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.