Postpartum Insomnia Series – Part 5: VAN

I want to thank Van for sharing her postpartum insomnia experience with us.  She reached out to me via my blog back in January and we’ve corresponded via email since then.  She is nearing the end of her postpartum depression (PPD) journey.

From the time she first reached out to me, I realized her symptoms were very similar to mine.  Every time she reached out to me, I felt like I was experiencing PPD once again. I empathized with her so much, I just wanted to give her a hug and try to do more for her.  But she was very far away.  Thankfully, we were able to exchange emails.  The primary difference between her experience and mine was that she gained weight and craved food, while I lost weight quickly and had no appetite.

Like me, she had a traumatic childbirth experience, hemorrhaging, and a 1-week stay in the hospital.
Like me, she was caught blindsided by insomnia and panic attacks within a few weeks of giving birth.
Like me, she was frightened and had no idea what was wrong with her.
Like me, she was desperate for answers and understanding.

Her frightening experience has resulted in a desire to help other mothers going through PPD.  I figured what better way to start doing so by sharing her own experience on my blog!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

QUESTION:
When/what was the first indication that something wasn’t right, and how long after childbirth did the first sign occur?

ANSWER:
Looking back in hindsight, I felt something wasn’t right shortly after I gave birth but I didn’t think much of it. I attributed it to a traumatic birth (I haemorrhaged and lost 1.5 litres of blood), no sleep, and exhaustion. I remember feeling overwhelmed and very scared. I kept on thinking “What have I done? I don’t want this baby. How am I going to look after this person?” All I wanted to do was get away from this little person, but knew I couldn’t.

Due to my blood loss, infection and complications with the baby, we had to stay in hospital for a week. It was a day after I gave birth and during my hospital stay that the panic attacks started. I remember pacing up and down the ward, not knowing what was happening to me.  I felt an overwhelming surge of adrenalin that made my heart race and made me feel like I was going to die.  It didn’t register that something was wrong.  I just attributed it all to exhaustion, and staying in a busy ward with no sleep.  I thought things would be okay once I was home. I spoke to the midwives about it and they said that what I was going through was normal.  Since they dismissed it, I did too.  It wasn’t until after I was home and the insomnia and panic attacks continued and worsened that I finally acknowledged that something was really wrong.

QUESTION:
Did you suffer from insomnia? What other symptoms did you experience, if any?

ANSWER:
Yes, I suffered from severe post-partum insomnia. I have suffered bouts of insomnia in the past, but didn’t really have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. My past insomnia experiences weren’t as prolonged or severe as my post-partum insomnia. I am not too sure whether it was the anxiety and panic attacks that caused the insomnia or the insomnia that resulted in the panic attacks. For the first four months, my life was pretty much a living hell. I’d have panic attacks 3 times a day, sometimes lasting 2 hours at a time. I was very hysterical and desperate.  Aside from the insomnia and panic attacks, I had a huge appetite and ate 7-8 meals a day. Every 2 hours I’d feel hungry and I didn’t know when to stop.  I would eat throughout the night too. I gained a lot of weight during the first 4 months post-birth. I later found out that sleep deprivation causes changes in the digestive hormones.

I constantly had a dry mouth. I also felt like I had a constant lump stuck in my throat and that my windpipe was closing up. I couldn’t feel my body.  It felt like my nerve endings weren’t working properly.  If you pinched my cheeks or arm I couldn’t fully feel the sensations. I couldn’t feel heat either. My heart would palpitate so much it felt like I was having a heart attack. I felt nauseous pretty much every day.  I couldn’t feel my legs, and felt this constant pins-and-needles sensation on the soles of my feet.  I didn’t know whether that had anything to do with the epidural. I later learnt that all these sensations were symptoms of anxiety. Every time I closed my eyes to try and sleep, all I could feel was the surge of adrenalin through my body.  It felt as though there was a battle between my sleep hormones and adrenalin.  It was a very horrible feeling. I could never relax and I was constantly alert. I developed a fear of sleeping because of all this.  Every night I would get scared about sleeping, wondering whether I would be able to sleep or not. I became very paranoid. I was scared to go out. I became slightly obsessed with certain things. I had certain rituals that if I didn’t/ did do them I thought I wouldn’t get better. I was very desperate to get better and I was so afraid that I wouldn’t. I feared that this would be my life forever. Every day was a battle. I felt I was dying every day. Since I wasn’t sleeping, my mind was very foggy like there was cotton wool in my head.  At the same time, I was very alert and wired. I constantly felt dizzy. Ten months after giving birth I still feel dizzy sometimes.


QUESTION:

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 didn’t see my GP until 10 days after I gave birth. I didn’t sleep at all during those 10 days. I have vivid memories of the day I saw my GP.  I walked into my GP’s office and broke down.  I was hysterical. Tears streamed down my face as I begged in desperation for someone to help me.

My GP wasn’t much help, and he certainly wasn’t reassuring. He prescribed me Zoplicone to help with sleeping and Propanolol for the panic attacks. He said he has never seen anyone like me before and never heard of post-partum insomnia. I wasn’t given a formal diagnosis, but I was referred to the peri-natal team. They did some assessments and concluded that I was very depressed. But I kept saying I wasn’t depressed….. what I needed was sleep. The peri-natal team referred me to a psychiatrist who only wanted to give me anti-depressants, which I didn’t want to take. I was prescribed Paroxetine.  I had to wait 2.5 months post partum until I had my first CBT session. I had 6 sessions in total, once a week. After the 6th session they released me, as they decided I was well enough and didn’t need to continue. If I had a relapse at any point I was suppoed to contact the peri-natal team. So far, I haven’t had to.

 

QUESTION:
If you had to take meds, what was it/what were they and how long did you have to take it/them?

ANSWER:
I took Zoplicone for my sleep and took that for 2-3 month. On some nights I was able to sleep for 2.5 hours with Zoplicone.  On some nights, though, it didn’t help me sleep. I took Propranolol only for a week because I felt it was making my anxiety worse. I was also prescribed Paroxetine, but I never took it because I was so scared of the side effects it’s been known to cause.

 

QUESTION:
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:
Fortunately, I had a very good support network of family and friends. My mum stayed with me for 5 weeks. She was brilliant and looked after me, my husband and my baby. I remember one night, in particular. I was having a panic attack, and my mum held and rocked me and sung me a lullaby. That night occurred during the lowest point of my experience with my post-partum disorder. My husband was also very supportive.  He did all the night feeds for about 3 months until I felt I was able to do them.  During that time, he still went to work every morning. He was amazing.   He supported both me and the baby. The focus was for me to sleep and get better, so I slept in a separate room from my baby and husband so I wouldn’t be disturbed. My mother-in-law also came to help with the baby while I was recovering.  My friends visited regularly.  l called my friends whenever I had a panic attack, as I found talking to others helped me through my panic attacks.  Although I had a brilliant support network, nobody really understood what I was going through. I remember one afternoon when I was having a panic attack. I was alone upstairs in my bedroom crying, and my heart was beating so much that I thought I was going to die from a heart attack. I remember feeling so alone and terrified, and crying and praying for all this to end. It wasn’t until I found Ivy’s blog about post-partum insomnia and disorders that I felt less scared.  Reading her blog and other people’s experiences helped me realize that post-partum depression really does exist and it wasn’t just me.  This realization helped with my recovery.

My peri-natal team was very good.  Someone came to visit me every week for 3 months to check up on me. My CBT therapist, Annie, explained to me that my body had gone into survival mode after a traumatic birth, which could be one of the reasons why I was having panic attacks and experiencing chronic insomnia.

I was so desperate to find answers to what was wrong with me that I was constantly on the Internet trying to find answers. I became a bit of a hypochondriac, thinking that I suffered from everything I read about. I thought I had diabetes, thyroiditis, and adrenal fatigue. I consulted a nutritionist and explained what I was going through. I did an adrenal fatigue saliva test and my cortisol level was very high, especially at night. No wonder I couldn’t sleep! He designed a food plan for me to lower my cortisol levels and told me to take certain vitamins and minerals. To my surprise, I was able to sleep better after being on his food plan. Since I was very reluctant to take medication, I sought alternative therapies. I found crystal healing helped with my recovery. Although the crystals may very well be just a placebo, I still sleep with them. On nights I feel a little anxious, I hold my crystals and I’d fall asleep.

 

QUESTION:
When was the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel and you were starting your recovery?

ANSWER:
I can’t really pinpoint when I started to feel better.  It was a gradual process. I took it one day at a time. Slowly, I got out of the house more, I obsessed less over what I ate and when I ate, and I stopped obsessing about my heart rate and Googling my symptoms. The panic attacks became less frequent. I got more solid hours of sleep. I didn’t ruminate as much about how I felt and how my mind was fuzzy. But recovery was such a long process. Sometime it felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back. I remember emailing Ivy on one of my low days asking her “Will I get better?” She reassured me and said yes. I always looked forward to Ivy’s emails as they made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy.  Slowly but surely I recovered and began to enjoy motherhood and being with my son.

 

QUESTION:
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:
The whole experience did put me off having another baby initially, as I didn’t think I could go through the whole ordeal again. But now, 10 months after giving birth, I think I could do it again because I now know what to expect if I were to have another baby. If I were to suffer from PPD again, I wouldn’t be so afraid and I know it would only be temporary and things will get better.

 

QUESTION:
If you could go back in time what advice would you give yourself before you got pregnant?

ANSWER:
I would advise myself to read up on PPD. I don’t think there is enough awareness on PPD. If you are a first- time mother suffering from it, it’s a very scary situation to be in if you don’t know what is happening to your body and mind.  Throughout my pregnancy no one mentioned PPD. Healthcare providers emphasized pregnancy, labour and giving birth but never once talked about the post-partum period or possible complications during pregnancy and childbirth.  If I had known about PPD, I wouldn’t have felt so scared and isolated. I would also look into hypnobirthing and/or active birthing to have a better and more natural childbirth experience. I would hire a doula to help with childbirth and the first few weeks post-birth.

 

QUESTION:
Did anything positive come out of your PPD experience?

ANSWER:
My experience has had a huge impact on me. I really want to help women going through PPD. I think I’ve grown as a person. I’ve learnt to appreciate the small things. I’m more compassionate and less judgemental and generally happier than I was before my pregnancy.

 

QUESTION:
What would you want to say to women currently suffering with PPD?

ANSWER:
What you are going through is horrible, your hormones are trying to find a balance, and sleep deprivation is beyond awful.  At times you will feel like you are going crazy, but you aren’t. You have hormones that are making you depressed, angry, anxious and/or unable to sleep.

Every day is a battle. Take each day at a time, and do things you think will help you get by each day.  If you think having acupuncture will help, do it.  If you think going shopping will help you get through the day, do it. Do whatever it takes to get through the day.

Get help and support. Get your partner to look after the baby. At the moment, self care is important, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Get medical, practical and emotional support if you haven’t done so already.

I know it doesn’t seem like you will get better, but you will! Slowly but surely you will see snippets of your old self come back and you will be laughing again soon. This is only temporary.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Postpartum Insomnia Series – Part 5: VAN

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s