My first almost wordless blog post, ever. The words in this image say it all. It is an important message that we, as family members, friends, neighbors or even colleagues of new mothers, should take very seriously. Permission to use this image granted by Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center and author of numerous books on perinatal mood disorders.
I met Amy in April 2013 at an event that took place at St. Clare’s Behavioral Health of Denville, New Jersey, and co-hosted by the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey. I was a speaker at that event. That night, I met a group of amazing mothers, many of whom I’ve stayed in touch with ever since. We try to meet up as much as we can, but since we all live in different parts of Northern New Jersey, we’ve only been able to meet up once a year. Our last get-together was just over a month ago. With Amy’s son just turning five yesterday, writing up her responses gave her the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the journey from the time she was was caught blindsided by insomnia and panic attacks to where she is today.
Thank you, Amy, for sharing your experience. Your story, along with the stories of the other moms who have shared their experiences, helps other moms– desperate to find information on what is happening to them–see that they are far from alone in their experiences and recovery occurs with the right treatment and support. One or more of these experiences is bound to resonate with these new mothers .
QUESTION 1: When/what was the first indication that something wasn’t right, and how long after childbirth did the first sign occur?
ANSWER: After being married for 10 years, we were finally able to have a baby after trying for 3 years. I had an emergency c-section, we all spent three happy days in the hospital with our baby, and I scored very well on the hospital’s postpartum depression (PPD) survey. But within in a few hours of returning home, the world dropped out from under me, and I just suddenly and inexplicably wanted nothing to do with my baby.
QUESTION 2: Did you suffer from insomnia? What other symptoms did you experience, if any?
ANSWER: Yes, I had insomnia. I was exhausted, but as soon as I was alone in my dark bedroom, laying on my bed, I would start having very physical panic attacks. I imagined running away, getting in the car to run an errand and just driving west and never going home. I had racing thoughts. I never wanted to hurt myself or my baby, but I fantasized about not waking up and how much I hoped that would happen.
QUESTION 3: Did you see a doctor right away, and was he/she able to help you? What course of treatment did he/she prescribe? Did he/she diagnose you with a postpartum mood disorder?
ANSWER: I saw my midwife within the first week or two. She gave me another PPD survey and I scored terribly. My midwife reassured me that this happens. She gave me Rx’s for Xanax and Ambien, gave me the number of the Saint Clare’s mental health line, and encouraged me to get professional mental health care. Based on the survey and our conversation, she said it sounded like I was suffering from PPD rather than the baby blues or postpartum psychosis.
QUESTION 4: If you had to take meds, what was it/what were they and how long did you have to take it/them?
ANSWER: I didn’t end up taking the meds my midwife prescribed because I really wanted to breastfeed, and I had this weird feeling that if I quit breastfeeding, I might actually run away. Breastfeeding was the only thing I could do that no one else could do, so I used it to convince myself that I couldn’t run away. I truly think breastfeeding helped me stay and helped me bond with my baby even though I absolutely did not want to.
QUESTION 5: Did you have enough resources to help you with your recovery? What kind of resources did you have (e.g., support group, postpartum doula, psychiatrist, partner reduced work hours/worked from home)? Did you have enough practical help (e.g., late night feedings) with the baby?
ANSWER: The help I got from Saint Clare’s (in the form of weekly therapy with an incredible therapist AND a bi-weekly PPD support group) was priceless. It healed my mind. My church was aware of what was going on and was fully supportive and non-judgmental, offering help constantly. My mother and mother-in-law both stayed longer than planned. My husband and I worked out a great schedule where I could get 5-6 hours of sleep each night, with him keeping the baby in the family room and taking several feedings so I could sleep alone.
QUESTION 6: When was the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel and you were starting your recovery?
ANSWER: After 8 months of therapy and 12 months of attending the support group, I have a vivid memory of my mom and me in her kitchen a few days before Christmas when my baby was almost 15 months old. We were listening to Christmas music and baking, and I was laughing and we started dancing to the music, and it was an authentic joy I was able to feel for the first time since I had my baby.
QUESTION 7: Did you have any more children after this PPD experience, and if so, did you do anything to prepare yourself and were you able to ward off PPD the subsequent time(s)?
ANSWER: We tried to have another baby, but weren’t successful after a year of trying. We may try again, but for now we have finished the process of adoption, and are now waiting to be matched. I do still worry about post-adoption depression because I’m prone to depression after a big transition. I’m preparing myself and will have substantial support lined up.
QUESTION 8: If you could go back in time what advice would you give yourself before you got pregnant?
ANSWER: I guess I might tell myself to study a little more about emergency c-sections, worst case pregnancy scenarios, and PPD. But, at the same time, I enjoyed my pregnancy so much, so I probably would have had a hard time accepting that anything like PPD could happen to me anyway. I’m glad I had a happy, healthy pregnancy without too many fears and worries.
QUESTION 9: Did anything positive come out of your PPD experience?
ANSWER: Oh my goodness, through my PPD support group, I met some of the most amazing, talented, educated, professional, successful, authentic, vulnerable, and empowering women that I have ever met in my entire life. I also sorted through the depths of my heart and mind with my therapist, learned more about myself than I’d ever known, and learned how to understand and have more control of my thoughts. I have become a more compassionate person. I could go on and on. This journey has taught me so much about myself, and about life, pain, and love.
QUESTION 10: What would you want to say to women currently suffering with PPD?
ANSWER: This absolutely devastating experience will not only end, but it can and will strengthen you. It seems like an oxymoron, but if you fight hard, you will be absolutely amazed at the power that is within you to love deeper than ever before. Seeking real help and being vulnerable, though so hard, is exactly what will help you heal and be everything you want to be.
This is the third of my series of blog posts about postpartum insomnia.
I met Bryn recently via the closed Facebook group for Postpartum Support International. Thank you, Bryn, for sharing your experience on my blog. I am very glad that the process of reflecting back to the time you suffered from postpartum depression (PPD)/postpartum anxiety (PPA) and putting your thoughts down was cathartic. I’ve always found blogging to be a therapeutic process, and I encourage all my readers to consider writing/blogging about your experiences. It will truly make a difference and help you process/validate what you went through.
Now, without further ado, here are Bryn’s 10 Q&A…..
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When/what was the first indication that something wasn’t right, and how long after childbirth did the first sign occur?
My first sign was probably before I even left the hospital. I had a regular check-up at 38w6d and had low amniotic fluid, so I was induced that evening, Friday. Delivered Saturday morning and went home Monday late afternoon. During that whole time, I maybe slept a handful of hours total. Early Monday morning I was a wreck, sobbing about putting baby girl in the nursery so we could sleep and sobbing because I couldn’t sleep. But that just registered to me as Very Emotional First Time Mom. My first official indication that something wasn’t right was trying to sleep at home Monday night and free falling into my first-ever panic attack. I felt very, very dangerous. I remember looking at some scissors and making some very disorienting, strong connections to my panic and danger and those scissors. I actually picked them up and will never forget my husband saying, “Bryn, put down the scissors.” I made DH drive us (me and the three-day-old, poor girl) right back to the ER, where I had another panic attack. My folks had visited earlier that morning, had already driven home (80 miles away) and then drove back to be with me at the hospital. DH’s mom drove to our house to set up helping out with baby girl (So, so grateful to have one grandma who’s a Labor & Delivery Nurse and one grandma who’s a Licensed Professional Counselor Mental Health Professional). I finally got some Ativan and went home to try sleeping with Unisom. This was around 2am. DH’s mom woke me up around 6am to nurse. So, I maybe got four hours of sleep. I remember feeling so incredulous that, even after everything that had happened the previous night, she would actually wake me up. But, um, duh, I do have a baby now. Four hours was generous! I was very much in denial. So, short answer, my first sign that something wasn’t right happened 2-3 days postpartum.
Did you suffer from insomnia? What other symptoms did you experience, if any?
Yes. Monday night I got a few hours of sleep after Ativan and Unisom. Tuesday night, I tried melatonin and didn’t sleep. Wednesday late afternoon, I tried to go to bed early and took Unisom since that worked okay Monday night. I didn’t sleep and was also so whacked out with constant anxiety and mini-panic attacks that I pleaded to go back to the hospital. I begged and begged the ER to sedate me. I was out of my ever-loving mind, clinging to DH and just losing it. At 8pm, after a lot of doc consults and one psych consult (and the number to the local crisis stabilization unit), I finally got a cocktail of Benadryl, Ativan and Haldol. I slept for 10 hours, waking up at 6am and went right back to high-strung anxiety and all-day panic. Thursday night, I tried Ambien and woke up after an hour. Made a deal with DH that I would go to baby girl’s first doc appointment Friday morning and then we would check me in somewhere. We’d spent a week trying to figure out what the hell to do with me and how to get me better, and now it was the professionals’ turn.
Now, just out of curiosity, do you have a personal history of depression and/or anxiety or other mood disorder?
I had a brief period of depression in high school after moving cross country my junior year, but that experience didn’t lead to anything that truly interfered with my life the way my PPD/PPA did after I had my baby. The sadness during my junior year definitely felt different than other times in my life. I remember functioning like a zombie, numb for a few months until I got into the swing of things. My mom says I barely ate for a few weeks, but I don’t really remember that. I didn’t have any treatment beyond the school counselor getting me involved in the basketball team as a scorekeeper. It wasn’t until after I gave birth that I experienced a mood disorder that prevented me from sleeping, functioning and enjoying the baby that I gave birth to after a very stressful IVF cycle so much so that I truly needed medication to help with recovery.
Did you see a doctor right away, and was he/she able to help you? What course of treatment did he/she prescribe? Did he/she diagnose you with a postpartum mood disorder?
Tuesday, after my first panic attacks, we went back to my midwife to check in with her about all this. They prescribed Xanax, which turned out to not really agree with me. I don’t remember them diagnosing me with a mood disorder of any kind. And I don’t remember PPD/PPA being mentioned. Just that I was having difficulty getting back on track. But I did take the Edinburgh and remembering scoring off the charts, so maybe we had that discussion? I really don’t remember.
If you had to take meds, what was it/what were they and how long did you have to take it/them? Did you have enough resources to help you with your recovery? What kind of resources did you have (e.g., support group, postpartum doula, psychiatrist, partner reduced work hours/worked from home)? Did you have enough practical help (e.g., late night feedings) with the baby?
I started with Xanax (anti-anxiety) from my midwife, which just gave me jitters and put me out of sorts. I first checked in to a local, free, crisis stabilization unit Friday morning (one week postpartum) in Cookeville, TN where we were living at the time, but once I got fully checked in and started assessing the place (with my vast knowledge of psychiatric help facilities [sarcasm]), I started freaking out that they weren’t going to be able to help me because the doctor had already gone home for the day and I had zero confidence they could get me to sleep that night. I went into panic mode again. The nurse got authorization to give me some Ativan (anti-anxiety). I called my family to come get me, and we headed to Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital instead. The Ativan really helped keep me calm for about an hour or two. I kind of wish I had had that all that first week, but of course, that wouldn’t have addressed any underlying issues.
Vandy Psych checked me in via the ER and a Patient Transfer Unit. That place. I will always remember that place as the lowest of my low points. It was a perfectly fine unit with perfectly great, professional people. That was just where it all came to the point of no return for me. My folks were with me while DH and his mom were with baby girl. We just waited and waited, on furniture that was bolted to the ground, I might add. We had intake and consult after intake and consult. And there were a handful of other folks in the other rooms waiting, just like me, for a bed to open up. Knowing what I know now about the process, they had mercy and definitely pushed me ahead of other folks. I was pacing and freaking out and then pumping and trying to lie down and changing my diaper because I was still only a week postpartum, and pacing and freaking out on repeat. I was so beyond exhausted, my dad paced behind me so I wouldn’t fall over. I pleaded with the staff to get me in so I could just go to sleep. I remember telling anyone who would listen I was this close to just banging my head against the wall to knock myself out. I was VERY aware of feeling this “line” just right there in front of me. I very easily could go ahead and bang my head against the wall. But I knew if I crossed that line, there would be no coming back, not for a long time or without a lot of repercussions. That willpower to not beat my head against the wall or go flailing out of control, letting loose all the fucked-up crazy that was pent up inside me, that was the strongest I have ever been. Ever. I am in awe of myself for not letting go. I guess I come by my control issues and anxiety honestly.
At one point I got pretty worked up and they gave me Atarax (anti-anxiety) to calm down. Man, those -axes do not agree with me. I felt like my soul was trying to come out through my skin and my skin was trying to dissolve off me at the same time. So horrible.
When I finally got to the psych unit, I was given a brief tour and another intake and then some sleep meds. I know Zyprexa (anti-psychotic) was one of them, and I think melatonin (supplement) or Benadryl (antihistamine), or both, were in there, too. This was a bit after midnight and I slept until about 7am. The staff had been told not to wake me and seemed pretty surprised to see me lining up for breakfast.
For whatever reason, I did not have my anxiety and insomnia symptoms during my long weekend stay Inpatient. They switched me from Xanax to Zoloft (anti-depressant) because I wanted to keep trying breastfeeding/pumping. I stepped down on the Zyprexa for sleep and the last two nights switched to melatonin. After three days, I felt ready to go home, against doc’s advice. I didn’t even sign up to attend Outpatient the next day. I felt great. (My discharge papers diagnosed me with “major depression with postpartum onset.”) DH picked me up, and we drove to his mom’s where they had moved during this time to be closer to where I was. When we arrived, I immediately held my baby girl and immediately went straight back into panic and despair. My doc team and family had decided I wouldn’t sleep in the same room as the baby just yet, so I battled through panic (that I hadn’t felt in four days) in another room and somehow slept fairly well. I RAN back up to the hospital the next morning and begged them to let me in the Outpatient program. I participated in that program for the rest of that week (two weeks postpartum) and had no new meds, but did step up my Zoloft.
At the end of that week, we were going to drive back to Cookeville for baby girl’s two-week pediatric appointment and I was pretty worked up about going back to that house, that bedroom, that no-sleep zone. Doc gave me some super low dose Klonopin (anti-anxiety) and I managed to make it to Sunday without taking any. Sunday night I slept in the same room with DH and baby girl, and actually did a night feeding shift (formula) around 2am, I think. We went to her appointment, refreshed some clothing and stuff and drove back to Nashville so I could finish the Outpatient program that week.
That weekend back home in Cookeville started a set-back. I made the hard, but relieving decision to stop pumping and switch to formula. Pumping/breastfeeding sent me into panic every time and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I went back to Outpatient Tuesday (sobbing to my mom on the drive up there, sobbing so hard she made me drive to her place so she could drive me the rest of the way) and Tuesday night confessed to DH that I was having thoughts of cutting myself. Just something to distract me from this misery that I could not escape. I just wanted it all to go away and there was no magic pill for that. Mom drove me to Outpatient again Wednesday morning and I confessed the same to her. With her therapist hat on, she asked me if I had considered checking myself back in. I just sobbed more. I actually really wanted to go back Inpatient. In there, I was safe and taken care of and structured and understood. If I could just pause Life, and if they could just fix me, then I could go be a mom and a wife and Life would be doable again.
So, a week after being discharged, I checked myself back in. This time, I stayed just over a week. I had all my anxiety symptoms, but was at least sleeping fine. The doc team added Risperidone (anti-psychotic) to my meds and Pindolol (beta blocker). When I was discharged, I was scared. I didn’t feel confident this time going back to Life. I gladly went to Outpatient and continued to sleep apart from DH and baby girl. I did okay over my first weekend back (no Outpatient and no structure made weekends scary) and finished out the whole next week.
After being away for two years, we had already planned to move from Cookeville back to Nashville over this summer. So, after this second attempt at Inpatient and Outpatient, I was four weeks postpartum and we needed to be out of our apartment two weeks later.
Luckily, yes, we had resources. We had a ton of resources. Both our families lived in the area and were a HUGE help. We got moved back, DH started a new job, and I had two more months maternity leave. I no longer felt in crisis, but I also did not see the light at the end of the tunnel just yet.
When was the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel and you were starting your recovery?
The light at the end of the tunnel probably came around six months postpartum. I posted on Facebook that “it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t cried or felt miserable and had, in fact, been feeling rather “up” for almost one whole glorious week.” Going back to work was ROUGH. Finally feeling love for baby girl and then leaving her at home with Grandma was ROUGH. I weaned off Risperidone and Pindolol, but stayed on Zoloft. I continued my Psych follow-ups. I tried different counselors, but didn’t find a good fit until almost a year later. Unfortunately, what helped me most, I think, was giving myself permission to be bad at everything except surviving; I was subpar at my job, a crappy wife, I let go of chores and cleaning, and gave up and went to bed around 8pm most nights.
Did you have any more children after this PPD experience, and if so, did you do anything to prepare yourself and were you able to ward off PPD the subsequent time(s)?
I am 16 months postpartum and just starting to think about more kids. This time last year, even thinking about more kids was a big Hell No. But, here we are. Baby girl was such an easy baby and is seriously a delightful toddler. Surely, we’re setting ourselves up for a colicky next kid! I will say, we battled through infertility for a few years before conceiving via IVF, and if we didn’t have frozen embryos already, we’d be one and done. We just don’t have the funds or energy for a fresh cycle, and, clearly, the old-fashioned way just doesn’t work for us.
To those ends, I have been reading What Am I Thinking? by Karen Kleiman. Her book This Isn’t What I Expected was a bible for me during Inpatient and those first several weeks. DH and I want to find some counseling so that we’ve strengthened “us” the best we can before a second potential crazystorm. I will likely stay on my Zoloft, maybe step down a bit, but stay on.
If you could go back in time what advice would you give yourself before you got pregnant?
Advice for pre-crazy Bryn? I don’t know. Unfortunately, I tend to be a “go through the mess myself” kind of person instead of believing the person who says, “Don’t go that way, it’s a mess.” I got pregnant via a never unstressful cycle. I was commuting 80 miles one way for work a few times a week and staying with my folks (away from DH) a few nights a week (thus not having to commute every day). I had Factor V Leiden which meant I gave myself shots of Lovenox in my belly twice a day during the entire pregnancy until six weeks AFTER delivering. I had an ER scare with severe abdominal pain mid-pregnancy (inconclusive, but definitely not pre-labor/BH). And I was eventually induced a week early because of repeated low amniotic fluid. Whew. I think my advice would be Pay Attention and Take It The F Easy. It’s so easy to look back and see the massive amount of stress I was managing and living with. When the swirling hormone stew that is postpartum became a reality, the control I thought I had of everything that I had been dealing with just fell apart.
Did anything positive come out of your PPD experience?
I remember feeling incredibly raw and vulnerable during those first several crisis weeks. And that actually felt good. To just be so real and open and honest and bare with those around me. Everyone knew what was what and I just didn’t care what folks thought of me. I was in crisis. I was a mess. I was fighting for my life. And I REACHED OUT. I RAN to help. Maybe it’s because of growing up with a therapist for a mother, but I had zero shame in seeking help. I had shame about failing my daughter, my husband, burdening my in-laws, scaring the hell out of my parents. But I didn’t have shame about sharing the hell I was going through and hoping someone could reach down and help pull me out. I see that as a positive.
What would you want to say to women currently suffering with PPD?
I have no idea what to say to others going through this. I don’t know that anyone could have said anything to me. I babbled and raged and folks listened and I started meds and I kind of feel like I just waited it out. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I made sure I felt safe with the folks around me in case I fell, and then just gritted my teeth and kept going. It REALLY sucked. But it doesn’t now. That’s probably not very inspiring or life-affirming, but maybe that will resonate with someone.
This is the second of the series of posts about postpartum insomnia. I met Kim recently via the closed Facebook group for Postpartum Support International. Insomnia was one of the symptoms that she suffered as a consequence of postpartum anxiety and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Thank you, Kim, for sharing your story on my blog!
I’ve always been anxious. It’s been my temperament since day one; just ask my parents. I wouldn’t know that I’ve also had OCD must of my life until after I had my first child. Looking back, all I can say is – DUH! – but in the 90s and even beyond, there just wasn’t a lot of information available about these mental “disorders.” My parents even took me to a child psychiatrist, but to no avail. Admittedly, it’s hard to diagnose someone at such a young age (I was 10), but the more we talk about it the easier it might become, right?
Anyway, before I became pregnant with my first child, I had a miscarriage, specifically a “missed” miscarriage, during the 12-week check, after which the recovery went on far longer than I expected. It was painful, emotionally and physically speaking, but we got through it and got pregnant again.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t as anxious as I thought I would be this time around. Despite moving 2.5 hours away from my family while 6 months pregnant, I was confident everything would be fine. My sister had had 2 kids prior and, to all outward appearances, she had made it look so easy!
Fast forward 3ish months and this baby wasn’t budging. 10 days past my due date, they decided to induce. Again, little to no progress. After 16 hours of contractions, they finally made the decision to do a C-section and, low and behold, there was my baby! Yikes!
From night one, he cried. And cried. And cried. I attempted nursing with very little success, but kept trying. (Eventually, I’d move to only formula, but not before going through several different types before settling on one that didn’t cause the babe major discomfort that led to hours upon hours of late night screaming).
All of this took a huge toll on me physically, emotionally, mentally. I felt like, because my husband was working, I needed to be the one to take care of my child during the night time hours. Sleep was not something that came easily…initially, because of the stress of middle of the night feedings/endless screaming, later because of extreme anxiety/OCD and the consequent insomnia.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from this harrowing postpartum experience is that sleep is ESSENTIAL. We need that time to reflect, to recharge, to RELAX.
Ultimately, the lack of sleep (I was averaging 2 hours a night on the couch with my son so that my husband could sleep) sent me on a terrifying downward spiral. I began experiencing awful intrusive thoughts that, even thought I didn’t understand it at the time, are directly associated with high anxiety and OCD. After some research, I discovered Postpartum Progress, an amazingly informative website that helped me to understand what was happening to me.
Even though I was hesitant to start medication, my OB prescribed me Lexapro. I began taking it and, the first night, woke up experiencing severe anxiety bordering on a panic attack. Now, please understand that this is a side effect listed in the pamphlet accompanying the medication. In a twist of utter injustice, these SSRI (selective serotonin re-update inhibitor) medications can sometimes increase anxiety before decreasing it. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it did happen to me.
After 3 days of heightened anxiety and very little sleep, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was a stranger to myself, completely lost in the sleeplessness, anxiety, and panic. I could hardly take care of myself, let alone my one month old baby. After a visit to the ER, I made the decision to voluntarily admit myself to a local inpatient mental hospital. During my 3-day stay, I was able to see different counselors (some more helpful than others), let the Lexapro get into my system, as well as start taking trazodone to help with the insomnia.
It’s not a choice everyone would make. And, in hindsight, I’m not even sure I would make the same decision again. However, upon my return home, I was adamant that facing my fears (being alone with my child, especially during the lonely night-time hours) and getting better were my top priorities. My mother-in-law came to stay for a week as added support and my family was extra attentive to my overall well-being. I realize that I’m so very fortunate to have this support system and I fervently pray that all of you are similarly blessed.
***If you aren’t, please, PLEASE reach out to someone, anyone. Join a mom’s group, a Bible study (if that’s your thing), even a Facebook group. There are SO many people out there who have gone through this. We just need to start the conversation and keep it rolling.***
I’m not going to lie. It was a challenging couple of weeks while the medicine took time to really start working. The trazodone helped immensely with my insomnia and the Lexapro helped slow down my mind so I could separate myself from the deceptive thoughts that anxiety allows to creep in. But it got easier every day and, eventually, I began to recognize myself again. It’s not an easy role shift, I’ll tell you that. And it really shouldn’t be, regardless of what’s depicted in movies, television, magazines, etc. There’s a huge learning curve associated with new parenthood. Some take to it right away; others need a little/lot more time to adjust and that’s OKAY.
But please trust that it WILL come. You will learn. You will adjust. And it will be so, so worth it.
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.
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:
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.
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?