ONE MOM’S REFLECTION FOR MOTHER’S DAY

This is a post a mom wanted to share on my blog anonymously.  Thank you, mama, for sharing your experience!  ❤ ❤ ❤

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To think of moments like this that I would have missed had I just given up. If I had let the mental illness win.

After my twins my postpartum depression/postpartum anxiety (PPD/PPA) was severe.

Paralyzed by a sudden sense of worthlessness, hopelessness and fear of everything, I panicked.

Intrusive thoughts told me I was not good enough and that my kids were better off without me. I told my husband to leave me. I was scared to touch the twins for fear I would somehow hurt them or that I was ruining them.

This was at the time I felt it in my heart and soul something was majorly wrong with G and I blamed it on myself.

I was overwhelmed with two colicky twins. They cried all the time and I felt like a failure that I couldn’t soothe them. Fast forward they have sensory issues G with autism and S with ADHD. they have had a very hard time regulating themselves and have come a long, long way.

If I could wish one thing for all mothers is that please don’t blame yourselves.

Be mindful. Baby yourself just like how you baby your children. Be kind to yourself.

I was beyond hard on myself and it took its toll. It left me fragile and fearful and broken.

But I’ve always been a fighter and I’ve done everything I could to power through that time and learn how to live all over again.

It began with loving myself.

In June 2013 I was so traumatized by the panic attacks that the panic made me want to end it all. I called an ambulance to come save me from myself. That day on I’ve only marched forward. I’m mindful to my surroundings. I don’t blame myself for the struggle that my babies have faced with their development.

I am an excellent mom. I am worth it. They are worth it. So much that I gave it all another chance when I had R knowing that I faced a chance of a relapse with PPD. But with incredible support I did it and I’m still doing it.

I love my sweet family, my friends, my life.

I believe in second, third, fourth chances.

There is always room for improvement and to make things better and life is very much worth living.

Everything that happens to us makes us stronger.

I will never hide what happened to me from my children, especially my daughters.

It’s okay to fall down.

What matters is we keep going and with a good heart.

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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.

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!

 

PPD in the Media this Week: A Postpartum Anxiety Survivor Story in the NY Times; JLo Rumors

Twitter helps make staying current on specific topics of interest a much easier thing to do.  Only problem is, there is SO much information to get through on a daily basis, and not enough time (and energy) for me to do it.  Tweets about postpartum depression (PPD) can tell you a lot in terms of people’s attitudes, swayed by knowledge or ignorance.

There are the tweets that tell you the latest in research findings.

There are the tweets that tell you when a major news outlet like the NY Times publishes an article written about a PPD survivor. An example would be the wonderfully honest piece titled “Meltdown in Motherland” in the Opinion section of the NY Times on May 14th, in which the author Elizabeth Isadora Gold shares her experience with postpartum anxiety.  The couple hundred comments (and you bet I scanned through all of them) that appeared over the course of the next 2 days were actually relatively reasonable and showed more knowledge, compassion, and appreciation for an author’s experience with a maternal mental health issue than some of the comments I’ve had the displeasure of seeing in the past.   Some commenters said they were upset by the harsh comments, but truthfully, I didn’t see any that angered me to the point that I’ve been angered in the past (thankfully).  Not sure if it has anything to do with the comment flagging mechanism or not (i.e., too many flags will cause a comment to get pulled).  But anyway, there was an individual who commented that he and his wife had suffered through a stillbirth and survived the grief  after nearly a year, without the use of any antidepressants…and how he is absolutely certain he (no mention of his wife, though) would not have needed to take any medications.  I replied to that comment as follows:

I wouldn’t be so quick to judge other people’s situations when you don’t even know what they are. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for PPD. What works for one person may not work for the next person. Every individual is different, and every individual’s situation is different. Some women with PPD may only need medication, some may only need psychotherapy, while others may need a combination of both. The objective is to do whatever it takes in order to feel yourself again using whichever approach you feel most comfortable using. My insomnia, panic attacks and weight loss were so debilitating–and I couldn’t take care of myself or my baby–that I had to take medications to return my brain chemistry back to its normal levels.

And then there are the tweets that tell you how far from educated the public is with respect to postpartum mood disorders, or even just the difference between the postpartum blues and PPD.  An example would be recent rumors that Jennifer Lopez suffered from PPD after she had her twin boys simply because the public caught her being emotional and crying a few days after childbirth.  In her recent interview with E! Online, she quashed those rumors by explaining that her being very emotional 7-10 days after childbirth is the expected behavior of new moms due to hormones crashing after childbirth.  She said she learned that from reading the book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” which has now been turned into a big screen flick soon to be released…and one in which she is co-starring.

Don’t mean to digress, but that is not a movie I’ll be rushing to pay $12 to see in the theaters.  Why?  Well, for one, the trailer looked too silly and sloppily produced for my taste.  Also, if you visit Lisa Belkins’ article from May 16th on the Huffington Post titled “The Pregnancy Book That Made Me a Nervous Wreck is Now a Movie,” you’ll see my sentiments exactly…no actually, Ms. Belkin verbalizes it a whole lot better than I could ever do.  Do I hear any others out there who agree that the book only increased anxiety levels with the information overload to the point that you stopped reading it, thinking (like I did), “Oh what the heck, I’ll just go with the flow…whatever happens, I’ll just deal with it then.”

I actually would’ve appreciated reading a book like mine during my pregnancy.  Ha, sorry, couldn’t miss the opportunity to mention my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood,” which incidentally is not just a memoir, it’s a self help guide as well.  The health of the family unit is dependent on the health of the mother, so it is SO important that she goes into motherhood knowing what to expect in terms of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. This includes how to deal with certain challenges in infant care, keeping stressors to a minimum, and getting plenty of support.  My book contains advice in the form of Do’s and Don’ts for the new mother, the new father, family members and friends. I even share my experience with child-care complications like colic, eczema, and cradle cap—things that can only add to the anxiety levels of the first-time parent, yet pregnancy books and magazines don’t talk enough about.

Well, running across the two tweets that told me about the false JLo PPD rumor and the wonderful story in the NY Times are but random examples of the many, many other tweets that are tweeted on a daily basis.  Those 2 tweets gave me enough to get the juices flowing in my mind of what I wanted to blog about next.  I would love to be able to stay on top of all the tweets that come up in my feed each day, but with all that’s going on in my life right now, it’s just not possible.

Happiest Baby Tips That Can Help Curb Anxiety Levels in Parents

Wow, has it been nearly 20 days since my last post?!  Eeks.  Time is going by way TOO fast!   A belated Happy Summer greeting to you!  And boy, am I thrilled it’s summer! 

Well, here I am with a topic I’ve been wanting to post for the past couple of months.  What ultimately reminded me that I haven’t yet posted it was when I went to register for the Postpartum Support International conference today and saw that Dr. Harvey Karp, yes, THE Dr. Harvey Karp of “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” is going to speak at the conference on September 15th!   If you’re in the area then, be sure to sign up soon!
 
Two months ago today, I was contacted by Emily Weece of The Happiest Baby, Inc.  to share this information on my blog.  It’s important to remember that knowing how to cope with the curve balls nature throws our way– like colic and struggling with having to calm fussy babies– is key in lowering the risk of postpartum depression (PPD) in the new mom that is at risk for it.  See my past post for more on colic.

Hudson Perinatal Consortium Program on Perinatal Anxiety Disorders – May 3, 2011

May 3, 2011 – It was a lovely Tuesday evening at the Chart House Restaurant at Lincoln Harbor, Weehawken, NJ, and I had the pleasure of a delicious dinner with the backdrop of the gorgeous Manhattan skyline, followed by a lecture given by Laura J. Miller, MD, Vice Chair for Academic Clinical Services Director, Women’s Mental Health Division, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School.  

Dr. Laura Miller, Mariann Moore, me

I had many reasons to look forward to this event.  First, I was going to see the lovely Mariann Moore, Executive Director of the Hudson Perinatal Consortium, whom I befriended at the Postpartum Support International conference in Pittsburgh last October.  Second, the topic of Dr. Miller’s lecture on perinatal anxiety disorders was close to my heart, since I had suffered and survived from frightening panic attacks  before my medication kicked in.    Third, I’ve always wanted to eat at the Chart House.   🙂

Lincoln Harbor with the Manhattan skyline as backdrop

Dr. Miller covered over the course of her 2-hour lecture pretty much the ABCs of perinatal anxiety disorders.  She started off with an excerpt of Katherine Stone’s experience with postpartum OCD, which Katherine had (coincidentally) posted on her blog right around Mother’s Day five years ago.  The paragraph that goes into the excessive concern that her baby meets his milestones on time and tracking down what time and how much he ate and what time and how long he napped….this all sounds like what I went through too (in addition to tracking what time and the type of bowel movements my baby had), though I did not suffer from postpartum OCD.   I needed these lists in order for me to get through each day.   Just like Katherine, I felt that “If I didn’t write it down, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to remember and wouldn’t know when to do what.  Maybe it gave me some false sense of control.”  Since all newborns do are sleep, eat and poop, those were the basics of what made up each and everyday for the first weeks postpartum……and creating lists for these baby basics was one of the ways that helped to assure me that all was going okay.

Dr. Miller talked about what made some women more vulnerable to perinatal anxiety disorders than others, effects of anxiety on the fetus and future cognitive and behavioral development of the baby, the gamut of anxiety disorders (i.e., panic disorder, OCD, PTSD), and treatment (non-medication and medication options) during pregnancy and postpartum.  All the stuff that I happened to also include in my soon-to-be published book–in addition to estrogen, neurotransmitters, serotonin, risk factors (biological, psychosocial), cortisol, agoraphobia, etc.   My book also goes into stigma, social support, myths of motherhood, my experiences, my PPD triggers (all of which were anxiety inducing), and passing on my lessons learned in practical tips.

Oh, and speaking of my book, it will hopefully be published by the end of the summer.  It has been 6 long years of reading and journaling my thoughts, experiences, and what I have learned from the time PPD reared its ugly head until I finally stopped writing a year ago to start editing the mammoth manuscript down to something people might, just might, be interested in picking up to read.    A main difference in the way in which Dr. Miller presented her lecture, which is how most of the medical professionals that wrote most of the books I’ve read, and the way my book will go into these topics is that I am writing it from the perspective of a mother that has a degree in biology but not a career in a healthcare profession (who usually use scientific jargon that I sometimes even have trouble understanding).  I write it in the perspective of a mother who survived her frightening experience and wants to join the other voices out there to help raise awareness and end the stigma associated with perinatal mood disorders and the myths surrounding motherhood that only serve to make matters worse.