourage her to be less shy?  Ugh, if only they could live in our shoes for just a day, they would know this was not of our doing! If only I had stumbled across this meme earlier, so I can show them so they’d criticize us less!

I try to recall what I used to be like when I was little.  Was I shy?  Yes. Did it take me a long time to warm up? I don’t really recall and my parents don’t think so.  Am I introverted?  I’m still trying to figure that out but from everything I’ve read recently, I don’t believe so.  There are shy extroverts and shy introverts.  Basically, there are various degrees and kinds of extroverts and introverts, which is why I’ve been pondering what I am and what my daughter is for some time now.  The main key to introversion versus extroversion is how one derives their energy.  Extroverted people derive their energy from public places and being around people.  Introverted people derive their energy from quiet activities, like reading (which I’ve always disliked, believe it or not) and places, like libraries (I’ve always felt too quiet for me and books were not my thing).  My idea of a good day is being out and about, preferably with friends.  If I’m not with people, I feel lonely and de-energized. When I’m in a gathering, I’m happy.  Though, as I get older, the crowds are younger and younger, so I’m getting more picky when it comes to the type of gathering I attend.  During my college reunion last week, I was always one of the last ones out of the over 100 classmates to stay up talking and drinking.  I’ve never been sure whether participation in team sports versus one-on-one sports is a factor in determining introversion vs extroversion.  I always liked one-one-one sports, the favorite of which is badminton.  I’ve always been passionate about sailing (but had no trouble staying on board a chartered boat  with strangers 24/7 and sailing with a flotilla of 5-6 boats and mingling with these people daily for 8-10 days at a time).

Now, my husband on the other hand does not like crowds one bit. He hates NYC with a passion (and that’s where I work 5 days a week).  He has never liked going to night clubs or parties where you don’t know most of the people and everyone is packed in with no room to move.  He refuses to drive to and spend time at the shore during the in-season, so the only time we’d go (with him) is in September-October.  His idea of a good day is watching television in his dark man cave. You couldn’t pay him any amount of money to “work a room” the way I used to in my younger years when I was trying to network in the city.  He used to play football, which is a team sport.

It was due to a number of things going on simultaneously with our daughter last fall, at the start of her fifth grade year, that we were concerned there was something going on that warranted assessments for migraines, ADHD, social anxiety disorder, and learning disability.  She has always feared being the center of attention, which meant class participation was a No No for her, which means that her grades suffer for not participating like her peers.  I let my teacher and principal know that it’s a shame that students with this fear get dinged instead of finding a way to nurture her out of her shell.  She fears public speaking just like I’ve always feared public speaking.  Earlier this year, she was frustrated about the sheer amount of home work she was assigned each day.  We always wondered why there was so much of it and it seemed like she was the only one struggling with the amount.  She nearly always worked from the time she got home from after-school care at 5:30 until 10:00 at night.  She’d be in tears half the time.  She only had the one migraine, which we now believe was brought on by dehydration.  We participated in a one-day Child Mind Institute program that tested her cognitive functions, and she tested fine….no learning disabilities.  It was suggested we go through our school district to have her tested for attention deficit to rule that out because she does seem to miss getting her arms around her homework assignments half the time (but then again, that was my issue, and I told her she should not leave the classroom until she asks the teacher for clarification if she doesn’t understand anything at all about her homework). After talking to other parents and a couple of counselors and reading up on introversion vs extroversion and introversion vs social anxiety (“The 4 Differences Between Introversion and Social Anxiety” is an excellent article that is marvelously educational) and ADHD vs anxiety, we’ve finally determined that she’s a shy introvert that feels easily overwhelmed/anxious in school due to her perfectionist tendencies and therefore works more slowly on her class work and homework than the average student.  I know that girls who go into puberty are at more risk of becoming depressed due to hormonal changes and the changes that come with changes to their body, so I have been keeping a close eye on her and have not seen any signs of that.  I will continue to keep a close eye on her knowing my past experience with postpartum depression (PPD).

Thank goodness to the resources I’ve recently come across on Facebook:  Child Mind Institute and Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution, I’ve learned more from the past couple of months than I did the past 10 years combined. I am also currently reading Susan Cain’s new book, “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts,” which I have recommended to the principal of my daughter’s school to make it recommended reading for fifth graders, and I will also discuss this with the principal of our middle school in the fall. All middle schoolers, parents, and teachers should read the book.  It is important for parents and educators alike to know how to help an introverted child thrive and perform better in school and social situations.  The book explains what introversion is and the biology behind introversion (I love books that explain the science behind things).  Another article that I found on-point is a Washington Post On Parenting article by Amy Joyce dated May 25, 2016 titled “Your introverted child has secret strengths, says Susan Cain in her new book ‘Quiet Power.’

One of the best, most educational article I’ve read thus far about introversion, extroversion, shyness, social anxiety, sitters, rovers was written by Susan Cain in the NY Times on 6/25/11.  It’s titled “Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?”  There is a mix of people for a reason, through the evolutionary process of natural selection. If you have never read this, PLEASE take the time to read it. I promise you it will be a very interesting read!

To see how much you know in terms of the differences between introversion and extroversion, test your knowledge with this quiz.

It has been a long path to awareness that I wish people could’ve just come out and told us years ago.  It could’ve made a huge difference when my daughter was 1 to 2 years of age.  The self doubt that came about from lack of experience from how to handle her behavior in day care certainly didn’t help back when I was a mom with PPD. We could’ve approached things differently and things may not be the way they are for her today with her shyness and introversion and anxiety about doing well.

In any event, I choose not to look back and say “what if” and regret what could have been, but rather to look forward and continue to do the best we can to nurture her with the knowledge we now have.

Hats off to Chicago Med

I just watched my 3rd episode of “Chicago Med”….yet another brilliant TV show created by Dick Wolf of “Law & Order” fame. My only regret was not discovering this show sooner! This show has a thoughtfully-written script and characters realistically portrayed by a great cast in a way that–much like “House” in its first season–draws you into each episode.  Oliver Platt plays the Chief of Psychiatry at Chicago Med, and I think he’s doing an awesome job!  The best part about “Chicago Med,” IMO,  is the fact that it’s the only show, as far I’m aware, that affords a weekly story line delving into the realm of mental health.  Yes, MENTAL HEALTH.  There are multiple story lines happening concurrently with the cast, but from I’ve seen from the 3 episodes I’ve watched, the focus of each week’s episode is primarily about a situation involving mental health.  Not just an occasional acknowledgment here and there during a whole television season that yes, there are health issues that aren’t entirely medical in nature (think Dr. House and his addiction to vicodin for his “pain”) but a FULL story line each and every week dedicated to at least one person struggling with a mental health issue.

Finally, prime time television is taking a serious stab at shedding light on mental health!  For that, I am grateful.  You know why? Because we need to talk more about mental health conditions.


Depression…..PTSD…….Suicide……Obsessive Compulsive Disorder…..Bipolar Disorder….Self Harm….Eating Disorders…..Postpartum Depression…..Sociopathy……Borderline Personality Disorder…..Schizophrenia……etc.


 

Every single person out there knows someone who has experienced one or more of these mental health issues.  You wouldn’t know that, though, because the tendency is for people to hide these things thanks to misconceptions spawned by the very little that we do know about them.

Thank you, “Chicago Med,” for shining a light on mental health.  I look forward to future episodes, and hope that more and more people will start watching the show.  My hope is that “Chicago Med” will prompt other show producers/directors to create more shows like this, realizing the need to make mental health a part of our daily discourse and encourage discussions and curiosity about these conditions and create a mentality that “Hey, a mental health condition deserves to be diagnosed and treated the same way as, say, diabetes or a heart condition.”

Keeping mental health conditions swept under a rug and a mystery from the public create a taboo mentality that mental health conditions don’t deserve to be treated and you should just “snap out of it” or stop imagining that you even have any kind of condition in the first place.  Part of the problem is that mental health conditions are, as quoted in the episode tonight, “invisible.” In tonight’s episode, Dr. Ethan Choi (played by Brian Tee) continues to battle the effects of his PTSD from serving in the military.  His girlfriend Vicki makes a reference to mental health conditions as being difficult to diagnose/treat because they don’t necessarily exhibit any physical symptoms and/or there doesn’t appear to be a medical explanation for those symptoms.  Modern medicine and technologies are making headway–albeit slowly- in assisting doctors and psychiatrists to confirm and/or make diagnoses via brain scans.  The patient under Dr. Choi’s care in tonight’s episode appeared to also be a victim of PTSD from being in combat, but it was through Dr. Choi’s keen observations that they ultimately determined the patient had excessive scar tissues near his heart that caused the sound of his heart beating to echo loudly in the poor guy’s head.  So, he wasn’t imagining things and he most certainly wasn’t suffering from PTSD like he was insisting from the beginning!  And of course, no one believed him!  This is where I applaud the writers for writing a script that shows that, even though someone may appear to be suffering from a mental health condition, you can’t assume that there isn’t a physical or medical explanation for what the person is experiencing until you take the time to determine the root cause for a patient’s experience.  Just like depression has a scientific explanation, like a hormonal and/or neurotransmitter imbalance, there is a biological explanation behind every mental health disorder. And it’s the task of research scientists to figure that all out, and I pray they hurry the heck up because we are losing too many people each year to mental illnesses!  But I digress…..

I end this blog post with a call for “Chicago Med” to include an episode or two on postpartum depression. We desperately need an episode that informs the public of the difference between postpartum depression and other postpartum conditions like postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis and postpartum bipolar.  Please, please, please, Dick Wolf and team of writers: please reach out to Postpartum Support International today and collaborate together on a series of episodes on postpartum mood disorders.

If you look at the statistics, how can people NOT produce more shows on a topic that touches so many lives?

 

 

Postpartum Bipolar Disorder: The Invisible Postpartum Mood Disorder

In response to my blog post from February 3, 2016 titled “15%-21% of Moms Suffer from a Perinatal Mood Disorder” in which I mention yet another mother who suffered from a postpartum condition that resulted in tragedy, fellow maternal mental health advocate Dyane Leshin-Harwood left me a comment that prompted me to offer her to explain why it’s so crucial to know the difference between postpartum bipolar and postpartum psychosis.  I explained to her that I haven’t seen much out there on a comparison between the two, and of course, the more we speak up about these conditions, the better off we all are!  These are illnesses that are extremely misunderstood, which can result in unnecessary stigma, mothers not getting the help they need because they don’t know who to go to for help, doctors not necessarily knowing how to properly diagnose and/or treat these mothers……and sometimes leading to tragic circumstances.

So, without further ado, I’d like to share Dyane’s story and important information about postpartum bipolar disorder.  Thank you, Dyane, for all the work that you do as a maternal mental heath advocate!

Postpartum Bipolar Disorder: The Invisible Postpartum Mood Disorder

Like father, like daughter: I grew up close to my father, a professional violinist who had bipolar disorder. In this photo I was eight months pregnant, and I never suspected that childbirth would trigger my bipolar disorder.

Like father, like daughter: I grew up close to my father, a professional violinist who had bipolar disorder. In this photo I was eight months pregnant, and I never suspected that childbirth would trigger my bipolar disorder.

By Dyane Leshin-Harwood 

Bipolar disorder, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis have recently made media headlines. Katie Holmes stars as a lovestruck poet with bipolar disorder in the film Touched With Fire. The British hit television show EastEnders featured a postpartum psychosis storyline that gained national attention. Last January in a landmark decision, the U.S. Preventative Task Force called for screening for depression during and after pregnancy.

While the greater awareness of postpartum mood disorders is promising, postpartum bipolar disorder, the mood disorder I was diagnosed with, is virtually unheard of. Postpartum bipolar is also known as bipolar, peripartum onset, and it’s arguably the least known of the six postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.

It might seem unimportant to publicize an obscure mood disorder, but every mom’s postpartum experience counts. Many medical professionals are unaware that postpartum bipolar exists. Some postpartum and bipolar organizations are unfamiliar with postpartum bipolar or they’re unclear about its definition.

When I was pregnant, my obstetrician didn’t question me about my mental health or my family’s mental health history. My father had bipolar disorder, but before and during my pregnancy I didn’t show any signs of mental illness.

When I went into labor, my life changed overnight.

We went to the hospital and I stayed up all night in pain. When my daughter Marilla was born the next day, I became hypomanic. I was exuberant and talkative (both signs of hypomania), but I appeared relatively normal. My baby attracted most of the attention, and no one noticed that I was in trouble. Exhausted, I sensed something was off, but I kept my fearful feelings inside.

Within forty-eight hours I had hypergraphia, a rare condition in which one compulsively writes. I wrote at every opportunity, even during breastfeeding, when I should’ve been resting and focusing on my baby. I could barely sleep as my mania escalated, and poor Marilla didn’t gain enough weight because I didn’t breastfeed her sufficiently.

A month postpartum, I knew I was manic; after all, I had witnessed mania in my Dad. I frantically searched the internet about postpartum mania, but my search only yielded postpartum psychosis statistics. During Marilla’s six-week checkup, her observant pediatrician heard my racing voice and pressurized speech (symptoms of bipolar) and blurted out “Dyane, I think you’re manic!”

I burst into tears. While I felt ashamed, I was relieved that he realized what was happening. It was clear I needed hospitalization, but leaving my newborn was agonizing. I admitted myself into a hospital’s psychiatric unit where I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder.

After years of hospitalizations, medication trials, and electroconvulsive (ECT) therapy, I’m stable and doing well. While bipolar disorder ravages many relationships, my husband and I have stayed together, in part, thanks to the guidance of counselors and psychiatrists. Life will always be a challenge, but my two daughters inspire me to take care of myself.

While chances of postpartum bipolar are low, it can affect any mother. Obstetrician and Perinatal Mental Health Lead Dr. Raja Gangopadhyay of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, UK, explains,

“The risk of developing new-onset severe mental illness is higher in early post-childbirth period than any other time in women’s life. Family history, pre-existing mental health conditions, traumatic birth experience and sleep deprivation could be potential risk factors. Bipolar illness can present for the first time during this period. Accurate diagnosis is the key to the recovery.”

Confusion abounds regarding postpartum bipolar and postpartum psychosis. While the two conditions can present together, postpartum bipolar isn’t always accompanied by postpartum psychosis. Perinatal psychologist Shoshana Bennett Ph.D., co-author of the bestselling classic Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety says,

“Many women I’ve worked with had been previously misdiagnosed with postpartum depression. I always make a point of discussing this during my presentations. In addition, postpartum bipolar disorder deserves its own category separate from postpartum psychosis.”

Mental health screening during pregnancy would be of immense value to every mom. Women with a family history of bipolar disorder could be observed postpartum, and if symptoms manifested they’d be treated immediately. It’s imperative that doctors and other caregivers assess women not only for postpartum depression but also bipolar symptoms.

Everyone who lives with a stigmatized illness deserves a chance to find support and empathy from others who understand her experience. Through connecting with those who can relate to our mood disorder, we may not find a magic cure, but virtual support can be profoundly helpful. Postpartum Support International recently created online support groups in English and Spanish led by trained facilitators, while the Postpartum Progress website offers moms a private forum to interact with one another. I’ve never personally met another mom who has postpartum bipolar and I yearn to do so. If you or someone you know is or might be suffering with postpartum bipolar disorder please reach out — I’d love to hear from you!

Kona

My daughters Avonlea, Marilla and husband Craig stood by me through the roughest times.

Dyane’s bio:

Dyane Leshin-Harwood holds a B.A. in English and American Literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz. A freelance writer for over two decades, she has interviewed luminaries including Madeleine L’Engle, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison and SARK. Dyane was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder (bipolar, peripartum onset) in 2007. Dyane was selected as an International Bipolar Foundation Story of Hope and Recovery, and a PsychCentral Mental Health Hero. She’s raising her daughters Avonlea and Marilla with her husband Craig and serves as women’s postpartum mental health advocate. Dyane founded the Santa Cruz, California chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and facilitates free support groups for moms with mood disorders. She’s a member of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders and Postpartum Support International. Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder will be published by Post Hill Press in 2017. Dyane is a Huffington Post blogger. Visit Dyane’s blog Birth of a New Brain at: www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter: @birthofnewbrain

Sounds of Silence 8th Annual Run/Walk – May 14, 2016

Join the Sounds of Silence, Friends of the Postpartum Resource Center of New York’s 8th annual run/walk to help raise funds in the effort to increase awareness of perinatal mood disorders, such as postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis.   Not only is this for an excellent cause, it will be a nice opportunity to race (or walk) a beautiful 5K boardwalk along the Atlantic Ocean.

Please note that this annual fundraiser was started back in 2009 by sisters Erin Mascaro and Lisa Reilly. It was Lisa’s experience with PPD after the birth of her daughter–an experience so deeply painful and full of suffering (a suffering that many others like her feel forced to endure in silence) that was witnessed by Erin and other loved ones–that motivated Erin and Lisa to break the silence of PPD with the Sounds of Silence annual run/walk .  This year’s run/walk will be in Lisa’s memory.   Please help spread the word about this fundraiser by blogging or sharing the flyer on Facebook/Twitter.

Date:  Saturday, May 14, 2016

Time:  Registration from 8:00-9:00; race/walk begins at 9:30 AM.  There will be a Kids Fun Run, Raffles, Food and more.

Place:   Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh, Long Island (Field 5)

Registration:  $25 (adults); $15 (ages 11-18); $5 (ages 10 and under); register here.  Registration is free for those that fundraise $100 or more.

***New This Year***
For those of you who can’t make it in person, you can now register to participate virtually!

Other Race Details:  The top female and male runners, plus top fundraiser, will receive awards.  Back in 2009, I was one of the two top fundraisers, bringing in over $1,000 (as an individual).

For information about last year’s run/walk, please click here.

All proceeds will go towards supporting the important services the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization (tax ID #11-3449880), provides to new mothers and their families.  To learn more about its services, go to:  http://postpartumny.org.

#‎byebyewinter‬ ‪#‎hellospring‬ ‪#‎goodbyewintergreys‬ ‪#‎hellospringcolors‬

Not quite spring yet (only 7 days away) and I can’t contain my excitement.  I just had to stop and take a picture on a neighboring street when I saw, to my great delight, my very first blooming tree of the season in the area.  This particular tree is always the first to bloom and I’ve always wanted to stop and take a picture of it.  This time, I finally had to do it.  Granted, the winter wasn’t a very long, cold or snowy/icy one.  But who doesn’t get excited, after nearly four months of grey and colorless days, to see vibrant colors like this?

HURRAY! WELCOME SPRING!  GOOD BYE WINTER!

hello spring

15%-21% of Moms Suffer from a Perinatal Mood Disorder

For the longest time they were saying between 1 out of 8 women suffer from a perinatal (before, during or after childbirth) mood disorder.  Then, they said between 1 out of 7.  And more recently, literature indicates it’s now approximately 15%-21%, which is anywhere between 1 out of 5 and 1 out of 6, with 21% experiencing a postpartum mood disorder.

If you are suffering from a perinatal mood disorder, you can see from these numbers and in many places online–from a multitude of Facebook support pages, blogs and on Twitter–and in newspapers that you are not alone.  For example, in today’s Upworthy, my friend Heidi Koss shares her experience after the birth of her daughters.  She is a PPD survivor and now helps other moms suffering from perinatal mood disorders.  Her story was also mentioned in an NPR article a week ago today.

You need to know when you need to get help from a doctor and/or therapist.  Get it early.  Know the facts.  Know the difference between postpartum blues and postpartum depression (PPD).  Know the difference between PPD, postpartum anxietypostpartum OCD and postpartum psychosis.  Click here for helpful information that can help you.

You need help for you.
You need help for your baby(ies).
You need help for your family as a whole, including your significant other.

I just found out tonight about the fate of Carol Coronado about whom I blogged in May 2014.  She suffered from postpartum psychosis (not PPD as some newspapers allude to), didn’t get the right help and was just sentenced to life in jail.  Carol, her babies, and her husband were failed by the system.  The same system that failed to ensure she got help is punishing her for their failure.  Sound fair to you?  No!  Her case sounds similar to Andrea Yates case nearly 15 years ago.  I pray for Carol and her family.  She has suffered enough and does not need to spend the rest of her life in jail.  I saw a Facebook comment about Carol that triggered me to write this post.  The coldness and lack of understanding are a reflection of just how close-minded people can be.  It amazes me, really.  It’s really hard to beat down stigma when you have such barriers in the way.  But don’t let any of that deter you from getting help.  YOU are important.  Forget these clueless people.  Get the help you need.  Don’t delay!

Whenever you read about these stories in the news, please remember the facts.  Get information from the right resources (links above would be great place to start).  And don’t let stigma and ignorance steer you away from understanding and compassion.  Don’t let stigma, ignorance, and the close-mindedness of people (those who choose not to understand and would rather continue their misogynistic, super hokey, religious extremist mindset in which women are second class citizens) steer you away from getting the help you need to be well again!  Stay strong!  There is help out there!  Reach out to me.  Reach out to the Postpartum Support International Facebook page (closed group) for support.