If Only I Had Known – Part II

Today, I decided to continue with the “If Only I Had Known” theme from my first post 5-1/2 years ago in which I had blogged about a prior abdominal procedure to remove a dermoid cyst as a likely cause of infertility due to scar tissue formation.  What prompted me to write another If Only I Had Known post is an article on my feed a couple of days ago.  I’m writing about the same darn dermoid cyst removal procedure and scar tissue formation, but this time as the likely cause of the placenta accreta that ended up setting the stage for the postpartum depression (PPD) that hit me from left field 6 weeks after my daughter was born.  Earlier on in my blogging days, I had shared my less-than-perfect childbirth experience– the “Childbirth Complications” part of the trifecta of conditions in the subtitle of my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood”–that led to the PPD rearing its ugly head.  In that blog post, I shared what happened after the perfectly normal vaginal delivery.

The title of the NPR article that I stumbled across a couple days ago titled “If You Hemorrhage, Don’t Clean Up: Advice from Mothers Who Almost Died” is, needless to say, very attention-grabbing.  The article, written by Adriana Gallardo and Nina Martin of ProPublica and Renee Montagne of NPR, starts off with the life-threatening situation that occurred to Marie McCausland after she gave birth.  The article then shares the advice of other survivors of traumatic and life-threatening childbirth experiences in several categories: choosing a provider, preparing for an emergency, getting your provider to listen, paying attention to your symptoms, after the delivery, and grappling with the emotional fallout.  This is why I love the article so much.  Although it contains frightening scenarios of possible complications that can occur during childbirth, it was written not to scare folks already anxious about having babies but to provide advice.  After all, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.  Every mother should read it because if, God forbid, a complication does occur, she’ll be prepared.  As they say, hope for the best BUT EXPECT THE WORST.  This is not pessimism.  It’s reality.  In reality, complications can and do happen.  And we cannot and should not rely solely on our healthcare providers.  If you read the NPR article in its entirety, you’ll see how healthcare providers repeatedly fail their patients.

I absolutely love these types of KNOWLEDGE IS POWER articles!  Chapter 3 in my book is titled “Knowledge is Power” and is broken up into “What to know and do before the baby arrives” and “What to know and do if PPD hits.”  The sole purpose of my book was to raise awareness so others would not go down that dark, lonely, hopeless road I traveled after having a baby.  There is so much covered in my book, that I laughingly refer to my book as “an encyclopedia” purely due to the girth (i.e., 429 pgs)….yes, I had a lot to say!  In fact, that’s how I referred to it when I posted to my Facebook page a pic of my books on the Postpartum Support International table at their annual conference I attended a few weeks ago in Philadelphia.   Following is an outline of how I wanted my book to educate readers.

Chapter 1: The Statistics: A Wake-up Call

Chapter 2: Sharing My PPD Experience

  • Insomnia Sets In
  • Next Came the Panic Attacks
  • The Dark Abyss

Chapter 3: Knowledge Is Power

  • What to Know and Do Before the Baby Arrives
  • What to Know and Do if PPD Hits

Chapter 4: Environment vs. Heredity, Nature vs. Nurture

  • Role of Genetics/Nature
  • Role of Environment/Nurture
  • Role of Reproductive Events
  • My Story: Environmental and Genetic Factors Wreaking Havoc on My Life
  • What You Can Do to Make a Difference for the Next Generation

Chapter 5: Know Your Risk: Risk Factors

  • Biological Factors
  • Psychological Factors
  • Social Factors
  • Infertility
  • Coming Up With a Prevention Plan

Chapter 6:  My Postpartum Period – Exhausting, Anxious, Uncertain

  • Interrupted Sleep/Sleep Deprivation
  • Startle/Moro Reflex
  • Colic
  • Nasty Eczema and Cradle Cap
  • My Hair Loss
  • Returning to Work

Chapter 7: Ignorance and Stigma: Barriers to Progress

  • The Stigma of PPD
  • Silo Approach to Health Care and Ignorance among Medical Community

Chapter 8: Those Darned Myths

  • Myth #1: Pregnancy Is Always a Smooth, Easy and Blissful Experience
  • Myth #2: Baby Blues Is the Same Thing As PPD
  • Myth #3: PPD Is a Make-Believe Illness
  • Myth #4: Loving Your Baby Means Never Taking a Break
  • Myth #5: Motherhood Is Instinctive and Can Be Handled Solo: The Supermom Myth
  • Myth #6: All Mothers Fall Instantly in Love with and Bond with Their Babies
  • Myth #7: Breast-feeding Is Instinctive

Chapter 9: Trend Away from Social Support

  • First Few Days at Home … Now What?
  • New Moms Need Nurturing Too
  • What Is Social Support?
  • Support of Husband
  • Other Sources of Support (in the U.S.)
  • Postpartum Practices in Other Cultures
  • Tips for Establishing a Support Network

 Chapter 10: Postpartum Depression 101

  • Defining Postpartum Depression
  • PPD Symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • The Spectrum of Perinatal Mood Disorders
  • Reproductive Hormones and Mood
  • The Brain, Neurotransmitters and Stress

Chapter 11: PPD Impacts the Whole Family

  • Effect of PPD on the Baby
  • Effect of PPD on the Dad/Husband

Chapter 12: Passing on Lessons Learned

  • Tips for the Dad/Husband
  • Tips for the Mom Regarding the Dad/Husband
  • Tips for Friends and Family

Chapter 13: Steps to Recovery and Wellness

  • Health-Care Practitioners
  • Treatment Options

Well, like I said, the goal of the book was to help others, but who wants to read an encyclopedia nowadays when you’ve got the Internet, lol…..guess you can say it’s the thought that counts.  Hopefully, folks are finding my posts because the intent of this blog post, as with all my other blog posts and my book, is to try to educate women and their loved ones (and even health professionals too) so they can know enough to advocate for themselves, much like the intent of the NPR article.   I am not doing this for me.  I’ve already survived PPD.  I’m doing it for those who do have access to the Internet, find my blog and read my posts to learn how to prevent/survive PPD.

Jumping back to the NPR article…..
It’s a link in the post that led me to a Wall Street Journal article titled “The Quest to Untangle Why Pregnancy Can Turn Deadly,” written by Daniela Hernandez about Kristin Terlezzi’s experience with placenta accreta.  This article contains the most info on the topic I’ve seen in all my years of blogging (since 2009). Kristin Terlezzi recently, along with Alisha Keller Berry and Jill Arnold (two other survivors of placenta accreta), established the National Accreta Foundation  in April 2017 to work towards reducing the incidences of placenta accreta by partnering with other federal, state and local organizations.

Another link in the article led to the ProPublica article “Do You Know Someone Who Died or Nearly Died in Childbirth? Help Us Investigate Maternal Health” published on February 10, 2017 by Adriana Gallardo and Nina Martin, which asks for those who know someone who died or nearly died in pregnancy, childbirth, or within a year after delivery to share their stories.  The hope is that this information can be used to help researchers come up with ways to reduce the occurrence of and deaths from placenta accreta.

The only problem with these articles on NPR and other similar media is that they are only accessible to those who read such articles in the first place.  As I’ve realized in these past few months since T took over as President and split the nation into two factions, there is a whole T-supporting, alternative facts supporting faction claiming everything but Breitbart, Fox News and now Trump TV as #fakenews.  So, how is this information going to reach everyone?  It’s not like these misogynistic media are going to share scientific articles dedicated to improving the experience of mothers, because all these media only care about is the fetus, the health/well-being of the mother be damned….but then again, I digress.  But I won’t apologize for raising this critical point.  It’s definitely food for thought as to how we can get this information to EVERYONE.


A “How Are You” Would Be Nice….

Can’t believe it’s been 2-1/2 weeks since my last post.   And a lot has happened in this relatively short time period.  Sandy happened.  It happened with a fury here in New Jersey and in New York.  Thousands without power….many STILL without power.  Many in the coastal areas–from Cape May to Staten Island and Long Island and all too many towns in between–no longer have homes to return to.

People generally can’t fathom, understand, comprehend, imagine–or what have you– what it’s like to be in an area that is the unfortunate target of the terrifying forces of Mother Nature.  That is, not until it happens to them.   I would imagine that people who’ve never been impacted by power outage for days, flooding, or loss of home would not know how to adequately express concern.  Understandable.  But, that doesn’t mean you don’t ask how a person you are speaking with–like a colleague whom you know is in the area impacted by, say, Sandy–how they are doing.  Basic etiquette, yanno?   Before hammering away as you normally would in a business-as-usual fashion, start the conversation with “I hope you and your family were not too badly impacted by Sandy.”   I made it a goal to make that either my first statement in emails I sent–or the first words out of my mouth when speaking–to colleagues in the past couple of weeks.

What do I mean by “hammering away?”  I mean people emailing and calling from other parts of the country–in their usual curt, demanding way, expecting someone to immediately provide a response–with no attempt made to ask how you are and if everything is okay.  They just assumed that, if they could reach you by phone/email, then heck….you must be fine.  Well, you know what they say when you assume?   Yep, it makes an a$$ out of u&me.  Do they realize there are still so many people out here with no power…and in freezing temperatures?  Some with flooded homes? Still others with no homes any longer?

Now, I’m going to draw a parallel between people asking about your well being in the wake of Sandy with people asking about your well being after you have a baby.  People just assume that all mothers have smooth, easy and blissful childbirth/postpartum experiences.  Well, no, not everyone has smooth, easy and blissful childbirth/postpartum experiences.  But even if there are childbirth complications, do you ever see an email announcing baby’s birth as anything other than what you traditionally see–i.e., “[Insert baby name] was born at [insert time] on [insert date].  Mom and baby are doing well.”  No, you don’t, do you?  You don’t ever see anything like “Mom had childbirth complications and had to have an emergency surgery to remove her uterus 3 days after giving birth, and mom and baby (and daddy too) had to spend a week in the hospital.”  That, by the way, was MY EXPERIENCE (to get all the details, you’d have to read my book).  That is the email I wanted to send out but didn’t have the nerve to.  The email announcement I had my friend send out for me had the “traditional” language in it.  Here’s an excerpt from my book in the section titled “Hear No, Speak No, See No” as to my theory behind why the traditional language is always used, even when it may not be true:

People only want to hear what they want to hear, which is that your experience was like any other mother’s experience. They don’t even want to hear the details of how the labor and delivery went. They just want to hear these seven words: “Both mom and baby are doing well.” This is what I refer to as the spare me the details effect. Same thing whenever you ask anyone, “How are you?” and you expect the answer to be “Good, thanks.” I always get this strange look from people whenever I provide a response that’s in any way negative.   It’s almost like, how dare I provide a response that isn’t within the socially acceptable “Good, thanks.”

Slowly, the reality of what happened is sinking in with friends and family…and it has been nearly EIGHT years.  To this day, many friends still don’t know the true extent of my childbirth and postpartum experience.   Is it because they are scared of what they will find out?  Perhaps. After all, who likes to talk about negative things if you don’t have to?  Who seeks out awkward situations?  Like I said before, people only want to hear what they want to hear.  HEAR NO, SPEAK NO, SEE NO…..

Even if one does have the nerve to send out a “non-traditional” announcement, what do you think the reaction would be?    Will people leave you alone, not calling or visiting, for fear that they will be a bother or say something that may only make matters worse?  Will they hear the news and scurry away, because it’s human nature to want to avoid hearing bad news, especially when it comes to childbirth?  I’ll tell you this, I will NEVER assume that all is fine with the mom and the baby.  I will always ask how they are, bearing in mind that no matter how much advice I want to pass onto them, I won’t offer any unless they ask me for advice.  I don’t want to hurt any feelings or cause any self-doubt for the new mom.  I don’t want to seem like a know-it-all, all pushy and overbearing.  I will treat others the way that I would want to be treated, keeping in mind what I now know from my own journey to motherhood.

Because people assume (there’s that word again) that everything is fine and dandy just because you appear to be fine and dandy (see my past post on how appearances can be deceiving) and if they themselves have never experienced childbirth or childcare complications or postpartum depression (PPD), they think you should be able to bounce right back as if you’d never given birth before.  At work, that means returning to work immediately (some female executives and employees of small firms) or in 6 weeks (some companies only offer this much in maternity leave) or in 3 months (usual maternity leave duration).   And if you happen to have PPD, they think you should be able to “snap out of it” because “it’s just mind over matter.”  Just like the post-Sandy scenario I describe above, there will unfortunately be those colleagues who will address you as if nothing has changed.  No “How are you feeling?” or “Hope everything went okay.”  Everything is just plain ol’ business as usual.

I’ve said this before and will say it again, one should never assume that just because she’s smiling that everything is fine and blissful.  With one out of eight new mothers suffering from PPD, someone you know–be it a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker–may at some point experience it.   I wouldn’t want to be in a position where I could’ve asked how a new mom feels but don’t and then later find out that she was suffering from PPD.   All it takes is asking a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker who has just had a baby “How are you?  How do you REALLY feel?”  You could be saving a life one day, because some mothers do unfortunately struggle with severe postpartum mood disorders….and some unfortunately do not survive.

I could go on and on, but will end with this.  The personal philosophy I choose to live by is to treat others the way I would want to be treated.  How difficult is it to ask these three words “How are you” of someone you know–be it a relative, friend or acquaintance?  Is it that difficult to take the time to show you care about other people in your life?    I sincerely hope the answer to this last question is No.