A Must for All New Jersey Medical/Mental Maternal Healthcare Practitioners, Doulas, Midwives, etc.

After a two-month dry spell in posting on my blog due to lots going on at home and at work, here I am briefly to help spread the word for the Postpartum Support International 2-day training on November 15-16, 2018 in Fort Lee, New Jersey:  Perinatal Mood Disorders: Components of Care. 

Led by PSI’s very own Birdie Gunyon Meyer, RN, MA (whom I’ve known since I became a member in 2006), Lisa Tremayne, RN, CPPD, CBC, and Joanna Cole, PHD, it is a critical training intended not just for mental health care practitioners but anyone and everyone who would ever need to care for an expectant or new mother.  That includes obstetricians/gynecologists, general practitioners, pediatricians, doulas, midwives, nurses, ER doctors and their staff, etc.

You can visit the site that goes over the training objectives, location, and cost via the above link, but the training will cover the basics in identifying/treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs)–which include antepartum depression, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum panic disorder, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD, and postpartum psychosis–as well as understanding risk factors, treatment options, breastfeeding, consequences of untreated conditions, impact on loved ones, importance of social support, cultural differences, spirituality, etc.

Please attend and/or help spread the word about this training.  It is so, so critical that we ensure as many people as possible are trained so that fewer mothers suffer unnecessarily (like I did) and even worse, fall through the cracks and become another tragic outcome of a perinatal mood disorder.

 

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Is This the Way A Doctor’s Office Should Treat a New Mom with PPD? Heck No!

Before you read this post, please read this: 
If either you or a loved one gave birth in the last few weeks or months and you are having problems with insomnia, don’t feel like yourself, experiencing a great deal of anxiety and/or rage and/or are scary thoughts, please call Postpartum Support International (PSI) at 800-944-4773 where trained individuals (many of whom are survivors themselves) will listen to you and connect you with informed providers.

Note that the story you are about to read is an example of what may happen if you and your loved ones are not informed about mood disorders that occur during pregnancy and after childbirth, and your OB/GYN and staff are not properly trained to detect, diagnose, treat and/or refer patients with perinatal mood disorders.  It does not mean that the same thing will happen to you.  If you have any concerns about your own situation, please leave me a message and I will get back to you asap.  Or give that PSI number a call.

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This is the Facebook post that went viral right after it was posted this past Friday, January 19, 2018. Instead of taking legal action (which I most certainly would have done), Jessica is paying it forward by sharing her story so the public can see how broken the healthcare system is when it comes to postpartum care for new mothers.  She also turned down the numerous offers for help she has received since her post went viral and instead asks that everyone who has reached out to her offer their service for a woman of color.

Following is her experience in a nutshell.

  1. Usually, new moms have their first postpartum visit with their OB at 6 weeks. Her first appointment wasn’t scheduled until the 3rd Her OB kept cancelling her appointments for a month, so by the time she went she was 4 months postpartum. That’s not good.
  2. At the doctor’s office, Jessica told the nurse practitioner that she had postpartum depression, which included fits of anger and violent thoughts. She also said she wanted to discuss medication options, needed medication and therapy to get through this, had a strong support system at home, and she would never hurt herself or her baby.  If she’d spoken to me or anyone with experience diagnosing and treating PPD, I would think “Okay, this is a woman who is informed and knows what she is talking about. I have no reason to doubt that she knows what she’s saying, so I will have the doctor see her now so they can talk about treatment options and/or referral to someone experienced with treating PPD.”
  3. But instead of telling the doctor so he could properly assess her condition and discuss treatment and/or referral options, they called the police! In exchange for her honesty and being knowledgeable enough about PPD to advocate for herself, she was treated like a criminal!   A grueling 10-hour ordeal ensued, with her infant in tow.  No medication. Never once speaking with a doctor. No follow-up appointment. She drove with her baby to the ER with 2 police cars escorting them. They took her blood and she had to give a urine sample.  A security guard stood guard.  She had to remove all her clothes, which they took away and locked up.

Like Jessica, I would want to effect change but I would want to give the nurse practitioner and doctor a piece of my mind.  I would’ve been so pissed by this overreaction to a mother knowledgeably informing her doctor’s office of her PPD and the ensuing humiliating experience that ensued, plus I don’t forget bad experiences that easily and who would?  When a mother is suffering from PPD, she is already in an emotionally vulnerable state and this kind overreaction can be the tip of an already unstable iceberg.

Everyone who comes in contact with new mothers should ABSOLUTELY be trained to recognize symptoms of a perinatal mood disorder, to understand that a new mother with a perinatal mood disorder needs support and treatment.  This would apply to nurses, OB/GYNs, general practitioners, pediatricians, doulas, and midwives.  At this point, there shouldn’t be a single OB/GYN doctor and nurse that doesn’t know how to recognize symptoms of a perinatal mood disorder and either treat her or refer her right away to someone who can.  This kind of training should not be optional.   IT MUST BE MANDATORY….i.e., you can’t practice as an OB/GYN doctor or nurse without the mandatory training that Postpartum Support International offers. Let’s advocate for change at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) level, as I’ve been saying for years.

At the end of her post, Jessica proposes crowd sourcing as a way of coming up with solutions to fix this broken healthcare system. She poses very thoughtful and key questions that should prompt immediate discussions among everyone who has anything to do with maternal mental health (e.g., advocates, mental healthcare practitioners, doctors, nurses).  These are her questions, which I’m putting here to help get the word out, as not everyone is on Facebook.

  • Why is the way I was treated standard procedure?
  • What can we do to improve standard procedures for all postpartum mothers, but also specifically those at higher risk for developing PPD and presenting with signs of PPD.
  • Who is most qualified to make suggestions for improvements?
  • Who is actually capable of making the changes to standard procedures, and how can we can contact them?
  • Why was I let go, when so many others would have been put on a mandatory 72 hour psychiatric hold, and had their children taken away?
  • Why do a disproportionate number of women of color who have PPD not receive the services they need, even when they initiate treatment?
  • Why are a disproportionate number of women of color who have PPD misdiagnosed?
  • Why are black women half as likely to receive mental health treatment and counseling as white women?
  • What can we do as a community to lift up our marginalized members and make sure they receive the quality care that we ALL have a right to?!?

I am hopeful that we will make some headway, since this post has gone viral as she’d hope it would be.  I am already hearing that advocacy groups like 2020Mom reach out to Jessica, who is going to join 2020Mom in a rally in Sacramento, California state capital, which just so happens to be where Jessica’s story took place.  2020Mom is in the process of introducing 4 bills in California.

I have previously shared how my PPD experience was a critical steppingstone to becoming the person I am today, and do not regret it except for the time that I lost during the weeks I was not myself. My PPD experience changed the course of my life.  I believe I had PPD for a reason, as it has given me the courage to speak up, blog, publish a book, and change my career path.

I somehow get this feeling that Jessica’s PPD experience is a steppingstone to advocacy and change when it comes to maternal mental health matters.  I am pretty sure this is just the beginning of her involvement in maternal mental health advocacy.

Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your experience!

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Update to post: 
Jessica Porten’s story has gone viral and made it into various news media, which is what I’d hoped would happen.  The more ways her story gets shared, the more people she reaches (including folks in the medical field). Here are just some of the places her story has popped up:

Sacramento CBS news: “Mom Shocked After Doctor’s Visit For Postpartum Depression Leads To Police Escort To ER” by Steve Large.

NowThis Her video

Medium: “Address Postpartum Depression with Training and Treatment, Not Police” by Ann Smith, current President of PSI.

Slate: “She Asked for Help for Postpartum Depression. The Nurse Called the Cops.” by Darby Saxbe.

Upworthy: “A mom told her OB she might have postpartum depression. Then they called the cops.” by Evan Porter.

Romper: “This Mom Had The Cops Called On Her After Seeking Help For PPD, & Her Story Is A Must-Read” by Karen Fratti.

Romper: “Why Are We Letting Our Mothers Die?” A Conversation About Postpartum Treatment” by Ashley Stoney.

Research4Moms: “No More Excuses: Providers Are Accountable for Their Lack of Knowledge About Moms’ Mental Health” by Shannon Hennig.

Dearly: “Mom Says She Needs Help for Postpartum Depression. Nurse Leaves the Room…to Call the Police” by Prudence Hill.

Huffpo Canada: “A Mom With Postpartum Depression Asked For Help. Her Nurse Called The Cops” by Patricia Tomasi.

Journey of a PPD Survivor – Q/A Series – #2

Welcome to the second of my Journey of a PPD Survivor Series!

Laura Winters, LCSW, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since we met at this year’s Postpartum Support International conference in Philadelphia, is a therapist specializing in infertility and prenatal/postpartum stress.  We are both members of the recently-established PSI-New Jersey chapter.  Laura is passionate about helping women on their journeys through motherhood, offering individual and group support.  Her practice, Postpartum Health & Harmony, is located in Chatham and Mountain Lakes, NJ.  For more information or to contact Laura, please visit www.postpartumhh.com.

Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to provide my blog readers some insight into your journey as a PPD survivor!

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Question 1:
Can you please describe your journey to becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and what motivated your passion to help women with infertility issues (which I experienced) and mothers suffering from a perinatal mood disorder? How long have you been helping women experiencing infertility and perinatal mood disorder?

 When I was considering careers, I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted a career that would enable me to make a difference in people’s lives.   Social work was suggested to me and it was a perfect fit!  I started out my career working with children and teens and I really enjoyed helping them through various challenges.  In 2007, I started working in private practice, primarily focusing on families.  It wasn’t until about 2011 that I first started seeing some women who were struggling with perinatal mood disorders.  At that time, it wasn’t a specialty of mine, so I only saw a few new mothers.

In 2013, I became a mother and had an entirely new appreciation for parenthood.  It was incredibly difficult in ways I never imagined.  Breastfeeding was not going well, which caused me a lot of anxiety, sadness, and added to my exhaustion.  My husband and I both felt more like roommates and our relationship was strained.  This experience inspired me to make some career changes, most notably acquiring more advanced training in perinatal mood disorders and developing this specialty in my practice.

As I began to work with more pregnant and postpartum moms, I also started getting referrals for women experiencing infertility and postpartum moms who had gone through fertility treatments.  Once again, I felt a need to learn more and was interested in adding this focus to my practice.  I see these times in women’s lives, when you’re trying to conceive or newly postpartum, as being so precious and yet such a vulnerable period.  For the most part, everyone assumes that they will get pregnant easily and that motherhood will be challenging but amazing.  When things don’t go as planned, it can completely turn your world upside down and have you questioning everything about your life.  My personal experience definitely fueled my passion for supporting moms as well as couples trying to conceive.

 

Question 2:
In your practice, have you seen a correlation between infertility and a perinatal mood disorder? Do you treat mothers who you’d also seen while they were struggling with infertility issues and ended up suffering from a perinatal mood disorder?  Have you treated women suffering from infertility issues who ended up not suffering from a perinatal mood disorder?

 Infertility treatment is a risk factor for a perinatal mood disorder and I do see this correlation in my practice, though not across the board.  There are so many factors that influence whether a mother will develop a perinatal mood disorder.  I’ve seen women who have been through infertility treatment and did not end up experiencing any perinatal mood disorders.  Support and early intervention are very helpful in protecting a mom’s mental health.

  

Question 3:
Can you provide an overview of the services you provide? I see that you help patients in person, online, and even in a support group setting. Do you find one way of seeing your patients is more helpful? 

 I offer individual, couples, and group counseling.  I see almost all of my clients in person.  I offer online and phone sessions for times when clients may not be able to come to the office, such as not having child care available or in the first few weeks after childbirth.  Online and phone sessions are a great way of continuing sessions when life gets in the way.  The support group is open, meaning that you don’t have to register and can come as often as you need.  The moms that come to the group tend to be looking for different support than those who come for individual counseling.  The group moms are often looking to connect more with other moms going through similar experiences.

  

Question 4:
In your practice, what kinds of treatments for postpartum depression do you recommend?

In addition to therapy, I will recommend medication for those that are open to it or who have tried other things and are still struggling.  I also encourage my clients to try to incorporate exercise and a healthy diet into their routine.  For clients that are interested, I may recommend meditation or teach them an acupressure technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

 

Question 5:
Have any medical healthcare practitioners–like IVF doctors, general practitioners, OB/GYNs or pediatricians–ever refer their patients to you?

 Yes, medical healthcare practitioners are great referral sources.  I definitely get more referrals from those healthcare professionals who take the time to talk to their patients about mental health.

 

Question 6:
What do you think medical health practitioners who come in contact with new mothers, like OB/GYNs, GPs and pediatricians, can do to help prevent, detect and treat perinatal mood disorders?

I would encourage medical health practitioners to take time to talk to moms about mental health.  Ask them about their mood and stress level.  Look their patients in the eyes and ask them how they are really doing.  Normalize how challenging being a mother is.  Making comments such as “motherhood is tough” or “you have a lot on your plate now” can go a long way in helping a mother feel comfortable to open up to you.  And having referral sources on hand when their patients need more support is extremely important.  Don’t leave it up to a new mom to have to find help herself.

 

Question 7:
Is there one key piece of advice you would offer to an expecting or new mom?

For expecting moms, I would tell them to make a postpartum plan that outlines things such as who they can count on for specific types of support (baby/childcare, cooking, advice, etc), how they will protect their sleep, and where they can turn if they need support.  For new moms, I would advise them to take breaks, ask for and accept help, and know that challenges come in phases but do eventually end.

 

Question 8:
What would you want to say to women currently suffering with a postpartum mood disorder?

This is the most common complication of childbirth and not an indication of who you are as a mother.  There is a lot of support available out there including counseling, support groups, and other moms who have been there and are happy to offer encouraging words.  You will feel better once you get the support that’s right for you.  Other moms have recovered and you will too.

 

Question 9:
What advice would you offer to friends/family members of a woman who is currently suffering with a postpartum mood disorder?

Reach out to her often – call, text, stop over.  Be there for her when she’s ready to talk.  Try to listen and validate her feelings.  Consider what support you can offer her—including cooked meals, childcare, cleaning, keeping her company—and rather than asking if she wants that help, tell her that this is how you’d like to help.  Tell her when you’re available to provide that support and then let her decide when you can come over.  Most moms will turn down help initially, but when you are very specific with what you can do and when you can do it, it’s harder to turn that down.  Also, it may help you better understand what she’s going through by researching information on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

 

Question 10:
What do you see as the biggest challenge in helping a mother recover from a postpartum mood disorder?

Lack of support and lack of insurance coverage are big obstacles.  It’s hard enough finding a therapist or psychiatrist, let alone when you have an infant and aren’t feeling like yourself.  Whether you have insurance coverage or not can help or hinder the process.   I find that the more support a mother has around her (people who can help with certain tasks and give her breaks), the easier recovery is.  It’s really challenging when you don’t have enough support at home and are expected to do a lot of the childcare and household tasks.  It doesn’t allow enough time for moms to tend to their needs.

Steve Bannon’s Ignorance on Mental Health

 *** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events***

Here I am, posting again….wow, it’s now 3x in one month.  I haven’t posted with such frequency in a long time.  Guess you can say the state of this country is heavy on my mind.  I had said in my last post that I wasn’t going to talk politics since this site is dedicated to maternal mental health.  I was planning to stick to that guideline.  But then I hit a snag in my plans, thanks to a post I read about Bannon, the individual that Trump has selected to be his chief strategist.  Bannon made a comment about mental health that triggered me so much it had me flashing back to the trigger that set me off on a 6-year journey to publish a book about my postpartum depression (PPD) experience.  What trigger is that?  Well, if you’ve been following my blog for some time and/or you read my author bio, you would know that Tom Cruise and his There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance comment triggered me back in 2005.  But the outcome of the trigger was good, as I have my blog and book as the end result. And yes, I do thank TC in my Acknowledgments.

There’s nothing good about this trigger related to Bannon, though.  TC is just an ignorant actor. But Bannon is an ignorant white supremacist who will have a role in the White House and will have far more negative consequences than TC ever had.  Bannon made a statement that the cure for mental illness is to spank your children more.  Excuse me?  What.The.Fuck. (oops, forgot to use $ or other symbol to fill in for the “u” for the very first time…..there’s a first time for everything, as they say).  I’ve truly had it with this whole election.  I’ve had it with all the hatred, misogyny and bigotry.  With the cheeto about to become our President and the alt right using him as a tool to ensure there are at least 4 years of revenge for the 8 years they had to suffer under President Obama, they have populated the leadership team with known racists (Bannon, Sessions, Flynn) and ensuring that racism becomes the new normal.  My passion for matters related to racism stems from my being bullied as a child for my race.  But I’m not going to digress here (even though anti-bullying is my other passion)……

Note: If you’re a Trump follower trolling this blog post and thinking I’m bullying Bannon or Trump, then think again.  Bullying is DIRECT harassment to them personally.  I’m exerting my 1st amendment right voicing my thoughts on my own blog.  Thank you very much.

<directing myself back on track….>

Bannon, just like I’ve been wishing to tell Tom Cruise in person, I wish I could tell YOU in person, if you’ve never been through mental illness yourself, then:
Shut the f*ck up.  
Shut.Your.Ignorant.Mouth.Up.  

And get educated about mental illness and how it REALLY works.  It’s not mind over matter, you dimwit.  Take a few minutes to read a blog post that may help you see the light when it comes to PPD.  There are plenty of articles from health organizations and blog posts on the Internet for you to learn the TRUTH behind mental illness.  But I’m pretty sure you won’t bother to spend a second to read anything because you think you know it all, don’t you.

Here’s where, if I could be granted 3 genie wishes, one of them would be to make all haters/bigots switch places with the ones being hated and the ones who keep insisting that mental illness is mind over matter to switch places with those who are battling a mental illness (e.g., depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc.).  You will learn in an instant that the logic you’ve been upholding is COMPLETELY WRONG.  See my past post on this titled “All It Takes Is One Day.”  One day to experience a mental illness yourself, firsthand……THAT’S ALL IT TAKES to snap you to reality and stop living in a world based on assumptions (that only make a$$es out of you).

And speaking of backwards, as women, we should not let ourselves be dragged backwards when it comes to our rights. We must stand up for ourselves and for each other.  We must work harder than ever to support organizations that will help us stay on track when it comes to mental health and women’s rights, especially during the time that women are most vulnerable–i.e., before, during and after childbirth.  Please join me in doing this!

If you’re a mom suffering from PPD right now, please be comforted in knowing that there are plenty of people in this country and around the world who care enough to make it a goal to help moms like you.  Please reach out to me, reach out to others with blogs, Facebook pages….we will help you get through this.

You WILL get through this.  I got through it stronger than ever before, and so can you!

Peace to you.

Postpartum Insomnia Series – Part 3: BRYN

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

ANSWER:
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.

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

ANSWER:
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.

QUESTION:
Now, just out of curiosity, do you have a personal history of depression and/or anxiety or other mood disorder?

ANSWER:
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.

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:
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.

QUESTION:
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?

ANSWER:
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.

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

ANSWER:
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.

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:
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.

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

ANSWER:
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.

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

ANSWER:
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.

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

ANSWER:
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.

 

Postpartum Insomnia Series – Story 2: KIM

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!

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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.

15%-21% of Moms Suffer from a Perinatal Mood Disorder

For the longest time they were saying between 1 out of 8 women suffer from a perinatal (before, during or after childbirth) mood disorder.  Then, they said between 1 out of 7.  And more recently, literature indicates it’s now approximately 15%-21%, which is anywhere between 1 out of 5 and 1 out of 6, with 21% experiencing a postpartum mood disorder.

If you are suffering from a perinatal mood disorder, you can see from these numbers and in many places online–from a multitude of Facebook support pages, blogs and on Twitter–and in newspapers that you are not alone.  For example, in today’s Upworthy, my friend Heidi Koss shares her experience after the birth of her daughters.  She is a PPD survivor and now helps other moms suffering from perinatal mood disorders.  Her story was also mentioned in an NPR article a week ago today.

You need to know when you need to get help from a doctor and/or therapist.  Get it early.  Know the facts.  Know the difference between postpartum blues and postpartum depression (PPD).  Know the difference between PPD, postpartum anxietypostpartum OCD and postpartum psychosis.  Click here for helpful information that can help you.

You need help for you.
You need help for your baby(ies).
You need help for your family as a whole, including your significant other.

I just found out tonight about the fate of Carol Coronado about whom I blogged in May 2014.  She suffered from postpartum psychosis (not PPD as some newspapers allude to), didn’t get the right help and was just sentenced to life in jail.  Carol, her babies, and her husband were failed by the system.  The same system that failed to ensure she got help is punishing her for their failure.  Sound fair to you?  No!  Her case sounds similar to Andrea Yates case nearly 15 years ago.  I pray for Carol and her family.  She has suffered enough and does not need to spend the rest of her life in jail.  I saw a Facebook comment about Carol that triggered me to write this post.  The coldness and lack of understanding are a reflection of just how close-minded people can be.  It amazes me, really.  It’s really hard to beat down stigma when you have such barriers in the way.  But don’t let any of that deter you from getting help.  YOU are important.  Forget these clueless people.  Get the help you need.  Don’t delay!

Whenever you read about these stories in the news, please remember the facts.  Get information from the right resources (links above would be great place to start).  And don’t let stigma and ignorance steer you away from understanding and compassion.  Don’t let stigma, ignorance, and the close-mindedness of people (those who choose not to understand and would rather continue their misogynistic, super hokey, religious extremist mindset in which women are second class citizens) steer you away from getting the help you need to be well again!  Stay strong!  There is help out there!  Reach out to me.  Reach out to the Postpartum Support International Facebook page (closed group) for support.