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!

 

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